Good Math, Bad Math

I’m going to jump into the framing wars again. As I mentioned last time,
I think that most folks who are “opposed” to framing really don’t understand what they’re talking about – and I’ll once again explain why. But on the other hand,
I think that our most prominent framing advocates here at SB are absolutely
terrible at it – and by their ineptitude, are largely responsible for
the opposition to the whole thing.

Suppose you’re watching an interview with a writer, and the writer says something like: “I don’t believe in style. I don’t write with any style
at all – I just write. All those people who talk about writing styles are just full of crap.”. Is what the writer is saying making any sense at all?

I’m saying no, it doesn’t. A writer might not be paying attention to their writing style. They might not be deliberately trying to write in a particular style. They might not care what kind of writing style they use. But everything
they write is written in some style. You can’t write something that
doesn’t have any writing style – in fact, it’s pretty much meaningless
to say that you don’t write in any style at all. Style is an attribute of every piece of writing.

Framing is something similar. It’s an intrinsic attribute of every piece of
communication. You can’t communicate without framing your communication. Everything you say is said in some context, expressed in some style. You can’t not frame. Anyone who says that they aren’t framing is either (a) clueless, or (b) lying.

The point of thinking about framing is similar to the point of thinking about
style. For example, when I write my blog, I’m very careful about style. If I were to write these articles in the same style that I use to write a technical paper for publication in a conference, no one would ever read this blog. If I were to write a technical paper in the style that I use for my blog, it would be rejected. I need to chose the right style for the right audience.

Similarly, when I’m writing my blog, I do think about how I’m framing my
arguments. When I write about why I think category theory is valuable, I’m going
to frame the argument very differently from how I frame an argument about Michael Egnor’s latest bullshit.

That’s the point of talking and thinking about framing. By recognizing that
the way a piece of communication is framed affects the way that that communication will be received, I can choose the most appropriate way of expressing it for
the point I want to make, and the audience I want to make it to. Once again, it’s
very similar to the idea of style: style is an intrinsic attribute of all writing. You can’t write with no style at all – that just doesn’t mean anything. But when you recognize the idea of style, and think about it, you can become a more effective writer, by harnessing style to express yourself in the most effective
way for what you’re writing.

The problem with framing is pretty much the same as the problem with style. Framing and style are both meta-concerns – they’re not the primary goal of communication; they’re part of the way you express communication. If you become obsessed with the meta-concerns to the exclusion of the primary concern, you end up with pointless dreck. Just look at some of the dreadful things that are written
by students (or even by professional writers) who are so obsessed with the writing
style that they forget to include any actual content in their writing!

You can get so concerned with how to frame an argument that you forget what
the argument actually is.

I think that that is what Mooney and Nisbet have done with the whole
“Expelled” fiasco. They’ve spent so much time thinking about how to frame arguments so as not
to alienate theists that they’ve completely forgotten why they don’t
want to alienate theists. The “Expelled” mess is a perfect example
of events providing a perfect frame for talking about what a bunch of
two-faced liars the IDists are. They’ve completely undermined the entire point
of their little movie. That fundamental contradiction, that dreadful screwup,
is the perfect frame for presenting an argument about what the movie is really trying to accomplish, and how dishonest its supporters really are.

But Mooney and Nisbet have spent so long arguing about how PZ Myers and
Richard Dawkins have been alienating people by mis-framing that they aren’t even looking at the actual facts or events. All they’re seeing is their frame,
which doesn’t fit. But if you look at it in terms of their basic frame – Myers are Dawkings are loudmouthed atheists who alienate theists by arguing that science and theism are completely incompatible – then the fact that the “Expelled” mess puts Myers and Dawkins smack-dab in the middle of things is a bad thing.

Only it’s not a bad thing. The advocates for framing are doing a terrible
job of framing their arguments. They’ve lost the point – they’re so focused on
the frame that they forgot the argument.

That’s why there’s so much opposition to the whole idea of framing. The people who are most forcefully advocating it have become so concerned with how to frame an argument that they’ve forgotten about the argument itself. Framing is a tool: a way of understanding how the way that you’re presenting you argument affects the way that your argument will be received. If you frame things correctly, you increase the quality of your presentation, and the likelihood that it will have the effect you intend. But it’s just a tool, not an end in itself. The best frame in the world has no effect if you don’t put a good argument in it: the best frame won’t help if you’re using to frame the wrong argument, or worse, no argument at all.

Mooney and Nisbet are doing a terrible job of framing the argument about whether or not you should care about framing. By forgetting the actual argument, they provide an example that says “Framing is about influencing people by how you present things, instead of about making a good argument”, when they should be showing “Framing is about tailoring your presentation so that your good argument will be as effective as possible.”

Comments

  1. #1 Lab Cat
    March 25, 2008

    The problem that I have with Mooney and Nisbet is that when they make their “Shut up Dawkins and Myers” arguments, I am remember that Dawkins and Meyers are scientists whereas Mooney and Nisbet are science writers and communicators.

    I agree with Dawkins and Myers are doing and what Mooney and Nisbet are doing. We need all arguments to campaign against the anti-science lobby.

  2. #2 Orac
    March 25, 2008

    I’ve been thinking, though (always a dangerous thing). I’ve expressed puzzlement at the vociferous reaction of people like PZ and Larry Moran against “framing,” which has made me think that their hostility is more guided by dogma and emotion than reason. I still think that. However, the tin-eared and outright idiotic–no, that’s not too strong a word–manner in which Nisbet has told Myers to “shut up” and “lay low” to let the “professionals” deal with framing this incident has led me to start to see dogma on his side as well. Honestly, I can’t think of any other reason why he and Chris hang on to such a misguided and wrong-headed interpretation of this particular incident other than that their entire “framing” thesis has–if you will excuse the term–evolved into a dogma to which they are too emotionally attached to recognize when their application of it is wrong.

    Really.

    Matt has close to zero support on this. His high-handed reaction to this incident and his arrogantly telling PZ to shut up and lay low have alienated me, someone who is in the minority around here who has been in general supportive of the whole “framing” thing, to the point where I seriously wonder whether he knows what he’s talking about anymore. Moreover, I’m really disappointed in Mooney that he can’t see just how in the wrong Matt is. In fact, perhaps that’s why the whole “framing” debate has become so nasty: It’s a battle between two dogmas.

    Yeah, I think I might be on to something here. It’s very natural to dismiss the “other side” as “dogma” when your side is dogma as well, and what I think we’re seeing is a battle between two dogmas.

  3. #3 Mark P
    March 25, 2008

    I think some anti-framing sentiment stems from a perception that the M&N arguments are self-serving and self-righteous. I think there is a perception that they have overstepped the bounds of their own expertise.

  4. #4 Colin M
    March 25, 2008

    Excellent post. This is the most sensible post I’ve seen on the whole “framing” issue.

  5. #5 Sigmund
    March 25, 2008

    I kind of agree Orac, but the two dogmas are ‘science’ on the one hand, and ‘politics’ on the other.
    Its not even as if Nisbet can never think of productive ideas, stating, as he did recently, that explaining evolution to the public should be approached from the point of view of medical advancement, a good way forward, in my opinion. Where I think the framing three have gone wrong is that they are now so wrapped up in the climate change debate as their number one priority that the promotion of evolution science has become distinctly secondary to that – a position that is never going to be popular amongst the biologically orientated scienceblogging community.
    One gets the distinct impression that they are willing to sacrifice the teaching of evolution in order to win over evangelicals to their point of view in the climate change debate – and that could only be countenanced through thinking like a politician, not a scientist.

  6. #6 PlausibleAccuracy
    March 25, 2008

    I pretty much wanted to say the same thing as Colin M. – this is probably the most sensible post in this whole inside baseball fracas that has taken over ScienceBlogs for the past couple of days. Thanks for injecting some reason and sense.

  7. #7 xebecs
    March 25, 2008

    It’s been observed that a common analytical error is to measure what’s easy to measure, instead of what’s important.

    Mooney and Nisbet focus on framing the issues which are easy to frame, and declare defeat on the rest.

    Myers and Dawkins advance the cases they believe to be important, and use the best framing compatible with those cases. If a case is difficult to frame in a way that would be acceptable to theists, they acknowledge the difficulty and persevere.

  8. #8 Badger3k
    March 25, 2008

    Wait for it – I can hear Nisbet and Mooney’s next posts – “Waaaah! We’re right! We know framing, nobody else does! They all need to shut up and listen to us! And buy our books and pay for speaking engagements! Waaaah!”

    They both lost serious credibility with me a while back, but this blatant idiocy cost them all. You are right in that they seem to think that the Framing is the message, rather than the method. To them, Framing itself seems to be the end, rather than the means.

  9. #9 Dave S
    March 25, 2008

    Well said.

    My personal take on this is that the aspects of Nisbet & Mooney’s framing arguments that are right are not new, and the aspects of it that are new are wrong.

    I like Chris Mooney’s solo work, but I see why Matt Nisbet presses so many peoples buttons. Some guy comes along and tells real scientists that they don’t know how to communicate with non-scientists, and then tells them to do pretty much what they’ve always been doing (except with more appeasement for conservative viewpoints, and that visible Atheists are the reason that conservatives and fundamentalists oppose science) but renames it “Framing” and claims the credit for it?

  10. #10 DrugMonkey
    March 25, 2008

    …but…but…they have Great Hair!!!

  11. #11 Kyle Lahnakoski
    March 25, 2008

    Wow!

    Your thoughts on framing, combined with the thoughts in “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt, make me think that proper framing on top of BS can make a clear and seductive argument. As an example: The Bush administration is very good at framing an argument, which may, or may not, be based on facts.

    Maybe I did not comprehend the full meaning of Mr. Frankfurt’s point in “On Bullshit”, but it seems he was missing the proper characterization of the meta-argument upon which the BS was built.

