2010 AGU Fall Meeting

by | December 17, 2010

December 13-17, 2010
2010 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting

San Francisco, California


CRED researchers presenting at this year’s AGU Fall Meeting include:

David H. Krantz
Time Horizon and Social Scale in Communication
Current Session- NH19: Transmitting Hazard Science to End Users: What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Needed?

Benjamin Orlove, Kenneth Broad, Robert Meyer
Assessing the Effectiveness of the Cone of Probability as a Visual Means of Communicating Scientific Forecasts
Current Session- ED24: Visualization of Geophysical Processes for Science, Education and Outreach

Katherine J. Thompson, David H. Krantz
Assessing Lay Understanding of Common Presentations of Earthquake Hazard Information
Current Session- NH19: Transmitting Hazard Science to End Users:What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Needed?

Robert Meyer, Kenneth Broad, and Benjamin Orlove
Studying and Improving Human Response to Natural Hazards: Lessons from the Virtual Hurricane Lab
Current Session- NH19: Transmitting Hazard Science to End Users:What Works, What Doesn’t, and What’s Needed?

Sabine Marx
The Psychology of Climate Change Communication – Insights from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED)
Current Session- ED28: Experimental Studies on Communicating Climate Change Science; merged with ED10: Climate Change Adaptation – Education and Communication.


Abstracts:

David H. Krantz
Time Horizon and Social Scale in Communication

In 2009 our center (CRED) published a first version of The Psychology of Climate Change Communication. In it, we attempted to summarize facts and concepts from psychological research that could help guide communication. While this work focused on climate change, most of the ideas are at least partly applicable for communication about a variety of natural hazards.

Of the many examples in this guide, I mention three. Single-action bias is the human tendency to stop considering further actions that might be needed to deal with a given hazard, once a single action has been taken. Another example is the importance of group affiliation in motivating voluntary contributions to joint action. A third concerns the finding that group participation enhances understanding of probabilistic concepts and promotes action in the face of uncertainty.

One current research direction, which goes beyond those included in the above publication, focuses on how time horizons arise in the thinking of individuals and groups, and how these time horizons might influence hazard preparedness. On the one hand, individuals sometimes appear impatient, organizations look for immediate results, and officials fail to look beyond the next election cycle. Yet under some laboratory conditions and in some subcultures, a longer time horizon is adopted. We are interested in how time horizon is influenced by group identity and by the very architecture of planning and decision making. Institutional changes, involving long-term contractual relationships among communities, developers, insurers, and governments, could greatly increase resilience in the face of natural hazards. Communication about hazards, in the context of such long-term contractual relationships might look very different from communication that is first initiated by immediate threat.

Another new direction concerns the social scale of institutions and of communication about hazards. Traditionally, insurance contracts share risk among a large number of insurees: each contributes a small premium toward a fund that is adequate to cover the large losses that occasionally occur. Participatory processes are needed that extend risk sharing to larger social scales and that reduce adversarial relationships between insurers, insurees, insurance regulators, and governments that intervene or fail to intervene on an ad hoc rather than a contractual basis.


Benjamin Orlove, Kenneth Broad, Robert Meyer
Assessing the Effectiveness of the Cone of Probability as a Visual Means of Communicating Scientific Forecasts

We review the evolution, communication, and differing interpretations of the National Hurricane Center’s “cone of uncertainty” hurricane forecast graphic, drawing on several related disciplines—cognitive psychology, visual anthropology, and risk communication theory. We examine the 2004 hurricane season, two specific hurricanes (Katrina 2005 and Ike 2008) and the 2010 hurricane season, still in progress.

During the 2004 hurricane season, five named storms struck Florida. Our analysis of that season draws upon interviews with key government officials and media figures, archival research of Florida newspapers, analysis of 962 public comments on the National Hurricane Center’s cone of uncertainty graphic, a separate multiagency study of 2004 hurricane behavior, and relevant risk communication literature. At that time, the hurricane forecast graphic, despite admirable attempts by the forecast community to make user-friendly products, was still subject to misinterpretation by many members of the public. We identify several characteristics of this graphic that contributed to public misinterpretation. Residents overemphasized the specific track of the eye, failed to grasp the width of hurricanes, and generally did not recognize the timing of the passage of the hurricane. Little training was provided to emergency response managers in the interpretation of forecasts. In the following year, Katrina became a national scandal, further demonstrating the limitations of the cone as a means of leading to appropriate responses to forecasts. .

In the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, three major changes occurred in hurricane forecast communication: the forecasts themselves improved in terms of accuracy and lead time, the National Hurricane Center made minor changes in the graphics and expanded the explanatory material that accompanies the graphics, and some efforts were made to reach out to emergency response planners and municipal officials to enhance their understanding of the forecasts and graphics. There were some improvements in the responses to Ike, though a number of deaths were due to inadequate evacuations, and property damage probably exceeded the levels that could have been reached with fuller preparation. Though no hurricanes in 2010 have yet made landfall at the time of the writing of this abstract, coordination has been fuller to support evacuations of vulnerable coastal regions of North Carolina for Hurricane Earl. .

Through an examination of interviews, newspaper accounts, public comments on the National Hurricane Center’s site and on weather blogs, we trace the relative weight of these three changes in the improvements in response to forecasts. We conclude that forecast providers should consider more formal, rigorous pretesting of forecast graphics, using standard social science techniques, in order to minimize the probability of misinterpretation. .


