As you may have noticed, there is a vigorous debate going on in the blogosphere about framing science (all the links to all the relevant posts can be found if you click on that link).
For the uninitiated, this may look as a big dust-up and bar-brawl, but that is how blogosphere works, ya know, thesis + anthithesis and all. Dialectics, that’s the word I was looking for! Does not mean that Larry Moran and I will refuse to have a beer with each other when he comes to Chapel Hill next time!
The sheer quantity of responses, the passion, and the high quality of most posts, thoughtful and carefully written (even those I personally disagree with) demonstrates that this is a very important topic to scientists and people interested in science. I am really glad that the discussion has started.
The blog posts, as well as numerous comments, are, in themselves data. They show how people interested in science think about the concept of science communication. I am assuming that Matt and Chris will delve deep into them and use these data in further work.
The debate also shows that many people are unclear as to what exactly “framing” is. It also shows that the topic is broad and multi-faceted, as different commenters homed in on different aspects of the idea. This resulted in some misunderstandings, of course, but also brought to light the weaknesses of the ways framing is explained to people unfamiliar with the concept.
In my post (linked above), I tried to divide the concept into two broad categories: short-term and long-term.
The short-term framing operates at the time-scale of seconds. Its goal is to persuade. To make the listener believe that what you say is true.
The long-term framing operates at the time-scale of decades. Its goal is to make new generations much easier to persuade, and once they are persuaded, much easier to teach and inform about science.
A sub-set of responses also deals with the question – who should do it: all scientists, some scientists, or professional communicators (e.g., journalists, writers, pundits). I hope that my post also makes it clear that everyone is a part of the ecosystem, playing a role in the division of labor that most fits his/her temperament and inclination.
The debate also reveals something new to me: an automatic negative emotional reaction to the very word “frame”. This was something new to me and, as it baffled me, I tried to think about the reasons for this. I may be wrong, but I think I figured it out – I am not a native English speaker. Let me clarify….
I grew up speaking Serbo-Croatian. At about the age of 5 I started learning English, first at home, later in school, at a Language Institute and a few summer schools in the UK. For many, many years, the only meaning of “frame” for me was the thing you place a picture in. A picture frame can be a piece of art in itself. A well-chosen frame accentuates the art of the picture. The very act of framing a picture means that you have taken it out of a binder hidden in some dusty corner and are going to display it on a wall. All very positive meanings of the word “to frame”.
I saw “Who framed Roger Rabbit” in translation. I guess I knew the original title and had it stored somewhere in the back of my mind but never thought about what it means.
Then, I started reading Lakoff and other literature on framing. There, I understood the word to be a technical term, pretty neutral, or even a little on the positive side: about how to communicate well.
So, I was taken aback when I saw people responding – really, really fast – to the notion of framing by equating it to some very negative connotations: spin, lying, propaganda, selling-out, washing-down, branding, marketing, etc. Concepts that do not have much really to do with framing and some are actually opposite to it. Why does the word “frame” elicit negative frames?
Scientists are generally pretty intelligent and well educated people, people who could make a killing in a business world. Yet, we chose to forgo the money and fame and pursue the Truth instead. Instead of yachts, Irish Wolfhounds, racehorses, trophy-wives, champaigne baths, caviar dinners and personal jets, we’d rather spend our time in the lab, the field and in the classroom. We hate dealing with bureacracies of all kinds, be it the University administration or funding agencies.
Perhaps we are congenitally ‘allergic’ to the notion of selling. Selling is dirty. Marketing what you are selling is even dirtier. Something to be left to less-than-honest people in the world.
I do not know the backgrounds of all the bloggers who chimed in on this topic, even less the commenters, but I will speculate that people most resistant to the idea of framing are: a) scientists, b) native English speakers, c) quite Left on the political/ideological continuum and d) people who have not spent much time immersed in the cog-sci literature on framing (which may inncoulate one from feeling the negative emotions towards the word). All four. I am a) and c) and that is not enough for me to be hostile to the idea.
Is that true?
Tell me, if your reaction to the word “frame” is negative, why is that so? What, as a non-native English speaker, am I missing?
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed