The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exposed scientific uncertainty in its raw form. When facts are uncertain, policy makers and health experts sometimes shy away from communicating scientific uncertainty,1 fearing that the uncertainty will generate mistrust.2 In Germany, for instance, the pandemic-related threat scenarios invoked have sometimes been devoid of uncertainty.3 Nevertheless, presenting uncertain aspects of the pandemic as certain may adversely affect citizens’ trust and compliance with containment measures should those reports later prove invalid.4 We assessed people’s preferences for health communications with varying degrees of scientific uncertainty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and explore factors associated with the preferred form of communication.
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CME Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships. If applicable, all relevant financial relationships have been mitigated.
Accepted for Publication: November 12, 2020.
Published: December 10, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.32335
Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2020 Wegwarth O et al. JAMA Network Open.
Corresponding Author: Odette Wegwarth, PhD, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Author Contributions: Dr Wegwarth had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Wegwarth, Spies.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Wegwarth, Wagner, Hertwig.
Drafting of the manuscript: Wegwarth, Spies.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Wegwarth, Wagner, Hertwig.
Statistical analysis: Wegwarth, Wagner.
Obtained funding: Wegwarth, Hertwig.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Wegwarth, Spies.
Supervision: Wegwarth, Wagner, Hertwig.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Spies reported receiving grants from Aridis Pharmaceutical Inc, B. Braun Melsungen AG, Drägerwerk AG & Co, KGaA, Grünenthal GmbH, Infectopharm GmbH, Sedana Medical Ltd, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft/German Research Society, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt eV (DLR)/German Aerospace Center, Einstein Stiftung Berlin/Einstein Foundation Berlin, European Society of Anaesthesiology, Gemeinsamer Bundesausschuss/Federal Joint Committee (G-BA), Inneruniversitäre Forschungsförderung/Inner University Grants, Projektträger im DLR/Project Management Agency, Stifterverband, World Health Organization collaborating center, Baxter Deutschland GmbH, Biotest AG, Cytosorbents Europe GmbH, Edwards Lifesciences Germany GmbH, Fresenius Medical Care, Grünenthal GmbH, Masimo Europe Ltd, Medtronic GmbH, Pfizer Pharma PFE GmbH, Dr F. Köhler Chemie GmbH, Sintetica GmbH, European Commission, Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft Þ.V./Philips, from Stiftung Charité, Aguettant Deutschland GmbH, AbbVie Deutschland GmbH & Co KG, Amomed Pharma GmbH, InTouch Health, Copra System GmbH, Correvio GmbH, and Max Planck Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften eV and personal fees from Georg Thieme Verlag outside the current work. In addition, Dr Spies reported having patents 10 2014 215 211.9, 10 2014 215 212.9, and 10 2018 114 364.8, all licensed and granted in Germany, and patent 10 2018 110 275.5 pending (applied for in Germany). No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: The study was funded by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The Max Planck Institute for Human Development had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
Data Sharing Statement: Data are made available at the Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/w6df5/).
Additional Contributions: We thank Susannah Goss, MA (Max Planck Institute for Human Development), for her excellent help with editing our manuscript. We further thank Nico Siegel, PhD, and Christian Spinner, MA (both from Infratest dimap), for their valuable input on the survey setups and programming. All parties received compensation for their work.
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