Scientists Are from Mars, Laypeople Are from Venus: An Evidence-Based Approach to Consensus Messaging

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 2:55 PM
John Cook1,2, Peter Jacobs3 and Dana Nuccitelli2, (1)Skeptical Science, Brisbane, Australia, (2)Global Change Institute, St Lucia, Australia, (3)George Mason University Fairfax, Environmental Science and Policy, Fairfax, VA, United States
Laypeople use expert opinion as a mental shortcut to form views on complex scientific issues. This heuristic is particularly relevant in the case of climate change, where perception of consensus is one of the main predictors of public support for climate action. A low public perception of consensus (around 60% compared to the actual 97% consensus) is a significant stumbling block to meaningful climate action, underscoring the importance of closing the “consensus gap”. However, some scientists question the efficacy or appropriateness of emphasizing consensus in climate communication. I'll summarize the social science research examining the importance and effectiveness of consensus messaging. I'll also present several case studies of consensus messaging employed by the team of communicators at the Skeptical Science website.