Framing Science

You don’t have to be a social scientist to recognize that the distribution of opinion among people who comment at Scienceblogs is very different from the perspective found among the wider science community and even among leaders in the atheist movement. The reality of this perceptual gap was reinforced for me over the last two days as I gave the latest round of Framing Science talks at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. At the two campus presentations, roughly 150 faculty and students turned out to share in a very thoughtful and inspiring discussion about new directions in science communication. In each lecture, I ended by discussing Expelled along with last week’s debate over how to effectively counter the film’s PR campaign. The science faculty I spoke with, many of them atheists, appeared to be in strong agreement that continuing to feed the conflict frame only helps market the film.

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Lesson: Don’t Be a Dodo

I had a wonderful time visiting the university and I need to especially thank Professor Paul Thomas and the Physics, Geology, Geography, and English faculty for their hospitality. I also had breakfast and several great conversations with UW professor Ruth Cronje, who just two weeks ago published a letter at Science elaborating on the arguments we presented in last year’s Policy Forum essay.

I am down in Madison until tomorrow, catching up with several friends and colleagues (blogging right now from Espresso Royale on State Street). On Monday, I will be at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School to give a lunchtime talk, where again Expelled strategy is sure to be part of the discussion. Meanwhile, PZ has generated another cheerleading moment for his blog readers. A mysterious viral video has also appeared. Sadly, the Expelled producers must be very pleased with the massive amount of online buzz about their film. I will likely have more to say about these events at the talk at Princeton and in blog posts next week.

Comments

  1. #1 John Lynch
    March 29, 2008

    You don’t have to be a social scientist to recognize that the distribution of opinion among people who comment at Scienceblogs is very different from the perspective found among the wider science community and even among leaders in the atheist movement.

    This is a little data-free, now isn’t it? No information on views “among the wider science community” and a link to a single comment by D.J. Grothe (who may or may nor be a leader “in the atheist movement”). As I said before, the issue here is not atheism (something which, may I say, I’m ambivalent about). You just seem to think it is. And that “framing” device seems to suit your needs.

  2. #2 Coturnix
    March 29, 2008

    The ‘conflict frame’ was introduced by you, Matt. It was nowhere to be found in PZ’s initial (and widely linked) post, which does not mention religion or atheism, or even science. It contained a perfect, simple frame (which explained why thousands of lay people found it funny): Creationists are inept, lying hypocrites. Why did you decide to spoil the whole thing and REMIND everyone of the ‘conflict frame’ at the time when all eyes were on scienceblogs? You counter-framed it all wrong. It’s time you admit it.

  3. #3 Jim RL
    March 29, 2008

    Sadly, the Expelled producers must be very pleased with the massive amount of online buzz about their film.

    Do you really think the Expelled producers have been acting happy about the latest events? They’ve canceled screenings, given a string of contradictory stories to the media, and seem to be in general disarray. Can you point to anything that shows these recent events have been good for them? Being shown to be hypocrites and liars isn’t good PR.

  4. #4 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 29, 2008

    Bora,
    See the story below that ran at the movie section of Christianity Today. It’s this audience that is at stake with Expelled, a moderately religious, “wobbly middle” of Americans.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/news/blog-080324.html

    Two frames are balanced against each other. First PZ and Dawkins’ interpretation as featured at the NY Times and then that of Limbaugh, local church leaders, and local political officials. It’s conflict and competing interpretations featured in a soft news section of a site for the moderately religious.

    Given these two competing frames, chances are this swing public is going to choose the pro-Expelled interpretation. Or at least the news attention and conflict is going to spark their interest in Expelled, exactly what we don’t want to happen.

    It’s this audience that matters, and it’s PZ that is driving the conflict in this media zone. As long as PZ and Dawkins are front and center in the news coverage of Expelled, it will only drive further awareness of the movie among swing audiences, with a message front and center of science=atheism.

  5. #5 Coturnix
    March 29, 2008

    PZ just answered you correctly, a few minutes ago on his blog.

    The ‘conflict frame’ exist, I agree. But in the case of expulsion from Expelled, we had hundreds of thousands people coming to read PZ’s story, people who have never heard of PZ before, less than 1% of whom are likely to look around his blog for more – and all they got is the “Expelled is a bad, boring movie, made by dishonest, inept hypocrites”.

    If you know anything about framing, and it does not look like you do, you would know NOT to push the opponent’s frame yourself – especially not at the moment when a fantastic number of those “mushy middle” people are looking. It is from you that they were reminded of “atheism != science” frame, not from PZ. You screwed up majorly.

    Remember Huxley vs. Wilberforce debate? When Huxley (allegedly) said “God hath delivereth him into my hands!”? This was such a moment for our side. And you came in and said “No” and started telling everyone how those scientists are really evil atheists. You ruined a perfect storm. For that “muddy middle” that you despise so much as if they had no brains of their own.

    Remember 1992? When Bill Clinton started winning primaries? At exactly the same time Rush Limbaugh started framing Hillary as Satan incarnate and a Vagina Dentata. He mentioned her on every show every day for the past 26 years. And, 16 years later, half of the country is still not willing to even listen to what she says, let alone vote for her. Why? Because she is framed.

    There is a way to frame things positively (i.e., to elicit positive frames in people’s minds) when you talk about yourself, your ideas, your organization, your plans, etc. There is also a way to frame the opponents negatively.

    Even cursory understanding of framing negates the idea that all publicity is good publicity. No, there is good publicity and there is bad publicity. It depends how you frame things, what frames of mind you put people in in regard to a person or topic.

    Creationists did the stupidest job ever by framing themselves very negatively, in a very simple, easy-to-understand, and devastating frame. And PZ did the best thing possible – pointed and laughed.

    Then you came, Matt, and fucked up. You are the one who started talking about religion, about science, about atheism, all that crap. You are the one who turned a beautifully negative frame of Expelled into a negative frame of PZ and Dawkins. By doing this you demonstrated that you don’t know shit about framing. As you have no official expertise in anything else, your authority on anything you say now is absolutely Zero. If you posted a recipe for boiled eggs tomorrow, people would not trust you.

  6. #6 kevin
    March 29, 2008

    “Given these two competing frames, chances are this swing public is going to choose the pro-Expelled interpretation.”

    It isn’t a matter of interpretation. It is a matter of truth.
    Framing can be compared to Martha Stewart preparing a meal. There are times when presentation matters, but you can’t dress up a turd and make it appetizing. ID is not science. ID promoters are lying when they try to present it as anything but an attempt to backdoor Biblical creationism into public schools. Christians were marginalizing and persecuting Jews for centuries before Darwin was born. Hitler never advocated any belief in Darwinism. PZ and other have called out the producers of Expelled on their lies, their misrepresentations, and their hypocrisy. To try and make framing a central point of this debate is to advocate moral cowardice.

  7. #7 Coturnix
    March 29, 2008

    When two competing frames have equal emotional valence, the one backed by facts wins.

  8. #8 Jim RL
    March 29, 2008

    I’ve heard you use this line before, but do you really think the middle in this country believe a word Rush Limbaugh says? I’m sorry, but I think Limbaugh is talking to 20-30% of the diehard conservatives in this country. I’d rather focus my energies on the remaining 70-80% who are actually open to our message. The deadenders will come around, but it will take more time.

  9. #9 Coturnix
    March 29, 2008

    The middle may be disgusted by GOP now, but they listened to Rush for years, back when they thought he was funny. They still to this day viscerally hate Hillary, completely irrationally, even if they switched to Democratic party in the meantime. Years of negative framing worked on a lot of people. It took her more than a year of campaigning (i.e., framing herself positively) to persuade only a miniscule sliver of that ‘middle’ so far – if she is the nomminee she may manage to do more, but it is an uphill battle against years of negative framing.

  10. #10 Coturnix
    March 29, 2008

    But back to creationists. A friend of mine allowed me to quote his response:

    “As I like to say, creationism is not a reaction to Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins is a reaction to creationism. The creationists were doing what they do well before Dawkins became famous, and if he left the stage tomorrow and never returned, it wouldn’t change a thing. The people who argue most vociferously that evolution and theism are incompatible are the creationists, and it is because of their activities, not those of Dawkins, that the public sees evolution as anti-religious. If anything, Dawkins is forcing the creationists to come to terms with their own belief system. If you say that God and evolution are incompatible, then fine, we’ll have it your way and get rid of God. Was that what you wanted?

