The other day, I was at a cooking class and overheard a conversation between two women about the wonders of bullet-proof coffee. I had to hold onto the table to keep my balance as my eyes rolled so hard into the back of my head. I’d love to believe that drinking coffee laced with butter every morning is an efficient way to lose weight, but I know enough about fad diets to recognize if a diet sounds too good to be true, it is. In my last post, I discussed how narrative plays a role in pseudoscientists tricking the general public into buying products, not getting vaccinated, or not accepting climate change. Before pointing fingers at these people however, scientists need to take a look at the role they play in the spread of misinformation.
First, as a scientist/science enthusiast, take a step back and look at how you are different from the general public. You were educated or trained to think critically, analyze arguments, and gather information on a topic you are unfamiliar with. Wanting to be informed and being curious are natural aspects of a science minded person. For the general public however, non-experts do not do this, and instead rely on their levels of trust within an institution or a professional to provide them with knowledge. It is not enough for scientists to know things and tell them to the public.
Trust is key to science communication. Here are five ways you can start to build more trust with the public:
- Show your credibility
For the skeptics and deniers, it is important to establish credibility with your audience. If you are writing about climate change for example, being an expert in the field of environmental science, or citing credible sources from experts in the field is a way to start building trust with your audience. It should be clear that you did your research on the topic and are not motivated by biases, emotion, or political agendas.
- Admit unknowns/limitations
To avoid sounding like a “know-it-all” or an elitist, don’t be afraid to admit the limitations of your knowledge, or things you aren’t sure about. A sense of entitlement or “holier-than-thou” attitude can isolate your audience and cause them to not trust you.
- Acknowledge and address audience concerns
Even if someone has beliefs that are obviously based on pseudoscience or misinformation, do not dismiss them right away. Listen to their opinions/perspectives and acknowledge them. By listening, you can better understand where they got their information from, what their concerns/fears are, and how they constructed their beliefs. Encourage your audience to debate with you and ask questions. Acting open minded and receptive will give your audience the sense that you care, and that they can trust you.
- Refute pseudoscience fairly
After acknowledging the other person’s perspective, refute fairly. It can be frustrating to talk to someone who is so obviously wrong on a topic and refuses to budge in their beliefs. Try to not get emotionally involved. Avoid name calling, yelling, and attacking the person. This is the quickest way to lose your audience’s trust. Instead, keep calm, arm yourself with evidence, and stick to the facts.
- Pick your battles
People don’t like being attacked for their beliefs. Thus, as tempting as it can be to chime in when someone tells you they just bought a body wrap from It Works! that you’re better off throwing your money down the toilet and using saran wrap for the same “effects,” just don’t. Be the trusted science-minded person who is happy to debate fairly and provide credible evidence, but isn’t a science crusader. Follow these steps to be a trustful science person, but don’t get pushy.
Have you ever struggled with gaining the trust of a skeptic on a scientific topic? Share your stories in the comments.
As always, thanks for stopping by my blog. In my next post, I’ll talk about the power of confirmation bias. Make sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the latest updates.