How to convince science skeptics

A psychology professor at Yale found that when looking at new scientific evidence, we tend to interpret facts through a lens based on our previously held beliefs. With the wrong framing, our brain subconsciously jumps into a defensive mode where we try to rationalize the new information in a way that either makes the information support our preconceptions or pick out the faults so as to not shift our beliefs.

So the key to convincing someone isn’t throwing facts at them, it’s presenting the facts in the context of certain values:

This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.