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LUF grant for Sanne Willems

The Leiden University Fund (LUF)/ Gratama-Foundation has awarded a 35.000 euro grant to statistics researcher Sanne Willems. This grant enables her to examine how uncertainty regarding predictions can be best visualized for the public.

In everyday life, many decisions are made based on statistical predictions, such as expectations about the course of inflation or infections. However, such statistical estimates are intrinsically imperfect and inherently uncertain. In order to make good decisions, it is therefore important to know how uncertain a prediction is. Decisions based on highly uncertain predictions are riskier than those based on certain predictions.

Should you inform the public about uncertainty?

Although policy makers often take uncertainties into account in the decision-making process, there is no consensus on whether to inform the public about uncertainty as well. Even though this information can be crucial in decision-making, some fear that it causes negative psychological responses such as heightened risk perceptions and emotional distress. As a result, some people avoid making decisions altogether. As this is not favourable, it is important to gain insight into how uncertainty can be best communicated to ensure that the predictions are meaningful.

Large research network

The Gratama-Foundation LUF grant enables Willems to examine the impact of communicating uncertainty in visualizations on people’s cognitive, emotional, trust, and behavioural respons. Together with her collaborators dr. Ruben Vromans (Tilburg University) and prof.dr. Casper Albers (University of Groningen), she will use the large-scale LISS panel. 'I am very happy that this grant allows my collaborators and me to collect data via the LISS panel. As the LISS panel is representative of the Dutch population, our results will be generalizable to the Dutch public. This makes the results extra relevant to institutes that communicate statistics on a national level, like CBS, RIVM, and KNMI. We will involve these institutes in our project and encourage them to implement our findings in their communication strategies. In this way, our study will have a direct impact on the way statistical uncertainty is communicated within the Dutch society. As we will involve these national institutes and expect our study to bring about ideas for follow-up research and collaborations, this project is a great step towards a large research network focusing on the important topic of uncertainty communication.'

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