The great alienator

Why doesn’t the public accept the science? This is the so-called Hard Question in the science-communication sciences.

The paradigm is straightforward enough:

A scientist and a non-scientist meet. This is a teaching moment: the non-scientist is ‘exposed’ to science. We logically expect this to translate (or ‘convert’) to an increase in his or her acceptance of the science.

But it doesn’t always happen.

We’ve studied hundreds of unsuccessful exposures—’failures to convert’ [FTC]—and asked participants what went wrong with the rapport between scientist and citizen.

The single biggest rapport-breaker?


Time and time again, scientists find the public arrogant.

Unless and until ordinary people show some humility and deference, the scientists will have little interest in helping them.

Nowhere is arrogance more of a turn-off than in the climate debate. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone complained, “Just because they’re climate scientists, it doesn’t mean they’re smarter than us.”

Yes it does. And until the general public gets over its self-importance, the scientists are just going to keep switching off.

8 thoughts on “The great alienator

  1. nige t

    Yes, I know this problem only too well. I’m not a scientist as such, but I do value the scientific ‘method’. I’ve had many conversations with the general public on various topics and my FTC ratio is high.
    It seems to me that ‘arrogance’ is rife. So many of the general population are impervious to reason – they smoke, drink, go to parties and nightclubs, do copious amounts of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, eat whatever they want – usually meat – and don’t give a toss about the astounding rise in the temperature of mother earth!


    But, unlike the scientivists, I never give up!!! I’ll keep banging on to complete strangers
    no matter what!!!!


    1. Brad Keyes Post author


      I’m approving you this time, on the presumption you typed “scientivists” inadvertently and in bona fide.

      Please be advised, however, that CN moderators have an exquisitely fine-tuned radar for facetiousness—and little tolerance for posters who repeatedly fail to treat the climate change issue with the seriousness it deserves.


  2. nige t

    Not sure how you could say that brad, Of course, I take the subject of climate change as seriously as it deserves. I’m not sure that you do.all the time. Sometimes, I suspect thet you’re a bit of a ‘lukewarmer’. That’s not good. That’s ammunition for the ENEMY.

    Yes I mistyped ‘scientist’ as ‘scientivist’ – but that’s a better word for them! They’re CLIMATE EXPERTS after all – that’s the peak.

    I think you should take a close look at yourself…I really do.

    And saying stuff like ‘in bona fide’ is really bad. We weren’t all lucky enough to go to the University of East Anglia.

    Im only sleeping
    night brad


  3. H.D. Kline

    The trouble with the average person is they will believe some things, but not others. A lot of it is down to the general breakdown of discipline in society. People don’t respect AUTHORITY any more. If 97% of SCIENTISTS tell me the science is settled you’d better believe I believe them, because I was brought up properly. Besides, 97% is STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT, so you’d have to be some kind of MATHEMATICAL IGNORAMUS to believe the insignificant 3%.

    I have become so incensed with the Science Denialism INFECTING the IGNORANT MASSES that I’ve been going round people’s houses, off my own bat, asking to talk to them about GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE. Quite often they tell me to GET STUFFED, or worse, which indicates, at least, how deeply the Denialist Lobby has penetrated the fabric of society. Every now and then, though, I get a bite. Excuse the fishing allusion, but in my own small way I like to think of myself as a Fisher of Persons. Mostly these people agree with me, of course, but I’ve learnt a lot from the Denialists.

    The most important rule is to keep it simple and explain everything in terms of what they already know. For example, a lot of people refuse to accept that GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE is no longer a science issue, even though we know the SCIENCE is SETTLED. I used to explain in detail how the Denialists were all cranks, some PRETENDING to be SCIENTISTS, NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS in physics – as if being a physicist can make you a CLIMATE EXPERT – or even LORDS. I would give them lists of links to articles in The Guardian showing how their network of blogs all linked to each other and were PAID FOR BY BIG OIL and VARIOUS POWERFUL AND WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS, but their eyes would often glaze over, and they would call me a conspiracy theorist, because they did not get the difference between a “conspiracy theory” and an ACTUAL CONSPIRACY. A few of them even said The Guardian would have long since gone out of business if it hadn’t been for the public sector job ads, which shows how DANGEROUS DENIALIST MEMES can be. Since then I’ve tried a different tack. I just say, “The only reason there is a false impression that there is a debate on GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE is because of the propaganda efforts of a WELL-ORGANISED, WELL-FUNDED GLOBAL DENIALIST CONSPIRACY, which is just like the WELL-ORGANISED, WELL-FUNDED GLOBAL JEWISH CONSPIRACY*”. Making that connection makes all the difference. *Between you and me I have my doubts, to say the least, about the WELL-ORGANISED, WELL-FUNDED GLOBAL JEWISH CONSPIRACY, but why complicate matters when it works so well?


