Science Writing in the Age of Denial (recap, part 1)
The University of Wisconsin-Madison assembled a roster of science-writing all-stars to consider the roots of the public's resistance to accepting the science about evolution, climate change, vaccines, and other matters.
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison made its goals for the event clear in the description listed on its website at sciencedenial.wisc.edu:Science writers now work in an age where uncomfortable ideas and truths meet organized resistance. Opposing scientific consensus on such things as anthropogenic climate change, the theory of evolution, and even the astonishingly obvious benefits of vaccination has become politically de rigueur, a litmus test and a genuine threat to science. How does denial affect the craft of the science writer? How can science writers effectively explain disputed science? What’s the big picture? Are denialists ever right?
Welcome and IntroductionScience writer par excellence Deborah Blum of UW-M welcomed the audience at the event's start and introduced some of those making it possible. University chancellor David Ward considered the tensions between science and irrationality, modernity and anti-modernity, inclusive pluralism vs. ideological pluralization.David Krakauer, the head of the relatively new Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (the venue for the day's discussions), then pointed out that all of us engage in our own forms of denial. For example, journalists covering the denial of climate warming et al. fooled themselves into thinking that they could change public opinion. For decades, Krakauer noted, popular films had carried the message that we ignore scientists' warnings at our peril, yet the public still had this distrust of scientists.
- But journalists aren't the only ones.
Communicating Science in Politicized EnvironmentsArthur Lupia, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, kicked off the session with an energetic and engrossing review of what biology and psychology had discovered about the challenges of making complex arguments to diverse audiences. The fleeting, fragmented nature of human attention and the phenomenon of "motivated reasoning" almost guarantee that people will not absorb and accept upsetting information unless it speaks meaningfully to their priorities and values.
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