Even though he has showed a negative attitued towards economists, Joe Romm has a lot of interesting posts on his blog, Climate Progess. Today, I stumbled over some posts on rhetoric and how the typical scientists lack of training in, and command of, rhetoric favors climate change deniers.
The first post, Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Joe explains some of the basic features of rhetoric and then moves on to discuss how the way of most scientists inhibit them in communicating efficiently with the public:
Most scientists do not like to repeat themselves because it implies that they aren’t sure of what they are saying. Scientists like to focus on the things that they don’t know, since that is the cutting edge of scientific research. So they don’t keep repeating the things that they do know, which is one reason the public and the media often don’t hear from scientists about the strong areas of agreement on global warming.
He also mentions an article written by Jared Diamond called “Scientists who do communicate effectively with the public often find their colleagues responding with scorn, and even punishing them in ways that affect their careers.” This reminded me of an astronomer that has received a lot of attention here in Norway over the years. He has contributed to bring astronomy and, more generally, physics to the public attention. Apparently, he wasn’t very popular among his colleagues and in the end they kicked him out of the University. (The story is told here, in Norwegian.)
In the second post, Joe discusses why a ‘smart talker’ never win a debate against a(n) ‘(apparently) straight talker.’ The obvious is to talk so your listeners understand you. The not-so-obvious is to use narrative tricks to get attention and sympathy from your listeners. Joe demonstrates a few such rhetorical tricks from an inpressive range of sources; from the ancient Greeks to the president election debates in the U.S.
I do realize the importance of knowing rhetoric, not only to win discussions, but also as a means towards producing good science. I try to read some rhetoric along my studies into resource economics; rhetoric often ends up in the background, however.