The Intersection

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The responses are rolling in to our Science piece. At least as I write this, particularly thoughtful and in-depth ones have come from PZ Myers, Carl Zimmer, Alan Boyle, and Mike Dunford, among others. There have also been some more dismissive responses, which appear to miss our distinction between “spin” (which is indeed misleading) and “framing” (which is unavoidable in any form of communication), or which assert without proof that more traditional forms of science communication (the so-called “popular science” model) have been effective, even though traditional science media do not reach the vast majority of the public.

It seems to me that all of this merits some reply, which I (perhaps in conjunction with Matt) will be posting shortly. But first let me just point out the obvious: Our Science piece was quite short and compressed; it didn’t have space to address some of the points that are coming up, even though we had already anticipated them. A longer piece, outlining our outlook in more detail, is forthcoming, and Matt and I have already booked a number of talks (and plan to set up many more) in which we will also tease out the argument in greater depth.

In the meantime, Matt has some FAQ type documents on his site that explain in more detail: “What is Framing?” and “Popular Science versus Framing.” I also think Matt’s November presentation at the American Meteorological Society’s Environmental Science Seminar Series (PDF) is a great introduction to the argument, and it contains a lot of data.

More soon……

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Vause
    April 6, 2007

    I’m just not buying into this at all. It’s one thing for you, as a journalist, or Al Gore, as a politician, to ‘frame’ your presentation of science in any way you choose to raise awareness of an issue, get votes, sell books, or anything else – at the end of the day, that’s your job. But scientists are SUPPOSED to just dispassionately observe and report the facts, and, at least in the UK, they are generally respected for doing exactly that. Frankly I find the idea that you should talk about ‘stewardship of the Earth’, or whatever, to an Evangelical Christian in the hope that particular phraseology will push their buttons and make them react in the desired fashion extremely creepy, to put it mildly. If your essential point is that there’s no point scientists appearing in public with a simple presentation of the facts because the uneducated plebians haven’t time or inclination to absorb the facts, then all you’re saying is that it’s a waste of time for scientists to appear in public, period.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 6, 2007

    But scientists are SUPPOSED to just dispassionately observe and report the facts,

    One can even say that it is their usual framing. :-)

    More seriously, I look forward to a better definition of framing and spin respectively. My tentative try was that framing seems to mean to offer a context, often implicitly taken to mean social, that suits certain reader groups. The message is presented within the frame. Spin would seem to imply to distort the message to suit the purpose, for example by leaving out existing data.

    And I note that a “scientific frame” is a frame too, albeit perhaps narrowly useful, as the public is scientists or, after some adjustments, non-expert science blog readers. The original post is somewhat suggesting conflating social issues frames with other uses, which is confusing IMHO.

  3. #3 Norman Doering
    April 6, 2007

    Jonathan Vause wrote:

    Frankly I find the idea that you should talk about ‘stewardship of the Earth’, or whatever, to an Evangelical Christian in the hope that particular phraseology will push their buttons and make them react in the desired fashion extremely creepy, to put it mildly.

    I don’t think the concept of either ‘stewardship’ or ‘stewardship of the Earth’ is a necessarily religious concept. We’re not necessarily talking about taking care of the Earth because God told Adam to do that — we’re doing it for our own benefit.

    How in the world did ‘stewardship’ get construed with religion?

    The harder issue, even with just a simple presentation of the facts, is winning the trust (faith?) of your audience. There are too many Evangelical’s who don’t trust scientists. In addition to attacking evolution the guys at Dempski’s site also are calling global climate change a hoax.

  4. #4 Kristjan Wager
    April 7, 2007

    I think there is a problem in the lack of distinguising between scientists and science communcators. Scientists should certainly not frame the science (except in a science frame), but the people who communicates the science to non-scientific audiences should. Some times scientists are also science communicators, but that’s not always the case.

    Also, I fail to see why Mooney and Nisbet feel that all framing has to happen on the anti-scientists’ premises. People like PZ might offend some, but he certainly also get many to think – there is a reason he is the top science blogger after all. In other words, when talking science, he uses a science frame, an atheist frame or one of the many other frames that doesn’t appeal to the select group in power currently. This might seem ineffective, but as Dawkins has shown, such tactics might lead to a change of the entire debate. Dawkins has changed the US debate to a point where religious people have to argue for the merits of their faith, rather than taking them for granted.
    If scientists are not affraid of stating what is science and what’s not, then perhaps the US will reach a point where fringe groups (science wise) will have to argue for the scientific merit of their ideas, instead of taking them for granted, solely because they are not challenged.

  5. #5 bad Jim
    April 7, 2007

    Let me post a suggestion that we offer, instead of arguments, narratives.

    My mother, at 82, cannot keep two things in mind anymore. She’s a bright lady, but her memory is impaired. She can still follow a story, though. I’m inclined to think that people with less skill but more ability would learn more from storytelling as well.

    Never expect anyone to keep two pieces of evidence in mind while you expostulate the argument that ties them together. Keep it simple, linear and continuous.

    There can be as much evidence as you like, but one thing at a time, and each must reinforce the point. And no distractions, no matter how interesting.

    One of the problems with scientific communication is that we’ve been used to concentrating on recruitment. This is not the same effort.

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