Science Deniers: How to Reach and Persuade Those Who Deny Science

Solving The Science Denier Problem:  The Problem is Growing

A Sherwood Communications White Paper

Many scientists are trying to figure out how to have constructive conversations with climate change Deniers.  Extensive efforts to educate certain populations have not lead to significant shifts in a change of opinion. Using fear or guilt has not been effective in getting people to act, either. As a publicist who has worked with scientists for many years, I share insight into how to appeal to and influence these publics.

Science Denial Is Growing

We know that the majority of Americans care deeply about the environment.  But due to recent elections we also know that the minority—those who do not believe climate change is real and doubt science in general—can have big influence on policy.  Here we are, with elected officials and the president’s EPA working against what we know to be helpful to the environment.  It’s extraordinary.  Moreover, we know from Gallup data and social scientists that a shocking 32%[1] of Americans don’t believe in climate change, and that group is actually growing, so we need to act.  What can science-based organizations do to sway science Deniers to examine the truth?  Is there a way?  I believe there is.

As a country, we’re used to concrete facts being taken as such, and we’re used to society having patience for the theories worth testing.  What is new is the trend toward almost immediate denial of climate change and growing apathy about change in a significant minority of Americans, even though the current administration acts contrary to the majority of public opinion.

The lesson lies in treating the Denier population as scientists do normally when studying it.

How To Begin to Reach Deniers:  Seven Recommendations to Reach and Influence

As we work with different populations, we also deal with unpredictable behavior.  We are complex beings who are often tough to figure out.  But we know what denialism is: a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.[2]    At this time in history we have a challenge:  How to deal with people who deny facts, who live in an alternative, almost cult-like world of reaction and dogma that has real consequences.  This audience may interpret the Christian Bible without a coherent explanation and historical context.  They may determine to vote a certain way because of other issues important to them, thereby convincing themselves in an illogical attempt to side with a political party or some other social group.  They may believe that “the money’s not in it,” when in fact, the investment in alternative energy is both profitable and popular.

Whatever their reason, climate change denial is dangerous and considered a national security issue to those who study it.  So how do we communicate so that these publics can begin to listen and be open to scientific expertise once again?  Here are several of my recommendations:

1.  To Begin to Engage, Really Know the Audience

To begin to search for answers in the way we can publicly communicate, we need to look at our audience:  who is the climate denier?

Generally speaking, they are Evangelical Christian Conservatives[3], but that’s not all.  They are also executives who have a financial investment in oil and other products that are unfriendly to the environment.  There are other groups who fit into the Denier audience category, including anti-government groups, low-income Americans and lower-educated Americans.   For each group, there is a perceived “payoff” to denying climate change.  These three rewards can be helpful for formulating a communications strategy aimed at educating Denier Americans:

A.  A social reward:  the bonds they so desire are there when they “agree” with their social group and its leadership.  Understandably, this “opinion” is not deep (because they are followers), but it does matter at the ballot box.  Because this opinion doesn’t begin with their experience, but with the leaders of their social group, there is an opportunity to educate them on the science, and there is a way to communicate the facts that I will go into below.

Oil and gas executives also gain socially, patting each other on the back with each “win” against the environment.  There is an “in” there, too.

B.  A financial reward:  Obviously oil and gas is a very profitable business.  But there is one industry that is suffering due to lay offs and industry predictions and that is coal.  They are losing both profit and reputation.  So we have opportunity here as well, with coal industry executives, to create ways to help them profitably transition to more meaningful methods of energy. Once we make headway there, we can use that success to reach oil executives, too.  There is a long-term strategy here that I believe in.  Proving that the financial rewards are short term begins with shining a light on what has happened with coal.  The growing unpopularity with the oil and gas industry is the next story.

C.  The last is what I call “a passion reward.”   Believing in something powerful gives you a personal reward, a feeling of belonging plus another personal belief that helps define you, so that you feel knowledgeable, helpful and content in who you are.  This is especially rewarding to lower educated and lower income Americans.  But does this passion reward sound familiar?  We all crave this; however, some form passions based largely on fact—and some do not.