Katherine J. Thompson, David H. Krantz
Assessing Lay Understanding of Common Presentations of Earthquake Hazard Information

The Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities (WGCEP) includes, in its introduction to earthquake rupture forecast maps, the assertion that “In daily living, people are used to making decisions based on probabilities — from the flip of a coin (50% probability of heads) to weather forecasts (such as a 30% chance of rain) to the annual chance of being killed by lightning (about 0.0003%).” However, psychology research identifies a large gap between lay and expert perception of risk for various hazards, and cognitive psychologists have shown in numerous studies that people neglect, distort, misjudge, or misuse probabilities, even when given strong guidelines about the meaning of numerical or verbally stated probabilities. The gap between lay and expert use of probability needs to be recognized more clearly by scientific organizations such as WGCEP.

This study undertakes to determine how the lay public interprets earthquake hazard information, as presented in graphical map form by the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF), compiled by the WGCEP and other bodies including the USGS and CGS. It also explores alternate ways of presenting hazard data, to determine which presentation format most effectively translates information from scientists to public. Participants both from California and from elsewhere in the United States are included, to determine whether familiarity — either with the experience of an earthquake, or with the geography of the forecast area — affects people’s ability to interpret an earthquake hazards map. We hope that the comparisons between the interpretations by scientific experts and by different groups of laypeople will both enhance theoretical understanding of factors that affect information transmission and assist bodies such as the WGCEP in their laudable attempts to help people prepare themselves and their communities for possible natural hazards.


Robert Meyer, Kenneth Broad, and Benjamin Orlove
Studying and Improving Human Response to Natural Hazards: Lessons from the Virtual Hurricane Lab

One of the most critical challenges facing communities in areas prone to natural hazards is how to best encourage residents to invest in individual and collective actions that would reduce the damaging impact of low-probability, high-consequence, environmental events. Unfortunately, what makes this goal difficult to achieve is that the relative rarity natural hazards implies that many who face the risk of natural hazards have no previous experience to draw on when making preparation decisions, or have prior experience that provides misleading guidance on how best to prepare. For example, individuals who have experienced strings of minor earthquakes or near-misses from tropical cyclones may become overly complacent about the risks that extreme events actually pose.

In this presentation we report the preliminary findings of a program of work that explores the use of realistic multi-media hazard simulations designed for two purposes: 1) to serve as basic research tool for studying of how individuals make decisions to prepare for rare natural hazards in laboratory settings; and 2) to serve as an educational tool for giving people in hazard-prone areas virtual experience in hazard preparation. We demonstrate a prototype simulation in which participants experience the approach of a virtual hurricane, where they have the opportunity to invest in different kinds of action to protect their home from damage. As the hurricane approaches participants have access to an “information dashboard” in which they can gather information about the storm threat from a variety of natural sources, including mock television weather broadcasts, web sites, and conversations with neighbors. In response to this information they then have the opportunity to invest in different levels of protective actions. Some versions of the simulation are designed as games, where participants are rewarded based on their ability to make the optimal trade-off between under and over-preparing for the threat.

From a basic research perspective the data provide valuable potential insights into the dynamics of information gathering prior to hurricane impacts, as well as laboratory in which we can study how both information gathering and responses varies in responses to controlled variations in such factors as the complexity of forecast information. From an applied perspective the simulations provide an opportunity for residents in hazard-prone areas to learn about different kinds of information and receive feedback on their potential biases prior to an actual encounter with a hazard. The presentation concludes with a summary of some of the basic research findings that have emerged from the hurricane lab to date, as well as a discussion of the prospects for extending the technology to a broad range of environmental hazards.


Sabine Marx
The Psychology of Climate Change Communication – Insights from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED)

Natural scientists have made great strides in recent years to improve their understanding of the complex issue of global climate change. Despite the progress made, there continues to be a persistent gap between the knowledge and concern among members of the climate science community and translation of such scientific expertise into effective climate change policies and the general public’s behavioral choices. Communication is breaking down at the intersection of climate science, policy, and behavior change. Part of the reason is that, to date, social science research has not been sufficiently exploited to help individuals and groups incorporate information about climate change and environmental risk into decision making. The presentation will highlight research conducted at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED).

This presentation will discuss barriers to behavioral change and provide suggestions for improving communication about climate change: Typical science communication requires analytic processing, some level of expertise, at a minimum interest. For most people abstract information does not translate into powerful vivid images that would trigger action. Furthermore, we have found that people’s interpretation of scientific uncertainty can get in the way of using forecasts and projections. Other barriers include public risk perceptions and attitudes, cultural values, and myopia, as well as the importance that people place on self-interest/economic goals vs. collective interest/social goals.

Many of these obstacles can be overcome and communication of climate change information can be improved by presenting a combination of affective information (vicarious experience, scenarios, narratives, and analogies) and scientific data; yet there are also downsides to the overuse of emotional appeals (such as the finite pool of worry and the single action bias); tapping into social affiliations and group identities can motivate the activation of social goals in favor or self interest; early involvement of stakeholders through participatory processes can help identify key concerns and information needs which can then be addressed in a tailored approach; taking advantage of default effects can make it easier for people to choose environmentally and socially beneficial options.

Using research into the reactions of groups as disparate as African farmers and conservative U.S. voters, we offer insights on how scientists, educators, journalists and others can effectively connect with wider audiences. The communication principles presented in this talk can be applied beyond climate change and to science communication in general.