Framing Science

In the United States, when it comes to public perceptions of Gore’s climate message and Nobel award, partisanship is serving as the strongest of perceptual screens, triggered in part by the chorus of conservative media attacking Gore’s accomplishments and challenging the science behind his claims.

Consider the clip above from Fox News Sunday. In the roundtable discussion, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol leads by deriding Gore for “bloviating” about climate change while people die in Iraq and Burma. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthamer adopts the now familiar talking points, reminding viewers that in winning the award Gore joins Yasser Arafat, “the father of modern terrorism,” and Jimmy Carter, “the most disgraceful ex-president of the United States.” Krauthammer then goes on to say that the Nobel prize has nothing to do with peace but is about politics. In fact, it’s the “Kentucky Derby of the left”!

For the past week, these messages have been consistent across the network. For example, even before the Nobel announcement, popular host Neil Caputo featured Seth Lipsky of the conservative NY Sun who argued the paper’s editorial position that General Petraeus deserved the Peace Prize rather than Gore. On the day of the announcement, the hosts of the popular morning show Fox & Friend’s immediately defined the event for viewers. See the clip below. Notice the consistency in talking points between Fox News Sunday and Fox & Friends.

The relationship between these messages and public opinion is predictable. In a Gallup analysis of survey data collected over the weekend, only 24% of Republicans believe that Gore should have received the award compared to 40% who say Gore did not deserve to win and 36% who have no opinion. Among Democrats, 64% endorse Gore’s Nobel win while only 10% question it.

Comments

  1. #1 Matt Penfold
    October 17, 2007

    It is a good job that the Nobel peace prize is awarded in Oslo and not Washington then.

    Can I ask what your point is ? I imagine it is not that many Americans, especially Republicans, are not aware that they do not have say in who gets awarded a Nobel. If it is that the Nobel Prize commitee should pay heed to the politics of the award then I have to 1) why ? and 2) Why just American views ?

  2. #2 Dunc
    October 17, 2007

    I’m curious: what does Charles Krauthamer have to say about Kissinger’s Nobel Peace Prize?

  3. #3 writerdd
    October 17, 2007

    Give it up already. You’ve completely distorted the idea of framing so that it is unrecognizable and absured.

  4. #4 Benjamin Franz
    October 17, 2007

    It is as simple as if you don’t believe Global Warming exists or that humans aren’t mainly responsible, you obviously are not going to believe Gore should have gotten the Peace Prize for it.

    With nothing more than that, you are at better than 70% (that number is from a FoxNews poll taken in January this year).

    Add in another mere 5% of Republicans who just plain don’t like Gore or who think humans cause GW, but it would cost too much do do anything about it and you reach your number. Not a surprise.

    But what does it have to do with Framing?

  5. #5 Nick Anthis
    October 17, 2007

    And we care what these conservative blow-hards say because…?

  6. #6 MarkH
    October 17, 2007

    I really must agree Matt, you’re way off here.

    These posts on Gore seems to suggest that every time Republicans go out to smear an environmentalist we should just hand them the scalp. It fails to recognize the organized campaign to confuse the science, and attack the messenger. Gore has been an extremely effective communicator on this topic, and as a result he has been smeared. They smear anyone who is effective.

    The answer isn’t to then abandon the advocates once the smears start working, what’s the point? They’ll just smear the next one. The answer, is to expose the smear tactics, and the tactics of those who are distorting and confusing the issue.

    This focus on polls is giving you tunnel vision.

  7. #7 MarkH
    October 17, 2007

    Sorry if I’m judging this post in the context of your last two on Gore. I realize this is basically saying that the smears have been working – I get it. The question is, are you presenting this as an example of why it was wrong to give Gore the Nobel? Piling on as it were? Or are you talking about the efficacy of the smear campaign?

