Good Math, Bad Math

Ok, I give up. I’ve stayed out of the framing debate until now, but I just can’t take it anymore.

As much as I respect people like PZ and Larry Moran, the simple fact is: they’ve got it wrong. And not just them: there is a consistent problem with the political left in America when it comes to things like framing, and it’s a big part of why we’ve lost so many political battles over the last decade.

“Framing” is not spinning. And even the most vocal opponents of framing
are doing framing in their arguments. It’s unavoidable. Whether you like it or not, framing is an inescapable part of communication. Framing is, quite simply, a term for describing the way in which you present information or argument. If you’re communicating, that communication takes place in a frame. The people who advocate framing are
simply saying that it’s important to consider how you frame your arguments: that the way in which arguments and information are presented affects how they’re going to be received. It seems like an astonishingly obvious point – and I think that some of the pushback against it is really coming from people either trying to present it as if it were something deeper than that (on the “pro-framing” side of the debate), or people trying to interpret it as something deeper than that (on the “anti-framing” side of the debate.)

I’m going to start with a metaphor. I just changed jobs, so decoration around my desk is pretty sparse at the moment. The main thing I’ve got is a picture of my wife. A picture of my wife sitting on my desk means something. Anyone who sees that picture on my desk understands what it means and why it’s there. Suppose I took the picture, but instead of putting it on my desk, I put it on one of the side-tables in the conference room around the corner. Same picture – but would it mean the same thing anymore? No. Now people, when they see it, aren’t going to react to it by saying “Oh, there’s Mark’s picture of his wife”; they’re going to react by saying something like “What the heck is that picture doing in here?”. It means something different because of its environment.

Communication is always like that: the environment in which you are communicating affects the communication. The way in which information is presented affects the way in which it will be interpreted and understood. The same idea, the same information, can produce drastically different impressions on people depending on how it’s presented. Taking the time to think about the context in which you present information is worth the effort – because it can change the way that the information will be received.

This is something that the conservatives in American politics have been really good at. Sometimes it does amount to malicious spin: for example, discussions of the estate tax that call it “the death tax”. But sometimes, it’s just presenting information in a way that will set the interpretation of the information in the way that the presenter prefers. Look at virtually any debate over the last decade in American politics. The conservatives are constantly setting the terms of the debate, and the liberals are left arguing from a very weak position – because they refuse to acknowledge the importance of framing the debate, and by doing that,
wind up arguing within the frame created by the conservatives. Look at the debates about the Iraq war when it started – how the liberals completely caved to the warhawks. There was
absolutely no question from before the war started that the evidence being used to justify it was shaky at best, that the claims about how easy it would be were unsupportable nonsense, that the planning was totally inadequate. But the conservatives consistently pushed their framing of the facts: “We may not be sure that Saddam has WMD, but we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”. That statement contains the admission that they lacked evidence – but it sets the terms of the discussion. The correct response to that isn’t to accept that framing of the information, but to re-frame it to put the burden of argument back where it belongs – on the people who were trying to start a war.

As scientists, we face pretty much the same problem. There is a large, vocal, and powerful group of people who are opposed to the teaching of real science, who fight against public acceptance of what should be undeniable public facts. But all too often, we let them set the terms of the public debate. We act as though by simply dumping the facts out in the blandest possible way that we should win the debate, because the facts are on our side. But communication doesn’t work that way. If we blandly dump the facts, and some antiscience asshole argues passionately against them with a nonsensical but attractive argument, who’s going to win the debate? It won’t be the facts.

Even the most virulent anti-frame debaters in this whole
argument do actually agree with the pro-framing argument. For example, PZ has repeatedly
argued that we shouldn’t let outselves get drawn into “debates” with creationists:

Many scientists have a policy of refusing to grant creationists any credibility by sharing a podium with them (we will happily discuss science in the public arena, though … it’s just a waste of time to try to inform and educate with a kook lying and obfuscating next to you), so I can understand why the SMU professors aren’t going to bother with them. …

That, right there, is a framing argument: “It’s just a waste of time to try to inform and educate with a kook lying and obfuscating next to you” is just another way of saying “A setting where you have kook lying an obfuscating next to you is a poor frame for presenting educational information”.

The point – such as it is – is that framing isn’t something new that needs to be added to our communications. It’s already part of every communication. No matter how
we present information, the information is always framed. Even if we just had out CDs with raw data on them, we’re presenting the information in a frame. All communication is framed. The important thing is to recognize that how we present information is important, and that for many scientific subjects, the way that we present information
is incredibly ineffective, because we do such a poor job of framing the information.

One last example of what I mean. There shouldn’t be any debate about global warming anymore. The evidence is clear and overwhelming. But the anti-global warming people have been much more effective at communicating than the legitimate scientists have. They’ve managed to set the frame in which the discussion takes place – and by doing so, they’ve turned reality on its ear. The reality is that no legitimate scientist who’s studied the data has any doubt that global warming is a real phenomenon that we should be concerned about. But the common perception is that it’s an open debate with legitimate arguments on both sides. That common perception is due to our failure in framing. We’ve allowed the crackpots to frame the issue to their advantage, and by doing so, we’ve allowed the facts to be thoroughly obscured. And the biggest reason that we’ve allowed reality to be fuzzed to the point where there appears to be a legitimate debate is because we’ve considered framing
our arguments for laymen to be beneath us.

Comments

  1. #1 Mr. Person
    April 19, 2007

    Great post! I completely agree.

  2. #2 Scott Belyea
    April 19, 2007

    Very well done! You’re right!!

    (Now there’s framing for you…)

  3. #3 Soren
    April 19, 2007

    I think people are talking past each other.

    PZ says framing might be good idea, but why is the only practical application of framing that N&M comes with for PZ and Dawkins to not say their mind?

    Isn’t M&N to blame for starting on the offence? For the likes of PZ and Dawkins the message IS that religion is the source of much evil, and at the base for antiscience.

    Haven’t we been blaming the creationists for their big tent philosophy – don’t mention yec or oec, just convince everyone that evolution is evil.

    Now the first example M&N think of, is for dawkins to not talk about atheism, since people cannot distinguish between his science and his atheism, even though he seperates it in different books.

    Yet when Collins mixes religion and science in his books, he is applauded as a god framer?

  4. #4 Michael Brazier
    April 19, 2007

    On Iraq: By the terms of the truce that stopped the Gulf War, the US didn’t have to prove Saddam had WMD; Saddam was obliged to prove that he did not, by allowing UN inspectors to roam freely in Iraq. By throwing out the inspectors Saddam provided us sufficient legal cause for war. And I don’t recall any member of the Bush Administration saying that building a liberal democracy in Iraq would be easy.

    On global warming: There’s an important distinction between “global warming is real” and “global warming is caused by human beings”. The former is a historical question — is the Earth warmer on average now than it was 100/200/300 years ago? — and while the evidence was difficult to collect, it has been, and the matter is settled. The latter question — what caused the warming? — is the one that’s still open. Implying that those who doubt the causal theory also doubt the historical fact is obfuscation, on the same order as Michael Behe’s argument from “irreducible complexity” against the Darwinian theory of evolution.

  5. #5 Mr. G
    April 19, 2007

    Ah, the magic of frames!

    They’re settings, metaphors, contexts, meanings, or desert toppings, depending on the needs of the moment. Their existence is established through simple assertion: “If you’re communicating, that communication takes place in a frame.”

