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Framers are NOT appeasers!

In the latest dust-up over framing science, an unfortunate frame is emerging that I want to nip in the bud, that ‘appeasers’ in the big culture war against religion are the same as ‘framers’ in the current debate, and likewise that ‘anti-framers’ and ‘vocal atheists’ are the same people. It is a result of confusion, and I want to clear it up right now.

You know that I am strongly in the Dawkins/Myers camp in the fight against religion:

Dawkins, Harris and Dennett are changing the landscape of the discourse, forming an environment in which it is possible to talk about atheism and religion on a level field. Without them, we’d be forced to hide our atheism even more than before and allow the fundies to define us as amoral.

And I have explained before (and I totally agree with Sean Carrol on this) that the Dawkinses of the world are performing a necessary function of moving the Overton Window.

But, I am also strongly in the Mooney/Nisbet camp on framing because it is an entirely different battle:

Thus, the term ‘framing’ has two meanings and one is discussed by one group and the other meaning by the other group. As the two meanings suggest two different strategies, the two groups think that they disagree with each other.

But, if you have a hammer, you only see nails. Matt and Chris are not talking about the same battle, about the same fora, about the same audience, or about the same messengers, but if all you care about is how to defeat religion, you will not notice that there are other battles as well. You will erroneously assume that Chris and Matt are suggesting methods for fighting your favorite battle.

And of course you will disagree, as the two battles can sometimes negatively affect each other. Fortunately, people selectively choose sources of information, so the target audiences of the short-term and long-term battles are unlikely to see much of the unintended-for-them messengers.

I doubt there are many bookstores in the Deep South that carry ‘The God Delusion’. He has not sold millions – more like tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thosands at best – that is more than enough to top all the best-seller lists in the world. Many of those copies were sold abroad. Others were bought by people concentrated in big cities and the coasts (I bet the map of his customers fits well with the map of precincts that voted for Kerry in 04).

Bible sells in hundreds of millions.

So, if you live in Europe or New England, your perception of the world is skewed – all those rational people around you! If you only read science and atheist blogs, you get the erroneous feel that there are many more atheists in America than there really are. Take a slow car trip through the North American continent – the middle of it. Gazillions of very nice, smart people who, due to the upbringing and the surrounding culture think that Atheist=Satan. But you want those people to push Congress to do something about global warming, don’t you?

Then think strategically how to talk to them about it. This is political battle, not a science battle or a religion battle. So stick to politics. Back it up by science only as much as needed to be understood and trusted. Starting out by telling them they are stupid makes the conversation stop before it ever started.

Related (and containing links to all the other blogospheric responses):
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’ (not that ‘quick’ after all!)
Joshua Bell and Framing Science

More blogospheric reactions: Mark Hoofnagle, Zeno, John Fleck, Rebecca Hartong, Matt Nisbet

Related:
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
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

Comments

  1. #1 Orac
    April 15, 2007

    I truly despise the term “appeaser,” as it is used by too many in this conflict. As I’ve said before, the whole “Neville Chamberlain school of evolution” meme is the single most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard from Richard Dawkins–and anyone else who uses it. It’s a horrible historical analogy, for one thing.

  2. #2 John Wilkins
    April 15, 2007

    Amen, brother, amen!

    I do not appease anyone. I sincerely think it is appropriate to respect the religious views of others so long as they do not allow them to impede or exclude scientific facts and theories. So if a theist or an atheist respects science, I have no problems with their views, and refuse to concede that I must have simply because Paul or Larry do not think it is true. Or Richard Dawkins. I do my own thinking, and so I won’t wear the “appeaser” label on their sayso.

  3. #3 Mark
    April 15, 2007

    I’m very far from being an appeaser. I think everyone is missing the point. I guess you read my post Bora, but really the problem is cranks. And to take on cranks you have to take on myths, be they religious, racist, paranoid delusions, what have you.

    Mooney and Nisbet were way off going after Dawkins. And PZ and Moran are off when they say the fight is against religion in general. The fight is with cranks, lots of people have religion but don’t viciously attack science.

    PZ is dead on in particular when it comes to criticism of M&N for not presenting a clear plan. I’ll tell you what mine is though. We have to back UCS and SEA. We need a science lobby that is well-funded and feared by policy makers, media outlets etc. When people push anti-science crap we need our lobby to be calling them, giving them op-eds, and pounding on our congressmen’s doors. Individual scientists I think are fearful of becoming overtly or publicly political with good reason. We need to be able to fund a science policy lobby with enough teeth to really be able to challenge anti-science cranks at every level.