  8. #8 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 17, 2007

    WriterDD,
    Not sure what you are referring to in defining frames or framing. Obviously, examining how conservatives have re-defined Gore’s Nobel prize and his climate message is directly relevant to work on framing. Moreover, see the article at Science, or the overview at The Scientist for discussion and citations to the peer-reviewed work in the area, including my own. Linked at left side bar.

  9. #9 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 17, 2007

    Mark,
    Consistent with what I have outlined at my published articles and in previous blog posts, this latest entry describes how conservatives have redefined Gore’s message and the impact it has had on public opinion.

    What the collective polling data over the past year suggests is that Gore, with a lead focus on catastrophe or “climate crisis,” will not break through to the Republican base. Instead other messages, messengers, and communication strategies are needed. As we discuss in articles and our talks, this includes recasting the issue in terms of religious and moral duty, economic opportunity, and even national security, while teaming with spokespeople such as religious leaders, conservatives such as Newt Gingrich (see forthcoming book with intro by EO Wilson), and CEOs.

    Gore is obviously doing some of this and is also offering these frames as secondary messages. He should not necessarily be faulted for Republicans tuning him out. It’s not ideal, but it remains the reality of our political system.

    Gore has had amazing success at getting people who are already concerned about climate change and who accept the science to be even more concerned. He deserves the Nobel for achieving this stunning achievement and for his life long dedication to the issue. (Though I question why he didn’t talk more about this in his 2000 presidential race. In the book Politics Lost, Joe Klein has perhaps the best account of why.)

    In sum, while rooting for Gore and commending him for his achievement, it’s also important to bring data and research to bear on understanding the exact nature of his impact and what other communication avenues can be pursued.

  10. #10 Coin
    October 17, 2007

    I’m just going to repeat my twice-asked, never-answered question from the other thread:

    Okay. So you are trying to establish that there is a significant section of the country, apparently identified with “the Fox News demographic”, which really does not like Al Gore. You haven’t established whether this is because he is an establishment Democrat or because he is an environmental crusader, but you assume it’s the former; let’s grant your assumption for the time being. Your argument is that because Gore has this personal conflict with this conservative demographic, this will interfere with the message about global climate change which Gore is trying to communicate.

    If this is true, what do we do about it? If there is a section of the country who will not listen to a former Democratic presidential candidate on climate change, who will they listen to on climate change?

  11. #11 MarkH
    October 17, 2007

    As far as reaching the Republican base, who cares? They’re operating on a bunch of > 1000 year old texts, why bother?

    I don’t think reaching the Republican base is a valuable use of time. The Republicans have shown how important it is to have your own base fired up, and to actually stand for something.

    The idea that we can’t have progress without bringing the fundamentalists that are the Republican base along is bizarre. They will be proven wrong by history, as always, then continue to deny it, as always. You might as well talk about how to frame an argument so a schizophrenic screaming about the FBI putting a chip in his head would believe. I can’t help wondering, who cares what the fundamentalists think? They’re on the outs, they are losing influence because Americans experienced their leadership and rejected it.

    Also, what evidence is there fundamentalists ever change their minds? There’s a reason they’re called fundamentalists. What frame, other than Jesus returning to earth and saying “save the earth” will work? We’ve already seen how they viciously attack evangelicals who try to introduce an environmentalist message, and shut them out. Intervention seems high cost and low benefit. We should focus on the people with a rational hold on the universe instead and the next generation that hasn’t cemented their beliefs.

  12. #12 Matthew C. Nisbet
    October 17, 2007

    Mark,
    In the US, if we are going to achieve meaningful policy action on climate change, there needs to be a greater consensus among the public about the nature of the problem and its relative priority.

    You can either write many Republicans off as fundamentalists (as you do) or you can try to figure out alternative methods for communicating the importance of climate change in ways that are personally meaningful (see EO Wilson and others).

  13. #13 Michael Fischer
    October 17, 2007

    From watching the Foxi-folk react on the day, I think most of the reaction was fueled by political fear – Gore’s achievement puts the current administration in an even worse light (if that is possible). It could make a lot of people wonder how the past six years would have gone had Gore been allowed to claim his victory.