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    April 19, 2007

    Soren:

    Yet when Collins mixes religion and science in his books, he is applauded as a god framer?

    Framing God sounds almost, well, heretical. ;-)

    Seriously: all chance of getting practical suggestions out of this debate has vanished like snowflakes in a supernova. Can’t we get back to something useful and fun where we can all work together? Like, say, oh, Egnor-bashing?

  7. #7 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 19, 2007

    Soren:

    I’m not defending what N&M say about Dawkins so much as I am trying to defend the basic concept. I think that a lot of people -like PZ – continue to view framing as something *outside* the normal realm of communication, and then ascribing negative connotations to it.

    Framing isn’t something useful that you *can* do. It’s something that *you’re doing every time you communicate*. The only question is *how* you do it.

    Personally, I don’t like Dawkins – and the reasons who do have a lot to do with framing. The few times I’ve seen Dawkin’s speak, he comes off as the stereotypical arrogant scientist who’s talking down to all of the lowly morons who don’t know as much as he does – and since that’s already the common stereotype of scientists, I think it ends up harming his cause more than it helps. He might be saying the right things, but the way he says them counters that.

    And frankly, I think that Collins is an even worse framer than Dawkins. Collins manages to make his arguments sound so naive and trite that even when he shifts out of his “gosh the world is so wonderful” religious mode, the triteness of his reasoning taints his scientific arguments.

  8. #8 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 19, 2007

    MrG:

    And your point is?….

    I really fail to understand some of the incredibly negativity and denial that comes up in these discussions of frames. What’s so damned hard to understand about the idea that *context matters*? That the *way* that information is presented affects how that information is received? That’s all that framing is: a term for describing the contextual part of communication.

    That was the point of my metaphor with the picture of my wife. No matter how I display that picture, it’s displayed *in some context*, and the context affects how people will react to seeing it. If it’s on my desk, people will interpret it one way; if I put it inside a closed drawer, people will interpret it another way; if I put it on the table in a conference room, they’ll interpret it yet another way; and if I tape it to the wall above a toilet in the bathroom, it’ll be interpreted in another vastly different way. But no matter what I do with it, how people interpret it will depend on the context where they see it. The contents of the picture never change – but the interpretation of it can change dramatically.

    No matter how I choose to present information, the fact remains *that I chose a way to present the information*. The way that the information is presented is the frame, and the way that it’s presented affects how it will be interpreted.

    Do you *not* believe that context affects interpretation? If that’s not your problem with framing, then what is?

  9. #9 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 19, 2007

    Michael:

    You’re discussing the arguments in favor of the war in exactly the frame that Bush and company used. I think it’s a crock: it’s selective presentation of information to lead to a false conclusion. The head of the UN inspections team didn’t agree with presenting the facts about inspections and WMD programs that way. The UN, which is the legal body that established the inspections regime, didn’t agree that there was sufficient violation of the inspections agreement to justify an invasion.

    And saying that Bush&co didn’t say it was going to be easy… That’s just a clear and blatant lie. They certainly *did* say it was going to be simple, fast, and cheap. Just for example, Rumsfield specifically said that we’d be out of a liberated Iraq in less than a year; Wolfowitz said that reconstruction would pay for itself with oil revenues in a matter of months after a successful invasion.

  10. #10 John Armstrong
    April 19, 2007

    Of course framing is not spin. But spin is framing as long as we’re considering SL(n)-bundles.

    Wait, what?

  11. #11 Mel
    April 19, 2007

    For some reason, these discussions of “framing” and context remind me of old pictures of peaceful civil rights marchers. The marchers dressed up in their best suits. Some even carried their bibles with them. I’m not going to touch the bible issue in this debate, but I think that dressing respectably by the conventions of the day helped the marchers convey their message more effectively.

    I agree there is always a context for a message. I would describe “framing” as the calculated use of context. A sneaky, nasty, and manipulative person can use the context in a sneaky, nasty, and manipulative way. But I think the example of the civil rights marchers shows that not all framing per se is done by bad people with bad intentions.

  12. #12 Mr. G
    April 19, 2007

    Frames are produced with a flourish, and waved about with great ado while providing no leverage on reality. Hence the frequent complaint that framers don’t provide much guidance beyond this: “talk about frames”.

    If I say the frame is X and you say it is Y, how do we decide who’s right? Appeal to authority? A vote? Certainly not by any scientific means.

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    April 19, 2007

    MarkCC asked:

    Do you *not* believe that context affects interpretation? If that’s not your problem with framing, then what is?

    Some problems I have heard voiced (not necessarily ones I agree with):

    1. The Nisbet-Mooney argument was initially voiced (and continues to be expressed) in a way which is itself deaf to context.

    2. Practical suggestions for changing the way science is explained are few and far between (Greg Laden’s advice to stop saying “evolutionary theory” in favor of “evolutionary biology” is about the best of a small set).

    3. Too little attention is paid to the ways messages are distorted after they leave the scientific community (i.e., no discussion of error-prone communication channels). Likewise, no attention is paid to the differences among the feedback mechanisms at work in different arenas which make the consequences of poor communication turn out vastly different. Therefore, saying that scientists “frame” all the time on grant proposals or in freshman classes is true but irrelevant.

    4. Claims are made about the effect of vigorous advocacy without regard to actual data.

    5. As Jason Rosenhouse has pointed out, very often the pro-science side of the discussion really does have the unpleasant message, and you can’t twist your way out of it. Truth hurts.

    Finally,

    6. One big problem with this whole thing is that it presumes the people we’re trying to educate are busy, short-sighted, uninformed but basically honest. But guess what? The honest folk of America have nuclei of pure evil in their midst, professional liars and authoritarian power-trippers who will counter every “reason is a gift of God” with a “Darwinism caused the Nazis.” Please tell me how tweaking the phrasing on our press releases will change that.

  14. #14 Davis
    April 19, 2007

    Personally, I don’t like Dawkins – and the reasons who do have a lot to do with framing. The few times I’ve seen Dawkin’s speak, he comes off as the stereotypical arrogant scientist who’s talking down to all of the lowly morons who don’t know as much as he does…

    Interesting. Granted, I’ve only seen videos of Dawkins, but he doesn’t come across that way to me.

    However, I do see exactly where PZ is coming from in some of his complaints — Soren said it, and I’ll reiterate it. The criticism directed at, say, Dawkins usually amounts to “don’t do what you’re doing.” It’s destructive, rather than constructive criticism, rendering it all but useless.

    Put another way, if framing is something you’re doing when you communicate, *no matter what*, then the whole framing discussion seems to be nothing more than a buzzword that means “you should try to find a way to reach your intended audience.” That seems so obvious as to be useless, at least to me.

  15. #15 Scott Belyea
    April 19, 2007

    Personally, I don’t like Dawkins – and the reasons who do have a lot to do with framing. The few times I’ve seen Dawkin’s speak, he comes off as the stereotypical arrogant scientist who’s talking down to all of the lowly morons who don’t know as much as he does…

    One lay person here agreeing with MarkCC.

    I find Dawkins entertaining to watch on video, but a more pronounced case of “preaching to the choir” I’d be hard pressed to find. Much of the choir loves it … and why wouldn’t they?

    I also believe that the framing thing not at all mysterious or subversive, and I agree with MarkCC that it’s simply a reality. Some of us are more conscious of it than others, some of us are better at adjusting than others … but we all do it.