    For what it’s worth I tend to lean more towards a compatibilist view, and I don’t agree with much of what Dawkins or PZ say, but I consider arguing about it a pointless distraction. We can all agree that the creationists are scientifically wrong and that the political movement they’ve created is extremely dishonest and a threat to science education, not to mention to basic rationality and decency, and those are good enough reasons to oppose
    them. For Matt Nisbet to launch an internecine war that 1) he’s not going to win, and 2) plays right into the creationists’ hands, is mind-numbingly stupid. He needs to find something useful to do.”

  11. #11 James F
    March 29, 2008

    I certainly don’t support beating an issue to death (e.g., PZ Myers’s expulsion from the Expelled screening), but wouldn’t you agree that the hypocrisy and lies of the producers of Expelled should not go unchallenged? Shouldn’t we promote sites that present reviews and debunk the movie’s claims, like the NCSE’s expelledexposed.com, by linking them to our web sites, ensuring that people searching for the movie on Google will get an opposing viewpoint? I think there is a middle ground of quickly dealing with their claims in the context of the larger fight against ID, then waiting until the inevitable next falsehood comes out and challenging that in short order.

  12. #12 Scote
    March 29, 2008

    Sadly, the Expelled producers must be very pleased with the massive amount of online buzz about their film.

    No, sadly they are pleased that some bonehead academic decide to re-frame the incident in their favor–the same academic who erroneously thought scientists would cheer his “Certain scientists should just shut up and let professionals do the communicating” frame. And the same academic who seems pathologically incapable of seeing anything but his own point of view.

  13. #13 PalMD
    March 29, 2008

    Wow. So…meta.

    But, hey, while I see that “pissing off the unconvinced” may be a bad idea, when it comes to science, what do you do? Develop a wedge strategy? “Look, guys, God digs microevolution, right? Maybe he’s gone macro on us!”

  14. #14 Scote
    March 29, 2008

    BTW, you are still spreading the unsupportable “all publicity is good publicity”claim.By your theory, all movie reviews are good publicity, no matter what they say. How’d that work for Battlefield Earth? By your theory, Expelled would be sending out free screener DVDs to all scientists, bloggers and movie reviewers. But you know that controversy isn’t automatically good publicity. Ask Gov. Spitzer how well that “all publicity is good publicity” thing worked for him…

    Of course, your “all publicity is good publicity” theory is also self contradictory. It also means all the publicity of PZ is good publicity for him. Hmmm…something doesn’t make sense. Methinks it’s you.

  15. #15 Scote
    March 29, 2008

    It’s this audience that matters, and it’s PZ that is driving the conflict in this media zone. As long as PZ and Dawkins are front and center in the news coverage of Expelled, it will only drive further awareness of the movie among swing audiences, with a message front and center of science=atheism.

    Media coverage is a fickle thing. It leans towards controversy and interesting, charismatic or controversial people. It also centers around the protagonists in the story. The Expelled expulsion is about the dishonest hypocrisy of the Expelled producers and the hilarious irony involving PZ and Dawkins. You should have spent your time coming up with a frame that capitalized on the incident and included them rather than trying to push water uphill with a fork.

  16. #16 JimC
    March 30, 2008

    Given these two competing frames, chances are this swing public is going to choose the pro-Expelled interpretation

    Nope, in my experience you have it exactly backwards. The swing voters are looking for an excuse in the firstplace as they tend to wishy washy on the whole religion thing. They are often seekers looking for reasoned arguments and blunt honest statements.

    Myers and Dawkins do a great job of both. You are overstating the religious nature of the majority of the USA who end to a general spirituality.

  17. #17 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    Bora,
    I’ve had tops 900 readers in a single day over the past week, averaging 300-400 readers. The people reading my blog are an incredibly tiny, highly motivated and interested audience of science enthusiasts. Trust me, my blog has had zero measurable impact on the middle ground public.

    Bottom line, however, is this: Without the on camera comments of Dawkins, PZ, and a few other scientists who conflate science with an atheist attack on religion, there would be little to no content or interest in Expelled! And it doesn’t matter whether they were duped or not. They would have said the same things to a PBS documentary crew.

    Dawkins, PZ et al give resonance to the litany of claims of the creationists. In their own words, they provide fodder for the creationists to claim: “See everything we told you is true. Science really does lead to atheism! Watch as Dawkins says science ‘killed off’ his faith. Or as PZ says religion should be like knitting and that more science literacy will erode religion.”

    There needs to be a serious discussion of the unintended consequences of the New Atheist movement. The reality, as Dawkins admits (link in the post above), is that he is a major liability if the goal is to defend the teaching of evolution in schools.

    Finally, the frame “creationists and Expelled producers lie” may be effective, but the people delivering this frame should not be PZ and Dawkins. As long as they remain the stand-ins for science in this debate, more and more attention will be driven to the film, and as coverage is generated at religious news sites, in syndicated news stories, on talk radio, and/or on cable news, the middle ground public will be asked to choose sides between atheist scientists and Ben Stein, who offers ID as a scientifically good enough, religiously friendly alternative explanation.

  18. #18 Scote
    March 30, 2008

    I see lots of PZ and Dawkins are liabilites and they should shut up but I don’t see any “here’s my brilliant, realistic and sound idea.”

    Prove you are a master at swaying public opinion worthy of setting the strategy for defeating religiously motivated propaganda. Convince us.

    It doesn’t matter if we are not middle America, you should have a frame for us, too. The ” Trust me, my blog has had zero measurable impact on the middle ground public” frame isn’t too convincing. Neither is the “the middle ground public will be asked to choose sides between atheist scientists and Ben Stein”–middle America doesn’t like Ben Stein that much.

  19. #19 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    Bora and others,
    A final note: I have never argued that all publicity is good publicity.

    Rather what I have argued is that PZ is generating unnecessary attention to Expelled and as long as he continues to interject himself into the debate, potentially triggering further coverage, a central feature will always be atheist attacks on religion and conflict.

    If he believes the “lies” frame is the best strategy and he really wants to diffuse the impact of the film, he should step out of the spotlight and let NCSE and others deliver that interpretation.

  20. #20 Inoculated Mind
    March 30, 2008

    I just read the Christianity Today article, and it was not balanced. There were lines upon lines devoted to the Dawkins/Myers side, and only a few words devoted to the pro-Excrement side.
    I count:
    5 paragraphs about Expelled’s dishonesty and bad PR.
    2 descriptive paragraphs – the opener mentioned controversy.
    3 pro-Expelled paragraphs – gave them the last word, however, no rebuttal to the dishonesty claims.

    For a religiously-themed news site, that’s pretty imbalanced if you ask me. Quite an achievement.
    There is such a thing as bad press, and it’s called beating them at their own frame. The academic honesty and concealed-secrets frames they’ve been trying to push are turning on them.

    I’d also like to point out that pre-release negative press (plus these embarrassments) is probably going to stifle the potential positive press come-release. If it ever does get released…

    Coturnix mentioned that screenings have been canceled, obviously due to the PR flap in Minneapolis, we’re all guessing it has to do with the 3d animation. This may have caused the first delays, too – it was supposed to come out in February, ERV suggests that maybe they were going to use the Harvard animation but had to replace it with a knockoff at the last minute. The exposures that Expelled has been getting have been very good for our side. A trail of incompetence and a washed up character actor does not, a good rallying cry make.

  21. #21 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    Scote,
    I’ve written and talked about a positive message strategy on defending evolution extensively over the past year, many blog posts, articles, media interviews, and dozens of talks. This general strategy applies as what should be a central message in responding to Expelled.

    The best communication strategy, as the National Academies concludes through focus groups and polling, is to emphasize evolution in terms of medical and social progress and to reassure the public that there is no conflict between evolution and the majority of religious traditions. To deliver this message some of the best spokespeople are religious scientists such as Francis Collins.

    See this blog post for a quick summary:

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2008/03/at_the_national_academies_rese.php

  22. #22 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    Carl,
    At the Christian news site, the headline, which sets the central storyline for the Christian reader, is:

    Expelled Expels *Darwinist*
    Evolutionary biologist and *avowed atheist* Richard Dawkins attends screening of ID documentary, but his *colleague* got booted.