    It seems framing is more important than the primary argument in politics and media: The people just do not have the time to recognize BS until it hits them in the face, but framing can induce fear and anger immediately.

  12. #12 Lee
    March 25, 2008

    “I agree with Dawkins and Myers are doing and what Mooney and Nisbet are doing.”

    The problem is that Nisbet is doing it so damned badly. There is a reason that his argument went up on the front page of Uncommonly Dense.

    One of the strongest creationist frames is that evolutionists or “Darwinists” are amoral and dangerous. They sometimes make this argument directly, but more often, they simply wrap another argument into a frame that assumes this is true. It appears to be THE central frame of Expelled. If Stein wants viewers to get one message, that is it – evolution and evolutionists are scary and amoral. The “excluded from the academy” message is one way of reinforcing that frame.

    So, in response, Nisbet writes a piece that argues that Myers and Dawkins should shut up BECAUSE THEY ARE DANGEROUS and to some people, immoral. Nisbet just took the “evolutionists are dangerous” frame that the movie was trying to create, named it, reinforced it, argued explicitly for it, and handed it right back to Stein et al in industrial strength dayglo technicolor lettering.

    Rule one of effective framing in political discourse, is to not use your opponents frame. Don’t even use it to argue against it – if you do, you reinforce the frame. The trick is to find a way to substitute your own frame when delivering your own message.

    When Myers was expelled, we were handed an opposing frame all gift wrapped and ready to use. The frame was “hypocrite, fool, liar.” Myers didn’t even need to say it – all he had to do was describe what happened, and the message was there so loud no one could fail to see it. And it was funny – it tore the heart out of the ‘dangerous’ frame on their side, because danger and laughter simply don’t go together.

    What Nisbet did was to throw away the frame we were given, reinforce the one that Stein’s folk want to push, and hand it back to them to post on page one of Uncommon Dense. Nisbet claims authority on framing, but this is framing incompetence on a grand, glorious scale.

    To continue the “own-goal’ metaphor, if what the Expelled folk scored was an own-goal through bumbling incompetence, Nisbet scored an own-goal by scowling at his own team, purposely taking the ball out of their net, walking it down the field, and tossing it gently into his own net.

  13. #13 MartinM
    March 25, 2008

    I think that most folks who are “opposed” to framing…

    I’ve expressed puzzlement at the vociferous reaction of people like PZ and Larry Moran against “framing,”…

    As I recall, when the issue of framing first arose, the reaction was for the most part one of cautious interest. Even now, I don’t think many people are really against framing per se, but rather the way in which Nisbet and Mooney implement it.

  14. #14 Elf Eye
    March 25, 2008

    Thank you for this post. In our rhetoric and composition classes, we don’t necessarily use the word ‘framing’, but we always talk about the importance of considering your intended audience when making writing choices. PZ does make excellent choices for _his_ intended audience (witness his strong and loyal readership). If his choices don’t suit an audience that he is not trying to address in the first place, well, tant pis! No monolithic Audience exists that requires the services of a monolithic Spokesperson for a monolithic Science.

  15. #15 Matthew L.
    March 25, 2008

    Part of the resistance to “framing” is due to, not despite of, the fact that framing, like style is intrinsic to any communication—you can only change style or framing so much before you change the content.

    True, you can tweak the style on a piece of writing some, but the bigger the change, the more divergent from the original the result gets. The movie is different from the book, no matter how hard the director tries to be faithful.

    Framing an argument in a larger context is similar. True, you can put scientific results in terms of their applications, or things people already know, but try to shift the frame too much, and you’re writing something different than what you started with.

    It’s very hard, for instance, to write something short about something very technical (say, some interesting abstract mathematics) in a way that is readable by someone without the background without producing something that’s content-free. Chaos theory, for example, has some notoriously silly misunderstandings out in the wider world, and part of the blame for that rests in popularizations of it, which in a quest to make it understandable and relevant to people with no mathematical background, reduced it to empty nonsense.

    The framing advocates who’ve been making noise aren’t really saying “you should pay careful attention to your framing”, nobody could object to that any more than admonishing someone to always work on style. Rather, they have some very specific frames they want writers to put their writing in, and that offends just like telling an author to use a one-size-fits-all literary style would.

    To be fair, some of the cause rests in the anti-framing camp. Most of those authors probably do pay careful attention to the demands of framing, but I suspect they might not think of it as a separate component, but something purely driven by the content and the audience. If that is the case, saying “you should change your framing” sounds more like “you should change your content or your audience”, which most of them are rightly unwilling to do.

  16. #16 Alexandra
    March 25, 2008

    Very well said. Kudos.

  17. #17 TomH
    March 25, 2008

    I stumbled on Science Blogs about a year and a half ago and have been following the various blogs about evolution/creation debate ever since. This latest dust up over ‘Expelled’ seems to be missing the point entirely. I thought that what had become clear (to me anyway) was that to debate or engage the creationists was the last thing that was needed because it gave them a voice and a platform that they never deserved. Why should any of them be invited into the discussion at all? It’s like having a serious debate over whether Gandalf the Grey would make a better Sec of Defense or Sec of State or whether the Department of Silly Walks should be folded into Homeland Security or HHS.

    It seems that what should be pointed out is that certain things are simply unsupportable and that some people are just liars. Magic is not real. Why worry about how to debate the effectiveness of curses and spells or whether we will alienate certain of those in the wizard community when they don’t belong in the debate at all?

    I’m not sure why the producers removed PZ from the screening or what sort of threat they thought he posed but their actions were idiotic and served only to highlight his presence and their stupidity. They might as well have had signs out front of the theater saying, “Produced by Clueless Wingnuts!”.

    I fear we are losing something in this country that we may never get back; the ability to evaluate and reason. To see things as they are and propose solutions to real problems. To figure out how to sustain us on this planet without putting our children’s lives and futures in jeopardy. We don’t need to debate how many angels are dancing on the head of a pin, we need to see where that the pin is stuck in the globe; that’s what we need to focus on.

    TomH

  18. #18 Mecha
    March 25, 2008

    This is a bit scattershot and raw. Some of this is talking at Mark, and then I dip into the general populace, and then back to Mark again somewhat. If you’re not clear whether I’m talking at you in a part, I’d be glad to clear it up.

    While I think a lot of people are right that the ‘Expelled from Expelled’ thing is a great story, and a perfect way of hitting the ID people where they screwed up, I think a lot of people didn’t actually read Nisbet’s post, because his primary argument isn’t about how awful the ‘Expelled from Expelled’ thing is. If you read the NYT story… what happens? The ID people actually get the most credibility, AND PZ’s blog is linked. Oh boy.

    A random person going to PZ’s blog is a lot like someone being linked to any radical’s writings (and I agree with this with feminists, racial, and religious radicals all.) An audience’s first reaction is more likely to be cringing than enlightenment. It takes time to soak that sort of stuff in, along with an open mind.

    So yeah. The NYT story gives a bare nod to the ideas science advocates want to put forward… and then a lot of the rest of it is about the ‘he-said he-said’ crap. That isn’t a victory for us. That’s a ‘Let’s go see Expelled! Controversy!’ Nisbet’s reasonable verdict: Overall win for ID. The guy who made Flock of Dodo’s? Same verdict. So the people who actually fight the PR war? Agreeing with Nisbet. You can argue with that, or you can think that PZ/Dawkins, being the affected, would be the _best_ people to put forward that concept. But if you did, you’d have to hope that they’d not sneak in, ‘And by the way, science and atheism are intertwined’ and reinforce the Expelled producers’ underlying message (which Nisbet layed out for you), and that’s a very slim hope. So he asked them to step back. If someone did something I thought was damaging to something I cared about, I would sure as hell tell them to be quiet for a moment while I tried to repair the damage, and it wouldn’t be ‘censorship’ or ‘evil’ or ‘anti-truth’. It’s basic damage control. It’s picking your words and picking your fights. I’ll admit that I could have missed someone really taking that REAL argument on in the hundreds of posts? And I’ll gladly go read and address it if I am wrong and they had? But I haven’t seen it, and especially not at top level.

    Now let’s look at the behavior of the loud anti-framers, who Orac seems to think are on the ‘good side’ here. They have literally spent about a day making Sheril’s post on not telling Nisbet/Mooney to fuck off the second most popular post. Where’s the productivity there? Where’s the ‘framing argument’ there? There’s not. What there is is a lot of berating Sheril and Nisbet and Mooney, often by calling them not scientists and weak-willed fainting women. And turning ‘lay low for fuck’s sake’ into ‘CENSORSHIP. SILENCE. EVIL.’ is some of the stupidest goddamn strawpersoning I’ve seen around Scienceblogs from people, and yet it happens every single time the argument comes up because it works (geeks and scientists have a nice soft spot for that.) Is that what we want our arguments to be like? Anti-women and anti-reason strawpersonning?

    And the top level commenters on Scienceblogs, who are usually pretty good at this, have all focused on how the irony is awesome and perfect, so hey, PZ and Dawkins shouldn’t lay back! That doesn’t address the argument Nisbet made directly. The irony can be exploited WITHOUT PZ and Dawkins telling people that science and atheism are all but iff.

    Nisbet has a lot of problems with his examples in the post, but it doesn’t seem as if the vast majority bothers addressing the substance. Instead, they drop back, again and again, to strawperson crap, tying science to atheism so that this is like telling a minority to sit at the back of the bus, and so on. And, of course, calling anyone who believes in framing and isn’t currently going, ‘Bad Matt! Bad Nisbet!’ a waste of space.

    Look at the people actually posting on his blog. You know, the ONLY PLACE someone can post in support of him in any way at the moment, lest they be buried under mounds of spam. Some of them agree with him, based on what he presents. The aforementioned producer of Flock of Dodos. So on.

