9 OUT OF 10

A couple of weeks ago I was involved in a discussion about the difficulties of public education and how to persuade the general population that climate change really might be a major concern that warrants significant action.

The majority were arguing for the effectiveness of the ‘scientific consensus message.

The notorious 97%.

Some of those advocating this consensus messaging were social scientists, eager to point out the various studies done on changing public attitudes and responses to information.

It seems to be generally agreed that the deficit model, the idea that people lack information and all you have to do is provide it in bite sized chunks, is inadequate. Providing information is important, but ineffective if a person has a pre-existing belief system or worldview that prevents them from accepting the veracity of the information.

The social science side were quite insistent that emphasising the overwhelming percentage of the mainstream science that agrees with the basic theory of AGW is an effective way of overcoming these blocks to accepting information. Others argued that it may persuade the already sympathetic, or the indifferent, but for those with a contrarian world view it was likely to be further polarizing.

My own view was that while I could see the benefit and power of the argument from consensus, my experience of health education programs was that they are invariably ineffective.
And knowledge transmitted does not convert ineluctably to changes in behavior or belief.
There was a study done to compare the result of one-to-one educational sessions with a highly qualified health professional and a simple pamphlet informing people of how to live a healthy lifestyle and avoid the common risks that increase the risk of cardiac disease.

From a population that claimed 80% ignorance about certain risk factors, both the pamphlet and the face-to-face solo sessions were effective in converting at least half the population into people who were aware of the risk factors. The direct personal contact was more effective, but given the relative cost, not effectively so.
The problem was that while over half the population was better informed about risks to cardiac health, follow up studies showed very little change in behavior.

The study had converted a population where the majority were ignorant of the cardiac risks they were taking, to one where they were still taking those risks, but now the majority were worried about it.

I also said that consensus messaging was crass, little different from a pet food advert claiming that 9 out of ten cats…

In reply one of the social science advocates made a long and well argued post, with reference to research and dismissed the advert comparison by saying that the cats were not a relevant authority while the scientists are.

I think the cats are expert on their preferences, but it is not a strong counterargument!
I contemplated trying to reply and defend my position for several minutes but could not construct a strong argument and could see anything I tried to write descending into verbose, extended and incoherent sentences…

So I spent the next hour and a half modeling and animating this –

Hardly a overwhelming argument, but a lot more effective than any written post I could have made !

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