  16. #16 ArtK
    April 19, 2007

    Hi Mark… I share your frustration. To me, the bottom line is this: In order to communicate, you must express things in a way that your listener can take them in. You have to change your communication based on many things, including the education, personal history, beliefs, etc. of the listener. One of the important things in communication is providing context for your information that makes it relevant to the listener — this is “framing” if you will. People are, in general, selfish — they listen best when hearing something that actually concerns them.

    On the Dawkins/Myers issue: I admire both men greatly, and they are fantastic communicators — quite capable of communicating with laymen as well as scientists. But — if you tell someone that they’re stupid, or that their entire belief system is wrong (even if it is), that someone will simply shut down and stop listening. It doesn’t matter how accurate your message is, or how well expressed.

  17. #17 wafer
    April 19, 2007

    Mark,
    I am sorry you got into this mess, because I truly believe this is a mess. I afix the blame to this mess on the shoulders of N&M because I believe they failed at their own endeavour. The issue of framing to promote your views with to your audience, well the audience of scientists at least a good portion of them (myself incuded) think N&M are basically full of it. Thus, they didnt frame their point very well did they!

    1. Scientists need to clearly make their points and have them interesting. (I think this is framing). Noone PZ included disagrees with this. Some scientists are poor at this, but many and dare I say most are not. It is a poor stereotype that you are falling into with your knee-jerk agreement with it.

    2. Again PZ and others have asked what should we do? What do M&N want us to do, specifically, not with some media-speak. Their article is like so many feel-good posters in businesses proscibing team-work, dedication, or other BS. I can explain what I do to the people I talk with on an airplane, in the coffee shop, etc. So what should I do differently.

    3. One suggestion, don’t discuss religion as it may alienate members of your audience. Fine, Im happy with that. Im sure PZ is too. But, actually I mean BUT!!! we didnt bring religion into the “debate”. Please, tell me how to discuss evolution without it having religious connotations in this country? Let’s talk about stem-cell research without invoking abortion and the right-to-life movement….you know, because scientists are the ones who brought it up.

    4. Maybe these last examples hit the nail on the head with your point that as scientists we need to be aggressive in controlling the issue. So, how do we to it? Give me (and PZ and Larry) real examples, not meaningless gobblegook. Teaching evolution in public schools is a religious issue not a scientific one. So how do I fix that? How do I discuss teaching evolution in public schools without any reference to religion and in a way that inhibits my audience of god-fearing sheep from thinking about religion? Dont forget, they will here about their kids going to hell from CNN, Fox news, Pat Robertson, the local kook, and the president. So how do we compete with that in a way that doesnt offend the audience?

    In my mind this is the core of the issue. We already do the things that M&N want, the other side lies (you agree we shouldn’t do that), distorts (probably ok to do this?), and throws fear and mob mentality into the mix. Remember after the well “debated” Dover trial, Pat Robertson pointed out that we shouldnt be surprised when a disaster strikes Pennsylvania. So please, tell me, how do I frame an accurate rebuttal to that?

    Finally, I am not as annoyed as I sound with your post. Im annoyed with M&N and what I think is essentially a useless (or at least poorly framed) paper/OPED and then helping to keep the debate going strong by continually using vague terminology and personal attacks on those who happen to disagree with them.

  18. #18 daenku32
    April 19, 2007

    I guess I’m not 100% sure about what “framing” really is, but:

    When people use religion to defend their position, I whip out my big religion bashing maul. So if a religious position gets in the way of representing science (or even a political issue like gay marriage) we should attack the religion for doing so rather than try to “go around” it or find loop-holes in it.

    How do you explain global warming to someone who thinks scientists are just part of global communist conspiracy? By informing them (1)that they are a loon, and (2)why they are a loon. It is no use bring scientific data to the table when the person is unable to accept it due to their preexisting nuttiness. Only way you can feed them is to attack their predispositions and change them.

    The reason why “the other side” gets their message through so easily is because these people are predisposed to their side. “The other side” could merely fart and they would accept it over a peer-reviewed paper.

  19. #19 Scott Belyea
    April 19, 2007

    On the Dawkins/Myers issue: I admire both men greatly, and they are fantastic communicators — quite capable of communicating with laymen as well as scientists.

    Again, just one lay person’s opinion – superb at preaching to the choir, absolutely. If either is superb at going beyond that audience, I haven’t seen the evidence yet.

  20. #20 SLC
    April 19, 2007

    I suspect that what Nisbet/Mooney are really saying to Dawkins/Myers/Moran is that they should stop claiming that philosophical naturalism is science. I don’t think that N&M have any problem with Dawkins/Myers/Moran espousing their atheistic convictions, just with their conflating these convictions with science.

  21. #21 Blake Stacey
    April 19, 2007

    One last comment, and then I at least will shut up. Everybody does realize that “framing” justifies calling people “Neville Chamberlain atheists”, right?

    The reasoning is straightforward:

    To a person equipped with a decent public-school education, stronger on names and dates than subtleties of motivation, “Neville Chamberlain atheist” is not a bad phrase. It succinctly evokes the spectacle of backing down before a great evil. A person who hears it isn’t likely to forget it, and most of the book-buying public have the high-school history background necessary to understand the reference. It sells the case.

    Now, why might we not like that? I can identify two cases:

    1. Historical inaccuracy. We can say, if we are so inclined, that the picture given us in high school history class is not an accurate portrayal of Chamberlain or the situation of his time. This boils down to saying that the frame is not rooted in the facts.

    2. Contemporary inaccuracy. We could also say that the image of “backing down before a great evil” is not the appropriate way to visualize what people are doing today. In the struggle for rational thought, perhaps the effects of the people called “appeasers” are not what their detractors claim.

    #1 and #2 are, for all practical purposes, independent of one another. A history buff can agree with #1 but dispute #2: “Yeah, we shouldn’t call them Chamberlain atheists, but what they’re doing is still not right.” Contrariwise, an “appeaser” can think they’re doing the right thing and think the Chamberlain appellation is satisfactory (people who put “proud Neville Chamberlain atheist” stickers on their blogs may be doing this).

    The case #1 argument against the “Chamberlain” accusation is, in essence, the argument that a useful frame unsupported by the facts is a bad thing.

    Both Orac and PZ have voiced their distaste for the “Chamberlain” moniker. I believe their arguments both fall into case #1; they may differ on #2. In conclusion, then, the argument against this terminology is that it is bad framing, or more specifically that the divergence of frame from fact is too severe to be redeemed by rhetorical usefulness.

    (Cross-posted to Respectful Insolence.)

  22. #22 Lettuce
    April 19, 2007

    My perception is that people who have an issue with PZ and others talking as they do actually have an issue with other people having opinions different from their own, but goals very similar to their own.

    Well, you know, welcome to the world.

  23. #23 Lettuce
    April 19, 2007

    On the Dawkins/Myers issue: I admire both men greatly, and they are fantastic communicators — quite capable of communicating with laymen as well as scientists. But — if you tell someone that they’re stupid, or that their entire belief system is wrong (even if it is), that someone will simply shut down and stop listening.

    Then I guess attacking Myers and Dawkins is probably a really stupid strategy?

  24. #24 Scott Belyea
    April 19, 2007

    My perception is that people who have an issue with PZ and others talking as they do actually have an issue with other people having opinions different from their own, but goals very similar to their own.

    Nope. Interesting armchair psychology, but dead wrong, at least in my case.

  25. #25 Mr. G
    April 19, 2007

    How do we decide who is right?

    How, Mark? A slap-fight? A war? A coin-toss? What do you propose?

