Framing Science

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A busy day but a quick analysis of breaking news:

Gore’s Inconvenient Truth has been a stunning success in generating news coverage to his preferred “pandora’s box” framing of the “climate crisis” and in mobilizing a latent base of concerned citizens. His perspective is likely to only be amplified after winning the Nobel prize.

But as we describe in our framing article at Science and as I explain at NPR’s On the Media, there still remains a Two Americas of climate change perceptions. Over the past year Democrats have grown even more concerned about the issue while Republicans remain relatively unmoved.

I provide context to these challenges in a study published in the recent issue of the journal Public Opinion Quarterly, in which I analyze 20 years of public opinion trends in the U.S. on global warming (major implications). Despite Gore’s breakthrough success with Inconvenient Truth, public opinion today is little different from what it was in May 2006 when the movie was released.

Here’s how I described the problem at NPR’s On the Media:

And so, what’s going on here? It’s because several Democratic leaders, like Al Gore, and even some scientists are really adopting what I call the catastrophe frame or the Pandora’s Box frame, really focusing in on specific climate impacts that might be scary or frightening, such as the possibility of more intense hurricanes.

When you move in that direction, where the science is still uncertain, you open yourself up to the counter argument that this is just simply alarmism. It’s very easy for the public, then, to simply rely on their partisanship to make up their minds, and that’s why you have this two Americas of public perception.

Gore says he plans to donate 100% of the Nobel prize money to changing public opinion on climate change, but if he is going to be successful, he needs to promote alternative frames and interpretations of the issue and pair these messages with less partisan appearing opinion leaders. In fact, Gore should take note of E.O. Wilson’s message and efforts at working with Evangelical leaders.

Despite Gore’s success, there’s still a lot more research and work to be done in figuring out alternative meanings of global warming that go beyond just a focus on crisis and that can activate key segments of the American public.

Comments

  1. #1 matthew
    October 12, 2007

    “Alternative frames,” like what? “[Alternative] interpretations,” like which ones?

    It seems to me that Gore is acting exactly in a manner that Wilson would approve. He isn’t alienating anyone, he has been actively trying to reach out to everyone by not calling anyone out and by traveling the globe to give free presentations. In fact, he famously says that it isn’t a partisan issue, but a moral issue. How could he improve on his framing?

  2. #2 Dunc
    October 12, 2007

    I think there’s a deeper problem at work here: politics is essentially tribal for a large number of people. No matter what specific claims Gore makes, or what frame he chooses to utilize, he is still identified with the “Democratic” tribe, and many in the “Republican” tribe will base their assessment solely on tribal identification. (This would be equally true if the tribal affiliations were reversed.) For many, the “thinking” simply goes “If a member of my tribe says it, it’s true. If a member of the other tribe says it, it must be false”.

    It’s a real shame that there doesn’t seem to be an American equivalent of David Attenborough – highly respected by just about everybody, and not identified at all with politics or partisanship. Plus his documentaries are that bit more careful about the science…

  3. #3 Jud
    October 12, 2007

    “Gore should take note of E.O. Wilson’s message and efforts at working with Evangelical leaders.”

    Not that Gore shouldn’t try to reach out to everyone (though at the moment the “God gave us dominion” frame seems to be winning out over the “we’re God’s caretakers” frame among evangelicals re global warming), but which of the two do you feel has had greater success in bringing the issue to the fore in the national and international media?

    Regarding bringing the issue to the fore, have any studies been done as far as what the Gallup and Pew percentages mean in terms of raw numbers (of people concerned about, and motivated to do something about, anthropogenic global warming)? Anecdotal observation: There sure are more compact fluorescent light bulbs for sale at hardware stores these days than there were a few years ago. Perhaps market research indicates more folks will buy them, eh?

  4. #4 Randy Olson
    October 12, 2007

    I agree with what Dunc said above. Gore has gone about as far as “the Gore voice” can go. There is an audience out there that is receptive to his voice, and they have been reached. At this point it’s no longer about the substance of what is being said but about the style through which it is communicated. If he’s really intent on changing society, he needs to realize this and begin quietly finding ways of supporting other, different voices who share the same substance of his message, but can deliver it with a different style that will reach the more stubborn demographics. It will be interesting to see if he does this, or if we just continue to more and louder versions of Al’s voice, like a sequel titled, “The Really, Really Inconvenient Truth, Ya Know What I’m Sayin’? Are Ya Listenin’?”

  5. #5 James Hrynyshyn
    October 12, 2007

    Does Gore Contribute to the Communication Crisis?

    In a word: no.

  6. #6 Dano
    October 12, 2007

    Gore has gone about as far as “the Gore voice” can go. There is an audience out there that is receptive to his voice, and they have been reached. At this point it’s no longer about the substance of what is being said but about the style through which it is communicated.

    The larger issue in successful communication isn’t whether Al Gore can reach everyone – as inferred above, that will just result in an “Algore is fat!!” reaction.

    Successful communication will be that many, many people carry the message. I don’t think Gore is responsible for quietly finding ways of supporting other, different voices .

