Forecast communication through the newspaper Part 2: perceptions of uncertainty

Abstract : In the first part of this review, I defined the media filter and how it can operate to frame and blame the forecaster for losses incurred during an environmental disaster. In this second part, I explore the meaning and role of uncertainty when a forecast, and its basis, is communicated through the response and decision-making chain to the newspaper, especially during a rapidly evolving natural disaster which has far-reaching business, political, and societal impacts. Within the media-based communication system, there remains a fundamental disconnect of the definition of uncertainty and the interpretation of the delivered forecast between various stakeholders. The definition and use of uncertainty differs especially between scientific, media, business, and political stakeholders. This is a serious problem for the scientific community when delivering forecasts to the public though the press. As reviewed in Part 1, the media filter can result in a negative frame, which itself is a result of bias, slant, spin, and agenda setting introduced during passage of the forecast and its uncertainty through the media filter. The result is invariably one of anger and fury, which causes loss of credibility and blaming of the forecaster. Generation of a negative frame can be aided by opacity of the decision-making process that the forecast is used to support. The impact of the forecast will be determined during passage through the decision-making chain where the precautionary principle and cost-benefit analysis, for example, will likely be applied. Choice of forecast delivery format, vehicle of communication, syntax of delivery, and lack of follow-up measures can further contribute to causing the forecast and its role to be misrepresented. Follow-up measures to negative frames may include appropriately worded press releases and conferences that target forecast misrepresentation or misinterpretation in an attempt to swing the slant back in favor of the forecaster. Review of meteorological, public health, media studies, social science, and psychology literature opens up a vast and interesting library that is not obvious to the volcanologist at a first glance. It shows that forecasts and their uncertainty can be phrased and delivered, and followed-up upon, in a manner that reduces the chance of message distortion. The mass-media delivery vehicle requires careful tracking because the potential for forecast distortion can result in a frame that the scientific response is “absurd”, “confused”, “shambolic”, or “dysfunctional.” This can help set up a “frightened”, “frustrated”, “angry”, even “furious” reaction to the forecast and forecaster.
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Andrew J.L. Harris. Forecast communication through the newspaper Part 2: perceptions of uncertainty. Bulletin of Volcanology, Springer Verlag, 2015, 77 (4), ⟨10.1007/s00445-015-0902-6⟩. ⟨hal-02114271⟩



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