Posts Tagged ‘trust’
Our science communication team here at Iowa State is having fun interviewing scientists about their communication challenges, as part of our NSF funded work to develop cases for teaching responsible communication of science.
Here’s one situation that’s come up a couple of times in our talks. A scientist is making a presentation to a public (non-specialist) audience. She’s asked a question relevant in a general way to her topic, but outside of her immediate research area. She remembers reading something about it, but isn’t quite sure of the answer. What should she say?
Pathos (emotion), logos (reasoning), and ethos (character)–for persuasion, these three; but the greatest of these (according to Aristotle at least) is ethos. Work across the sprawling contemporary discipline of communication agrees; “source factors” like knowledgeability, credibility and likeability play a key role in getting a message across.
This raises the hope that some of our bitter public disputes over science might be resolved, if only we could find the right messenger; a scientist whose conspicuous dignity, integrity and authority would make him (or her) trusted by all sides in the dispute.
Alas, even if we could locate such a scientist-saint, this communication strategy would be unlikely to work. Read on to see how my own recent blogospheric experiences suggest why.
Like the point Bill McKibben makes recently, what’s happening with global warming is like what happened with the O.J. case: you have a mountain of evidence, yet they manage to get it all thrown aside through their theatrics.
Bill McKibben recently likened the “controversy” surrounding climate science to the botched O.J. Simpson trial
Climategate is nothing more than Mark Fuhrman. You have one cop that does some weird things and that’s enough to outweigh all the evidence. They had to come up with a Mark Fuhrman for the glove, because the glove had O.J.’s hair, it had Goldman’s blood, and Nicole’s blood and fiber from the bronco. If they didn’t have Mark Fuhrman, they’re screwed. Well that’s what they did with Climategate, there’s sea temperatures, air temperatures, melting glaciers, with all that’s there, they’ve got to come up with some guy in East Anglia in Britain that’s kind of wacky, and they gotta hack into his computers, and make a case as they did with O.J. That’s the point Bill McKibben made recently, if you’ve seen what he said.
Ouch! Ed Begley, Jr. (and Bill McKibben), I don’t think this is what you want to say!
On the same Canadian news show that I mentioned yesterday, Joe Romm offers an alternative view. Should climategate and the recently discussed IPCC errors change what citizens believe, or how reporters handle the matter?
There’s no question that in this 3000 page report, the IPCC report, there were one or two relatively trivial mistakes, as the Washington Post put it. But they have been used as an excuse by some in the media to question the entire science. The analogy I use is: every major newspaper publishes corrections every single day and yet they expect the public to come back and believe what’s in the newspaper (ca. 4:00).
The analogy is a good one, although it goes against the point Romm is trying to make.