Deniers are indeed willing to change their beliefs

Date of news: 7 June 2022

Some 97% of climate scientists agree: climate change is primarily caused by humans. So why do some people still believe it's not true? Aart van Stekelenburg conducted research into how you can better inform people through science communication.

From debates about climate change to vaccine debates. There are always people who hold on to false beliefs, despite the state of science. That is what PhD candidate Aart van Stekelenburg said three years ago.

After completing his thesis, the Radboud researcher is slightly more optimistic. "The prevailing idea is that science communication would not work if you stick only to the facts and that you should, for instance, play more on emotions", he says. "But this research shows time and again that most people are prepared to adjust their convictions if there is enough scientific evidence."

Repetition works

The fact that scientific knowledge sometimes fails to catch on is more likely due to the fact that people sometimes wait too long before disseminating it. "For example, the tobacco lobby became big before communication about the dangers of smoking had properly started", explains Van Stekelenburg. But eventually most people became aware of the risks of smoking.

Van Stekelenburg therefore advises scientists and journalists to keep repeating their message. "As a journalist, keep explaining what the scientific consensus is. If there is a lot of evidence, such as on climate change or the efficacy of vaccinations, the chance that this knowledge is incorrect is very small. And, as a scientist, it helps to be transparent about how research was conducted and how certain the research field is of certain findings."

Aart van Stekelenburg will receive his doctorate on 16 June. He is still linked to Radboud University as a postdoctoral researcher at the Behavioural Science Institute, within the research group Communication & Media.

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