  4. #4 Paul Sunstone
    April 15, 2007

    Throwing around words like “appeaser” is just an appeal to emotion. Either framing is a good idea or it’s not. The debate should stick to deciding that.

    By the way, Bora, “The God Delusion” is selling well here in Colorado Springs (which is the home town of Focus on the Family). At least that’s the impression I get from browsing the bookstores. I wouldn’t dare guess why people are buying it, though.

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    April 15, 2007

    I think it’s disingenuous to claim that these are different battles. Nisbet/Mooney ‘framed’ their argument as a reaction to Dawkins! You can’t have those guys picking a fight over the issue and then claim that they are trying to engage a different battle.

    And you think you’re disgusted with the “Neville Chamberlain” thing, Orac? I never liked it myself, but I’ve got a bunch of people who act as if I coined it or endorsed it. Similarly, I understand that you’re one of those Nazi doctors who wants to resurrect Hitler…I read it somewhere.

  6. #6 Eric
    April 15, 2007

    The proponents of “framing” have some interesting points to make, but this is the third time they’ve been around. The first was George Lakoff with “Don’t Think of an Elephant” in 2004. Then came Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shallenberger with “Death of Environmentalism.” The playbook for these guys was:

    * Make a big stir by accusing some well meaning folks of screwing up

    * Promise to solve the problem, if only some funders will cough up big bucks for research. Use copious buzzwords to describe the research you intend to conduct.

    * Disappear from whence they came, without making any specific recommendations for what the target of their critique could do better.

    Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet have followed the first two steps of this playbook to the letter. Let’s hope they break the pattern and actually put forward some useful suggestions on how the scientific community can do a better job.

    If not, start the clock ticking on their 15 minutes.

    Eric
    http://waterwordsthatwork.com

  7. #7 Orac
    April 15, 2007

    And you think you’re disgusted with the “Neville Chamberlain” thing, Orac? I never liked it myself, but I’ve got a bunch of people who act as if I coined it or endorsed it.

    Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick!

    I’ve never said you did. (If you can find a place where I ever said you endorsed it, please point it out.) Indeed, the reason you escaped a chomp from the Hitler Zombie when it attacked Dawkins is because, as far as I could tell, you had never used or endorsed that stupid meme. Believe me, if you had, the undead Fuhrer would have come after you, too.

  8. #8 Zeno
    April 15, 2007

    I think Mooney & Nisbet laid into Dawkins too hard. Do they really think he should not write a book like The God Delusion and just stick to things like The Ancestor’s Tale? Sure sounds like it.

    This will probably settle down before too long, as people listen to each other a bit more and assimilate the concerns that are being expressed. I’m glad lots of people are trying to bridge the gap. In the meantime, this dust-up reminds me of the fuss over Kirk & Madsen. Remember them?

  9. #9 PZ Myers
    April 15, 2007

    I didn’t say you had. I was contrasting your level of disgust with the term with mine — I’m even more fed up with it than you are.

  10. #10 Wes
    April 16, 2007

    Coturnix,

    I really like your view on the framing thing. Your explanation of it makes the most sense of what I’ve read about it so far. I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot, so I’m just gonna throw in my 2 cents. This is going to be ludicrously long, and probably no one will read it, but I need to spell this out if for no other reason that to organize my own thoughts. So here’s my rambling, semi-coherent impression of the issue so far:

    This framing thing might work, but there are several other puzzle pieces that must be in place first. If you want scientists to put forth the issues in ways that fit within various public frames, you first need to work on creating an environment where that’s even possible. Framing alone can’t accomplish anything at all if no science-friendly frames exist.

    I live in Oklahoma and was raised in a fundamentalist household. Having gone through the process of extricating myself from that mindset, I know how painful and difficult it is. Most people won’t be willing to go through what I went through–I resisted the crumbling of my own religious beliefs at every step of the way. Today I’m extremely skeptical of any and all supernatural claims, but I didn’t get that way the easy way.

