Thursday, September 15, 2016

Do facts hurt science communication?

Like Dr. Suess’s Grinch, I’ve puzzled ‘til my puzzler is sore. The source of my puzzlement?  Contrary to what I’ve thought for much of my career, facts—no matter how well presented—don’t necessarily help meet communication goals. In fact, facts may hurt.

On the same day I was reviewing the keynote address from the recent North American Congress on Conservation Biology (NACCB), I ran across a New York Times article highlighting an issue prominent in the keynote—the same facts mean different things to different people.

The New York Times piece, Why facts don’t unify us, describes the findings of a study titled How People Update Beliefs about Climate Change: Good News and Bad News. In this study, people with different beliefs on climate change became more polarized in their views after being given the same scientific facts. While this finding helps explain the wide rift on the subject of climate change, it vexes the communicator in me.