    Let’s face it. This situation is an entire bag of crap, and most of the crap is being caused by the really brutal anti-framers just going ‘YOU SUCK YOU SUCK YOU SUCK YOU SUCK’ over. And over. And over. And over. Where’s the call for them to stop, because that’s not how science works? Where’s the responsibility there? Oh, wait. None. PZ doesn’t care, PZ wants to do damage. Greg Laden wants to do damage. Sheril tried to get people to step back from the most inflammatory rhetoric? And got flamed.

    So thank you for the post, Mark, because it was pretty good, and I know you know what framing really means (because it IS like style) and one day people will listen, but I disagree with them having missed the point for the most part (it’s not unlikely they’re a bit caught up in the fight, though.) I agree that Dawkins and PZ are not the ones to push the argument here forward successfully in the media, should it need to be pushed. Unfortunately, your post exists in the midst of a lot of other crap, and as usual, will probably be ignored by the vast majority of the people too busy hammering on Matt, Sheril, and Chris to give a damn.

    On Nisbet’s post, I made a long post which was an appeal to the masses, since we’re all supposed to be scientists and science-allies, to not be worthless internet trolls instead. Sadly, I’m not top level either. So all I get to do is just make these posts in comments and grind my teeth as not Nisbet, not PZ, but the masses of commenters, do damage to the cause of promoting science.

    -Mecha

  19. #19 Scote
    March 25, 2008

    Nice post.

    However, I haven’t read the comments re this artificial and unnecessary debacle as being “anti-framing” because Mooney and Nisbet haven’t provided a frame at all, instead they have only claimed that Myers is providing the wrong one. And as you have so clearly pointed out, the Expelled fiasco is **perfect framing** by their own definitions.

    There is no need to argue the science of Intelligent Design when you can show that the filmmakers are lying hypocrites about the fundamental premise of their film, and that their claim of being pro-free speech and anti-suppression of science is so much bunk. It is a simple frame that the public can instantly grasp, and one that instantly makes the IDers look bad. Perhaps part of Moony/Nisbet’s problem is that is not a “science-based” frame, but then ID isn’t a science based theory, so the situation is the perfect response and for Mooney and Nisbet to throw it away is almost un-forgivable.

  20. #20 QrazyQat
    March 25, 2008

    I think your discussion of what framing actually is was very good. I’ve tried a few times (and at both PZ’s and Moran’s blogs) to get this across succintly, but they don’t seem to understand it at all. They’re thinking of framing as dishonest spinning, which is generally how the creationists and rightwing does it. I think they’re too invested in their own views to see it, but I think your explanation was excellent.

  21. #21 Brad Hudson
    March 25, 2008

    Shoot, I’ve been doing “framing” all my professional life: in every letter I write, in every negotiation I attend, in every brief I write, and every time I set foot in a courtroom. I never called it framing, but the struggle over how an issue is framed is often the most important part of the battle in my line of work.

    The thing is, there is a difference between understanding that framing is important and being good at it. And I’ve seen precious little evidence that Nesbitt et al have any real talent for doing it. In my experience, a large part of being good at framing is recognizing the cards you have been dealt and creating a frame that works, rather than creating what you think is the perfect frame in theory and then struggling to stuff reality into it.

    That’s what Meyers did when he was Expelled from Expelled. He recognized a great opportunity to frame an issue and executed it pretty darn well. Nesbitt on the other hand, made the classic mistake of wandering into the opposition’s frame and, in doing so, handed them a gift. Heck, it seems to me that PZ has even outframed the framing experts on the issue of framing. He’s turned the issue into something like “freedom to speak vs. repression of scientists” instead of “effective tactics to promote science to the general public.”

    If Nesbitt et al don’t have the talent to create a frame for the promotion of science that does not involve muzzling scientists who do not agree with their tactics, they’ve already lost the battle.

  22. #22 chezjake
    March 25, 2008

    Well said, Mark. Thank you for dealing with this in your usual logical and unemotional style.

  23. #23 stereoroid
    March 25, 2008

    The word “framing” has been thrown around by a lot of people, but this is the first time I’ve seen a detailed explanation of what it actually IS. It’s not a new concept to me, I’ve just used different words for it.

    For starters, I think it’s possible to draw a distinction between (my terms) “active” and “passive” framing:
    – “passive” is sensitivity to context, or what I learned as “knowing your audience”. Making sure that if the audience needs some background to understand what you’re saying, they get it somehow; from you, or as a prerequisite communicated to them in advance. Context, in short. Framing a question or statement in a way the audience will follow the subject.
    – “active” is what I know as spin: deliberate manipulation of the apparent context, so as to deliver a particular message. It’s “spin” when survey questions put the respondent on a particular train of thought, or when you carefully select what facts to include or exclude from a statement. The Press Secretaries in the White House and Downing Street are masters at this, selected for their ability to spin effectively. Framing a question or statement in such a way that the audience will follow you!

  24. #24 scote
    March 25, 2008

    Brad Hudson alludes to a good point, “framing” isn’t new. It’s what everyone does when they present an argument and some people are good at and some are not. The term “Framing” is just a term that helps us break down and understand the process of putting our arguments in their best light.

    I’m not sure there is an “anti-framing” camp since Nisbet isn’t pro-framing or he’d have recognized Myers perfect framing of the issue vis-a-vis the Expelled expulsion, he’s just anti Myers. There may be an “anti-stupid ideas by Nisbet” camp, though, and I think Brad Hudson’s post does a good job of explaining the issue.

  25. #25 PZ Myers
    March 25, 2008

    Right from the very beginning, I’ve been saying exactly this: framing sounds like a useful tool, I have no illusions that my communication skills are perfect, I appreciate constructive suggestions to improve matters. My beef has always been with the specific implementation of framing, as implemented by Nisbet and Mooney, which confuses tactics with their desired ends, which clearly entails the exclusion of all atheists from the debate.

    I had nothing against framing before. I detest the word now, because it has been poisoned by people who have translated it to mean no-content spinning of ideas to pander to conservative/ignorant ideology, and who exemplify poor communications skills.

  26. #26 Scote
    March 25, 2008

    Sorry to say it, PZ, but you are a framing savant.

    Your first post on the Expelled expulsion was great writing and the perfect frame for the situation, perhaps even more so because your intent was your own delight at the incredible irony of the situation rather than the forced implementation of some focus-group tested frame.

    You don’t have to like or dislike the term or the use of “framing.” The fact is you are using frames already, and using them well. Nisbet may have the vocabulary of framing down, but it is clear he has no talent for it in the field, er, or any talent for analyzing them, either. (Hmm, that “no talent” part seems to keep coming up, over and over…)

  27. #27 Brad Hudson
    March 25, 2008

    Thanks, Scote. Now if I’d just learn to proofread. My apologies to Mr. Nisbet for misspelling his name.

  28. #28 carlsonjok
    March 25, 2008

    In our rhetoric and composition classes, we don’t necessarily use the word ‘framing’, but we always talk about the importance of considering your intended audience when making writing choices. PZ does make excellent choices for _his_ intended audience

    I am clearly in the pro-science camp, but I am not a scientist. Maybe no one cares about my opinion, but I am probably closer to the battleground demographic than most.
    The quote I have included above is the best summary I have seen. Don’t assume that I don’t like PZ. I read Pharyngula daily and comment occasionally. But he has sharp elbows. In this debate, if you want to win people to your side, you have to meet them where they are. And most people are not as scientifically sophisticated as your average Pharyngula reader. PZ and Dawkins, by being open and unapologetic, are cast as divisive personalities. When dealing with the general public, it simply is not sufficient to be right.

    The IDers can’t win on the science, so they “frame” the issue on personality. They speak crypto-religious language in a soothing voice and further poison the well by pointing to the more strident things that PZ or Dawkins have said in their long careers. Mooney and Nisbet didn’t appear on UD’s front page because Dembski’s band of syncophants are taking a position in this internecine argument. They featured Mooney and Nisbet because it allows them to continue the focus on personality rather than substantive issues.

    I am not going to tell anyone to shut up. But I do offer this: everyone makes fun of the public relations department, but everyone has one. Why do you suppose that is?

  29. #29 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 25, 2008

    There’s a common perceptual difference here that explains a lot of the disagreement.

    Many at Scienceblogs.com see the recent Expelled incident as a victory, an event that sets the frame that the producers are indeed liars. Certainly that is a interpretation that easily resonates with an existing worldview, and that results in a lot of exultation, emotional gratification, and cheerleading.

    But for people outside of this small audience, it’s not necessarily the case. Instead the perceptual frame for any member of the casual American audience is likely to be just more confusing attention and more controversy around evolution, with the lead spokespeople for evolution being Dawkins and PZ, two scientists who happily conflate science and atheism, a message alienating to most members of the public.

    In other words, for the wider audience, the theater incident is by no means a slam dunk perceptual victory for the pro-evolution side. Rather it’s just an attention generating event that hangs evolution in more controversy terms, a he said-he said account over whether or not PZ was invited, confrontational etc.

    In the end, the only thing that is accomplished is a perpetual forever war between atheists like PZ & Dawkins and creationists. Caught in the middle is the greater goal of promoting acceptance and public trust for science and evolution among a wider American audience.

    As long as PZ and Dawkins set the lead frame on evolution, given an overwhelmingly religious America, we will always have conflict and polarization.

    Check out the recent National Academies report and audience study. The organization has established a consensus view on how to move forward on engaging a vast wobbly middle of Americans who might be unsure or unclear about evolution. It’s a game plan grounded in audience research and theory.

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

    PZ and Dawkins are entitled to voice their opinion. But as maverick communicators who openly break from the consensus approach set by the leading science organizations, they have to be ready for criticism.

    The criticism, accurately applied, will be in fact that they feed the controversy, providing rhetorical fodder and serving as bogeymen for the creationists. It’s that simple. Just take a look at the YouTube clip on my blog. You couldn’t focus group a better campaign commercial for the pro-ID claim that evolution is really only about getting atheism in the schools.

  30. #30 Scote
    March 25, 2008

    There’s a common perceptual difference here that explains a lot of the disagreement.

