Respectful Insolence

I really didn’t want to get involved with the whole “framing” debate again. For whatever reason (and they are reasons that I’ve failed to understand), the very mention of the word seems to set certain members of the ScienceBlogs collective into rabid fits of vicious invective that leave rational discourse behind. And, yes, I know that by saying that I risk setting myself up as a target of said invective, but I don’t care. It must be the natural cantankerousness that my low level death crud is inducing in me or maybe it’s a lack of judgment brought on by large doses decongestants and antihistamines that have failed to prevent me from hacking a lung out. (Look at it this way, though: Because of my disease-ridden state, I’ll be uncharacteristically brief–somewhat.) Whatever the case, the reason I have not ventured into this whole debate in a very long time is because I tend to lean more towards the Mooney-Nisbet side of the frame, and discussing it around ScienceBlogs has become more trouble than it’s worth, given that both sides appear to have hardened their position to the point where a middle ground, nay reason itself, is hard-pressed to find an entrance. That’s why I hope that Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbett will pay attention to me here when I say to them:

You are wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong about the Dawkins-Myers incident.

I don’t know how to put it more plainly than that. In fact, I was shocked at just how wrong-headed Matt Nisbet‘s take on the matter was. How he can conclude that this incident was “bad for science” makes me wonder if he has a single clue, particularly the part where he tells Dawkins and Myers to shut up and “lay low” about the incident.

As you may recall, Thursday night there was a screening of the neuron-apoptosing argumentum ad Nazium excuse for a movie that is the anti-evolution Expelled! at the Mall of America. (Yes, I do so love that term “neuron-apoptosing” and intend to use it every chance I get when it is appropriate.) As you may further recall, through an incredible bit of serendipity combined with the incompetence of the movie’s producers, there just so happened to be a large atheist conference meeting in Minneapolis this weekend, and, even better, not only did this conference attract P.Z. Myers but it also boasted evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins as one of its main speakers, both of whom are scourges to creationists, “intelligent design” or otherwise. The producer recognized Myers, and security guards told him that he had to leave immediately. The hilarious part of this entire incident was that Richard Dawkins was not recognized and was allowed into the screening unmolested, and at the end of the movie during the question-and-answer session Dawkins rose to confront Mark Mathis, the producer of Expelled!, to ask him why he had “expelled” Myers, a question to which Mathis provided nothing but a stream of lies to explain.

The objection to all the crowing in the pro-science blogosphere seems to come down to nothing more than two points: (1) Any publicity (even negative publicity) is good publicity (Mooney) and (2) antagonizing the antievolution crowd is a bad idea (Nisbet). Just because a writer of Expelled! is claiming that he wants to give Dawkins and Myers a “group hug” is not a reason to view this incident as anything more than a P.R. debacle for the movie.

Indeed, the reason it’s such a debacle comes down to Mooney and Nisbet’s “framing” hypothesis. Consider: The entire theme or “frame” of the movie is the suppression of alternate viewpoints by a “Darwinian orthodoxy” to the point where evolutionists are equated to Nazis (over and over and over again) or Stalin. The movie is nothing more than a long catalog of alleged incidents where ID “scholars” have been “repressed” (help, help, I’m being repressed!) by those evil “Darwinists.” To those unfamiliar with the longstanding religious campaign to sneak the teaching of creationism (ID or otherwise) into science classes in public schools or, failing that, at least to deemphasize or eliminate the teaching of evolution in public schools, it’s a “frame” (albeit a dishonest and deceptive one) that has the potential to be compelling to Americans, particularly the religious, even if the movie is an inept piece of crap, as Richard Dawkins states. It plays to the natural American love of the underdog and desire to see “all sides” represented, at least when it is not clear to them that one side is pseudoscientific nonsense. It’s a winning “frame.”

In one fell swoop, the producers handed on a silver platter the perfect weapon to combat that frame by “expelling” Myers. In a single, misguidedly stupid act of fearful vindictiveness, they handed the “frame” of defending intellectual freedom back to the pro-evolution side. By “expelling” Myers and then dissembling and lying about it, the producers demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are nothing more than hypocrites, pure and simple, looking for an angle to push creationism. This becomes glaringly obvious particularly when one couples this “expulsion” of Myers with the producers’ prior actions of trying to hold screenings for audiences made up of only the religious who do not believe in evolution and are sympathetic to ID creationism and the deceptive and disingenuous way that the producers obtained interviews with Dawkins and Myers. And don’t even get me started on how Mathis has apparently used plants in audiences of these screenings to lob softball questions at him. Because I’ve in general been sympathetic to his viewpoint, I hope Mooney will pay close attention (read my lips even, although my namesake has no lips) while I quote his words right back at him:

Why is that so hard to understand?

Or:

Why is our side so clueless? I have no idea, but I find it eternally frustrating.

Or, as Dawkins himself put it:

Now, to the Good Friday Fiasco itself, Mathis’ extraordinary and costly lapse of judgment. Just think about it. His entire film is devoted to the notion that American scientists are being hounded and expelled from their jobs because of opinions that they hold. The film works hard at pressing (no, belabouring with a sledgehammer) all the favourite hot buttons of free speech, freedom of thought, the right of dissent, the right to be heard, the right to discuss issues rather than suppress argument. These are the topics that the film sets out to raise, with particular reference to evolution and ‘intelligent design’ (wittily described by someone as creationism in a cheap tuxedo). In the course of this film, Mathis tricked a number of scientists, including PZ Myers and me, into taking prominent parts in the film, and both of us are handsomely thanked in the closing credits.

Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Mathis instructed some uniformed goon to evict Myers while he was standing in line with his family to enter the theatre, and threaten him with arrest if he didn’t immediately leave the premises. Did it not occur to Mathis — what would occur any normally polite and reasonable person — that Myers, having played a leading role in the film, might have been welcomed as an honoured guest to watch it? Or, more cynically, did he not know that PZ is one of the country’s most popular bloggers, with a notoriously caustic wit, perfectly placed to set the whole internet roaring with delighted and mocking laughter?

Far worse is Nisbet’s breathtakingly inane statement (yes, my use of that term is intentional):

If Dawkins and PZ really care about countering the message of The Expelled camp, they need to play the role of Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and so many other political operatives who through misstatements and polarizing rhetoric have ended up being liabilities to the causes and campaigns that they support. Lay low and let others do the talking.

In other words, not only is he likening Myers and Dawkins to a clueless Obama campaign flak who went beyond what she should have been saying or a clueless Clinton campaign hack who made what is arguably a racist statement about Barack Obama and was forced to back down and resign from the Clinton campaign, but he’s telling Myers and Dawkins to shut up and let the “professionals” (like him, presumably) deal with the situation. I hope that Nisbett will pay close attention when I respond to him here, given that I have generally come down on his side of the framing issue more than is good for my mental health around the ScienceBlogs collective:

Bullshit!

It is true that there are times when Myers’ and Dawkins’ tendency to conflate science with atheism has grated on my nerves–a lot. OK, more than a lot. Indeed, that’s no doubt why the producers chose them to be interviewed for Expelled!; they were clearly hoping for some juicy sound bites to use. However, that’s not what’s going on with this incident. Why can’t Mooney and Nisbett understand that? No, what’s going on here is a perfect opportunity to use their entire concept of framing in a way that would not have otherwise been possible, thanks to the incompetence of the producers of Expelled!. We can use this incident to shatter the creationist frame for this one movie. Failure to take advantage of such a golden opportunity would be more than clueless. It would be criminal.

Why is that so hard to understand?

But, then, what do I know? I’m just a blogger with the walking death crud who was in a cranky mood last night when he wrote this and probably perfect evidence that it’s not a good idea to blog when ill. I’m also someone who was on Mooney’s and Nisbett’s side, more or less, and may be again. Unfortunately, even as one who tends to think that the nastiness directed at the very concept of framing by Myers and others in the blogosphere is all too often puzzlingly overblown and knee-jerk to the point of self-parody, I’m starting to find it very hard to take Nisbet and Mooney seriously any more so when they can’t even recognize a beautiful example of an opportunity to use their very own thesis in the cause of science.

