The Information Deficit Model is Dead. Now What?

My master’s thesis can be downloaded from the University of Colorado. I graduated in May 2016 from the University of Colorado Boulder with a degree in mass communication research. My thesis committee consisted of Michael Tracey (adviser), Lisa Dilling, and Tom Yulsman

The Information Deficit Model is Dead. Now What? Evaluating New Strategies for Communicating Anthropogenic Climate Change in the Context of Contemporary American Politics, Economy, and Culture


Social science researchers studying the public controversy over Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) in the United States have convincingly argued that the “Information Deficit Model” (IDM), which assumes that the public needs more and better information, represents an insufficient strategy for communicating the science and risks of, and solutions to, ACC. Instead, these researchers propose alternative strategies, under the umbrella of what has been called the “contextual model.” These strategies attempt to incorporate social context — in the form of culturally resonant messages, frames, and other rhetorical devices — into communication with the public. Several researchers have even developed rigorous experimental methodologies to test the efficacy of these strategies, dubbing this burgeoning field the “science of science communication.” This thesis reviews a variety of social science research showing that ACC communication researchers underestimate the challenge of implementing contextual model strategies outside of a lab setting, especially at the scales necessary for significant shifts in public opinion and meaningful changes in public policy. This is due primarily to the fragmented, polarized, and highly contested spaces of contemporary American culture, politics, and economics within which communication occurs, as well as the unequal distribution of power within these complex systems.

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