Controversies II


It’s been a few days since I posted. Mostly because my friend Brian just moved to Eindhoven and I’ve been busy showing him around. But i also had an exam on friday and was kept busy with that.

In my last post, a reader pointed out that I was perhaps being a bit over generalizing with the group of people that refute climate change. I said that it was rural christian republicans that most likely refused to accept the evidence for climate change. I still say this is true, however, not everyone that falls into this description refuses to accept climate change.

Indeed, we should be thankful for that. In a study that was looking to determine how trust is developed in an informational source it was determined that similarity in other opinions increases trust in topics unrelated. Meijnders et al (2009) investigated the trust that develops with sources related to Genetically Modified foods.  They found that when there is no other information about the source other than what they wrote about an unrelated topic if the opinions matched it increased trust in the source. So if an author wrote about a cash register and the reader agreed with the author, and then the reader read an article about GM foods by the same author there would be higher acceptance of the information in the source. It also found the opposite to be true as well. That if there was a difference in opinion then it would lead to a rejection of the author and they would dispute their claims.

What does this have to do with climate change or any other controversy though? Well, who are the people that speak the most about evolution and climate change? Scientists, and as Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out in his talk on naming rights that 40% of scientists in the US don’t believe in God and 85% from the National Academy of Science. For the group that has the biggest issues with these topics this reduces any  trust between the reader and the author. The amount of evidence presented become inconsequential as there’s no trust between the two and the evidence may in fact strengthen the rejection of climate change or evolution.

How can we deal with this? Well, one way is through more communication with the general public. It may also include educating the religious leaders of how the science works and why they should accept the evidence. Many atheists may not like that idea, but these leaders can reach a lot of people and they are a trusted source of information on other topics. The next step would be to have christian scientists that work within the field of evolution (there are some not many) and climate change explain how these two accepted scientific principles do not conflict with belief in god.

The catholic church has already accepted evolution, and have made positive remarks on climate change. This helps some, but most US citizens are not catholic, so we need to go after different people. Evolution is going to be much more difficult to succeed in this. As pastors are leading the charge against evolution in many churches. However, there is no reason why an approach like this would not work for climate change.

In controversial topics, science would be better served to be inclusive in educating as many religious leaders as possible to ensure that their followers are getting correct information from the best sources. This is in additional more scientific communication in general. More scientists need to function as journalists and start their own blogs.

References:
Meijnders et al, 2009, “The role of similarity cues in the development of trust in sources of information about GM foods”, Risk Analysis vol 29, no 8 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2009.01240.x/full
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bnyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf

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