Scientists, especially young fire-in-the-belly scientists but also many who have grown old making a living at it, are often convinced that if only people understood (or believed?) as they do, those people would come to the “correct” decisions. I know, I was one myself for a long time. Now, Jonathan Swift and Upton Sinclair are my guys.1 Increasingly, though, it is surely becoming clear that facts alone change few minds. Last week’s New Scientist carried an editorial to that effect, about climate change. Adam Corner wrote:
How did the rational arguments of science and economics fail to win the day? There are many reasons, but an important one concerns human nature.
Through a growing body of psychological research, we know that scaring or shaming people into sustainable behaviour is likely to backfire. We know that it is difficult to overcome the psychological distance between the concept of climate change – not here, not now – and people’s everyday lives. We know that beliefs about the climate are influenced by extreme and even daily weather.
What has that to do with me here? Consider this video (and do, please, watch it through):
To me it is utterly charming; amusing, entertaining, well-executed, high-quality. It pushes all the right buttons. Never mind that a farmer growing spuds for The Man is unlikely to have a Big Red Barn or chickens clucking in the farmyard. It is clearly OUTRAGEOUS that she is not allowed to save her own potato propagating material, or “seeds” as our scientific friends might say. And I’m pretty sure that is how it will be seen, and welcomed, by everybody whose confirmation biases it confirms.
Like me, wearing my hat labelled Communicator.
And hated by everyone wearing a Scientist or Policymaker or Seed Industry hat. And me, wearing my other hats.
There is plenty that I could say about both the content and the assumptions on which that charming film is built, but it would be folly. There is also plenty I could say to the Scientists and Policymakers and Seed Industrialists about making their own case, and that would probably be folly too.
So I’m looking forward to your comments.
- Swift said (and there are many versions) “Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired…,” while Sinclair is responsible for “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it,” often wrongly attributed to HL Mencken. [↩]