The second weapon: persuasion and mass media

Coupled with the affirmation of values and the importance of local authorities, various persuasion techniques can further improve pro-science messaging. For example, it has been found that how healthcare practitioners

From science-skepticism to intervention 245 communicate about vaccinations in face-to-face meetings can further influence immunization behaviors. Case in point, vaccine receipt occurs more readily if doctors frame the option of getting vaccinated in presumptive announcements, specifying that vaccination is the norm and the assumed default action for all patients. Instead of listing options, and the choice of not getting vaccinated, clinicians simply make it known that a patient is due for a vaccine and that the individual will be receiving the shot today or will be scheduled for an appointment, as is routine for everyone attending the practice.53 In effect, this communications approach utilizes both choice architecture and the persuasive cue Social Consensus, because the presumptive announcement can reference a participative majority who are getting vaccinated.

Yet another technique demonstrating positive results includes prompting patients to consider their future intentions to vaccinate, and encouraging clients to formulate date-specific implementation plans to fulfil these targets.54 This approach corresponds with Asking Questions, and is affiliated with the Intention Questions subset of this cue addressed in Chapter 4. This involves the persuasive influences of self-predictive questions about future intentions, which increase the likelihood that people will see through their pre-planned actions. Additionally, studies indicate that to get patients in the door for vaccination appointments, primary care providers should send clients vaccination reminders via postcards, update letters, as well as SMS texts or phone messages.5' To an extent, such reminders are conceptual cognates of the persuasive tactics associated with Message Repetition (Chapter 3), for their task is to iteratively increase exposure to vaccine requirement notices beyond clinical settings, which improves patient recall of immunization protocols.56

With regard to how reminders, presumptive announcements, and future intention questions can enhance pro-vaccine messaging, it may well be the case that assimilating similar techniques into evolution-supporting ventures would be advantageous. Accordingly, can local religious leaders combine presumptive statements with Social Consensus appeals, while also delivering community reminder announcements when inviting congregants to hear messages about evolution-religion concordance? Could clerics trial future intention questions to get community members thinking about whether they might consider noncombative science and religion interactions in the future, or ask congregants to forecast whether they would read materials supporting evolutionary theory by a forthcoming date? Additionally, there are still other communication strategies analyzed in vaccine research contexts that may be adapted for different pro-science enterprises. Particular attention has been given to improving online media messaging and parsing the best rhetorical methods for endorsing immunization via mass communications. These concerns have arisen in acknowledgment of the part that persuasive communications and online influences seem to be playing in public perceptions of vaccines, with the admission that provaccination actors could beleveraging both old and new media apparatuses more readily to reduce vaccine hesitancies.57

Though direct one-on-one medical provider interventions are efficacious, there are also benefits to implementing largescale, online media communications campaigns.58 As John M. Barry has concluded, when it comes to combating future viral outbreaks such as an influenza pandemic, the most vital weapon will first be vaccination, while the “second most important will be communication.”59 In a modern context, where individuals are frequently using online sources to do their own research into making medical decisions, the need for a compelling online pro-vaccine second weapon is as important as it ever was.60 This is especially the case because of the practical limitations of face-to-face meetings. One aspect of this includes increasing media coverage while also expanding the range of communications being used for immunization support. A second facet is the need to communicate in better ways within science-supporting promotions.

It has been suggested that the rhetorical tactics employed by antivaccinationists make their communications a deal more persuasive than provaccine messages.61 Researchers also note the general failure of science communicators to persuasively defy such counter-science rhetors in ways that garner popular support from non-expert publics.62 With regard to this, several researchers have specified that more effective science advocacy can be achieved by taking into account the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion. It is, of course, on this specific point that the analysis communicated throughout this book serves as a frame of reference for Evolution Wars media. Having previously identified how proevolutionist broadcasts tend to offer a smaller assortment of persuasive heuristics, at lower rates of recurrence than are exhibited in religiously motivated Darwin-skeptic media, it can be reiterated that those supporting evolutionary theory should reflect on how to better integrate peripheral cues for science promotion.

