top of page

What science can learn from activism

You can facepalm all you like, but it's time we get off our academic high horses and learn from activism on how they communicate.

Convenient knowledge feeds the disease
Our human fear is to be misheard, misled or misjudged.

It has been described that we are currently living through, what was declared in 2004, a post truth era. This is described as a 'scientific method' of amassing large masses of information that is cherry-picked to support an agenda.

I disagree that this is a 'new era', as history has illustrated time and time again that fiction has proven to be an extremely effective way of communicating an idea in a simple way for people to grasp. Look at religion! But I don't deny that there isn't agenda's at play.

The drivers behind agenda's playing on our morals from vaccinating children to animal welfare know the fundamentals :

1. Start with 'a core message' : This is done in a simple one-line mantra, an easily repeatable phrase, or a sound-bite that not only catches attention but we can comprehend it in under 6 seconds.

2. Then the spectacle begins : Straight up! Pictures speak a thousand words. Where's your emotive photo or protest march?

3. A stream of content is sourced to confirm their new belief : Selected science or stories from influencers then flood the cause to ensure social media's algorithms are sweetly met with conformational bias (known as click-bait... which leads me to the next phase) AMPLIFICATION!

The first thing to recognise 'this song is not about you'

Once the science and farming communities take an ego pill and realise that the rest of the population only care about what's in it for them we will start to turn the tide.

Let's look at why media act the way they do. It's called the attention economy; the need to attract attention in the setting of information sensationalism to drive revenue.

In New Zealand, the advertising spend has shifted massively to the untaxed global behemoth's such as Facebook and Google have sucked the lucrative gold out of MediaWorks, NZME & Fairfax.

One of my favourite quotes : “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso

Media's business model never needed to live and die by"click throughs" (the number of people that click on a headline and visit their website) to hold its head above water to deliver the nation its news.

Cut-backs to spend on investigative journalism, fact checking or even copying and pasting a press release sent from a source and slightly re-arranging the paragraphs is what is needed to keep up in this battle of David V's Goliath.

And to achieve the numbers game to the morals of local advertising spend, they concentrate on the 86% of New Zealand living in urban centres and talk about the issues that directly effect the majority.

They are not bound by a patriotic charter to have to 'remember what industry underpins the economy', they are simply thinking about what underpins their KPI's!

I call the business model - 'The greed of intrigue', cashing in on curiosity


Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist

It all started to make sense to me when I learnt from the field of phycology about the DunningKruger effect, the is a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.



Ah-ha! Why people are such 'know-alls' when they really don't know anything! See how the Y-axis has the word 'confidence'?

Without doing 101 Phycology it's pretty simple to work out that humans fear losing their confidence and that it's a safe place to stay in the peak of Mt Stupid than invest time in knowledge and wisdom in every sphere of their lives.

The valley of despair, or otherwise the moment you realise you actually know nothing as there's 'more to it than you thought' is not very enticing!

So when the science & farming community belt out phrases like 'you don't understand' or 'it's more complicated than you think', it's because they have invested time and experience into gaining wisdom.

Telling your customer or the urban population 'it's more complicated than you think' leads to the 'shutdown from overwhelm' and the attraction back to the source providing snacks of convenient knowledge like a moth to a light

So ask yourself these three questions :

1. Are you providing snack-able content to be conveniently understood?

2. Do you know how to move people on emotion and confirm with fact?

3. Are you communicating how what you do directly effects them?

Elle Perriam (Sarah's sister) featuring on The Project with Jess and her mental health charity, Will to Live

If you answered NO to these questions, it's time to look at a strategy that moves people instead of making you feel good about telling your story.

Sarah Perriam is the Creative Director at Perriam Media, following over a decade working across the media specialising in agriculture issues.

66 views0 comments
bottom of page