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Fighting Fire with Fire

Opponents of science in the US are good at communicating their distrust, and getting others to follow their point of view, says New Scientist's Peter Aldhous, adding that it might be time for the scientific community to learn their tactics in "the battle for hearts and minds." President Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, is particularly clumsy at communicating science to the public, Aldhous adds, as he assumes that "mistrust of unwelcome scientific findings stems from a lack of knowledge." The problem isn't too little information — it's how the information is communicated. "The good news is that the latest research on communication and public opinion reveals strategies that anyone who wants political debate to be informed by accurate scientific information should be able to use to get their message across," Aldhous says. For example, one way to change people's minds is not to change the message, but to change the messenger — finding someone a certain group of people identify with. Sometimes, Aldhous adds, it's about framing the message in terms of the "cultural biases of the intended recipients." Though some scientists are uncomfortable with the thought of framing scientific ideas to convince the public of their validity, studies show effective communication is necessary to getting the facts across, Aldhous says.

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