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Ross: ‘March for Science’ defied the laws of persuasion

Thousands participated in the March for Science in April 2017. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

Over the weekend in Washington and around the country, scientists and their supporters marched for science – holding signs such as “May the facts be with you” … “Planet over profit” … “Science makes beer.”

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The trouble with the March for Science was that it defied science. The idea was to change the minds of conservative politicians. But the science of how to change people’s minds shows that simply confronting people with facts doesn’t work.

Dr. Arthur Lupia, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, says you have to understand your audience.

“If you were a scientist and you walked into an Evangelical congregation and you started talking about evolution, and then wanted them to believe things about climate change, you’re probably sunk,” Lupia said. “Whereas if you walk in front of the same congregation and talk for a while about stewardship, of creation, and establish shared values, they might hear you differently.”

The science of political persuasion says human beings are not wired to automatically accept facts unless those facts make them feel good about themselves and their beliefs. In a book called “The Believing Brain,” science historian Michael Shermer quotes study after study showing that beliefs trump facts. He argues that people primarily want to reinforce what they already believe.

“It’s not until you shift social groups where people think differently, then your beliefs can shift,” Shermer said. “But by themselves, just with new evidence, almost nobody changes their mind when they’re within a social group that reinforces that particular belief.”

A march is a confrontation. It’s saying: you’re wrong, we’re right, and we’ve taken over this park, or this street, to force you to listen.

Bottom line: marching in the streets may work for some causes but it’s not a good way to promote science. According to science, anyway.

Although, you get a million people chanting “Science makes beer” – that could work.

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