Rosenau claims there's a disconnect between scientists and science deniers: scientists will focus on scientific facts and evidence, while deniers will focus on moral and social repercussions.
The conversation might begin with a dispute about the evolution of the bacterial ﬂagellum, the signiﬁcance of antibiotic resistance, or the veracity of Archaeopteryx fossils, but before long the discussion leaps to the implications of evolution for the human soul, morality, or religious truth. Discussions about vaccines may open with fears about autism, heavy metals in preservatives, or how many antigens a baby’s body can handle, but rapidly shift to anger about limits on parents’ rights to make choices for their children. Climate change conversations rapidly shift from science to free market capitalism and private citizens’ right to make decisions about their families and their homes. Without addressing these fears ﬁrst, it is impossible to correct scientiﬁc errors and undo the harm caused by science denial. [emphasis added]Rosenau explains that science denial gets rooted in social identity. Perhaps creationists feel they can't really be Evangelicals if they accept evolution. Same thing with climate change and being conservative. Maybe parents of children with autism feel more socially supported by the anti-vaccine groups than by medical offices.
Trying to force feed evidence to people is only so effective when we don't address the social, emotional, and psychological reasons for denial in the first place. It may be more effective to highlight people within these social groups that already do accept the scientific claims. As Rosenau says,
The messengers most likely to break through will be those who share a social identity with the science-denying audience. Their mere existence undercuts the belief that an individual cannot belong to this group and accept the science.He goes on to list examples of people already working from this strategy.
I think most people prefer to see the world in black and white; it's easier to understand and work with. In fact, a big part of why I like the sciences is because the answers are black and white. Objective evidence is unaffected by human emotion, social custom, or even morality. Scientists (being human) may cloud the truth through error or even sabotage, but with enough people following the scientific method, the truth wins out. Science leads to more than never-ending, conflicting opinions; it leads to verifiable answers. I love that.
While scientific truths may be black and white, peoples' beliefs are all shades of gray. Our thought processes are complex, and we form our beliefs based on many factors in addition to (or in spite of) raw evidence.
Promoting scientific truth, then, may require a more complex strategy than reiterating evidence and deriding anyone who resists. We'd like for everyone to be purely logical and rational, but that's not how people are. We can't just talk about chemistry, biology, or physics; we need to talk about emotions, social identity, religious beliefs, political views, psychological states. Science denial isn't just about physical reality; it's about people.