What's On Your Summer Reading List?

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Flatlay of journal, McIntyre's book, and purple flowers on black tabletop..jpgInstructors of writing are usually omnivorous readers. After all, we enjoy sentences, don’t we? As summer break inches nearer, my stack of “reward” books beckons. After hearing philosopher of science Lee McIntyre speak in an NPR interview, I couldn’t wait to dive into his engagingly written book, How to Talk to a Science Denier: Conversations with Flat Earthers, Climate Deniers, and Others Who D.... The radio interview offers a galloping overview of his approach to persuasion — Rogerian in nature — based on the psychology of belief, and the intention to reduce a sense of threat. McIntyre says,

Ive been having these conversations with science deniers and with others around these topics [to understand] how to assess what it is that people care about. I think that thats actually the route to changing peoples mind.

McIntyre opens his book with his remarkable experiences at a Flat Earth Convention, where he challenges himself, with self-deprecating humor, to practice respectful engagement with science-deniers. His tips? “Remain calm. Be respectful. Engage them in conversation. Try to build some trust” (28).  McIntyre offers evidence of this approach’s efficacy in his radio interview:

There are well-known cases, [like] Jim Bridenstine, who President Trump appointed to be the chief administrator at NASA. Bridenstine was a climate change denier when he was in Congress. He was only in NASA for I think a few weeks before he changed his mind on climate change, which was amazing. It was based on his conversations with NASA scientists. He knew the evidence, but it was when he met the people, he got to know them, he got to trust them. Thats when he changed his mind.

I’ll invite students to read McIntosh’s radio interview transcript next time I teach Andrew J. Hoffman’s essay, “The Full Scope,” included in the “Sustainability and Environmental Studies” readings in From Inquiry to Academic Writing, co-authored with Stuart Greene. Like McIntyre, Hoffman understands that throwing facts at a skeptic is a tactic destined to fail. Hoffman notes, “We cannot scold, lecture, or treat people with disrespect if we are to gain their trust; and trust is at the center of an effective theory of change” (743). Both authors acknowledge the stakes of these conversations are high — think climate crisis, vaccine skepticism, and threats to public health departments nationally. And yet, these conversations are necessary if we are to survive this moment in history.

Lee McIntyre and Andrew Hoffman acknowledge that they are calling us into challenging rhetorical spaces, and that we might fail occasionally. I’m glad I have a (slightly) slower season ahead to practice these rhetorical tactics. After all, being calm, respectful, and engaging people in trust-building conversations is the rhetorician’s take on The Golden Rule. It’s as simple — and difficult — as that. Happy reading!

Photo by April Lidinsky (2023).

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.