3 September 2012
Joe Romm is a physicist who writes the very popular Climate Progress blog, and he has written one incredibly valuable book. If you are in any way involved in communication, especially science communication, this book is a must read. Rarely do I finish a book and like it so much, that I reread it almost immediately.
I did this one.
Language Intelligence is about the power of rhetoric, and how to use it to communicate. Rhetoric was a subject that educated people four centuries ago knew very well, but it is rarely taught extensively these days. It certainly should be.
How powerful is rhetoric? Romm Quotes George Orwell at the end of the book: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indispensible…Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind“.
Nothing recently illustrates the power of rhetoric better than the legislature of North Carolina. With EVERY major science body on the planet, along with NASA, NOAA, and their own in state experts telling them that coastal areas must prepare for a significant rise in sea level over the next 90 years what did they do? They passed a LAW stating that the science must be ignored. All, because it did not fit their political world view. A majority of citizens rejoiced the news.
Romm shares the claim of an ancient about the power of rhetoric, with the assertion that if a Doctor and an expert in rhetoric were to present themselves to a town for the position of town physician, the town would choose the medically unskilled master of rhetoric over the qualified doctor.
A few thousand years later, the North Carolina legislature proved him right.
I wrote a blog post recently where I quoted Neil de Grasse Tyson saying “The great thing about science, is that it’s true whether or not you believe it”. If those of us with some background in science are going to succeed in getting most people to believe facts, rather than myths and superstition, then we had better learn to communicate. Joe Romm’s book is a first foot in the door.
How bad is it? Take a look at the you tube videos of the first Moon landing. The top video had had 8 million views. Coming in second is the one entitled “Moon Landing Hoax” with over 3 millon views! Rhetoric can convince a lot of gullible people of just about anything. It’s about time someone learned to use it to spread a little reality rather than lies.