A University of Wisconsin geneticist tells a science journalism meeting of ‘six steps’ common to science ‘denialism’ campaigns.

Journalists covering climate science issues can take some heart in knowing they’re not alone in newsrooms across the country in reporting “in the age of denial.”

In a series of pieces in the summer 2012 issue of ScienceWriters, published by the National Association of Science Writers, Inc., several writers address what Editor Lynne Friedmann called a “game changer” University of Wisconsin conference seeking to shed light on questions such as:

  • “How does denial affect the craft of the science writer?
  • How can science writers effectively explain disputed science?
  • What is the big picture?
  • Are denialists ever right?”

Among the messages conveyed by speakers at the two-day “Science in the Age of Denial” conference was a six-step “general manual of denial” that University of Wisconsin-Madison geneticist Sean Carroll sited, drawn from a history of chiropractors and vaccination. Those six steps will sound familiar to many dealing with climate change communications challenges in the face of adamant “deniers”:

Doubt the Science

Question scientists’ motives and interests

Magnify legitimate, normal disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies as authorities

Exaggerate potential harms (scare the hell out of people)

Appeal to personal freedom

Show that accepting the science would represent a repudiation of a key
religious or philosophical belief

According to Carroll, who is also vice president for science education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, telling the story of science “in a more compelling way” is one approach to countering such strategies.

“Science lends itself to a narrative and people remember stories more than they remember other types of information,” Emily Eggleston wrote in ScienceWriters. She wrote that Carroll suggested science writers “use the power of storytelling to convey the conclusions of science.”

The ScienceWriters features also provided links to further readings and resources on issues related to the conference and its messages on science denial: conference videos; summaries of the presentations at the Madison meeting; and a list of relevant blogs.