SAN DIEGO, CA - How can the United States benefit from an "informed public" when policy debates revolve around scientific questions that bewilder or confuse most Americans? Our society will be unsuccessful in doing so, according to Daniel Yankelovich, a preeminent social scientist, until and unless we first redefine what an "informed public" really is.
Yankelovich was one of a diverse array of leading scientists, engineers, educators and policy-makers who presented at the American Association's Advancement of Science's (AAAS) 176th annual meeting in San Diego on February 19, 2010.
Yankelovich, a pioneer in public opinion research, suggests that leaders in the science and technology communities, need to understand that factual data, though necessary, are by themselves radically insufficient. Drawing upon his decades of experience monitoring social change and public opinion in America, Yankelovich emphasized the striking differences between the public's learning curve as it actually operates and prevailing theories of how to inform the public. He highlighted the critical importance of a three-stage process that obliges the public to confront and overcome its own wishful thinking, a process that engages peoples' deepest emotions and values as well as factual information.
"An informed public is deeply grounded in our political tradition and essential for our democracy to work," said Yankelovich. "Yet scientists, like leaders in other fields, have enormous difficulty engaging the public on critical issues like global warming, bioethics, and other challenges that can only be solved when good science, wise public policy and thoughtful public judgment all come together. The American public can grapple with tough problems in a meaningful way, but scientists have to understand how to communicate the non-cognitive aspects of the public's learning curve."
About Dan Yankelovich:
Dan Yankelovich is well known for his groundbreaking work in opinion research and the public's role in contemporary American society. He is Founder and current Chairman of three organizations: (1) Viewpoint Learning Inc., a firm that advances dialogue-based learning as a core skill in newer forms of leadership; (2) DYG, Inc., a market research firm tracking social trends; and (3) Public Agenda, a nonpartisan nonprofit co-founded with Cyrus Vance in 1975. He is director emeritus of Loral Space & Communications Inc. CBS, US West (now Qwest Communications), the Meredith Corporation, Diversified Energies, and ARKLA.
In 1958, he founded the research firm of Yankelovich, Skelly and White and in the 1970s initiated the New York Times/Yankelovich poll (Now the New York Times/CBS Poll). He was a founding President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of ten books, including Coming to Public Judgment: Making Democracy Work in a Complex World, The Magic of Dialogue, Profit With Honor: The New Stage of Market Capitalism, and Uniting America: Restoring the Vital Center to American Democracy.
He is the recipient of The Parlin Award for his pioneering work in marketing research, the Dinerman Award of the World Association of Public Opinion Research and the Outstanding Achievement Award from the New York Chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research.
For over 30 years, Public Agenda has been providing research that bridges the gap between American leaders and what the public really thinks about issues ranging from education to foreign policy to immigration to religion and civility in American life. Public Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that was founded by social scientist and author Daniel Yankelovich and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.