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Friday, May 4, 2012

Persuasive writing in a world of denial: Panel discussion | Gabriel Popkin,Science Writing in the Age of Denial

The Tuesday afternoon session “Persuasive writing in a world of denial” was designed to help writers communicate effectively with readers who question scientific consensus. Panelists spoke about the need to understand their audience’s existing mental models, and to write stories that take those models into account.
So begins Popkin's report on this panel discussion. A couple of freelance writers emphasized the use of story telling to help people relate to a scientific topic:
Christie Aschwanden echoed [Steve] Silberman’s emphasis on the importance of story-telling. Stories are “the way the human mind works,” she said. “It’s not something that only deniers do; we all do it. Scientists do it, too.”
Speakers urged confronting directly the fears and mistaken beliefs that people may have. Aschwanden said:
With global warming, the message we’re sending is ‘you’re evil, you’re killing the planet, the only solution is to do things you don’t want to do.’ Climate change contradicts our stories about ourselves, that we’re good people. The place we have to start from is to speak to that story.
Dietram Scheufele, professor of science communication, said writers must frame issues in language that the audience understands:
Can we present facts and phenomena in a way that lay audiences can attach them to what they already know?
We’re being out-communicated .... Persuasive communication has to be finding language that resonates with how people see the world.
Other speakers advocated assertive defense of scientific facts and theories and use of humor and analogies. Popkin described an analogy made by one speaker:
[P]eople insure their houses when there is only a small risk of fire or flood. “Shouldn’t we insure the earth if climate change is 90% likely?” he asked.
For more articles on persuasive writing, check out Garbl's Action Writing Links.

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