Framing Science

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Everywhere you look, polarized views from the tail ends of the bell curve of opinion on climate change are being picked up by the media. Indeed, only at a few outlets like the NY Times, WPost, or NPR can Americans get that “invisible middle” of views on the issue. Unfortunately, these are not the outlets that reach the wider public.

Consider the stories linked to at the Drudge Report today, one of the major agenda-setters, especially for cable news and political talk radio.

From a Vanity Fair article excerpting the script of Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming documentary The 11th Hour (see note at end of post):

So, we find ourselves on the brink. It’s clear humans have had a devastating impact on our planet’s ecological web of life. Because we’ve waited, because we’ve turned our backs on nature’s warning signs, and because our political and corporate leaders have consistently ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence, the challenges we face are that much more difficult. We are in the environmental age whether we like it or not.

From a columnist at the conservative NY Daily Sun reporting on the Coal Association meetings (no joke):

One of the guest speakers was Bob Murray, founder and CEO of Murray Energy Corporation and probably one of the few CEOs brave enough to challenge the militant climate control movement that threatens the future of America’s economy. In his speech, he dared to say that he regards Al Gore as the shaman of global doom and gloom. He is not joking when he says, “He is more dangerous than his global warming.”

From a column at Real Clear Politics by William F. Buckley:

The heavy condemnatory breathing on the subject of global warming outdoes anything since high moments of the Inquisition….Critics are correct in insisting that human enterprises have an effect on climate. What they cannot at this point do is specify exactly how great the damage is, nor how much relief would be effected by specific acts of natural propitiation.

The whole business is eerily religious in feel. Back in the 15th century, the question was: Do you believe in Christ? It was required in Spain by the Inquisition that the answer should be affirmative, leaving to one side subsidiary specifications. It is required today to believe that carbon-dioxide emissions threaten the basic ecological balance. The assumption then is that inasmuch as a large proportion of the damage is man-made, man-made solutions are necessary. But it is easy to see, right away, that there is a problem in devising appropriate solutions, and in allocating responsibility for them.

(Note: I will be tracking DiCaprio’s movie, and indicators of its impact, pretty closely. As I wrote in a recent report by the Center for Social Media and the Ford Foundation, although any film has to get over the barriers of selectivity bias, I believe more and more that it’s entertainment media and celebrity culture that will shift mass opinion towards action.)

Comments

  1. #1 kate
    April 5, 2007

    “…polarized views from the tail ends of the bell curve of opinion on climate change are being picked up by the media. Indeed, only at a few outlets…get that “invisible middle” [but] these are not the outlets that reach the wider public.”

    how true. in fact, that polarization is one of the major component that frightens scientists off from talking with the media in the first place. just look what happened to charles roselli – his research, which is both rigorous and well-respected amongst scientists, was twisted into a debate on gay sheep and he became the unsuspecting target of a huge religious/right-wing backlash.

    so while the science behind topics such as climate change does merit discussion, and that it’s fantastic that public figures are promoting science as a worthy cause and garnering scientific support, i’m equally afraid that projecting celebrity status onto science may make these topics de jour. and we all know what happens when celebrity wanes.

    but hey, at least with dear leo on board, science will be able to pick up a solid contingent of adolescent starry-eyed girls.

  2. #2 Eli Rabett
    April 6, 2007

    IMHO, you have the wrong end of the stick. The struggle is to define what the limits of acceptable opinion are. Your attempts to define a middle as the proper place to be means that the choices are restricted to the area between your middle and the Inhofian limit where there is no restraint.

    This is called moving the Overton window Eli deals with this situation toward the bottom of a post, in which such issues are discussed. Law will be made and feelings will be hurt.