More to the point, science commentators need to weigh methods of outclassing Darwin-skeptic mass media by going one better in adopting the comparable varieties of persuasion cues readily employed by antievolutionists. Work is required to implement the ethical but shrewd use of Source Cues, Statistics and Technical Jargon, contrast framing, Social Consensus, the Scarcity Principle, and even Message Repetition, along with other persuasion cues and influence techniques not yet readily employed in sciencedefending Evolution Wars media. This may include using counter-heuristics and reworking practices already being utilized by Darwin-skeptics themselves. Such practices include enlisting well-known and respected individuals as spokespeople, while also using linguistic cues of public consensus, and being much more concerted in appealing to expertise heuristics.6’’ This is because, for members of the general public, trying to figure out “what science (and which scientists) to trust without relying too heavily on simplistic heuristics is not so easy,” and peripheral cues such as “institutional

From science-skepticism to intervention 247 affiliations, degrees earned, and consistency with what other scientists are saying do, in fact, matter.”64

Crucially, it should again be noted that these persuasive elements must be employed in ways that affirm rather than attack the shared cultural values of targeted audiences. Unless advocates of evolution are sensitive to, rather than derisive of, the religious and sociopolitical values maintained by particular audiences, it is likely that many proevolutionist messages will be ineffectual. All in all, counter-creationists ought to become more persuasively savvy, embracing rather than eschewing the conscious use of message cues and identity affirmation, since reliance on social values and message heuristics are part and parcel of human cognition. This is the case for both scientists and nonscientists alike, because when it comes to cues of expertise and scientific data:

In reality, it is not conceivable that even scientists will evaluate most scientific claims they encounter - especially those outside their own field - by actually examining the data or questioning the procedural details beyond a fairly superficial look. The use of trust, with respect to both the individual scientists involved and the social institutions such as universities, journals, and scientific societies that are also involved, is absolutely essential. It is not a mistake or a lazy alternative; it is not an incidental characteristic of the way that science is evaluated. Rather, it is the only reasonable way that reasonable people (including scientists) can make sense of science on a day-to-day basis.65

Given the prospective and universal influence of heuristics, it would be judicious for evolution advocates to tactically deploy persuasion cues in communications. Moreover, if research into the triggers of vaccine hesitancies are to be taken as being at least moderately instructional for other counterscience contexts, it would be prudent to accentuate persuasive cues imparting expertise and trustworthiness. This is because in many areas of the world there seems to be a growing distrust of individuals and institutions in scientific and political authority, while counter-science pundits such as vocal antivaccinationists and religiously motivated antievolutionists are quick to relay their own professed scientific knowhow.66

Employing persuasive cues can also be particularly relevant for Internet environments, where many individuals turn for guidance when experiencing uncertainties about science. This, because people frequently venture to reduce cognitive loads while accessing information online by resorting to the use of heuristics.67 In practical terms, not integrating persuasive cues into science promotion efforts overlooks a common element of everyday message processing, and a potential determinant of science message reception in the Evolution Wars.68 In tandem with the measured application of heuristics, researchers have also suggested that tackling science-skepticism requires the use of brief and easier-to-read counter-communications. As things stand,

media opposed to consensus science such as vaccines is often succinct and “cognitively more attractive,” because it is less cerebrally taxing for audiences to interpret.69 Researchers have thus advised designing science communications with laypeople’s conceptual understandings in mind, while not reducing technical jargon to the point of hampering perceptions of expertise, since some specialized language heuristically denotes intellectual competencies.70 Comprehensibility may be further aided by the careful use of repetition, which can make clearly stated phrases more memorable and easier to recall following media receipt. These same recommendations pertain to Evolution Wars contexts and reaching religious publics. Proevolutionists should endeavor to strike a balance between simplifying language to improve readability and cognitive fluency, though still including technical jargon denoting expertise, all the while judiciously using repetition.

Together with simplicity and readability, science-skeptical media also tends to be punctuated by anecdotal narratives. This is especially the case for antivaccination messages, which are steeped in personal testimonies about immunization dangers.71 Though such antivaccine narratives are factually questionable, stories have proven to be influential communication tools that may trigger peripheral route processing, and often appear to be more persuasive than systematic, well-reasoned argumentation.72 Narratives also seem to transcend education levels, catalyze salient emotional reactions, and garner empathy as people can personally identify with a storyline’s characters, contexts, and communicated values.73 At the same time, narrative-framing, which involves positioning information within culturally sympathetic narratives, has been proposed as a means for reducing culturally cognitive reactance to scientific ideas.74 Accordingly, it has been suggested that vaccine stakeholders adopt storytelling-based communication techniques, sharing narratives about people suffering from vaccine-preventable diseases, or personal anecdotes about choosing to get one’s own family members vaccinated.75 It has been further recommended that other persuasive cues, such as statistics, should be included within these pro-immunization narratives.76 Bearing these observations in mind for Evolution Wars’ purposes, evolution advocates might also consider using narrative-based communication strategies. Becoming better raconteurs, rather than just architects of evidence-based treatises, is vital because Darwin-skeptics have also long been recounting their own anecdotes about evolution and the purported harm the scientific theory is having on individuals, religious communities, and society in general.

