2010-11-09 09:46:21Heroes wanted in climate science story
John Cook


Some more fascinating research into communicating climate science:


Work that Jones did as a graduate student published this year, involved experiments on 1,586 people to show how this plays out in the way people talk about climate science. Each person was randomly treated to one of four opinion articles and answered survey questions about their climate opinions before and after reading the article. Each article discussed a recent report on the U.S. effects of global warming.

One of the four was simply a list of the effects of climate change from Alaska to the Atlantic Ocean, and points in between, such as "It is 66% likely that the Great Plains area will experience more severe summer droughts."

The other three options were all identically-worded stories, with the same facts as the list, but with the good guys, bad guys and solution for global warming swapped out. The options they looked at:

•"Individualist" story — presented "free competition" as the hero of the story, with "bureaucratic unions" and "the infamous Club of Rome" as the enemy, with a market system as the solution to global warming.

• "Hierarchical" story — presented "scientific expertise" as the hero of the story, with " Ecodefense" and the "infamous Earthfirst!" as the enemy, with nuclear energy as the solution to global warming.

• "Egalitarian" story — presented "equal participation" as the hero of the story, with "the radical Cato Institute" and "selfish politicians" as the enemy, with "community-owned renewable" energy as the solution to global warming.

People were more likely to agree with scientist's views about climate change after reading a story, rather than a list alone, regardless of which one they read.

"But what surprised us was how much the hero mattered," Jones said. People liked the villains less after reading the story, but that didn't affect their views much. Instead, having a hero they liked made them much more favorably disposed towards a solution. "Simple stories with likeable heroes are the most effective, they make people overlook incongruent things in the narrative," Jones says. "Obviously, this has implications across a lot of areas."


2010-11-10 04:28:16interesting
Dana Nuccitelli
Interesting, but people do like a good story with a good hero, so it makes sense.  Kind of hard to implement that when trying to stick to talking about climate science though!
2010-11-10 21:36:09Not necessarily
John Cook

It's good to think about these issues, particularly when framing climategate. But it's also good thinking about narratives and storytelling in pure science stories. Rob Honeycutt is particularly good at weaving compelling narratives into science based articles.