Joe Romm – Language Intelligence

August 13, 2012

This week’s guest is Joe Romm. You may know him as a top blogger on global warming and energy—but that’s not why we’re having him on.

In an impressive show of versatility, Romm the scientist has written a book about how to persuade people. It’s entitled Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga. In essence, it’s a treatise on the neglected art of rhetoric, the technique mastered by Shakespeare and the writers of the King James Bible.

In it, Romm delves deeply into 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—and people devoted to reason and critical thinking—fare so poorly getting their message across, you are going to want to listen to this show.

Joe Romm is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and oversees the blog, which was named one of Time Magazine’s Fifteen Favorite Websites for the Environment in 2007. He is also the author of several books, including Hell and High Water: Global Warming—The Solution and The Politics. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT, and served as acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during 1997 and principal deputy assistant secretary from 1995 through 1998.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Monday, August 13th, 2012. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. 

I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values and public affairs. And at the grassroots. I’m really thrilled to announce this week’s guest, Joe Rome, you may know him as a top blogger on global warming and energy policy, but that is not why we’re having him on in a pretty, I think, impressive show of versatility. Rome The scientist has written a book about how to persuade people. It’s entitled Language Intelligence Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga. Basically, it’s a treatise on the neglected art of rhetoric. The technique mastered by Shakespeare and also the writers of the King James Bible as an English major. That’s what I am officially, academically. I was particularly delighted by Rome’s discussion of figures of speech and how they make orders persuasive. By allowing them to activate people’s emotions. And in fact, as Rome notes, modern neuroscience now confirms what the poets always kind of knew about getting to people’s heads through their hearts. That’s a metaphor, by the way, one of the chief figures that Rome discusses. So if you ever want to understand why scientists and people of reason often fare so poorly at getting their message across. I think this is the book for you. Certainly the book that you need to know about. Jerome is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he oversees the blog Climate Progress dot org, which was named one of Time magazine’s 15 favorite Web sites for the environment in 2007. He’s also the author of several books, including Helen Highwater Global Warming, The Solution and the Politics. Rome holds a P-H in physics from M.I.T., and he served as acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during 1997 and is principal deputy assistant secretary from 1995 through 1998. Jerome, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Hey, thanks for having me, Chris. 

It’s great to have you. You know, everybody knows you as. And I’m going to quote America’s fiercest climate blogger. So this new book shows a completely different side of you. 

I did not know that you had published a paper in the journal Hamlet’s Studies in nineteen eighty eight. How did a physicist and a climate guy wind up also studying rhetoric? 

I think part of it is because both my parents were professional journalists and writers and they loved words. And I had some great teachers. I had a great teacher in 10th grade and then I actually did a Harvard Summer School course in in in Shakespeare. And then I just it just it was an interest of mine that just stayed for a very long time. And that led to this 1988 Journal article you mentioned why why Hamlet dies. And that led to a a a draft book on Hamlet. And then that led to sort of realizing how Shakespeare uses rhetoric and the figures of speech. And then after the 2004 presidential election, like a lot of people, I was very frustrated at how bad, you know, John Kerry and his team were at what I thought was kind of basic communications. So I started to turn my previous writings on communications and rhetoric into, you know, one that was more political. And then over the years of it getting turned around by editors, but then sending me notes saying how to improve it. I finally, you know, made it a lot better. I start I got this blog. And as you know, I mean, you were one of the inspiration for me to become a blogger. I get you get a lot of feedback. You get instant feedback on what works and what doesn’t. So I was able to try a lot of things. And so ultimately, I’ve ended up with this book, Language Intelligence Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga, which is really the secrets of the world’s greatest communicators. 

You and I have a lot in common because I’m a college English major who turned into a science writer. And reading your book is like I mean, it’s a unique book. 

It’s like taking English class from a scientist, which is kind of awesome. And I understand you have the website yourself for this rhetoric dot com. I just a grab. How did you get that? 