    The message supports itself, or it does not.

    Just a thought.

    Best,

    D

  7. #7 Jason
    October 12, 2007

    While Gore may not have increased republican concern about global warming, I don’t think it follows that Gore has been ineffective or that he neccessarily needs a new ‘frame’ for his arguments. Public opinion polls probably don’t tell the whole story. Since his movie was released, surely Gore has prompted democrats or others who were concerned about global warming but were inactive to become active or more active in terms of their choices as consumers, pledges to environmental organizations, and other forms of participation. Assessing these kinds of trends is also relevant. After all, in terms of actually combating global warming, opinion is only half the battle; action is also neccessary. A few of the trends presented in your paper (i.e. Table 22, ABC poll on ‘the single biggest environmental problem’) suggests that there has been some increase in consciousness as well.

  8. #8 Taryn
    October 12, 2007

    I’ll add to what Jason said above, and suggest that convincing 100% of the people of anything isn’t and shouldn’t be the goal. Some people are going to be left behind, whether by circumstance or choice. This movement has critical mass already, and it’s time for that critical mass to mobilize in order to put their people in positions of power. When that happens, change can and will occur at a dizzying pace.

  9. #9 Sylvia Tognetti
    October 12, 2007

    Aren’t you just reinforcing the “alarmist” frame which was created by denialists? The Nobel Peace Prize was presented to Al Gore because it is connected to national security concerns. Consistent with this frame, Gore has recently called for a Global Marshall plan that regards north/south divisions as obsolete, and discusses climate in the moral imperative frame, in which political divisions are irrelevant.

  10. #10 Stogoe
    October 12, 2007

    It’s official – Nisbet is the Ann Coulter of Scienceblogs. He’s so desperate for attention and site hits that he’ll literally say anything just so he can bathe orgasmically in the outrage his words spawn.

  11. #11 Francis
    October 12, 2007

    Does publishing a post entitled “Does Gore Contribute to the Comunication Crisis” on the very day that he wins the Nobel Peace Prize itself contribute to the communication crisis found on Scienceblogs?

    That seems to be a testable hypothesis. Is there a communication crisis on Sciblogs? Well, it appears that the most popular Sciblogger fails to understand the message this blog is trying to communicate. So, we’ll answer that one yes.

    Does this post have any relation to that confusion? Let’s answer that one yes also.

    Here’s the testable bit. Could Prof. Nisbet have articulated his concern in a manner which did not contribute to apparent ongoing confusion. That will require experimentation on his part. He could, I suppose, put up a subsequent post here. Alternatively, I suppose, he could ghost write a post for another SciBlog that weighs in on the controversy and see if that post draws favorable comments from Prof. Myers and his readers.

    Given what has been written here in the past about science framing, I’m beginning to get the distinct impression that all of us are lab rats in an experiment being run by Prof. Nisbet on science communication.

  12. #12 RBH
    October 12, 2007

    Y’know, I have degrees in anthropology and cognitive psychology, and I will be damned if I can make any sense of out this “framing” stuff. Consider this: Nisbett says

    Over the past year Democrats have grown even more concerned about the issue while Republicans remain relatively unmoved.

    A few sentences later he says

    Gore says he plans to donate 100% of the Nobel prize money to changing public opinion on climate change, but if he is going to be successful, he needs to promote alternative frames and interpretations of the issue and pair these messages with less partisan appearing opinion leaders.

    The first quotation implies that net societal concern has increased due to Gore’s efforts, while the second presupposes that Gore has been unsuccessful in raising concern. I suspect the contradiction in Nisbett’s reasoning is due to focusing on “framing” rather than facts and the logic of the argument, a habit that seems endemic among “framers.”

  13. #13 John Morales
    October 12, 2007

    This seems a little disingenuous:

    Gore says he plans to donate 100% of the Nobel prize money to changing public opinion on climate change, but if he is going to be successful, [prescription].

    I’d say he’s been rather successful so far, to the point of getting a prize for it.

  14. #14 John Morales
    October 12, 2007

    As a total non-expert in framing, when I read this post my overall impression was that this is what an elder statesman opining on the strategy of a promising upstart might write.

    I’m not sure that was the intent.

  15. #15 RBH
    October 12, 2007

    I think I’ll just add a couple of paragraphs from the Reuters story:

    “He has honed that message in a way that many scientists are jealous of,” said University of Michigan Dean Rosina Birnbaum. She was a top White House science aide to Gore and President Clinton. “He is a master communicator.”

    Climate scientists said their work was cautious and rock-solid, confirmed with constant peer review, but it didn’t grab people’s attention.

    “We need an advocate such as Al Gore to help present the work of scientists across the world,” said Bob Watson, former chairman of the IPCC and a top federal climate science adviser to the Clinton-Gore Administration.

    Pity he couldn’t have framed it better.

  16. #16 Amit Joshi
    October 12, 2007

    Dude, there are two Americas on every important issue you can think of. Even on whether Saddam had any links to 9/11, whether he had nukes, etc.–these things are firmly in the past, and you’d think questions of historical fact ought to be pretty easy to “communicate”.

