Communication of IPCC visuals: IPCC authors’ views and assessments of visual complexity

Harold, Jordan, Lorenzoni, Irene, Shipley, Thomas and Coventry, Kenny (2020) Communication of IPCC visuals: IPCC authors’ views and assessments of visual complexity. Climatic Change, 158 (2). 255–270. ISSN 0165-0009

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Scientific figures, i.e. visuals such as graphs and diagrams, are an important component of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that support communication and policy-making. It is therefore imperative that figures are robust representations of the science and are accessible to target audiences. We interviewed IPCC authors (n = 18) to understand the development of figures in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Working Group 1 (WG1) Summary for Policy-Makers (SPM). Authors expressed the view that the need to maintain scientific accuracy constrained making figures more accessible, with the consequence that figures retained complexity and often required specialists to explain the figures to others. Using sort tasks with IPCC authors and with a group of non-specialists (undergraduate students; n = 38), we found that IPCC authors generally had good awareness of which figures non-specialists perceived as being most difficult to understand. Further, by evaluating the visual complexity of the AR5 WG1 SPM figures using a computational measure, we found that greater visual complexity (i.e. high quantity of information, use of multiple colours and densely packed visual elements) is associated with greater perceived comprehension difficulty. Developing and integrating computational approaches to assess figures alongside user testing could help inform how to overcome visual complexity while maintaining scientific rigour and so enhance communication of IPCC figures and scientific visuals.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: ipcc,climate science,complexity,science communication,visual design
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Science > Tyndall Centre for Climatic Change
Related URLs:
Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2019 02:21
Last Modified: 24 Oct 2020 00:13
DOI: 10.1007/s10584-019-02537-z

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