Asimov Defends the Deficit Model


  1. It is a pleasure to hear Mr. Asimov speak, but in what way is he defending the deficit model?

    I have yet to understand what it (the Deficit Model)is. It would seem that it would have to encompass more than an assertion that knowledge is better than ignorance. It could be of use to know what other models of knowledge (if that is what is what the criptic reference to "Deficit Model" is all about) are in use.

    A short definition of what the phrase is intended to mean would be helpful.

  2. One of the many topics I need to elaborate upon. In short, though, there is a dire epidemic of Serious People (mainstream pundits) saying that public communication about the climate problem should not be "unduly" burdened by factual evidence. That's a bit of a tautology, I guess. But in practice by "unduly burdened" they seem to mean the practice of using anything but anecdotal evidence. I am investigating the history of this lunacy, which appears to have originated in the UK as blowback from an especially pedantic campaign from scientists seeking public support of the scientific enterprise itself.

    Asimov's point is that the methods of reason (a.k.a., science) are the only way to objectively resolve disagreements. Otherwise it becomes a battle of wills. But because we have transitioned into a world where worrying about The Future actually makes sense, a battle of wills is inadequate.

    When I was young, it appeared that the transition to reason was well in progress, although there was risk from evil. The prospect from 2012 is less sanguine. Pure cynicism is perhaps less common, but rejection of reason is endemic. And the Serious People advocate that anything else is unrealistic. The thing that they consider somehow disproven (by scientific research no less) is that public opinion can be swayed by objective evidence. It is the deconstructionist fallacy writ large. And the thing they consider disproven, that the correct way to convince people of things is to apply reason to evidence, they call the "deficit model".

    And because scientists are academics, they believe that "communication professionals" are the experts and defer to them. And so they capitulate to the politicization of science, as opposed to the scientization of politics. Which is the whole problem, isn't it?

  3. I can't think of a better example of will versus reason and the bitter fruit of refusing to scrupulously explain facts than the current polling around the US presidential campaign.

    In a discussion disconnected from facts the most competent and prolific liar will be more likely to prevail. Why would it be otherwise?

  4. "And so they capitulate to the politicization of science, as opposed to the scientization of politics. Which is the whole problem, isn’t it?"

    No! The problem of persuading people that action has to be taken now to prevent the worst consequences of anthropogenic global warming is a political problem not a scientific one. How much temperatures will rise and which regions will suffer droughts are problems that require the use of the scientific method. Persuading the powers that be to take action is a political problem.

    Whether you are considering a democracy like the USA, or a non democracy like China, the government needs the consent of the people if it is going to introduce unpopular policies. Otherwise the government gets thrown out at the next election, or there is a revolution, or both.

    Scientist have to realise that if they want action they have got to talk to the people, not the "opinion formers" to whom the IPCC reports are aimed. It is naive thinking by the scientists that the politicians and government official decide policy. They can't do that without the consent of the people. It is the journalists who tell the people what to think and it is the journalists who should be the IPCC's target.

    The problem is that the lobbyists for the sceptics are aware of this. They know that if they can get the people to distrust the scientists then they can win the day. (The scientists can tell the people the truth until they are blue in the face but if the people do not trust them then they wil not be believed. Climategate was a great victory for the sceptic lobbists, because they used it to persuade the people that the scientists were cheats. No amount of enquiries by scientists proving that they had done nothing wrong was of any use because the people no longer trust the scientists.

    There is no point in the scientists banging on about the facts. What they have to do is discredit the sceptics, although that is easier said than done.

  5. The only reason to discredit them is that they are wrong. The only way to discredit them is to demonstrate that they are wrong. The only way to do that is to convince the public that we are NOT living in a fantasy world where facts don't matter as much as spin does, and then get them to look at the facts. This is essentially Asimov's point.

    Only reason can adjudicate disagreements; everything else is egalitarian, but truth just is. The experts in communication are,as far as I can tell, saying that because what we need to do is difficult, we should do something easier. I say to hell with that.

  6. "I say to hell with that."

    And that is what most other people say when they are told something new. It is not easy to convince people to accept new ideas. I don't have the rhetorical skill to convince you that the Deficit Model is now out of date thinking. "The deficit model, however, has been discredited by a wealth of literature that shows that simply giving more information to people does not necessarily change their views.[Kearnes M., Macnaghten P. & Wilsdon, J. Governing at the Nanoscale (Demos, 2006); available at ]

    If you are not willing to listen to what other people have to say, don't be surprised if they won't listen to you. We are all humans, and don't like being told what to do or what to believe. Scientists are no exception as you are showing 🙁

  7. The notion that it is difficult to persuade others that a particular state of affairs is the case is not in anyway new. Aristotle’s work The Rhetoric is evidence both of the difficulties that are to be expected when one person seeks to persuade another, and that those difficulties have existed for at least some two thousand four hundred years. In point of fact, that work gives evidence that for Aristotle at least facts (evidences) and logic were necessary parts of a persuasive argument, but that they were not in themselves sufficient. I expect that the classical rhetoricians would have nothing but disdain for the notion that we should look solely to appeals to emotion and an authoritative manner when we seek to persuade the larger community of the existence of a real danger.

    To say that presenting a person with facts that contradict their present opinion may well fail to give them a cause to change that opinion is very far from saying that facts have no general usefulness in an attempt to change opinion. The old philosopher Aristotle stressed the point that the facts are not sufficient. The audience must also be given reason to trust the person who is presenting those facts, which is almost wholly due to the manner in which facts are communicated. I have seen this myself.

    When speaking with a friend on the issue of climate change I spoke to him of the evidence of what opinion within the scientific community is, and that it would be necessary for him to come to grips with that state of affairs. In the midst of the conversation he mentioned to me that he was grateful that I had not begun the conversation with abuse and disdain. That in itself says something about the nature of the problem that faces us. If my friend has been met with disdain and abuse because of the opinions he holds, would anyone be surprised if it would be a challenge for us even to reach the point of agreeing what the facts of the matter are, or what sources of information are trust worthy?

    I think that may have much to do with the reported results of sociological research.

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