Testimonial of a “Deficit Model” Victim

The “Deficit Model” is a sort of social science strawman, that suggests that scientists’ inclination to offer information in response to confusion is misguided.

It’s hard to understand what the alternative is from the scientist’s point of view. Are we supposed to just offer more attitude? Are we supposed to dress up as members of various subcultures and make in jokes?

The point, though, is that there is plenty of information out there, and turning the tide of public debate will need other (unspecified) strategies.

PDA points out that there are still some people who lack information; the recent testimonial of a winter sports writer in the New York Times, entitled “The End of Snow?”, (*) is a striking testimonial to that effect:

‘It’s easy to blame the big oil companies and the billions of dollars they spend on influencing the media and popular opinion. But the real reason is a lack of knowledge. I know, because I, too, was ignorant until I began researching the issue for a book on the future of snow.

Why is a person literate who is immensely interested in snow, both professionally and recreationally, only now waking up to the ongoing global retreat of snow? He doesn’t blame the misinformers, he blames his own lack of knowledge. That lack of knowledge can only be connected to a lack of salience in the zeitgeist of his community. Which is bizarre, isn’t it?

Here I am extrapolating from my own experience, but I would think that there are reasons people don’t talk about it. Some are intrinsic – one skis to have fun, and discussing the End of Fun isn’t fun (for most people, myself and McPherson notwithstanding). But the extrinsic reason is that the press doesn’t treat climate change as important.

And the reason the press doesn’t do that is because they are punished if they do by dedicated naysayers. So digging deep enough does end up pointing to the fossil fuel interests, who have so successfully bamboozled the right wing into not only being suspicious of climate change, but angry over any scientifically defensible description of the issues.

Of course there is a knowledge deficit. Most people are very confused about the big picture; and the press is not really getting it either. Of course, people overcoming the information deficit will think differently about the climate problem and related global change issues than people who are indifferent or people who are panicking for that matter.

Does that mean that scientists need to produce more materials than we already do? Surely not.

Better ones, though? Yes, I think so, because we have to get around the indifference and lack of comprehension in the press and in the political sector. But the most important thing is to get across to people how crucial this is for the entire future of humanity; how as a long term problem it is terribly understated. (Even if as an immediate threat people are getting a bit carried away.) The fault for this failure is an information deficit, attributable primarily to the news media, and at one remove to the private interests who manipulate them.

No amount of slicing and dicing social science data will change this. Until people understand a relevant problem, they will not support a reasonable approach to dealing with it.

(Here’s a link to PDA’s posting, but you’ll have to join the Global Warming Fact of the Day Facebook group to see it. Tell the mods that mt sent you.)

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(*) – Well, how would you punctuate it?

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