↑ comment by allenwang ·
2010-09-12T04:11:38.998Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
(sorry of this comment is too long, continued from above)
Of course, a sense of public pride exists in many people, and this has led large numbers of people to learn about the issues without external inducements. But the population of educated voters could be vastly increased if there were these personal benefits, especially for groups where environmentalism has not become a positive norm.
While we have thought about other approaches to creating these wide-ranging personal incentives, specifically, material prizes and the intangible benefits of social networking and personal pride (such as are behind Wikipedia or Facebook’s success), it appears that these are difficult to apply to the issue of climate change. Material prizes would be costly to fund, especially to make them worth the several hours necessary to learn about the issues. The issues are difficult enough, and the topic possibly scary enough, that it is not necessarily fun to learn about them and discuss with your friends. For another, it takes time and a little bit of dedicated thinking to achieve an adequate understanding of the problem, but part of the incentive to do so on Wikipedia—to show off your genuine expertise on the topic, even if anonymous—is exactly not what is supposed to happen when there is an educated populace on the topic: you will not be a unique expert, just another person who understands the issue like everyone else. The sense of urgency and personal importance needed to spur people to learn just is not there with these modes of incentivization.
But there is one already extremely effective way that companies, schools, and other organizations incentivize behavior that has little to do with immediate personal benefits. These institutions use their ability to advance or deter people’s future careers to motivate performance in certain areas. The gatekeepers to these future prospects can use their position to bring about all kinds of behavior that would otherwise seem to be a huge burden on those individuals. Ordinary hiring and admissions processes, for example, can impose large writing and learning requirements on their applicants, but because the personal benefits of getting into these organizations are enormous, people are more than willing to fulfill these requirements. Oftentimes, these requirements do not even necessarily have much to do with the stated purpose of the organization, but are used as filtering mechanisms to determine which are the best candidates. Admissions essays are not what universities set out to produce, but rather a bar they set to see which candidates can do well. These bars (known as “sorting mechanisms” in economics) sometimes have additional beneficial effects such as increased writing practice for future students, but not necessarily. For example, polished CV writing is a skill that is only good for overcoming these bars, without additional personal or social benefits. But because these additional effects are really only secondary attributes of the main function of the hurdle, the bar can be modified in ways that create socially beneficial purposes without affecting their main function.
So our specific proposal is to leverage employers’ and schools’ gatekeeper status to impose a hiring hurdle, similar to a polished CV or a high standardized test score, of learning about contemporary climate change science and policy. This hiring hurdle would act much like other hiring hurdles imposed by organizations, but would create a huge personal incentive for individuals to learn about climate change in place of or in addition to the huge personal incentive to write good covering letters or scoring well on the SATs.
The hiring hurdle would be implemented by a third party, a website that acts both as the layman’s guide to climate change science and policy (possibly with something that already exists, but hopefully with something more modular) and as a secure testing center of this knowledge. The website would provide an easy way for people to learn about the most up to date climate science and different policy options available, something that could probably be read and understood with an afternoon’s effort. Once the individual feels that he or she understands the material well enough, a secure test can be taken which measures the extent of that individuals’ climate knowledge. (This test could be retaken if the individual is dissatisfied with the result, or it could be imposed again once new and highly relevant information is discovered). The score that individuals receive could be reported to institutions they apply to. This score would be just one more tickbox for institutions to check before accepting their applicants, and they could determine the score they require.
The major benefit of this approach is that it creates enormous personal incentives for a very small cost. Companies and other institutions already have hiring hurdles in place, and they do not have to burden their HR staff with hundreds of climate change essays but just a simple score that they could look up on the website. The website itself can be hosted for a relatively small cost, and institutions can sign up to the program as more executives and leaders are convinced that this is a good idea.
Presumably, it is much easier to convince a few people who are in charge of such organizations that climate change education is important than to convince individual members of the public. Potentially, this project could affect millions, especially if large corporations such as McDonalds or Walmart or universities with many applicants sign on to the program. Furthermore, approaching the problem of global climate change through nongovernmental institutions seems like a good approach because it avoids the stasis in many public institutions, and it can be done by convincing much fewer stakeholders. Also, many of these institutions have an increasingly global scope.
Developing a platform to combat “information cocoons” yet retain legitimacy
The major problem is that this type of incentivizing might be seen as a way of buying off or patronizing voters, but this appears to be necessary to break the “information cocoons” that many people unknowingly fall into.
Hopefully a charge of having a political agenda can be answered by allowing a certain amount of feedback and continuing development of the guide as more arguments are voiced. Part of the website will be organized so that dissent can be voiced publicly and openly, but only in an organized and reasoned way (something like lesswrong but with stricter limits on posting). The guide would have to maintain public legitimacy by being open to criticism and new evidence as we discover more and also display the evidence that is supporting the current arguments. We would like to include a rating system, something like Rotten Tomatoes, where we have climate experts and the general public vote on various arguments and scenarios that are developed (but this would probably be only for those who develop a specific interest, not part of the testable guide. Of course, the testable guide would follow major developments on this more detailed information). We have thought of using an argument map to better organize such information.
But still, it could not be so flexible that those previous information cocoons redevelop on the website, and a similar polarization occurs on the website as before. Some degree of control is necessary to drive some points home. Thus, a delicate balance might have to be achieved.
That sums up pretty much the ideas to this point. At this point, the project is pretty much all theorizing, although we have found a couple of programmers who might help for a reduced fee (Know of anyone that would be interested in this for free?) and are looking into some funding sources. This would be a large scale attempt at rational debate and discussion, spurred by a mechanism to encourage everybody to participate, so please if you have any advice it would be enormously appreciated.
Replies from: CronoDAS
↑ comment by CronoDAS ·
2010-09-12T06:17:33.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
This seems to have the same problem as teaching evolution in high school biology classes: you can pass a test on something and not believe a word of it. Cracking an information cocoon can be damn hard; just consider how unusual religious conversions are, or how rarely people change their minds on such subjects as UFOs, conspiracy theories, cryonics, or any other subject that attracts cranks.
Also, why should employers care about a person's climate change test score?
Finally, why privilege knowledge about climate change, or all things, by using it for gatekeeping, instead of any of the many non-controversial subjects normally taught in high schools, for which SAT II subject tests already exist?