What does it take?
Recently The Daily Show had their correspondent Jordan Klepper talk with some Trump supporters and his discussions led him to ask them “What would Donald Trump have to say for you to change your mind about supporting him?” Many answered that there wasn’t anything he could say that would change their minds. Arguably you could have done something similar with the most rabid of Bernie Sanders’s supporters, many of whom still deny that Clinton greatly out-polled Sanders in the primaries, so this is not necessarily a right wing/left wing kind of thing. Unfortunately, the same lack of logic seems present in confronting issues like climate change, GMOs, and vaccines.
Why bring this up here? Because there should always be the possibility that there is evidence that could change your mind.That is arguably the part of the “scientific method” that everybody should learn. Admittedly at times it can be hard to put a pin in what, exactly, it might take to overturn well-established theories. For instance, what would it take to toss geological history as we now understand it and accept Noah’s Flood as literally true and the cause of all the geology we see? It is hard to comprehend the full list, but for starters there would need to be strong evidence that radiometric dating is wrong, that interpretation of geological facies is wrong, and that you can create angular and buttress unconformities with unconsolidated sediment. However, at the cutting edge things get tidier. What would it take for GG to believe that the High Plains rose in the past 5 million years? Perhaps a mechanism with relevant observations to support it. The development of a robust paleoaltimeter showing such a result. Maybe there is a way to show that incision of the High Plains cannot be the product of changes in climate.
If close-mindedness is a problem when it affects voters, it is an absolute plague when it infects legislators. The idea of a representative democracy is that the representatives will take the time to fully evaluate the relevant facts before deciding on a course of action; since it is their job, they should be able to understand issues more completely than their electorate. Ideally they should be able to communicate back to their electorate why they might be voting differently than their voters back home think they should vote. (Does this happen at allanymore?). In such a world, we would not be seeing arguments about the existence of human-caused climate change, we would be seeing arguments on how to address it (How much should we rely on natural gas as a bridge fuel? Should nuclear energy be a part of the mix? Is there a role for carbon capture? Carbon tax, or cap and trade?). Those kinds of arguments are quite amenable to compromise; denying factual evidence, on the other hand, is a stonewall.
And so, perhaps, one of the things we in the scientific world should emphasize is that we do change our minds when the evidence demands it.That, perhaps, is the greatest good we can do for the public at large, more than any research finding we might make.