Science Communication in the Context of Reproducibility and Replicability: How Nonscientists Navigate Scientific Uncertainty · Issue 2.4, Fall 2020

Abstract:  Scientists stand to gain in obvious ways from recent efforts to develop robust standards for and mechanisms of reproducibility and replicability. Demonstrations of reproducibility and replicability may provide clarity with respect to areas of uncertainty in scientific findings and translate into greater impact for the research. But when it comes to public perceptions of science, it is less clear what gains might come from recent efforts to improve reproducibility and replicability. For example, could such efforts improve public understandings of scientific uncertainty? To gain insight into this issue, we would need to know how those views are shaped by media coverage of it, but none of the emergent research on public views of reproducibility and replicability in science considers that question. We do, however, have the recent report on Reproducibility and Replicability in Science issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides an overview of public perceptions of uncertainty in science. Here, I adapt that report to begin a conversation between researchers and practitioners, with the aim of expanding research on public perceptions of scientific uncertainty. This overview draws upon research on risk perception and science communication to describe how the media influences the communication and perception of uncertainty in science. It ends by presenting recommendations for communicating scientific uncertainty as it pertains to issues of reproducibility and replicability.