The Intersection

Framing Science: Blog Overload


I gotta confess–I can’t keep up any more with all the reactions on the “framing science” front. The latest is from Gavin Schmidt, who has a really thoughtful item on how this plays out in real time for a scientist who has to go before the media.

Perhaps my all time fav post so far is from Orac, and if you read it I think you’ll see why.

Meanwhile, Nisbet has a round-up post, as does Coturnix. They may have missed the most recent stuff, though, so also check out Cognitive Daily and Uncertain Principles.

I’m in Utah today giving a talk, so I may not be able to follow the debate in as much detail as I’d like for a bit….

And yes, the talk today will cover “framing.”


  1. #1 Andy
    April 10, 2007

    I’ve come into this a bit late, having spent the weekend doing better things than surfing blogs. But as a PhD who’s worked happily in science communications for most of the past decade after abandoning postdoc life, I feel like I’ve got something to add.

    Just last week a colleague and I were teaching a media training class to a group of graduate students. Our office runs media training classes for faculty and sometimes students, and as a science writer I spend basically all my time trying to communicate research to a general audience.

    I hear a lot of talk on the lines of “educating the public” so that they “understand science better,” which I think assumes that millions of people could unleash their inner nerd if approached in just the right way.

    Wrong. Most people have a limited amount of attention to divide up among work, family, friends, TV shows, celebrity gossip, politics, sports, the weather, hobbies, and whatever else interests them.

    If you want to get through to a large number of people, you have to establish a connection — they have to see a connection to their own lives. Scientists really struggle to do this, because to them the coolness and interestingness of the science is self-evident. (And there is a lay audience for that, too — the people who read the Science section of the Tuesday New York Times, for example).

    If you don’t establish that connection, they aren’t going to listen. People have plenty of other things begging for their attention.

    On “dumbing down:” get over it already. Have mercy on your audience. A class of freshmen is different from the audience at the last conference you went to, and a world away from a local TV audience. But guess what? There are still people in the audience that you can get a point across to. Just don’t think you have to give them a seminar.

    In last week’s class, this idea that you have to distort science to communicate it came up. The fact is, most people don’t have the technical expertise to follow all the detail scientists would normally add, but more importantly won’t listen if you do that — why should they? It’s not “dumbing down:” I see it more as pulling back to a high level view to get across the key points.

    This is not “spinning.” It is explaining. The framing issue, as I see it, means deciding what fundamental points you want a viewer/listener/reader/ to take away from a story, and doing your best to make that happen.

  2. #2 Norman Doering
    April 10, 2007

    I can’t keep up with all the blogs on the “framing science” debate either, and I’ve got a related blog post that adds to the overwhelming number of words on this subject:

    Though it’s more about debating religion, I’ve got a bit of information on another concept that I think might be important, the “Overton window.”

  3. #3 Simon Donner
    April 10, 2007

    Though I disagree with parts of your argument, and fear science becoming more partisan, I think this is a debate we should be having as a community. My two cents, along with a small world moment:

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