  26. #26 Michael Brazier
    April 19, 2007

    daenku32: “When people use religion to defend their position, I whip out my big religion bashing maul.”

    And you accomplish nothing but offending all the religious people within earshot — including, perhaps, ones who would agree with you on the point your opponent challenged, if you hadn’t started bashing at religion. Resorting to the maul actually means accepting the frame “the question we are arguing is a religious one”. It takes you off the ground where you are an expert, onto ground where your opponent knows more than you do.

    wafer: “Please, tell me how to discuss evolution without it having religious connotations in this country?”

    Understand what the religious objection really is, for starters. The sticking point is human rationality and free will; if you claim that evolution proves everything we think and do is the result of only natural causes, people will protest. Conveniently, accounting for human behavior in terms of natural causes is an unsolved problem, so if someone raises it unprompted you can honestly claim ignorance.

    “Let’s talk about stem-cell research without invoking abortion and the right-to-life movement”

    That, however, is impossible. If you favor embryonic stem cell research, you must support keeping abortion legal; whatever argument justifies one also justifies the other.

  27. #27 lylebot
    April 19, 2007

    Again, just one lay person’s opinion – superb at preaching to the choir, absolutely. If either is superb at going beyond that audience, I haven’t seen the evidence yet.

    Have you looked for it? Go look at Dawkins’ book sales figures. Do you think he’s only selling them to atheist scientists?

  28. #28 lylebot
    April 19, 2007

    One last example of what I mean. There shouldn’t be any debate about global warming anymore. The evidence is clear and overwhelming. But the anti-global warming people have been much more effective at communicating than the legitimate scientists have. They’ve managed to set the frame in which the discussion takes place – and by doing so, they’ve turned reality on its ear. The reality is that no legitimate scientist who’s studied the data has any doubt that global warming is a real phenomenon that we should be concerned about. But the common perception is that it’s an open debate with legitimate arguments on both sides. That common perception is due to our failure in framing. We’ve allowed the crackpots to frame the issue to their advantage, and by doing so, we’ve allowed the facts to be thoroughly obscured. And the biggest reason that we’ve allowed reality to be fuzzed to the point where there appears to be a legitimate debate is because we’ve considered framing our arguments for laymen to be beneath us.

    I don’t buy this at all. First, I don’t know what you mean: you say framing isn’t spin, but here you’re using “framing” to describe what is clearly spin by the climate change deniers. Second, scientists have been trying to communicate the dangers of climate change for years. “We” haven’t allowed “reality to be fuzzed”. The conservative machine spun it and sold it the way they do all of their ridiculous causes: by lying and smearing the scientists and their allies who were telling the truth. Is that what scientists are supposed to do too?

  29. #29 wafer
    April 20, 2007

    Michael,
    “Understand what the religious objection really is, for starters. The sticking point is human rationality and free will; if you claim that evolution proves everything we think and do is the result of only natural causes, people will protest. Conveniently, accounting for human behavior in terms of natural causes is an unsolved problem, so if someone raises it unprompted you can honestly claim ignorance.”

    Really? You actually believe the reason many states are dealing with “teach the controversy” and ID in this country is because the religious in this country have a problem with evolutionary theory and how it may or may not contribute to our understanding of human thought? I think if you look more closely at the history of this movement it has nothing to do with the evolution of human thought (although that may be a recent talking point). “The earth is 6000 years old, there can be no evolution because god (and only the christian god no other counts) created all life in 6 consecutive 24 hour time intervals, believe it or burn in hell, and god loves you.” I think that is a better statement of the religious objection. I would point out that I doubt a majority of Americans care one way or the other, or at least would generally defer to the scientific expertise. However, they are chronically being told the will suffer eternal damnation if they disagree with the guy on the pulpit. They are continuously bombarded with a choose god or evolution. Yes, it comes from both sides, 99.99 % from the fundamentalists and 0.01 % from PZ and Dawkins (probably less because they get much less press then the other side).

    Let’s talk about stem-cell research without invoking abortion and the right-to-life movement
    “That, however, is impossible. If you favor embryonic stem cell research, you must support keeping abortion legal; whatever argument justifies one also justifies the other.”

    Glad you agree with me here, but I disagree with your agreement (Im on a role today). Embryos from spontaneous abortions, from fertility clinics that are being destroyed routinely, or even donated eggs and sperm serve just fine without abortion. This could be a frame we could use, but as noted by Mark we are simply responding to the other sides lies, I mean spin, wait framing. Of course when they talk about babies being slaughtered, a response of “no no no no that’s not right” doesnt carry much weight.

    This is why I think framing in the “make sure you clear it with your local pastor” manner ultimately fails. They have their great sound bite “No stem cell research, dead babies” and we have ours “Yes stem cell research, potential cures for parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, etc.” Now we leave it up to the pretty red white and blue flags in the background and hope the audience likes our performance better. Stating the facts and the importance/meaning of those facts in a way that is readily accessible to the public is a critical and essential framing goal. Coming up with catchy sound-bites to compete with their catchy sound-bite may work in the short term on an issue, but fails in the long run.

    I think the pro-framers (in this current debate) have the idea that the general public are all intellectually at the level of the Three’s Company characters. I think the general public can and wants to be educated because they do ultimately care about making informed decisions.

  30. #30 Ben
    April 20, 2007

    I see the problem as being largely semantic.

    The word framing has too many meanings. Like the creationists will use evolution to mean everything from the origin of the universe to the origin of life through to speciation, framing means many things to many people.

    While he is by no means a neutral framer, George Lakoff came up with an excellent differentiation between framing and spin. In his book Don’t Think of an Elephant, he points out that,

    “Spin is the manipulative use of a frame. Spin is used when something embarrassing has happened or has been said, and it’s an attempt to put an innocent frame on it–that is, to make the embarrassing occurrence sound normal or good.

    Propaganda is another manipulative use of framing. Propaganda is an attempt to get the public to adopt a frame that is not true and is known not to be true, for the purpose of gaining or maintaining political control.”

    But framing as a concept goes much farther. The word is used a noun to describe a cognitive scaffolding, how we filter information based on linguistic cues. It is also a verb describing the process of forming information, true or false, into a specific form to in order to effect certain parts of the cognitive scaffolding.

    I would point readers to the Rockridge Institiute’s online book ThinkingPoints. Again, it is about progressive political framing, but the introductory chapters are very informative about what the framing is about. If you don’t lean progressively, don’t read the parts about framing progressive issues.

    Take the word “Darwinism” (please). While Darwinism to a scientist has no negative connotations, identifying a historical form of evolutionary biology (much like we speak of Newtonian physics), Creationists have morphed the term into a pejorative, an epitome of anti-ethical behavior attacking morality, America and apple pie. Thus even the use of the word by an evolutionary biologist is a mistake because in many Americans, even the neutral ones, Darwinism has some taint.

    PZ and Co are right, there needs to be a framing manifesto, something to rally the troops around. A book not simply saying “Houston, we have a problem” but someone sitting down and walking us through the solution. A step by step guide, working through each issue, walking through the ideas. Explaining what framing is and specifically how certain frames can be made with examples of does and don’ts.

    M&N are at the start of the process. They trying to get the Houston message out. The pushback is amazing. But M&N did a poor job of framing the ideas. One can only hope that they are working on the Mooney / Nisbet Manifesto around which the scientists can rally and before which the purveyors of woo will shiver.