One insight into the Evangelical group is how they are strong followers of evangelical leadership.  They believe each leader is sent from God, so they follow their instructions closely.  A tight community, they are often monitored by each other, as well as the leadership.  Those who fall in line are accepted and those who don’t are “counseled” to believe and act differently.  Those who disagree may still be accepted by the group, (depending on the issue), but there remains a tension between the disagreeing person and the rest of the community.

There is much more insight here, but my point is that armed with intimate knowledge about what motivates Deniers, we can begin to formulate strategies to both reach and educate them.  Which brings us to the next critical step…

2.  Recruit Those Deniers Admire to Spread Important Facts

Taking what we know about Deniers into consideration, begin to form partnerships with leaders who may have influence, perhaps Evangelicals who do believe thoughtfully in conservation, animal-welfare and/or public health to present the science.  Using language that is respectful of what they believe, meet them where they are by praising their beliefs in scientific fact.

There are Christians, Christian leaders, Republicans[4], Libertarians[5], National Executive Groups[6], as well as Oil Executives[7], who are concerned about the environment and share an appreciation for what has been discovered about climate change and the dangers it poses.  For example, recently, several thinking Republicans have supported measures aimed at “using American innovation to improve environmental stewardship.”[8]

Approaching climate-conscious conservatives and other supportive groups and individuals and urging them to speak out on the issue—separately from known environmental groups–is a way to meet these groups where they are without making them feel threatened.  Since many of the groups who are dismissive of the environment are followers, they can have great influence.  Some in the environmental movement are taking it further by communicating to those who do not believe in climate change in respectful ways.[9]  Choosing language that is more psychologically influential is a powerful part of public communication.

The best way for these leaders to communicate with Deniers is to show them how and why they support the environment.  Indeed, there are intellectual Christian arguments to support the environment[10] and there are economic and pro-investment reasons as well.  I often refer to the economic successes of solar energy, for example.  And I’ve recited this scripture:  “You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” (Numbers 35:33-34)  Speaking in their language is often a strong motivator, but encouraging and making way for a leader they admire, be it an astronaut or military leader, who speaks their language, and is motivated by some of their own beliefs, is much stronger than going alone.

3. Give Republicans the Tools To Save Face

I believe, based on what’s going on in Washington, that many elected Republican officials want to support the environment, but the extreme wing of the party currently carries too much influence.  Environmental issues are typically seen as a liberal agenda, with climate change action and green energy policy originating with the Democratic party and its voters only. That motivates Republican members to push back for political reasons rather than what they actually believe is true.  But what if they came up with a superior policy all on their own?  What would a creative Republican-driven climate-friendly policy look like?  What if they were the heroes who got something done and worked across the isle to win bi-partisan support?  Both parties would win, but more importantly, our environment would benefit.

It’s not all politics; denial is also a reality of our evolutionary make-up, which leads me to another evolutionary secret to persuasion…

4.  Appeal to Women to Talk to Denier Men about Climate Change: A Personal Campaign

Do mothers, grandmothers, wives, aunts, daughters and sisters have influence?  You bet they do.[11]  We have a courageous army we don’t acknowledge.  In fact, a majority of conservative women believe in climate change.[12]

A highly personal campaign, showing concern for loved ones is not only smart, it is necessary.

Just as commercials about Medicare show women speaking to their husbands about the importance of their health, the right kind of campaign educates Republican families on why Republicans, Nixon and Ford, for example, supported the environment.  I see Christian wives, sisters, aunts and daughters who can argue what the Bible really says about environmental stewardship.[13]  And the smartest gender on investment could talk to their husbands about why supporting environmental investment and dollars is critical, as well as their vote.

