The scientific veneer of IPCC visuals

Abstract

While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is continuously improving its communication, visualisation has taken a back seat to more pressing issues. The consequence is a set of IPCC imagery where our understanding of perception remains empirically unchallenged. The visual design (defined in this study as the method, technique, and style used to create a visual) directly affects perception and yet, we know very little about how people intuitively respond to visuals depicting climate science. This study examines the perception of four images from the IPCC summary report for policymakers and two open sourced infographics. Using a group-administered study we found the visual design to have a significant impact on a novice readers ability to associate relevant words with an image. While the visuals part of the summary for policymakers educed a sense of confidence, a well-designed infographic left readers feeling less confident. The veneer of legitimacy associated with IPCC visuals is because they look scientific, whereas infographic images were found to look less serious. We acknowledge the accessibility of an infographic but urge IPCC authors to use it with caution, as any negative impact on scientific credibility is an unwanted feature in IPCC communication.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    “Feel the heat”, Visually, http://visual.ly/feeling-heat, accessed March 2015

  2. 2.

    “Global Emissions Infographic”, Pinterest, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/555350197771705796, accessed March 2015

  3. 3.

    SPSS Statistics, IBM Software, version 21, see product site http:// http://www-01.ibm.com/software/analytics/spss/

References

  1. Barkemeyer R, Dessai S, Monge-Sanz B, BG R, Napolitano G (2015) Linguistic analysis of IPCC summaries for policymakers and associated coverage. Nat Clim Chang. doi:10.1038/nclimate2824

    Google Scholar 

  2. BoehmeNessler V (2011) Pictorial law: modern law and the power of pictures pictorial law: modern law and the power of pictures:1–226

  3. Bostrom A, Anselin L, Farris J (2008) Visualizing seismic risk and uncertainty - a review of related research Ann Ny. Acad Sci 1128:29–40. doi:10.1196/annals.1399.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Braasch G (2013) Climate change: Is seeing believing? B Atom Sci 69:33–41. doi:10.1177/0096340213508628

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Chan CSR, Park HD (2015) How images and color in business plans influence venture investment screening decisions. J Bus Venturing 30:732–748. doi:10.1016/j.jbusvent.2014.12.002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Dasgupta A, Poco J, YX W, Cook R, Bertini E, CT S (2015) Bridging theory with practice: an exploratory study of visualization use and design for climate model comparison. IEEE T Vis Comput Gr 21:996–1014. doi:10.1109/Tvcg.2015.2413774

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Dent B (2002) Cartography: thematic map design. the mcgraw-hill companies, Inc

  8. Elliot AJ, Maier MA, Moller AC, Friedman R, Meinhardt J (2007) Color and psychological functioning: the effect of red on performance attainment J Exp Psychol Gen 136:154–168 doi:10.1037/0096-3445.136.1.154

  9. Glaser WR (1992) Picture naming. Cognition 42:61–105. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(92)90040-O

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Granberg D, Brown TA (1989) On affect and cognition in politics. Soc Psychol Quart 52:171–182. doi:10.2307/2786712

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hansen A, Machin D (2013) Researching visual environmental communication introduction. Environ Commun 7:151–168. doi:10.1080/17524032.2013.785441

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Huddy L, Gunnthorsdottir AH (2000) The persuasive effects of emotive visual imagery: superficial manipulation or the product of passionate reason? Polit Psychol 21:745–778 doi 10.1111/0162-895x.00215

  13. Hullman J, Diakopoulos N (2011) Visualization rhetoric: framing effects in narrative visualization. IEEE T Vis Comput Gr 17:2231–2240

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kahneman D (2015) Thinking, fast and slow. Fortune 172:20–20

    Google Scholar 

  15. Lankow J, Ritchie, J., and Crooks, R. (2012) Infographics. The power of visual storytelling. Hoboken, New Jersey

  16. Lorenz S, Dessai S, Forster PM, Paavola J (2015) Tailoring the visual communication of climate projections for local adaptation practitioners in Germany and the UK. Phil Trans R Soc A 373:20140457. doi:10.1098/rsta.2014.0457

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. McMahon R, Stauffacher M, Knutti R (2015) The unseen uncertainties in climate change: reviewing comprehension of an IPCC scenario graph. Clim Chang 133:141–154. doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1473-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Piai V, Roelofs A, Schriefers H (2015) Task choice and semantic interference in picture naming. Acta Psychol 157:13–22. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2015.02.003

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Scaife M, Rogers Y (1996) External cognition: How do graphical representations work? Int J Hum-Comput St 45:185–213. doi:10.1006/Ijhc.1996.0048

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Schiermeier Q, Tollefson J (2015) Four challenges facing newly elected climate chief. New leader of intergovernmental panel on climate change, Hoesung lee, has a full in-tray. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.18492

    Google Scholar 

  21. Siegrist M, Cvetkovich G (2000) Perception of hazards: the role of social trust and knowledge. Risk Anal 20:713–719. doi:10.1111/0272-4332.205064

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Smith MB (2000) Values, politics, and psychology. Am Psychol 55:1151–1152

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Stauffer R, Mayr GJ, Dabernig M, Zeileis A (2015) Somewhere over the rainbow how to make effective use of colors in meteorological visualizations. B Am Meteorol Soc 96:203–215. doi:10.1175/Bams-D-13-00155.1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Stephens EM, Edwards TL, Demeritt D (2012) Communicating probabilistic information from climate model ensembles-lessons from numerical weather prediction wires. Clim Chang 3:409–426. doi:10.1002/Wcc.187

    Google Scholar 

  25. Stocker TF, Plattner GK (2016) Making use of the IPCC’s powerful communication tool. Nat Clim Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate3010

    Google Scholar 

  26. Tal A, Wansink B (2014) Blinded with science: trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy. Public Underst Sci:1–9. doi:10.1177/0963662514549688

  27. Zacks J, Tversky B (1999) Bars and lines: a study of graphic communication Mem. Cognition 27:1073–1079. doi:10.3758/Bf03201236

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rosemarie McMahon.

Electronic supplementary material

Online Resource 1

(DOCX 9370 kb)

Online Resource 2

(PDF 163 kb)

Online Resource 3

(DOCX 666 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

McMahon, R., Stauffacher, M. & Knutti, R. The scientific veneer of IPCC visuals. Climatic Change 138, 369–381 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1758-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • Visual Stimulus
  • Climate Science
  • Visual Design
  • Scientific Credibility
  • Friedmans ANOVA