Yesterday I listened to this NPR Science Friday segment on the disagreement between scientists and the public on key issues. As I have been reading posts on Facebook and twitter about the measles outbreak and condemnation of people who do not vaccinate their children I asked myself, are these posts making a difference?
Sadly the answer might be no. Michael LaCour on the podcast discusses his study on changing minds on gay marriage and then studies vaccine education. Sadly the education campaigns the CDC put out that were studied did not lead more vaccination. Even more jarring are the two phone conversations in the podcasts between scientists and skeptics about vaccines and genetically modified foods. In both cases the skeptics decline to switch their positions despite the evidence and data presented to them. It turns out that knowing the truth is only half the battle, it has to be communicated effectively.
While LaCour seems to think that people are only persuaded by vulnerable people telling stories face-to-face, I think that there are other ways to communicate facts effectively and we just have to find them. In 2011 Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate and after doing so the population of people who believed he was born outside the United States plummeted. Not only was the birth certificate definitive proof, but it also showed the skeptics to be frauds.