  17. #17 Vagueofgodalming
    October 12, 2007

    It strikes me from the comments of right-wingers that the limiting factor is Al Gore himself: it doesn’t matter what he says, they won’t trust him, because they assume he has an ulterior agenda. So he might as well continue using the approach that works with those who do listen to him.

    However, the Nobel Committee *have* provided an alternative frame: that tackling global warming is about world peace. I doubt that this will help much with the hard core who seem to have a worldview based on perpetual conflict with supposed enemies, but it is different.

  18. #18 ice weasel
    October 12, 2007

    This is sad. You’re just wrong and you should admit it Mr. Nisbet. You only further discredit your own platform by continuing to rail about…well…what is you’re railing about again? Oh yeah, it’s that someone else who supports something you support should just shut up because they’re not doing it your way.

    Well done. You’ve managed to sound like a well educated, under-socialized eleven year old. Again.

  19. #19 bullfighter
    October 13, 2007

    Your graph is dishonest, because you omit the key fact that the fraction of Americans who self-identify as Republicans has decreased significantly over this period. The divergence of the two lines just a manifestation of the increasing average level of dogmatism among the remaining Republicans.

  20. #20 kamenin
    October 13, 2007

    What you don’t realize, Prof. Nisbet, is that the Nobel Prize is (meant as) an international award, won by Gore for his international success in communication. Could he have reached more U.S. right-wing Evangelicals with a different framing? If you say so. At the same time he could have made a laughing-stock of his message in the rest of the world. It’s the discurse in your country that’s basically fucked up, we Europeans understand him quite nicely.

  21. #21 archgoon
    October 13, 2007

    Bullfighter:

    >>Your graph is dishonest, because you omit the key fact that the fraction of Americans who self-identify as Republicans has decreased significantly over this period. The divergence of the two lines just a manifestation of the increasing average level of dogmatism among the remaining Republicans.

    Really? I hadn’t heard that, could you point me in the direction to some statistics for that please? Thanks. :)

  22. #22 Anton Mates
    October 13, 2007

    All my other objections to this post have been covered already, but:

    but if he is going to be successful, he needs to promote alternative frames and interpretations of the issue and pair these messages with less partisan appearing opinion leaders. In fact, Gore should take note of E.O. Wilson’s message and efforts at working with Evangelical leaders.

    This criticism makes very little sense. Gore is an outspoken Baptist, and has personally worked with and trained a number of religious leaders in the Climate Project, many of whom currently work in the various Interfaith Power & Light groups. Gore’s been advocating environmentalism from a specifically religious perspective since he wrote “Earth in the Balance.”

    In a speech on global warming at NYU, Gore said:

    “Moreover, the American religious community -including a group of 85 conservative evangelicals and especially the US Conference of Catholic Bishops -has made an extraordinary contribution to this entire enterprise. To the insights of science and technology, it has added the perspectives of faith and values, of prophetic imagination, spiritual motivation, and moral passion without which all our plans, no matter how reasonable, simply will not prevail.”

    Heck, he caught a lot of flak from us militant atheists during his Presidential bid because he said critics of religion were “arrogant” and “intimidating,” “making people who do believe in God feel like they’re being put down and I don’t like that.”

    In short: If you’re criticizing Gore for insufficient attempts at outreach to religious leaders, you don’t know very much about the guy.

  23. #23 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 13, 2007

    Hi folks,
    Thanks for the comments. Scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson, in comment #4, articulates very well my main argument which I elaborate on below.

    It’s great that Gore has won the Nobel prize and I have publicly backed his candidacy for President for about a year now. For someone who studies the social impact of documentary film, I now rank Inconvenient Truth as the greatest success in history.

    But if his goal is to systematically shift public opinion in the United States, he needs to figure out other messages than his lead “catastrophe” frame and other opinion-leaders need to deliver that message. As much as Gore has helped activate attention to climate change, his partisan identity means that nearly half of Americans who hold an unfavorable view of him are likely to tune out. Moreover, Gore certainly talks about economic, public accountability, and moral frames in his movie and speeches, but his dominant message remains one of “crisis.”

    As multiple poll trends show, in the last year, given this message and Gore as an opinion-leader, Democrats have grown more concerned about climate change. But in terms of public opinion there remains a 30-50 point gap between Dems and Republicans in how they view the urgency and the science of the issue, (and this gap far exceeds any difference made by the shifts in partisan identification over the past year.)

    Moreover, even among Dems, though they say they are concerned about the issue, global warming barely shows up when asked in open-ended questions about the most important problems facing the country, and when the general public are asked about competing political priorities, global warming ranks in the bottom tier.

    Absent greater opinion intensity, its unlikely public opinion will translate into significant policy action. Policymakers pay close attention to what issues rank high in polls in terms of political importance and pay attention to the letters, phone calls, and contacts they get in their offices.