    Really? Sounds like bad framing. I wonder how that could have happened?

    In other words, for the wider audience, the theater incident is by no means a slam dunk perceptual victory for the pro-evolution side. Rather it’s just an attention generating event that hangs evolution in more controversy terms, a he said-he said account over whether or not PZ was invited, confrontational etc.

    “Invited” is just their attempt at re-framing. What they can’t deny is that they Expelled a scientist from Expelled. The headline is completely understandable by the general public. You don’t even have to read the story to get a bad opinion of the movie producers. Perfect frame.

    Expelled isn’t about science. It is a propaganda film. The Expelled expulsion is a perfect PR gift to discredit the film’s hypocritical agenda and false and disingenuous claims, and without the need for complicated scientific explanations that don’t sound byte well.

    Throwing this PR opportunity with its perfect framing away in favor of some mythical hierarchical system of referring reporters to a designated science spokesman ignores the reality of the way interest in news is generated and in how it is reported. Nobody is going to interview a such a spokesperson about PZ getting expelled from the movie. Science isn’t a corporation, union or an organization of any kind, so you can’t actually have a spokesperson, per se, anyway. If you wanted to kill a beneficial PR buzz you couldn’t have engineered a better way than the one you’ve gone about.

    As to the “consensus” approach, that has gotten us to where we are now, where the majority of Americans believe in anti-scientific positions of one sort or another. More of the same is not a good plan.

    And, yes, sometimes publicity just feeds the monster. To wit, your criticism being used as fodder by DI. As to even bad publicity for Expelled being inherently good for it? As others have pointed out, that theory didn’t play out so well for Battlefield Earth. Sometimes bad publicity is, well, ***bad publicity***.

  31. #31 Mecha
    March 25, 2008

    PZ: The ‘Expelled from Expelled’ thing is absolutely fantastic, and I and a number of my friends loved it. But I’m going to pick at your plea that you’re up for ‘constructive criticism’, because I don’t think your actions bear it out at all, ESPECIALLY on the front of how to communicate.

    “Constructive criticism is a compassionate attitude towards the person qualified for criticism. Having higher experience, gifts, respect, knowledge in specific field and being able to verbally convince at the same time, this person is intending to uplift the other person materially, morally, emotionally or spiritually.” – Wikipedia definition of constructive criticism for purposes of making a simple point.

    If you, PZ, believe in constructive suggestions, indeed, constructive criticism, then why are you adamant at defying every precept of constructive criticism when talking to people you disagree with online, or talking about them?

    Most anyone that PZ disagrees with, especially on the science/atheism/framing intersection front, is stupid, deluded, ‘wishy-washy’, appeasing, or in some other way, not worthy of offering any ‘constructive’ opinion on how he should do anything, and the vast majority of commenters that listen to him offer the exact same attacks. In fact, because PZ decided that Framers Suck on the first day, constructive criticism is by definition impossible.

    That’s more than a little worrisome. There is a difference between people who have little/no space for constructive criticism (denialists/ID) and people who you don’t agree with but are on your side, but PZ, and many others, are glad to paint them all with the same brush, AND complain that their criticism isn’t constructive with the same breath. Box ‘em up, exclude them, make it us vs them. That’s not constructive.

    So I end up puzzled. PZ, what is your definition of constructive criticism/commentary/suggestion?

    And the people who will respond that Nisbet’s not being constructive, I would like one to think back to the sum-up of the beginnings of this entire argument on Scienceblogs.

    Nisbet and PZ: On the same side. Pro-science, anti-ID.

    ‘Nisbet: Framing is good, and can bring people from the middle around.’ PZ: ‘Framing is lies, and weakness, ID will destroy all that is good if you do what the framers say. _They’re not on our side._ (obliterating the possibility of constructiveness)’

    PZ said that loudly and proudly for months. You can only be as constructive as people will let you be. Isn’t that why most of the ‘angry atheists’ rule out religious fundamentalists, because they won’t let you be constructive?

    If someone were saying something that you felt was too harsh for the environment, that was getting peoples’ backs up when another approach might work at the moment, is it not reasonable to say, ‘You know what? Sit back a second, let someone else try to get the point across.’ People in real life do that ALL THE TIME. It’s not censorship. It’s attempting to keep things on-message. The message? Science is good. ID and its ilk is bad. Atheism is not the message that needs to get out to fight Expelled.

    -Mecha

  32. #32 Eric Lund
    March 25, 2008

    I have to weigh in on the side of those who think Mooney and Nisbet were too heavy-handed in what they were saying.

    The movie Expelled has been marketed with an explicit frame: that those “mean” pro-evolutionists are “unfairly” forcing the ID supporters to air their views outside the academy. In one stroke, PZ demolished that frame: he showed that it was the IDers who were unwilling to let evolutionists debate their views in public. I’ll grant that PZ would not be my first choice to make this argument–as others have pointed out, he can be quite abrasive–but he was the one who was expelled from Expelled, so he is the one who can provide firsthand evidence to back up the point.

    It won’t convince everybody, because there are always people who will hear only what they want to hear. (The existence of Republican supporters with incomes below $100k is ample evidence of this point.) PZ is not trying to reach these people, and he seems to be aware of it.

    However, the only way this can be spun as a victory for the ID crowd is if supposedly pro-science framing experts like Mooney and Nisbet allow it. And that is exactly what they have done.

  33. #33 Mecha
    March 25, 2008

    ‘rule out religions fundamentalists’-> ‘rule out talking to religious fundamentalists’. Aiyah.

    -Mecha

  34. #34 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 25, 2008

    Good point. Bad Matt.

    An interesting aspect to me over the last couple of days is, that when your basic assumption is wrong in the context, it brings errors all over the field. One would think that Nisbet and Mooney would see that, instead they dig themselves in.

    That said i think Randy Olson has a lot of good points in his comments, that this ruckus partly plays into creationists hands in their frame. I just wish he could bring stronger support than anecdotes. And the fact that the movie showings AFAIU have disappeared from the radar shows that all is not smooth going for creationist framers either.

  35. #35 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 25, 2008

    I think they’re too invested in their own views to see it, but I think your explanation was excellent.

    As PZ explained his trajectory, I can comment on Moran’s as I followed it. IIRC he too was tentatively skeptic at the beginning; in any case it is checkable. Essentially Myers, Moran, and blogger/commenter Blake Stacey become disappointed as Nisbet hasn’t delivered positive examples. (And so did I.) Nisbet failed to frame his message for such persons.

    If you want to see someone with previous experience of framing you can look up Greg Laden’s blog. IIRC he explained the ancestral political science concept of framing, which AFAIU is not how to “choose the most appropriate way of expressing it for the point I want to make, and the audience I want to make it to”, but to create a persistent mindframe that most all audiences can easily understand and gravitate towards.

    For example, when the tobacco industry created the frame that there were no conclusive evidence for harmful effects and delayed smoking bans with 30 years. Or when creationists created the frame of ID which persisted for 10 years before changing to the “academic freedom” frame.

    The “science is facts” frame that PZ and Dawkins support has a long and not entirely successful history. And as I noted, I don’t think Nisbet has delivered any alternative except perhaps that “atheism is not science”, something that no one contests and isn’t supportive of science.

    I like the “science is useful” frame myself. But hopefully we can do better. “Science is sexy” works for CSI…

  36. #36 Scholar
    March 25, 2008

    Nisbet fails miserably. In a “creative” attempt to promote science in America, he ends up damaging the credibility of scientists.

    The exact opposite of Framing’s supposed goals.

    I have never once seen Nisbet or Mooney admit to a mistake. Never will either.

  37. #37 Brad Hudson
    March 25, 2008

    Matt,

    The message of Expelled is that science suppresses those who deviate from the consensus. By arguing that Dawkins and Meyers should shut up because they depart from the consensus that you argue is demonstrated in the report you cited, you are reinforcing the message of the movie: those that deviate from a proclaimed consensus should sit down and shut up. Sounds to me like you are reinforcing the message of Expelled more than anything else.

    And if it is bad for Myers and Dawkins to create controversy that the anti-science camp can use as ammunition, how is it a good thing for you to create a controversy that has exactly the same effect? How can it possible advance your cause to step into the anti-science camp’s frame as you have so neatly done?

    If you can’t design a frame to promote acceptance of science by the general public without muzzling scientists who don’t agree with you, I’m afraid the game isn’t worth the candle.

  38. #38 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    Matthew Nisbet wrote: “In other words, for the wider audience, the theater incident is by no means a slam dunk perceptual victory for the pro-evolution side. Rather it’s just an attention generating event that hangs evolution in more controversy terms, a he said-he said account over whether or not PZ was invited, confrontational etc.”

    I don’t think the facts support you. The “he said-he said” version is what some of the ID folks have tried to push, and it had some limited success on Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog. But that’s not the mainstream media picture.

    Here’s the mainstream media picture–short, sweet, and simple:

    http://cbs13.com/watercooler/man.kicked.out.2.683004.html

  39. #39 PZ Myers
    March 25, 2008

    In fact, because PZ decided that Framers Suck on the first day, constructive criticism is by definition impossible.

    This is simply not true.

    I was favorably disposed towards this framing stuff — I’d read Lakoff, and more than enough people were telling me this was important. I got turned off by Nisbetian framing, but my first response on reading it wasn’t “this sucks”, but complete bewilderment. What was this crap? Complaining about “data dumps” and telling people what to say (atheism is BAD) had me suspecting that he was promoting a particular end, not a strategy.

    I don’t think Framers Suck. I think Nisbet sucks at framing.

  40. #40 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    March 25, 2008

    PZ:

    For once, I agree with you wholeheartedly :-).

    Nisbet’s a terrible advocate for framing. That’s a big part of what I was trying to get across in this post. He may understand the whole framing thing in theory, but in practice, he’s absolutely awful at it. He’s so caught up in a particular kind of framing that he thinks is the right one for science that he doesn’t even actually look at the facts or the message to decide the right framing: he’s already decided what the frame should be, and the frame has become the message, instead of a way of presenting the message.

