Chris Mooney: ‘Why Everybody Must Read Joe Romm’s New Book Language Intelligence

By Chris Mooney

I don’t normally do this. But right now, I am going to come out and gushingly endorse a book: Climate blogger Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.

Everybody who cares about why science doesn’t get through to the public should read it.

Basically, it is a powerful treatise on the neglected art of rhetoric, the technique mastered by Shakespeare, Lincoln, and the writers of the King James Bible. As an English major, I particularly delighted in Romm’s discussion of figures of speech and how they make orators persuasive by allowing them to activate people’s emotions. Indeed, as Romm writes, modern neuroscience now confirms what the poets always knew about getting to people’s heads through their hearts (that’s a metaphor, by the way–one of the chief techniques that Romm discusses).

If you ever want to understand why scientists fare so poorly getting their message across–and why liberals lose policy debates and, often, presidential campaigns–this is also the book for you. In essence: too much higher education, too much wonk sophistication, destroys the common language simplicity of good rhetoric and makes you less persuasive.

Romm–quite-self consciously–uses powerful rhetoric himself to get the point across. And he shows how, slowly, climate researchers are coming to recognize the power of figures of speech–comparing global warming’s influence on the weather to a batter on steroids who hits more home runs, for instance, or to the loading of dice.

You can order the book here. Romm [was] my guest on Point of Inquiry, and we talk a great deal more about all of the book.

— Chris Mooney via ScienceProgress. Mooney is the author of four books, including the bestseller The Republican War on Science.


11 Responses to Chris Mooney: ‘Why Everybody Must Read Joe Romm’s New Book Language Intelligence

  1. prokaryotes says:

    While at it, here

    Michael Mann explains how people are faking bad amazon reviews and what you can do about it.

  2. I buy everything you write Joe, Thanks.

    After I read it I may to send it to, because they forgot to mention that uber-eager Paul Ryan is a strident climate change denier.

    Joe, don’t they read your columns in your organization?

    Perhaps if we repeated it more: “Global warming is the most important issue of all”

  3. Risa Bear says:

    “Delenda est Carthago,” eh?

    We are in strange times. Them as says “black is black and white is white” have become the masters of rhetoric, and them as says “There are or may be some shades of what is possibly gray” are on the ropes because they insist on using dialectic, whereas it is possible there ain’t no such animal. No wonder nobody’s listening. Joe, didya read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance first? Helps lots.

    But good luck with the new baby! :)

  4. Hearty congratulations on your new book Joe. I’ve just ordered my copy from Amazon.

    Your 2008 post hooked me on the importance of rhetoric:

  5. prokaryotes says:

    This just in

    Video: Jerry Brown Global Warming Website Takes On Climate Change Deniers (with Gavin Schmidt from NASA)

  6. Gail says:

    Not to detract from Joe’s brilliant book, I’m sure the history is fascinating and the lessons are useful. I’m looking forward to reading it. At the same time, it’s sad. I’m referring to this lesson:

    “The big myth about rhetoric is that rhetoric equals big words. If I were to wish but one point to stick with you here, it would be that short words are the best words. Short words win. Short words sell. In an era of snappy sound-bites and sexy slogans, the pitch must be pithy or the channel will be changed.”

    As a lover of language, especially that with complexity and nuance, I have to wonder – where are all the big words to go? I feel like the message in the above quote put more bluntly is that Americans are basically stupid, can’t pay attention to anything for more than a second, and if they are to be educated about anything (such as climate science) it requires dumbing down the discourse. He’s probably right, of course.

    Case in point: Over 20 years ago when my kids were little, we went to Paris and stayed with a family there. The wife was a brilliant artist and had published many delightful children’s books (Mimi Cracra). I bought some in French, and when I got home I wanted to get some more as gifts to some friends, in English. Here’s what I discovered: 2 different translations. One for the Canadian market, and one for the American. The Canadian market book had been translated accurately – the American book had all the words with more than two syllables removed. I kid you not!

  7. Joe Romm says:

    Nope. The message is that short words connect more with people and are more memorable — even in the birthplace of English. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” averages 3.99 characters per word, substantially less than, say, the average tweet today!

  8. Gail says:

    For that I condemn you to read Ted Turner’s father’s letter:

  9. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Just got the book today. If I don’t like it, you’ll have to provide daily posts, for free, about various interesting things in science and politics on your website to make up for my disappointment. ;)

  10. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    That is a winking smiley face at the end (for the subtle-impaired).