    When issues surge along these dimensions, policy action is catalyzed. Global warming isn’t there yet as a public priority and as a result major legislation has stalled in the Democrat-led Congress. (As Joe Klein describes in his recent book Politics Lost, when running for president in 2000, even Gore was swayed by polls that showed global warming as a non-priority, and his consultants counseled him to avoid the issue.)

    Opinion intensity not only matters for policy action but also for personal behavior. If Americans are going to adopt major changes in energy use and support such changes with their buying habits, then opinion intensity is still a major missing factor.

    I’ve elaborated on this extensively citing various polls in posts at this blog (go to archives “global warming”), write about this at Science and the Washington Post, detail a lot of this context in the study out at Public Opinion Quarterly, and we discuss this in our Speaking Science 2.0 talks. I also explain the likely selective impact of Gore’s film in an overview in a Ford Foundation report from this spring:

    http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/files/pdf/docs_on_a_mission.pdf

    Final note: I’ve had a long standing comment policy posted in my left side bar. Someone posting under the moniker “BS Detector” repeatedly violated that policy, so his comments have been deleted, the first time I have actually had to take such action.

  24. #24 inel
    October 13, 2007

    Public opinion polls are not necessarily the be-all-and-end-all you seem to think, at least not for climate change. Everyone may have an opinion, but some people hold positions that cause their opinions to be more valuable: they carry more weight because they can influence policy, or can make far-reaching decisions on company-wide actions to combat climate change without their own livelihood being dependent on the whims of public perceptions and pressures.

    To put it another way, how many of the individuals in public polls lead multinational corporations? Not a lot. Yet the commitment of the business community is key to addressing climate change effectively and communicating the need in directly relevant terms to employees. It seems to me, many people in Britain learn about steps they need to take towards a sustainable future from their employers. To some degree you could say they learn because their jobs depend on it.

    In any case, major multinational corporations are taking increasingly significant steps to factor climate change into their business activities and yet you seem to talk about public opinion as if it is purely, or at least primarily, controlled by the media. Even if it were totally so (i.e. we were robots programmed by what we receive from our TVs each day), I do not think that corporate interests can be ignored, because most people still spend a good deal of their waking hours at work.

    Beyond that, I agree with most of the comments above yours.

    What I have still not found is your own example of the climate change reference frame that meets your specifications for success with the public at large. I read that your research “focuses on the intersections between science, media, and politics”. If this only results in criticisms of scientists, reporters, and politicians instead of contributing concrete recommendations and specific positive examples (i.e. how to do it, rather than how not to do it) for those groups, it seems to me that you simply help the sceptics prolong the debate about a debate instead of helping those calling for action to achieve success.

    There comes a point when discussing the way something should be said, and criticising other people’s ways of saying it, is insufficient. If you know how to frame, why don’t you just do it?

    That, by the way, is what Al Gore has gone ahead and done. I would credit him for helping to raise awareness of climate change worldwide. The fact that Republicans are out of step with most of the rest of the world in their opinions on this topic says more about their own personal priorities than anything else.

  25. #25 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 13, 2007

    Inel,
    As a social scientist, my research examines the factors that shape media messages and how these messages have differing influences across segments of the public. I have published numerous peer-reviewed studies in this area.

    For policymakers, journalists, scientists, and advocates I then describe what the implications of this research means in terms of effective public engagement.

    For example, in terms of new directions in science communication, we offer 8 key recommendations in the cover article at The Scientist.

    http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/10/1/38/1/

    Moreover, in the article at The Scientist, at Science, at the WPost, at this blog, and in my talks, I spotlight many examples across issues of successful messaging.

    The goal from the beginning has been the following:

    a) Challenge assumptions about what makes for effective science communication.

    b) Describe research on framing as a “third way” complement to continued investments in formal education and popular science media.

    c) Show how framing works.

    d) Offer key recommendations for moving forward with new directions in science communication.

  26. #26 tristero
    October 13, 2007

    I must confess, I am truly having trouble understanding your argument. Are you saying that in order to effect change, a vitally important issue has to be discussed in numerous different ways? No argument from me. But that is also a monumentally trivial observation.

    But what on earth is Al Gore supposed to do about his “partisan identity?” He was, as you surely recall, the Democratic candidate for president in 2000. ( And who, inarguably, won the popular vote by a margin of 500,000). Mind telling me what he could conceivably do that would ever lead to him being “re-framed” as non-partisan? Do you seriously believe that even if Al Gore became a member of the Federalist Society, advocated torture and warrantless wiretaps, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly would suddenly stop calling him a far-left madman?

    Numerous times, Gore has said this issue is beyond politics. And even you admit that he talks about other issues than crisis? What more could he say or do? It’s a simple fact that 99.999% of the global warming deniers in this country are Republicans. And that many people are paid by oil companies to debunk whatever Gore says. You think they’re gonna stop if he changes his “frame?”

    If you’re saying more people need to speak with their own views on why it’s important to make this issue a salient one, we have no disagreement. But that is patently obvious. To criticize Gore for speaking his own views, in a passionate, knowledgeable voice simply because he doesn’t speak the way you think someone else should …honestly, I don’t get it.

