If data is ambigous, the inflexible people sway public debate the most.

By | May 1, 2010


Public debates driven by incomplete scientific data where nobody can claim absolute certainty, due to current state of scientific knowledge, are studied. The cases of evolution theory, global warming and H1N1 pandemic influenza are investigated. The first two are of controversial impact while the third is more neutral and resolved. To adopt a cautious balanced attitude based on clear but inconclusive data appears to be a lose-out strategy. In contrast overstating arguments with wrong claims which cannot be scientifically refuted appear to be necessary but not sufficient to eventually win a public debate. The underlying key mechanism of these puzzling and unfortunate conclusions are identified using the Galam sequential probabilistic model of opinion dynamics. It reveals that the existence of inflexible agents and their respective proportions are the instrumental parameters to determine the faith of incomplete scientific data public debates. Acting on one’s own inflexible proportion modifies the topology of the flow diagram, which in turn can make irrelevant initial supports. On the contrary focusing on open-minded agents may be useless given some topologies. When the evidence is not as strong as claimed, the inflexibles rather than the data are found to drive the opinion of the population. The results shed a new but disturbing light on designing adequate strategies to win a public debate. – link

The best scientists the ones who are the most open minded and cautious, are the least believed. This is not as it should be, but we are illogical creatures. If something has an emotional impact, it is seen as more true.

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