Comments

  1. #1 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 24, 2008

    Bravo. Well said.

    I honestly think at this point, Nisbet’s personal rivalry with PZ is clouding his judgement, and Chris Mooney’s friendship with Nisbet is clouding his.

    Wringing their hands about how much this hurts science plays far more into the producer’s hands than being Expelled from Expelled.

  2. #3 J-Dog
    March 24, 2008

    Outstanding analysis – for a computer, you sound almost human!

    Although generally, I tend to favor the more aggressive approach, I also realize that the Mooney-Nesbit approach can sometimes be the better one. However, I’m definitely with you on this one, and IMO, in a struggle to the death – and the IDists and their followers DO want to kill science – you MUST use all your weapons.

  3. #4 SteveF
    March 24, 2008

    Great post. I’m inclined to side with M&N in the framing debate, but on this issue, their response has been idiotic. What on earth was Myers supposed to do? Get chucked out and then not mention this incident? If he had stayed silent, you can bet your bottom dollar that there would have appeared a comment on the Expelled blog about how they had to deal with an unruly Darwinist at a screening.

    The Expelled people, er, expel a scientist and then lie about it and PZ is supposed to stay silent. Wow.

  4. #5 Bob O'H
    March 24, 2008

    Ha! I hadn’t seen this debate as one around framing the issue.

    Oh, and you now owe me an ironymeter.

  5. #6 writerdd
    March 24, 2008

    I don’t think Mooney and Nisbet really understand framing. At least the haven’t shown an understanding of the concept in their blog posts. They seem to think it just means “play nice with the religionists and don’t piss them off.” And many of the people who claim to disagree with framing as a concept seem to be using this same definition. So the entire argument on ScienceBlogs seems to be based on a misunderstanding and misconstruing of the concept. (I’m assuming the whole framing topic spurred from George Lakoff’s work, and I don’t see his concepts being central to the arguments I’ve read on ScienceBlogs. Is it really possible that most of you have completely missed the point?)

  6. #7 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    March 24, 2008

    (1) Any publicity (even negative publicity) is good publicity

    This quote applies to entertainment. It does not apply to intellectual positions.

  7. #8 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    March 24, 2008

    I honestly think at this point, Nisbet’s personal rivalry with…

    Is there still anyone who hasn’t figured out Nisbet? He is all about building himself up by attacking those more accomplished than himself.

  8. #9 tomh
    March 24, 2008

    Lay low and let others do the talking.

    This is one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever seen by a supposedly intelligent person. They should “let” others talk. Have they been stopping them? Just who is preventing these unspecified “others” from writing a best selling book, as Dawkins has, or a popular blog, as Myers has. In a ridiculous post that one sentence is in a class by itself.

  9. #10 Ian Findlay
    March 24, 2008

    This has all become very silly.
    I think that I shall go and lie down for a while.

  10. #11 Barn Owl
    March 24, 2008

    I think the anti-science ID/creationism movement (tidal wave?) has to be countered aggressively and rationally, and many working scientists don’t have the time, desire, and/or communicative ability to do so effectively. I’m often not in a position even to attend scientific meetings for which I have new research data to present, so traveling to skeptics-atheists-rationalists-science policy meetings is completely out of the question for me. I have to worry about more mundane issues, like mouse genotyping, and how best to describe spinal cord lesions, and cremasteric and bulbocavernosus reflexes in spinal shock, to 200+ medical students.

    More power to those who can attend, and who can argue in favor of science in a public way.

  11. #12 Oran Kelley
    March 24, 2008

    Just a few notes: If you think that the contradiction between the apparent free speech values of the movie and ejecting PZ is some sort of stake-in-the-heart for this film, I’m afraid you’re wrong–it isn’t. I really don’t think the contradiction matters very much. Right-wing views are riddled with contradictions. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference.

    What is the point of the film: Is it to persuade those on the fence that ID is legitimate science? I doubt it. The audience doesn’t know what legitimate science is and probably doesn’t care.

    Is it to paint scientists as close-minded zealots who are too interested in tearing down religion to give ID a fair hearing?

    I think it’s this last assertion we ought to be trying to head off because that’s the only one that matters on the larger stage. Making sure that people who don’t know anything about science and have no real basis to judge ID vs. evolution continue to trust the institution of science to make that judgment (more or less) for them.

    That’s what is at stake. So the question is–are Myers and Dawkins doing a good job of creating that kind of reassurance or not.

  12. #13 Elf M. Sternberg
    March 24, 2008

    Agreed, Orac. I think you’ve nailed the issue succinctly. (Reading the take from pro-ID (and cerebrally necrotic) flack Denyse O’Leary should make it clear that the current “frame” is the right one.

  13. #14 Oran Kelley
    March 24, 2008

    I think the anti-science ID/creationism movement (tidal wave?)

    Why the crisis language?

    I really don’t think there’s any “tidal wave.” The vast majority of people have no real knowledge of evolution. That’s not about to change.

    Poll data giving us numbers on how many people believe in evolution is essentially a measure of how readily scientific authority is accepted NOT of people’s cool-headed judgment as to the merits of either side of this particular argument.

    The real work to be done is not coming up with some killer argument against IDers or refuting every argument they come up with. It’s working on the overall credibility of science and scientists.

  14. #15 student_b
    March 24, 2008

    I have just to say one thing:

    neuron-apotosing

    Pure geniues.

    May I borrow it for further use in discussions with cdesign proponentists?

  15. #16 Orac
    March 24, 2008

    Of course.

    I think I’m the one who originated it. At least, I can’t recall ever having seen it used before I came up with it. But you never know…

  16. #17 Dianne
    March 24, 2008

    I do so love that term “neuron-apotosing”

    Me too, but I think it may be inappropriate for this situation. I doubt that Expelled
    is good enough to allow neurons to apoptose in an orderly manner. It sounds more neuron-necrosing to me. See it and your neurons will die an ugly death from fact deprivation before they can get their DNA laddered and annexin to the surface.

  17. #18 Julie Stahlhut
    March 24, 2008

    Isn’t that “apoptosing?”

  18. #19 Matthew C. Nisbet
    March 24, 2008

    Orac,
    The comparison to a clueless Clinton or Obama political operative is accurately applied to PZ and Dawkins. Just take a look at the clip from the film at my blog. Whether they were fooled by the producers or not, comments that science knowledge “kills off” religious belief or that more science literacy will mean less religion are sociologically innocent, misinformed, delusional, and unscientific.

    Not to mention, such comments are alienating to moderately religious audiences. The message is if you learn about science, it will displace something else that is very important to you.

    As long as PZ and Dawkins continue to be front in center in news coverage of the film, they are a major liability in promoting public trust in science. Like a clueless political hack who makes a major blunder, they need to take one for the team and lay low for awhile, letting others do the talking about the film.

    Oran Kelly’s comments in this thread are dead on. The frame is not the Myers incident and the hypocrisy of the Expelled producers. That just boils down to another he said-she said affair (with a secondary message that science and religion are at odds).

    Instead the frames should derive heavily from the recent communication research by the National Academies (see the current issue of the journal Life Sciences Education and the recent Evolution report from the Academies).

    If PZ and Dawkins care about promoting public trust in science and science education, they will lay low and let others respond to the film. As long as they remain front and center they just serve as rhetorical bogeymen that feed the creationist message.

  19. #20 Orac
    March 24, 2008

    Isn’t that “apoptosing?”

    Yeah, blame it on the death crud. I fixed it. As for Nisbet, perhaps I’ll get back to him this evening. I’m at work right now eating lunch and cannot take the time for a response. But everyone else should feel free to jump in until this evening when Orac returns to the blog.