    As for your specific point, that Republican opinion has not moved since Inconvenient Truth, I assure you that there is nothing whatsoever that Al Gore could do to move that opinion. I honestly can’t believe you wrote “if [Gore] is going to be successful, he needs to promote alternative frames and interpretations of the issue and pair these messages with less partisan appearing opinion leaders” as if the problem was Gore’s and not THEIR partisanship!

  27. #27 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 13, 2007

    Tristero,
    There’s no criticism offered of Gore. I’ve been supporting his candidacy for president for more than a year and his film is a wonderful achievement.

    It’s important however to place into context and to bring theory and data to bear on the impact of his film campaign and then to draw attention to what else needs to be done in moving forward and activating other segments of the public, notably the Republican base who still remain relatively unmoved.

    The “communication crisis” of my title is the lingering selective perceptions regarding the objective reality and urgency of global warming. Indeed, public opinion is little different today then back in May 2006 when Gore’s film was released. Multiple polling trends show this.

  28. #28 J. J. Ramsey
    October 13, 2007

    Nisbet: “There’s no criticism offered of Gore.”

    Then why entitle the post, “Does Gore Contribute to the Communication Crisis?” which applies Gore being partially culpable for a crisis, rather than, say, “Beyond Gore” or “Moving the Global Warming issue Beyond Partisanship”?

  29. #29 Randy Olson
    October 13, 2007

    Tristero and Ramsey – Have you listened to the opening of “An Inconvenient Truth”? It begins with the barb about Gore having been elected president (which is okay, he has a right to make some fun of it, but it immediately sets a political tone). Then a few minutes later he talks about continental drift, his foolish school teacher who thought it was a lie, then makes a joke about that teacher is probably now the science advisor to the current administration.

    And there you have it. The voice is established. For all my Republican friends in Kansas who were keeping an open ear up until then, they would recoil with, “oh, why’d you have to go there?” These are qualitative elements of communication — elements of style. Its not about how much solid and true information he packs into the presentation, its about the style he chooses to deliver it with.

    In March there was a global warming debate in NYC. In the middle of it, one of the scientists on the “pro” side (that global warming is a crisis), in the midst of a side discussion with one of the opposing scientists, turned to the audience and basically said, “we’re talking about something that most of you wouldn’t understand.”

    You can hear the audience boo on the NPR audio file of the event. And people I have spoken with have told me, THAT was the deciding moment of the evening for the audience.

    Didn’t matter how much solid factual information was presented. Poorly placed jokes, snide comments, all those things, when dealing with the broad audience, become as important as “killer arguments.”

    Al Gore made a very good film, but he and his producers also made some unnecessary decisions. They didn’t need to include the political barbs, and they really didn’t need to include the flat out errors like the use of Mt. Kilamanjaro. It’s like being ahead in the football game 50 to 0 and deciding to cheat. Why? He has a winning argument, why foul it up?

    And I have to say, after seeing “The 11th Hour,” I walked out with triple the respect for Al Gore and the amount of substance he managed to pack into his movie. He really does deserve the Nobel.

  30. #30 Nick Anthis
    October 13, 2007

    This Gore bashing is getting a little excessive, don’t you think, Matthew? You can rationalize it (or deny it) however you like, but I’m not impressed until you either go out on a limb like Gore and make a similar impact or suggest a better spokesperson for global warming awareness. Otherwise, this is just a tired argument that belittles a man’s accomplishments and seems oblivious to the partisan realities of modern America.

  31. #31 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 13, 2007

    There’s no bashing going on here. While rooting for Gore, it makes sense to try to look at data to try to understand, and ultimately enhance his impact.

  32. #32 mk
    October 13, 2007

    Completely unscientific here but…

    I look at the graph above and see that for Republicans the number of concerned began to drop drastically right around the time that some willfully ignorant Jesus freaks came into the White House. Fear of terrorism and the Iraq war have kept more serious issue like climate change off the front burners and so even people leaning Democratically began to lose sight of it.

    It looks as if it was just before Gore’s movie that numbers for both began to rise. And after the movie it continued upward. Slight for Republicans, more so for Democrats.

    The fact that Republicans view appears to not change much since the movie says more about their partisanship than Gore’s. I contend that Republicans are immovable when it comes to Gore. There is nothing…nothing…he could do. No amount of framing on his part would sway them.

    It is almost as if they would rather see all the worst case scenarios come to pass than to do anything that might look as if they agree with Al Gore.

    That is the current crop of Republican leaders, and their followers, mindset… “No matter what,” they seem to be saying, “do not give Al Gore anything.” There is no reaching them.

    And lastly, I recommend Chris Clark and PZ regarding this post of yours.

  33. #33 Vagueofgodalming
    October 13, 2007

    For example, in terms of new directions in science communication, we offer 8 key recommendations in the cover article at The Scientist.

    http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/10/1/38/1/

    Matt, I read that article and, if there are eight key recommendations in there, they don’t jump out. Can you elucidate?

