2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 245-8
Presentation Time: 2:35 PM

HYDROFRACKING, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND, EVOLUTION OUTREACH YIELD RULES OF THUMB FOR TEACHING ABOUT CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES


DUGGAN-HAAS, Don, PRI and its Museum of the Earth, 92 South Dr, Amherst, NY 14226, dad55@cornell.edu

The Paleontological Research Institution has a long history of nurturing public understanding of controversial issues. PRI’s 11-year-old Museum of the Earth is built around the idea of evolution, and evolution education stretches back long before that. For more than a decade, PRI has engaged in climate change education, and, for the last several years, we have been engaged in energy education rooted in the science related to slickwater high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). These issues share common characteristics, and common rules of thumb are derived from our extensive work on teaching controversial issues. There are, however, differences amongst these issues and amongst the approaches that should be used in building understandings that can yield informed decisions.

Controversial issues tend to be interdisciplinary in nature; complex; play out across multiple scales of time and/or space; and are made difficult to understand by cognitive biases. Climate change and evolution share the characteristic of grounding in areas of consensus science. While there is consensus that HVHF causes environmental harm there is no consensus as to whether the environmental costs associated with HVHF are lesser or greater than those associated with other ways of generating energy on the scale currently required by modern society.

Rules of thumb for teaching about controversial issues include recognizing that: while grounding in evidence is essential, a focus simply upon the related science is insufficient to build understanding; effective approaches for certain audiences may backfire to the point of deepening misconceptions and related convictions if used with other audiences; reframing questions away from the most obvious and most polarizing questions is often helpful; argument in the traditional sense (and potentially advocacy in the traditional sense) may deepen convictions more than understandings; and; attending to issues of scale with familiar examples and user-friendly analogies can deepen understanding.

Handouts
  • Controversial Issues Rules of Thumb.pptx (908.2 kB)