    It is displays like this that put the Republicans in danger of following the example of the Conservatives in the UK – they shifted from being the political mainstream to political irrelevance almost overnight. The demographic balance has been much more delicate in the US relatively speaking, so it would take very little to drive the Republicans out of Eden.

  14. #14 SteveF
    October 17, 2007

    Mark,

    Unfortunately, those people without a “rational hold on the universe” constitute a fair chunk of the US populace. Doubly unfortunately, the US is one of the biggest carbon emitters and therefore influence on climate change. Put the two together and I can see where Matt is coming from.

  15. #15 MarkH
    October 17, 2007

    Matt, I was operating under the definition of the Republican “base” as fundamentalists. Is this incorrect? Has there been a new infusion of Rockefeller Republicans into the base when I wasn’t looking?

    Yes, that 25% or so that doesn’t let go of this administration is largely fundamentalist. Yes, they deserve to be written off. Two terms of this administration has not been enough to change their mind. What possible frame is sharp enough to find a nick in that armor?

  16. #16 J. J. Ramsey
    October 17, 2007

    Wait a minute, here. Last time I checked, the part of the Republican base that is behind much of the global warming denialism isn’t the fundies, but rather industrial interests. The fundies and evangelicals buy into that particular denialism largely because they are following the Republicans, not leading them.

  17. #17 Coin
    October 17, 2007

    In the US, if we are going to achieve meaningful policy action on climate change, there needs to be a greater consensus among the public about the nature of the problem and its relative priority.

    Okay, sure. More consensus is always better.

    Here’s the thing, though: Your own posts on this matter seem to indicate we already have a consensus. Gore’s campaign appears, by your numbers, to be supported by something like 24% of Republicans and 100% of Democrats. If you put those two together, you have a working majority on this issue. Maybe we should be focusing not on how to expand the consensus, but focusing on how to figure out how to make use of the consensus we already have.

    Perhaps we could ignore both the “holdout” Republicans that are predisposed to hate Gore and the Democrats that are predisposed to like Gore, and focus on the 24% of Republicans that do buy into the validity of Gore’s campaign already even though they wouldn’t vote for him for president or whatever. We have these people’s attention, now what do we do with it? And if we don’t know what to do with the support of 24% of Republicans, then who’s to say we’d know what to do with 60% of Republican support?

    I mean, I surely do agree it would be preferable to have more than 59% of the populace embracing reality on climate change. But it also seems clear there’s some percentage of the populace that won’t embrace reality on climate change, ever– there are some people who will keep denying no matter WHAT happens. Do you disagree? If you look at it this way, the question becomes not whether to write off the holdouts, but when. How much consensus is enough? And once we have enough consensus, what do we do with it?

    (see EO Wilson and others).

    Okay, so even if indirectly, this seems to be an answer to “if not Gore, then who?” And digging a bit, I see you did write something awhile back about EO Wilson and whatever he’s doing with Gingrich.

    Is this all, though? I mean, EO Wilson may be able to talk the religious talk credibly, but have many people really heard of him? Have enough people heard of his book for this to reach any serious number of those Fox News viewers? Meanwhile, the primary resistance to climate science among the Fox News set comes from fiscal conservatives, not religious conservatives– religious environmentalism might be able to split the religious right from the pro-business right on this issue, but isn’t focusing on the religious right just the “take what you can, give up on the fundamentalists” strategy with a different group serving as the fundamentalists?

    There may be something in the Gingrich book. But I’m not sure how much credibility Gingrich has even among conservatives anymore, and I’m not sure whether this book really is much of a change for Gingrich; the amazon description for the book says it “rejects alarmist projections based on what they perceive as activist science and hysterical journalism”. Huh. It will be interesting to watch this, but are you sure this is actually a book with the potential to change minds? This might just be an instance of that last-resort line of climate denialism– the “okay, it’s happening, but we shouldn’t do anything about it, we have to leave it up to the free market to resolve” line. Maybe the book will stake out some compromise position that will legitimately pull the business community into helping control carbon emissions. Or maybe it will be a book primarily arguing to the liberals that we mustn’t try to attack climate change with government intervention, and not so much arguing to the conservatives that climate change is real.