Wherever possible, researchers have also advised tailoring pro-vaccine communications to specific audiences. Some of the most persuasive public health messages appear to be those that take into account the informational needs, ideological contexts, and unique immunization hesitancies of the individuals they are attempting to reach.77 Health advocates are instructed to gain insights into audience vaccine psychographics: psychological and behavioral characteristics associated with people’s attitudes and opinions,

From science-skepticism to intervention 249 life experiences, interests, social values, and personality traits, which may influence vaccination decisions. More effective vaccination messages can then be fashioned to connect with the psychographic qualities of various vaccine-hesitant segments of the public, in much the same way that advertisers have long since employed psychographic profiling in promoting merchandise to sought-after audiences.78 Once more this advice overlaps with notions of cultural cognition, because a recommended goal of tailoring vaccine messages is to make them congruent with a targeted group’s worldviews, including shaping media to address particular religious and social values.79 Needless to say, employing message tailoring based upon psychographic topographies could also be an advantage in the Evolution Wars, because, in short, this strategy simply involves applying the tried and true marketing adage: Know your audience.

Apart from gaining a deeper understanding of one’s audience, it has been postulated that health spokespeople should also avoid trying to convert ardent vaccine deniers. Fervent antivaccinationists are the least amenable to argumentation, and generally represent a very small fraction of a nation’s total population. By contrast, attention should be given to undecided individuals who represent much larger segments of the public. These “fence-sitters” can express a range of vaccine hesitancies, yet they have not altogether taken a side on the matter.80 Focusing on this larger, more ambivalent subsection of the population is strategic in terms of audience size and conceivable outcomes. Furthermore, there are benefits to not challenging resolute, antivaccine campaigners directly, for, as Leask has noted, a “highly adversarial strategy could give oxygen to antivaccination activists, who may believe that persecution legitimizes their efforts within a martyrdom frame.”81 Additionally, targeting strident antivaccinationists can draw unnecessary attention to counter-immunization pundits, provoking “highly polarized discussions in social and traditional media, and perpetuating a false sense that vaccination is a highly contested topic.”82 Of note regarding confrontational approaches to science advocacy, vaccination behavior change research has found that personal attacks, as well judgmental and defensive language, are to be avoided. Ridiculing people’s sources of counter-vaccine information is also unhelpful, while being respectful rather than dismissive of patients’ concerns, and dialogically affirming people’s autonomy in making immunization decisions can positively open up conversations.83 In the same vein, trying to shame or frighten vaccine-hesitant patients can be counterproductive, and researchers have advised being cautious about using emotionally evocative messages to unnerve audiences.84

Still another concern is that publicly targeting vaccine-skeptics carries with it the communicative risk of repeating antivaccinationist misinformation.85 This potential hazard arises from what has been described as the Familiarity Backfire Effect, which is a phenomena involving a challenge to misinformation paradoxically increasing people’s belief in the falsehood itself.86 If science advocates contest erroneous, but familiar information,

and mention the myth during the refutation, over time people may forget the pro-science facts while retaining the now repeated, and more familiar misinformation due to automatic memory processes. Though evidence supporting the existence of these familiarity effects is mixed, it seems to be the case that the cognitive influences of misinformation are more intense when false information is repeated prior to offering a correction to the fiction.87 With respect to this, it also appears that the impact of stating misinformation is lessened when people are explicitly warned before being exposed to challenged fallacies that they are about to hear incorrect claims.88

Relative to Evolution Wars contexts, it is also likely that publicly combatting prominent antievolutionists will fail to cause loyal religiously motivated Darwin-skeptics to modify their beliefs, while gratuitously heightening publicity for creationism. Science promoters should instead tailor science advocacy for the fence-sitters, who may express more tentative objections and represent a much larger audience share. It may also be helpful to reduce any unnecessary mentions of antievolutionist claims and avoid inadvertently reinforcing Darwin-skeptic misinformation through its repetition. Plus, before misinformation is raised, explicit warnings should initially be given to prompt audiences that the antievolutionist allegations being referred to are erroneous. Counter-creationists ought also to communicate respect for those doubting evolution, their hesitancies, and decision-making autonomy, while avoiding personal attacks and adversarial approaches. There seems little to be gained from an adversarial approach in science advocacy, which can deepen audience polarization.

 
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