Big words made easy

Can you mention ‘pluralistic ignorance’, ‘cognitive dissonance’ and ‘confirmation bias’ all in one paragraph and still end up with a perfectly readable text that would make sense to, say, a Secondary School student?

The authors of the Welcome Trust’s Big Picture issue on Health and Climate Change can. While discussing why we don’t take quick action to address this threat to humanity’s future, they write that:

“Subconscious biases may also affect us. If things are so bad, we may think, why isn’t someone doing something about it? This may reflect widespread mistaken assumptions about the thoughts or beliefs of other groups (a phenomenon known as pluralistic ignorance). Or we may recognise that something needs to be done but believe that there is little we can do. We may even stray into the territory of cognitive dissonance, where two competing ideas – ‘because of climate change I should change my lifestyle’ and ‘I want to protect my quality of life’ – come into conflict. To resolve this tension, we may reject one idea, perhaps that climate change is a major threat. This in turn may lead to confirmation bias – taking note only of evidence that supports a preexisting belief – or denial.”

What an economic and effective use of words to introduce a whole range of concepts in a small box in the corner of a page. And the remaining 14 pages of the publication are just as densely packed with insightful and balanced information about all aspects of climate change, with a special emphasis on its implications for human health.