How would you deal with antivaccinationism? What “frames” would you use to combat the likes of Jenny McCarthy?
In the comments on Orac’s post, Matthew C. Nisbet turned up:
The anti-vaccine movement is a perfect issue to examine how framing has shaped communication dynamics and public opinion; and how various groups have brought framing strategies to bear in the policy debate.
I personally haven’t had time to do research on the topic. …
To understand and to make recommendations about the anti-vaccine movement, you would need to conduct polling, focus groups, and do an analysis of media coverage.
That’s the point I’ve made about framing from the beginning. It involves taking a scientific and research-based approach to science communication. Do the research, combine it with an understanding of past studies on science communication, and then plot a strategy.
Unfortunately too many bloggers think framing is something you whip up on the back of an envelope, and in the process they have little concept of what a frame might be, or understand the research in the area.
And finally, I think, I came to understand a crucial way in which the pro-framing camp and the “framing skeptics” have been talking past each other.
The sort of data Nisbet identifies as crucial prior to developing your strategy to communicate your message — from focus groups and polls — assumes not only that the group of people with whom you’re communicating are relatively homogeneous and stable (with regard to the assumptions and core values with which your message will need to resonate), but also that you pretty much have one shot at getting your message across. In other words, framing is a strategy that assumes mass communication (via TV, radio, or print media, for example) where the person trying to communicate the message lays it out and the intended audience takes it or leaves it.
It is not a strategy that assumes a back and forth interaction between communicator and target audience.
I think the bloggers and others who are not sold on the strategic importance of polling and focus groups see themselves engaged in communication that involves a real back and forth. In that exchange with the people with whom they’re communicating, they can find out what it is those people take as given and what they value. Indeed, to the extent that their communications are happening at a smaller scale (maybe in online conversations of a hundred people on the high end), they can probably get better information about the people they’re talking to than polls or focus groups would yield, since they aren’t getting information about people approximately like their target audience — they’re getting information from their actual audience!
(Of course, it’s more complicated than this if your target audience includes lurkers and not just commenters. However, the ability to comment means that members of the target audience can say, “That sounds good!” or “I don’t buy it and here’s why …” or “I’m not sure I understand this part …”)
Similarly, to the extent that science is communicated in classrooms, it’s not a problem that professors don’t plan their lessons around the polling data. They can, and do, keep adjusting their delivery of the message on the basis of the ongoing feedback they receive from the actual audience they’re trying to reach (i.e., their students that particular term).
I don’t think this accounts for all of the resistance to the “framing” approach, but I think these different assumptions about the type and scale of communication explain some of why the conversation between framers and “framing skeptics” keeps running aground.