  20. #21 MattP
    March 24, 2008

    Matthew,
    You seem to be conflating the frame of this incident with that presented in the movie. The fact that Dawkins and Meyers may have made some harmful statements in the movie doesn’t take away from the powerful rhetorical position they are later placed in by being expelled from a movie about being expelled for unpopular views. You’re timely condemnation of PZ and Dawkins in the aftermath of this incident has only given ammunition which the supporters of this film are now using to attempt to distract attention from their hypocrisy.

    I’m usually on your side about the whole framing thing, but I think you’ve called it wrong this time, damaged the position of science re:this film, and, perhaps, should have left the talking to someone else this time around.

  21. #22 Colin
    March 24, 2008

    I’d just like to point out the hypocrisy of saying that “any news is good news” for creationism, but that only news that’s pleasing to everyone is “good news for atheism”.

  22. #23 secularskeptic
    March 24, 2008

    Matt,

    You’re wrong about the relationship between science and religion in the lives of the masses. You can point to exceptions all you want, but the fact is that scientific knowledge and religious belief are negatively correlated within any given population.

    Why do you insist on attempting to censor those who are actively involved in the event and its aftermath, all while babbling nonsense and pretending to speak for the masses?

    I agree with your most basic point, that we must consider the waffling middle, but your execution falls far, far short of your strategy. Why can there not be several different methods in order to catch as many fish as possible? Shermer’s tack is vastly different from those of PZ and co., but they still manage to get along just fine, and I imagine that the audiences that they reach overlap only partially.

    I find it disturbing that you consider your own communicative abilities so vastly superior to those of PZ. Do you imagine that anybody has even heard of you that isn’t involved in this discussion?

    I should also point out that it was the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris that convinced me to abandon my faith, so if you’re looking for a meaningless anecdote, there’s one.

  23. #24 J. J. Ramsey
    March 24, 2008

    Matthew C. Nisbet: “If PZ and Dawkins care about promoting public trust in science and science education, they will lay low and let others respond to the film.”

    Trouble is, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they lay low, it can be spun as cowardice. If they don’t, they are reminders of the dubious claim that science leads to atheism.

    Also, what did you hope to accomplish by trying to tell PZ and Dawkins to lay low? It’s not like the “Don Imus of Atheism” or the maker of the “Neville Chamberlain atheist” frame are likely to listen to you.

  24. #25 David Marjanović
    March 24, 2008

    If PZ and Dawkins care about promoting public trust in science and science education, they will lay low and let others respond to the film. As long as they remain front and center they just serve as rhetorical bogeymen that feed the creationist message.

    So you really honestly believe that if a journalist wants to interview them, they should in effect say “I’m too embarrassed to talk about it, please go ask the NCSE”?

    And why do you even bring attention to what they said in the movie, rather than to the laughable hypocrisy and equally laughable incompetence of Stein & Mathis? Why don’t you just point and laugh at Expelledgate?

  25. #26 fontinal
    March 24, 2008

    Matthew C. Nisbet: “As long as they remain front and center they just serve as rhetorical bogeymen that feed the creationist message.”

    And? Should we remove all potential rhetorical targets and let them simply continue propping up the straw man for obliteration, thus allowing the third parties of today and the youth of all parties of tomorrow – the groups Myers and Dawkins are trying to reach – conclude like most previous generations that there is no conflict? That’s precisely the attitude that allows people – given no real sense of the true tensions across the ideological landscape – to fall into the default setting dictated by simple cultural inertia.

    No, what we’re talking about here is the different between “framing” the agenda versus fighting to take charge of it. And the only real mistake is in not realizing that each has its role to play. Despite the better angels of our nature (pun intended) relying exclusively on “good cop” tactics is a strategy doomed to failure.

  26. #27 DanioPhD
    March 24, 2008

    I think the only thing that Richard and PZ are really ‘bad for’ is the milquetoast Nesbit/Mooney framing strategy. The creationists have made tremendous inroads into education systems all over America over the last 10 years or so. They have done so by making simple uneducated believers afraid of science. I agree that it is a problem that must be addressed, and that a blanket “yes, that’s right, scientific inquiry DOES make one godless!” *waggling tongue and devil horns* strategy would perhaps not go over so well. However, setting examples of freethinking, free speech, and honoring diverse, reasoned opinions are remarkably successful at humanizing scientists as individuals and professionals.

    The soft, cooing, ‘fundy-whisperer’ approach, by itself, will fail. If there is any hope of pulling American Science Education out of the cesspool in which it is now mired, we need strong, compelling, erudite scientists taking up the cause in greater numbers. If you can’t see that, Matt, then I think it might be time for you to ‘lie low’ for a while. The creationist hordes are certainly feasting on your and Chris’s recent statements in their favor. How can you possibly frame that in a way that is favorable to your cause?

    Tens of millions of Americans, who neither know nor understand the actual arguments for or even against evolution, march in the army of the night with their Bibles held high. And they are a strong and frightening force, impervious to, and immunized against, the feeble lance of mere reason. ~Isaac Asimov

  27. #28 Matt Penfold
    March 24, 2008

    Orac,

    I know you disagree with Dawkins, PZ and others on the conflict between science and religion. You, and many others, argue there does not need to be a conflict, whilst Dawkins et al argue that there is a conflict unless religion is so denuded that it ceases to be religion as is normally understood.

    Can I ask if you agree with Nisbett, Mooney et al who it would seem want to keep the fact a good number scientists think science is in conflict with religion from the public ?

  28. #29 Scote
    March 24, 2008

    OT:

    OK,
    for those of us who didn’t take Latin how do you say “apoptosing?

  29. #30 Joshua
    March 24, 2008

    I don’t think Mooney and Nisbet really understand framing. At least the haven’t shown an understanding of the concept in their blog posts. They seem to think it just means “play nice with the religionists and don’t piss them off.” And many of the people who claim to disagree with framing as a concept seem to be using this same definition.

    Indeed, that seems to be the case, and it does explain why the battle lines on the issue seem so haphazard, with Orac for example supporting “framing” in the general sense but opposing Nisbet and Mooney on this particular issue. The thing is, Nisbet has no productive ideas whatsoever. All he has going for him is this silly business where he tells far more successful popularisers of science to shut up and let a nobody like him speak for them.

    If he were actually proposing some useful frames to use in countering the propaganda efforts of DI et al., that would be a different story, but that’s emphatically not been the case. (Telling other people to shut up is not only not productive, it’s also fantastically hypocritical coming from him — pretty much on the level of expelling people from watching Expelled, come to think of it.)

  30. #31 rjb
    March 24, 2008

    The thing to realize is that there are two objectives to the Myers-Dawkins argument:

    1: Rational, scientific thinking is important to emphasize in our culture. The ID side does not have any leg to stand on in a scientific debate, and it must be pointed out that there is no place in science for religiously based ideology.

    2: Atheism, and possibly agnosticism, is a valid and fulfilling worldview. One can lead a moral, fulfiling, honest, and productive, happy life as such with no need whatsoever for myths and fairytales as part of a belief system. As art, history, and culture, sure, but not a basis for rational thinking.

    Myers and Dawkins have both made it clear that both of those objectives are important to them (and I agree). They personally conflate the two, and yes, that leads some to dismiss them. But, I also believe, this approach is important to bring in people who have religious doubts.

    There are many others (ie Ken Miller and Francis Collins) who also have a voice. Let them all be heard. Don’t silence the atheists because it will make some people uncomfortable. But definitely bring in other voices too to show the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of the ID position.

    Instead of silencing Myers and Dawkins, why not line up Collins, Miller, and others behind them ON THIS ISSUE? Why not use that “frame”? Regardless of your spiritual view, the view being espoused in Expelled is riduculous.

  31. #32 David Marjanović
    March 24, 2008

    for those of us who didn’t take Latin how do you say “apoptosing?

    Why do you think there might be a trap here? Unlike English, Latin and (what it is in this case) Greek actually follow their spelling rules. Just say “a” and then “pop” and then “to” and then “sing”. If you still find the pt difficult, don’t aspirate too hard.

