In his introduction to the course, which is available free here, Epstein explains that he created the course in response to demand from readers. “The number one request I have gotten since The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels came out is: ‘How can I get better at explaining these ideas to friends, family, and neighbors?’”
Epstein delivers his answer in a warm, conversational style over a series of six logically organized video presentations. Part of the appeal of the course is how clearly he explains the problems associated with persuasion, and how he derives effective tactics from this examination. One of Epstein’s key insights in this regard is that, to be effective in persuasion, we should “focus on method before content.”
Epstein explains that effective persuasion depends on two elements: how clearly we understand an issue and how clearly we communicate the issue to others. Clarity in understanding is the more important of the two, because the more clearly we understand an issue, the better we can communicate to others how we came to this understanding.
One example of the fundamental importance of clarity in persuasion is demonstrated in the first module: “Why discussing energy and environmental issues seems so hard . . . even though it isn’t.” Here, Epstein begins with the observation that people commonly hold antagonistic or even hostile views of the primary producers of energy—namely, the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. Such views are practically ubiquitous and are incessantly pushed by the media, politicians, thought leaders, and educational institutions.
Once we recognize that these views are so common, the quest for clarity demands that we understand why this is so. Epstein makes clear that these negative views do not result solely from a lack of information or biases regarding the information people have; rather, they result from biases regarding how people think about the information. That is, the fundamental issue is not bad information, but bad processing of information. . . .