Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tooting one's own horn

A few years ago ... well OK more like six ... Mike Runge of the USGS gathered a group of regular attendees to the Adaptive Management Conference Series with a number of USFWS employees who had ... issues. Three of them, in fact, and the goal was to see if the sort of quantitative decision theory approaches developed for the Mid-continent Mallard Harvest could be applied to endangered species. It has taken a while, but there will soon be a special issue describing the outputs of that workshop, and the ones that followed.
In the meantime, I was recently asked to summarize what my group did for bull trout in the Lemhi Basin for laypeople. In 800 words. The result looks sharp, but that's because of the pictures more than the words, I think!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Why we should lead with values, not facts

Over the past couple of years I've had some major paradigm shifts. One of those relates to the value of science in debates - recognizing that sometimes, no amount of science is enough. I just read an article by Chris Mooney in MotherJones.com reviewing some very interesting research on how political values affect how we perceive evidence. I've quoted the last few paragraphs below to give context to the very last sentence, which says it all for my new paradigm.

The upshot: All we can currently bank on is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself?

Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn't trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.

This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan's work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—"Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming" and "Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming"—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a d├ętente in what Kahan has called a "culture war of fact." In other words, paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.

That's it. Values matter. Lead with the values.