The Intersection

Details, Details, Details

On_The_Media_Art.jpg

Once again, I can’t keep up with all the latest reactions to Nisbet-Mooney. There are just too many of them (over 160 comments at PZ’s blog alone; and even my own blog is pushing 40 right now). I’m in Australia prepping a series of talks, and that’s the top priority at the moment.

However I’d like to make one major comment:

There’s a somewhat disingenuous critique circulating out there, which is that we don’t give any specifics, or even that we don’t back up our argument with data. On the contrary, the Science article was amply referenced, and Matt and I have been continually elaborating on the argument online. Anyone who reads Matt’s blog receives data constantly about public opinion, media coverage patterns, and so on. He has also explained framing numerous times.

The “no details” critique is also unfair given the clear space constraints when it comes to writing for Science or The Washington Post Outlook section. Finally, it is obviously implied from our argument that for many issues, we don’t know what the right frame is: Much research about public opinion and testing of messages will be necessary to identify it. And of course, different frames will resonate for different publics. Finally, these different publics must be reached through the appropriate media platforms–again, research may be needed to identify these platforms.

All in all, this is an empirically grounded communications strategy and there’s much work that must be done to implement it. That’s one reason we’re making this argument: So that investment in such research becomes a priority.

All of that said, we will be elaborating on specific proposals in more detail in future writings and in a series of upcoming talks. So, stay tuned….

Comments

  1. #1 J. J. Ramsey
    April 15, 2007

    “There’s a somewhat disingenuous critique circulating out there, which is that we don’t give any specifics, or even that we don’t back up our argument with data.”

    With regard to framing, you certainly have either presented or cited the appropriate evidence. With regard to the claims about Dawkins, neither you nor Nisbet have had much opportunity to cite the evidence backing up your claim that Dawkins impedes those trying to persuade Americans that evolution is true. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true. IIRC, Ed Brayton has mentioned stuff to that effect. Citing some polls or surveys would be helpful, though.

  2. #2 Karl
    April 15, 2007

    Since this is a discussion about “framing” – I think the disagreement between you and PZ is being caused by your allowing him to “frame” the argument as one about OVER-SIMPLIFYING the science and you should be insisting that the discussion is about COMMUNICATING with non-scientists.

  3. #3 Ebonmuse
    April 15, 2007

    I’d still like to know whether you’re saying that Dawkins, P.Z. Myers and other atheists should not attack religion or defend atheism under any circumstances, or if not, what you are saying they should do.

  4. #4 etbnc
    April 15, 2007

    the discussion is about COMMUNICATING with non-scientists

    Bingo, Karl.

    I’ve seen some folks talk about matching the delivery technique of a message to its audience. That seems to me to be a great way to think about this frame of reference stuff. I use it often. It seems to work.

    What I haven’t seen mentioned as emphatically in these many comments is the notion that our communication usually has a purpose, a goal, an objective.

    For me, matching delivery technique to my audience is similar to selecting the right tool for a task. I do it because it’s an effective way to complete the task. I do it because it’s an effective way to achieve a communication goal.

    Cheers

  5. #5 Norman Doering
    April 16, 2007

    Some of the comments on Richard Dawkins’ site are a bit nasty, like this:

    Nisbet and Mooney have no evidence that their marketing based on appeasement is going to further the acception of evolution.

    Or this:

    This is so stupid and so offensive that one wonders why Nisbet and Mooney are to be taken seriously at all. PZ has to be admired for the self control in his response.

    Or this:

    This article is a fine example of anti-science mentality, albeit in a more subtle form than the crass kind we see in creationists.

    I don’t think you’re entirely wrong, but it does seem you’ll need to FRAME this argument differently for this audience.

  6. #6 ponderingfool
    April 16, 2007

    Chris I have been going through the citations in the Science piece. The details I want is to describe how you think scientists should be framing things. Give us detailed examples of an example talk, essay etc. The examples in the Science piece do not have citations for framing science on these issues. The environmental stewardship doesn’t have a citation. We have to take your word that there is correlation and causation. With regards to the evolution you state that “frames of “public accountability” that focus on the misuse of tax dollars, “economic development” that highlight the negative repercussions for communities embroiled in evolution battles, and “social progress” that define evolution as a building block for medical advances, are likely to engage broader support”, ok show me the evidence that might be the case.

    Your stem cell doesn’t show correlation and causation between the framing and improved support.
    The “Virginia Commonwealth University Life Sciences Survey” you do cite states:
    “As was the case in 2005, better than four in ten Americans today–47 percent–express
    a lot of interest in new scientific developments. Similarly, 51 percent have a lot of interest in new medical discoveries. Sixty-three percent say that they regularly pay attention to news about developments in science.

    Despite these high levels of professed interest in science, just 10 percent consider
    themselves very informed when it comes to scientific discoveries and 13 percent say the same about medical discoveries. The majority consider themselves to be, at best, somewhat informed about new developments in science and medicine with a smaller portion saying they are not very or not at all informed.”

    Could it be that in framing maybe we need to do a better job of communicating the facts, picking the ones that matter and not getting lost in the technical details? Based on this survey there does seem to be an appetite. With the right hook (frame) with the facts will work better than framing alone. What does the research show on that? I know it shows framing correctly does matter.

    Also if we do frame as Nisbet and Scheufele suggest without delving into the scientific facts don’t we open up ourselves to the gotcha frame by the other side? To me that is the logical response. I would throw certain facts up that muddy the waters and then ask “what else are they not telling you?” and “what else are they hiding?” type questions.

    The public accountability frame works because the facts are there to show cover-ups. The Republicans did it to Clinton when the evidence was not as strong. Why wouldn’t they do it again? The other side only has to play defense, keep the status quo. It doesn’t matter to them if both sides get dragged down.

  7. #7 Eric
    April 16, 2007

    You guys are following the precise playbook of some other big mouths who never amounted to anything, so you better believe you’re gonna get some scrutiny when you start accusing the scientific establishment of “ceding their ability to contribute to the future of our nation.”

    Putting people on the defensive is not a good first step towards securing their cooperation — that’s PR 101.

    And if you can’t articulate your message within the word count of an Op Ed piece, how are you going to help the scientific establishment convey concepts of evolution, global warming, etc… on TV or on the Internet where attention spans are even shorter than that?

    I’ve been doing science communications and PR for 15 years and I’m ready and waiting for some fresh approaches to try. But I’m jaded about “framing.”

    If you’ve got something constructive to offer, put it on the table and let’s see it. If not, tone down the criticism and stay off the media circuit until you do.

    Eric
    http://waterwordsthatwork.com

  8. #8 matthew
    April 16, 2007

    First off, regardless of my opinions, I’m really enjoying reading this debate.

    ponderingfool, you got through all of the citations before I did and said mostly all that I wanted to say… But I do have an important comment to share:

    The very first citation within the Science article DOES include a semi-specific example of when/how to use framing:

    “They [scientists] can rehearse the strong reasons to curtail the ongoing mass extinction while accepting the difficulty of predicting its most immediate impacts on human welfare, for example. They can use pictures of charismatic megafauna even while understanding that insects might be more important.”

    Is this a good example of framing? To me it’s flat out lying. Your telling people, in this example, that we need to stop doing X so that the baby seals don’t die, when in reality you really want people to stop doing X because of an insect that no one cares about is really important. It’s obviously important for a good reason, so wouldn’t the most ethical thing to do be to explain to people why the insect is important… without lying? How you do THAT is the $64 million dollar question.

    Honestly, I think that the best answer is education in the long and short term. Improving schooling standards for the long term and giving more people like Bill Nye the television camera in the short term (I think there should be a LOT more Bill Nye’s in the country… they must be out there… somewhere…).

    Lastly, this framing debate reminds me of how some evangelical organizations are ‘preaching’ conservation now and using their faith to convince people that God wants them to be good to the Earth. (In fact, I think I saw this brought up somewhere within this debate allready…) Is this supposed to be a good example of framing? Because this sounds very similar to the insect and baby seal example.

  9. #9 Matthew C. Nisbet
    April 16, 2007

    Ponderingfool,

    I appreciate your feedback and interest! As Chris notes, a lot more will be forthcoming regarding the directions we are suggesting for public engagement.

    Indeed, framing is just one part of a toolbox of techniques we are recommending for broader public engagement on controversial areas of science. These include making use of opinion-leaders, i.e. average citizens to connect media messages to their peers by way of interpersonal conversations. It also includes making use of entertainment media, targeted documentaries, and coverage of science in media outlets and in places on the Web where non-traditional audiences are not expecting to find science-related information. I talk about some of these other proposals in a recent column for Skeptical Inquirer Online.

    http://www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/climate/

    A typology of frames for science-policy debates:

    Previous studies describe a set of frames, or latent meanings, that appear to reoccur across science-related policy debates and that structure media discourse and public response.

    Originally identified in a classic examination of nuclear energy, the typology has also been further developed in studies of biotechnology in Europe and the United States. At my blog Framing Science, I have been applying this typology to these and other issues such as global warming and the teaching of evolution.

    Indeed, we suggest in our Science piece and our WPost op-ed that this promising work applies to these two other hot button debates and we are arguing that they be carefully explored and applied. Preliminary work has already started.

    The classic study on nuclear energy is:

    W.A. Gamson, Modigliani A. 1989. Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 1-37.

    As further illustration, in a short Skeptical Inquirer online column, I apply this same typology to the current debate over nuclear energy:

    http://www.csicop.org/scienceandmedia/nuclear/

    Also this relatively short journal article available as a PDF online is a nice synthesis of the typology and the work done in Europe and the US applying to biotech:

    http://scx.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/24/2/184.pdf

    I also applied this typology to biotech in a study I published in 2002:

    Nisbet, M.C. & Lewenstein, B.V. (2002). Biotechnology and the American media: The policy process and the elite press, 1970 to 1999. Science Communication, 23 (4) 359-391.

    From this research on framing and media influence, we conceptualize framing as described in this section of my blog, with more references.

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/about.php

    One thing important to note: Individuals can disagree on an issue but share the same interpretative frame. In other words, each frame as an organizing device for arguments and interpretations is “valence neutral,” meaning that it can take pro, anti, and neutral positions, though one position might be in more common use than others. Frames and their underlying meanings are often communicated in short hand by catch phrases, sound bites, graphics, and allusions to history.

    Consider the example of embryonic stem cell research. A dominant frame is that the debate is really a question of morality/ethics. Both sides use this interpretation to argue their case in the debate. Research opponents say it is morally wrong to destroy embryos, since they constitute human life. Research supporters say it is morally wrong to hold back on research that could lead to important cures.

    The “morality/ethics” frame is communicated by the use of several kinds of “frame devices” that include a) metaphors such as “scientists are playing God,” or “scientists racing to find a cure,” b) comparisons to historical exemplars such as the Holocaust or discovering the cure for Polio, c) catch phrases such as “respect for life,” “crossing an important moral boundary,” or “it is pro-life to be pro-research” and d) photo-ops such as Bush posing with “snowflake” babies.

    For examples of this typology as applied across recent science debates, examples of frame devices, and some indicators of public opinion see the slides from this presentation I gave at AAAS HQ here in DC. Slides are linked at bottom of page.

    As I’ve noted, previous research suggests a relatively generalizable set of social meanings that structure public responses to science and technology. Though with any issue some adaptation is merited and there might be a unique latent meaning that emerges.

    As I wrote over at my blog, I believe the following article is a good discussion of the interplay between media frames and interpersonal conversation while offering a unique method for testing the frames best suited for engaging specific publics via a combined focus group, survey, and experimental method.

    V. Price, L. Nir, J.N. Capella. 2005. Framing public discussion of gay civil unions. Public Opinion Quarterly, 69, (2), 179-212.

  10. #11 ponderingfool
    April 16, 2007

    Matthew thank you. I will take a look at them when I get a chance. Have the long term effects of particular frames been studied? Does using a particular frame for example strengthen said frame in a society if it touched upon over and over again? Have studies been done on examining how groups respond to the frames touched upon by opposing groups? What sort of dynamic evolves in those cases?

  11. #12 Mark UK
    April 16, 2007

    A lot of the arguments show that most people decide how to frame things for themselves. Information gets filtered so much by our own opinions and views very little new things get through…
    The global warming skeptics suspect you guys from wanting to censor them or lie to the public. The atheists think you want to be the next Chamberlain, etc, etc…

    I have been amazed by the vitrioloc responses. I thought it made perfect sense to try and communicate as clearly as you can.

  12. #13 Matthew C. Nisbet
    April 16, 2007

    Ponderingfool,
    Great questions. The best answers are found in the Gamson & Modigliani article, Gamson’s book Talking Politics and the book on Abortion Discourse (cited at my blog), and the Price et al. article in POQ (though the actual design only involves short term exposure to a frame and discussion.)

  13. #14 Jennifer
    April 16, 2007

    Just wanted to quickly comment and say I agree 100% with both your Science and WP pieces! Every single scientist should post copies on his/her bulletin board. I’m a professional writer who returned to school last year to study biology. After getting involved in the academic scientific community, I am amazed at how bad scientists are at communicating with the general public. I’m also quite amazed at how inflammatory many science blogs are (even though I enjoy them). It seems like many science bloggers revel in not just explaining science, but calling religious people idiots. Not a good way to draw in the public (which is, as you point out, overwhelmingly religious–but not necessarily “fundamentalist”). I’d like to say that I personally find Dawkins offensive for basically calling anyone with any kind of religious belief a moron. If his positions offend me (someone who is studying science), just think of the kind of reaction his commentary provokes in religious people without a prior love of science…

    I hope your articles force scientist to seriously think about better ways to communicate with the public. Bravo, both of you! Keep up the good work.

  14. #15 Dano
    April 16, 2007

    These two excerpts from commenters above go together:

    Could it be that in framing maybe we need to do a better job of communicating the facts, picking the ones that matter and not getting lost in the technical details?

    and

    I have been amazed by the vitrioloc responses. I thought it made perfect sense to try and communicate as clearly as you can.

    The reason for the vitriol and SwiftBoating is because folks are learning how to better explain the fact. There are some enviro-haters who don’t want this to happen.

    All they have is vitriol, as they have no facts on their side. This fact is how you know you are on the right track.

    “He who hits first admits their ideas have given out.”

    Best,

    D

  15. #16 gerald spezio
    April 17, 2007

    A very incisive book review by the distinguished historian, Margaret C. Jacob, is powerfully appropriate for this framing flapdoodle. http://www.americanscientist.org/template/BookReviewTypeDetail/assetid/55124

  16. #17 alienward
    April 17, 2007

    Here’s Chris Mooney thinking about doing some “framing”: “Gee, I don’t want to offend any theists out there, so I better not title my book “The Religious War on Science”.”

  17. #18 gerald spezio
    April 17, 2007

    Alienward goes for the throat, and delivers a fatal wound.

  18. #19 Katie Kish
    April 17, 2007

    Alienward – have you read the book? It actually produce a lot of evidence and interesting details about the administration showing that bad science has lead to bad policy – its not an attack on republicans in general, or religious people at all. It’s a criticism on how inaccurate knowledge leads to bad conclusions.

    But that’s just the view of someone who has read the book, I’m sure mooney can make a better defence for what you’ve said.

  19. #20 Dano
    April 18, 2007

    The noise machine bots grow ever more shrill.

    Keep up the good work, Chris. When the bots gavotte, you’re on the spot.

    Best,

    D

  20. #21 alienward
    April 18, 2007

    Have I read the book? Is this one of those books like the Book of Mormon where you have to read the whole thing to know that it’s true? Well, I’ve read part of both of them and Mooney’s attempts to claim Republicans have a war on science are as unfounded as Smith’s attempts to claim native-Americans had wars against sword-swinging Hebrews.

    Mooney is well aware that both Republicans and Democrats abuse science and plenty of both support science. As Mooney acknowledges, thanks to a Republican judge, theists have been sent back to the drawing board to come with another weapon to attack science with. He only used “Republican” in his title because they abuse science more than Democrats. Give me a break.

    Meanwhile, the most serious abuses of science are from theists. Mooney is well aware of this too. He knows politicians really only abuse science, and it really is theists who are fighting a war on science. But for some reason he wants to “frame” Republicans.

  21. #22 Dano
    April 18, 2007

    When the bots gavotte, you’re on the spot.

    Best,

    D

  22. #23 miko
    April 18, 2007

    Mooney and Nisbet and pro-science politicians can construct their arguments and intellectual poses however they want. But to expect everyone else to adopt beltway soundbites and market research-based vocabularly as their preferred mode of communication is insulting and smacks of a kind of parochial arrogance peculiar to the United States.

    A plurality of opinion is a weaker stance than unthinking unanimity in contemporary US politics…so what? So we should all stop arguing about 50 things so we can agree about 5? So a British scientist is supposed to pull his punches to accomodate a local communications agenda?

    And, by the way, Dawkins has done more to get this issue in the mainstream media than anyone. Where is the evidence that it is creating a pro-religion backlash any more than it is enabling constructive debate and emboldening closeted atheists to assert their freedom from religion?

    Most Americans (and the majority of their elected representatives) are for stem cell research. We don’t need to convince anyone, we need a political system that responds accurately to the will of the people and can’t be hijacked by a rogue executive branch representing a narrow, ignorant segment of the population. Frame that.

  23. #24 Dano
    April 19, 2007

    Bingo.

    A-men miko.

    Best,

    D

  24. #25 Jennifer
    April 19, 2007

    I might be looking at this debate differently because I’m not a scientist, but have one foot inside the scientific academic world.

    Miko, do you live in the U.S.? If not, you don’t have to put up with politicians, from local folks, up to state reps, then to national politicians, not to mention lobbyists, inserting religion into any issue related to science. Here where I live, on the Alabama/Tennessee border, we have a sticker in textbooks that says “evolution is only a theory.” There are lots of biology students at my university who are young-earth creationists. We have politicians in Tennessee introducing legislation to teach creationism (and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes law). Every science issue discussed in public is framed around the issue of religion. Every time I turn around, some politician in introducing a ridiculous anti-science proposal, while invoking the name of God, and do you know what? I never hear a peep out of any scientists. Scientists at my university and in the region will give seminars about their obscure research, but never address broader questions of science and culture. Why can’t scientists come out of their labs to talk with the public about the importance of science for society as a whole? For maintaining excellent health care? For maintaining the best technology that’s possible? They could “frame” their research in ways that the public can understand and relate to. What on earth’s wrong with that? Instead, politicians and special interest groups dominate the discussion where I live because they’re the only ones “framing” discussions of science in ways that ordinary, religious southerns can relate to. It doesn’t have to be that way. But it will stay that way until scientists get better at basic communication. And here, everyone I know (outside my university) who’s heard of Dawkins finds him offensive and has no interest in learning about his wonderful insights into science. They don’t like being called morons because they believe in God. Frame that! :-)

  25. #26 miko
    April 19, 2007

    Hi Jennifer,

    I’m a US citizen but I don’t live in the US. One thing I would point out is that Bush is something of a fluke. The US funds basic science research better than any other country in the world. It also has the strongest current of wayward religiosity in politics of any developed country. However, I don’t really see what’s wrong with the current discourse… I get CNN here, and scientists say stem cells are potentially beneficial (in fact, they say all the things you accuse them of not saying) and the religious right says they’re evil and usually come off badly. Most Americans and their politicians agree with the scientists. As I point out above, what’s gone wrong is that the process has been hijacked at the executive level.

    Of the many, many offensive and innacurate things taught in public schools in the U.S., I’d say the most damaging and politically repugnant are those taught in history classes (US textbooks are notoriously jingoistic). My nephew comes home from day care in Knoxville having been taught that the troops in Iraq are making us safer. People who want to keep religion out of science classes have a tough fight in a few parts of the country, including where you live, but at least the issue is on the table, and you have the constitution on your side. The Dover decision was correct and forecefully stated. The system is working.

    I’ve never heard Dawkins call anyone a moron for believing in God. I can see why they might take offense at having their cherished believes judged to be delusions, but that is their problem. People across America are horribly offended by all kinds of progress: the ending of slavery, the New Deal, civil rights for blacks and women, all struck at the core of many people’s beliefs about society and morality. Should we have “framed” civil rights in a way more palatable to bigots? Agreed that minorities were subhuman, but argued instead that it made more economic sense to treat them as equals?

    I think religious beliefs are arbitrary at best and ridiculous and dangerous at worst. It would be dishonest of me to pretend otherwise in any discussion about religion and how I think it affects people’s view of science. This is discourse as it should be, open and transparent and impassioned, not a battle of test-marketed slogans. I’m sure that sounds naive to “realists” (the irony!) in Washing politics, but that’s a game they choose to play.

  26. #27 PZ Myers
    April 20, 2007

    Every time I turn around, some politician in introducing a ridiculous anti-science proposal, while invoking the name of God, and do you know what? I never hear a peep out of any scientists.

    Wait a minute … you’ve got a population in thrall to religion, and it’s the scientists’ fault? Do you rise up and tell the politicians to stop lying in the name of Jesus? Do your preachers?

    Do you even realize that Chris is telling us that pointing out that your leaders are sanctimonious frauds is “bad framing”?

    I can tell you right now why your scientists aren’t speaking out. It’s because if they challenge a religious leader, the people will reject them, even those on their own side will look away, and they’ll get so little support from the good Christians of the region that they’ll have to slink away like a whipped dog.

    But of course we can do anything but criticize religion. That doesn’t help much when the problem is religion.

    They don’t like being called morons because they believe in God.

    There is a good solution to that. Stop believing in stupid things. It clears up a lot of problems — being called a moron is the least of them.

    Oh, and if you actually read The God Delusion, you’d find that the word “moron” isn’t used at all. “Idiot” is mentioned once — when he quotes a letter addressed to an atheist by a good Christian.

  27. #28 windy
    April 20, 2007

    At Matt’s blog Chris favourably quotes Jennifer’s comment, but are they saying the same thing?

    “Why can’t scientists come out of their labs to talk with the public about the importance of science for society as a whole?”

    I think this might have been a better way to frame your message, and one that most scientists could support.

    Instead, your Science article talks about the need to get the public to side with certain policy decisions based on the results of science, while disemphasizing the science by which we arrived at those results. Not the same thing as getting the public to realize why the scientific method is important. Now if you do come up with a short sound bite frame for that, we are all ears :)

  28. #29 J. J. Ramsey
    April 20, 2007

    “Oh, and if you actually read The God Delusion, you’d find that the word ‘moron’ isn’t used at all.”

    No, but he does use what looks like a portmanteau of “faith” and “poopyhead” as an insult. :)

    Also, there are plenty of ways to insult someone’s intelligence besides calling someone names. If one is going to discuss the illogic of the Trinity, for example, it’s pretty insulting to one’s readers to offer a non-argument argument that strings a bunch of false assertions–including a howler about theology remaining static since 200 C.E.–and capping it off with a fallacious appeal to Thomas Jefferson’s authority. Oh, and contradicting your own howler within several pages doesn’t help either. It is particularly insulting to a reader’s intelligence to declare oneself on the side of rationality while making an argumentum ad Naziium.

  29. #30 Jennifer
    April 20, 2007

    PZ, I have indeed read the God Delusion, as well as several other of Dawkins’ books. I’m simply relaying what other people have told me about their views of Dawkins after hearing about him through the media. A couple people I know socially have not read his books but read the interview with him in Salon. A few others saw some interview with him on TV. Even though Dawkins may not have said directly that religious people are morons, that’s just what they took away from whatever they read or saw. One of my friends said “he called me a moron” after either reading an article or seeing him on TV. I’m just trying to point out that while working scientists can talk all they want about the futility of religion, and how silly religious beliefs are, strong religious views are simply reality in most places in this country. And I tell you what, most religious people I know aren’t fundamentalists and are open minded about science (they have no problem believing in God and accepting evolution). But they don’t like scientists telling them what they believe is stupid/silly/idiotic. And if you think religion will just suddenly disappear, you’re dreaming.

    To clarify… I didn’t mean that when a politician proposes some stupid religion-based law that scientists should come out screaming about science vs. religion. To the contrary. Just forget about religion for a minute!! Scientists should regularly be “out there” in the public eye talking about science in general terms. I would be so thrilled if there were some scientists in my area regularly giving talks about climate, genetics, stem cell research, astronomy to the general public (not graduate seminars)… just to try to educate people and make them realize how science ties into their lives. Write general articles for the mainstream media and the local papers that people can understand without a background in organic chemistry. It’s not even necessary, or desirable, to get into nitty-gritty details. If scientists could just communicate on a more basic level (that doesn’t mean spinning or dumbing down), good information will always be floating around to contradict the crappy information regularly relayed by fundamentalists. Just get out there, communicate, and communicate in a way that ordinary people can understand and find interesting! I still don’t get why so many scientists think that’s a bad idea.

    I don’t yet have a biology degree, but I already regularly work with various non-science groups to try to get people excited about aspects of science I know a good bit about. I certainly don’t mention religion. I just talk about science in a way that these people can relate to in their daily lives, and it’s actually quite rewarding. If an undergrad can do it, I think you PhDs can too. ;-)

    Oh and Miko, I agree with your assessment of history courses here. I had a look at an American history textbook last year and about fell out of my chair after reading some of it (absolutely horrendous). But that’s a debate for another blog. But I disagree that the problem’s only at the executive level. There is a strong anti-science current down here at the local level and the wacko views of the Bush administration have simply encouraged these people to start being more vocal. At least, that’s the way it seems from rural Tennessee.

  30. #31 Mark Hadfield
    April 20, 2007

    It may well be true that Richard Dawkins’ criticisms of religion cause some people to discount what he has to say about science. I think it is presumptuous to conclude that this is evidence of a poor communications strategy. Perhaps he *has* thought this through and decided he doesn’t want to pussy-foot around the subject of religion any more, whatever the consequences.

    I doubt that we are going to get Richard Dawkins to clarify this issue on this blog. But we do have another well known commentator on both evolution and religion contributing to the comments, namely PZ Myers, a sort of Dawkins mini-me, if you will. So PZ, do you accept that your robust expressions of opinion about religion cause religious and semi-religious people to discount your opinions on evolution? Do you care? Do you think your communications strategy is flawed. Do you *have* a communications strategy?

  31. #32 miko
    April 21, 2007

    I still don’t get where the pro-science voices are going wrong. They certainly lie along a broad spectrum, from acceptance of (and participation in) religion to dismissiveness and harsh criticism. They certainly have a lot to argue about among themselves. I’m not trying to be obnoxious when I ask, so what? What’s wrong with a plurality of opinion and debate, and where’s the evidence that it’s not productive?

    So Dawkins makes people angry because he says they’re deluded. It doesn’t mean they can’t agree with someone else like H. Allen Orr or other more religion-friendly scientists. Even if its Francis Collins. In fact, I would argue people who are at all receptive to a pro-science message, even those scalded by Dawkins, are not going to go running into the arms of young earth creationism or demanding ID be taught in schools. They can find a comfortable place within the spectrum, probably still on the pro-science side. No one has a binary choice to make here, that’s the benefit of plurality.

    There are people you will never convince about stem cells, global warming, evolution, or any scientific concepts that conflict with their personal beliefs, religious or political, but I think they are a minority. These debates have all become mainstream in the last few years, and the trends in public sentiment over that time are pretty much all in the right direction. So, again, where’s the evidence that scientists are doing something wrong by not tailoring their messages to Nisbet/Mooney’s satisfaction?

  32. #33 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2007

    So PZ, do you accept that your robust expressions of opinion about religion cause religious and semi-religious people to discount your opinions on evolution?

    Sure thing. There will always be people who reject evidence on the basis of irrelevancies.

    Do you care?

    No, definitely not. I occasionally get people cruising by who whine, “I’d accept evolution, except that you evilutionists are such meanies.” Do you believe such a person? If a Republican told me that the sky was blue, do you think I’d say, “I might be willing to accept such a claim if your political position didn’t offend me, so I’m going to say the sky is green.”?

    Do you think your communications strategy is flawed.

    Yes, of course. I’m always looking for new ideas to improve my ability to get my message across. Is there somebody who has a perfect strategy?

    Do you *have* a communications strategy?

    Yes, very much so. One of it’s key tactics is complete honesty. Another is to defend my positions strongly and without ambiguity (as much as that is possible), and compel critics to come to my position to attack it…rather than constantly abandoning my strongpoints to move towards positions with which I disagree.

  33. #34 Indecisive
    April 22, 2007

    This is kind of a response to something much farther up the thread: I wonder if those scientists who are criticizing the idea of “framing” as dilluting the science or somehow appeasement a la Chamberlain are also the same scientists who give the same boring lectures in classes all the time that don’t excite anyone and don’t really communicate, but they don’t care (nor do their universities) b/c they publish an article each quarter. Not worrying about trying to present material in the best way for their students to understand, they perhaps don’t care all that much (or simply can’t) to present the material to the public in a manner conducive to learning. As a teacher (of lit and film), I know that successful teaching *ALWAYS* includes framing the material in a way that your (otherwise-apathetic-to-the-material) students will be able to understand it. So shouldn’t our communication to the public be modeled on this same kind of educational paradigm?

    And if these professors are actually good lecturers, why this disconnect between what they actually practice and their arguments for how to address the public at large?

  34. #35 cmf
    April 22, 2007

    Indecisive:”I wonder if those scientists who are criticizing the idea of “framing” as dilluting the science or somehow appeasement a la Chamberlain are also the same scientists who give the same boring lectures in classes all the time that don’t excite anyone and don’t really communicate,”

    I assure you Greg Laden in Minesota is definitely NOT a boring scientist with boring lectures! As a former student, and current fan of Laden, I can tell you that his lectures can easily cover the size and shape of a monkeys brain to bonobos having sex the way matriarchal cultures do, to caloric intake and pygmy tribal customs all in one lecture, which becomes a comprehensible, metaphor packed and breezy couple of hours without a nodding head in the room;-) At the end of some lectures, I felt as if I was their in the jungle myself, in stark contrast to a makeshift pulpit for atheistic self indulgence, as many evo/atheists are prone to doing.

    One of my favorite, and quite animated rememberances of a lecture was hearing about how the #1 cause of death in pigmy people is not colonialisms remnant policies( per se), nor trampling by elephants( Laden was actually there in Africa observing these sorts of things), but actually pigmies falling from trees while stoned on really good marijuana, while eating found honey from the hive;-) Cultural bias aside, it was a startlingly strange and funny presentation conjuring great imagery, excellent presentation skills, and humorous anecdote on topics normally not funny, interesting or able to stir curiosity beyond a casual ‘oh, gee whizz, that’s kind of interesting”…. I can’t speak for the rest of them tho, especially the more militant artheists who are always singing to the choir.

    Having followed this discusion quite closely without getting bogged in the details, I commend Nisbet and Mooney, but note that these scientists do actually blog in a fairly insular community ( the choir) and don’t always comprehend the other ways of viewing the topic of framing, much less the media frame that they would like more face time in.

    Laden himself seemed initially stymied in regards to the media frame, not because he hadn’t done his research
    ( which was extensive!), but because he did not seem to be aware of the mas media sense of what is a frame, as well as mass media terminology.Yet then too he is caught up with some of those same insulated academics to his own dismay at times;-)

    This holds true for most of them I have read , who start with someone like Goffman, but are not even aware of how that frame has taken on new meaning in the television/mass comm world.They are equating packaging with selling out, which it is not, in a kind of quaint Lacanian miror self imagery confusion, rather than giving some trust to the concern of Nis/Moon’s criticism.

    A good steak does not become a hamburger in the full court press to market beef, which is only one mass-marketing strategy; yet the market for a good steak is always their, though a bit more pricey to the choosy consumer–whose influential opinion matters in the larger sense of selling the frame ;nor does hard science become any less science in the press to market stem cell research.

    The confusion seems to be injected by the more militant atheists who inject their derision of religion into every debate, rather than wait for the opposition to show itself in this regard first, adding unnecessary static to the channel, and disrupting the flow of the discussion.