  32. #33 David Marjanović
    March 24, 2008

    Atheism, and possibly agnosticism

    At least apathetic agnosticism (“I don’t know, and I don’t care”).

  33. #34 steppen wolf
    March 24, 2008

    Actually,

    The way you say it is apo-ptosis. There should be no “pop”, if you get my point. And by the way…it is from Greek…it refers to the falling of the leaves – quite a poetic way to talk about cellular death…

    And oh my, this all issue is getting way out of hand…I just thought we were going to laugh our head off to how you kick out PZ letting Dawkins in…and here we are getting our neurons to apoptose…

    Way I see it: people might not understand science, but they do understand that if you kick out one person for ideological reasons and you let his big buddy in because you cannot recognize him…you are obviously a dumb ass!

    Which means: Dawkins 1, creationists 0.

    All this polemical discussion makes us look like idiots. PZ and Dawkins have the upper hand, so why shouldn’t they use it, for once? This all framing thing’s getting out of hand. I agree, the “framing” people talk about here is not what is actually meant by “framing” in communications. So if you do not use the word properly, just make us all a favor and drop it.

    And as usual…well done, Orac.

  34. #35 Mark P
    March 24, 2008

    It seems to me that M&N have hit upon an approach that allows them to be the famous people in the valiant struggle against ignorance, while those who are actually the non-ignorant (the scientists themselves) are supposed to shut up and let those who know best handle things. It smells far too much of self righteousness and self promotion. I think M&N should mind their own business, not try to suppress the free expression of opinion by others.

  35. #36 Brian X
    March 24, 2008

    David:

    It’s an American thing. If a word or name looks unfamiliar we don’t even try to pronounce it. (You should have heard the announcements in my high school whenever a Greek name came up — there was one girl in my class who was known only by her first name because no one would dare try to pronounce it over the PA. (And she didn’t even have the longest such name — a girl who sat next to me had six syllables in her name. It was actually an incredibly easy name to pronounce, but no one ever tried that one either.)

  36. #37 CanadianChick
    March 24, 2008

    the more I read about this, the more I’m convinced that Mooney and Nisbet are just simply jealous of the fact that PZ Meyers gets attention and they don’t. They’re probably jealous of Dawkins too, but he’s written more books, so his publicity is “OK” – but Meyers? He’s just a mouthy blogger (in their worldview)…so why does HE get the publicity they so ardently crave?

    It’s not about ‘framing’ or approaches or discourse…it’s “you got to do something that I was invited to, so now I’m going to say you did it all wrong ‘cuz you’re a poopy-head”

    I agree that the style of PZ and Dawkins may not be suitable for all situations, but NOTHING is one-situation-fits-all.

  37. #38 Coin
    March 24, 2008

    I think anyone who would suggest the “no publicity is bad publicity” dictum applies in the case of Expelled’s good friday incident has simply not read the specific publicity that this incident actually generated.

    Seriously, look at the coverage of this in the mass media. It really is bad publicity.

  38. #39 Oran Kelley
    March 24, 2008

    Ramsey’s point (essentially why bother arguing with the militant atheists) is an interesting one.

    Also, I have to once again express my doubt that this situation gives Dawkins and Myers such a strong upper hand: it allows folks like us an opportunity to have a good laugh at Ben Stein et al but I don’t think its all that bad for the producers. It probably hurts them a bit among some of the audience Stein was expected to bring in, but I see this as minor. In fact, if the producer just comes out and says “I hate PZ’s guts, so I threw him out” I think this will disappear.

    On the other hand, we should keep in mind Expelled’s probable fate had this not happened: far, far more people would have seen this at church group meetings than anywhere else. Hopefully that’ll still be the case.

  39. #40 Der Bruno Stroszek
    March 24, 2008

    I’m not opposed to framing in principle, it’s what Matt and Chris seem to be assuming the term means that bothers me. “Framing” here seems to be taken to mean shying away from any extremes of opinion, cosying up to people who absolutely hate you and everything you stand for, and in Matt’s case endlessly criticising everyone else’s attempts to communicate without ever bringing anything constructive to the table yourself.

    I’d seen the two quotes from Chris that Orac brings up here before on his blog – the “Why is that hard to understand?” and “Why is our side so clueless?” I found both of them amazingly insulting and arrogant. If you’ve just started a massive blog war, isn’t it a bit ridiculous to present yourselves as great communicators and conciliators? I myself think that Chris’s message would get across perfectly well without his asides to the effect that everyone who disagrees with him is a drooling moron. But then, I’m not a “master framer”.

  40. #41 DanioPhD
    March 24, 2008

    Matt Nisbet’s post is now on the front page of the Uncommon Descent site. And no, I’m not going to link to it. Way to go with your stellar expertise in communication, there, Matt. A couple of days ago we were chortling about the ‘own-goal’ move by Mathis et al, but Nisbet&Mooney&Kirschenbaum (oh my!) just achieved the own-goal, gift-wrapped hat trick.

  41. #42 Coin
    March 24, 2008

    Oran: I think it depends on what the intended audience and goal of Expelled is.

    If the point of the movie was to make creationists feel all happy-gooey-fuzzy inside, then the PZ incident is good for them because it lets them rile up the base against them evil atheist bloggars.

    If the point of the movie was to make money, then the PZ incident is good for them because it increases awareness of the movie.

    But if the point of the movie was to create a new beachhead for the mainstreaming of creationism and lay the groundwork for a new creationist media strategy, then this incident is absolutely, unambiguously terrible for them. No normal media source will be able to treat Expelled seriously after this. References to their bizarre pre-release behavior will worm their way into nearly every news articles about the film. Many average people who don’t know anything about the evo/creo debates but who hear about this film through its advertising, or who get a sales pitch for the movie from a conservative pundit they normally trust, will think twice before taking it seriously because they heard about the PZ incident. This incident will hang over Expelled like a cloud, subtly stifling anything they attempt to do with it as mass-media PR.

    Let’s say the point of this movie was to rile up the base or make money. You know what? Who cares. That’s not our problem. Let them have their fundraiser/rally. What should matter to us is whether Expelled works as yet another creationist rebranding– whether it will succeed in reaching out to people who have not yet bought into the creationist premises. From this perspective the only important thing about this incident is that the creationists just screwed up their branding right of the gate. From this perspective the incident is a win, something to call as much attention to as possible.

  42. #43 Bronze Dog
    March 24, 2008

    I’m all for tweaking a message to make it more acceptable.

    The problem I have with “framing” is that the word’s become inseparable from M&N being very bad at it.

    Personally, for both science and atheism, I favor the multi-pronged approach. It was firebrands like PZ that actually got me passionate about this stuff. We need some gentler people, too, for different target audiences, but asking a useful section of the blogosphere to shut up isn’t a viable strategy. There’s a hell of a lot of hypocrisy and ignorance that needs to be pointed out, and pointed out repeatedly. PZ’s very good at that sort of thing.

  43. #44 pedlar
    March 24, 2008

    Others here have done the hard work so just a quick word of advice for Nisbet&Mooney:

    Lay low and let others do the talking.

    It’s just that you’re so bad at what you do. You know, that framing stuff.

  44. #45 MPW
    March 24, 2008

    Oran Kelley:

    The real work to be done is not coming up with some killer argument against IDers or refuting every argument they come up with. It’s working on the overall credibility of science and scientists.

    Actually, it seems to me you’ve got the problem exactly backwards. My nebulous impression is, and has been for years and years, that the credibility of scientists and science among the general public is very high. That’s why even religious fanatics like the IDists have to borrow its prestige to make political headway. That’s why pseudomedical/New Age woo salesmen have to do the same to make commercial headway. That’s why tobacco companies and oil companies have to do the same when they want to convince the public that their products aren’t really that dangerous.