I got that many years ago because I was you know, I’ve been working on this book for 25 years and I sooner or later I said I was going to, you know, publish this book. And I, I just, you know, kept tabs on it. And I actually, you know, sent an email to the guy who owned it. He he actually had it, but hadn’t been using it for years because he had something called rhetoric records. And he said a lot of people had approached him. But he he sold it to me because I love Ray. You know, I love rhetoric. He could tell that I was, you know, ultimately going to do something real with it. And and so I’ve had it for many years now. And it’s only and I’m only just now building up the site. I’ve been meaning to build up the site for a long time. But, of course, as you know, when you get wrapped up in your own blog and I had climate progress, it just is all consuming. So finally, I’m going to start to build up rhetoric dot com. But, you know, it’s it’s just this has been the other love of my life besides, you know, climate and clean energy. 

And speaking of love of your life, I mean, you read and I as an English major, someone who’s read Shakespeare, I have not gone as far as you. You read all these texts from the Elizabethan era that would have influenced Shakespeare, all these treatises on the power of rhetoric that we don’t have kicking around anymore. 

I know. Yeah, I’m looking at my bookshelf here because I work out of my home and yeah, I have, you know, about a dozen books from the Elizabethan era on on rhetoric, on the figures of speech. And the thing you know, the amazing thing about this book, because you mentioned it’s a scientist writing about language, is that there is a science to persuasive speech and it’s called rhetoric, except rhetoric has got this bad connotation. So I use the term language intelligence. But it is it is the figures of speech and modern social science. And advertisers have demonstrated that the figures of speech are the way we think about the world. They are the keys to being memorable and parade persuasive and charismatic. And the Elizabethans really raised it to a very high art. I mean, there are there are 200 figures of speech. And I mean, Shakespeare used them regularly. And as I say in the book, I discuss what a typical Elizabethan education was. You know, they called it grammar school for a reason. You know, back then they weren’t learning science and and they weren’t, you know, learning all social studies. Almost all of the education, you know, 10 hours a day, six days a week, 36 weeks a year was Latin grammar to learn the figures of speech from, you know, Ovid and the Romans who wrote about rhetoric. And that’s what they learn. And everybody in Elizabethan England became a master of the English language. And that was why if you read a Shakespeare play, it’s it’s metaphors and it is rhyme and repetition and it is wordplay. And that’s why we love it today, because there’s so much humanity in it. That’s the other point of it, is that rhetoric, even though we think today rhetoric is some, you know, highfalutin way of talking, the point of rhetoric is to match natural speech, emotion. And that’s what Shakespeare was able to capture. And that’s why I love him so much. And that’s why, you know, he’s one of the principal examples. But even, you know, through modern times, the modern Bardes, whether it’s Bob Dylan or Lady Gaga, you can show that the great lyricists and I talk, as you know, in the book of of some of the great songs of the past few decades. The they are poetry rhetoric set to music now. 

And you say also, though, that this rhetoric is everywhere in modern culture, everywhere in politics. And that’s, you know, the best sort of soundbites. Only talk about somebody a bit. But there are rhetorical devices. 

Why? But it’s not taught. Why don’t we learn this anymore? 

Yeah. Well, the first point you make is absolutely correct. I would say 90 percent of the favorite quotes that people have are a figure of speech. And, you know, that’s why I say if you want to be pithy and profound, if you want to write a great tweet or give a better, more memorable public speech, you need to know the figures of speech. And it is kind of incredible to me as a as a scientist that even though we know today, based on social science research, that the figures of speech do in fact work just the way the Greeks and the Romans in Elizabethan thought. It’s not taught anymore. And, you know, I think there are a number of reasons why. But I think the main one is that that we we replaced the the renaissance flowering of language with the Enlightenment. And and and that is built around logic and science. And so the modern education has been increasingly driven towards this, I think, misguided belief that the most effective speech is one in which you make a logical argument using numbers and facts and you build up your case and that you know how. And as you go higher and higher in college with, you know what? You get a bachelor’s degree, you get a master’s or P.H. deep, you’re actually having all of your natural way of speaking pulled out of you so that you’re totally unemotional. And your your presentation, your writing style and your speaking style become increasingly, you know, didactic and and fact based, which, you know, in the cloistered environment of academia may work fine. But as you and I both know very well, in the real world, it is, you know, being persuasive, being being credible, having sincerity, telling a good story. These are what win political debates and, you know, the best politicians higher either Madison Avenue, which understands this, or professional speechwriters who are among the only people left to actually study this. And they that’s where you get their great works of of of speeches so that, you know, John F. Kennedy would have Theodore Sorensen write his speeches. And that’s why you have ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what your country, what you can do for your country. A classic figure speech. Cavernous. 