  41. #41 Mark P
    March 25, 2008

    M&N appear to ignore the fact that the extremes define the middle. If they insist on moving the scientific argument towards the middle, the middle actually ends up being much closer to the position of the other extreme. You give ground to the ID/creationists and you lose ground for your own position. That seems counterproductive to me. It seems to me that it is actually vitally important that people like PZ and Dawkins be heard.

    Remember, blacks in the US did not get their civil rights by being nice. MLK Jr preached nonviolence, but he also preached civil disobedience. A lot of blood was spilled in that process. That’s why they call it the civil rights struggle, not the civil rights ice cream social.

  42. #42 Scote
    March 25, 2008

    he’s already decided what the frame should be, and the frame has become the message, instead of a way of presenting the message.

    This would seem to be consistent with the underlying “its all about Nisbet” attitude in his posts. In his own way, he seems to be a professional concern troll for science.

    Let’s look at the framing.

    Expelled frame: The close-minded scientific hegemony is silencing and expelling scientists for speaking out.

    Myers frame: The Expelled movie producers expel the scientist they interviewed and thanked in the movie.
    –you don’t have to see the movie or know science to know that is wrong. Perfect Frame.

    Nisbet frame: Scientists should should shut up and refer all evolution questions to an official science hegemony Science Communicator/Spokesperson.
    –Er, playing right into the hands of the Creationists by setting up the very situation they claim exists. Really, really bad frame. Beyond stupid. Stupid at a level that may require a PhD.

    Or, more succinctly, what Brad Hudson saud. Either way, Nisbet is divorced not just from science but from simple common sense.

  43. #43 carlsonjok
    March 25, 2008

    It seems to me that it is actually vitally important that people like PZ and Dawkins be heard.

    The thing is, the IDers agree. See Premise Media’s latest press release that quotes a 2005 Panda’s Thumb comment from PZ about how to deal with creationist teachers. Now, I would agree that a creationist has no place in front of a science class. But note that we keep talking issues and they keep talking personalities.

  44. #44 Damian
    March 25, 2008

    This is just a general message.

    Aren’t PZ and Dawkins already overwhelming framing success stories?

    PZ has had over 24 million visits to his site. It’s his only real mouth piece, as well. Whenever he is on TV or radio – which is very rarely – he is nothing but a gentleman.

    PZ’s writing on science in particular, but also other topics (albeit too infrequently for his level of ability, but we understand why), is among the best that I have read on the internet. Not a curse word in sight; just lucid, highly informative and interestingly original posts (don’t blame me if you haven’t seen them), that actually leave you disappointed because you’ve reached the end. Ignore the rest if you don’t like it.

    Dawkins has sold millions of books, in multiple languages, which have inspired people all over the world to take an active interest in science, and evolutionary biology in particular. He’s a bad, bad man.

    The problem is, of course, that some people don’t like their other activities. All that I can say to that is tough – get over it. They have done, and are doing, more than their fair share. They have cornered one part of the market and there are millions of happy, science enthusiasts because of it.

    NOW IT IS YOUR TURN!

    You really are going to have to give up on this idea of forming a Myers/Dawkins creationist seduction double tag team. ;-)

    In all seriousness, this sounds more like an attempt to deflect attention from the fact that, whatever you say about them, they are highly successful. There are millions of other people out there who would benefit from a more soothing tone and less caustic wit. I simply don’t accept that PZ and Dawkins are getting in the way of those efforts, and even if they were, that they should change one damn thing.

    There should easily be enough room for everyone, and a whole variety of approaches, and yet it is those who have reached people that take much of the flack, seemingly for the failure of others to do the same.

  45. #45 gg
    March 25, 2008

    “I’ll grant that PZ would not be my first choice to make this argument–as others have pointed out, he can be quite abrasive–but he was the one who was expelled from Expelled, so he is the one who can provide firsthand evidence to back up the point.”

    Well put. Something I haven’t heard yet in this debate is the utter silliness and self-destructiveness of having PZ and Dawkins ‘sit down and shut up’ in this debate. Considering they were in the center of it, if they were to hide away and redirect all media calls towards ‘professional organizations’, they’d look like the stereotypical politician who’d been caught canoodling with his secretary, giving ‘no comment’.

    I think the best thing they can do is get out there and talk to people. They’ll always be spun as the ‘evil godless scientists’ as long as nobody can see them, and listen to them, and find out that they’re not monsters. (PZ is technically a cephalopod, but that still isn’t a monster :P)

  46. #46 PZ Myers
    March 25, 2008

    In other words, for the wider audience, the theater incident is by no means a slam dunk perceptual victory for the pro-evolution side. Rather it’s just an attention generating event that hangs evolution in more controversy terms, a he said-he said account over whether or not PZ was invited, confrontational etc.

    The frame that this is at all an ambiguous situation is the frame that the creationists want, and the frame that the framers are feeding. Yet it isn’t he-said/she-said at all — the creationist side has been backpedaling and revising. Even the student who rushed to the web to claim that I was “disruptive” subsequently backed down and said that wasn’t true.

    What good is framing if when handed such a gift of bad PR for an opponent, the framers just throw up their hands and run away, telling everyone to be silent about it?

  47. #47 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 25, 2008

    What I see is a country where hundreds of newspapers have an Astrology column, and almost none have an Astronomy column.

    I do not accept that Astrology is in a contemporary Religious paradigm, nor that Astronomy is in an Atheist paradigm.

    Hence I tend to see the conflict as Rational versus Irrational; or as Science versus Superstition.

    The battle on the plane of ideas between Evolution and Intelligent Design is, to me, a part of the war between Rational and Irrational; or between Science versus Superstition.

    I want that war to be won by the side that I am on. Framing is a weapon in the war; part of the armamentarium. Framing is not and cannot be the Ultimate Weapon.

  48. #48 zooey
    March 25, 2008

    Nisbett et al managed to framed the concept of framing in such an ugly frame that I think it will be very hard to not look at it with suspicion. Sure, context and intended audience are essential when wanting to be understood. What Nisbett succeded in, was to make a mockery of content, proposing to decorate the frame – and in a totally stupid way, at that – while neglecting the stuff inside the frame.

    Personally I love when people speak their mind instead of thinking about the PR consequences first and foremost. That’s why people like Myers and Dawkins should continue doing so; if nothing else, they make the world a more interesting and funny place, and that can’t be accomplished by any PR-department or Official Spokesperson. Moreover, I think it’s condescending and paternalistic to think that messages has to be softened and “fluffed” in order to cater to an allegedly sensitive audience that can’t handle outspokenness. I think even “feeble-minded” and “ignorant” people (whatever the target audience is…) will recognize when a message is dumbed down and dispossesed of its edge in order not to offend anyone – and I think they will resent that. It’s not as if people are generally unable to spot when they are being seen as unknowing idiots by an over-zealous, impersonal PR-department. And you can’t get Meyers’ and Dawkins’ personal commitment and engagement – and those are factors that I think really have a power to make an impact (not only directly, but indirectly by influencing their readers in turn to make their own personal efforts instead of being silent) – from the PR-people, the “never-offend”-people, the smooth-talkers. The latter often fail, and at times appear decidedly unattractive, ingratiating and dishonest. Especially when they lose sight of the content in favour of the glossy surface.

  49. #49 Idlethought
    March 25, 2008

    I can’t think of anything dafter than science presenting a monolithic perspective. That’s about as far from what science is about as I can imagine. It does seem close to what Expelled is supposed to be accusing science of.

    It’s clear that Expelled doesn’t actually think this worked well for them – see how hard they’ve tried to prevent anything similar happening again by pulling the RSVP system for reserving seats.

    Regardless, if you want more moderate voices than PZ and Dawkins, start saying smart, interesting things in a moderate voice. You know, stuff of similar quality to how Mark managed to put across the concept of framing here.

    Every day the IDers talk about personalities or persecution, they’re not talking about their pseudoscience. Since it’s a lot harder for the lay person to tell pseudoscience from the real thing – this isn’t automatically a bad thing. When it looks like science vs science, that really would be ‘he said she said’ territory.

  50. #50 Anonymous
    March 25, 2008

    If I were to write a technical paper in the style that I use for my blog, it would be rejected.

    What a shame. Journals are too stuffy.

  51. #51 mr. gunn
    March 25, 2008

    The major point is just that overly harsh rhetoric can drive people away, right? Wouldn’t you expect that someone intelligent enough to understand the arguments in the first place would realize this rather obvious truth?

    You’re always going to have people with more passion and less polish, and everybody knows people like that. A person of average intellect is smart enough to recognize a blowhard when they see one, and is therefore smart enough to separate the man from the message, right?

    Sounds to me like all we need is more message, then!

  52. #52 AtheistAcolyte
    March 25, 2008

    Prof. Nisbet-

    Like it or not, PZ and Dawkins are here to stay. The smartest thing to do would be to incorporate them into your frame and stop trying to squeeze round pegs into your square holes.

    Check out the recent National Academies report and audience study. The organization has established a consensus view on how to move forward on engaging a vast wobbly middle of Americans who might be unsure or unclear about evolution. It’s a game plan grounded in audience research and theory.

    What “consensus view”? Near as I can tell, they focus grouped and published a booklet. They didn’t come up with a grand, overarching plan. Where would I find that enumerated game plan for engaging the vast wobbly middle?

    I seriously doubt either PZ or Dawkins would strongly disagree with the assertion that to increase support for improved science literacy in the world, we should make science appear not so threatening to the dearly held beliefs of the average person. But perhaps you should save the bulk of your frustration for Hollywood, which almost constantly churns out movies depicting scientists as cold, unfeeling monsters, or technology as dehumanizing and stifling of the human spirit.

