We’re living at a time where many people trust influencers and compelling orators more than facts and evidence. This is leading to widespread misinformation, misunderstanding and ‘fake news’, and potentially shaping how society responds to issues. But why is this happening? Surely, there are plenty of well-qualified people out there regularly communicating the facts – why are they not more influential?
A business strategy model, called ‘The Black Box Model’, may help explain. In ‘The Decision Book: Fifty models for strategic thinking’, Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler outline the concept as they clarify ‘why faith is replacing knowledge’. It goes something like this…
Our world is constantly becoming more complex. Topics are no longer black or white, good or bad, or right or wrong, but are multifaceted, nuanced and evolving. Technology is now far more difficult to understand (just compare the workings of a smartphone to an old dial phone), health issues and treatments are a minefield, and what we should eat or drink or buy or boycott seems to change daily. These are just a few examples but illustrate that as things get more complicated, we find it more challenging to keep up. In part, this is because the more society discovers and invents, the more there is to know, and no one can know about everything. So, as individuals, the amount we know about actually constantly drops.
We are increasingly surrounded by ‘black boxes’ – complex constructs we find hard to understand, even if they are explained to us. The idea is that we don’t understand the inner workings of these black boxes but, despite this, we integrate their inputs and outputs into our decision-making. For example, some of us may not understand the detail of how online banking works but we trust that it does what it’s supposed to do and incorporate it into our everyday lives. These black boxes will be different for everyone, but there will be common issues that are too complex for most people to understand. Because we can’t hope to understand everything, and we have to just trust things we don’t understand, society is placing more importance on those who can explain something, or at least say something convincing that we believe (even if it’s inaccurate), than the explanation itself. (Just look at the influence of 'how-to' videos on YouTube and Instagram as examples!) Krogerus and Tschäppeler assert that as time goes on, we will need to place greater emphasis on images and emotions in order to convince people, rather than using arguments.
It’s all about building trust and using the right communications to build it. So, how can science communicators use this concept to make sure the right information is trusted and accepted?
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