Yes. No. You want to talk about the figure speech. You made me remember what miasmas was. So thank you for that. First, let me remind our listeners that Joe Romes new book Language and tells us intelligence lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln and Lady Gaga is available through our website Point of Inquiry, Dawg. 

So, yes, you present a Kattegat catalog of rhetorical techniques and that ranges from using simple language, using repetition, going on through chiasmus and metaphore. I think it’s a wonderful lesson and I want to get into some detail bad. But first, since you’re a Shakespeare wonk and I’m a Shakespeare wonk, I. He’d be self-indulgent and have a Shakespeare argument. This should be fun because there’s one quote that I interpret differently, and it’s Hamlet. And it’s when Polonius says, to thine own self be true and it must follow as the night, the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man. And you use as an example of simple language and how effective it is. I think Shakespeare is making fun of Polonius there. I think Polonius is being simplistic and cliched and Shakespeare sort of, you know, giving him a kick in the rear. 

Oh, you are very correct. And and I removed all of the interpretive stuff from this book as I turned it, into something that would be a general public high, you know, highly readable book. Well, what I argue in my other books on Hamlet, which which are sitting there on my computer, and I, I will publish them someday. I find now that anybody can publish a book. And there aren’t any gatekeepers saying Joe Rome as a physicist, he can’t write about Shakespeare. Is yes. What Shakespeare does in the plays and why he uses many of the figures of speech is so that there is a surface meeting and an underlying meaning and and the irony and so much and I know you know, I have a whole chapter in irony, which is one of the great and most important figures of speech, is that when you really understand what Shakespeare’s doing in his plays, almost every line is either foreshadow or setting up irony or irony and the case of Polonius. Of course, Polonius lies to everybody. Right. And he lives with Sun. He actually recommends at one point that one of his servants that he goes around is putting out false some small lies about his son so that he can find out the truth from other people. And the point is, Polonius is a professional liar. And he tells his son, you know, thou can’t not be forced to any man. Shakespeare views Polonius as a hypocrite. And. And if you look at the play really closely, you get to see that that hypocrisy is is one of the core things in Hamlyn. A great many people in Hamlet are saying one thing on the surface and underneath. I mean, the exact opposite. 

You talk about all the techniques in Shakespeare is at the highest level. But let’s let’s go down to more simple level. You say use words with one, maybe two syllables most of the time, and maybe this gets it. Why scientists have such trouble communicating is all their jargon is definitely greater than two syllables. 

Yeah. There’s a there is an essay that I always urge people to read, which is called The Scaffolding of Rhetoric by. It’s an unpublished essay by Winston Churchill that you can Google it and find it. He wrote it when he was 22 and he explains and he used the term scaffolding because the point is you construct your rhetorical remarks, but then no one realizes it because you’ve written a great and compelling speech. And obviously, Churchill is one of the greatest speechmakers of all time. But there is this amazing myth that rhetoric and eloquence means long words. And, you know, as Churchill says, they’re the shorter words of a language are usually the more ancient. Their meaning is more ingrained in the national character, and they appeal with greater force. And if you look at the Elizabethan rhetoric texts, and I have it’s very clear, short words to be or not to be, I have a dream, you know, Judge, not that you be not judged. The great, great speeches, the great lines that you remember are primarily one and two syllable words. And that doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally have that long word. But this notion that that that these multi syllable words are the way to be eloquent is the exact opposite of what the great speech makers and the great authors who wrote about it believe. So, yeah. Practice short words and and try it sometime. And I you know, I have a five and a half year old daughter, so it’s beautiful to listen how she talks because she’s talking mostly, you know, one and two syllable words. And that’s just it’s a different way of communicating. But it is it is much more compelling and it’s a much more winning way. 

I think you sold me on that. And I think I kind of knew that. But you kind of you articulate what was sort of latent in meesa. 

