Is it scientific? Viewer perceptions of storm surge visualizations

Peter J. Stempel, Austin Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Scientists and coastal risk managers use semi-realistic visualizations of storm surge connected to hydrodynamic models to make projected impacts engaging and accessible. Such visualizations do not fit within established frameworks for visualizing risk because they add representational detail and may imply more certainty than exists regarding outcomes. This study explores how audiences regard these visualizations in relation to perceived representational norms for scientific graphics and visualizations. Online survey respondents (735 experts and members of the general public, primarily in Rhode Island and the northeastern United States) were asked about characteristics that make a representation “scientific.” Results demonstrate differences in norms emphasized by experts and the public, and that the persons and institutions creating the visualization may influence perceptions of legitimacy more than the style of the visualization. This may increase the potential of visualizations to be misleading and may foster perceptions that scientists are engaged in advocacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-136
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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