  23. #23 Anonymous
    March 30, 2008

    “to reassure the public that there is no conflict between evolution and the majority of religious traditions”

    …which is to ignore the fact that there is a conflict with many religions. Science and religion are both ways about knowing. One is based in methodological study of empirical evidence and creating testable and useful hypothesis with powerful predictive value, the other is based primarily on assertion. The two are in conflict wherever the later asserts to contradict the former. They can only cooexist through religion staying out of the areas science can inform us on–a field which continues to grow and displace the ignorant explanations of religion.

    So, who to pander to. Scientists or “middle America?” Your answer, a contradictory combination of both whom will satisfy neither: Francis Collins, who saw a frozen waterfall as “proof” of Jesus and the Trinity. Francis Collins who said “atheism is the least rational of all choices, because it assumes you know enough to exclude the possibility of God.” Francis Collins who is a great scientist but completely irrational whenever the question of God and science overlap. Great choice.

    See this blog for a comment on your choice of spokesperson:
    http://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/2008/01/06/framing-science-endorses-francis-collins-as-the-next-presidential-science-advisor/

    er, and your comment trying to refute the post without addressing the issue of Francis Collins.

  24. #24 ngong
    March 30, 2008

    Without the on camera comments of Dawkins, PZ, and a few other scientists who conflate science with an atheist attack on religion, there would be little to no content or interest in Expelled

    C’mon, the Expelled folks would simply run out and find other scientists who link science and atheism, interview them for hours, and select the juiciest, most offensive bits and pieces.

    Damn, this framing thing would work so awesomely if all these personalities would just get behind it.

  25. #25 Scote
    March 30, 2008

    A frame is a way of making people see your position in a favorable light, and of putting your opponent at a disadvantage. Frames are rhetorical devices, tools that know neither right from wrong. And frames must be simple and clear.

    Frames can be invoked by the choice of a single word: Pro-Life, Pro-Choice. Each is a frame. Who could be against life or choice?

    Creationists have a frame for evolution: Godless. It isn’t a rational frame, but then, frames don’t need to be rational to be successful. It’s short and its all they need. Everything else is just piled on top of that one frame.

    What’s your frame for Evolution? Quick. Make it one word, if you can. But obviously you can’t, because you haven’t. Your suggestion? Follow “the best communication strategy, as the National Academies concludes through focus groups and polling” and “emphasize evolution in terms of medical and social progress and to reassure the public that there is no conflict between evolution and the majority of religious traditions. ” Mmm…what a great frame…So short and concise… Don’t get me wrong, that data is useful, but it isn’t a frame, and this is “Framing Science,” after all.

    So, what’s your frame? Is it “there is no conflict between evolution and the majority of religions?” Are you ignoring the studies that show repeating accusations tend to re-enforce them? And people forget the negation? Aren’t you the communication expert? How could you be so sloppy? So far, you haven’t proposed a real and useful rhetorical frame.

    What’s my perfect frame? I don’t have one! And I don’t have to. I’m not the academic who runs the “How to Frame Science” blog and who’s trying to tell everyone else they are doing it wrong and that he has the answers! So, please, please put your framing where your blogging fingers are–or, perhaps better for science, don’t.

  26. #26 windy
    March 30, 2008

    [If] he really wants to diffuse the impact of the film, he should step out of the spotlight and let NCSE and others deliver that interpretation.

    Seems difficult, when the NCSE links right back to Dawkins and to several stories on PZ, as Tulse pointed out in a previous thread!

  27. #27 Duae Quartunciae
    March 30, 2008

    Bora hits the nail on the head:

    The ‘conflict frame’ exist, I agree. But in the case of expulsion from Expelled, we had hundreds of thousands people coming to read PZ’s story, people who have never heard of PZ before, less than 1% of whom are likely to look around his blog for more – and all they got is the “Expelled is a bad, boring movie, made by dishonest, inept hypocrites”.

    If you know anything about framing, and it does not look like you do, you would know NOT to push the opponent’s frame yourself – especially not at the moment when a fantastic number of those “mushy middle” people are looking. It is from you that they were reminded of “atheism != science” frame, not from PZ. You screwed up majorly.

    There were so many things wrong with Matthew’s recent additions on this whole thing; but two stand out. One is his timing, and here Bora has it exactly right. It was a perfect opportunity to focus on exactly the right issue — that “Expelled is a bad, boring movie, made by dishonest, inept hypocrites”. Matt’s contribution shows him to be completely clueless in his area of supposed expertise, by trying to turn the subject AWAY from this and back to the religion thing.

    The other issue is that a call for the those you disagree with to be silent is so absurd on multiple levels, as well as being totally ineffective. Far better to get more people to speak up with the message you think most constructive. We can handle a plurality of voices. It’s inevitable anyway.

    I’m one of those by the way; favouring a conciliatory approach to religion, emphasizing that many believers see Intelligence Design as as dreadful theology, and see evolutionary biology as a perfectly good description of how the created world works. I do that by speaking up myself, not by asking those with a different perspective to be silent!

    Matt, your own tactical stupidity on Expelled shows you to be incompetent on the actual practice of communication; and you apparently STILL don’t get it.

    There is no one “best” strategy, and it is ridiculous to try and set up anyone as the spokesman for science. A range of contributions is a good thing. In particular, I agree that it is a very good idea to emphasize and encourage and refer to individuals like Francis Collins. Another good one to cite at present is Professor MichaÅ‚ Heller, winner of the 2008 Templeton Prize. He speaks up on Intelligent Design in his statement here.

    More of that, please. Less of trying to always turn the debate back to a focus on yourself (it’s really really noticeable!) as a communications expert. And in this case, you badly need to give an apology and a recognition that you made a bad mistake with the post calling for Dawkins and Myers to be silent. If you still can’t see that, then what is of value in your suggestions for engaging this subject is overwhelmed by your own hamfisted incompetence in actually doing it. Back up. Learn from your mistakes. It will help, really.

  28. #28 Matti K.
    March 30, 2008

    “The science faculty I spoke with, many of them atheists, appeared to be in strong agreement that continuing to feed the conflict frame only helps market the film.”

    Lately, PZ has fed the frame “the Expelled gang are hypocrites”, not “the Expelled gang is deluded because of their religion”. Then comes an alleged expert on framing and deliberately focuses on the atheism of PZ and Dawkins. And later says “feeding conflict” is a stupid thing to do. It seems the Expelled gang are not the only hypocrites.

  29. #29 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    Scote,
    On defining framing, thanks for quoting back to me the definitions from the special tabs and sections of my blog (see top of page) and the journal articles and book chapters I have written on the topic. ;-)

    What you refer to as “one word” are “frame devices” which can be a single word, a graphic, a catch phrase, a slogan, an allusion to history, or a metaphor. These frame devices can instantly translate the preferred underlying frame of the communicator or message.

    For example, when the National Academies released its report, via the careful structuring of the document, the press release, and the press work, the following frame devices appeared in the headlines at newspapers across the country:

    “Evolution Book Sees *No Science-Religion Gap*”
    NY Times

    “EVOLUTION: *THERE’S NO CONFLICT*”
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    “Scientists call evolution and faith *’fully compatible,’ but separate*” The Salt Lake Tribune

    If stories or movie reviews appear about Expelled, a headline and corresponding frame device that would be an example of an effective counter might be:

    Contrary to Film’s Claims, Scientists and Clergy Say No Science-Religion Gap

    These would be the types of stories to work for in responding to Expelled, not more stories where the main combatants remain Dawkins and PZ, the very same people who provide so much rhetorical fodder and resonance for the film’s central message.

  30. #30 rjb
    March 30, 2008

    I’d like to pose another possibility here. The idea that all this publicity will draw viewers from the moderate middle in to the film may be true. But from all accounts, the movie is soooo bad, that it’s not likely to convince anyone who brings in any other information with them. Most people in the middle will know someone somewhere somehow connected to the scientific enterprise and will realize that this portrayal of scientists as being as bad as nazis will fall flat. That is, if this movie is as bad as it is portrayed. This could actually work in our favor, as some people who are intrigued by the idea of ID might go and see it and say “wait, what? scienists are nazis? these guys are full of it!” Just like many people in the middle view Michael Moore. They’ll see it for what it is… a pure propaganda piece.

