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Wednesday
Jan112012

Answer to Andy Revkin about Murray Gell-mann

Andy Revkin did a cool interview of Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-man, who thinks people are dumb b/c they don't get climate change.

Andy's post asks (in title): Can Better Communication of Climate Science Cut Climate Risks?

My response to Andy's question:

Answer is no & yes.

No, if "better communication of science" means simply improving how the content of sound scientific information is specified & transmitted.

Yes, if "better communication" means creating a deliberative environment that is protected from the culturally partisan cues that have poisoned the discussion of climate change.

Consider:

1. the most science literate citizens in the U.S. are the most culturally divided on climate change; and

2. a dude who hasn't finished high  school is 50% likely to answer "yes" if asked whether antibiotics kill viruses (NSF science literacy questeion) but has no problem whatsoever figuring out that he should go to a Dr. when he has strep throat & take the pills that she prescribes for him.

People are really super amazingly good at figuring out who the experts are and following their advice. That skill doesn't depend on their having expert knowledge or having that knowledge "communicated" to them in terms that would allow them to get the science. But it can't work in a toxic communication environment.

 Corollaries:

 1. The climate change problem doesn't have anything to do with how scientists communicate. It has everything to do with how cultural elites talk about science.

2. It doesn't matter that Gell-man is innocent of the science of science communication. It is a mistake to think that that has anything to do with the problem. It would be nice if he understood the science of science communication in  the same way that it would nice for citizens to know the science behind antibiotics: it's intrinsically interesting but not essential to what they do-- as long as they follow the relevant experts' advice when they are sick, aren't doing quantum physics, etc.

 

 p.s. Can you please interview Freeman Dyson, too?

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