Two channel solution to the science communication problem (slide show)

I gave a presentation today at Harvard Business School in connection with a seminar co-taught by Richard Freeman and Vici Sato on economics of science & innovation. Got lots of great questions & reactions.

The talk (particularly toward the end) describes a “two channel communication strategy” as a device for counteracting the distorting effect of cultural cognition.

The idea is that ordinary citizens process information about policy-relevant science along two channels. The first  (Channel 1) transmits the content of such science — that is, the conclusions it supports about how the world works and how it can be made to work better. The second (Channel 2) conveys the cultural meaning of that information — and in particular whether assenting to the validity of it coheres with a person’s defining group commitments.

Science communication can be effective only if the messages transmitted on both channels mesh with one another. If the information being transmitted along Channel 2– the meaning channel — threatens a person’s cultural identity, then various mechanisms of cultural cognition will block out receipt of the content being transmitted along Channel 1, no matter how clear that information is. If the meaning signal is culturally congenial, however, then ordinary individuals will give it open-minded consideration even if it is contrary to their culturally grounded prior beliefs.

Our study on message framing and geoengineering supplies empirical support for using the two-channel model to reduce cultural polarization over climate change science.

In the talk, I present evidence from that study, but I also connect the two-channel strategy more systematically to a general model of how cultural cognition interacts with all manner of information processing.  Will likely write up a paper along those lines in near future.

For now– slides.

Leave a Comment