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The use of a medical disease model to communicate the concept of uncertainty

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Monday, 24 January 2011: 11:00 AM
The use of a medical disease model to communicate the concept of uncertainty
4C-2 (Washington State Convention Center)
James L. Persson, U.S. Army Aeromedical Activity, Fort Rucker, AL

As scientific evidence regarding climate change becomes increasingly solid, the public is still faced with questions regarding the remaining inherent uncertainty of data and models. Even within the meteorology profession, weathercasters, a major source of scientific information for the general public, either face similar doubt or have trouble relaying the concept of uncertainty to the public. As another source of trusted scientific information for the public, medical doctors must often make decisions with limited information and, more importantly, convince patients that definitive action must be taken in face of uncertainty. Similar to climate change, waiting for the complete picture and absolute certainty may result in dangerous delays of important decisions. By applying a medical disease model to the climate change debate, the degree of tolerable uncertainty in medical situations can be compared to the current state of uncertainty in climate research. This approach will not only help communicate this difficult concept to the general public, but can foster increased understanding and communication between atmospheric science and the medical profession. Using a medical disease analogy, the weathercaster would have a tool for understanding, quantifying, comparing and communicating uncertainty to an audience. Likewise, such an application would help the medical community understand the significance of climate change as an evolving public health threat.