    The problem is more that a contradictory mode of thinking – religious dogma and superstition – has at least as high, and possibly an even higher, level of credibility. Such that people who are generally very happy to let science go about its way most of the time – bringing them helpful technologies and lifesaving medicine and the like – will suddenly sniff at it when it runs up against some particular religious tenet they hold to. As PZ and Dawkins et al. keep saying, Religion is the problem. Or part of it, anyway.

    The other part of course is that while the public accords great prestige to science in a vague, abstract way, they don’t really understand what it actually is and what it does. It’s not much more than another form of magic whose efficacy is accepted on authority – another religion, as even some liberal, highly educated friends of mine tell me, before turning back to rearrange their furniture for better feng shui. A general failure to do good science education, and furthermore to instill critical thinking, in education and our intellectual culture, is the culprit there. But I’m among those who think it’s very hard, if not impossible, to disentangle that effort from the undermining of religion and mysticism.

  45. #46 MPW
    March 24, 2008

    Oran Kelley:

    The real work to be done is not coming up with some killer argument against IDers or refuting every argument they come up with. It’s working on the overall credibility of science and scientists.

    Actually, it seems to me you’ve got the problem exactly backwards. My nebulous impression is, and has been for years and years, that the credibility of scientists and science among the general public is very high. That’s why even religious fanatics like the IDists have to borrow its prestige to make political headway. That’s why pseudomedical/New Age woo salesmen have to do the same to make commercial headway. That’s why tobacco companies and oil companies have to do the same when they want to convince the public that their products aren’t really that dangerous.

    The problem is more that a contradictory mode of thinking – religious dogma and superstition – has at least as high, and possibly an even higher, level of credibility. Such that people who are generally very happy to let science go about its way most of the time – bringing them helpful technologies and lifesaving medicine and the like – will suddenly sniff at it when it runs up against some particular religious tenet they hold to. As PZ and Dawkins et al. keep saying, Religion is the problem. Or part of it, anyway.

    The other part of course is that while the public accords great prestige to science in a vague, abstract way, they don’t really understand what it actually is and what it does. It’s not much more than another form of magic whose efficacy is accepted on authority – another religion, as even some liberal, highly educated friends of mine tell me, before turning back to rearrange their furniture for better feng shui. A general failure to do good science education, and furthermore to instill critical thinking, in education and our intellectual culture, is the culprit there. But I’m among those who think it’s very hard, if not impossible, to disentangle that effort from the undermining of religion and mysticism.

  46. #47 MPW
    March 24, 2008

    Sorry for the double post. It’s just that I really, really mean it. No, actually I got an error message the first time.

  47. #48 Barn Owl
    March 24, 2008

    OK, for those of us who didn’t take Latin how do you say “apoptosing?

    I thought it was a Greek word, and that the second “pee” was silent, like the “pee” in ocean.

    Or in swimming pool. ;-)

    Why the crisis language?

    I’ll bet you have your head in the sand about the US economy, too. Seen the extramural funding levels for most NIH institutes lately?

  48. #49 Bee
    March 24, 2008

    It’s beyond me why Nisbet and Mooney would ever have thought that rudely telling PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins to sit down and shut up right out front in their very own SBlogs would be a good way to ‘frame’ their concerns.

    All they managed to do was to be seen publicly trying to undermine what in fact was a very good example of ‘framing’ ID proponents as dishonest and hypocritical. Their harping at PZ looks like nothing but jealousy and mean spiritedness.

    I’m not in the least surprised by PZ’s indignant and mildly profane reaction – I’d have done the same by now.

  49. #50 Lurky
    March 24, 2008

    2: Atheism, and possibly agnosticism, is a valid and fulfilling worldview. One can lead a moral, fulfiling, honest, and productive, happy life as such with no need whatsoever for myths and fairytales as part of a belief system. As art, history, and culture, sure, but not a basis for rational thinking.

    -rjb

    Exactly. That’s one point where Europe is far ahead of your continent. A point which — I think — Dawkins and PZ are very good at getting across.

  50. #51 the real CosMo Framer
    March 24, 2008

    re: framing, you said the “very mention of the word seems to set certain members of the ScienceBlogs collective into rabid fits of vicious invective that leave rational discourse behind.”

    there are a few other words that get ‘em going even more, like outdated PC rhetoriticians, or ‘antiquated faux-progressive’ and anything at all that challenges their sacred temple priestesses, or feminissiscisms, or anything at all that they can label anti-semiticalisticist ( while ignoring the causes of all of ‘those other semites’ like PALESTINIANS, etc.)

    Seems to me yours is quite an interesting–almost subtly dissenting viewpoint, in contrats–slightly–from the rest of the sciborg temple. But it might be more wise to smash a different frame: that of blog censorship, manipulations of other truths here at sciborgs, or lies and mis-characterizations that go both ways in these debates.

    And YUCK! all of that ideology squeezed like t^rds in between the ‘facts’on both sides….

    Stein ( or any other lame brained conservo-creato)couldn’t possibly have planned this great publicity–it IS great publicity for an otherwise disreputable, dull film that only relatively dull people will subscribe to.

    And M&N do seem to know a thing or two about *gurp* fff- framing…

  51. #52 GuLi
    March 24, 2008

    Mr Nisbet, your opinion that

    comments that science knowledge “kills off” religious belief or that more science literacy will mean less religion are sociologically innocent, misinformed, delusional, and unscientific.

    is the crucial point of your whole argument.

    If it is correct, you may indeed say that Dawkins and Myers are misinformed ; you could even try and lead them – and the general public – to better knowledge. You have cyberpulpits from which to do so, or books to write.
    But that’s it.
    It is their taking of the matter, they’re only honest and open about it when asked.
    As far as I know, it could even be the common view amongst scientists – all delusional, why not.

    Well, you know the game – the authority from which you could tell even nobodies to “lay low and shut up” without being laughed off the park can only be bestowed upon you after you’ve conclusively demonstrated that
    - “more science education leads to less religion” is false;
    - this opinion is definitely not the “scientific establishment”‘s, and that
    - having the general public hear it is Detrimental to the Cause of Science Education.

    With bated breath,

  52. #53 Wes
    March 24, 2008

    Nisbet wrote:

    Whether they were fooled by the producers or not, comments that science knowledge “kills off” religious belief or that more science literacy will mean less religion are sociologically innocent, misinformed, delusional, and unscientific.

    Not to mention, such comments are alienating to moderately religious audiences. The message is if you learn about science, it will displace something else that is very important to you.

    But science does displace previously held beliefs which were very important. That was exactly my experience and the experience of many other people as they learned about science growing up. It challenges previously held beliefs, even ones that are very dear to one’s heart. To deny this is sheer craziness–overturning established beliefs is one of the most salient features of science. People who study science seriously (whether as scientists or as non-scientists) will inevitably find that things they previously believed are often directly challenged and undermined by scientific findings.

    People like you would have me believe that it’s sheer coincidence that, while 95% of the general population are theists, the majority of scientists are atheist or agnostic (and many of the god-believing scientists are deists or pantheists). People like you would have me believe that it’s sheer coincidence that poll after poll after poll finds that religiosity is inversely correlated with level of education. People like you would have me believe that it is sheer coincidence that over and over again scientific research has overturned previously dominant religious beliefs.

    I’m not claiming one can’t be both religious and a scientist. In fact, I fully acknowledge that one can be both religious and a scientist. But to claim there’s no conflict at all between the two, and that there’s no connection at all between science and atheism, is asking me to ignore some very well-documented statistical and historical trends. Why are so many scientists atheists? Why does religious belief become less common the more educated a group is? Why is so much opposition to science religious in nature? Why did so many people like me (a former Christian) find their religious beliefs more and more difficult to maintain the more science they learned?

    Scientists would be looking for answers to these questions (and many are), not hand-waving them away.

  53. #54 Pseudonym
    March 24, 2008

    I have to concur with what SteveF said. Framing is important, but I’m starting to wonder if Nisbett and Mooney actually understand it.