    I don’t think Fahrenheit 911 swayed the public opinion too greatly beyond what people already believed, and I really doubt that expelled will have any significant blip on the ID screen. If anything, I think it will do more harm to their cause.

  31. #31 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    Guys,
    I appreciate once again the massive perceived influence that you credit my blog with in somehow ruining the perfectly powerful trap that PZ had sprung on the Expelled producers. But it’s just not the case.

    And it’s also a great example of what media researchers refer to as the Third Person Effect: When an individual perceives a message as hostile or feels intensely about an issue, they tend to greatly overestimate the audience size and impact of that message.

    Your contention also continues to miss the fundamental point that I make in my earlier comment and original blog post on this subject:

    Without the atheist celebrity status and notoriety that Dawkins and PZ have gained by attacking religion, there would be little or no central content to Expelled. When it comes to the defense of evolution in schools, Dawkins himself admits he is a liability. Sure the producers could have duped other scientist atheists to say the same things, but no one would have had as much publicity potential as Dawkins.

    Finally, I say the following as an atheist:

    Expelled will hit theaters and hopefully fade away, but the bigger challenge of an ever louder voice of fundamentalist atheism will remain. This particular brand of atheism will make it ever harder to communicate effectively about evolution with Americans. It also distracts from the effort to work with a diversity of Americans on common shared problems such as the environment.

    And as DJ Grothe in his comment and I have always said, it’s a matter of goals. My goal is to build trust for science, defend the teaching of evolution, and to solve collective problems like climate change. Dawkins says his central goal right now is to promote his version of atheism.

    These differing goals, lead to very different communication strategies.

  32. #32 J. J. Ramsey
    March 30, 2008

    rjb: “But from all accounts, the movie is soooo bad, that it’s not likely to convince anyone who brings in any other information with them.”

    I’d be careful about concluding that the movie’s presentation is really that bad. If you were to send a physicist and a typical Oprah fan to watch What the Bleep Do We Know?, the physicist could easily be checking his/her watch all the time and be itching to leave the movie, simply because it is so wrong, while someone more sympathetic to its content might not find it such drudgery.

    Inoculated Mind: “I just read the Christianity Today article, and it was not balanced. There were lines upon lines devoted to the Dawkins/Myers side, and only a few words devoted to the pro-Excrement side”

    Take a closer look at that article. Yes, there was a lot of lines related to what happened to Dawkins and Myers, but it was largely of the form of “he said-she said” coverage, where the article’s author reported what Dawkins or Myers or Mathis said, without much in the way of weighing who was right. Whether a reader sees the article as pro- or anti-Expelled depends on how much weight he or she gives to a “prominent atheist” as opposed to the likes of Limbaugh or Stein.

    Don’t be too optimistic, and don’t forget that you are seeing things from a perspective that our opponents don’t share.

    Nisbet: “the bigger challenge of an ever louder voice of fundamentalist atheism will remain. This particular brand of atheism will make it ever harder to communicate effectively about evolution with Americans.”

    An atheist does not have to be a pseudo-fundamentalist, the kind of person who demonizes one’s adversaries, sees things in black and white, etc., to see a conflict with evolution and religion. I would not call either Jason Rosenhouse or Russell Blackford, for example, fundamentalists or pseudo-fundamentalists. There certainly is a conflict with the facts of evolution and the various creation myths. One can work around this conflict by reinterpreting the myths as somehow metaphorical or by discarding them as incorrect, but the various religions that have creation myths are going to have to give up something, one way or the other, to accommodate the science. One can also argue that there is a more general conflict with science and religion, although this can get tangled in ambiguities. You can blame Myers and Dawkins and those of similar mindset for turning religious people off by playing the game of finding cutesy ways of implying that theists are stupid, but the problem of conflicts between various aspects of science and religion is bigger than they are.

  33. #33 Matti K.
    March 30, 2008

    “Expelled will hit theaters and hopefully fade away, but the bigger challenge of an ever louder voice of fundamentalist atheism will remain.”

    You say that a few outspoken atheists scare moderate christians away from the science class. Why should anyone take your word for it? Because you say that you are an expert in communication? At least in the non-creationist blogosphere, you have not been very successful.

  34. #34 Duae Quartunciae
    March 30, 2008

    Matt, I don’t see anyone here crediting you with massive influence. Speaking for myself, I’m seeing wasted opportunity and incompetent communication. You’ve recently been a hindrance rather than a help for the cause of science communication generally, but more of a bump in the road than a major obstacle. The worst damage has been, I suspect, to your own standing.

    You did not ruin the very effective demonstration just how dishonest and ridiculous the Expelled folks are. A number of creationists have tried to use your comments as a part of their damage control spin, but by and large this has not had much effect that I can see, fortunately. For the middle of the road folks, the vast majority of whom are religious, the main message has come through pretty well. You’ve been way under the radar, and the Expelled folks have come off looking very silly. This is shown by the trend of stories in the main press, which don’t have a particular prior stake in the matter.

    You are continuing to refuse to face up to your own mistakes. You WERE the one who tried to bring up the religion atheism conflict frame, at a time when Myers and others were putting the focus where it belonged: on the dishonesty and overall incompetence of the Expelled folks. You also still need to face up to the absurdity of demanding that the people with different goals to you just withdraw.

    Your latest message concludes with some reasonable points; but you don’t live up to them yourself. You acknowledge that there are differences between your goals and those of Dawkins, and we can add PZ Myers there as well. There is overlap, but you disagree on the value of promoting unbelief for its own sake; and the nature of the interactions between science and religion. Given the differences; you were pretty damned stupid to just call for those with different views from yourself to be silent; even apart from the matter of bringing up your atheism bugbear where it only contributed to the very dynamic you supposedly want to prevent.

    There is a plurality of perspectives, so focus on promoting your own, rather than calling for the silence of others. I think it would be great to have more religious scientists speaking up on the matter. I was delighted with Michal Heller’s comments, for example. For heaven’s sake; focus on MAKING that point, rather than rabbiting on about how horrible it is that some folks see religion as the problem.

  35. #35 Tulse
    March 30, 2008

    Sadly, the Expelled producers must be very pleased with the massive amount of online buzz about their film.

    Just to echo windy’s remark, and re-iterate a point I’ve made before, the NCSE itself has a website solely dedicated to Expelled, which not only features Dawkins’ own review of the film, but has many links to L’affair Myers. These are the people who you deem to be experts in communication, who you say should be the spokespersons for science on this matter. Are they now incompetent?

    The best communication strategy, as the National Academies concludes through focus groups and polling, is to emphasize evolution in terms of medical and social progress and to reassure the public that there is no conflict between evolution and the majority of religious traditions. [Emphasis added]

    Matt, as I have pointed out several times before in different threads, there is no published data that I can find from the National Academies on polling and/or focus groups regarding “conflict between evolution and religious traditions”. Such data are not in the original report on the development of Science, Evolution, and Creationism, nor in the Coalition of Scientific Societies Evolution in Science Education Survey that is cited by the report authors.

    You keep claiming that there is hard data on this question, collected by the National Academies. It may very well exist, but if so, where is it?

  36. #36 Paha Arkkitehti
    March 30, 2008

    Tulse. He has taken some communication skills from the creationist-camp; he is ignoring the core arguments that are making his communication experts character look dumb as a rubber boot.

    I am just not getting the idea behind that – but hey, I am not communication expert so maybe its thumbs up for you Matt.

    Just be spesific here; now, given that you now oppose the tactics used by NCSE – I suppose – who should be in charge now on? If it is you, go ahead – go and actually do something.

    If I try to make some sense out of this, you probably just wanted to argue with big ones to gain some name. If this was your “frame”, now it is truly your time, use it wisely and stop whining. The audience is listening. And not happy at the moment.

  37. #37 Graculus
    March 30, 2008

    At least in the non-creationist blogosphere, you have not been very successful.

    .. but the creationists love him.

    The Expelled camp had to lie (and I assume edit) to get PZ and Dawkins into their film. Matt handed them their talking points on a silver platter. Who knows what about “communicating”.