And there is another critical audience that has influence…

5.  Smart American CEO’s Should Speak Directly To Wall Street Republicans

The immature, simple-minded fight over climate change policy often shows itself as the economy-versus-environment debate.  It makes for great television drama, but it isn’t quite right.  It’s the ugliness of politics at work and overcoming that position is complicated.  But lining up the facts as well as CEOs who recognize why this is so important, may be easier with Wall Street Republicans, who can be moderate on the environment.  Regulations is their dirty word, but here you have a greater educated public than the other audiences we have discussed here. CEO’s care about their businesses and the markets effected by climate change at the end of the day, and we need to show them how a healing environment is worth their time and energy—as well as their reputation.

And speaking of markets…

6.  Go Local and Bring the Threat Home

Segmenting is the way publicists and public communicators effectively spread ideas–and it is effective.  To counter the disconnect that we’ve been talking about, talk to all audiences about what they see happening and why.  Why are there more hurricanes that hit our town?  Why are the trees in our forest dying?  Why is the cost of our local oranges going up? Climate change discussions need to be framed as matters related to current impacts at the local level. It is great that we want to save polar bears, but what will motivate most people are the risks right now, and in their own backyard.

We know humans tend not to protect those things they either don’t know or don’t value, so ingraining a sense of value in their backyards is critical. In fact, there is a strong relationship between an individual’s connection to nature and their ecological behavior.

The last tactic is…

7.  Conduct Preventative Campaigns

Last, it is not enough to push out the facts; you also must combat misinformation.  According to inoculation theory, facts are important but by themselves aren’t sufficient to convince people as long as misinformation is also a daily reality. People also have to be inoculated against the misinformation. [14]  This means pre-emptively protecting public attitudes about climate change against real-world misinformation.

We know now that a foreign government has been seeking to spread false information here in the U.S. in order to cause chaos.  We also know that groups here are doing the very same thing.  As I mentioned, there are groups who listen to this information and they are followers—and they actually look for consensus cues. [15]  In the absence of their own intellectual curiosity, and often feeling marginalized themselves, what should I believe is their own internal struggle.  These are not truth seekers; they are easily fooled.  How do we help them?  By taking them out of their subjective perception and clearly showing them the overwhelming consensus that climate change is real and threatening.  Along the way, you want to use the correct spokespeople to communicate with them about the weakest parts of the untruth, explaining the fallacies employed by the myth. Once the audience understands the techniques used to distort the truth, they can reconcile the myth they once believed in with what is real.

There is both a wrong and an effective way to communicate this.  We must be dedicated to communicate in their language, with leadership they respect and through media outlets they watch and read.  After all, it is issues that drive wave elections, but that only makes a difference when voters understand who truly represents their beliefs.

We can showcase the message that we can all acknowledge that our intuition can be wrong at times, therefore forgiving this giant and unfortunate mistake of denial.[16]

Again, there are communications strategies that will meet the Deniers right where they are, in order to finally get through to them, but only once we believe it can be done.


















An Interview with Dr. Gustavo Carvalho, Bariatric Surgeon, Universidade de Pernambuco

Hi Sarah! First, I’d like to say thank you, it is not only a great honor but a great pleasure to work with you again in this interview, and I hope I can be of some help not only to give my sincere opinion but also to share my enthusiasm about Minilaparoscopy, which is possibly one of the most under-used, great techniques of minimally invasive surgery.

