The Society for the
Study of Social Issues

Event Report: The Science of Why We Deny Science

21 October 2011

Chris Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science, opened his talk by asserting that the war on science by social conservatives and science skeptics has probably become worse than it was in 2005 at the time of his book’s publication. The most salient example of this development is the skepticism about global warming which though a firmly established scientific truth still remains unproven in the minds of a majority of Americans.

One of our most favored approaches for remedying factually incorrect dispersal of information in society is by trying to communicate the right scientific arguments. However, psychological research is showing us that this approach has serious flaws and may be preventing better approaches from taking seed.

Among the most vigorous defenders of global warming skepticism, research shows, are those individuals who consider themselves to be highly educated and informed on the topic. This is broadly consistent with research of religious beliefs which their holders often report as being beyond any kind of scientific refutation. The biologist, Kenneth Miller, has stipulated that one can never argue with creationism because, for its believers, it is often based on the essential organizing principle of their lives.

The key to this realization is to alter our approaches to science communication in a way that properly understands the role of emotion in human beliefs and brain processes. The widely published research on human personality types shows how personality strongly affects the ways that different people will comprehend and act upon knowledge.

So what is a better approach to science communication? Mooney says that it all comes down to message framing.

The tendency of humans toward motivational reasoning means that the more friendly or familiar the message framing, the more likely it is to be entertained in a way that is assimilative to what an individual already believes. Allowing information to dovetail with individual’s need for self-affirmation is another technique that science communicators should bear in mind.

A video of the event is available here.

Alex Ingrams
SPSSI Policy Coordinator

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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin