Public discussion of science can be toxic

Public discussion of the science around problems humanity faces today seems inevitably to be diverted by hostility, misleading propaganda, personal attacks, and even outright censorship* of scientists and supporters of science. This creates an atmosphere, and an information overload, which turns the ordinary person off –  if it doesn’t actually fool them into taking up an unscientific position.

So I welcome the publication of the new book I’m Right and Your an Idiot. Subtitled The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it up, the book which is launched next week, looks like it will help scientists and supporters of science who regularly confront this problem.

James Hoggan, the author, is a co-founder of the website, DeSmog, which is well known for its activity in disseminating the real science about climate change. So it is significant that the Amazon blurb for the book starts with this:

“The most pressing environmental problem we face today is not climate change. It is pollution in the public square, where a smog of adversarial rhetoric, propaganda, and polarization stifles discussion and debate, creating resistance to change and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems.”

In the book, Hoggan explores:

“How trust is undermined and misinformation thrives in today’s public dialogue. Why facts alone fail – the manipulation of language and the silencing of dissent. The importance of reframing our arguments with empathy and values to create compelling narratives and spur action.”

The blurb finishes with this very relevant point:

“Our species’ greatest survival strategy has always been foresight and the ability to leverage our intelligence to overcome adversity. For too long now this capacity has been threatened by the sorry state of our public discourse. Focusing on proven techniques to foster more powerful and effective communication, this book will appeal to readers looking for both deep insights and practical advice.”

James Hogan is also the author of Climate Cover-Up and Do the Right Thing.

*NoteI think anti-science hysteria can create its own censorship, quite apart from government,  where ideologically motivated activists seek to exclude scientists from debates. This was brought home to me recently when I joined a Facebook group, Methven Fluoride Facts, which has the declared aim:

“This is a place to come for facts about fluoride. Everyone is welcome. We would like facts only. Please refrain from personal attacks on others, this will not be tolerated. This is simply about educating the community in a safe forum.”

I spent the first day answering questions and  attempting to correct some of the scientific misunderstandings on the group posts. Then I was subjected to a frenzy of anti-fluoride memes, accusations of being a shill and a troll, hostile comments and finally banned from the group. Administrators of this group tolerated the science for only two days! And their actions help censor scientific input from other members of the group.

(Come to think of it, I must have been banned from almost every anti-fluoide social discussion group I have ever commented on – and I don’t think it is just me).

These days internet forums, blogs, and social media are an important place for the public discussion of issues.  When such forums fall under the control or pressure of anti-science groups they can seriously distort the discussion by censorship like this.

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3 responses to “Public discussion of science can be toxic

  1. soundhill1

    Just standing back for the moment, I am not talking for or against AGW &c. I just wish to comment on the form of some of methods of arguing. I think the following comment on Greeniewatch maybe quite often has relevance to methods of interaction here on Openparachute: “James Hoggan has been Chairman of the Board for many years. His PR Company has major alternate energy companies as clients. Hoggan is the proud creator of DeSmogblog a web site that claims it is “Clearing the PR Pollution that clouds climate science” but mostly involves personal attacks on people asking questions. The objective was to denigrate people by creating “favorable interpretations” to the following questions. “Were these climate skeptics qualified? Were they doing any research in the climate change field? Were they accepting money, directly or indirectly, from the fossil fuel industry?” This doesn’t answer skeptics questions about the science.”

    Though I have taken a quick look at DeSmogblog and in the brief time I haven’t seen too much of it there.

    Like

  2. You really are dragging the bottom of the climate change denial barrel, Brian.

    You seem incapable of doing anything like this with your hero Mercola, though, don’t you?

    Like

  3. soundhill1

    Ken you really reinforce what they are saying.

    Like

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