Talking to ourselves

In the sceptical community we have the tendency to assume that our readers are like us  but just uninformed and that all they need is the right information. That may be certainly true for some readers but it is not true for many others. I see this all the time with blogs attempting to encourage parents to vaccinate their children, debunk chiropractic, homeopathy, global warming– the list goes on and on and we end up talking to ourselves and not to the people who really need it.

It is only recently that attention is now being paid to the science of persuasion in our community. One of the earliest writing on this topic I have seen is The Debunking Handbook which I still recommend on almost a daily basis. John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky both from Australia do a great job of summing up the pitfalls of what to do and not to do in any debunking project.

It is also in our presentations to the public where we fall down. A brochure that is chock full of Science is something we would find fascinating but it results in the wall of text syndrome and will be thrown away without reading. Handouts should have lots of colour photos, colourful graphics, larger fonts and lots of white space. The text itself should be wary of the backfire effects mentioned in “The Debunking Handbook” and be enjoyable to read.

I know that there are some that will continue to believe in the strangest conspiracy theories despite our best efforts but there is no point making our task any harder than it has to be.

2 thoughts on “Talking to ourselves

  1. This has been a recurring problem even within atheist ‘politics’. Whether it is accomodationalists vs anti-theists, skeptics vs atheists, or libertarian vs feminist, most of the arguments are based on an intuition supported by really inflammatory rhetoric.

    Alot of atheists love to argue, but if you want people with radically differing ideological assumptions to see common ground, you have to learn how to read your audience, and not just win the logical debate, but sell the idea.

    Preaching to the choir is easy.

  2. I agree with the article and with Joe. Most believers must wonder why we atheists debate about their own beliefs when Atheism has no content. Its not very secular to tell other groups their beliefs are crap unless they bring them into the public arena. It is wiser to keep it to yourself.

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