    But framing doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long involved process. The first step isn’t simply to start using terms like evolutionary biology and stop using Darwinism. The first step is admitting that “Houston, we have a problem – and that problem is framing.”

  31. #31 Orac
    April 20, 2007

    Personally, I don’t like Dawkins – and the reasons who do have a lot to do with framing. The few times I’ve seen Dawkin’s speak, he comes off as the stereotypical arrogant scientist who’s talking down to all of the lowly morons who don’t know as much as he does…

    Sometimes yes, sometimes no. For example, Dawkins didn’t come across that way at all (at least not to me and my wife) in his two-part TV special The Root of All Evil?. However, I’ve watched videotaped talks by him where he did. I suspect in the former case, the producer and director had him tone down his more prickly tendencies, so that he did not come across as arrogant. And, of course, there’s always the joy of editing, which can do wonders by leaving any footage that makes him look bad on the cutting room floor. In a talk, it’s all Dawkins.

    That being said, there’s no doubt that Dawkins is absolutely fantastic at preaching to the choir. I once analogized this whole framing kerfuflle to politics, where you have some politicians who are really good at mobilizing the base, firing them up by throwing them heaping helpings of red meat. That would be Dawkins and PZ. Others know when to compromise and do a deal that advances their aims, just not by as much as they would like. They settle for incremental progress because that’s what’s possible. That would be the “appeasers.” The most successful politiicans can do both, but, more importantly, know when to choose one or the other tactic for maximal effect. Dawkins seems to have only one setting, cranking it all the way up to 11 all the time. He seems to know only how to throw red meat to the base. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why he sometimes comes across as arrogant.

    Of course, the British accent doesn’t help either, at least in the U.S. ;-)

  32. #32 lylebot
    April 20, 2007

    I have to say, I was pretty neutral about framing before I read this post. But now I’m actively angry about it. This post leaves me with the impression that “framing” is all about blaming scientists for the failure to convince the public of the dangers of climate change and creationism. It’s not our fault.

  33. #33 Anonymous
    April 20, 2007

    PZ and Co are right, there needs to be a framing manifesto, something to rally the troops around.

    That’s just stupid. Remember Freud? Remember what a crock that was? Remember Chomsky’s “Cartesian Linguistics”? Remember what a crock that was? Well, guess what? Framing is SSDD.

  34. #34 Pseudonym
    April 20, 2007

    lettuce:

    Then I guess attacking Myers and Dawkins is probably a really stupid strategy?

    Yes, it is.

    If we agree that understanding framing is important, then here’s what we need to do:

    1. Teach people what framing is, and why it’s important.

    2. Identify the frames used by “them”.

    3. Identify “our” frames.

    4. Start developing some language which fits with our frames, so we don’t have to use their language.

    Here’s an example. One of the favoured frames of IDiots is evolution is atheism. Just about every word they use is crafter to reinforce this frame. Some of the ones you hear a lot is “Darwinism” and “materialism”. Mainstream scientists, you see, believe in “isms” which aren’t Christianity.

    One way to beat this frame is to show that science offers a positive message; it’s not anti-theist (which is a negative message).

    Another frame, which is one that I particularly like, is that science is coherent. You can’t pick and choose which bits of science you like and don’t like. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.

    So, for example, we could talk about how evolution underlies the modern germ theory of disease. If evolution wasn’t true, then all of our modern knowledge about germs is untrue.

    And we could talk about nuclear physics. If the techniques that we use to date the Earth are wrong, then everything we know about nuclear physics is wrong, and nuclear power shouldn’t work.

    And we could talk about algorithmics and information theory. If evolution didn’t work, then all those optimisation-related computer programs shouldn’t work either.

    Get the idea? I don’t have any specific words worked out yet, but this is the sort of direction we should be exploring.

  35. #35 Andrew Briscoe
    April 20, 2007

    Gee, it seems PZ is really framing framing in a bad light :)

  36. #36 Mr. G
    April 20, 2007

    If we agree that understanding framing is important, then here’s what we need to do:

    And if we don’t?

  37. #37 ben
    April 20, 2007

    Anonymous,

    Did the word manifesto bother you? Sorry, would influential book or DIY handbook have been better?

    Look. Framing is about applied cognitive science. It has to do with current knowledge about the how the brain physically changes over time in response to repeated stimulus. It is not about a bullshit Enlightenment philosophy about perfectly rational beings but about humans being emotional, changeable persons. It is about applying these current neurological research in order to try to get the state of knowledge out to the public: idea first – fact last. The idea needs to be the sound-bite, not the fact.

    Idea first, we are very confident that global warming is being anthropologically driven; fact last, it is unclear exactly how fast the warming will proceed because there are too many variables including how the public reacts.

    If you hear again and again and again about uncertainty not only from denialists but from scientists, lay-people start to think that science is uncertain. Postmodernism sure as hell didn’t help a whole hell of a lot.

    But science is about uncertainty, it is about defining and investigating uncertainties. It is about spending your life seeking questions and glorifying the new questions the answers present.

    But a scientific uncertainty is not the same one the public thinks of. A scientist will want to explain the issue in detail. It is part of their being, to try to understand issue and the nuances of a problem.

    The reality is that not everyone is built that way. They aren’t “Three’s Company” intellects; they have widely different goals and interests. But there is only so much time any one person is willing to spend on a problem. Most people glorify not uncertainty but certainty.

    They are not sheep but they can be influenced. The way this influence works has been ignored by scientists but not the anti-scientists. That must change.

    Wishing the public would just stop using cognitive framing is like wishing the Iraqi occupation would just *poof* come to a peaceful end. It would be nice, but has little to do with reality.

  38. #38 Blake Stacey
    April 20, 2007

    I like Pseudonym’s direction; coupled with a more vocal and insistence upon the shoddy morals of ID advocates, it sounds great.

    However. . . .

    We could have said exactly the same thing before the “framing” paper ever hit the blogosphere! Omit everything up to and including Pseudonym’s point #4, and the message remains intact. You just have to say, “One way to beat this strategy” instead of “one way to beat this frame”. Describing the counter-strategy in the (heh heh) frame of framing gives no additional useful information!

    In my judgment, also, Pseudonym’s idea clashes against the Mooney-Nisbet insistence upon avoiding “technical details”. Demonstrating the coherence and interconnectedness of science, while not the most technical thing we could talk about, is more science-y than talking about jobs or wasted tax dollars.

    (Random thought: if a statement about economics is to have any legitimacy at all, it must be backed by rigor comparable to that found in the natural sciences, and therefore equally difficult for the lay-person to understand, if we’re honest about it. We can’t teach everybody economics just to give them the background they need to understand why their children need to learn evolution! So, make no mistake, the “creationism wastes tax dollars” attack really does require spoon-feeding every course of the meal.)

    Trying to find a simple principle which completely covers a complex and heterogeneous set of overlapping problems in which our pious platitudes frequently conflict with one another is, as Sean Carroll says, a mistake. If this discussion had, from the beginning, focused on specific and concrete examples, I believe we would have seen much more agreement — and much more productive disagreement!

  39. #39 Anonymous
    April 20, 2007

    The reality is that no legitimate scientist who’s studied the data has any doubt that global warming is a real phenomenon that we should be concerned about.

    That was an excellent example of a frame. Mention a solidly-established fact before anything else the debate might happen to be about.