I mean, I totally agree with that one. And we can’t go through all the figures. But metaphore is sort of your crown jewel. And, you know, rightly that we actually we think in metaphors, not in facts. You write that facts cannot fight false frames. You must fight metaphorical fire with metaphorical fire. 

Yeah, I think that that if I were going to give people, you know, advice on speechmaking and I try to keep it as simple in this book as possible, you want to use shorter words, you want to use repetition, and then you want to put metaphors. And I will say my own experience in my life that if I give a talk and I use a metaphor for half the people who come up to me afterwards will mention it. And and I recently gave testimony and I put in some metaphors and people just mentioned that I beat our human mind thinks in metaphor. And then I have a whole bunch of quotes from social scientists and others that that that was the human brain. You know, E.O. Wilson specializes in metaphor because it just you know, that’s the whole point of neurons, is they connect one part to another part. And and people like Lakoff have written about this and what he calls frames. But it is just if you want to be more memorable and more persuasive. The most important thing that you can do, I think, is to is to throw in some metaphors and metaphors are visual. And, you know, I’m an auditory person. And so using metaphors helps me reach and communicate with people who who are somewhat different than me and who and who visualize things. So, yeah, I. And that’s very, very clear that the great speech makers thought very hard about metaphors. And I use you know, Churchill thought long and hard. He created the Iron Curtain and that metaphor which he consciously created. It became a potent political reality that the people talked about. And it was talked about for, you know, decades and decades. And Lincoln, very clearly, I talked I the house divided, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Lincoln loved metaphors and extended metaphors. And he was self-conscious about I mean, he he thought about it and I quote some of the people who knew him saying in the House Divided speech, he was trying very hard to come up with a metaphor that would really strike home to people. And in this case, he was using a metaphor from the Bible. And so, yeah, I think that people can become more memorable and more persuasive pretty easily. But it takes you have to, you know, consciously try to do it. And, you know, I try in the book to have examples from all different sorts, you know, from from television, pop culture, music, famous political speeches, the Bible, just because something in the book is going to, you know, connect with you, you in your case, you’re the Shakespeare guy. You know, some people love Lincoln. Some people love pop music. Whatever it is, you’re going to see that these that these are obscure devices. These are these are winning devices that the best communicators use. 

One of the great things that you say in the book and let me use a metaphor, you say the coin of the realm for good communication, for good rhetoric is, is the retreat. In other words, you know you know, you’re using rhetoric properly. If you’d send out a tweet and it gets retweeted a lot of times which which I totally agree with. But I’ve learned from my experiences of training scientists to communicate that the thing that they don’t like the most is Twitter. 

And I think that says something about the gap between science and rhetoric and gap between science and good communication. 

Well, you know, it’s funny because as a trained scientist, my initial reaction to Twitter was quite negative. And I was like, I have a blog, you know, and as you know, from reading Climate Progress, I write long blog posts. I, I some of I’m known for writing longer than most people who blog. And I’m aware, however, since both my parents were newspaper people, that the vast majority of people don’t get past the opening paragraph. And, you know, as I did some research and even realized further that, you know, most people don’t get past the headline. This was sort of something that took a long time for me to get through my skull, which is that 10 to 50 times as many people are going to see the headline as they’re going to read any substantial amount of the posts. And only a tiny minority are going to read, you know, more than half the posts. So, yeah, headlines a two line headline is about the size of a tweet. So is a sound bite a typical sound bite on on on TV? I mean, you and I, I’m sure you’ve had the same experience I have where you are in this long interview. And they you know, they use two, eight second soundbites. And but one thing that’s important is if you watch TV a lot for what soundbites get used. Because a man you have a good metaphore, you are going to be picked up by the by the newspaper or by TV. And so over time, and particularly because of the blog, I got to see this direct feedback. And that’s sort of the scientific method, which is you try stuff and you get feedback. And it became clear to me not all of my headlines are figures of speech, but that a disproportionate number of them would get, you know, retweeted a lot. And by the way, if you go into people’s Twitter accounts, you know, you will find that often they read they they tweet out their favorite aphorism, their favorite, you know, saying and it’s always a figure of speech. So Twitter, you just have to have the right attitude towards Twitter, which is that it? It is it is a means of communicating, a kind of pithy thought. It can be linked to something else. So you’ve got to be you know, that’s the other point of the headline or the tweet is it’s got to be grabbing. It’s got to be something that’s memorable and that pulls you in. And and I said I made a decision when I wrote this book in the very final draft that I was sort of going to, quote unquote, give the secret of successful blogging, and that is to spend as much time on the headline as anything else in your post. Because if you have a good headline, then A, your headline is going to reach more people than your post anyway. So that’s important. And B, if it’s a good headline, you’re going to get a higher amount of traffic. 

