Science is being seriously threatened. It is certainly amazing to see the scientific community joining efforts and resisting to it. A March for Science is currently being organized, and a newly formed group called 314 Action is encouraging scientists to run for office. Scientists are all fired up to communicate more their science to the general public. But just screaming louder may not bring optimal results. One must understand that science is political, no matter what field it is (@Hood_Biologist).
Studies show both Democrats and Republicans like the same policy better when they’re told it’s supported by their own party. This is called politically motivated reasoning, and leads people to seek out information that reinforces their ideas (confirmation bias), and counter-argue information that contradicts their ideas (disconfirmation bias). We talked about this topic on our last #DiversityJC, in which we discussed the article The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions.
“In the experiment, participants were randomly assigned to receive a table of outcome data that was labeled as either showing how a skin cream affects a rash or how gun control affects crime. The success of the intervention (i.e., skin cream, gun control) was also randomly varied between respondents.
When the table was presented as data about whether a skin cream helped a rash or not, there were no major differences in how people of different ideological leanings interpreted the data. But when the data were instead presented as evidence about the effectiveness of gun control, people’s interpretation of the results became polarized by ideology.”
So it doesn’t really matter what the facts are actually showing, people’s interpretation will vary, depending if the information reinforces or contradicts directional (party) preferences. In this excellent piece GETTING A SCIENTIFIC MESSAGE ACROSS MEANS TAKING HUMAN NATURE INTO ACCOUNT, @NeuWriteSD discusses how in reality, just knowing facts doesn’t necessarily guarantee that one’s opinions and behaviors will be consistent with them. One must first consider human nature, and overcome cognitive biases.
In fact I believe that most of the people who are anti-vaccines, anti-global warming, anti-GMO are not really anti-science. Those opinions seem to be less related to ideologies but more related to express their emotional beliefs. In other words, they seem to truly BELIEVE that those are actual threats to themselves and their loved ones. In her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, sociologist Arlie Hochschild says that “while people might vote against their economic needs, they’re actually voting to serve their emotional needs.” (H/T) this week’s episode of the Hidden Brain.
But how can we fight it? A recent study showed that this politically motivated reasoning can be tamped down – with CURIOSITY! You can read The Atlantic’s article about it here or dig into the full paper. In that paper, the authors present evidence that, as science curiosity increases, subjects tend not to polarize in their judgements but rather adjust their opinions of them. The authors demonstrate the utility of the new “science of science communication”, suggesting that it is possible to construct a valid science curiosity
instrument to reach those people, and scientists need to be sufficiently concrete about its focus, avoids social appeal effects, and not rely exclusively on self-report measures.
One other approach that we can keep in mind is brought by the principle of behavioral economics, that states that when it comes to human beings, there is a conflict between the passions and the impartial spectator. The most famous paper published back in 1979 describes that “the ways in which alternatives are framed—not simply their relative value—heavily influence the decisions people make“. So taking those principles into account, we should aim not only to describe Science but frame it in an optimal way for our audience to “buy it”.
Easy? Of course not. But we must use all efforts and strategies to fight for Science and make sure that our message is delivered – and understood – properly.