  53. #53 Jim Lippard
    March 25, 2008

    A further response to Nisbet’s #29:

    Here’s how _Christianity Today_ has framed the story of P.Z.’s expulsion:

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

  54. #54 J. J. Ramsey
    March 25, 2008

    PZ Myers: “Yet it isn’t he-said/she-said at all — the creationist side has been backpedaling and revising.”

    But that misses the point. The point is not to be consistent, but rather to sow confusion and slime you. The broader audience is not seeing this unfold by paying close attention to online news and blogs, but by chatter heard here and there. If someone hears contradictory stories at the water cooler, well, that’s easy to brush off as maybe someone mishearing something somewhere, rather than inconsistent spin at the source. It’s scary just how little facts or even basic logic are needed in spin.

    That said, Nisbet, you screwed up royally. It’s strange how you are willing to accept the religiosity of America and the screwiness of modern media as facts of life that aren’t likely to change in the short term, but don’t do the same for PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins’ own tendencies. Like it or not, you have to take their personalities into account in your attempts at framing. Also, you have fallen into the trap that Mooney himself called “counterintuitive mode”:

    This is where journalists, who are trying to find something novel or clever or surprising to say, try to turn conventional wisdom on its head, or to attack their own presumed allies. Essentially, it’s what the sophists in ancient Athens were so good at (and, often, so disliked for).

    While I had partially defended Mooney earlier in his column about enabling denialists by covering them in the news, looking back I’d have to say that he has recently also fallen into the trap that he himself described.

  55. #55 Robert Thille
    March 25, 2008

    It seems to me that scientists don’t do enough of talking about what they do, which is work to discover “reality”. I’ve listened to all of the Point of Inquiry podcasts and read a bunch of PZ Myers blog posts and Richard Dawkins’ website. Scientists talk about what they do in particular, but they don’t seem to me to talk much about what they do in general, which I see as “discovering reality” and explaining it as best they can. Given the complete lack of evidence in “reality” supporting any theistic worldview, of course exposure to science can lead to atheism. That may turn theists off science, but reality is still going to be there whether they believe in it or not.

    That said, the pro-framers may be right that there are better ways to lead people to embrace science (and thereby reality) than those which PZ & Richard use. However, I haven’t seen them mention any, they just keep decrying PZ & Richard’s as wrong. That in itself is a bad frame.

  56. #56 Ernst Hot
    March 25, 2008

    Lee wrote: “… danger and laughter simply don’t go together.”

    Evil geniuses everywhere disagree.

  57. #57 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 26, 2008

    Thanks Jim for point out that Christianity Today link. It’s exactly as I feared. The Expelled producers score attention for their film at the entertainment section of a Christian news site, perfectly positioned in their preferred “he said-he said” conflict frame. If you ask the wobbly middle of religious Americans to choose between Dawkins and the New York Times versus the interpretation of Limbaugh, local churches, and local conservative politicians, they will choose the side of the latter every time.

  58. #58 MattP
    March 26, 2008

    Matthew,
    Are you not the least bit curious about the NCSE’s Expelled Exposed site directing a large number of their links to sites featuring the PZ incident and/or the writings of PZ or Dawkins? It seems like your preferred mouthpiece for this issue prefers to direct people to those you’ve directed to lay low.

  59. #59 Anonymous
    March 26, 2008

    If you ask the wobbly middle of religious Americans to choose between Dawkins and the New York Times versus the interpretation of Limbaugh, local churches, and local conservative politicians, they will choose the side of the latter every time.

    So we dare not ever criticize those institutions, and we will forever have Limbaugh, local churches, and conservative politicians as the arbiters of what is good and right, and the framers will forever defend their hegemony. Nice futile cycle you’ve got going there.

  60. #60 Anna Lemma
    March 26, 2008

    Nisbet is wrong on how he is approaching framing. It appears that he sees science as one monolithic entity with only a single frame to encompass it. Actually, one should frame one’s arguments according to what you are trying to say and to who you are trying to say it to. The same subject may be framed in various ways as it is presented to differing audiences.

    PZMyers, Richard Dawkins, and Eugenie Scott are using the frame that ID=dishonest creationism, IDers=creationists. This frame is short, sweet, and easy to understand. I’ve noticed that even in mainstream media now, IDers are starting to be called creationists. We need to keep pressing this point over and over. Make the idea of a literal 6000 year old earth as absurd as a flat earth idea is. Most of the people in the middle have not really thought of evolution.

    My sister-in-law astonished me this past year with a question about the solar system and stars. She did not know that the moon was closer to the earth than the sun was. She also did not know that the sun is a star and that the planets orbited around the sun. After a moment of stunned silence on my part about her lack of basic scientific knowledge, I gave her a basic astronomy lesson, illustrated with a globe, a baseball, and a flashlight. It did not take her very long to understand the basics of the solar system.

    I framed the lesson in a very simple way so she could get a simple astronomy lesson, quick and to the point. This is what the people in the middle need. Someone who understands a subject can distill it into its basics. Also, people are fascinated by the beauty of the natural world. I find that understanding the natural world makes it even more beautiful and special. We should be passionately communicating the basics of the various fields in science as well as the beauty of science. This is how we should frame science to lay-people. An honest display of the beauty in science and how fascinating the natural world is excellent framing. Look at the Mythbusters. Their science may be amateurish, but they are teaching people to research something yourself if you are interested in it. Another excellent frame. Everyone who teaches, lectures, writes, or creates documentaries about scientific subjects will have their own frame, some are successful and others are not.

  61. #61 Jim RL
    March 26, 2008

    If you ask the wobbly middle of religious Americans to choose between Dawkins and the New York Times versus the interpretation of Limbaugh, local churches, and local conservative politicians, they will choose the side of the latter every time.

    The middle in America are conservative church goers who listen to Rush Limbaugh? Are you kidding me? I guess that’s why Bush has such high approval ratings. It’s probably why McCain has such huge leads in SUSA polls and why the Iraq war is so popular. It’s probably also why Republicans have been getting so many new voters and showing so much excitement for their candidates.

    Oh wait, the exact opposite of all that is true. You really just have know idea what you are talking about do you?

  62. #62 Jim RL
    March 26, 2008

    From PZ:

    What good is framing if when handed such a gift of bad PR for an opponent, the framers just throw up their hands and run away, telling everyone to be silent about it?

    Near as I can tell, the point of framing in Nisbet’s mind is not to upset the vast majority of Americans who apparently are Mike Huckabee supporters.

  63. #63 Chris Noble
    March 26, 2008

    A few people have mentioned that it is important to know your audience.

    I don’t think people like Ben Stein are about to be reasoned out of their stupidity no matter how well the message is framed. They are not the audience.

    I think there are a lot of Christians out there who are embarassed by the Ben Steins. The best thing that anyone can do is to ridicule the IDiots and do it well. PZ Myers does it well.

    ID proponents are not being persecuted. They are being ridiculed.

  64. #64 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 26, 2008

    If you ask the wobbly middle of religious Americans to choose between Dawkins and the New York Times versus the interpretation of Limbaugh, local churches, and local conservative politicians, they will choose the side of the latter every time.

    Oh, C’mon, Matthew! It seems now that your framing is targeted towards a patronizing view of Americans. Is your goal then, to add to the frame that they all ready have by harping that atheists are bad for science? The atheism frame has been out there far longer than PZ, Richard Dawkins and other writers have been.

    What they have been doing is showing why they are atheists, doing it in no uncertain terms. They are strong voices out their for the rationalist point of view. If your idea of framing is to say the science can accommodate religion, fine. But to say that the strongest voices for atheism should be subsumed in favor of your idea that the majority of Americans are incapable of independent thinking, then you don’t even know your target audience all that well.

    Sure, Limbaugh has a large following, but that is due to a well-oiled marketing machine and has nothing to do with the substance of his idiocy. I talk to people that listen to him and use his B.S. as their only source of news and they buy the frame that liberals are nasty, vindictive people that want to take their children and put them in socialist boot camps called “public schools.”

    It is that type of framing that you should be attacking; but you are adding to that frame by focusing on the connection between atheism and evolution. You don’t give people enough credit and you are feeding their paranoia rather than presenting them with an opposing frame.

    The wobbly middle is hearing your cry that the atheists should lay low as confirmation that science is something that is bad for them.

    How about this?

    Why not develop framing of science to show that it is cool and interesting and not even focus so much on religion? Why not give people the credit they deserve? Science is fascinating and fun, and it is the creationist frame that it is antithetical to religion. The vast majority of Americans don’t practice or think about their religion every waking minute. They do a lot of things in their daily lives without thinking of the religious implications. Why abet the creationists by keeping science and religion in the same frame?

    There is a great deal of exciting science being done. It is exploration, it is results, it is a guidance for policy and religion doesn’t have to be a part of the presentation for a large number of people (whether negative or positive.)

    Karen James of The Beagle Project made a great point at their blog. The way to frame science is to point out how it is done, to get people excited about it. The frame that it involves adventure at times, and the admittance that it also involves tedium but that the tedium pays off big are the types of things that appeal to people. Even conservatives.

    If you talked about that aspect of framing science, then the whole religion vs. science frame will crumble.

  65. #65 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 26, 2008

    Here’s the point on the Christianity Today article.

    Target audiences for Expelled will be young people, the moderately religious, and state legislatures and school boards.

    In terms of reaching the moderately religious (and many young people), having an entertainment writer at a popular Christian site balance the perspective of Dawkins, PZ, and the NY Times against Limbaugh, local churches, and conservative political leaders is a major PR victory for the Expelled producers.

    From our frame of reference (and for NY Times readers generally), we choose Dawkins, NY Times. For many Americans, when the information appears as presented at Christianity Today, the heuristic cuts the other way. Indeed, it’s an empirical question, you can run an experiment or focus groups testing the messages and interpretations across audiences. And the hypothesis likely stands up.

    If the goal is to reassure this audience group that teaching evolution in schools is not a problem, what’s a better scenario? Well first, that the story was never written, giving publicity and drawing attention to Expelled.

