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Scientific uncertainty – EuChemS responds to consultation on EFSA’s draft Guidance

EuChemS has responded to the public consultation on the European Food Safety Agency’s (EFSA) draft ‘Guidance on Communication of Uncertainty in Scientific Assessments’. The document is intended to provide guidance tools on how to best communicate ‘uncertainty’ from uncertainty analyses in scientific assessments. The aim of EFSA’s consultation was to consult a wide variety of stakeholders, from science communicators to academics, decision-makers to journalists, and establish whether the document fulfilled its tasks – namely, whether it is easy to understand and usable, but also whether it is applicable to different audiences, whether the understanding of verbal vs numerical information is useful, and so on.

EuChemS recognises the crucial role correct and understandable uncertainty communication plays in making scientific assessments clear, unambiguous and therefore more understandable and transparent. By recognising that outcomes and processes in science can sometimes be uncertain, we take an important step forward in recognising certain scientific limitations, in turn making decisions and policies more transparent and reliable. As such, we welcome EFSA’s guidance document to help communicators better convey and share uncertainty associated with any scientific assessment to different audiences.

EuChemS responded to the consultation by highlighting several issues. Firstly, we believe a clearer distinction needs to be made regarding measurement uncertainty (associated with scientific processes) and uncertainty caused by other sources (such as through government actions (or lack of actions)). We also encouraged EFSA to align their terminology with existing international terminology. Indeed, if we look at evaluations and expressions used for measurement uncertainty in physics, chemistry and other fields, we can see there already exists certain sets of standards. EuChemS moreover provided EFSA with a number of references from scientific literature in this respect.

You can download a copy of our submission here.