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How To Talk To Coronavirus Skeptics


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Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker interviews Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard who has focussed much of her career on examining distrust of science in the U.S.: Chotiner: This idea that we reject science because it clashes with our beliefs or experience -- how does that explain why people in Miami, whose homes are going to be flooded, reject global-warming science? Is it partisanship? Oreskes: The phrase I used was implicatory denial. What we found in "Merchants of Doubt" was that the original merchants of doubt, the people who started the whole thing, way back in the late nineteen-eighties, didn't want to accept the implication that capitalism, as we know it, had failed -- that climate change was a huge market failure and that there was a need for some kind of significant government intervention in the marketplace to address it. So, rather than accept that implication, they questioned the science. Now these things get complicated. People are complicated. One of the things that's happened with climate change over the last thirty years is that, because climate-change denial got picked up by the Republican Party as a political platform, it became polarized according to partisan politics, which is different than, say, vaccination rejection. And so then it became a talking point for Republicans, and then it became tribal. So now you have this deeply polarized situation in the United States where your views on climate change align very, very strongly with your party affiliation. And now we see a cognitive dissonance. Let's say you live in Florida, and you're now seeing flooding on a rather regular basis. This is completely consistent with the scientific evidence, but you don't accept it as proof of the science. You say, "Oh, well, we've always had flooding, or maybe it's a natural variable." You come up with excuses not to accept the thing that you don't want to accept.

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