  54. #55 Doc Bill
    March 24, 2008

    Nisbet wrote:

    Whether they were fooled by the producers or not, comments that science knowledge “kills off” religious belief or that more science literacy will mean less religion are sociologically innocent, misinformed, delusional, and unscientific.
    Not to mention, such comments are alienating to moderately religious audiences. The message is if you learn about science, it will displace something else that is very important to you.

    You will displace something else that is very important to you?

    No. How about, you will grow up.

    Sorry, Nisbet, but you are totally wrong.

    You’re telling me, Nesbit, as a communications expert, to pander. Pander? Isn’t that what you’re saying? I should be sensitive to the feelings of the low born so as not to hurt the feelings of the peasantry. That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?

    No. That’s wrong. What is in Science is, regardless of the Clintonian definition of the word “is.” The Earth moves, Nisbet.

  55. #56 Phoenix Woman
    March 24, 2008

    Hey, everyone, let’s not give the concern trolls any more clicks from now on, ‘k? It’s obvious they’re just energy creatures. Let them starve.

  56. #57 Cdesign opponentist
    March 24, 2008

    The important thing is that people are laughing. They’re not particularly angry, or otherwise manning the battlements, they’re laughing at a man so insecure that he feels threatened to have PZ in his theatre, and so incompetent that he manages to overlook the most famous anti-creationist in the world standing right there next to him.

    Hatred can be channeled into martyrdom. Ridicule is harder.

  57. #58 George Smiley
    March 24, 2008

    I’m often not a fan of Myers, but Nisbet is full of shit. That his comments are mirrored favorably at Uncommon Descent confirms the judgement that he is full of shit, at a six sigma confidence level.

  58. #59 Russell Blackford
    March 25, 2008

    You know, I’ve been trying to figure out over the last day or so how Nisbet, and now his pals at The Intersection, can be so horribly wrongheaded (as they seem to me). The nearest I can make out is that they think science is some scary idea like … I dunno … let’s say transhumanism or polyamory or squid worship. If I were trying to sell transhumanism (to use that example) to the American public, I suppose one strategy I might adopt would be to put the most cogent arguments for it that I could. This is the Dawkins approach.

    But a PR guy or gal might say to me, “If you’re trying to sell something that’s so, like, left-field, as transhumanism make sure you seem as ‘normal’ as you can in every other respect. Don’t mention that you may not be religious in the normal way, or that you don’t often wear a suit, don’t have kids, or whatever other odd features you have. And don’t suggest that transhumanism might have any scary implications beyond the most glaringly immediate one about how we’ll all turn into squids, er, posthumans.”

    From a purely short-term PR view, this would be good advice … I suppose. This is the Nisbet approach.

    So, by analogy, I suppose if I really just want to make science attractive to folks from the bible-rich fields of the American mid-West, and if science really is so scary, I should, indeed, try to look as “normal” as possible: dress in a suit or “nice” casual clothes, get my hair cut more frequently, don’t mention I’m an atheist or a squid worshipper, or that I actually have some time for various other ideas that those bible growers will find scary.

    If it becomes known to them that I’m a polyamorous worshipper of Cthulhu – or whatever I might be – then I’ve been discredited and should lie low.

    So every time Dawkins, or PZ, says something, it’s like an alarm goes off in Nisbet’s mind, “Why won’t that goddamn polyamorous worshipper of Cthulhu just shut up? He’s tainted. Those bible farmers will think that all scientists are like that, so they’ll turn away from our righteous (yet scary) message.”

    Personally, I think we’re lost once we begin to think this way. For a start, we’re lost if we take seriously the idea that good, established science is as scary as something like transhumanism (even if it is to a certain American demographic). I have a fair bit of time for transhumanism, as it happens, but it’s not something as solidly evidence-based as evolutionary biology.

    Moreover, it’s not good long-term advice even to someone who wants to sell a scary intellectual product like (say)transhumanism. Following this kind of advice means suppressing our personalities unless we really are boringly conventional people. It means that we can never stand up for more than one idea at a time, if our ideas are at all other than the conventional ones that are accepted by the average American bible farmer, and we can never show how our ideas fit together and support each other. This kind of short-sighted PR advice is the death of the intellect.

    But yes, there possibly (probably?) is some immediate pay-off. I can only assume that that is an-consuming fact for Nisbet when he gives equivalent advice to what I discussed above. I suppose we should at least try to understand why he’s never going to look past that fact, or change his mind, or cease having that alarm bell ringing loudly in his head every time those horribly-tainted squid worshippers like Dawkins and PZ speak up.

  59. #60 Chris Noble
    March 25, 2008

    Sometimes the best response is scorn and ridicule.

    Being expelled from “Expelled” is exactly such a case.

  60. #61 Kristine
    March 25, 2008

    In one fell swoop, the producers handed on a silver platter the perfect weapon to combat that frame by “expelling” Myers. In a single, misguidedly stupid act of fearful vindictiveness, they handed the “frame” of defending intellectual freedom back to the pro-evolution side. By “expelling” Myers and then dissembling and lying about it, the producers demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are nothing more than hypocrites, pure and simple, looking for an angle to push creationism.

    Bravo, Orac.

  61. #62 Lee
    March 25, 2008

    Russell Blackford gets it dead right:

    “Personally, I think we’re lost once we begin to think this way. For a start, we’re lost if we take seriously the idea that good, established science is as scary as something like transhumanism (even if it is to a certain American demographic). I have a fair bit of time for transhumanism, as it happens, but it’s not something as solidly evidence-based as evolutionary biology.”

    Bingo. In fact, what Nisbet and Mooney are doing is GIVING IN to the creationist frame, rather than reframing it. The creationist frame is (in part) “science and scientists are amoral and scary” – Nisbet responds to that frame by acknowledging it, and advocating running in fear from it by hiding any scientist who might be even a llittle bit scary.

    This isn’t framing, no matter what Nisbet argues. It is acquiescence to the opponents frame – precisely what someone who understands communication and framing would never do.

    Nisbet is on the front page of Uncommon Descent today precisely because he has just issued a forceful reinforcement of one of the strongest creationist frames. good going.

    I believe I’ll head over to his place now and tell him this directly, in fact.

  62. #63 ngong
    March 25, 2008

    Nisbet’s argument seems to be that Dawkins and Myers link atheism to science. That doesn’t go over well with the folks who won’t budge on their religious positions, so Dawkins and Myers should shut up if they wish to advance science.

    It sounds neat, but there are plenty of links in the chain of logic that can break down, and plenty of links he doesn’t see. Nisbet needs to support his point, science-like, but all he can provide is a poll here, a focus-group result there as folks emerge from a theater. Does he really presume to understand how the new atheists’ voices will intermix with the election, oil prices, cultural trends, terrorism, etc? Does it matter that Myers and Dawkins may have other priorities than pure, immediate, “advancement of science”?

    The repercussions of Myers/Dawkins speech may be difficult to grok, but it’s a no-brainer to foresee the reaction to Nisbet’s wording. So what the hell was this self-appointed master of Karma thinking?

    Here’s Nisbet telling the writer of “The Selfish Gene” that he needs to “lay low” for the good of science. It’s got to be infuriating, and I have nothing but empathy when I see Myers using the f-word in response.

  63. #64 John Morales
    March 25, 2008

    I find it odd that Dr. Nesbit’s response to Orac is to reiterate his original post.

    He might more succinctly just have written “I stand by my post.”.

  64. #65 Orac
    March 25, 2008

    Yeah, I noticed that too.

    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. However, in Matt’s robotic non-response (really, as you say, nothing more than a mindless repetition of his original post), I’m beginning 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 dogma.

    Really.

    Matt has close to zero support on this. His idiotic–no, that’s not too strong a word–reaction to this incident and his arrogantly telling PZ to shut up and lay low have alienated me, someone who’s 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, and 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 easy 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.

