Science+Journalist = how do I explain this?

Important Ideas and an Important Barrier…

I’ve just read a great piece by Kyle Hill. I like it because it links to my Favorite Economist, the brilliant Nobel Laurette Daniel Kahneman.

I also like it because it starts to tap into why the mix of Science and Journalism takes hard work, and there’s lots to learn for me to be good at it.

Science, the kind of Science behind environmental issues increasingly covered by modern journalism, is complex and difficult to explain. It gets misinterpreted.

Why is that? Kyle summarizes work on discovering this. He tells us that if the ideas presented are too far from what we already know, we tend to underestimate how little we understand. We think we know it, we think we get it, and we jump to the conclusions we already had about the topic. Whether they’re right to wrong, or accurate.

Kyle Hill: “If you think you already know everything you need to, why spend much effort evaluating a message?”

When we read or hear or see something and we know we don’t have the knowledge to understand it we tend to think about it more carefully. Daniel Kahneman talks about these two ways of thinking – Fast and Slow – in his book. Read it.

This is the challenge for Science Journalism – how to present this ‘Slow-Thinking-Needed’ information in a way they can think Fast about. It’s not just about having done the slow thinking for them. Maybe it’s about presenting the information in a way that taps into what they already know, they already feel and they already care about, too.

Kyle has another take:

“To encourage more in-depth evaluations, the communicator should try to tiptoe around grand emotional appeals and instead emphasize the importance of accuracy in making a judgment on the question. If the listener believes that there is a large gap between current and required knowledge on a topic, they are more likely to exert the large effort required to close it. “

So what will I do?

“We have to have convenient mental bridges to span the information deluge of everyday life…To get more people to believe in good science, we have to better use the science of persuasion.”

Each time I try to explain the Science (Ecological, Economic or Social) behind what I do, what Offset Trading systems and Mitigation Markets do, I try to find that point where my listeners mental bridge finishes and find a way to build it a little more. If I can get someone to think differently about an idea or a topic that they thought they already knew about it, I have made my positive mark. It’s not the information from they remember, it’s that feeling that they can know new things about old topics, and that it’s OK to still be curious. Not everything is known. Keep looking. Keep questioning.

Uncertainty breeds curiosity, and curiosity is the life-breath of science.

Thank you, Kyle Hill.


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