Last week, NPR had a fascinating story on how worldview influences belief in climate change.
Participants in these experiments are asked to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise. They are labeled the “individualistic” group. Others are suspicious of authority or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them “communitarians.”
…The individualists tended to like nanotechnology. The communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous. Both groups made their decisions based on the same information.
“It doesn’t matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom onto the positive information,” Braman says.
Scientists deal in data, but it is extremely hard to change people’s minds using data. What to do? Unfortunately the article offers no useful suggestions, saying only
“The goal can’t be to create a kind of psychological house of mirrors so that people end up seeing exactly what you want,” he [Dr. Kahan, the featured researcheer] argues. “The goal has to be to create an environment that allows them to be open-minded.”
I have no idea how to do this or how to help fellow scientists do this, but it’s critical that we figure it out. Climate change has the potential to absolutely devastate the ocean – not just with temperature, but with the increasing acidity of the water. Ocean acidification is incredibly terrifying to every scientist I know, and yet we don’t know how to communicate this to the public. Even Nemo isn’t helping to spur action.
So how can we help people be open minded? Should we make a little table in front of our local Wal-Mart and demonstrate how oysters dissolve in acidic water? Should we scrape together our (rather pitiful) salaries and hire high-priced PR people to fight the high-priced PR people employed by the energy industry? Should we quietly replace Senator Inhofe with a data-crunching Cylon? I don’t know – but it’s clear that our current fact-based communication strategies aren’t working.