  40. #40 Blake Stacey
    April 20, 2007

    I seem to have some kind of dopaminergic reward pathway established for blog commenting. Every time I see a new post, I know I’ll either be happy because I agree with it, or I’ll get that little surge from disagreeing vocally! Any time I see a remark about “framing,” I’m either gonna like you or hate your guts, and my natural argumentative streak gives me a positive brain-boost either way.

    Blogs are the enkephalins of the masses.

    Enough of this. It doesn’t make a difference.

    May I remind everyone that Michael Egnor is still saying ridiculous things?

  41. #41 Pseudonym
    April 20, 2007

    Blake, I agree with most of what you say.

    We could have said exactly the same thing before the “framing” paper ever hit the blogosphere! Omit everything up to and including Pseudonym’s point #4, and the message remains intact.

    It’s almost intact. The key point here, and it’s one that Lakoff points out a lot, is to never invoke the opponent’s frame.

    His classic example is Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech. That’s like telling someone “Don’t think of an elephant!” It’s impossible. Similarly, it’s impossible not to associate “Nixon” with “crook” once he’s said it.

    So taking ID as an example, we should never, ever use the word “Darwinism”. The very word itself is a lie. Evolutionary biology is no more an “ism” than mathematics is. Just don’t use the word. (Type “darwinism” or “darwinist” into the search field here and you can see a few non-quotational and non-sarcastic uses of the word. I tell you that’s a big no-no.)

    In my judgment, also, Pseudonym’s idea clashes against the Mooney-Nisbet insistence upon avoiding “technical details”.

    I agree, although I also agree that a “data dump” is a bad idea in some contexts. I don’t want to put words in their mouths, but I suspect that M&N didn’t mean “technical details” but rather “too much technical details”.

    Look, we have the facts on our side, and we’d be completely mad not to use them. But we’ve all been to a sleep-inducing science lecture every now and then. Let’s try to avoid that.

  42. #42 Michael Brazier
    April 20, 2007

    wafer: “You actually believe the reason many states are dealing with ‘teach the controversy’ and ID in this country is because the religious in this country have a problem with evolutionary theory and how it may or may not contribute to our understanding of human thought?”

    Yes. If evolutionary theory was not bound up with the problem of free will, if it did not appear to cast doubt on the possibility of moral agency, the controversy over it would be as dead as the one over Copernican astronomy. (When was the last time you heard someone say that Galileo was wrong because the Bible says the Earth is at rest?) I know it’s comforting to think your opponents are mere literal-minded Bible thumpers who haven’t learned anything new in 15 centuries, but if you allow comfort to guide your strategy for educating the public you will fail.

  43. #43 Chris' Wills
    April 20, 2007

    Now the first example M&N think of, is for dawkins to not talk about atheism, since people cannot distinguish between his science and his atheism, even though he seperates it in different books….
    Posted by: Soren

    He used to.
    He does tend to come over as being self righteous.

    There are actually two groups of people involved in this discussion:
    1) Those who wish to promote Science
    2) Those who wish to detroy religion

    Some people mix up the two and pretend that Science disproves religion.

    If the loudest speakers claiming to promote Science also shout that atheism is the way, the truth and the light then it isn’t suprising that they aren’t succesful in convincing people who hold to a spiritual/religious belief. They, in fact, harm the promotion of Science by creating opponents instead of allies.

    Science may be an underpinning for some atheists being atheists, however Science isn’t a philosophy and is Agnostic in this regard.

    If people wish to attack religious belief they are free to do so (at least in some countries), but they shouldn’t pretend that this is the same as promoting Science.

    In terms of framing; first work out what you want to achieve and leave out irrelevant comments. Know your audience (by this I mean don’t assume that they all have PhDs in the area of Science being discussed, also don’t assume that they are stupid) design your arguements so they can be understood by the audience being addressed.

    i.e. if you are argueing with an IDist when he lies don’t shout out “liar, liar, pants on fire” if the audience is not on your side. Try “I hazard a guess that you are being disingenuous with the truth” may get a chuckle or two and then explain why they are knowingly lying. You may not win that debate, but you may sow seeds of doubt as to the IDists honesty.

  44. #44 wafer
    April 20, 2007

    Michael: “If evolutionary theory was not bound up with the problem of free will, if it did not appear to cast doubt on the possibility of moral agency, the controversy over it would be as dead as the one over Copernican astronomy. (When was the last time you heard someone say that Galileo was wrong because the Bible says the Earth is at rest?) I know it’s comforting to think your opponents are mere literal-minded Bible thumpers who haven’t learned anything new in 15 centuries, but if you allow comfort to guide your strategy for educating the public you will fail.”

    Well lets just disagree. I have heard many many reasons for why evolution should not be in school, none use this idea of evolutionary psychology as the impetus. (Ill agree is may be one talking point in some circumstances, hell I already have, but its not the driving force.) This debate has been ongoing since the publication of Origin of the Species. Since the Scopes trial, I find the issues have not changed much in substance. Look at the Dover trial transcript if you think Im fundamentally flawed, which was a very public “debate”.

    btw I never brought up Galileo, so I suppose you are working on your own framing skills…we call this one the straw-man frame. I will agree that the anti-evolution proponents havent learned anything (regarding evolution) in the last 100 hundred years, hence we continually have these debates. But of course that’s the scientists fault, you know because we dont lie about the data or use fear as our modus operandi (well with global warming and nuclear proliferation we did use fear, although I would suggest the fear used was based on rationalism).

  45. #45 David Harmon
    April 20, 2007

    Mark: Excellent discussion! My main objection to the discussion is that our current disaster is not just a matter of the neocons “making better frames”.

    ShrubCo have political dominance over most of the mass media, and they’re using that to (imperfectly, but effectively) silence their detractors. (See also, “coverage of protests against the Iraq war”.) Not to mention using political dirty tricks to shut opponents out of the decision-making processes! Our problem isn’t just “finding the right way to say it”, it’s being allowed to make our case where it counts.

  46. #46 ArtK
    April 20, 2007

    I said:

    On the Dawkins/Myers issue: I admire both men greatly, and they are fantastic communicators — quite capable of communicating with laymen as well as scientists. But — if you tell someone that they’re stupid, or that their entire belief system is wrong (even if it is), that someone will simply shut down and stop listening.

    Lettuce said:

    Then I guess attacking Myers and Dawkins is probably a really stupid strategy?

    Tu quoque isn’t a very good argument here, Lettuce, especially since it isn’t true. I realize that in many parts of the internet, saying that someone’s argument is badly expressed is taken as an attack, but that’s not the case here.

    Can you address my point about whether the way that Myers/Dawkins express themselves helps or hurts their arguments? In particular, do you feel that telling a listener that they are stupid for having a particular set of beliefs undermines the scientific information that Myers, Dawkins and co. are trying to convey? If not, why not?

  47. #47 Davis
    April 20, 2007

    In particular, do you feel that telling a listener that they are stupid for having a particular set of beliefs undermines the scientific information that Myers, Dawkins and co. are trying to convey?

    The impression I get from Dawkins and Myers is that their greater goal is the reduction of religion’s influence, rather than conveying scientific information. If that is indeed the case, then I suspect they may be framing their positions pretty well.

  48. #48 ArtK
    April 20, 2007

    Davis said:

    The impression I get from Dawkins and Myers is that their greater goal is the reduction of religion’s influence, rather than conveying scientific information. If that is indeed the case, then I suspect they may be framing their positions pretty well.

