A recent post on the blog, Watching the Deniers, raises an important issue that I think is worth passing on. In February 2013, a paper was published in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication which examines the effect of uncivil discussions in the comments on blogs and the impact of those discussions on the people who read them. The topic under discussion was nanotechnology and they found that incivility in comments had a polarising effect.
Most importantly, this study found that uncivil blog comments contribute to polarization of risk perception of an issue depending on an individual’s level of religiosity and support of that entity. Speciﬁcally, among individuals who do not support nanotechnology, those who are exposed to uncivil deliberation in blog comments are more likely to perceive the technology as risky than those who are exposed to civil comments. Similarly, highly religious individuals are more likely to perceive nanotechnology as risky when exposed to uncivil comments compared to less religious individuals exposed to uncivil comments.
I think the main message here is that if you want to convince someone of something, then do it in a civil manner. A nasty discussion will foil any hope you have of changing someone’s mind.
This weekend I watched Stephen Schneider talking to 52 climate skeptics on Australian television. He does so respectfully and calmly and I think this is a great example of how to get your message across. I am not sure how many of the skeptics he managed to convince but I am certain he would have had less success had he approached it with anger and nastiness. Sadly Stephen Schneider died not long after this discussion was filmed. He was 65. The discussion is viewable on Youtube in four parts.