The public reception of scientific ideas depends largely on two factors: people's ability to grasp factual information and the cultural lens through which that information is filtered. The former is what scientists tend to focus on when they give popular accounts of issues such as climate change. The assumption is that if they explain things very, very clearly, everyone will understand. Unfortunately, this is an uphill battle. The general public's average capacity to weigh facts and numbers is notoriously poor — although there is encouraging evidence that probabilistic reasoning can be improved by targeted education early in life.And here are some examples:
Even more crucial, however, are the effects of the cultural lens. Over the coming month, Nature's Opinion pages will explore particularly vivid examples of these effects in the world's widely divergent reactions to Charles Darwin's ideas about evolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In China, Darwin's ideas were seen as supporting Confucians' belief in the perfectibility of the cosmic order. Evolutionary theory also became fodder for political movements of revolution and reform, and eventually laid the groundwork for communism. Latin American politicians initially reacted to Darwin's ideas by attempting to entice white Europeans to emigrate and intermarry with local populations, believing that this would 'improve the stock'. But after two world wars had made European culture look less impressive, Latin America began to see its racial diversity as an advantage, and moved towards a social view that favoured a homogeneous blend of cultures.
In nineteenth-century Russia, meanwhile, a tendency to distrust rabid, dog-eat-dog capitalism helped incline naturalists away from a view of evolution that emphasized competition between species. Instead they embraced a 'theory of mutual aid', an account that focused on the role of cooperation in ensuring survival in a harsh environment.
And here is the bit about framing:
The lesson for today's scientists and policy-makers is simple: they cannot assume that a public presented with 'the facts' will come to the same conclusion as themselves. They must take value systems, cultural backdrops and local knowledge gaps into account and frame their arguments accordingly. Such approaches will be crucial in facing current global challenges, from recessions to pandemics and climate change. These issues will be perceived and dealt with differently by different nations — not because they misunderstand, but because their understanding is in part locally dependent.I think this is a crucial point. Also, remember that this framing is a supplement - not a replacement of factual information. For the Muslim world, where religion plays an enormous role in societies, it would be prudent (actually necessary) to highlight that evolution does not equal atheism and that there are a number of Muslim evolutionary biologists who are also practicing Muslims. This approach is not much different than the one adopted by the National Center for Science Education(NCSE) and should resonate with Muslims as well (with Muslim examples).