Evolution Wars media and persuasion techniques

Due to the explanatory success of dual-process models of persuasion, the Elaboration Likelihood Model will be employed throughout this book as the conceptual framework for examining Evolution Wars media. Special attention will be given to the ways in which the ELM helps to ascertain which persuasion routes are likely utilized by audiences of Evolution Wars communications, as well as the specific message variables that can influence persuasion. Accordingly, it follows that motivation and ability are crucial determinants of how persuasive Evolution Wars media, which can be described as propaganda, may persuade audiences; whether via the central or peripheral routes. Though it is not possible to establish the level of motivation and processing ability of each message recipient, it is evident that if both elements are not considerably elevated, then elaboration likelihood will be low-to-medium, and peripheral cues will assume more significant roles. Petty and Cacioppo have indicated that even during circumstances of moderate motivation and processing capacity, peripheral cues help guide reactions to persuasive communications.177 Also, if a message advocates a certain position but does not clearly offer any arguments in defense of this viewpoint to scrutinize, then peripheral cues “may determine the extent and direction of influence.”178

By integrating the Heuristic-Systematic Model’s contention that individuals prefer to minimize cognitive exertion when faced with such messages, it is probable that Evolution Wars media messages will often function through peripheral persuasion and be broadcast to audiences expressing low-to-medium elaboration likelihood. This conclusion is especially poignant when taking into account the science-and-religion subject matter which lies at the heart of conflicts over evolutionary theory. Being able to rigorously process Evolution Wars ideas and contentions requires at least a preliminary understanding of numerous scientific premises, as well as a functional grasp of important religious as well as philosophical concepts. Hence, the central route processing ability of the large audiences for which Evolution Wars communications are intended may not be commensurate with message recipient motivation. With these considerations in mind, this book will examine such media as it would specifically persuade audiences with low-to-medium elaboration likelihood.

In view of the ELM and peripheral cues, this book revolves around data gathered via a content analysis of Evolution Wars media produced by leading Darwin-skeptic and counter-creationist organizations. This analysis involved the qualitative coding of text-based media disseminated by these groups, using an inventory of peripheral cues that have been demonstrated to influence audiences exhibiting low-to-medium elaboration likelihood. The inventory incorporates the following persuasive message variables, which together constituted the coding list used for assaying Evolution Wars communications:

  • 1 Arousal of Fear
  • 2 Asking Questions
  • 3 The Contrast Principle and Negativity Effect (CPNE)
  • 4 Disrupt-then-Reframe (DtR)
  • 5 Message Repetition
  • 6 Number of Message Arguments (NMA)
  • 7 Rule of Reciprocity
  • 8 Scarcity Principle
  • 9 Self-Referencing
  • 10 Social Consensus
  • 11 Source Cues
  • 12 Statistics and Technical Jargon (STJ)
  • 13 Two-Sided Persuasion

These techniques are content-based and have already garnered sizeable empirical substantiation for their persuasiveness. Consequently, they offer

This age of propaganda 45 some insight into the actual potency of the media employing them. Of these thirteen persuasive cues, those that appeared most frequently within the analyzed mass media will be described throughout this book’s remaining chapters (for descriptions of the two persuasion elements listed here that are not readily discussed in Chapters 3-6, see the Appendix). It is worth taking note here that several of these persuasive mechanisms appear similar to the propaganda techniques cataloged in Table 2.1. For example, Social Consensus parallels the bandwagon strategy described so clearly by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, as it can involve communicating that a mass of individuals also tends to purchase a product, or support an idea, in an effort to exploit people’s often reflexive impulses to follow majority opinions. Likewise, Source Cues may correspond with Transfer and Source Credibility, as it can entail referring to the alleged expertise and academic credentials of a communicator in an attempt to convince audiences. Rather than simply trying to publicize a message, therefore, a communicator may stress that she has several degrees from prestigious universities so that the messenger’s credibility serves to endorse her message.