    It does seem both of these things you mention represent steps in the right direction. Can we do any more than two steps?

    It just seems to me it would make more sense and be more productive to promote approaches to communicating climate change to the right you think are effective, rather than tearing Al Gore’s approach down.

  18. #18 bullfighter
    October 18, 2007

    Nobel Prize? What Nobel Prize?

    Haven’t you heard the Good News? The Peace Prize is now in the more deserving hands. Praise the Lord! Allahu akbar!

  19. #19 Randy Olson
    October 18, 2007

    It gets very tiresome reading the comments of the knee-jerkers on this website who feel that people like Matt are not allowed to even think about taking a critical look at Al Gore — you seem to be unable to accept that he is saying, “Gore has done a great job, but not perfect.” Like Gore is so sacrosanct that he is above evaluation. Its like the South Park episode where they all worship The Great Dawkins. You folks all seem to be worshipping The Great Gore.

    Look at the last line in the comment above, ” … rather than tearing Al Gore’s approach down.” Matt hasn’t done that. He and Chris Mooney are saying over and over again, yes, Gore has done well, but the job isn’t over.

    And more importantly, there is so much exaggeration at both ends, the issue really is a mess. You like to label the skeptics as cretins and luddites, but first you should note that the vast majority of the global warming skeptics concede several of the major facts, such as the planet is getting warming, and more importantly, if you look at their rhetoric over the past decade, you can see a clear pattern of them slowly being brought into the fold.

    I went to an event last year where both Michael Crichton and John Stossel conceded, relucatanly, that yes, the planet is getting warming, and yes, humans may have played some role in it. Granted, these concessions were after audience members semi-berated them in the Q&A. But I just don’t see how, if you’ve heard those sorts of concessions, you can cling on to this idea that the skeptics are so stubborn and beyond hope that they are not worth considering.

    Believe it or not, there are still ways in the world to accomplish what is known as “persuasion.” And some people, even though they sound set in their ways, do still respond to rational argumentation.

    Did any of you read Michael Shermer’s “Flipping Point,” editorial in Scientific American last year. That’s a guy whom you would have called a moron just two years ago for holding out against global warming science. But he finally sat down, read four key books, and changed his mind. This stuff isn’t hopeless, contrary to some of the comments above.

  20. #20 ponderingfool
    October 18, 2007

    Randy the question though is why should a non-member of the Christian Right feed the fundalmentalism of that group? From what I have read of Matt’s that is what he advocates with regards to global warming. Correct me if I am wrong but what Matt is pushing is framing the issue in religious terms playing on the Christian Right’s view of themselves as agents of God to get them on board. I am an atheist. I am not one who would be identified as a “New Atheist”. That said I really don’t want to be feeding the Christian Right, enabling them. Global warming is not the only issue taht matters to me. To me that is winning a battle but loosing the war. Why should we do that?

  21. #21 ponderingfool
    October 18, 2007

    Did any of you read Michael Shermer’s “Flipping Point,” editorial in Scientific American last year. That’s a guy whom you would have called a moron just two years ago for holding out against global warming science. But he finally sat down, read four key books, and changed his mind. This stuff isn’t hopeless, contrary to some of the comments above.
    *****************************************************
    His switch though was based on him engaging the material and not due to framing. Shermer is a fun guy, bright but like all of us has blinders. It was the facts and his critical thinking skills that had been developed through education that enabled him to overcome his biases.

  22. #22 Organic Chemistry
    November 30, 2007

    Does anyone agree with me in thinking that there is partisanship on both sides of this. What your arguments fial to address is whether he actually deserves it or not. The assumption that you start the post with is that he DOES deserve it and that the majority of conservatives are wrong. Isn’t this a topic that reasonable people can differ on?

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