  34. #34 tourettist
    October 13, 2007

    Gore: He’s been framing his message all along and that’s the problem. Go out into the world and you will hear his name used to discredit a wide range of ideas, sound ones. He’s done as much to politicize science as Bush has. I wish for less framing.

    Framing in general: It is done by those who oppose science or misunderstand it. Communications in science should try to remove frames. Most science in the media has little enough factual content as is, so I disagree with the notion of more time spent framing and fewer facts. This is too similar to the political adage, “don’t confuse em with the facts.” When one side removes facts, the other should not emulate but offer contrast. Respect the people you are trying to reach.

  35. #35 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 13, 2007

    Vague,
    The recommendations are a part of a big sidebar display in the print version and are on a separate page in the online version. Go here:

    http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/10/1/44/1/

  36. #36 salient
    October 13, 2007

    Rather than blaming Gore for alienating Republicans, shouldn’t the underlying prejudices of Republicans be considered?.

    I’d like to know first, how alarmist such predictions really are in view of the science. Secondly, how much Republican opinion about global warming has been influenced by the peculiarly American habit of thinking only along the lines of political antagonisms and reflexive distrust?

    From a cottagers’ point of view we had a lovely warm August and September in Ontario, but the trees are showing stress and (farther north) polar bear populations continue to suffer. Canadian conservatives are probably much more likely than American conservatives to be seriously concerned about climate change, regardless of Gore’s “framing”, not least because Canadian conservatives may not be so politically distrustful of American Democrats.

    Perhaps it is accurate to say the message needs to be delivered differently to Republicans, but I rather doubt that minimizing risks will get *any* attention. The problem is that Republicans have been taught, in the service of religion-and-greed-motivated power mongering, to distrust all Democrats, all scientists, and all liberal experts. Information and careful “framing” will not fix the politico-intellectual malaise, imo.

  37. #37 Randy Olson
    October 14, 2007

    I have spoken with a number of sources and learned the following: Laurie David was the producer of both the HBO documentary, “Too Hot Not to Handle,” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” One scientist told me that for the former film she took a lot of time and brought in many scientists to help get all the facts accurate, and some of the scientists even appear in the film.

    How many of you saw “Too Hot Not to Handle”?

    For the latter film (Incovenient Truth), she basically kicked all the scientists out of the process and said, “this time we’re doing it our way.”

    How many of you saw “An Inconvenient Truth”?

    You can complain all you want about framing and the accuracy of Inconvenient Truth, but the two films are a textbook study in the difference between the two approaches. Yes, it would have been ideal to have had a team of scientists reviewing and parsing every word of AIT, but that film would have probably ended up coming out sometime next year.

    Speed is an important variable in communication. So incredibly many people in the academic world do not seem to understand this, nor understand that with the increase in rapidity of communication, it is even more important than ever.

    Did you see the Newsweek article last spring about how the U.S. Military was being out-communicated in Iraq because of the slowness of their age-old tradition of weekly press conferences, while the opposition is busy shooting cell phone videos and uploading them to websites.

    In Hollywood there’s an expression, “cheap, fast or good — pick two” — which is what you hear from your cameraman — you want to shoot a complicated scene and have it be good, it’s gonna take some time.

    You can modify this for the communication of science — “fast, effective and accurate — pick two.” You want a film that’s going to come out quickly while the issue is still hot and be effective, you better be willing to deal with a little less accuracy.

    That’s what Laurie David and Al Gore opted for. They ended up with a film that came out fast, has been incredibly effective (they now have an Oscar and a Nobel prize), and yes, it came at the expense of the third variable — but the inaccuracies and “framing” were not so great that the science community isn’t standing behind it.

    This is the real world that we live in. Academics are used to having three options — yes, no, or later. The real world doesn’t give you that third option (talk to any doctor working in the Emergency Room — patients are dying while you’re trying to decide). Clearly that was something that Al Gore and Laurie David understood.

  38. #38 Mark Powell
    October 14, 2007

    The criticism thrown at Matt is amazing. Now he’s accused of telling the entire environmental movement to shut up. Having spent a couple of useful and enjoyable hours talking to Matt about his thoughts on how enviros can improve communication, I can debunk this inane claim. Matt offered excellent advice and it was not to “shut up.”

  39. #39 U.O
    October 14, 2007

    The criticism thrown at Matt is amazing. Now he’s accused of telling the entire environmental movement to shut up.

    True, prof Nisbet didn’t tell anyone to shut up. He said that Gore must deemphasize the “crisis” part of global warming, or republicans won’t listen. And that he should be less of a democrat, or republicans won’t believe whatever there’s left to say about global warming once you’ve removed its disastrous effects from the discussion.

    Nisbet’s blog post might have been less bizarre if he’d actually explained what kind of “alternative meanings” Gore should be looking for. Is Gore supposed to focus on the positive aspects of global warming? Or should he just stick to the raw data and pretend that melting glaciers and drowning islands isn’t a disaster?

  40. #40 Matt Penfold
    October 14, 2007

    Matt Nisbett,

    I note that the graph you use only refers to “democrats” and “republicans”. These are political parties in the US, and have little or no bearing elsewhere in the world.