The units of analysis were limited to text-based media only, which excluded videos and audio communications. These were comprised of antievolutionist articles from the Institute for Creation Research’s Acts&Facts monthly magazine, Answers in Genesis’ Answers quarterly, and the Center for Science and Culture’s online Evolution News and Views reports. Such Darwin-skeptic sources differ from the more technical, and professedly peer-reviewed, antievolutionist literature employed by the organizations’ thought leaders to debate theological minutiae associated with Young Earth Creationism and ID theory.179 The proevolutionist communications investigated included media hosted on the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science online article archives, the National Center for Science Education’s news media collection, and the BioLogos Foundation’s daily forum article posts. The resulting total sample amounted to 1426 antievolutionist and 892 counter-creationist articles. Of these, 436 are ICR materials, 522 are AiG’s broadcasts, and 468 are taken from Center for Science and Culture’s communications, while 373 are from the RDFRS archives, 219 are NCSE media materials, and 300 are BioLogos Foundation articles. Both Acts&Facts and Answers are published as hardcopy periodicals, which appropriate the style and motifs of popular science magazines. Yet all of the Evolution Wars media analyzed here were hosted on all six of the organizations’ skillfully designed websites, which serve as the communication hubs for each Evolution Wars group. Regarding this, and in terms of persuasion processes, numerous researchers have identified mounting evidence that reveals “people tend to process online information in fast, intuitive, and effortless ways by resorting to heuristic strategies.”180 Case in point, when consuming online information, individuals are inclined to rely upon cognitive mental shortcuts to quickly determine, without significant cognitive effort, a message’s apparent reliability and trustworthiness.181 These Web-related findings are consistentwith the Elaboration Likelihood Model and reinforce that peripheral cues will also be persuasively at work for online Evolution Wars media.

The content analysis exercise involved isolating when, and how frequently, the persuasive attributes listed above could be identified across this varied collection of articles. Specifically, the number of times each persuasive cue occurs per 1000 words acts as the central measure of variable frequency. This entailed identifying persuasive message variables demonstrating >0.400 occurrences per 1000 words of text, which are subsequently discussed throughout this book. These persuasive elements are regarded as consistently occurring enough to warrant particular attention because for such variables there exists at least a 0.400 single event probability that they will occur in any 1000-word selection of text. Accordingly, each variable with an incident rate >0.400 displays at least one or more occurrences approximately every 2500 words, where the mean article world count for each group is 894 words for ICR, 701 for AiG, 892 words for CSC, and 1036 words for RDFRS, 404 for the National Center for Science Education, and 1126 words for the BioLogos Foundation. At the same time, the number of instances each code appears per average article will also be supplied in order to provide a secondary indicator of persuasive cue prevalence. Using these values as a guide, we can bring to light the idiosyncratic ways that these cues are being expressed, while considering the implications of persuasion in Evolution Wars mass media.

From the outset, Table 2.2 discloses the overall persuasive cue occurrence rates for Darwin-skeptic media, which can be contrasted with those identified in counter-creationist materials, reported in Table 2.3. This comparison is further delineated in Figure 2.2, which juxtaposes the sum totals of all variable frequency rates associated with antievolutionist media alongside those detected in proevolutionist communications. Though the details of these findings will be pursued in coming chapters, preliminarily it should be noted that this figure indicates that proevolutionist media exhibit relatively lower persuasive cue occurrence rates than those detected within Darwinskeptic materials. Particularly distinctive is the fact that BioLogos communications demonstrate a total incident rate that is less than half of that found in both the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis’ Young Earth Creationist media. The data also reveal that counter-creationist media express fewer persuasive cues with >0.400 occurences per 1000 words than do Darwin-skeptic materials. The codes featuring these recurrence rates in each Darwin-skeptic organizations’s media, ranked from the overall greatest to least frequencies as they appear in the total census, are catologued in Table 2.4. Likewise, Table 2.5 presents an analogous proevolutionist list of persuasive cues exhibiting >0.400 occurences per 1000 words. It is to the task of describing the seven most recurrent peripheral cues identified in these findings, and detailing the ways in which they are manifested across Evolution Wars media, that this book now turns. In doing so the amplitude of persuasive elements will be highlighted, revealing discrete antievolutionist and