1. What is unique about the development of the new “mini-lap”?

 The low friction trocars were really a game changer for us, allowing us to tie knots and dissect tissue with an unmatched precision. Current Mini trocars we are using now, is called low friction, and unlike their ancestors from the 90s, do not have a sealing membrane or a valve (Low Friction). They have very low friction between trocar and forceps, therefore almost no force is needed to move the instruments inside the trocars. The possible increase in CO2leak was a huge reason for criticism at that time, but actually we measured ii, and it is so small – less than 0.1 l/min – that it does not impose any real consequence in the performance of the procedure. Its also nice to observe that many current technical limitations of MINI are being resolved by the efforts of the industry in crafting more resistant, with less chance to bend and higher performance instruments. The second point that we must stress about our new mini technique is that we have almost no use for the mini 3mm optics, especially for doing routine cases like cholecytectomies and inguinal hernias. For the third point we must not forget the fact that there are no 3mm clip appliers or stapling devices for mini. To solve this limitation, we have been always emphasizing the importance of the correct use of monopolar and bipolar electrosurgery, as well as the use of intracorporeal knots. Several procedures like appendectomy, inguinal hernia repair, anti-reflux procedures and of course our killer procedure mini-cholecystectomy are really suitable for the mini technique that we call clipless – it is overall much simpler and most efficient than the regular mini, that imposes a need to change optics in order to place clips – as we do not use the mini optics and consequently we can’t and don’t need to exchange the scope from 10 to 3mm and vice-versa just to put clips in the cystic duct and cystic artery – changing optics makes the procedure not only boring and time consuming but also more expensive as the mini-optics are expensive and not really long living. Mini clipless has been a real advancement for us. We have been performing this technique of Clipless cholecystectomy since 2000 and for that we have used just a standard 10-mm scope, we have been following very rigid standard principles, and after 16 years of experience we have done over 2.100 MINI Clipless cholecystectomies, without mortality, significant hemorrhage, cbd injuries or conversion to open surgery, when necessary, in few cases we have converted to regular laparoscopy – by placing 1 to 3 5mm trocars – that can undoubtedly confirm the safety of the mini clipless procedure. Currently, MINI Clipless is, depending on the settings, an ambulatorial procedure or a 1-day surgery, very safe, with all the advantages of laparoscopy, highly reproducible, cost effective, and with great aesthetic appeal leading to highly satisfied patient !

2. How is it different from the old mini lap?

Ok Sarah, for that question let me take as an example the case of mini-clipless cholecystectomy: besides the fact that we use low friction trocars, what gives us much better dexterity and make our knot tying easier and quicker, not only when compared with regular laparoscopy but also when we compare it with the minis with regular trocars, we also have the advantage use a totally new generation of mini instruments, longer, much better crafted and with much stronger and durable material, when we compare them with the old instruments from the 90’s.

Still there are 5 points that must be emphasized in our technique that makes it a really simple and standard procedure, now being reproduced in several countries around the world.

1) Only one 11mm Trocar is used and its scar is hidden inside the navel, three other low friction mini-ports are used for inserting mini instruments.

2) As only one 10mm optics is used there is no necessity for boring and time consuming 3mm optics exchange, therefore we must tie knots.

3) Cystic duct is securely closed with surgical knots

4) Cystic Artery is safely sealed by electrocautery, strict principles must be followed for safe cauterization of cystic artery.

5) Gallbladder is always retrieved in a BAG, increasing safety for preventing contamination of the umbilical wound, also avoiding the necessity to exchange the optics.

Considering that NOTES cholecystectomy is still experimental, although hybrid transvaginal cholecystectomy is gaining popularity in clinical practice and single port is still a nonstandard approach, with significant technical challenges, and a not stablished safety profile, Mini´s approach almost identical to the standard laparoscopic technique offers significant benefits without exposing patients to unecessary postoperative complications, therefore being the logical choice of evolution for a routine elective cholecystectomy.

3. How do you think your new development will impact mini lap as it becomes more established in the industry?

In the last few years, mini has evolved from a mere surgical curiosity to a really useful and advantageous technique, and is currently being used more and more in many center around the world to perform a wide variety of surgical procedures in different surgical areas, such as colorectal, gynecologic, pediatric, urologic and general surgery, always in a safe and reproducible manner. The transition from traditional laparoscopy to Mini is really very smooth and easy for the general surgeon who is already well trained in laparoscopy. There is still however, a need to get familiarized with the mini-instruments and to learn some tips and tricks, for that, to supply that training, industry can be really helpful, as an untrained surgeon can jeopardize the technique for not using the instruments in the correct way, possibly damaging the instruments and the patient.