  4. James Phillips

    Yes, the benighted ignorance of the average “man in the street” is simply intolerable to any evolved human. Just the other day I was explaining to me neighbour how his 4WD was destroying my planet – and he responded “I’m sorry, I hadn’t looked at it like that before”!

    What goaded me the more than the sheer insufferable arrogance was his faux humility. It took all my restraint to only punch him in the head. One more to be lined up against the wall once sound climate-based government is finally installed.


  5. John Johnson

    The crazy idea that the planet is warming because of some man-made greenhouse gas is completely absurd, considering that the planet has been warming since the last ice age. We do need to consider the depletion of the rain forests and we also have to consider that insane liberal environmentalists who don’t want anyone clearing fallen trees in forests which is a huge cause of forest fires which also deplete the forests. As an environmental engineer I see thousands of acres of land used to dump our waste, our aquifer system being poisoned (of which the EPA does squat), and almost zero money being put forth to some up with a reasonable clean power source besides wind and solar (which are a joke).


    1. Brad Keyes Post author

      The crazy idea that the planet is warming because of some man-made greenhouse gas is completely absurd, considering that the planet has been warming since the last ice age.

      Translation: rats have natural predators and die of organic causes; therefore, when you find a dead rat on your street it might NOT have been tossed out the window of that yellow Hummer with Conservative bumper-stickers and a helpful Ecological Sex Offender Warning in the rear windscreen (a.k.a. “Baby on Board” sign), mightn’t it! And voilà, we have reasonable doubt. Which is pretty much the victory condition for Team Denier these days, isn’t it?

      And we know the next line of the Song of Fallacies:

      “We don’t know … therefore we’re not certain!”

      I congratulate you on the impeccable eco-credentials, by the way. Almost too impeccable. But I’ve been at the science-communication game long enough to know an ingenuous seeker of science, and that ain’t you “John Johnson,” is it?

      The name checks out. There are a couple of J. Johnsons in the general field.

      Oh, but google has one more little gem for us.

      For the history buffs: a spy and mercenary, “John Johnson,” whose real name was Guy Fawkes. But you might know him better as Guido Fox.

      But can that really be what you’re trying to say, “John”? Would the denial machine really stoop to insinuating a threat of violence… terrorist bombing… against a successful new voice for the science like our humble selves?

      It wouldn’t be out of character or without precedent, folks.

      And something else doesn’t quite jibe: “and we also have to consider that insane liberal environmentalists…”

      It’s those little tells. You claim to be an environmental engineer? Ooh: unluckily for you, I’ve presented papers with more than one Professor of Environmental Engineering. And let’s just say you… haven’t quite mastered the idiom to fully inhabit the character. (Sorry, sarcasm isn’t worthy of me—but I sometimes get worked up by these uninvited simian fly-ins.)

      Your Koch paymasters aren’t getting their money’s worth. Yet.

      If you admit and change your tactic, and would actually like to communicate, which means listening, then you’re welcome back. But bona fides and full disclosure will be expected, “John.”

      Your IP has been logged. Not that that should be a problem for you, should it? Sorry for the formality, but you can never be too safe when there’s a Subterranean War on Science, even if this isn’t Parliament and you’re not in a rented subterranean cellar with a torch.

      It’s lamentable that it’s come to this. Talk of “dead rats, Sex Offenders and [Guy Fawkes]” in a scientific debate?

      Shame on you, sir.

      [Normally we’d snip this “interaction,” but by weak consensus have decided to leave it intact as an object lesson: there will be certain “Commenters” who aren’t genuinely interested in communicating, folks.—CN Mods]


  6. millersnose

    I feel a bit ashamed
    I since expressed doubt the arctic would be ice free this year

    I am trying very hard but some delialists have gotten hold of the media and are spreading the lie that heir was ice in the arctic

    I pray Doctor Kampens mega denialist destroying storm of retribution smites these evil journalist liars and their big oil funders



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s