Table 2.2 Darwin-Skeptic Message Variable Frequencies

Message Variable

Institute for Creation Research

Number of Articles: 436 Total Word Count: 389655 Mean Article Word Count: 894

Answers in Genesis

Number of Articles: 522 Total Word Count: 366063 Mean Article Word Count: 701

Center for Science and Culture

Number of Articles: 468 Total Word Count: 417286 Mean Article Word Count: 892

Total Incidents

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Total Incidents

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Total Incidents

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Arousal of Fear

58

0.149

0.133

61

0.167

0.117

12

0.029

0.026

Asking Questions

763

1.958

1.751

1049

2.866

2.009

847

2.030

1.811

CPNE

741

1.902

1.700

524

1.431

1.003

1156

2.770

2.471

DtR

0

0.000

0.000

3

0.008

0.006

0

0.000

0.000

Message Repetition

63

0.162

0.145

149

0.407

0.285

28

0.067

0.060

NMA

29

0.074

0.067

34

0.093

0.065

32

0.077

0.068

Rule of Reciprocity

6

0.015

0.014

13

0.036

0.025

0

0.000

0.000

Scarcity Principle

74

0.190

0.170

19

0.052

0.036

368

0.882

0.787

Self-Referencing

15

0.038

0.034

43

0.117

0.082

0

0.000

0.000

Social Consensus

408

1.047

0.936

176

0.481

0.337

135

0.324

0.289

Source Cues

1328

3.408

3.047

1304

3.562

2.497

433

1.038

0.926

STJ

308

0.790

0.707

435

1.188

0.833

248

0.594

0.530

Two-Sided Persuasion

23

0.059

0.053

57

0.156

0.109

24

0.058

0.051

TOTAL

3817

9.796

8.757

3867

10.564

7.405

3282

7.865

7.016

Table 2.3 Proevolutionist Message Variable Frequencies

Message Variable

Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

Number of Articles: 373 Total Word Count: 386366

Mean Article Word Count: 1036

National Center for Science Education

Number of Articles: 219

Total Word Count: 88431

Mean Article Word Count: 404

BioLogos Foundation

Number of Articles: 300 Total Word Count: 337887

Mean Article Word Count: 1126

Total Incidents

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Total Incidents

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Total Incidents

Incidents per 1000 Words

Incidents per article

Arousal of Fear

10

0.026

0.027

2

0.023

0.009

9

0.027

0.030

Asking Questions

1126

2.914

3.019

83

0.939

0.379

510

1.509

1.700

CPNE

847

2.192

2.271

98

1.108

0.448

136

0.403

0.453

DtR

0

0.000

0.000

0

0.000

0.000

0

0.000

0.000

Message Repetition

8

0.021

0.021

1

0.011

0.005

1

0.003

0.003

NMA

16

0.041

0.043

2

0.023

0.009

12

0.036

0.040

Rule of Reciprocity

1

0.003

0.003

Ö

0.000

0.000

1

0.003

0.003

Scarcity Principle

52

0.135

0.139

15

0.170

0.069

2

0.006

0.007

Self-Referencing

1

0.003

0.003

0

0.000

0.000

0

0.000

0.000

Social Consensus

21

0.054

0.056

67

0.758

0.306

24

0.071

0.080

Source Cues

108

0.280

0.290

201

2.273

0.918

479

1.418

1.596

STJ

145

0.375

0.389

66

0.746

0.302

218

0.645

0.726

Two-Sided Persuasion

7

0.018

0.019

0

0.000

0.000

6

0.018

0.020

TOTAL

2342

6.062

6.280

535

6.050

2.444

1398

4.137

4.659

Sum Totals of All Variable Frequency Rates

Figure 2.2 Sum Totals of All Variable Frequency Rates

counter-creationist persuasion motifs. The next chapter begins this exploration with Source Cues as well as Message Repetition. The former includes expressions of credibility, as persuasive variables involving references to expertise and messenger reliability proved to be the most ubiquitous in the total census.

 
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