How can smart use of the language of risk help
those communicating the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC)'s new blockbuster assessment? Oxford University's James
Painter tells us how recommendations in his new book can help
science communicators and policymakers explain the IPCC's findings.
Painter's new book, '
Climate change in the media - reporting risk and uncertainty',
analyses media coverage of climate science. Among the book's
conclusions is that talking about risk may help shift the
conversation away from less certain areas of science and start
people talking about what society needs to do to avoid the worst
effects of climate change.
What does the reporting of risk and
uncertainty mean in the context of the book, and how does it relate
to climate science?
In the book, we looked at what we already know about
how the media report risk and uncertainty in general, and then
looked specifically at climate science and how the print media in
six countries reported the uncertainties and risks around it.
To analyse the content of media reports, we used
indicators of uncertainty such as ranges of projections, use of
words like 'may' 'could' and 'might', and dissenting voices
including the different types of sceptics.
For risk, we assessed how much the media and
scientists explicitly use the word 'risk', or risk concepts such as
assigning probabilities and confidence levels to possible outcomes,
or every day risk language such as 'loading the dice', 'taking out
an insurance policy', or 'playing Russian roulette with the
One of the findings of the book was that nearly half
of all the 350 articles we looked at included a quote from a
scientist or science report indicating some manifestation of
uncertainty. Much fewer used risk language.