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False precision, surprise and improved uncertainty assessment


Parker, WS and Risbey, JS, False precision, surprise and improved uncertainty assessment, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 373, (2055) Article 20140453. ISSN 1364-503X (2015) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

2015 The Author(s)

DOI: doi:10.1098/rsta.2014.0453


An uncertainty report describes the extent of an agentís uncertainty about some matter. We identify two basic requirements for uncertainty reports, which we call faithfulness and completeness. We then discuss two pitfalls of uncertainty assessment that often result in reports that fail to meet these requirements. The first involves adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to the representation of uncertainty, while the second involves failing to take account of the risk of surprises. In connection with the latter, we respond to the objection that it is impossible to account for the risk of genuine surprises. After outlining some steps that both scientists and the bodies who commission uncertainty assessments can take to help avoid these pitfalls, we explain why striving for faithfulness and completeness is important.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:uncertainty, surprise, climate change, models, probability, unknown unknowns
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Sociology
Research Field:Sociology and social studies of science and technology
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Adaptation to climate change
Objective Field:Social impacts of climate change and variability
UTAS Author:Risbey, JS (Dr James Risbey)
ID Code:118538
Year Published:2015
Web of Science® Times Cited:22
Deposited By:Directorate
Deposited On:2017-07-13
Last Modified:2017-08-28

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