  65. #66 Robster, FCD
    March 25, 2008

    for those of us who didn’t take Latin how do you say “apoptosing?

    The real answer is however you like. Only people with sticks up their ass get into fights over this.

    Personally, I pronounce it as “throat-warbler mangrove.”

  66. #67 Oran Kelley
    March 25, 2008

    MPW:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I think you are right: science still has a great deal of mojo. My guess is that it is still the biggest piece of ideological mojo there is in Western Culture.

    There are a number of kinds of people I see who are concerned about this: people like me, and I suspect a lot of other folks around here, who see FAITH in science as a dangerous thing, that may be and sometimes is abused by charlatans and, more regrettably, by scientists; then there are classic neo-conservative types, who also believe in science, but see this belief as a radically unstable basis on which to build social consensus, so they oppose the the dis-illusionment of the masses pretty vigorously using whatever tools that may be at hand; people who DON’T believe in scientific mojo and see it as some form of golden idol; lots of combinations of these last two.

    This constellation of anti-science thinking provides a lot of different avenues to undermine scientific authority. One obvious way is by attacking science-related institutions (academia, for example) or scientific consensus (ID, Global warming doubters, vaccine opponents) without attacking science as such.

    So figuring this as a battle between two great epistemologies–deistic and materialistic–is misleading and, I think, fights the wrong fight at a pretty crucial time.

    At this point in time, I don’t see why we should concern ourselves about whether someone believes in the resurrection of Christ, so long as they believe the social/investigatory institution of science usually gets it right and ought to be listened to. And history shows fairly conclusively that those two beliefs can coexist in a person and in a culture, if tenuously.

  67. #68 Oran Kelley
    March 25, 2008

    Quick note: It seems to me that the words “Concern Troll” must be Greek for “I don’t feel like hearing any arguments. Assent only please!”

    Now I am agnostic as to whether its anyone’s place to publicly call for Dawkins and Myers to “lay low,” but I will put myself among those who are uncomfortable with both of these guys as spokesmen for science or secularism. Dawkins, though, has impressed me on occasion with the assured and moderate tone he can assume. (Myers I haven’t seen/heard out and about much.) So maybe my concerns are unfounded.

    Wes: I’m not claiming one can’t be both religious and a scientist. In fact, I fully acknowledge that one can be both religious and a scientist. But to claim there’s no conflict at all between the two, and that there’s no connection at all between science and atheism, is asking me to ignore some very well-documented statistical and historical trends. Why are so many scientists atheists? Why does religious belief become less common the more educated a group is? Why is so much opposition to science religious in nature? Why did so many people like me (a former Christian) find their religious beliefs more and more difficult to maintain the more science they learned?

    I don’t think the issue is so much whether or not there is any degree of conflict between religion and the scientific worldview–of course there is. That’s largely what literature was concerned with in the late 19th century (and at other points in history).

    The issue, though, is should that conflict become the point science should force right now, or should science pursue a tack right now that would emphasize the possibility of coexistence, which you acknowledge.

  68. #69 Richard
    March 25, 2008

    I think this may be, as Orac suggests, a battle between two dogams, but I think it’s also a battle between two attitudes. Dawkins and Myers love a good intellectual fight. They don’t mind the chaotic give-and-take of hashing out their ideas. That’s pretty typical of good scientists, I think. Nisbet is all about controlling the message, and basically, marketing. Myers, Moran, and Friends have a visceral reaction against that attitude. Nisbet’s tendency to prescribe what MUST be done (his favorite word) is like waving a red flag in front of the other side. And he just keeps on doing it.

  69. #70 Left_Wing_Fox
    March 25, 2008

    Oran Kelly: I think it may be abused here. Generally a “concern troll” is the sort of person who contributes either nothing to the discussion except for “I think you’re alienating people from our cause”, or a person of the opposite position trying to give “Friendly advice” on how to win friends and influence people with your position by abandoning it.

    Personally, I think the common ground has to be a reclaiming of secularism: the idea that religeous dogma is seperated as much as possible from the actions of science.

    One of the big problems in American politics is the terminology creep in the US by the political pundits on the right*, where liberal philiosophies keep getting labelled as socialist, communist and totalitarian. “Secularism” has come to mean “Atheism”, despite the fact that the term has long been supported by the religeous as a method for preventing any religeon from tromping on their toes (I.e. protestants protected from catholic politicians, catholics protected from protestant politicians, etc. )

    The trend in the Republican party to link radical protestant teaching to government under the musy term of “Faith” has tried to do away with these sort of seperations from daily life, science and government, in favor of sreligeous dominance. They’ve kept this together so far by papering over the differences between faiths and demonizing atheism via secularism. To that end, secularism needs to be restored as an american virtue for the preservation of a pluralist society.

    *Yes, I’ve seen leftists conflate ‘Fascism’ with ‘crony capitalism’ many times as well. But in the media today, they are in much more minority position, and have little impact on the overall national discourse compared to, for instance, the cable news network lineups.

  70. #71 Oran Kelley
    March 25, 2008

    Myers love a good intellectual fight

    I’d have to disagree. Myers loves to fight; there’s rarely very much in the way of intellectual give and take in an arguemnt with him.

  71. #72 Oran Kelley
    March 25, 2008

    Myers love a good intellectual fight

    I’d have to disagree. Myers loves to fight; there’s rarely very much in the way of intellectual give and take in an arguemnt with him.

  72. #73 Richard
    March 25, 2008

    One last note: I wonder why Nisbet does not attack Orac, or say, Steve Novella, for their rude comments about woo-meisters? Woo is at least as big a threat to the public understanding of science as anything else, and I’m glad that Orac fights the good fight. But shouldn’t he be letting Matthew Nisbet frame the arguments for him so as not to turn off the New Agers?

  73. #74 Russell Blackford
    March 25, 2008

    What Oran Kelly doesn’t seem to understand above – or has perhaps forgotten – is that some of us really do think that it’s important to undermine the intellectual and moral authority that religion claims. We have come to the conclusion that religion is false, largely because of the conflict between its claims and the scientific image of the world (which was, indeed, a leading theme in late 19th century literature and much else). We have also come to the conclusion that the moral authority and influence that religion continues to wield are dangerous. They lead people to take the wrong stance, and often cruel stances, on a whole range of moral and political issues. We quite specifically wish to cast doubt on religion in order to to undermine its influence and authority.

    What better way to do that than to point out the aforementioned conflict between religious worldviews and the worldview arising from the well-established findings of science, backed by mountains of evidence? After all, this was a big component in how we came to doubt religion in the first place, and we think the arguments are strong.

    I think that people who do this prominently are, indeed, acting as spokespersons for the scientific worldview or scientific image of the world, in the same way that their opponents act as spokespersons for various religious worldviews. That does not make them spokespersons for organised science, and they never claimed to be that. They do, however, form part of the party of reason: the group of people who want society’s direction to be determined more by outcomes from rational thought and inquiry and less by the influence of religious and moral tradition.

    I am proud to belong to this group of people, depite being much less prominent than Dawkins or even Myers. (I do, however, have some blows of my own to strike … stay tuned.)

    Nisbet has a different aim. He sees various demographics that might resist science. These include a religious demographic. So he wants to tailor the message to that demographic, which he takes for granted. He does not have an agenda of representing reason, or the scientific worldview, but merely of making “science” in some other sense (I can never quite work out what he means by, whether its the organised profession of scientists or what) more popular with the American public. That includes using PR spin in a such a way as to minimise or gloss over or avoid mentioning the conflict that really does exist between the worldviews of science and religion.

    If Nesbit is to pursue this strategy in the short term, with whatever short term benefits it might have, he really has no choice but to wish that people like Dawkins and Myers (and me if my voice were loud enough) would shut up. It was pretty rude of him to actually say it, but of course he must think it.

