Framing Science

A few more bloggers who were in attendance at the “Communicating Science in a Religious America” panel have weighed in.

–>The editor of Nature’s blog network describes the panel as the most interesting session she attended at AAAS.

–>And if you read French, Agence Presse has this report.

In addition, following the panel, Ken Miller was interviewed by the Guardian and offers these audio remarks on his suggestion that scientists recapture the term “design” from creationists. Miller wowed the packed audience with a brilliant presentation, but I’m not sure this particular communication goal is attainable.

There’s a golden rule in political communication backed up by a lot of research in psychology and it applies in this case. As Drew Westen puts it in The Political Brain: “Be First.” Once you create a mental association in the public’s mind, it’s very difficult to break its hold. Think about it this way…recapturing the term and meaning of “design” from creationists would be akin to CNN trying to reclaim the tagline “fair and balanced” from Fox News or Hillary Clinton redefining herself as the true “change” candidate.

When a train of thought is set in motion in the public’s mind, instead of trying to reverse the direction of that train, it’s much easier to just switch the tracks. That’s exactly what the National Academies does in its recent report, where it shifts the communication emphasis on evolutionary science from the ID movement’s preferred mental box of “teach the controversy” to one of social progress, focusing on evolution as the modern building block for advances in medicine, agriculture, and industry.

Indeed, there are a lot of interesting potential strategies we can take when it comes to public communication, but ultimately choosing the most effective strategy remains an empirical question, subject to focus groups, survey work, and other methods of testing. I will have more to say about this probably this week or next. Stay tuned.

Comments

  1. #1 David Bruggeman
    February 24, 2008

    So, don’t fight the frame, change it?

  2. #2 Jeff Yager
    February 24, 2008

    Yeah, it’s philosophical judo: use the force of the opponent’s attack against them.