    Oh, and someone wants a one word frame for Evolution, that’s easy. “Truth”.

  38. #38 Paul W.
    March 30, 2008

    A lot of simple framing advice amounts to ignoring your opponents’ arguments and talking past them.

    Not only should you avoid addressing and rebutting your opponents’ points, you should try to avoid mentioning anything that will remind your audience of your opponent’s points or arguments.

    This is typified by the “don’t think of an elephant” meme.

    It’s often a good idea to avoid mentioning the elephant if you don’t want people to think about it while you’re making the case for your donkey (or whatever). Only after your audience understands the appeal of your donkey can you hope for it to survive direct conflict with the appeal of the elephant. All other things being equal, you should draw the audience’s attention to your strengths, rather than getting bogged down minimizing your weaknesses and thereby drawing attention to them.

    Unfortunately, in many cases this simple strategy of talking past your opponents fails miserably.

    In particular, it fails when the audience is already well aware there’s an elephant in the room. In that case, you are seen to be talking around the issue and avoiding the subject—either because you are dishonest, or because you’re an incompetent communicator.

    (Don’t think of a swift boat, or a weasel.)

    As a rule, it seems to me that the advice not to mention the elephant applies best when you’re arguing with a relatively uninformed, uncommitted “wobbly middle” audience.

    That kind of audience has not already formulated and focused on particular clear questions which you must address in order to seem honest and competent. It may be surprised that you have arguments of your own, and be interested to hear them, and agreeably surprised to hear them.

    Matt, it seems to me that there’s an elephant in the room here on SB, and you’ve been trying to talk around it. Many people here are more familiar with Dawkins’ and PZ’s goals and strategies than you show yourself to be—and more familiar with their critiques of your positions than you want to remind them of by addressing them.

    You don’t seem to want us to think about swift boats, or about disadvantages of appeasement strategies.

    You might be right in everything you’re thinking, in the final analysis, but you can’t communicate that to us by avoiding the issues we raise and condescendingly talking past not only PZ, but us.

    For example, you might be right that PZ should shut up about Expelled, even given his goals, but it’s not really clear to many of us why you would say that. Or rather, it’s not clear which of several reasons you’re really trying to convince us of. You don’t want to go into details that matter to us, so we are not convinced, and we’re tired of the circumlocutions.

    Are you really telling us that there is no systematic conflict between science and religion? (Does your own atheism have nothing to do with your own scientific worldview? That strikes many of us as odd, and likely just a convenient stance.)

    Are you telling us that we out atheist scientists should go back in the closet because it is not Our Time? Should we give up on criticizing religion in general, because of the collateral damage to the goals of promoting evolution as a nonthreatening theory?

    We look at the recent publishing success of the Four Horsemen and PZ, and recent survey results about (ir-)religiosity, and we think, “hey, that seems to work surprisingly well at getting many people to take our views seriously.” To a substantial extent, it’s good publicity for us, and maybe we should go for it.

    Sure, it’s polarizing, but maybe it’s worth it. Maybe we should be willing to trade a few million more Christians thinking we’re hell-bound tools of Satan that they must oppose for a few million more wobbly-middlers thinking we’re interesting, maybe right, and deserving of basic respect.

    (Don’t think about gay activists being told to shut up, and their various effects when they don’t. Are advances in the public perception and legal protection of gays worth the collateral electoral damage to the Democratic party? Does it depend on whether you’re talking short run or long run, due to Overton window effects? Will increasingly sympathetic portrayals of atheists on shows like House and Studio 60 get us a Will and Grace effect down the road?)

    Whether that’s a good tradeoff depends on a lot of variables, feedbacks, and iffy predictions. Are you willing to seriously consider our goals and offer us advice that fits with our goals?

    If not, either stop telling us to shut up and stop messing up your agenda, or expect to get roundly criticized. It will inevitably remind us of the elephant in the room. You don’t have to mention the elephant; we’re extremely aware that it’s standing right here.

    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A recent survey showed that most members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists (nontheists) and that in the fields most relevant to mainstream theology (cosmology and biology), these outstanding scientists are overwhelmingly non-theistic. Figures for pro philosophers are similar.

    That’s very, very interesting. I’m personally pretty sure it’s because most great scientists can’t help but recognize the obvious tension between science and religion. Religion loses.

    This is an inconvenient truth for your agenda, but it’s a two-edged sword.

    On the one hand, I’m glad to see that the correlation between outstanding science and atheism isn’t getting a lot of public attention. I’d really hate to have a bigger fraction of the ignorant public side with religion, and become more anti-scientific and anti-intellectual, instead of just being anti-evolution in a compartmentalized way.

    On the other hand, I’d be just delighted if more people in the wobbly middle realized that atheism isn’t some far-out, flaky, adolescent phenomenon, and that religion in general is not the obviously Good Thing it’s made out to be.

    It would be wonderful if everybody knew that among people who are extremely smart, well-educated, and successful in relevant fields, it’s the dominant view.

    You cited surveys that show the weak effects of higher education on religiosity, but you neglected to mention this very interesting phenomenon.

    Now why was that?

    And why should we trust you to be the expert who will give us an evenhanded view of how to do publicity—rather than suspecting that you’re grinding an axe for a conclusion that you’ve reached, rightly or wrongly, without letting us see for ourselves that you’re actually right?

    If you want us to take you seriously, you have to take us seriously.

  39. #39 Scote
    March 30, 2008

    “Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A recent survey showed that most members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists (nontheists) and that in the fields most relevant to mainstream theology (cosmology and biology), these outstanding scientists are overwhelmingly non-theistic. Figures for pro philosophers are similar.”

    Boy, that sure is going to make it difficult to carry out Nisbet’s suggestion of using scientists not atheists as spokespersons. I mean, sure, Nisbet has proposed Francis Collins, but who else is he going to get?

  40. #40 Caledonian
    March 30, 2008

    Dr. Nisbet is in the business of selling frames, and he desperately needs pictures to be placed in them.

    Personally, I don’t think the science-religion conflict fits in Dr. Nisbet’s frames. He certainly disagrees.

  41. #41 Pieter Nagel
    March 30, 2008

    In each lecture, I ended by discussing Expelled along with last week’s debate over how to effectively counter the film’s PR campaign. The science faculty I spoke with, many of them atheists, appeared to be in strong agreement that continuing to feed the conflict frame only helps market the film.

    Maybe that’s because here, people’s opinions are based on the actual events as they’ve seen them unfold on Scienceblogs.

    Whereas at your lecture’s, the audience’s opinion is based mostly on your account of the events.

    I’ve actually outgrown the “Well, I’m right and you’re wrong because when I tell my friends my version of the story, the agree with me!” thing.

  42. #42 Scote
    March 30, 2008

    Scote,
    On defining framing, thanks for quoting back to me the definitions from the special tabs and sections of my blog (see top of page) and the journal articles and book chapters I have written on the topic. ;-)

    No, I never read of your blog that didn’t pertain to the Expelled expulsion. I figured that as a communications expert your posts would stand on their own and additional post hoc research to rationalize your position would be un-necessary. You, it would seem, disagree.

    So, while you may have written on the topic in the past the issue people a concerned about is if you have any practical skills in the application of communications strategies and framing. The general consensus at SB seems to be, “No.”

    What you refer to as “one word” are “frame devices” which can be a single word, a graphic, a catch phrase, a slogan, an allusion to history, or a metaphor. These frame devices can instantly translate the preferred underlying frame of the communicator or message.

    For example, when the National Academies released its report, via the careful structuring of the document, the press release, and the press work, the following frame devices appeared in the headlines at newspapers across the country:

    “Evolution Book Sees *No Science-Religion Gap*”
    NY Times

    “EVOLUTION: *THERE’S NO CONFLICT*”
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    Those are not examples of single word framing but examples of negation. That you would seriously propose these a successful examples of framing is stunning. As you should know from research, repeating an accusation in a refutation often leads to the re-enforcement of the accusation rather than the negation. Combine this with the research you emphatically cited about disparate interpretation and you have the worst possible frame.