    If you take the Nesbit approach, you will necessarily find yourself opposing the work of people like Dawkins, who really are engaged in a social struggle against the authority of religion from an intellectual position based in the worldview of science. For his short-term PR goals, Nesbit is opposed to what I referred to as the party of reason.

    Now, if you don’t actually care about the authority of religion, I suppose you should side with Nesbit on the larger issues. Even then, though, you have to realise that what Dawkins and others are doing is a perfectly legitimate activity in a free society. Telling them to shut up and lie (or “lay” as Nesbit keeps saying) low (and, in effect, to abandon their larger goals) because it doesn’t suit your own agenda is pretty damn rude. It’s no wonder that PZ told him “Fuck you very much for your advice.”

  74. #75 Russell Blackford
    March 25, 2008

    And WHY do we think it’s pernicious for religion to be accorded authority and influence? Partly because we will keep seeing stories like this …

    http://ethxblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/uk-embryo-research-civilisation-0.html

    every day until such a time as the influence of religion recedes.

  75. #76 Russell Blackford
    March 25, 2008

    Okay, so the system has published my brief follow-up comment, but seems to have eaten my long comment that it was following up on (and which the system said it was referring to moderation). Oh well. *sigh*

  76. #77 Bad
    March 25, 2008

    The other thing is that PZ and Dawkins talk, and are listened to, not based on sort of master planner of science-promoting strategy has decided it shall be so, but because both are popular bloggers that have attracted an audience. That is, the reason they are so well known and have such loud voices in these debates is because a lot of people choose to listen to them.

    It’s not like these people will all just suddenly start listening to Nisbet, even if Dawkins and PZ told them to do so (which they never in a million years would do)! If Nisbet wants an audience for his positions on things, he needs to earn it, not demand it from others.

  77. #78 the real CosMo Framer
    March 25, 2008

    “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present” (Abraham Lincoln).

    I would vote that perhaps no blog-lek anywhere in cyberspace does more ‘labelling’ and childish name calling of dissenting opinions than sciborgs, or lays the charge of ‘troll’ or concern troll more often, save for some of the more whacky femist or masculinist sites.

    The idea of two dogmas fighting it out is convenient, but not necessarily entirely accurate because many of those hard-formed t^rd like *opinions* that either side slips into the debate ( in this case ID creeps and Meyers–NOT M&N)have never attained a full enshrinement into dogma–in the case of Meyers, he is very PC, and a dated, passe’ lefternist, and in the case of any ID creep, suffice it to say that they are jus’ain’t rite.

    But M&N are acting as interventionist voices in that at the very least, they are consistent, and speak professionally, and responsibly–so maybe the hullaballoo is that they actually used the same type of rhetoric that PZ and Creatos use–but it got sciborg attention, and helped the hitcounter indeed–maybe they DO know what they are doing;-)

  78. #79 LS
    March 25, 2008

    PZ has really inspired me in his video. A colleague I work with every day for the past 20 years in the field of science is also deeply religious. I know he teaches evolution in his biology class, but I bet he doesn’t believe it. He cannot possibly hold both of those thoughts simultaneously. I’m just going to GET IN HIS FACE tomorrow and really tell him how deluded he is. PZ, any advice? Just be honest, huh? Have integrity, huh? Great, you’re right. Oh boy I can’t wait. This is going to be great! I’m sure he’ll see things my way. Well, he seems rational enough, except for his religious neurosis. But now, I’m armed with PZejus power. In fact, I’m full of it (well, PZejus power anyway). Oh, World Without End!

  79. #80 MartinM
    March 26, 2008

    I’m just going to GET IN HIS FACE tomorrow and really tell him how deluded he is. PZ, any advice?

    “Don’t,” presumably.

  80. #81 Nerull
    March 26, 2008

    in the case of Meyers, he is very PC, and a dated, passe’ lefternist

    Myers is too politically correct? And this is a slight from a Nisbet fan?

    You do realize that the reason Nisbet wants to speak for everyone is so he can ensure no one says anything that isn’t politically correct, yes?

  81. #82 Dr Aust
    March 26, 2008

    I watched the Youtube video of Myers and Dawkins discussing the whole incident and was struck by just how mild-mannered, polite and reasonable they both seemed – especially Myers. As someone said above, rather different from Myers’ online persona, but very typically mid-Western.

    One can see the wider point of it being sometimes counterproductive to ONLY have Dawkins’ or Myers’ uncompromising take on “Science vs. religion” front-and-centre, rather than also seeing the more Gouldian “non overlapping magisteria” view represented. But….

    …as Bad posted just above, PZM and Dawkins ARE real scientists, and ARE popular bloggers – i.e. they are real experts, and have big grass roots followings. Mooney and Nisbet, as Russell Blackford and others have pointed out, are basically PR people. The political analogy here might be between actual political and economic thinkers (cf Dawkins and PZ), and …PR and image people.

    While PR people do have a key input in selling the message these days, the idea that they alone know how any fact, opinion or philosophy should be “framed”, and that they therefore ought to determine precisely what should be said or not said, is anathema to most people. We want to know what politicians, or scientists, really think – not what they have been advised to say by their PR gurus.

    Anyway, I would have said that a mild-mannered, reasonable and rather obviously horns-on-his-head-free PZ pointing out – in person to camera on national media – the disconnect between the IDers’ “We stand for free speech” schtick, and their throwing him out of the theatre, would be a great thing for the skeptical movement. A definite no-brainer.

    Equally, a few media-savvy PR / framing tips from someone before he got interviewed would not be a bad thing either.

  82. #83 Valhar2000
    March 26, 2008

    Orac, please! When will you understand that the problem with Nisbet and Mooney is not that they want to frame (which is, in the abstract, evidently a good idea), but rather that all they ever do is tell everyone they don’t like to shut up because they are doing wrong, and never offer any useful suggestions about how to proceed.

    They are cranks, plain and simple. If they weren’t cranks and actually had something to offer (like pointers or advice, rather than “Shut up and let us do it!!!”), we would think differently of them.

  83. #84 SmellyTerror
    March 26, 2008

    I know it’s been said before, but it bears repeating: I’d take Nisbet and Mooney’s views on framing more seriously if he weren’t so bloody dreadful at it. Maybe the are PR people, but they are AWFUL PR people. Perhaps there is something worth acting on in all their ideas, but they’ve communicated it such a way that they’ve utterly alienated the very people whose viewpoint they need to change, and has left even their supporters unsure of what they’re actually talking about.

    It’s an almost supernaturally poor effort at communication.

    …in fact, their efforts have been such a train wreck, such a classic case of how-not-to-do the very thing they are supposed to be teaching us all, that I’m seriously contemplating the possibility that they’re some kind of fifth column, who have intended all along to create a rift in the scientific community. Honestly, the alternative – that these clearly intelligent people are the scientific blogging world’s answer to the Keystone Cops – has become so unlikely that wild-ass conspiracies begin to reach parity.

    Think about it.

  84. #85 the real CosMo Framer
    March 31, 2008

    Nerull: it isn’t a slight, it is an observation. As stated, their might be a time to hammer away at out-dated paradigms, and off putting rhetoric–surely this isn’t that time.

    See, it is precisely because the faux-left interprets criticism as ‘slights’ that the dialogues get stuck in a little Minncestuous circle here on sciblogs, rather than actually making a wider appeal.

    N&M are merely pointing out a need for updated PR, and revamping of terms that reach out to, and include more people than those who erroneously identify with a ‘skin color’ or ‘genitalia based’ identity.

    Not everyone is stuck in the 1980′s. or the early 90′s chakra of spiteful deconstructionist critique.

    So, in a nutshell, PZ going shirtless with man-boobs dragging might seem appealing to sciborgs, but likely not so appealing to the rest of America–most of whom are just waking up to these debates; these debates which most need re-framing so that the co-option of both right wing whackoes and left wing zealouts dosen’t interfere with necessary analysis of new, candid social facts and observations ( many of which have come to light since Dworkin died, or Jimmy Swaggart proved Reagan wrong…)

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