So, Amanda, know that that is cool. So you talk a lot about political rhetoric. And let’s go on to that. You say, let’s look, we’re in a campaign right now. In your opinion, both President Obama and Mitt Romney are bad at rhetoric, but there is this stunning contradiction that I want you to comment upon between Obama, the 2008 candidate in Obama, the president. 

I mean, the 2008 candidate was good at rhetoric. He had yes, we can and change we can believe in. 

And then he switched to terrible things like the individual mandate. I mean, what’s going on with him? 

You know, that is the great puzzle, and I’m sure you’ve talked to a lot of people, I’ve talked to a lot of people. Why is it that someone who’s so identified as a great speechmaker and obviously the speech that made him famous, the 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention is a classic work speech, a classic speech, which I think people remember for a long time. But then he becomes president and all of a sudden he stops storytelling. I mean, you know, and it’s it’s an in fact, that you may have seen the quote back in July. He recently said that his greatest failing as a president was that he didn’t tell stories. And then Mitt Romney immediately leaped on him and said the job of a president isn’t to tell stories which which just shows you why Mitt Romney is so bad at communicating, because that is, in fact, everybody’s job is to tell stories, because that’s what people remember. That’s what’s persuasive. And that’s how rhetoric was developed. Just as an aside rhetoric came about, because the Holmer and the great story from the Bible were told in epic poems by memory an hour long, and people needed devices to help them remember these long poems. And they wanted the poems to be memorable. So the figures of speech were just the devices invented by the bards of yore to aid memory. And so, yes, the job of everybody, and particularly political leaders, is to is to tell a compelling story. And I think one of the things that happened is that before he was elected president, he probably did most of his own speech writing. He’s widely credited with having written the the 2004, you know, convention speech. And you just you know, you have a lot more time when you’re present. You don’t have any time. You know, you and I and I think he handed over the communications shop to people who I don’t think were that good at at this kind of communications. You know, running a campaign is. And it’s also, I should say it’s easier to have a unified message when you’re running a campaign because the campaign is just about you, the person. So obviously, you have to tell your own story. But once you’re president, now you’re dealing with a million different topics. Now, arguably, that’s why the figures of speech are even more important when you’re present, because if you have a story that you can tie all the disparate elements together, then you can become a compelling figure. And, you know, Obama is always talking about how much he admired Reagan. Reagan had that facility. He had that facility to use the simple language and the metaphors. Morning in America to wrap up everything he was doing into some visual image that was very potent. And and two of Reagan’s real. You know, the two ads that Reagan had for reelection are two of the most memorable ads ever written. One was The Morning in America, which is a visual metaphor of of, you know, the economic rebound being like the morning and the dawn was coming. And the second was, was there’s a bear in the woods to basically say, you know, a Mondale doesn’t see. The bear. But there’s a bear in the woods, i.e. Russia. That’s a metaphor for Russia. And I’m going to protect you and he doesn’t see it. So, you know, they understood the people who who were the really map, you know, quote unquote, great communicator like Reagan. What the great communication was, is the figures of speech, rhetoric, language, intelligence. 

Let me again remind our listeners that Joe Rum’s new book, Language Intelligence, is available through our site. Point of inquiry, dawg. Staying on politics, you focus a lot on the 2004 campaign. 

And in it you depict John Kerry is just atrocious at rhetoric and at knowing that he’s supposed to be doing rhetoric and defending his story. And you depict George W. Bush is actually kind of good at it and even clever like he understood rhetoric and not the simpleton that liberals made him out to be. 