    That’s what I think is wrong with their framing, because they do give that impression. I prefer to frame this as “scientific knowlege is good for humanity” not “religion is bad for humanity” (even if I believe that just as fervently as Dawkins and Myers.) First, I think that framing it as “science is good” has a much better chance of success; and second, it makes reducing the influence of religion much easier.

  49. #49 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 20, 2007

    Giordano Bruno was bad at framing the Copernican model, and was executed by the Inquisition.

    Galileo was good at framing the Copernican model, and instead got life-time house arrest in a lovely villa, with distinguished guest privileges.

    Clear enough?

    Kepler (whose mother was a witch, tried by the Inquisition, who Kepler managed to get freed) was good at framing a quantitative model of the heliocentric cosmos, emphasizing the data of Tycho Brahe, modestly framing himself as the mere editor of the Rudolphine Tables, to better please his funding agency (the science and occult-crazed emperor).

    Newton was even better at framing a quantitative model of the heliocentric cosmos, thereby being in charge of England’s mint (good raw material for an alchemist) and ruthlessly eliminating his enemies at the Royal Society, to be the biggest scientist in history.

    Einstein was the modern master of Framing, along with Edison, Margaret Mead, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking.

    Learn from the masters, I say.

  50. #50 Davis
    April 20, 2007

    That’s what I think is wrong with their framing, because they do give that impression.

    If that is their goal, then I think they should give that impression. If they claim that their goal is the strengthening of science, when in fact their goal is the weakening of religion, they are essentially playing the same dishonest game that the IDists play. “Framing” shouldn’t be a code word for dishonesty about your goals — otherwise it does indeed become synonymous with “spin.”

  51. #51 Vince Hurtig
    April 20, 2007

    From my perspective, the notion that the promotion of the idea “science is good” and “religious belief is bad” within a single framework is not a particulary good idea. There are a large number of people (myself included) who find no essential conflict between their own religious beliefs and science. By framing the argument in that form you risk isolating and turning off many people who would otherwise actively support the promotion of good science, including evolutionary science. I would also note that just because someone does not hold any religious belief there is no reason to believe that that person is going to accept good science over pseudoscientific crap, just witness the Soviet Union when it was under the doctrine of Lysenkoism or the entire eugenics movement. Let’s keep the two debates seperate, as they should be.

  52. #52 Davis
    April 20, 2007

    By framing the argument in that form you risk isolating and turning off many people who would otherwise actively support the promotion of good science, including evolutionary science.

    To some extent I agree with what you’re saying, but at this point we’re talking at cross-purposes. The whole argument against Dawkins and Myers is supposed to be about their poor framing. However, as near as I can tell the attack on their framing usually comes down to arguing they should change their position, rather than their frame — i.e., that they should stop talking about atheism (which is a major part of their position). This might explain why we’ve seen such hostility from Myers, Moran, et al.

  53. #53 Chris' Wills
    April 20, 2007

    ….The whole argument against Dawkins and Myers is supposed to be about their poor framing. However, as near as I can tell the attack on their framing usually comes down to arguing they should change their position, rather than their frame — i.e., that they should stop talking about atheism (which is a major part of their position). This might explain why we’ve seen such hostility from Myers, Moran, et al.
    Posted by: Davis

    I would never ask someone to change their deeply held beliefs, it is often a waste of time especially when they have vested a lot in them.
    I would ask people to decide what they want to achieve.
    From what I’ve read on their blogs Myers, Moran et al wish to convert people to their belief set and mix this up with promoting science.

    Promoting science does not require converting people into atheists.

  54. #54 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 20, 2007

    Giordano Bruno was bad at framing the Copernican model, and was executed by the Inquisition.

    Galileo was good at framing the Copernican model, and instead got life-time house arrest in a lovely villa, with distinguished guest privileges.

    Clear enough?

    Kepler (whose mother was a witch, tried by the Inquisition, who Kepler managed to get freed) was good at framing a quantitative model of the heliocentric cosmos, emphasizing the data of Tycho Brahe, modestly framing himself as the mere editor of the Rudolphine Tables, to better please his funding agency (the science and occult-crazed emperor).

    Newton was even better at framing a quantitative model of the heliocentric cosmos, thereby being in charge of England’s mint (good raw material for an alchemist) and ruthlessly eliminating his enemies at the Royal Society, to be the biggest scientist in history.

    Einstein was the modern master of Framing, along with Edison, Margaret Mead, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking.

    Learn from the masters, I say.

  55. #55 Mr. G
    April 20, 2007

    Alas, no reply from our host. He’s probably too busy, what with the new job and complicated commute and all.

  56. #56 John Marley
    April 20, 2007

    Yeah, how you present information is extremely important to communciation.

    A friend of mine, upon being asked if he was going out after work, once said, “Yeah, but first I’m going home to get naked and rub myself all over.”

  57. #57 Michael Brazier
    April 21, 2007

    David Harmon: “ShrubCo have political dominance over most of the mass media, and they’re using that to (imperfectly, but effectively) silence their detractors.”

    I dare you to walk into the offices of CBS News, ABC News, NBC News, or CNN and tell them that their broadcasts are controlled by George Bush and Karl Rove.

    wafer: “I have heard many many reasons for why evolution should not be in school, none use this idea of evolutionary psychology as the impetus.”

    The problem of free will doesn’t belong to psychology; it belongs to metaphysics. And the debate about it goes back much further than Darwin; Democritus probably started it with his theory of atoms. If you haven’t heard it said that evolution denies free will, you haven’t been looking very hard.

  58. #58 Brian
    April 21, 2007

    I’m not involved in public debates about science or religion, but I’ve seen framing in other types of debate. If anyone’s interested, I posted a fairly long response from that perspective on my own blog.

    Bottom line: don’t overdo it.

  59. #59 Davis
    April 21, 2007

    If you haven’t heard it said that evolution denies free will, you haven’t been looking very hard.

    But physics also seems to deny free will, much more so than evolution. If free will really were a big part of the reason for the push against evolution in schools, why would we not see the same with physics?

  60. #60 Mr. G
    April 21, 2007

    The issue isn’t that there’s nothing there. It’s that, just perhaps, talking about frames is not a useful way to deal with the world.

    How did phlogiston work out? What object replaced it?

    Free will lives two houses down from frames in the regressive Platonic realm of the Ideal.

  61. #61 Michael Brazier
    April 22, 2007

    Davis: “But physics also seems to deny free will, much more so than evolution.”

    Not since quantum mechanics replaced classical physics. The debates over QM’s fundamental ontology make it very difficult to claim that physics has refuted free will. And more recent attempts to explain the values of physical constants with the “anthropic principle” come very near to the Argument from Design that Darwin is supposed to have dispatched forever.

  62. #62 Mr. G
    April 22, 2007

    Braizier: I’m talking to you, as well as our overworked host.

  63. #63 Davis
    April 22, 2007

    Not since quantum mechanics replaced classical physics.

    Introducing stochastic effects doesn’t solve the problem of free will — an event that occurs due to this sort of apparent randomness is certainly not an act of free will in the sense that people mean it. (Free will is not equivalent to indeterminism.)

    And regardless, prior to the development of quantum mechanics there was still (to my knowledge) no major backlash against physics from these folks. Honestly, I’d be curious to see your evidence that free will is the main issue among the anti-evolutionists, rather than the fact that evolution refutes their literalist interpretation of the Bible.

