The Intersection


This is the picture–suspiciously resembling my colleague and Scibling Matt Nisbet–that runs alongside our two and a half page letters exchange (PDF) in the current issue of Science. Essentially, there are four letters reacting to and criticizing various aspects of our “Framing Science” policy forum article from April (PDF). And then there’s our lengthy response–which you can read in its entirety over at Nisbet’s blog. (To get the other letters you’ll need a subscription, at least for the time being.)

Some familiar issues arise here–for example, one letter writer incorrectly likens framing to “spin”–and we set the record straight. The other writers are not so dismissive, but still fairly critical. We respond with some of the obvious points: 1) It’s impossible not to frame, it’s just a question of whether you do it well or badly; 2) strategic framing doesn’t have to hurt science’s credibility; in fact, it can increase its appeal and reach new audiences; and so on. You can, once again, read our reply in its entirety at Nisbet’s blog, but I’ll just end with a passage from it:

Framing is not all powerful, nor should it be considered a magical key to unlocking public acceptance. Research on framing suggests that establishing a connection with audiences derives from the fit between the frames embedded in a media message and the interpretative schema that a particular audience possesses. One common source of science-related schema are long-term socialized world views such as political ideology, partisanship, ethnicity, or religious belief. Other sources are the stereotypes, narratives, and images learned through popular culture and the entertainment media. As short-cuts for reducing complexity, these schema allow any individual–whether a lay citizen, journalist, or policymaker–to categorize new information quickly and efficiently, based on how that information is framed in the media (5). In sum, a one-size message about science will not fit all audiences.

We suggest that science organizations work with communication researchers, conducting focus groups, surveys, and experiments that explore how different audiences interpret topics such as climate change or evolution. On the basis of this research, messages can be tailored to fit with specific types of media outlets and to resonate with the background of their particular audience.

It is encouraging that the Letter writers agree on a few central principles. First, framing as a concept has strong roots in the social sciences. Second, framing is already central–intentional or not–to traditional science communication efforts. Third, when applied responsibly and ethically, framing can be a valuable tool for scientists in engaging nontraditional audiences.

Anyways, just in time for the melee in Minneapolis, eh?


  1. #1 gerald spezio
    August 31, 2007

    Ohhh, it’s the “interpretive schema.” Once you have captured “these schema,” you apply them “responsibly and ethically… “

  2. #2 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    August 31, 2007

    In spinning our suggestions…

    When you or Mr. N. do it, it’s framing. When someone else does it, it’s spinning. Very, very shallow. From me to you: lack of respect.

  3. #3 gerald spezio
    August 31, 2007

    Imagine what would happen if the poor and downtrodden proles start framing to the ivy league pollsters. More worser, could the bumbling proles be framing now. Imagine the proles NOT telling the “whole trut” to their betters.

    Don’t even think about proles spinning un-ethically and befouling both the data and the yuppie suits.

    “Honesty is an excellent and wise policy when dealing with people who are honest. It is the worst and most stupid policy when dealing with people who are dishonest.” Thomas Szasz.

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