Framing Science for Made-Up Minds

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We’ve all heard of global warming, but how much do we actually know? And what do we actually believe? A recent pole referenced in NPR’s All Things Considered revealed that 43 percent of Americans don’t believe global warming is happening, which has increased 14 percent since 2008. George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist at UC Berkeley, blames the scientists. Don Braman and Dan Kahan, members of the Cultural Cognition Project, blame the public.

Lakoff argues that scientists don’t articulate the necessary political charge in addition to the facts they present. He bluntly states that scientists “don't know that they can't communicate, and they don't know they need to get some people who know something about it.” His opinion? Call this issue by what it is, “a crisis for civilization…a crisis for life on Earth.”

Braman and Kahan study the other side of the coin, the public. So why aren’t people listening? “People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their worldview.” Braman explains. If the message makes sense with one’s value system and comes from someone similar to themselves, they’re considerably more likely to listen.

If we’re not calling climate change by the right name and people aren’t listening because it’s not coming from the right person, we should get a new spokesperson right? Depends on who you ask. Lakoff says yes. Braman and Kaham disagree, “The goal can't be to create a kind of psychological house of mirrors so that people end up seeing exactly what you want. The goal has to be to create an environment that allows them to be open-minded.” Easier said than done guys.

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