    But being immersed in that atmosphere makes me realize, as you pointed out, that a lot of people in other parts of the country probably just don’t understand how dominant religion is in Middle America. It permeates the entire culture here. It cannot be easily overcome. An example of the mindset here: I once pointed out to my father, a fundamentalist Christian, that in the Bible 1 Samuel says that David killed Goliath, but 2 Samuel says Elhanan son of Jaare-Orim killed Goliath, and 1 Chronicles says that Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother, and the description of Goliath’s brother is exactly the same as the description of Goliath in the other two books. I claimed this was an inconsistency. His response? There must have been three identical giants in the town of Gad, two of them named Goliath, one killed by David and the other two by Elhanan. That way, the Bible is perfectly consistent.

    I kid you not. That’s how fundamentalists think. And my father’s not some country rube–he’s a college educated (not Christian college, either), moderately wealthy CFO of an oil company, who owns three cars, a two story house, etc etc. My point is this: No amount of framing, no matter how well done, is going to change his mind on things like evolution and global warming. How could you possibly frame a scientific theory for someone whose thinking is so innately resistant to any challenge that it would concoct such a ludicrous scenario? It’s too late for him. He’s 53 and has been too deeply immersed in this culture for too long for him to change now. (Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t “I hate my parents” bitching. I love my dad, and he and I get along pretty well. I just don’t like his thinking on certain issues, and I think he’s a good example of what a pro-science movement would be up against.) He grew up absolutely smothered by fundamentalist thinking. He’s been exposed to little else. His thought is so dependant on it that he resists any notion that even the most trivial part of it–like whether David or Elhanan killed Goliath–might be false.

    There’s a reason why fundamentalists pushing anti-science agendas target middle and high schools: if someone grows up immersed in this stuff, and is sheltered from scientific theories all their lives, it is extremely difficult to persuade them otherwise as adults. I’d say nigh impossible.

    So:

    1.) It’ll take a lot of kicking and screaming, but evolution and other “controversial” scientific theories must be integrated into every level of their respective science classes–elementary through college level. Frame evolution all you want–it won’t work on people who have been sheltered from science all their lives. Evolution needs to be as common in biology classes as gravity is in physics classes. Other “controversial” theories also need to be taught more thoroughly starting at a much younger age.

    2.) More interdisciplinary cooperation at the universities is a must. Scientists won’t be very good at “framing”, so help from other departments would be a big boost. I study philosophy (grad student)–unfortunately, the philosophy and English departments were hijacked by postmodernists a few decades ago, which created a rift with the science departments. These kinds of rifts need to be bridged, so that the various departments can work together.

    3.) People consume media for entertainment. I’m often left aghast by the ludicrous ignorance of even basic scientific topics and the gross misrepresentation of science in movies, TV, etc. Scientists are often portrayed as crazy, megalomaniacal, or elitist, pandering to anti-intellectualist biases. Reaching out to try to create more science-friendly entertainment could give a big boost.

    4.) As much as I agree with Dawkins’s stance that religion is harmful, I do think he overstepped scientific integrity by linking his attack on religion so tightly with his science. The science doesn’t go as far as he claims (and it’s perfectly possible to attack religion without making the dubious claim that science disproves God and religion as a whole). I think his linking of the two was poorly thought out. However,

    5.) attempts by atheists such as Michael Ruse, EO Wilson, and Steven Gould to “reconcile” science and religion in some way are even more misguided. Science and religion cannot be reconciled. One relies on empirical observation, the other on taking unprovable claims on pure faith. The two are polar opposites. The only way to maintain both in one mind is to partition one’s mind so that a certain segment of one’s beliefs are exempted from scrutiny. This is precisely the opposite of what should be encouraged. Trying to come up with ways to “reconcile” science and religion is counterproductive–it’s encouraging exactly what should be discouraged, which is allowing one’s thinking to be uncritical. No “nonoverlapping magesteria” or anything like that are going to promote public understanding of science. They’ll just validate the nonscience that’s already much too prevalent. There will be times when scientific discoveries contradict certain religious beliefs. When this happens it should not be sugar-coated or “framed” to avoid offending people. Sometimes people need to be jarred out of their complacency. They need to realize that when the physical evidence contradicts your beliefs, it’s your beliefs that need to change, not the evidence.

