Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney have a provocative Policy Forum (subscription required) in the latest issue of Science. They argue that
People are overwhelmed with information,
They use conceptual shortcuts, “frames,” to make decisions and to form opinions about issues that they don't have time to study, and
Scientists should “strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it.”
They're right. People are much more likely to remember and be influenced by Gore's comment that the “planet has a fever” (source) than the IPCC's conclusion that “Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many
natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly
temperature increases” (source, p. 2).
In response P.Z. Meyers argues that scientists sometimes want to “break the frames of the debate and shift whole worldviews,” that “[w]e are a culture afflicted with bad ideas, and it is irresponsible to ignore them,” and that “[o]ne of our jobs must be to speak out plainly in opposition to bad ideas.”
No argument there. But if we want to change people's minds, if we really want to “shift whole worldviews,” then we have to get the people whose minds we want to change to listen to us.
If, for example, we want to ensure that evolution is properly taught in public schools, many religious believers (85% of the United States population -- source) are going to have to be convinced that intelligent design and other forms of creationism aren't reasonable alternatives. That means framing evolutionary insights in terms that do not challenge religious belief1 and that make them personally relevant to those with influence over school curricula.
Nisbet has more commentary and a selection of reactions on his blog.