I don’t normally do this. But right now, I am going to come out and gushingly endorse a book: climate blogger Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.
Everybody who cares about why science doesn’t get through to the public should read it.
Basically, it is a powerful treatise on the neglected art of rhetoric, the technique mastered by Shakespeare, Lincoln, and the writers of the King James Bible. As an English major, I particularly delighted in Romm’s discussion of figures of speech and how they make orators persuasive by allowing them to activate people’s emotions. Indeed, as Romm writes, modern neuroscience now confirms what the poets always knew about getting to people’s heads through their hearts (that’s a metaphor, by the way — one of the chief techniques that Romm discusses).
If you ever want to understand why scientists fare so poorly getting their message across — and why liberals lose policy debates and, often, presidential campaigns — this is also the book for you. In essence: Too much higher education, too much wonk sophistication, destroys the common language simplicity of good rhetoric and makes you less persuasive.
Romm — quite self-consciously — uses powerful rhetoric himself to get the point across. And he shows how, slowly, climate researchers are coming to recognize the power of figures of speech — comparing global warming’s influence on the weather to a batter on steroids who hits more home runs, for instance, or to the loading of dice.
For more, listen to my conversation with Romm on Point of Inquiry.