    Second, if/when the Christianity news site were to eventually write a story about Expelled, a better person to quote would be a religious scientist arguing that from his view and from that of many religious faiths, there is no conflict in teaching evolution, and no legitimate rival theory. The National Academies has actually tested this same type of message on evolution generally, with these types of moderately religious audience groups. Read about the results and conclusions here:

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

  66. #66 Joel
    March 26, 2008

    The reason there is so much opposition to framing is this.

    Framing: Intentionally misrepresenting an idea or belief in order to gain acceptance.

    No matter how you try to frame your argument for framing, it will not change that one fact.

  67. #67 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 26, 2008

    Joel,
    So your suggestion is that when the National Academies emphasizes in their reports and press materials or the AAAS in their materials that there is no conflict between science and many religious faiths, that it is a lie?

  68. #68 Idlethought
    March 26, 2008

    Many of the religious seem to think so. Does science get to say what does or doesn’t conflict with a given religion?

  69. #69 J. J. Ramsey
    March 26, 2008

    Nisbet: “From our frame of reference (and for NY Times readers generally), we choose Dawkins, NY Times. For many Americans, when the information appears as presented at Christianity Today, the heuristic cuts the other way. Indeed, it’s an empirical question, you can run an experiment or focus groups testing the messages and interpretations across audiences. And the hypothesis likely stands up.”

    I see what you are trying to say, but the part about “the hypothesis likely stands up” is a red flag. Don’t give us your supposition, but instead point to data showing that your prediction about the coverage holds up. Show us studies, even just case studies, where two parties with opposite positions see the same content, yet each party paradoxically concludes that the content supports its own position. If your conclusion is data-driven, that shouldn’t be too hard.

  70. #70 Mark P
    March 26, 2008

    M&N are trying to frame their argument to convince christian evolution denialists to believe in evolution when any other idiot knows they will never do it. Why frame your argument for idiots who will not be convinced by any argument? They are way, way too much like the white who counseled blacks to be nice and accept their status instead of struggling for equal rights. The people M&N want to frame for are ecstatic about the framing argument because they know that the M&N frame is a weakling’s approach that won’t succeed.

  71. #71 Joel
    March 26, 2008

    Matthew,

    Anyone who claim that there is no conflict between science and religious faiths is refusing to see reality or lying.

  72. #72 syntyche
    March 26, 2008

    We got handed this one on a silver platter.

    What Nisbet should have done is put his money where his mouth is and constructively suggest a frame for this incident that incorporated both Dawkins and Myers. You simply cannot exclude the two main protagonists from a discussion of this event.

    Instead, he let his personal dislike of Myers get in the way and handed this one back to the creationists.

    This is why he is not taken seriously anymore.

  73. #73 Scote
    March 26, 2008

    What Nisbet should have done is put his money where his mouth is and constructively suggest a frame for this incident that incorporated both Dawkins and Myers. You simply cannot exclude the two main protagonists from a discussion of this event.

    Yes. Well, put.

  74. #74 Soren
    March 26, 2008

    Good post.

    Nisbet might have had a good idea, but he blew it when he failed to consider his audience.

    Why start his crusade for better framing by pissing on Dawkins?

    Since he is an expert on framing, he must think that the best way to change peoples minds is by alianating half his intended audience.

    I for one would like to hear what exactly he has accomplished by this feat?

  75. #75 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 26, 2008

    JJ,
    Best background on framing and media effects, see recent special issue of Journal of Communication.

    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/jcom/57/1?cookieSet=1

    Also, see the studies that show the differential effects of awareness and perceptions of benefits on issues such as stem cell research and nanotechnology respectively….

    http://ijpor.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/17/1/90

    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/jcom/57/1?cookieSet=1

    See the recent brief overview of research on media effects and framing by the National Science Foundation:

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/c7/c7s.htm#c7sb2

    Also the NSF summary of how framing effects embedded in survey questions lead to very different interpretations of stem cell research, for example:

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/c7/c7s.htm#c7sb7

    Or maybe best overview is our article at The Scientist:

    http://www.soc.american.edu/docs/Scientist.pdf

  76. #76 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 26, 2008

    Mark,
    As per JJ Ramsey’s request as to studies related to differential perceptions of frames across audience groups, I just posted a bunch of links in a comment that was then held for your moderation.

    Best,
    Matt

  77. #77 Scote
    March 26, 2008

    Yes, Matt, many of us are at least generally familiar with such studies. The question is whether you are applying the results in a way that usefully takes advantage of the extant situation. Without data and a methodology to prove that you are in this case(expensive and time consuming, I know) there is an apparent general consensus that you are misapplying the science to this situation.

    Having the studies is one thing. Knowing how to effectively leverage those lessons in the real, and complicated, world is another entirely. And some people do it intuitively. In this case, PZ did. Granted, different groups can see things from different perspective, but un-decided people can still see the Expelled expulsion for the hypocrisy it is. By attacking the credibility of the film makers we can skip the science debate–where we lose media interest because it doesn’t sound byte well and requires actual reporting.

    PR has, as you full well know, scientific underpinnings in the psychology of judgment and decision making and the psychology of influence, but their is still art to the effective execution of that science. So far you haven’t proven that you have command of either.

  78. #78 poke
    March 26, 2008

    Matthew C. Nisbet,

    So your suggestion is that when the National Academies emphasizes in their reports and press materials or the AAAS in their materials that there is no conflict between science and many religious faiths, that it is a lie?

    It would be interesting if you could describe the basis on which you think science and “many religious faiths” are compatible. PZ Myers and Dawkins also frequently claim that science is compatible with some religious faiths (i.e., deism). There must be differences between your interpretations.

  79. #79 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 26, 2008

    In all seriousness, this sounds more like an attempt to deflect attention from the fact that, whatever you say about them, they are highly successful.

    Right, but don’t forget that Nisbet is only interested in the north american population. Dawkins book/web and PZ web success abroad doesn’t matter for him, which both makes them moderately successful and their broad goals incompatible with his narrow focus.

    Target audiences for Expelled will be young people, the moderately religious, and state legislatures and school boards.

    First, as always I don’t see a definition of what framing is and a constructive proposition of what it should be.

    Second, as Nisbet now has put his money on the success of Expelled proving Dawkins type of frame wrong, I see that instead of having to wait several years for a conclusive test I can now wait to see how much these target groups are penetrated.

    So your suggestion is that when the National Academies emphasizes in their reports and press materials or the AAAS in their materials that there is no conflict between science and many religious faiths, that it is a lie?

    Have anyone heard of a movie called Expelled?

    And before it is pointed out that those are fundies, may I remind that mainstream creationists replace evolution with “theistic evolution”.

    The problem with claiming that there is no conflict is that it is based on a philosophical view of both science and religion, which basically is, how should I put it, a belief. Empirically, I see a lot of conflicts between how science and religion describe the world.

  80. #80 Scote
    March 27, 2008

    One thing Professor Frame Expert should do is provide advantageous framing terms for science and evolution as these would be things we could all use without need for an official Science Spokesperson (like that fantasy is going to happen–or should).

    Creationists like to frame the theory of evolution as “Darwinism,” “Darwinian Evolution,” “Godless Evolution,” and so on. Scientists, being scientists rather than political hacks don’t have the same advantage. “Intelligent Design” is their frame for Creationism (dressed in a lab coat) and the frame has worked well for convincing many that ID is science. What frame, other than pointing out ID is creationism, do we have back?

    The Creationists, not being afraid to lie and demagogue, have a certain, though unethical advantage. What, besides setting up a Nisbetian Central Office of Science Communication, can we do to frame Evolution better?

  81. #81 uriel
    March 27, 2008

    Excellent post!

    And, Ummmmm…. since I suppose I should say something more substantive-

    So we dare not ever criticize those institutions, and we will forever have Limbaugh, local churches, and conservative politicians as the arbiters of what is good and right, and the framers will forever defend their hegemony.

    This misses the point entirely. The one, and only, thing that the Limbaughs of the world do well is exactlly the thing question- they frame their bullshit well.

    Really, that’s it.

    For instance, limbaugh can come on, babble on and on about, say, global warming- for, say, a half an hour- and, in the end, we will have a very short list of things he’s actuallally accomplished:

    1) He will have spouted off a lot of crap that has no substance at all: i.e., If we’re undergoing climate change, why is it so cold in Peoria? Or, if were so concerned about co2, what about cow flatulence?

    2) He’ll have confused the issue by quoting, or mine-quoting, a bunch of studies in an incorrect fashion, or quoting obviously nonsensical studies as though they were valid,

    and finally,

    3) Convinced a large, politically viable, portion of his listening audience that he is completely correct in his unsupportable nonsense.

    Now, for those of us who care, the real question is how do ponts one and two lead to three? How do Limbaugh and his fellows convince so many that they are knowledgeable about topics in which they are so evidently clearly ignorant?

    It’s because they are good at one thing, and one thing only-

    get ready for it-

    They are experts at framing.

    That’s Limbaugh’s one and only skill.

    And, despite the protests of P.Z., It turns out, it works real well.

    It, at the very least, has managed to put a guy who, according to his own mother “flunked everything” in his two years in collage on a par with lifetime experts in highly specialized fields, in terms of their influence on the general populace.

    Now, imagine if people like P.Z.- who actually have extensive knowledge about the topics they discuss- took the time to actually consider how their little diatribes might play out amongst the undecided. Or those who are potentially turnable on one point- for example, the issue of evolution- but are unturnable on other issues- for instance, the whole no god issue. Let’s say, they decided for, say a year, to drop the whole “ignorant, deluded, wicked, foolish, or oppressed” meme, and focused on the issue at hand- the acceptance of the simple obviousness of evolution. Strip away the strum and drang of all of those side issues.

    Do you really think that the twin issues of rationality and science would be less served?

  82. #82 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 27, 2008

    Do you really think that the twin issues of rationality and science would be less served?

