The Non-Scientific Guide to Science.

A dilemma arises when you want to sway public opinion on a scientific topic — yet the most qualified scientists in the applicable field and decades of research oppose your beliefs.  How can you cast the largest shadow with a non-existent case?  The encouraging news is that in most scenarios, following a couple of general principles and a handful of specific applications, it’s easy to create a convincing shadow.  While specific tactics will be listed to include in your writing, two principles are worth remembering:  Confusion is easier to create than clarity and your views don’t have to BE scientific — they just have to SOUND scientific.

1)   If expanding your reach is the goal, start with a provocative headline.  Titles including “Shocking”, “Cover Up”, or “Scientists Quietly Admit” will generate social media sharing based on the title alone.  People often have short attention spans and don’t read the article — thus, confirmation for beliefs can be as simple as a sensationalized headline.  Even if the article is engaged, your readers have already been primed and their views are beginning to form — they’ve been given a lens through which to interpret what follows.

2)   There’s no easy way to solve the contradiction of opposing the overwhelming consensus of qualified experts — while appealing to a minority voice you want your readers to trust as qualified.   One approach is to reference someone in a non-related field that has their Ph.D. or other arrangement of professional sounding letters after their name.  Most won’t dig deep enough to determine whether they’ve been involved in relevant research or why their academic background is inapplicable.  What’s important is giving people a credentialed viewpoint that gives them valid cover for their beliefs.

One powerful tactic is to weave in a narrative of persecution.  The arguments of your cited expert(s) have likely been deconstructed — but if they can be framed as a martyr or painted as a marginalized voice valiantly opposing the establishment, this provides it’s own credibility and proof.

3)  Use selective quotes from scientists that represent the establishment.  That suggestion is fraught with danger however if you don’t carefully extract quotes that appear to further your case.  Avoid context.  Disregard what was actually said and focus on how you can make their words sound.

4)  Ask carefully chosen questions.  There are many accusations and claims that can be couched in a question — and who can be critical of an inquisitive approach? It’s irrelevant whether the question has been answered — most have.  The important consideration is that readers may be unaware of the answers.  Create a loop detractors can’t escape.  If a question is adequately answered, claim you aren’t convinced or side step to another question — even if you recognize it demands an unreachable burden of proof.

5)  The uncomfortable reality is that available evidence, often decades worth and disseminated by the most studied scientists in a field, point in the opposite direction you would like to move public opinion.  The ability to craft a rhetorically convincing narrative is imperative, as well as selectively referenced research — but only by carefully reframing it.  Not many have the patience or expertise to understand the research being cited anyway.  Take advantage of this fact.

6)  In many ways, voicing the minority position is difficult, but there is one area that can be utilized as position of strength.  Narratives that cast doubt don’t have to present complicated science.  They’re accessible and easily understood.  People have a tendency to reject what they don’t understand.

7)  Attach the views you’re counteracting with a faceless, oppressive bureaucracy.  Be careful not to directly malign hard working scientists who have given their life to research and progress in their field — but doing so implicitly can be an effective weapon.  Depending on the topic, it’s also beneficial to use the specter of profit as an offensive bludgeon.   Disregard that being a vocal minority voice often leads to considerable compensation as well — in the form of book and product sales and speaking engagements.   When you include profit and a hint of martyrdom as two of your premises, you can write your own conclusions.

8)  Lastly, the scientific consensus is a house of cards.  It’s not actually, but that has to be your message.  This allows for every claim and seed of doubt sowed to be attached to the bold assertion their theory has completely crumbled.  Fortunately, holding a minority view doesn’t demand a substantive or valid theory — it just requires chipping away at theirs.   The kitchen sink approach is invaluable.  All it takes is one critique to stick. No one will remember the scores of times the opposition was mistaken.

No matter how compelling the research or the unanimity of the scientific establishment, you can resist the pressure to operate inside a template of logical coherence and the scientific method.

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