How to Change People’s Minds About Science
A newly formed scientific consensus does not automatically and immediately gain acceptance among the public. This does not mean that people are hopelessly stubborn, but rather that they need good reasons to change their minds.
PARIS – On some issues, the majority of scientists agree, but large segments of the public are not convinced, resulting in consensus gaps. Unfortunately, many of the most important gaps today relate to sustainability.
For example, there is a long-standing scientific consensus about the reality of climate change and what causes it. Yet, ten years ago, only half of Americans believed that human activity caused global warming (and one-third still doubt it). Similarly, the overwhelming majority of scientists, along with expert groups, agree that genetically modified foods are safe to eat, and can play an important part in helping to feed the world while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. But in most countries, large numbers of citizens think that GM foods harm both consumers and the environment.
Furthermore, most experts – including the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – believe that nuclear power should play a role in lowering global greenhouse-gas emissions. But in many countries, a large share of the population regard nuclear energy as dangerous and even polluting.
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