Think of the first emotion that comes to your mind when I mention the following words. Ready? ok – Nuclear energy, STEM cells, fracking, carbon capture and life-like robots.
Do you feel fear?
If so, is it because you are fully aware of the risks or might it be that your gut simply doesn’t agree with it?
Last night I attended a lecture from Professor Iain Stewart about the difficulties of communicating modern day issues related to geology/ science in the limelight and this was one of the lessons I came away with.
What he explained was that there are people who are engaged with science (e.g. documentary lovers, museum day-trippers, or project do-ers) and those who are disengaged. This includes your anti-science individuals and crowds that have no time for it. This was a concept published in Australia recently and it’s easy to identify the different categories, but trying to engage the sleepwalkers is not quite an easy task. Especially, when lots of people forget the academic essentials from school. However, one of the problems with communicating to the public is that there’s the perception specialists or academics always know better as they’re blessed with all the information. The divide between the engaged and disengaged can feel like imagining a scene in Mumbai, where a glamorous hotel could be stood next to a huge slum. It seems that scientists overestimate the facts and underestimate the outrage, whilst the public underestimate the facts and overestimate the outrage from radios, friends or family members. An angry man trusting his gut reaction can easily be put off by a pretentious expert.
It goes all the way back to the idea of trust and that can underpin any argument. As a species we feel scared when we don’t know about something on the horizon. It’s in our nature to explore and if we have to decide in the distance that there could be a log or a crocodile, then we have to choose the latter. Because if you choose wrongly, you’re toast. Our instincts are based on past survival methods so the negative connotations always have a say in these things. That’s what makes us human, however.
So as well as learning to speak softer, we have to gain trust in order to persuade people that technology is helping society. Now if you ask google how to gain trust you might get answers like, be reliable, be genuine or be consistent. Although, how do we ‘be’ all of this? I don’t know the answer to this but what I do know is that it’s important to be loyal when you have the opportunity to do so. And the only way people will join your perception is that you create an image that is so rosy that they will have to believe in you.
Above all else though, it was highlighted in the talk that listening better will help break down barriers between the excited and detested. If we listen to what people have to say clearly then we can support what people are scared about, instead of focussing on the facts. We can reduce levels of fear by simply understanding what someone is scared of.
Surround yourself with different perspectives and ideas, not just the ones you believe in, because you might find that you learn something.