Dan Kahan, of Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, recently posted a fantastic piece on what he calls the precarious opportunity for science communication that exists in the challenge of local adaptation. You can read the full post here:
In it, Kahan argues:
Because being out of step with one’s cultural group in battles to “define” the nation’s soul can carry devastating personal consequences, and because nothing a person believes or does as an individual voter or consumer can affect the risks that climate change (or ill-considered responses to it) pose for him or anyone else, it is perfectly predictable— perfectly rational even—for people to engage the issue of climate change as a purely symbolic or expressive issue.
Ok, this makes sense; people engage with problematic topics as less concrete, more symbolic issues when there is a lot of cognitive dissonance.
In contrast, from Florida to Arizona, from New York to Colorado and California, ongoing political deliberations over adaptation are affecting people not as members of warring cultural factions but as property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers—identities they all share. The people who are furnishing them with pertinent scientific evidence about the risks they face and how to abate them are not the national representatives of competing political brands but their municipal representatives, their neighbors, and even their local utility companies.
I think he’s onto something here… we can’t seem to fix the damaged ethos or restore a holy sanctity for scientific authority within certain audiences, so why not make an end run around the entire rhetorical situation and task individual human beings, as members of a local community, with the challenge of persuasion.
By use of stylized lab studies, the science of science communication has generated critical insights about valid psychological mechanisms. Such work remains necessary and valuable.
But in order for the value associated with it to be realized, social scientists must become experts on how to translate these lab models into real, useable, successful communication strategies fitted to the particulars of real-world problems. To do that, they will have to set up labs in the field, where informed conjectures based on indispensable situation sense of local actors can form the basis for continued hypothesizing and testing.
Ok. Just give me nine more months to work out this process, (that real, useable, successful bit sounds a lot like useful, usable, desirable, no?), because that’s what it is: a design process.
Then, once I have that sorted out, I’ll teach other people how to do it. My next job title: Locally Adapted Science Communication Strategy Consultant. I’ll start up a firm. Maybe I’ll ask Dan Kahan to join me. Anyone looking for an investment opportunity? Just kidding. (Or maybe not).