Persuasion 101 for Science Communicators

Look out, it’s another hot take!

Many of you probably saw the recent article from Scientific American.  It’s another in a long line of opinion pieces talking about how scientific communicators are probably doing it wrong in one way or another. We will get to my own hot take in a bit, but this article bothered me in particular because it’s thesis statement was, “…are we leading audiences to rely less on data than emotion?” I agree with the author that unscrupulous emotional appeals aren’t the best way to gain the public trust, but the Op-Ed left me with the impression that data driven argumentation is the one good way to do science communication.  That’s a premise I do not support.

I think the real problem is many folks giving advice to scientific communicators have a real misunderstanding about what persuasive communication actually is. If we are seeking to persuade audiences, and as scientific communicators our basic goal should at least be to persuade folks that our work is interesting and worthwhile, we need to understand how persuasion works from a communications perspective.

What I’m not saying in this essay is that using data to drive your scientific communication is wrong.  I think data driven communication efforts can be effective and compelling! I am saying persuasive communication is a flexible tool and we, as a scientific community, are doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t understand all the different ways we can use it.

Like in so many instances, we ignore the wisdom of the Social Sciences at our own peril.

Buckle up buttercup.  Get ready for Persuasion 101 in 500 words**.     

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Persuasive Communication 101

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