Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to Talk to Climate Deniers

Talking to climate deniers can be a difficult experience. And yet, scientists - and the public - must talk to deniers. Well, sometimes. The first step in any interaction with climate deniers is determining whether it is worth the time. Many times it simply is not. Deniers' own willful ignorance can in itself demonstrate to anyone watching the deniers' lack of veracity. For these deniers, which includes your typical internet trolls, interaction is what they crave, no matter how ignorant, obnoxious, and often, downright dishonest, they demonstrate themselves to be. Exploiting any interaction gives these folks the self-validation their psyche demands. They can be ignored.

But sometimes climate deniers spread falsehoods that aren't so easily recognized as such by passing readers or listeners. It is to these deniers that scientist Michael Raupach suggests climate scientists need to speak, though perhaps not in direct "debate." What Raupach really means is that scientists should be correcting the record and ensuring the public gets accurate climate science, not the falsehoods so often repeated by denialist groups. In a speech to the Australian Academy of Science, Raupach "called on his colleagues not to sit on the sidelines of the political debate about global warming and other environmental issues, given the evidence they present asks society to consider fundamental changes."

Invariably, it is the conservatives (or more accurately, the extreme political wing who call themselves conservatives but who are really more of reality-deniers) who ignore the science in favor of their rehearsed talking points. So how does one convince ideologically motivated people to stop denying the science and instead take responsibility for dealing with it?

Dana Nuccitelli, writing in the Guardian, says that "facts can convince conservatives about global warming - sometimes." He notes that in new research led by Sophie Guy, "across the participants as a whole,
People who were knowledgeable about climate change believed more strongly that it is happening, that it is being caused by human activities, and that it has negative consequences than those with less knowledge."
And also,  
"conservatives of a libertarian flavor were more likely to accept that global warming is happening when they had a better understanding of the climate. This indicates that some conservatives are persuadable; that information, evidence, and facts can potentially break through their ideological filter."
And yet, certain conservatives will actually be less persuaded by more information because they convince themselves they know better than actual climate scientists. This is the basis for the concept, "Confidence of the Dumb."

Science writer Chris Mooney notes another study in which the ample us of pie charts - not bar graphs, not data tables, not line charts, but pie charts - may be the best way to convince conservatives that man-made global warming is real and that debate should be focused on which policy options provide the best strategies for dealing with the science. Mooney argues that this technique emphasizes one fo the best ways of communicating anything - "You keep it simple, and you show pretty pictures."

Climate scientists would be wise to take that advice.

[Note: Pie chart from Skeptical Science]