Posted by: r.m. | March 11, 2010

what does it take to persuade the unpersuadable?

a most excellent article by George Monbiot – on (western) society’s perception of scientists (does this apply here in Arab world?) — and also on what it takes to persuade people! here’s an excerpt

On climate change:

There is one question that no one who denies manmade climate change wants to answer: what would it take to persuade you? In most cases the answer seems to be nothing. No level of evidence can shake the growing belief that climate science is a giant conspiracy codded up by boffins and governments to tax and control us.

On persuasion:

In 2008 the Washington Post summarised recent psychological research on misinformation(6). This shows that in some cases debunking a false story can increase the number of people who believe it. In one study, 34% of conservatives who were told about the Bush government’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were inclined to believe them. But among those who were shown that the government’s claims were later comprehensively refuted by the Duelfer report, 64% ended up believing that Iraq had WMD.

There’s a possible explanation in an article published by Nature in January(7). It shows that people tend to “take their cue about what they should feel, and hence believe, from the cheers and boos of the home crowd.” Those who see themselves as individualists and those who respect authority, for example, “tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire.” Those with more egalitarian values are “more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted.”

These divisions, researchers have found, are better at explaining different responses to information than any other factor: race, gender, class, income, education or personality type. Our ideological filters encourage us to interpret new evidence in ways that reinforce our beliefs. “As a result, groups with opposing values often become more polarized, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information.”(8) The conservatives in the Iraq experiment might have reacted against something they associated with the Duelfer report, rather than the information it contained.



  1. I simply idolized your blog! I love your post about climate change. This would be very helpful in promoting thinking to humankind. Keep up the good work! More power to you.

  2. Living in a world of lies and fallacies makes new discoveries and information doubtful, sometimes people a right to doubt, but they sometimes might be wrong

    Here we get back to the article who to blame for Dr. Evil and the “restriction of knowledge”? We can’t blame scientists since they are bossed by higher “powers” as governments and organizations, for example the researchers that did isolate the “terminator genes” so that the crops in third world countries would be no longer fertile, are working for biotech companies that aim to control the economy of the world. I’m not saying that this is ethical, what I’m trying to say is that if they had the chance to work in a regular institution they wouldn’t have accepted to work with the devil. We should not blame them we should blame the authorities that control such biotech institutions.
    As for publication, no one is willing to work for free, they need to live. However I agree with the author that some scientists are unethical! So this argument might not be totally convincing.

    Now, I do understand Why Dr Rania is teaching us English-ecology; a healthy language conveys healthy sciences, where everyone could understand. Thus “The problem is not only that most climate scientists can speak no recognizable human language, but also the expectation that people are amenable to persuasion”. Thus good English speakers and writers could convey “scientific signals” into “over simplified signals” easily understood by the society.

    It seems that Monbiot is comparing the climate change to the tooth fairy. Kids that believe in the tooth fairy do not see it, whereas people who are bombarded by the news about the climate change are feeling it, even if they don’t trust sciences and media. why is the winter more intense? Why is the summer drier? Why are the oceans rising? This is all related to climate change. He can not compare it to the situation of Iraq since there is no tactile proof that could justify these claims.

    Finally there is in the world evil and good, and all that matters is how to use it. that’s why nations and NGOs should take a one at a time stand and fight this corruption.

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