    So, “No Science-Religion Gap” becomes “There’s a science / religion gap?” and “EVOLUTION: *THERE’S NO CONFLICT” becomes “EVOLUTION: THERE’S — CONFLICT”

    These frames will tell people who’ve never even heard of the issue that there is a conflict. That is framing at its most stunningly incompetent.

    Good grief, man, could you even pass your own courses if you weren’t grading the tests?

    If stories or movie reviews appear about Expelled, a headline and corresponding frame device that would be an example of an effective counter might be:

    Contrary to Film’s Claims, Scientists and Clergy Say No Science-Religion Gap

    These would be the types of stories to work for in responding to Expelled, not more stories where the main combatants remain Dawkins and PZ, the very same people who provide so much rhetorical fodder and resonance for the film’s central message.

    Just checking my work here to make sure I haven’t misinterpreted. But, yes, you are really proposing negation as a “frame” for advocating evolution. The only thing that will resonate in your example is “Science Religion Gap.”

    Your suggestions are so stunningly bad only a professor could make them and still have a job–and even that might require tenure. I think it is time someone else taught your classes and you should be required to take them and pass before returning to work.

  43. #43 scote
    March 30, 2008

    errata: there should be a blockquote starting at “What you refer to as “one word” …” and ending at “…Seattle Post-Intelligencer”

  44. #44 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    Scote,
    I know it’s easy to log on to a blog and disparage the expertise of a professor in the area where he publishes and teaches. It’s even easier when you do it anonymously.

    But please observe the comment policy in the left column at the bottom. It’s been in place for a year.

    On the substantive aspects of your post…

    Here’s the challenge: when the film generates news coverage, you have to figure out a way to transition from the film’s preferred frame of science and religion in conflict. First thing you do is that you reassure the public that for many scientists and religious leaders there is no conflict. Because the film is setting the agenda, there’s almost no way around first addressing that initial interpretation. It’s not ideal to respond within their preferred lens (i.e. via a negation), but it is often the only option.

    But then you transition away from the conflict trap. And that’s where some of the research I have pointed to by the National Academies is very valuable. Here’s a quick and rough sketch of how that re-frame and transition might play out in talking points.

    Question from reporter: What do you think of Ben Stein’s claim that evolution is really atheism and the movie’s argument to teach all sides in the debate?

    Answer: For our country’s leading science organizations, many scientists, and many religious traditions, evolution is fully compatible with a diversity of faiths.

    [transition to new frame]

    Evolutionary science is the modern building block for so many medical advances and it helps us understand and battle major problems like new infectious diseases. For example, without evolutionary science, we wouldn’t know where to begin in understanding bird flu. That’s why it’s so important that we offer a really strong evolution curriculum in schools. If we followed Stein’s advice, teaching creationism in science class, it would only confuse students about what constitutes science and what does not.

    Journalists are likely to lead with conflict in the headline and lead paragraphs, there’s no avoiding the negation situation, but at least the message is countered before quickly transitioning towards a new train of thought for the reader or audience.

  45. #45 J. J. Ramsey
    March 30, 2008

    Matthew C. Nisbet: “Answer: For our country’s leading science organizations, many scientists, and many religious traditions, evolution is fully compatible with a diversity of faiths.”

    The catch is that this “diversity of faiths” doesn’t include large swaths of American evangelical Protestants. What do you do about those who aren’t included in that “diversity of faiths,” and who read your answer and think, “Yeah, right”?

  46. #46 Scote
    March 30, 2008

    Denial is not framing.

  47. #47 Tulse
    March 30, 2008

    But then you transition away from the conflict trap. And that’s where some of the research I have pointed to by the National Academies is very valuable. [...]For our country’s leading science organizations, many scientists, and many religious traditions, evolution is fully compatible with a diversity of faiths.

    Not to sound like a broken record, Matt, but I’ll ask for the umpteenth time: what research? There is nothing regarding evolution’s compatibility with religion in the published Coalition of Scientific Societies Evolution in Science Education Survey data, which is the only hard data pointed to by the National Academies report on Science, Evolution, and Creationism. You may very well be aware of some data you haven’t explicitly pointed to, but if so, I think you should let us all in on the secret.

    (Also, just to be clear, the above-mentioned survey is one poll, of 1,000 adults. It hardly constitutes a body of research, and I’d be hesitant to draw too many deep conclusions from one unreplicated survey.)

  48. #48 tsig
    March 30, 2008

    Matt, those who are saying a thing can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

    You look like the staff officer complaining that he has to move his pins on the maps because of victories.

    Or like someone whose ego has been tweaked.

  49. #49 poke
    March 30, 2008

    Matthew C. Nisbet,

    If we followed Stein’s advice, teaching creationism in science class, it would only confuse students about what constitutes science and what does not.

    I think I understand your position now. You’re a relativist. The problem for you isn’t that creationism is false and evolution is true, it’s more like filing a book in the correct location at the library: science should go in the science class and religion in the religion class. You’re not opposed to creationism; you’re just pedantic.

  50. #50 michaelf
    March 30, 2008

    As a science educator, I want my students to understand science, not buy it. Framing seems to be a marketing gimmick to increase sales – not a mechanism for increasing understanding. I want my students to accept evolution because it makes sense to them not because it has a better slogan.

  51. #51 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 30, 2008

    JJ,
    There are exceptions, but for the most part, the public to reach out to and defend with are moderate Protestants, Catholics, and many seculars who otherwise might not see the big deal in teaching what is falsely defined and potentially perceived as a “scientifically good enough” alternative. That’s the wobbly middle that needs to be effectively engaged.

  52. #52 J. J. Ramsey
    March 30, 2008

    Matthew C. Nisbet: “There are exceptions, but for the most part, the public to reach out to and defend with are moderate Protestants, Catholics, and many seculars …”

    In other words, you are not expecting to have much luck in swaying the particular swath of evangelical Protestants that I mentioned?

    A couple other things …

    *What were you thinking in asking Myers to lay low, especially when you had already considered him to be a “Don Imus” type? Wasn’t his response pretty predictable?

    *What do you think about what Dr. Elsberry said here:

    If you want to drive a wedge between an audience of evangelical Christians and the professionals in the ID movement, you need a third approach: show that the ID advocate on stage with you has been lying to his followers. Show misquote after misquote; demonstrate error after checkable error, and make the audience understand that if the ID advocate claims that the sky is blue, their next step had better be to look out the window to see for themselves.

    Now from what I’ve seen, Dr. Elsberry has already had success with this approach. It occurs to me that his form of framing is a kind of conflict frame, but instead of pitting science versus religion, he pits scientists–both religious and nonreligious–versus cranks. Considering that journalists are attracted to conflict, it might make more sense to replace the conflict frame of the perpetrators of Expelled with a different conflict frame. Elsberry’s frame has the advantages of being embraceable by scientists on both sides of the question of whether evolution and religion conflict, and of being solidly based in fact. (And as you had said before, framing science correctly means staying true to the science.)

  53. #53 Mike
    March 30, 2008

    Myers screwed us all. Time to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/03/darwinist_biologist_pz_myers_n.html#more

    ” …greater science literacy, which is going to lead to the erosion of religion, and then we’ll get this nice positive feedback mechanism going where as religion slowly fades away we’ll get more and more science to replace it and that will displace more and more religion which will allow more and more science in and we’ll eventually get to the point where religion has taken that appropriate place as a side dish rather than the main course. And if you separate out the ethical message from religion — what have you got left — you got — you got a bunch of fairy tales, right? ”

    No, its unlikely that Egnor is making up the quote since he thought the video clip was going to be there. The movie’s producers apparently had it pulled once Egnor showed them it was up. Its a little big for a quote mine, and it seems like one of the more moderate things Myers might say. It seems obvious now why the movie promoters have been happy to have PZ Myers out in front of the criticism. They ran him out of the theater certain that he’d give them free advertising that would end up being favorable to them once people heard what he had to say in the movie. Their dishonest portrayal of evolutionary science being the concern of atheists with an agenda of converting children to atheism is going to be the major success of the film. All those state “teach the controversy” bills lined waiting for this movie are going to be voted into law, and more will be springing up, thanks to the arrogance of PZ Myers and his cheer leading section. Matthew Nesbit is helping to get everyone ready for what we have to do after Expelled, which is a hell of alot more useful than celebrating PZ Myers.