You know, certainly the 2004 election was a great motivator to write this book. And I do think that Bush, Bush’s savvy, was misunderstood. And, you know, I’m not saying he was some brilliant guy, but I am saying he knew how to stay on message. He knew how to read Pete’s simple points and do what his message makers told him. And and he also realized this profound point, which is a central point of my discussion on irony in the book, which is that if people think you’re kind of simple and maybe not so bright, that’s actually not a negative because we associate people being too clever with being too clever by half and that you can’t trust them. Whereas if a guy seems kind of simple, then you kind of think, oh, he’s being he’s not smart enough to lie. He’s being straightforward. And that goes as I show in the book, it goes all the way back to Shakespeare in the great rhetoricians. Always knew that you had to, you know, say that you weren’t great in rhetoric or or eloquence or English language. And, you know, classic example would be when Mark Anthony in the Roman forum after Brutus speaks, this is the play Julius Caesar. But it also happened in real life. We just don’t know what the speech was in real life. We just know that, you know, Brutus kills Caesar and he goes in to the Roman form and explains why he why he did it. And then he foolishly lets Mark Anthony speak. And Mark Anthony, you know, says, you know, I’m just a plain blunt man. I just tell you what you already know. If I were an orator like Brutus, then I would be able to persuade you to rise up against him. But, you know, I’m not that guy. It’s just one of the most brilliant speeches of all time. And and and so the point is that that there’s no downside, really, in having people underestimate you. The doubt the risk is when they, you know, think you’re too clever, they overestimate you, and then they’re going to think that they can’t trust you. And of course, Kerry famously said, you know, I voted for the what was the 80 billion before I voted against it? He voted for the war funds before he voted against it. And that said, that flip flopper, that sounding too clever was the the the dagger, the metaphore that that the Bush administration used over and over again with the with the windsurfing image as the metaphor of the flip flopping. And so you had the classic campaign which Republicans have often run against Democrats, where it’s Ronald Reagan, kind of the homespun guy against Jimmy Carter, the too clever engineer. And then you had George W. Bush, the again homespun Texan, maybe not so bright versus, you know, Al Gore. And, you know, you you you just saw it over and over and over again that this is how a a standard, a storyline or narrative. And I think that that gets to the other point in campaign strategy, which is that that the people are so have have watched these storylines over many years of the guy who is really, you know, maybe doesn’t seem like he’s so sharp out, smarting the smarty pants. And we all know that from, you know, growing up how how that that has played out. And so if if a wise campaign strategist basically can take what is perceived to be on the weakness of their candidate, in the case of Bush, he’s not the most verbally adept guy and suddenly turn it into an advantage or at least negate if it’s cost to him, and then turn the cleverness against against his opponent from a left. 

Right. Active. I feel like there’s also something else going on here, psychological, I’ve written a lot about this, which is that, you know, other research on liberals versus conservatives says many things. 

But one of the things that it says and Ollman includes scientists and liberals here. But anyway, one of things that it says is that the left is associate with novelty seeking. When you try out new things, that’s why they’re more comfortable change generally. But it’s a personality disposition. And it seems to me that staying on message, a novelty seeking just do not go together. And as a novelty seeker myself, you know, when I come out with a book, I’m happy to promote it for a month or two. But then I’m like onto something else. You know, I’m sick of this. The same old story I’m as it is four years was it is for two years. No way. Let’s do something new. 

And that, I think, is kind of an inherent difference, too. 

I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, I think there is on the progressive side, we progressive. I mean, there’s also another related feature is that we’re about diversity and letting everyone’s voice be heard. Right. And but the point that you’re making about this desire for novelty. I look at it this way. Being a scientist. Scientists hate to repeat themselves. I mean, if you’re a scientist, repeating yourself in the scientific world is evidence that you don’t believe what you’re saying. You know, you’re mahood you because. Because it sounds like, oh, I’ve got to keep saying it to convince people rather than it is self-evident. And, you know, it is this you know, I don’t even know what to call it. This fatal flaw of believing that that that which is obvious to them is self-evident to everybody and needs to be only said once. It is it is endemic. And, you know, I went through I got a Ph.D. in physics. And you don’t learn take any communications courses. You never you never learn any of these techniques of communications. And and if you actually practice any of them in front of your peers, you’ll be eaten up alive. You know, you don’t you don’t make metaphors because metaphors aren’t exact. You know, you are literal. It’s the difference, quite literally, between between a scientist being literal and let’s say someone who is more adept at public speaking, being figurative. And, you know, I actually cite this example in the book. If you go back to the most famous dialog of of Plato’s on about rhetoric where he’s talking, it’s about Gorgias, the great Greek rhetorician. He Gorgias says, I could go into any town in Greece with a real doctor and we could argue in front of the town elders who should be the town doctor. And I would always win. 