    Global Warming is a global matter and I would have thought deserves looking at as such. Do you have any data at all to support your claims outside of the US ?

  41. #41 mk
    October 14, 2007

    I believe Chris Clarke’s title was ironic.

  42. #42 Randy Olson
    October 14, 2007

    U.O. – here are some specifics for you regarding the level of crisis and communicating global warming. I spoke with a major journalist who asked me if I was familiar with methane clathrates. I said not really and he proceded to layout the nightmare scenario that we are already past the tipping point for feedback loops and are on our way to the runaway greenhouse condition of the Jurassic era.

    Almost in panic I called a member of the IPCC, ran it all by him, and he said, “Trust me, not a single major climate scientist that I know on the IPCC loses sleep over such nightmare scenarios — they aren’t on the horizon. What IS in the near future is the risk of serious consequences of global warming, but not the end of the world.”

    That is the challenge — to communicate so powerfully and effectively that you don’t have to resort to what we know always works in the short term — alarmism — whether its accurate or not.

  43. #43 km
    October 14, 2007

    Randy, that’s a good example you gave U.O.

    I can give a simile. Remember Y2K? Most people, if forced to reactive those neurons, will tell you that the Y2K crisis didn’t happen – it was just a bunch of alarmist press. But, in fact, there was a Y2K crisis that was for the most part contained (and with long-lasting effects – an acceleration of offshoring technology jobs being one of them, and a reduction in software diversity being another). The story that was put out though – including by a large number of computer scientist specialists – was a global information disaster. Hence the widespread belief that there was no crisis.

  44. #44 mk
    October 14, 2007

    Randy Olson,

    I don’t think you answered U.O.’s questions.

  45. #45 Anton Mates
    October 14, 2007

    Randy,

    And I have to say, after seeing “The 11th Hour,” I walked out with triple the respect for Al Gore and the amount of substance he managed to pack into his movie. He really does deserve the Nobel.

    Gore got the Nobel for doing a lot more than just his movie, though. Lectures, books, Congressional testimony, etc. And he’s done a great deal to counter the perception of partisanship by training lots of other people to give similar talks, via the Climate Project (the operations director of which is a loyal Republican. He’s made sure you can hear about the dangers of and solutions to global warming from a conservative or a devout believer (other than him), without hearing a word about Gore himself if you don’t want to. As I understand it the Climate Project’s currently working on training another round of speakers for the specific audiences who most need to be targeted.

    U.O. – here are some specifics for you regarding the level of crisis and communicating global warming. I spoke with a major journalist who asked me if I was familiar with methane clathrates. I said not really and he proceded to layout the nightmare scenario that we are already past the tipping point for feedback loops and are on our way to the runaway greenhouse condition of the Jurassic era.

    Gore’s been quite restrained on that point AFAIK. He’s said that we’re approaching a tipping point and that positive feedback could magnify the warming trend–which is quite true–but nothing about the planet turning into a hothouse or anything like that.

  46. #46 Randy Olson
    October 14, 2007

    I know Gore’s done a lot more, but let’s face it, in the U.S., it’s a media-driven society, which means that >90% of the Al Gore-generated awareness of global warming comes from his movie and its Oscar. And though he didn’t get into feedback loops in the movie, he did present the catastrophic visuals of a flooded NYC (which they were just discussing this morning on This Week with George Stephanopolis) which I think arises from taking the upper end of the sea level rise projections of the IPCC. That’s pretty much punching the panic button of alarm.

    But whatever. What I think is most impressive is that he has succeeded in creating the simple dynamic of “arouse and fulfill” that a USC communications professor talked about in the “Talking Science” video I did a few years ago. He said effective communication takes two parts — first you have to arouse your audience, then you have to fulfill their expectations.

    Gore has done a great deal of arousing of interest through his film and talks, and now, appropriately, as the audience is turning to him for insight, he is pointing them to the IPCC for the fulfillment of their interests. He’s not trying to pass himself off as an expert — he is directing everyone to the proper experts. It’s a model for the mass communication of science.

  47. #47 Eli Rabett
    October 14, 2007

    The facts are in the graphs, the jealousy in the writing. The number of republicans who believe there is a serious problem went from 32 to 45%, that is an increase of 40%, the number of democrats from 65 to 85, an increase of 30%. Now remind me again why Gore has to adopt your strategy?

  48. #48 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 15, 2007

    Eli,
    The dip in concern among both Dems and Republicans in March 2004 is most likely due to the Iraq war which dominated public attention and concern across party groups.

    By March 2006, two months before the release of Gore’s film, public opinion had normalized to 2003 levels. Across the subsequent 12 months, Gore’s film (released in May) helped generate even greater concern among Dems but with little change among Republicans. As has been the case historically, partisanship remains a strong perceptual screen in how Americans interpret messages about climate change.

    Gore has been very successful at activating a greater sense of urgency among Americans who previously viewed him favorably and who were already concerned about climate. To reach that stubborn second half of the public, other messages and messengers are needed.