    6.) Austin Cline has suggested, and I think he’s totally right, that primary education (middle and high school) needs to start including classes on philosophy, logic, critical thinking, and skepticism. This is a must. If people aren’t equipped with the basic critical thinking skills necessary to understand how science works and what science is, framing can’t hope to accomplish much. They don’t have to be experts in philosophy of science, of course, but at least a basic understanding of the inductive method and an ability to recognize logical fallacies is a must if we want the public to be able to distinguish science from pseudoscience. This will engender a lot more kicking and screaming than the evolution proposal, because a critical thinking class, if it works, will inevitably result in kids coming home and asking parents tough questions about religious belief.

    7.) More public debunking of pseudoscience/supernatural claims/”alternative” medicine etc. There can never be too much debunking of nonsense. Carl Sagan, Matt Shermer and Penn & Teller (though P&T have unfortunately succumbed to pseudoscience on GW and second hand smoking) have done a good job of making good entertainment out of debunking. The more popular this kind of thing becomes, the more opportunities there will be to frame scientific debates in a way the public can identify with. If the methods and purposes of science are more in the public eye, they’ll be more receptive to scientific claims. I think having more shows like Bullshit! and Mythbusters would be a very good thing. It will help the public understand why scientists don’t accept supernatural/mystical/traditional/old wives’ tale claims on face value.

    Anyways, those are the important things. I think. I’m still very uncertain. But this stuff seems to me to be absolutely crucial if there’s to be any hope for framing. I don’t know how much framing could accomplish in the current media/popular culture environmnet. I don’t think it would reach very many people. I don’t see how, for instance, scientific claims that obviously contradict religious beliefs could be “framed” in any way that would reach many fundamentalist Christians at all. And I don’t see how properly framed science could hope to compete with the much more monetarily supported nonsense coming from pro-industry think tanks on Global Warming. It seems to me that framing could work, but only in conjunction with efforts to improve education. I think Carl Zimmer also said something similar, if I remember correctly.

  11. #11 Brian
    April 16, 2007

    Is “Framers are Appeasers” not a frame to invoke emotional empathy despite a basic inaccuracy in simplification?

    I find that vaguely amusing.

  12. #12 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 16, 2007

    Framers are NOT appeasers!

    Who appointed you the official spokesperson of framing? Are framers required to sign some sort of loyalty oath forbidding them from appeasement? Wouldn’t it be more accureate to say that “Framers are not necessarily appeasers”, or “Not all framers are appeasers”?

  13. #13 Scholar
    April 16, 2007

    Noble of you to attempt to bring everyone together on this. You have a refreshing point of view Coturnix, and indeed “framing” is not as simple as nailing a few boards together for an art project. I imagine your goal of educating the entire world is more lofty compared to the goals of many other atheists here. Mustafa makes a good point, in that some forms of framing will actually appease the tension between faith and reason (still a good result though). That doesn’t mean that the “framer” themselves are appeasers. Mustafa was “inaccureate” in this sense. :)

  14. #14 coturnix
    April 17, 2007

    White crow:

    Framers = appeasers (say some).
    I am a framer but not an appeaser (say I).
    Ergo: Framers /= appeasers.

    No need fo “all”, “some” etc. Nobody says that no framers are appeaser, or that all framers are non-appeasers. And I hate the whole division into two. If you have read the linked post (the M&Ms one) as well as this whole series on framing, you know there are two different parallel battles and various people, due to their own temperaments or whatever, put most of the efforts into one or the other. That is good: division of labor. Everyone does what he/she is good at and motivated to do. For one of the fights, pointing out that Miller and Francis are wrong is essential. For the other fight, one has to use the services of Miller and Francis (at least for now). Thus, it is actually good that people who critique Miller and Francis are not the same people who go down into the trenches WITH Miller and Francis trying to hold the hands of those who need help to move slightly in the right direction on science-related questions.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    April 17, 2007

    I have a very specific problem with the suggestion that a view of evolution that reconciles between belief in god and an evolutionary biology of the past is OK. In other words; Consider the approach of Kenneth Miller in his book “Finding Darwin’s God” (wow, I almost wrote “framing” instead of “finding” … hmmm) . Anyway, this is a book that helps people who are religious gag less when they deal with evolution.

    I read the Washington Post piece as suggesting that this approach would be effective in framing evolutionary biology.

    It might be true that this is a way that would work in some ways, but there are some very good reasons why we cannot, under any circumstances, do this. This is not an attack on framing, on Nisbet, or on Mooney. It is simply a suggestion that that particular approach to framing this particular issue is a non starter, and we need to come up with a different approach.

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