Another aspect that is important to mention is that mini is a cost saving procedure, Since low-friction mini-trocars and other mini instruments are reusable and now long lasting, Mini can lead to a significant cost reduction, since the high cost use of disposable equipment is avoided. On the other hand, the burden of clip appliers and staplers not existing for Mini procedures, reduces even more the total cost of different procedures. In the specific case ofcholecystectomy, not using clips not only saves money, but also surgical time since scope exchange is not necessary. In the case of inguinal hernia TEP repair, no balloon dissection is used and Mini-TEP is considerably faster compared to regular laparoscopic TEP repair. In mini appendectomy a knot is easily tied at the base, and no staplers are needed to be used in most of the cases. Staplers and clips are costly equipment, mini procedures, in general, do not use them, the advantages in cost effectiveness of mini procedures have been reported in surgical literature for different procedures calling the attention a paper published by Chekan at JSLS in 2013 when he found that mini cholecystectomy is more than 200 dollars cheaper than an average laparoscopic conventional chole. Considering that over 700.000 lap-choles are performed every year in USA, the adoption of mini besides all the advantages for the patients would imply in an economy of at least 140.000.000 USD, and those cases were not clipless, imagine if those cases could have been done clipless the economy would possibly be even higher.

4. What do you see is the future for mini lap?

Even though mini has been among us for more than 20 years, we must say that the game is just starting for mini now, we believe in a bright future for mini in a not very long time from now. Unlike other new access methods like NOTES, Robotics and single-port, MINI reigns for its simplicity, offering increased dexterity, delicacy, and precision, without significantly adding extra costs and at the same time, maintaining the triangulation that is already an important stablished advantage of standard laparoscopy. As surgeons we all know that surgical precision has always been dear to our hearts. All those new developments will have a huge impact on mini as it will be progressively more standard and widespread as an efficient and cost effective surgical tool. Mini is more and more occupying the space that would in the long run be occupied by robots, but because of money shortage, that space is being occupied by minis. We will see from now, more and more, the most critical parts of a complicated laparoscopic procedure being done by minis, like a cbd exploration or reconstruction after a biliary procedure, or pyeloplasty, or a ureteral reconstruction, or tubal anastomosis, and believe me cosmetics will not be the reason, but true reason will be to use the proper instrument for the proper task. Imagine that a small needle for a 5-0 or 6-0 thread is better handled by a 3.0mm needle holder than with a 5mm needle holder. The surgeon who performs open surgery do not use the same instrument for different scale tasks. When they close the abdomen, which is a brutal task they use bigger and stronger needle holder and forceps, but when they are performing a very delicate anastomosis like a cbd or vascular suturing they switch theirs instruments for more delicate and proper ones. Why an endoscopic-surgeon must use only 5mm and 10mm instruments during a whole lap procedure. We believe that in a near future for example during a pacreatoduodenectomy a surgeon will switch to a robot to perform the more delicate anastomosis in a much more precise way, but for the surgeon who do not have enough resources to invest in a robot, still he will have the choice to do better by using mini instruments. In the long run mini would be considered the poor man robot. In the near future mini will be recognized not only as a tool with cosmetic advantages but with all the real advantages: besides being a simple and standard procedure, it gives the patient much less wall damage, is cost effective, have improved visualization and dexterity, keeping a safety profile compatible to standard laparoscopy, all those advantages that mini can provide goes far beyond cosmesis, the only proven advantage of single port so far!

5. What other new things are you working on?

Most of our new plans now includes the development of new mini tools, and applying mini in even more advanced procedures, that will make mini even more attractive. Also we are pushing mini to the limits, doing now all advanced surgeries and procedures that we believe are much better performed by mini than regular LAP. We are now also working very hard in sending the mini message to the world, so more surgeons around the world will be able to understand that mini has much more to offer than just a pretty face, and cosmesis is just a good side effect of mini. When surgeons are able to understand that message they will be able to enjoy the real benefits of mini. We are also collaborating with many important surgical societies, like SOBRACIL, SLS and ELSA among others. We also are trying very hard to keep mini on the media and to make it even more attractive for surgeons and patients. We have recently started a facebook group named mini friends, and so far it is a great success being accessed regularly by more than 2300 surgeons around the world, who are interested in minimally invasive surgery, very interesting discussions including videos, pictures, questionings and case reports are being discussed frequently there, and for that we believe facebook is an amazing tool. We believe mini is now mature, but the real message of mini still need to be spoken and for that we once more thank you SARAH for the opportunity!


