Penland, C., 2002: On the perception of probabilistic forecasts. In La Niña and Its Impacts: Facts and Speculation, M. H. Glantz (ed.), United Nations University Press, 253-255.


Black and white decisions are the easiest; that's why we like them. This is why we demand a strict definition of El Niño, with an "Is it? Or isn't it?" But many physical phenomena, including El Niño, exist in a continuum of magnitudes and patterns. Given the evidence that nonscientists make probabilistic choices every day, why do scientists doubt the public ability to accept probability? I submit that the general public has never been given an adequate opportunity to deal with probabilistic forecasts. I think the problem lies with the inability scientists have to come to terms with the fact that there are physical reasons why we must sometimes be unsure, and that it's okay to let other people know it.

[Abstract courtesy of C. Penland]