  54. #54 revere
    March 30, 2008

    “The science faculty I spoke with, many of them atheists, appeared to be in strong agreement that continuing to feed the conflict frame only helps market the film.”

    So why do you keep talking about it?

  55. #55 miko
    March 31, 2008

    Here’s the problem: science DOES lead to atheism. That’s a pretty decent historical theme in post-Enlightenment Europe.

    It is dishonest to pretend it doesn’t. Yes, science doesn’t disagree explicitly with fuzzy spiritual claims that can’t be observed or tested. But most religions make concrete, verifiably false claims about the nature of reality, the history of the earth, etc. And to accept dogma as fact (“faith”), as virtually all religions require one to do, is exactly counter to the spirit of scientific inquiry.

    So who are we trying to kid? Not everyone who gets a good science education will become an atheist…people are amazing at holding contradictory ideas in their heads without experiencing internal conflict. But some of them will reject religion and become atheists. A very large percentage would probably reject absurdities like YEC.

    When Creationists charge that science (or at least geology, biology, and astronomy) undermines their beliefs, we are lying if we deny it. The point is that the constitution of the US is on our side…they can believe what they want but have no right to impose those beliefs on others. Clearly rigging school curriculae to align with your spiritual cosmology is an imposition of religious beliefs. Thank you Judge Jones.

    We don’t have to convince most of these people, we have to beat them, in court, and hopefully educate their kids.

    If you are comfortable lying to achieve political ends, either pro- or anti-science, have fun, you’re in a big tent. But don’t pretend you’re engaging in a respectful or honest dialog.

  56. #56 Matti K.
    March 31, 2008

    Miko: “If you are comfortable lying to achieve political ends, either pro- or anti-science, have fun, you’re in a big tent. But don’t pretend you’re engaging in a respectful or honest dialog.”

    IMHO Nisbet does not pretend anything; he is convinced that an uncontrolled public dialogue among scientists harms the selling of science to moderate christians.

    Nisbet might be correct in his analysis. However, I think he is extremely naive when he thinks that outspoken scientists will keep their opinions at bay only because some Nisbet finger-points at them ans tells them to shut up.

    Moreover, Nisbet should have noticed by now that his calls for self-sensorship are denounced widely. It beats me why a salesman tries so hard to lose popularity among the manufacturers of the goods he is trying to sell.

  57. #57 Paul W.
    March 31, 2008

    revere,

    I have to speak up a bit for Matt.

    We have a multilevel game situation here.

    To oversimplify a bit, PZ is speaking directly to the masses. (Relatively speaking.) Matt is speaking mainly to elites—science educators and popularizers, who in turn speak to the masses. (There’s actually overlap on both sides, with a difference in emphasis.)

    The kind of framing you need for those different audiences is often different, and the depth of understanding you expect is also different.

    When speaking to the elite elements of “your side,” you generally assume or at least hope for a certain amount of sophistication, so that you can deal with complex issues, and not have to “frame” things as carefully.

    You can and must talk about your vulnerabilities in ways that you can’t afford to with the general public. You can and must sort out conflicts if you want to present a united front to the general public.

    That’s not necessarily hypocritical, or dishonest, or anything bad. It’s just accepting the fact that within the elite there’s a shared context, and outside it there’s not.

    So, for example, if I say that I think the unresolved issue of abiogenesis is a vulnerability for the evolution story, I can expect the elite on our side to guess that I’m talking about a minor issue that could be misrepresented by the “other side,” rather than some fatal flaw I’m trying to hide.

    In contrast, I would expect the creationist guys to blow it way out of proportion, out of ignorance or dishonesty. So I’d be much more careful what I said about abiogenesis to the general public than I would when writing here.

    In the context of the Expelled controversy, here are two points that may make Matt’s stance seem more reasonable:

    1. Matt is way less likely to be interviewed and quoted about Expelled than PZ, because he’s not in the movie and is not nearly as famous in the blogosphere as PZ. What he says is likely to fall below the press radar unless he makes a real effort to get it noticed outside SB and a few other blogs. He’s not a focus of the public controversy, so he can say things with less fear of being quote-mined, etc.

    Unfortunately, that asymmetry is somewhat problematic, because if Matt criticizes PZ on his blog, mostly the elite sees it. But if PZ responds on his blog, as he has every right to do, many more people will see it.

    2. Given Matt’s analysis of the situation, it may be desirable for his disagreement with PZ to become very public. If he thinks that PZ is an unfortunately extreme and polarizing example of “our side,” it may be good if PZ is seen exactly that way by the public, with other pro-evolution folks disagreeing with his position that science erodes religious faith.

    From Matt’s point of view, having dissent within the ranks about PZ’s anti-religion stance may make us look better—it will show the Expelled people picked a bad example of an evolutionary biologist and unfairly smeared the whole discipline as a bunch of atheist axe-grinders. (It’s the same kind of thing as when moderate Christians speak up and say that fundamentalist whackjobs don’t speak for them. That is not unreasonable, and does mitigate the PR damage.)

    These two things are at different levels, which makes the whole thing fraught.

    When I largely blamed Matt for this dustup, it wasn’t because I thought it was hypocritical for him to create conflict by saying not to create conflict.

    (That’s not hypocritical, any more than my wife and me agreeing to settle most of our arguments in private, rather than dragging our friends into them and making us both look bad. All other things being equal, it makes sense, and it’s dysfunctional not to do it.)

    I only blamed Matt for being so impolitic as to publicly call PZ and Dawkins delusory, rather than respectfully and persuasively stating his difference of opinion and separating that from his advice about strategy. Given that, it’s not surprising if PZ called him a mealy-mouthed hack, rather than respectfully and persuasively stating his differences.

    I do think that Matt has fumbled the framing of the elite discussion here, but that doesn’t mean he’s basically wrong, or justify all of the criticisms of him—especially from the people who pile on without being able to see the difference between intra-elite discussions and popular rhetoric.

  58. #58 Donalbain
    March 31, 2008

    Well, when I spoke to someone they said YOU were the Dodo. So there. Nyeer!

  59. #59 Matt Penfold
    March 31, 2008

    There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests that when people go off to university (proper universities, not glorified bible colleges) that their religious views get challenged. It would seem to happen across all subjects, although I would suspect that those studying for science degrees would find their views challenged more than most.

    Is there any research that confirms this, and put numbers to changes in religious views from first starting a degree to graduating. I would guess that more people either moderate their views (abandon creationism etc) or become atheists than move to more fundamentalist religious views.

    And if there is not the research to provide such data, is it not the sort of research Nisbett should be doing ?

  60. #60 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 31, 2008

    Matt,
    A great research question, and if you do a literature search, you will find the studies and conclusions. For example, I’ve pointed in previous comment threads to a recent study with the abstract pasted below. It tries to distill the effects of PhD training on scientists and their religious beliefs. The conclusion is that people from secular families select themselves into graduate science training, rather than graduate science training “killing off” their belief, as Dawkins puts it.

    But this is the most recent and most comprehensive study. Maybe you can write up a review of the several dozen studies that are relevant to the topic besides this one?

    As for my specific research program on the mass media and how the public understands science, in that area, I publish 2-4 peer-reviewed articles a year along with book chapters, popular articles, and lots of talks like the one I just finished this morning at Princeton. I would love to also look at the religious socialization process and its connection to education, seek funding to do it, hire graduate students and collect the data, but unfortunately I don’t have the time right now. But maybe if I could clone myself…;-)

    Abstract
    Social Problems
    May 2007, Vol. 54, No. 2, Pages 289�307
    Posted online on May 29, 2007.
    (doi:10.1525/sp.2007.54.2.289)

    Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics

    Elaine Howard Ecklund ?
    University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
    Christopher P. Scheitle ?
    The Pennsylvania State University

    The religiosity of scientists is a persistent topic of interest and debate among both popular and academic commentators. Researchers look to this population as a case study for understanding the intellectual tensions between religion and science and the possible secularizing effects of education. There is little systematic study, however, of religious belief and identity among academic scientists at elite institutions, leaving a lacuna of knowledge in this area. This absence of data exists at a time when the intersection between religion and science is reaching heightened public attention. Especially with increased tensions surrounding teaching evolution in the public schools, understanding what kind of resources scientists have (particularly in terms of their own religious beliefs and practices) to transmit science to a broader religiously-motivated public is crucial. Using data from a recent survey of academic scientists at twenty-one elite U.S. research universities, we compare the religious beliefs and practices of natural and social scientists within seven disciplines as well as academic scientists to the general population. We find that field-specific and interdisciplinary differences are not as significant in predicting religiosity as other research suggests. Instead, demographic factors such as age, marital status, and presence of children in the household are the strongest predictors of religious difference among scientists. In particular, religiosity in the home as a child is the most important predictor of present religiosity among this group of scientists. We discuss the relevance these findings have for understanding issues related to current theory and public debate about the intersection between religion and science.

