Risk Analysis

What Number is “Fifty‐Fifty”?: Redistributing Excessive 50% Responses in Elicited Probabilities

Journal Article

Studies using open‐ended response modes to elicit probabilistic beliefs have sometimes found an elevated frequency (or blip) at 50 in their response distributions. Our previous research(1–3) suggests that this is caused by intrusion of the phrase “fifty‐fifty,” which represents epistemic uncertainty, rather than a true numeric probability of 50%. Such inappropriate responses pose a problem for decision analysts and others relying on probabilistic judgments. Using an explicit numeric probability scale (ranging from 0–100%) reduces thinking about uncertain events in verbal terms like “fifty‐fifty,” and, with it, exaggerated use of the 50 response.(1,2) Here, we present two procedures for adjusting response distributions for data already collected with open‐ended response modes and hence vulnerable to an exaggerated presence of 50%. Each procedure infers the prevalence of 50s had a numeric probability scale been used, then redistributes the excess. The two procedures are validated on some of our own existing data and then applied to judgments elicited from experts in groundwater pollution and bioremediation.

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