  49. #49 Sylvia Tognetti
    October 15, 2007

    re, “to reach that stubborn second half of the public other messages and messengers are needed.”

    I’m not sure that the kinds messages you are talking about would have any influence on that stubborn second half. Gore was branded or “framed” if you will, during the 2000 campaign, in a way that has stuck. I once had a good conversation with a fine marine who was getting ready to leave for a 2nd tour in Iraq, in which we were able to talk respectfully in spite of differences of opinion – even about the war, and agree that you can’t believe everything you read/hear in the media. Until I mentioned Al Gore… and then heard the predictable phrases about Gore saying he invented the internet, etc I would consider it an accomplishment if I planted any seeds of doubt about what he had heard.

    The anthropologist Roy Rappaport, who I once had the privilege of working with when he was a member of a scientific committee I staffed, used to say that when issues escalate to matters of “high principle” – which tends to happen when there is a threat or perceived threat to a way of life, people aren’t listening any more. Beliefs become more important than facts or rational analysis of costs and benefits because people are acting and responding based on those beliefs. Ignoring those beliefs makes it worse. I don’t recall that he had any easy answers for that syndrome. But given that climate change is indeed a threat to ways of life, I would focus on issues of human security – as Gore has in fact done.

  50. #50 Greg Laden
    October 16, 2007

    This is actually pretty encouraging (the graph) … way over half of the Dems are concerned, and about half of the Repubs are concerned. How often does a conservative-liberal hot button issue do that well? Not often, I would think.

  51. #51 Vagueofgodalming
    October 16, 2007

    Matt, thanks for the link.

    I felt the recommendations are still very much in the meta – how to go about finding out how to go about communicating the issues of climate change, not how to do the actual communication. And, as a consultant, I had to laugh at the last, funding, one.

    I think, in retrospect, if the question is ‘how can concerned people communicate effectively to the more resistant?’, then focussing on Gore’s supposed inadequacies for that task is the wrong place to start. It only matters if people are thinking they don’t have to do anything because ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is doing it all.

  52. #52 Anton Mates
    October 19, 2007

    And though he didn’t get into feedback loops in the movie, he did present the catastrophic visuals of a flooded NYC (which they were just discussing this morning on This Week with George Stephanopolis) which I think arises from taking the upper end of the sea level rise projections of the IPCC. That’s pretty much punching the panic button of alarm.

    Well, not really. As is discussed over at RealClimate, for instance, all he actually said was that the sea level would rise to that degree if Greenland and/or the West Antarctic ice sheet melted. Which is perfectly true. The IPCC projections are generally below such a value, but that’s because they specifically exclude future rapid changes to the melt rate–not because the IPCC argues that such changes are unlikely, but because it simply doesn’t know how to calculate their likelihood and magnitude. That’s not something we can reliably model yet.

    That means that rapid sea level rise in the century, due to massive deglaciation, is not at all ruled out by the IPCC results. So it’s perfectly reasonable of Gore to mention the possibility. Especially because the results would really, really suck. People should be alarmed at the prospect.

  53. #53 Truth Hurts
    February 13, 2008

    Shifting popular opinion on deeply technical scientific matters relies primarily on Appeal to Authority. The untrained can’t understand or don’t have the patience for the actual explanation, so you have to be brief. This leads to a strong partisan divide in the effect because different political groups respect different authorities, and cognitive dissonance when it conflicts with pre-existing beliefs makes people more inclined to be critically sceptical of the inevitable gaps in an argument. There’s no way round that. They’re not going to accept the word of the United Nations, who they regard as corrupt. They’re not going to accept the word of the media, that they see as biased. They’re certainly not going to take the word of a known Democrat ex-vice-President who cracks jokes about how he was robbed at the polling stations. They’re not going to take the word of Environmentalist activists who mix the AGW message with other generally anti-industry, anti-capitalist/consumerist messages. And having made up their minds, it will take more than a few academic qualifications and appointments to persuade them that a scientist asserting it as truth is not also an activist.

    And having become entrenched, it is probably now the case that even a right-wing authority figure would make no headway. The Appeal to Authority is spent as a persuasive force.

    The only options are to explain the technical science in detail, or to exhibit incontrovertible observational evidence. Unfortunately, both require making somebody sit still for a six month climatology lecture series in order to answer all the potential objections. It’s a complicated subject.

    So I’d suggest you give up on persuading the right-wingers. The only route to action is to coerce them. It requires total control of every part of society, intervention in every detail of people’s lives. People are free to dissent, but cannot be free to disobey. Shut down the power stations. Blockade the coal and oil supplies. Cut off petrol and diesel. And then ration power out to meet the bare minimum required.

    Get real. You cannot run an advanced industrial civilisation and not pollute. It’s physically impossible. After a decade of fiddling about with Kyoto and wind farms and piddly little “Green” taxes, we’re no further forward – in many cases we’ve even fallen back. If you really want something done, stop pretending it isn’t going to hurt and smash the thing.

    You’re wasting time.

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