Communicating scientifc uncertainty about COVID-19 by varying magnitudes: An assessment of German public attitudes

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  1. Claudia Spies

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Description: The emergence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic exposes scientific uncertainty in its purest form. In situations of uncertain knowledge, policy makers and health experts sometimes shy away from communicating scientific uncertainty,1 fearing people’s mistrust.2 In Germany, for instance, they often invoked pandemic-related threat scenarios devoid of uncertainty.3 Yet if uncertain aspects of the pandemic are implied to be certain—e.g., a rise of reproduction factor R when confidence intervals overlap—and later prove invalid, people’s trust and compliance with containment measures might be more at stake. In our study—with 2,011 German residents—we investigate the effect of health communications conveying varying degrees of scientific uncertainty about COVID-19 on i) people’s preference for public communication about the pandemic by governmental and health experts and ii) on each communication’s potential to motivate adoption and maintenance of containment measures such as social distancing. Published: Wegwarth O, Wagner GG, Spies CD, Hertwig R: Assessment of German Public Attitudes Toward Health Communications With Varying Degrees of Scientific Uncertainty Regarding COVID-19. JAMA Network Open. 2020, December 10.

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