Persuading Climate Skeptics – Why We Need Republican Experts

New Scientist has an interesting article on research into what persuades people on scientific issues.  The key finding is that there’s a major impact of hearing the evidence from someone who has similar political and social outlooks.  Experts who are similar to listeners are inherently more believable.

The researchers tested this with a debate over giving HPV vaccines to school girls.    Note that switching who provided the evidence affected the beliefs of both groups.  Those who agreed politically with the new ‘expert’ saw their levels of agreement rise.  Those who disagreed saw their levels of agreement drop.

The implication here is that, for skeptics on climate to be convinced, they need to hear the evidence from those who they politically agree with.

And as a 2010 Gallup Poll  showed, the skeptics on Climate Change are by and large Republicans:








(more from Grist on the 2010 gallup poll)

That means Republicans who believe in climate change are the ones who have the greatest chance of lifting nationwide belief that it’s a serious problem.  Experts on the left remain vital as well, of course.  But we are near the point where a majority of Democrats believe climate change is a serious problem.  We are far from that point among Independents and farther among Republicans.

From the New Scientist article on political agreement with experts and how it affects their persuasiveness:

Yet people’s views do change if the right person is offering the evidence. Kahan investigated attitudes for and against giving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to schoolgirls to prevent cervical cancer – another divisive issue. After he presented people with both sides of the argument, he found that 70 per cent of egalitarian-communitarians thought it was safe, compared with 56 per cent of hierarchical-individualists.

When the “pro” argument was presented as coming from an expert painted as being in the egalitarian-communitarian camp, and the “anti” view came from a hierarchical-individualist, the split widened to 71 versus 47 per cent. But strikingly, swapping the experts around caused a big shift: 61 per cent of hierarchical-individualists then rated the vaccine as safe, compared to 58 per cent of egalitarian-communitarians. In short, evidence from someone you identify with sways your view.

via How not to change a climate sceptic’s mind – environment – 18 March 2011 – New Scientist.

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