Gustavo Carvalho, M.D., is a laparoscopic/bariatric surgeon in Recife, Brazil, with subspecialties in minimally invasive surgery. He is a Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons (SLS) faculty member and recognized as a pioneer in mini-laparoscopy.

Why I Target Newspapers To Reach Sophisticated Client Audiences

Let’s face it: The power of news coverage not only names you, but helps define your company. We know the competition for news coverage is fierce for our client’s target audience. The American attention span has changed, but hunger for good information hasn’t.  To be sure, traditional news remains an important part of public life. More than seven-in-ten U.S. adults follow national and local news somewhat or very closely and 65% follow international news with the same regularity.[1]  For those who pay attention and crave news – a key audience for most clients – it’s a jungle out there. But there are specific strategies that help you get through.

Today specific targeting of communications is more crucial, period. Even in 2017 there are many, many targets, of great variety. But don’t be fooled—there are too many outlets that are not well read and/or do not have much credibility and they are a waste of your time and money. Smarter targeting involves first knowing your audience well, including which sources they’re really getting their news from so your communications staff can focus on primarily delivering to those traditional and digital media outlets, third party organizations and potential partners that will garner results and meet goals. Even though there are fewer traditional media outlets, my experience tells me that if you are targeting a more sophisticated audience, there are more results with traditional news media coverage because traditional news still carries more weight. And my money is on newspapers, both in digital, and yes, paper form.

The Established, the higher-middle class to the upper crust audience, engage with and trust print advertising over digital media. In fact, research shows that print advertising in newspapers ranked the highest among millionaires, in their engagement potential, at a high of 74 percent.[2] Why? Generally speaking, these are the people who have the patience to engage for a longer amount of time, and are impressed when the content moves them (because they tend to be more passionate).  They tend to have higher levels of emotional intellect, which translates into a real reader. They tend to live in one place longer, which hints at stability.[3]

It is true that overall Americans distrust in news outlets is growing, among mostly younger audiences and some have stopped reading newspapers all together.  But again, don’t be fooled.  If you are targeting a sophisticated reader, one with more experience, education and income (generally speaking), these are newspaper readers. For the average Daily reader, who has spending and decision-making power, trust in the media has declined only marginally, according to Pew research.  These are Americans who decry lower standards of journalism, such as opinion-driven writing and outlets with less rigorous reporting criteria.  So while you are pleased that your marketing materials are out there on social media sites, don’t be too pleased, because it doesn’t tend to work with a sophisticated audience.  Overall numbers do not matter—it is who is viewing your advertisement or news story that is important.  With social media, with the exception of a few, it’s easier to click through and off.

In contrast, newspapers have a highly dependable audience.

Digital newspaper readership, however, is growing, and will grow out of its adolescence as newspapers continue to figure out how we like to consume its information.  Social media is showing pretty low confidence scores[4], and my experience is that in general (there are real exceptions), it can be pretty tough to sell to a customer via social media, as opposed to digital news, although your best bet is to have an integrated marketing and publicity campaign that will both persuade and tell your publics where to go. Just know that your readers will see social media information as advertisements rather than news[5]. Even with younger readers, you want more recognizable news brands, with a history of accuracy, in order to persuade.[6]

The fact is that newspaper readership is mostly made up of an established, stable, more educated and higher income audience, which is critical to your sophisticated campaign.

So why aren’t more communications departments going after publicity and publicity targeted toward newspapers? Marketing and publicity are different and highly specialized, and we used to respect this—but that is changing—with the blending of marketing and publicity.  We see marketing professionals writing press releases that do not produce results.  We see marketing talent too broadly. Organizations that want to reach a dependable, sophisticated audience need high level publicists in every organization or agencies that specialize and truly understand the news media.

It’s always been a challenge to break through the competition for ink, but using social media as a substitute for traditional media coverage is a mistake.  It is much better to engage in an integrated campaign with both marketing and publicity professionals working side by side.








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