  64. #64 Michael Brazier
    April 22, 2007

    Davis: while I don’t have documentation, I would say that the reason physics has never received a backlash from popular Christianity is that physics has very seldom been able to challenge popular Christianity. It was exactly the development of quantum mechanics which made it possible to explain chemical reactions and biological processes in terms of elementary particles; before that development the determinism of physical theory did not obviously apply without exception to human beings. And after that development, since quantum mechanics is not deterministic, there’s no problem. (I didn’t say QM proves free will, by the way. QM is consistent with free will; there are interpretations of QM that require it, and ones that preclude it. The calculations come out the same under all interpretations, so the physics leaves the question open.)

    Mr G: Were you? What question did you want answered? If it’s phlogiston you’re curious about, there are better sources than me, but I’ll tell you whatever I know.

  65. #65 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    April 22, 2007

    If I say the frame is X and you say it is Y, how do we decide who’s right? Appeal to authority? A vote? Certainly not by any scientific means.

    If I say that an argument is well-written, and you say it’s not, how do we decide who’s right?

    Framing is, pretty much by definition, subjective: it’s the context in which an argument is presented, and the conversational context is always subjective.

    For example, take a look at Richard Dawkins. He’s a brilliant guy, and he’s got very interesting things to say. When I watch him, I frequently thing he’s got an annoyingly smug way of presenting his arguments. When I mentioned that here, several people disagreed, and said that they have no idea why I thought that. Who’s right? Both. It’s subjective.

  66. #66 Davis
    April 22, 2007

    QM is consistent with free will; there are interpretations of QM that require it, and ones that preclude it.

    Curious — I’ve not encountered interpretations of QM that explicitly make reference to free will one way or another (though it seems problematic, since “free will” tends to be not well-defined enough for discussion in physics). Do you have any links handy?

    I would say that the reason physics has never received a backlash from popular Christianity is that physics has very seldom been able to challenge popular Christianity.

    There are certainly aspects of physics that are incompatible with a literalist interpretation of the Bible, but I think they are overlooked because they’re more subtle than evolution’s overt refutation of the account in Genesis.

    But I really am curious if you have accounts indicating that religious objections to evolution are based in free will — in my accumulating experience with creationism I’ve not encountered that little chestnut. Most of the objections I’ve seen are either rooted in Biblical literalism, or in a vague idea that evolution removes god’s hand from the advent of humanity.

  67. #67 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 22, 2007

    Mark-

    With all due respect I really think you’re way off base on this one. First, absolutely no one on the anti-framing side of this objects to the idea of presenting information in ways that will resonate with target audiences. That’s not the issue.

    The issue is the specific recommendations made by Mooney and Nisbet, especially on the subject of evolution. For reasons I’ve explained at my own blog, I think their specific suggestions are misguided and naive. In the abstract there is certainly a difference between framing and spin. But when it comes time to get specific, the distinction gets very blurred indeed.

    I would also argue that your take on the build up to the Iraq war is mistaken. I don’t know what conservatives you have in mind when you talk about acknowledgments of uncertainty. Certainly none of them were in the administration. The administration officials and their lackeys in Congress were talking about &lduqo;slam dunks,” regarding WMD’s. They were talking about reconstituted nuclear programs. They sent Colin Powell to the UN to show us aluminum tubes that could only have been used for manufacturing weapons and they showed us satellite photos of what they claimed were weapons sites. There was nothing uncertain about it.

    And that is a good illustration of what is so naive about the pro-framing side of things. The Democrats didn’t allow the Republicans to have their way because they didn’t recognize the importance of framing, for heaven’s sake. The Republicans won that battle because they had by far the more appealing message to market. Their message was, “We have overwhelming evidence that these folks are a threat to us and we’re going to go get them before they get us!” Coming in the wake of 9/11 this argument had a lot of emotional appeal. The Democrats, by contrast, had to argue that things were uncertain and we should give diplomacy and inspections more of a chance. An entirely sensible point of view, but not one that can be made emotionally appealing by clever framing.

    Likewise for evolution. The unpopularity of evolution is not the result of poor framing. It is the result of the inherent lack of appeal in the message.

  68. #68 Vince Hurtig
    April 23, 2007

    A couple random comments on some of the posts:

    “Galileo was good at framing the Copernican model, and instead got life-time house arrest in a lovely villa, with distinguished guest privileges.”

    Gallileo was an an arrogant fool who actually managed to piss off powerful supporters of his view who were in the church.

    The other comment is that “free will” doesn’t come up much in the debate because the various flavors of Christianity are not much in agreement on that topic. Some churches teach that there is essentially no free will and others that we have absolute free will and the majority are somewhere in between.

  69. #69 George Dickeson
    April 25, 2007

    Great post. This expresses this issue more clearly than anything else I have read in the blogosphere, including the original articles.

    Thanks!

  70. #70 Luna_the_cat
    April 26, 2007

    I’ve been in a forum full of born-again Christians who were firm Creationists, and got the majority of them to start thinking about the actual biology of evolution enough to ask intelligent questions and recognise some of the physical fallacies which creationism is based on, and consider the possibility of an ancient universe and a long, slow (to us) development of life. Only a few of them refused to consider it, and at least a few of them came around to accepting that there was something to evolution, after all.

    How did this happen? By NOT calling them stupid, by taking their assumption that there IS a God as given, if they wanted it that way, and demonstrating that there were different ways to look at things without destroying faith in a Creator: to wit, that evolution is a system which harnesses errors and imperfections into a source of endless appearance of new forms, and if you truly want to accept the glory and power of an infinite God, then you shouldn’t insist that such an elegant and powerful system is something that He *wouldn’t* do; and you shouldn’t insist that he *must* have crammed the entire process of bringing the universe into being in a frame which is easy and comfortable for mere, limited human beings to understand; recognising that whether or not the Bible was inspired by God, it was written by men, whereas the universe itself, they themselves think, was directly written by God (so learn to read the text by the more authoritative Author! I said). If you accept that God is infinite and omnipresent, then 14 billion years of existance — with a lot going on outside ourselves — might humble us, but does not diminish God, and as many fundamentalists themselves are happy saying, “His perspective is greater than ours.”

    In other words, I was able to introduce them to the concept of theistic evolution by framing the concept in a way which did not destroy the basis of their emotional world, and thus was able to teach a heck of a lot more about what science is and does, how scientists determine the validity of evidence, and the worth of being able to examine things skeptically for themselves. If I had come in with a message which was “God isn’t part of this at all”, none of that information would have gotten through, because that threatens the emotional basis of their lives and will be rejected out of hand.

    Ultimately, the question boils down to what is the ultimate goal: to get people to abandon theistic thinking entirely, or just to get them to understand at least part of what we base modern science on, and get them to a point where they are at least thinking somewhat more critically about their own lives and decisions.

    I think part of the problem here, part of the debate, is the fact that PZ, Dawkins, and possibly Moran, are all aimed at that first goal — because to them, theistic thinking itself is a problem, all other issues aside, and represents irrationality and even danger to others. Others (myself included) have more modest goals — to defuse hostility and get people to thinking about science as science, in the first place.

    But with the goals being that different, it shouldn’t be a surprise that people need different methods, and end up talking to each other as if they are idiots who miss the point.

  71. #71 Anonymous
    April 30, 2007

    Come on guys, of course framing is inevitable in communication.

    However, let us be aware that framing can be, and through history has been used in spinning in a covert fashion.

    I believe a proper understanding of this will allow us as individuals to start framing our own minds a little more!

    Take a look at this article to see what i mean http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/papers/ENRON_critical_dramaturgical_analysis.htm

    All the best / Tim