Review

Visualizing Uncertainty About the Future

Science  09 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6048, pp. 1393-1400
DOI: 10.1126/science.1191181

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Abstract

We are all faced with uncertainty about the future, but we can get the measure of some uncertainties in terms of probabilities. Probabilities are notoriously difficult to communicate effectively to lay audiences, and in this review we examine current practice for communicating uncertainties visually, using examples drawn from sport, weather, climate, health, economics, and politics. Despite the burgeoning interest in infographics, there is limited experimental evidence on how different types of visualizations are processed and understood, although the effectiveness of some graphics clearly depends on the relative numeracy of an audience. Fortunately, it is increasingly easy to present data in the form of interactive visualizations and in multiple types of representation that can be adjusted to user needs and capabilities. Nonetheless, communicating deeper uncertainties resulting from incomplete or disputed knowledge—or from essential indeterminacy about the future—remains a challenge.

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