This is probably going to be another of those rather confused posts, which doesn’t really say much and in which I illustrate my own confusion, more than anything else. I’ve been reading (a few times, now) a Nature article by Dan Kahan and Katherine Carpenter called Out of the lab and into the field. Dan Kahan also highlights it in this blog post.
I’ll state upfront that I still don’t quite get the significance Dan Kahan’s cultural cognition ideas, even though it does seem to be given quite a lot of credence by people whose views I do largely respect. I get that some people are culturally pre-dispossed to reject certain ideas and that, therefore, convincing such people of a certain position can be extremely difficult. What I don’t quite get is what one is meant to do, given this information, especially when it comes to semi-formal science communication, rather than advocacy. Of course, knowing something of the audience can help to tailor what you might say, but you’re still constrained by the actual scientific evidence; there are quite strong limits – in my view – as to how much you can tailor your message to account for people who might be culturally pre-dispossed to reject it.
However, in Kahan & Carpenter’s Nature article they say
Decision scientists have identified remedies for various cognitive biases that distort climate-change risk perceptions. Researchers must now use the same empirical methods to identify strategies for reproducing — in the tumult of the real world — results forged in the tranquillity of their labs.
I must admit that I haven’t come across the term decision scientists before, and am not entirely sure what they are. Also, I’m still not clear what these strategies – that have been forged in the tranquility of the theirs labs – actually are and who they’re aimed at. Are they aimed at traditional science communicators (which I would regard as those, often scientists, who communicate scientific information to the public and to policy makers) or at what I would regard as something like scientific advocates (those who are using scientific information to try and convince the public, and policy makers, that there is something that we should be doing, given that information).
Again, maybe I’m confused, by my understanding behind getting out of the lab and into the field is to actively get involved in helping organisations/science communicators that are trying to, for example, convince people of the significance of anthropogenically-driven climate change. The article also gives an example of the Cultural Cognition lab working with such an organisation. This is where I get a little confused/uncomfortable; is the underlying Cultural Cognition idea simply a clever marketing strategy, a way of getting people who won’t typically accept your views, to ultimately do so?
Of course, there is nothing necessarily wrong with this; those trying to adovate for something will want the most effective messaging strategy. But is this necessarily appropriate for what I would regard as science communication; people – often scientists – engaging in public discussions about science? It’s one thing to find effective ways to better communicate the information, but another to utilise strategies aimed at convincing people of your position. It seems, to me at least, that Cultural Cognition is focussed more on the latter, than the former. Again, nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it would nice if this were clearer.
I think I’m going to stop here (I told you it would be confused). I think I get the basics of the Cultural Cognition idea (some people are culturally pre-dispossed to reject certain scientific views) but I’ve never been quite sure what this implies with respect to how we should actually conduct scientific communication. It’s, of course, possible that I am confused about the fundamental idea, and that I’m missing something obvious about how this information can be utilised. If so, maybe someone can clarify things in the comments; it does seem that many people give quite a lot of credence to these ideas, so I would quite like to know what it is that I’m not getting.