Saturday, February 14, 2015

Minds Cannot Be Changed

I have had discussions with some people in the climate science business and there have been mixed feelings about my global warming skeptic challenge. Some have been enthusiastic supporters and think it was great. Some are of the opinion that it was a bad idea because it only makes deniers dig in their heels that much harder. I actually agree with this in part.

There is no doubt it made deniers dig in their heels, but I contend it doesn't matter because there is no possible way to prove to deniers that AGW is real. No amount of science or data or logic will ever make them change their minds. People will frequently try to get me in a 'debate' over global warming, which I just refuse to do. I ask them one simple question, 'Is there anything I can do or say that will convince you global warming is real?' If they say 'no', I then suggest we save ourselves the time and trouble and move on to something else. I have never had any one say 'yes' to that question. Pretty amazing, when you think about it. To say I shouldn't have done the challenge because it causes deniers to dig in their heels is irrelevant. They will dig in their heels no matter what.

I have always said the purpose of the challenge was not to change the minds of people that have already decided. The purpose was to reach out to people that have not yet made up their minds on the issue. There is no saving someone that rejects science, but maybe we can save someone that hasn't yet done so.

On that note, I found it interesting when I came across an article today in Scientific American today on this very topic. The article initially discussed how people are refusing to vaccinate their children because of a paper linking autism to vaccinations. These people still believe in that claim, even though the lead researcher, Andrew Wakefield, was found guilty of fraud and dozens of other charges. Apparently, he had a financial stake in the findings. The paper was retracted and declared to be "utterly false." Wakefield was eventually disbarred from practicing medicine. And, yet, people still believe in his claim and put their children (and other people's children) at risk by refusing to have them vaccinated.

The article sites a study reported in the New York Times and states,
Nearly 2000 parents were shown one of four pro-vaccination campaigns, each adopting a different persuasive strategy (facts, science, emotions or stories) plus one control group, to see which was most effective in changing minds. The punchline: none of the above. Nothing changed people’s minds, and in fact, the strategies often backfired.
And, that is the point. If someone has decided to reject science, there is no scientific argument that will get them to change their minds. It is not possible, in my experience. I have never had anyone come to me and say, "You know, I didn't believe in that but you changed my mind." It doesn't happen. I hope other people have had better success than I have.

Again, the article states,
Now we know this can backfire: presenting hardline denialists with the facts just makes them dig their heels in deeper.
But, as the article states, people really do change their minds on things. It happens all the time. How does that happen? The author suggests it is because opinions are connected to a person's self-identity. If you can change that self-identity, you change their opinions. People's self-identity changes all through life, so their opinions do too. If we can change their self-identity, we can change their opinions.

She may be right on that, but that seems like an incredibly difficult, even impossible, solution. Think about it, she is suggesting we solve the problem of science rejection by somehow convincing deniers of any form to have a different view of themselves. How do you go about doing that? And, do we really want some mechanism that can cause millions of people to alter their self-image? That sounds way too much like mind-control to me. If not initially, something like that would eventually be misused (think political elections and marketing strategies).

I wish I could come up with something better, but I can't. I don't even try to change their minds. Like I said above, the only hope I see is to reach people before they reject the science. If you have a better suggestion I would love to hear it.


  1. I think the Global Warming Challenge is extremely important and we shouldn't shy away from responding to and challenging the global warming deniers. I don't think we should worry much about them digging in their heels. Their heels are already dug in pretty deep.

    The reason it is important is for the people who are not dyed-in-the-wool deniers. It is for the fence sitters and the average person that doesn't know the facts and can be persuaded by logic and reasoning. They need to hear the global warming side of the argument loud and clear with the same kind of conviction that the deniers brings to the table. If we don't respond, the only thing the average person hears is climate denial propaganda.

  2. PS: I think you might find this article interesting:

  3. That is a very interesting article. I am impressed with how much research the writer did. Thanks for sharing the link.


    At the same time, you should take a look at this link. It does a incredible job of explaining the principles and strategies behind scientific denialism.