From John Cook, climate communications guy at the University of Queensland at The Conversation:
Ironically, the practice of throwing more science at science denial ignores the social science research into denial. You can’t adequately address this issue without considering the root cause: personal beliefs and ideology driving the rejection of scientific evidence. Attempts at science communication that ignore the potent influence effect of worldview can be futile or even counterproductive.
Actually, the first thing one should do is look at the personal beliefs and ideology of those presenting the evidence. Then compare them with those who reject the evidence. About fifty years ago, I was in a hospital, on the bookshelf of whose coffee room was an encyclopedia from about 1905 that blandly explained that the consensus of science was that Africans were less intelligent than Europeans, but that we Europeans ought not to mistreat them anyway. They couldn’t help being simple savages.
John Cook would say, he never meant anything like that. Of course he didn’t. Because it isn’t the consensus today.
But I have no reason to assume that whatever he is currently flakking for, wants to shut down debate about, or manipulate people into accepting without thinking (read further) is better founded or more ethically grounded. Experience would suggest otherwise.
How then should scientists respond to science denial? The answer lies in a branch of psychology dating back to the 1960s known as “inoculation theory”. Inoculation is an idea that changed history: stop a virus from spreading by exposing people to a weak form of the virus. This simple concept has saved millions of lives.
The response to science denial is not just more science. We stop science denial by exposing people to a weak form of science denial. We need to inoculate minds against misinformation.
The practical application of inoculation theory is already happening in classrooms, with educators adopting the teaching approach of misconception-based learning (also known as agnotology-based learning or refutational teaching).
This involves teaching science by debunking misconceptions about the science. This approach results in significantly higher learning gains than customary lectures that simply teach the science.
For example, instead of teaching about the Cambrian explosion and honestly admitting that we don’t really know why it all happened so suddenly, though plausible hypotheses exist, the teacher should stress that it is not a problem for Darwinian evolution (when it obviously is, and is recognized to be such).
After all, the main thing is to protect Darwinian evolution.
Most students will get by but they won’t know the difference between science and establishment propaganda, just as the student in 1905, inoculated with a weak virus about race (he was told to be nice to dumb Africans), would not have known that the Encyclopedia’s view of Africans was a belief held by scientists, not a fact.
While this is currently happening in a few classrooms, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) offer the opportunity to scale up this teaching approach to reach potentially hundreds of thousands of students. At the University of Queensland, we’re launching a MOOC that makes sense of climate science denial. More.
As if a great many people don’t already know about all the measurement scandals, to say nothing of Climategate.
Here’s an illuminating free report from the U.S.-based National Association of Scholars that addresses propaganda marketed as science. Incidentally, the NAS does not take a position on the issue as such, rather on the kind of thing that Cook markets as science and reasoned debate.
It is not a conversation. It is a huddle.
Lose the pom poms.
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