The three American researchers among them The study was published on June 21, wanted to confront a stubborn idea in the ecosystem: the idea that a person who believes so strongly in something cannot change their mind just because they are presented with enough facts. This idea particularly motivated many propagandists of environmental science in the 1990s, convinced that they could make climate skeptics “change their minds” with purely rational arguments. However, we have long known that misconception is rooted in a group of ideologies and beliefs that a person subscribes to, and that it is not enough to bombard him with facts to convince him to abandon this entire group.
But can we say that the effect is nothing? The three researchers, including political scientist Brendan Nyhan, author of several studies on the mechanisms of disinformation, read 2,900 Americans, in 2020, newspaper articles published in 2018, in the weeks following the publication of the latest IPCC report. The selected articles presented climatology in general, without pretending to correct lies or misperceptions.
The result: those who expressed their “skepticism” in the face of climate change saw their views shift in the right direction. But the effect was “eroding” when researchers asked them to read an opinion piece the following week questioning climate science. In fact, these researchers imposed as reading, on randomly selected participants, sometimes an opinion piece, sometimes a science article, and sometimes a report on the partisan climate debate, in the United States. The opinion piece had the most impact, especially among Republican voters.
“Our results indicate that exposure to scientific content improves factual accuracy but this improvement is short-lived and is no longer detectable at the end of our study,” they wrote.