What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

By Keith Kloor | December 6, 2013 12:16 pm

And so…

after a decade in which Americans are listening to you less and less, these warnings have to get more shrill just to have an impact — which, of course, only undercuts the reputation and credibility of those speaking so shrilly.

I know who and what you think this is in reference to. Actually, it’s an observation on neoconservative communication, from the always-astute Daniel Drezner, at his Foreign Policy blog.

But it sure can apply to other political and policy realms, where a similar communication pattern has played out. Along those lines, it’s worth revisiting a piece of advice from this excellent 2010 paper:

research suggests that people can become “numbed” by overuse of emotional appeals and that they can only worry about a limited set of issues (a “finite pool of worry”; Linville and Fischer 1991; Weber 2006). Thus, although vivid images and concrete outcomes are important when presenting the science, one should use them judiciously. Overuse may have the unintended consequence of leaving the audience overwhelmed and thus unwilling to take any action on what they perceive as fait accompli.

Speaking of which, what do you think will happen when the New Normal frame becomes…well, not so new after a while?

  • Thomas Fuller

    The problem arises not when the newness wears off. The problem is when the redefinition of normal wears thin.

    As I have commented several times, the new strategy of the climate concerned–Xtreme Weather–leaves them hostage to the daily weather report.

    Even if it were true–and there’s no real evidence to support their claims–it would be a horrible strategy. What will people think on the 99% of days when the weather is exactly what they grew up with?

    But the climate concerned have a history of making absolutely horrible choices on communicating their concern, from ‘the planet has a fever’ to using red buttons to blow up children. I don’t know why I keep expecting them to learn.

    However, Tamsin Edwards is providing lessons on how it could be done. And Keith, remember when you had dialogues on your blog with Judith Curry, Gavin Schmidt and Bart Vergheggen? Why not try one with Tamsin? She seems like the real deal.

  • jh

    Well, it’s clear that the apocalyptic message has limits as a communication tool.

    But the idea that “scientific” (rather, social science) research can deliver the ultimate communication tool that will convince everyone that what (I, you, the IPCC, or anyone else) think is true is laughable.

    Isn’t this overweening belief in the rightness of each and every research conclusion part of the problem? There is a certain group of scientists and science advocates who seem not to know that science doesn’t proceed in a straight line toward the knowledge we wish to obtain.

  • J M

    Just how clueless the climate warriors are is revealed by this Guardian blog post:


    Apparently the only problem standing in the way of climate action is the reluctance of media to bang only the acceptable tune. Not the billion people without electricity or developing countries’ hunger for energy. Or replacing 80% of the energy supply with other, costlier sources.

  • zlop

    Wars, Climate, False Flags,
    Government manipulates, lies to control and destroy.


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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