We are all faced with uncertainty about the future, but we can get the measure of some uncertainties in terms of probabilities. Probabilities are notoriously difficult to communicate effectively to lay audiences, and in this review we examine current practice for communicating uncertainties visually, using examples drawn from sport, weather, climate, health, economics, and politics. Despite the burgeoning interest in infographics, there is limited experimental evidence on how different types of visualizations are processed and understood, although the effectiveness of some graphics clearly depends on the relative numeracy of an audience. Fortunately, it is increasingly easy to present data in the form of interactive visualizations and in multiple types of representation that can be adjusted to user needs and capabilities. Nonetheless, communicating deeper uncertainties resulting from incomplete or disputed knowledge—or from essential indeterminacy about the future—remains a challenge.

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Volume 333 | Issue 6048
9 September 2011

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Published in print: 9 September 2011


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Acknowledgments: Supported by an endowment from the Winton Charitable Foundation (D.S., M.P.).



David Spiegelhalter* [email protected]
Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0WB, UK.
Mike Pearson
Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0WB, UK.
Ian Short
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK.


To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]

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