That sounds like it almost foreshadows use another one of the techniques old the climate 10 years that all the sides deniers who out science, the scientists with rhetoric. 

Well, absolutely. And of course, Plato didn’t like rhetoricians. That’s why we ended up with the term Sophus, because they were the people who thought rhetoric. Plato thought in a perfect world, we would be it would be a meritocracy and everything would be fact driven. So Plato was actually trying to disparage the rhetoricians. But but absolutely. I mean, the the power of rhetoric, as the Elizabethans understood it was, you know, quote, you know, next to the almighty God in the power of persuasion. That’s what they viewed it. That’s why they put so much effort into the King James Bible. They had 48 of the world of the country’s greatest rhetoricians. Translate that into English. And that’s why the King James Bible is filled. You know, it’s got more, you know, quote in Bartlett’s quotation than any other work fall, you know, along with William Shakespeare, because they wrote in aphorisms, because they they they they practiced rhetoric. But, yeah, it is exactly that point that that that if you understand how to be persuasive using language, you can run rings around someone who is just stuck in this very literalistic fact based mode. 

Well, let me ask you, you know, to sort of turn this ship, another metaphor. Squeaking Wrap up. What do you think we should do with this knowledge? I mean, one one thing you say you suggest in the book is that the media is just completely oblivious. I mean, they love soundbites and they love to sound clever themselves. So they’re in their rhetoric game, but they don’t do any policing of abusive rhetoric. I mean, is that one of the things you’re calling for in some way? 

I would say two things. First, scientists need to learn these techniques because they are science based. They really are. And the good news is they have started to and I have great praise for the climate scientists who are starting to use some good metaphors. For instance, the metaphore they’re using a lot that the climate on on greenhouse gases is like a baseball player on steroids. And, you know, you can’t necessarily say one homerun was do was caused by the steroids. But you see a 70 homerun season and you realize the records were broken because of the steroids. And that’s what’s going on with the extreme weather. So that’s a very that’s a very good metaphor. And James Hansen has been using the loaded climate dice. So I’m I’m very glad that finally, you know, climate scientists have gotten so beaten up that they have been talking to people who’ve been urging them to start using metaphors and speaking in terms that everyone can understand. And, you know, on climate progress, you know, I am very critical of the media. I’m not certain. That that’s gonna be fixed. The media has been fire letting go of its science and environment reporters so that, you know, global warming in most places is covered by people who don’t have a Rolodex filled with scientists and don’t have any experience in science writing. So I know that in some sense means it’s doubly important for scientists to be able to communicate to a general interest reporter because they’re a lot more likely to be talking to one now than they were 20 years ago. 

Right. So we’re not gonna inform the press, I guess. Then the conclusion is then take up take up this book and I’ll say I would take up this book and use it, because I think that this really does open up a new world of knowledge for the person who knows lots of facts. 

It doesn’t know how to get them through. So in conclusion, Joe, I think I just want to thank you for doing this because I think is really going to open a lot of minds. 

Well, I appreciate that. And as I said, you know, Chris, you are one of the reasons I became a blogger and, you know, you have really led the way on science writing. And, you know, I inspired me. And although I’ve been working on this book for 25 years, it’s because I got the blog and got the feedback that I was able to write this. And, you know, I think I do think that that anyone who reads it is going to learn how to write, speak and tweet better. And, you know, I hope everyone goes out and buy language intelligence. 

Me, too. All right. Well, Joe, well, thank you so much for being on point of inquiry and best of luck with the book. Thanks. 

I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show, please visit Point of Inquiry, Dawg, and leave your comments there. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg. You can find the show on Twitter at point of inquiry. And also you can follow us on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry are not necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. 

One of inquiries produced by Adam, Isaac and amrs New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney