Yesterday I gave a talk in Melbourne at the Bureau of Meteorology, sponsored by the Melbourne Centre of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society. Although in my previous conference talk here I had already raised the subject of framing (see coverage here and here), this time (for the first time) I devoted an entire talk to laying out the arguments that I’ve been putting forward with the help of Matt Nisbet.
The audience was a small but high caliber group of a few dozen scientists. My impression is that they were extremely receptive, in general, to the message. Some responses to our proposals in the blogosphere have been nasty and have even failed in some cases comprehend the basics of what we’re suggesting (such as equating framing with spin). But in this much more interpersonal context, the argument seemed to go over extremely well. I am hoping there will be audio and perhaps even slides available.
Meanwhile here in OZ I also had the opportunity to hear Australian of the Year Tim Flannery speak. He himself seemed very conscious of the need for “framing” science, though he didn’t use those words. Flannery asserted that we’ll probably never have a population that is educated at an extremely high level about science, and that perhaps that’s not what we even would want. Instead, he said when he seeks to explain science to the public, he thinks of talking to his mother, a woman in her seventies who is intelligent but does not hold an advanced degree. Flannery further argued that instead of educating the public about all the details of science at a highly technical level, we ought to try to establish strong trust in scientists themselves. I couldn’t agree more. More trust in scientists will lead more cognitive miser humans to make up their minds based upon scientific opinions, rather than attacks on those opinions from other sources.
In any event, Bora has done a tremendous job of chronicling the ever growing volume of responses to our work. Meanwhile Matt Nisbet, who’s back in D.C. and not traveling around as I am, has continued to engage, most recently with this very informative comment. Nisbet has also just done an interview with the widely subscribed Point of Inquiry podcast on framing.
Finally, I just came across this statement from Richard Dawkins, which I think completely makes our point:
I think I would say that Colorado Springs, like other parts of America, is divided between two different Americas. There’s the intelligent, educated, open-minded America, which is prepared to listen to evidence, prepared to listen to argument, prepared to change its mind. And there are close-minded, fundamentalist people who don’t want to know, don’t want to learn, don’t want to listen. They know what’s true, it’s in the holy book. They’ve been told what’s true, they feel passionately that they know what’s true, and no argument, no argument whatsoever can ever sway them. And therefore, when they hear an argument that does sway them, they simply shut their eyes, shut their ears. And it’s almost as though there’s a kind of partition in America between the educated thoughtful half of the country, and the closed-minded thoughtless part of the country.
On some level, Dawkins seems to recognize how hard it is to reach people who come to the table with vastly different assumptions than one’s own. And yet at the same time, he proceeds to insult them…the first step towards never reaching someone.
P.S.: Totally unrelatedly, I just saw a friggin Wedge-Tailed Eagle out of the car window on the way to the Melbourne airport….incredible.