    Don’t forget that for example PZ have other goals than Nisbet. Actually pretty much the frame Nisbet rejects. It would be seriously ;-) misframing by PZ to use Nisbet’s frame. And IIRC, misframing was exactly the topic of the post.

  83. #83 T_U_T
    March 27, 2008

    can someone explain those frames thingies to me ? In what they differ from just providing context, or just manipulating the listener by mispresentation ?

  84. #84 M.
    March 27, 2008

    To Matt Nisbet.

    To me, this is the key:

    “The criticism, accurately applied, will be in fact that they feed the controversy, providing rhetorical fodder and serving as bogeymen for the creationists.”

    …which is what you encourage, feed, and strengthen at every turn, Matt. Creationists thrive on presenting evolution as some kind of stealth atheism. You support that, encourage it, and your posts can be quoted verbatim as evidence for it (no quote mining required). “See, this here scienceblogger says the same thing we have been saying all along”.

    You are helping strengthen their frame.

    In this last instance, with spectacularly bad results for evolution side.

    That is incompetence of the highest degree. For someone who claims expertise, you appear to have no real understanding how to effectively communicate an argument. Scientists were generally friendly towards you; you managed to communicate your approach so well that you now have almost no support. How are we to believe that you are going to effectively communicate evolution to a hostile creationist audience?

    Moreover, for someone in communications, you seem to be missing a very important point.

    PZ Myers and Dawkins argue for evolution, and for atheism. Is that so hard to understand? They are not promoting just evolutionary thought, they promote critical thinking about religion, skepticism, and disbelief in dogma.

    This is their message, and they have the right to send it. Just like Ken Miller has the right to communicate about evolution, and at the same time promote his thoughts on religion. That is his message, and he is framing it rather well. And PZ and Dawkins are, in fact, framing their message extremely well.

    The fact that their message is not the same as yours is not their problem. Telling them to shut up will, and should, provoke exactly the kind of response you got from PZ.

    Framing an argument requires understanding the reality that argument exists within. You have noticed that, on the creationist side, you are dealing with emotional beliefs rather then rational thought. That is one aspect of reality you have to consider when framing your arguments.

    In exactly the same way, you have to acknowledge that majority of scientists are atheists, and that they won’t shut up. You have to take that into account when framing your arguments. Makes your job harder? Tough. Yes, convincing theists may be easier if atheists shut up, but it would also be easier if creationists were more willing to listen to ideas that don’t match their dogma.

    You claim that you want to communicate evolution. After the last several days, my instinct is to ask you to please not do that, and to leave communication to the competent. But I may be wrong, and perhaps you can communicate effectively if you avoid atheists. Fine.

    Stop crying and start sweating. Stop talking and start working. Produce some frames that can be used directly. Frame your arguments – “Religion and evolution aren’t mutually exclusive”, ok – I’m personally willing to go with it.

    But add some more. “Yes, there are many atheists among scientists. Perhaps that is because they spend their lives seeing one thing in the world, and then you come and tell them that faith requires them to ignore the evidence they can see and touch. Perhaps if you realized that faith does not require one to believe contrary to scientific evidence, you may have better luck convincing scientists that there is something to your religion?”

    Or something like that. Use the state of affairs to advance your frame. Ignoring salient facts won’t work.

  85. #85 Ben Hayden
    March 28, 2008

    “Form is never more than an extension of content.” — Robert Creeley
    Now, it is never less.

  86. #86 Jonathan Badger
    March 30, 2008

    I am remember that Dawkins and Meyers are scientists whereas Mooney and Nisbet are science writers and communicators.

    Late to this discussion, but whatever one thinks of the relative merits of either side it’s important to remember that *none* of the four main protagonists are scientists. True, Dawkins and PZ were *trained* as scientists, but that’s not quite the same thing. Neither has published peer reviewed research in years.

  87. #87 marc buhler
    March 31, 2008

    As was said in reply # 72:
    “You simply cannot exclude the two main protagonists from a discussion of this event.

    Instead, he let his personal dislike of Myers get in the way and handed this one back to the creationists.

    This is why he is not taken seriously anymore. ”

    **************

    I am with the large number of anti-anti-evolutionists who are totally amazed Nisbet did what he did – and totally *not* impressed by it. Whilst I haven’t published in Science I have at least submitted there – I think Nisbet should have left the term “framers” in the context the right uses it most often, a reference to the Constitution.

    His post saying Dawkins and PZ should shut up was a dreadful error on his part. (He should have led by example that time.)

  88. #88 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 31, 2008

    Re: #85, Jonathan Badger:

    “… *none* of the four main protagonists are scientists. True, Dawkins and PZ were *trained* as scientists, but that’s not quite the same thing. Neither has published peer reviewed research in years.”

    The hypothesis has been put forward that the property of “being a scientist” decays (probably exponentially) with length of time since last published peer reviewed research.

    What is the evidence for this hypothesis; what are the parameters of the decay; and how should experiments be conducted to support or disprove it?

    Only after those questions are answered should it be scientifically feasible to recommend public policy.

  89. #89 Jonathan Badger
    April 1, 2008

    It’s very simple. Being a scientist means one produces new works of science, just like artists produce new works of art. Nobody claims that someone with an art degree who doesn’t make art is an artist even they write eloquently about art and/or teach it, do they?

  90. #90 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    April 1, 2008

    I’ve seen both usages – but IIRC only by the involved persons themselves.

    The “use it or loose it” characterization gives a robust indicator, IMHO more so when not considering individual decay times. (Decay times of reputation and skills are useful when publishing actual new research of course.)

  91. #91 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 1, 2008

    Consider the boundary conditions on the statement by Jonathan Badger: “Being a scientist means one produces new works of science.”

    Looking at the left side of the t-axis, this suggests that a woman or a man is not a scientist until they’ve published (where “published” presumably means “peer reviewed research”). To me this smacks of the medieval guild system, where one develops from apprentice (grad student?) to journeyman (postdoc?) to Master (when one has published, or has a senior research or faculty position?).

    Looking at the right side of the t-axis, this suggests that a woman or a man is not a scientist from the time of their last publication until their death. What happens if someone drops dead (or is murdered by a time-traveling grandfather on a pre-emptive strike) just before their first publication. Were they never a scientist? And if their paper is published retroactively, do they go from non-scientist to scientist, however long the delay between the research and the publication?

    And what about coauthorship? After my wife moved to America, and we were married, she found by ego-googling (or maybe Alta Vista-ing) that she was listed as coauthor of a paper that she didn’t know about. Turned out to have been done by the postdocs who used the equipment that she’d designed, built, and calibrated, after she’d left. Her department Chairman has only one legitimate refereed publication, as the least of 3 coauthors in Phys Rev Letters, where the other two authors have each had dozens of refereed papers since. I strongly suspect that the Chairman is not, in fact, a Scientist, as he’d been allowed to keep his name on the paper after he’d turned out to be useless or less than useless. What about experimental Physics papers with several hundreds of authors. Has each suddenly become a scientist? What about department heads or other power-brokers whose names appear on papers with which they’ve had no actual involvement, such as the Communist Party and KGB-connected head of a major research institute in the old USSR whose name appears as co-author on over 10^4 papers. Was he really the most productive scientist in the world?

    Without further critique of this model, I hope that I’ve suggested the need for a more robust model of exponential decay of “being a scientist.”

    Of course, having a Jonathan critique the hypothesis of another Jonathan may require correction for J-J coupling.

  92. #92 J. J. Ramsey
    April 1, 2008

    Nisbet: “As per JJ Ramsey’s request as to studies related to differential perceptions of frames across audience groups”

    Thanks, but your links don’t seem to be what I was asking about. I asked, “Show us studies, even just case studies, where two parties with opposite positions see the same content, yet each party paradoxically concludes that the content supports its own position,” for example, two parties looking at the same exact article (such as “he said, she said” coverage of some issue), and each of them concluding that the article favors its own beliefs. Your articles appear to cover either framing in general, or cases where the same party sees different content, that is, two different articles or questionnaires on a subject that are phrased in different ways, rather than two different parties seeing the same content.

  93. #93 Leni
    April 1, 2008

    I enjoyed your post, Mark.

    That said, I’m still trying to understand why we can’t have multiple frames. That way, Matt can use his preferred frame to reach the audiences receptive to his style, and PZ can reach audiences receptive to his style. Everybody’s happy.

    If Matt thinks his frame is better, great! He can tailor it using the methods of his profession and I’m sure most of us, whether we like his arguments or not, wish him success with that. I’m just not sure why that means others should have to use the same frame. It seems to me that a good strategy would have more than one aspect. Not everyone is going to be happy all the time, so have a little something for everyone.

  94. #94 DiscoveredJoys
    April 2, 2008

    I’ve already said my bit about framing in posts to other blogs – in favour in principle but must not corrupt content.

    However it struck me that there is an opportunity to ‘frame’ the producers of Expelled, and the supporters of Intelligent Design, more usefully. They are Theocrats rather than Creationists (or IDiots).

    OK a not-very-stunned-silence. But do you, the wobbly middle of America, want
    Theocrats poking about in your bedroom?
    Do you want Theocrats deciding what you should think about?
    Do you want Theocrats deciding what your children should learn?
    Do you want Theocrats deciding if your own faith is good enough for them?
    Do you want Theocrats enforcing a particular brand of authoritarian politics?
    Do you want the Medieval Theocrats (or Medi-evil, more framing!) deciding what medical treatment you should be allowed to have?

    There, I’ve framed Expelled in terms of religion, not science. Lets be honest, the Intelligent Design flim-flam was always about bigging up the God idea, not science. Attacking God is not going to work well in America, attacking purient Puritans poking their noses into your private affairs is likely to work better.

  95. #95 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    April 2, 2008

    JVP, good points. I guess a ‘formal’ definition is about as useful here as a formal definition of “species” (though more robust).

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