  61. #61 Vagueofgodalming
    March 31, 2008

    [transition to new frame]

    Evolutionary science is the modern building block for so many medical advances and it helps us understand and battle major problems like new infectious diseases.

    For a really succinct expression of that frame, see PZ
    here.

  62. #62 Vagueofgodalming
    March 31, 2008

    Sorry, something went wrong with the markup there.

    [transition to new frame]

    Evolutionary science is the modern building block for so many medical advances and it helps us understand and battle major problems like new infectious diseases.

    For a really succinct expression of that frame, see PZ here.

  63. #63 Tulse
    March 31, 2008

    Evolutionary science is the modern building block for so many medical advances and it helps us understand and battle major problems like new infectious diseases.

    While this approach may be effective in some narrow contexts, what it does is turn a scientific theory into a technology, one that has value not because it is true and helps us understand the world, but because it has practical benefits. In the long run, I think that is a very bad strategy, at least compared to an effort to have the public appreciate science qua science, because it relies on showing provable practical results, which may not always be available (imagine if you had to defend the Large Hadron Collider using this general sort of frame).

    I also think that it is a bit disingenuous. Sure, some sort of general notion of change over time is useful in understanding the development of resistance in infectious disease, but such changes would no doubt be described as “microevolution” by ID proponents, since they don’t involve the creation of new species (at least in their view). And the development of resistance is only a small part of battling infectious agents, and attacking newly developed resistance with new therapies doesn’t require reference to past evolutionary history of the organism — evolutionary mechanisms may tell us what changes are likely to happen and which aren’t, but developing interventions that address potential biochemical vulnerabilities in a pathogen doesn’t involve evolutionary understanding.

    As for other “medical advances” outside of infectious diseases, I’m a bit flummoxed as to where evolutionary theory (at least in the “macroevolution” sense that creationists/IDist use) has played a significant role in medical breakthroughs. There may very well be examples that people can provide, but I don’t know of any major ones.

    And so while this frame makes a good soundbite, I’m not convinced that it is the best approach. I think it is of questionable defensibility, and even if supported by evidence it is harmful in the long-run in turning science into mere technology.

  64. #64 Anonymous
    March 31, 2008

    Nisbet, you said:

    “I appreciate once again the massive perceived influence that you credit my blog with in somehow ruining the perfectly powerful trap that PZ had sprung on the Expelled producers. But it’s just not the case.”

    But it isn’t just your blog. Your message was featured as a top post on Uncommon Descent. It made it there because it reinforced a major creationist frame – that “darwinists” are scary. Underlying ‘immoral’, underlying athiest’ is ‘scary. Why do yo think Expelled spends so much time with images of the holocaust? Look what those scary darwinists would do to us.

    So you respond to this by arguing that Myers and Dawkins are too scary for the masses, and they should shut up and hide. You reinforced that ‘scary darwinists” frame, and expanded on it by adding a frame that science is hiding their true motives because they are scary. Its ahrd to imagine that you could have come up with a more damaging response at that moment.

    And now, you try to argue that it doesn’t matter because no one pays attention to you? Dude, you were featured on the front page of Uncommon Descent, as evidence that evolutionists are scary and dishonest. Gah.

  65. #65 miko
    April 1, 2008

    You make a fundamental error: the difference in response you get here and the one you get live is very unlikely to be because the audiences have grossly different perspectives.

    First, as has been discussed elsewhere, including on Chris Mooney’s blog recently, the content of these talks is reportedly significantly different from the blog content. Second, people are much less likely to engage in negative criticism in person, or in front of a room full of people. People are much more likely to discuss negative reactions after a seminar in smaller groups. Third, you (hopefully) have not told any of these people that they should keep their opinions to themselves.

    Anyone could go on thinking of more ways in which this is a false comparison. Given the chance to read Larry’s or PZ’s or others’ counterarguments to your framing thesis, I very much doubt the split would be so different between your live audiences and the online audience. Of course, unless we do that experiment, we don’t know.

    In the meantime, this is flimsy and rings disingenuous.

  66. #66 Matti K.
    April 1, 2008

    Please help me. I don’t know what Nisbet is trying to say with his “Lesson: Don’t Be a Dodo”. It sounds very arrogant, but what is he actually trying to say?

    The next article might be helpful in finding the essence of framing:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oracle

  67. #67 Daniel Murphy
    April 1, 2008

    Matthew, if you will, take a look at

    http://www.asa3.org/gray/evolution_trial/charges.html

    and explain again how “evolution and faith” are “fully compatible,” how there is “No Science-Religion Gap,” and “there is no conflict between evolution and the majority of religious traditions.”

    You’ll want to make that argument, naturally, without alienating however many future global warming opponents there may be among the members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, or any fundamentally like-minded Christians. And you won’t, of course, simply dismiss them as comprising a minority of religious traditions. They are, after all, a sizable portion of the Republican-voting right that — you say — Myers, Dawkins and Partisan Gore offend.

    Can you do better?

  68. #68 Kamel
    April 1, 2008

    Tulse says: “As for other “medical advances” outside of infectious diseases, I’m a bit flummoxed as to where evolutionary theory (at least in the “macroevolution” sense that creationists/IDist use) has played a significant role in medical breakthroughs.”

    Animal models of disease would be examples of ‘macroevolution’ playing a role in medical breakthrough. When you mutate a gene in C. elegans, or zebrafish or a mouse, you’re applying ‘macro’evolutionary theory both in identifying gene homologues and in extrapolating results across species. When you test a drug in mice before transitioning to human trials, you’re basing it on common genes and common proteins as a result of a common ancestor. It’s not evolutionary theory in the sense of watching inter-species transitions but the macroevolution idea of a shared heritage amongst organisms is the foundation for that kind of work, whether it’s explicitly acknowledged or not.

  69. #69 Tulse
    April 1, 2008

    It’s not evolutionary theory in the sense of watching inter-species transitions but the macroevolution idea of a shared heritage amongst organisms is the foundation for that kind of work

    But arguably a creationist could see commonalities and still argue that the species were all created separately. It’s not necessary to say that the species have a common heritage, just a common biology (which is not the same thing, of course, given that the latter fact was recognized well before Darwin). The notion that species evolve (much less evolve via natural selection) isn’t needed for the kind of medical insights you suggest.

    (Just to be clear, I am a staunch supporter of the theory of evolution. My point is simply that the “evolution is central to modern medicine” frame is simply not that supportable.)

  70. #70 windy
    April 1, 2008

    Please help me. I don’t know what Nisbet is trying to say with his “Lesson: Don’t Be a Dodo”. It sounds very arrogant, but what is he actually trying to say?

    He is referring to Randy Olson’s movie Flock of Dodos. As far as I understand, Olson called scientists dodos since according to him they can’t cope in the changing media environment.

  71. #71 Kamel
    April 2, 2008

    But arguably a creationist could see commonalities and still argue that the species were all created separately.

    That’s the counterargument I would expect, and I, personally, don’t have a particularly good response for it. It seems to me that a creationist could use magical arguments for almost any rebuttal (eg. the Earth is 6000 years old and was created to appear older) and we’re left arguing about probability and which as more evidence.

    Clustering algorithms are based on evolutionary theory and are tools used, as I mentioned, in identifying gene homologues between species (for downstream medical breakthroughs). Mike the Mad Biologist has a nice post up about the use of evolutionary theory (phylogenetics) in understanding the human microbiome.

    I have some of the same reservations that you do about the ‘medical breakthrough’ frame, namely that it gives the idea that good science should have some immediate practicality to it, but I don’t think it’s completely without value.

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