The Intersection

A Consensus on Framing?

Frame.jpgYou probably aren’t going to believe this. But not only was the battle at the Bell Museum in Minneapolis last night pretty un-warlike; the participants actually seemed to find plenty of common ground. Both Greg Laden and, yes, even PZ Myers agreed that the framing of science can be a useful tool sometimes–perhaps even a good idea sometimes.

Yeah, I know. Pretty shocking.

Let me explain what happened. The Chris and Matt team went into this debate with a clear strategy: Try not to fight too much over science and religion; and do not fall prey to the tyranny of small differences when basically we’re on the same side as Laden and PZ about almost everything. And I’m convinced the approach helped facilitate a friendly, civil dialogue. This is precisely why we wanted to do this debate in person, rather than exclusively over the blogs, where I believe there has been too much heat sometimes.

And sure, we had some differences over how to approach religion and science when the subject finally came up–and sure, both Laden and PZ are more concerned about fixing our broken science education system than about framing science issues for the short term.

But Nisbet/Mooney also want to improve science education. There’s no real difference here. It’s just that on top of valuing education, we make the scarcely disputable point that millions of Americans are already done with high school, and therefore would be lost to us even if the education system were perfectly revamped tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we’ve got critical science policy issues like global warming and stem cell research breaking on a one and two year time frame. In this context, we simply don’t have time to adequately educate everyone (and it probably wouldn’t be possible anyway). Framing can be a critically useful stopgap measure, and can help us achieve a far better translation of science into a form that the rest of society can use–leading to the right policy decisions and broader public acceptance of hard-won scientific knowledge.

So believe it or not, there is much more common ground here than anyone probably thought–and frankly, on some level I think Nisbet-Mooney can declare “victory.” Not because we “beat” anyone in the debate last night–everyone did a good job, and PZ (with a little help from The Onion) was fricken hilarious–but rather, because our original “Framing Science” article in Science has had its desired effect. It sparked a very large debate, and helped feed into a new and developing paradigm for the scientific community based on the following broad premises:

The scientific community must put communication on a comparable footing with research; the scientific community must be scientific in its approach to the media and the public.

I think that these premises are becoming more and more irrefutable. Someday soon, they may count as simple common sense.

UPDATE: PZ and Laden have their own takes of course. PZ is claiming victory….but omits the part where he claimed framing was a good idea in some ways!

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    September 29, 2007

    there is much more common ground here than anyone probably thought

    1) You must have a very low opinion of the average ScienceBlogs reader if you really think that is the case.

    2) Having things in common isn’t nearly as important as what you don’t have in common – the nature of the differences in your positions are what are crucial.

  2. #2 greg laden
    September 29, 2007

    Chris: It was great meeting you and Matt last night. You gave an excellent presentation.

    Here is my big problem, strong feeling, not-so-subtle suggestion. You guys are contrasting what you call the “popular science” model with framing, somewhat to the detriment of the popular science model. However, the Popular Science model includes many areas of traditional education, as well as the more flexible and changing outreach side of education.

    I think that K-12 education, magazines like Seed and Scientific American, the various media outlets especially the science press, are strong institutions that need significant improvement but are a) not going to go away and b) are well established and are actually potentially very effective. These approaches need to be improved and expanded, not replaced.

    “Framing” … as a means of both meaning generation and more effective communication … should be thought of as applying science to the process of communication (as I understand it, this is what you are saying). Thus, it is a tool, or really, a paradigm for communication, that can be incorporated in all of these extant areas, not replacing it but rather enhancing it, as a powerful new way of making science education and “popular science” work better.

    What I’m saying is that the contrast may be a way to make the argument in the short term, but really, we don’t want to contrast them. I’m not sure you are saying “get rid of ‘Popular Science'” but in making the contrast, it seems implied.

    Hope your travels home were safe and uneventful.

    GTL

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    September 29, 2007

    It was cool meeting you last night, and getting a chance to talk to you. I am definitely going to pick up Storm World and move it to the top of my “to-read” list.

    But, much as it makes me twitch, I am going to agree with Caledonian on this. The differences are what needs to be discussed and focused on. I would rather see the “Trust Us” frame for scientists, which was brought up last night, changed to “Test Us.” The idea behind teaching science is to teach people, even those with no intention of going into the sciences upon graduation from secondary schooling, how to test assumptions everywhere and in everything.

  4. #4 Rieux
    September 29, 2007

    Both Greg Laden and, yes, even PZ Myers agreed that the framing of science can be a useful tool sometimes–perhaps even a good idea sometimes.

    Yeah, I know. Pretty shocking.

    Aw, c’mon. If you go back and read PZ’s initial response to your Science article, you’ll see that he repeatedly expresses his agreement with a large proportion of the points you two made. It sure looks to me that that kind of consensus has always been present, though the blog exchanges in the intervening months show both sides getting increasingly bitter and less interested in talking about common ground.

    The differences between the factions are real and worth discussing (I think I’m now, er, on record to that effect), but I don’t think anyone should find it “shocking” that there is also plenty of agreement from the PZ/Laden/etc. faction about portions of your program. Especially in light of the largely non-confrontational strategy that both sides adopted last night, it’s hardly surprising that much of the Bell discussion ended up being about consensus rather than difference.

  5. #5 Stagyar zil Doggo
    September 29, 2007

    I would rather see the “Trust Us” frame for scientists, which was brought up last night, changed to “Test Us.”

    Posted by: Mike Haubrich, FCD | September 29, 2007 12:59 PM

    Excellent point. The “Trust Us” frame could be downright dangerous. If the public increases its trust in “Science” without understanding what the word means, it could lead to Scientists with conflicts of Interest (say in the pharma or food industries) continuously pushing bounds in claiming certainity for their weak (or incorrect) results. When these results are subsequently proven incorrect, the public could lose its trust in “Science”.

    Wait! That already happened. :-)

    It would also open the gates to denialists like Milloy whose game plan is to fake a sciency appearance with an intent to steal the hard won legitimacy of Science. He does this by claiming that ‘I am only the real scientist and everyone who disagrees with me is a fake’. That also already …

    The bottom line for me is that yes, framing could be a useful tool in both the short and the long term, but it could go horribly wrong unless always accompanied by large dollops of the “popular science” approach.

    How about using framing to hook people into learning about the science/evidence instead? Or is that too much to ask of it?

    PS: As I reread this, it comes off a wee more snarky than I meant it to. So just to clarify, the last question is in earnest. :-)

  6. #6 J. J. Ramsey
    September 29, 2007

    OTOH, PZ Myers is spinning things the other way:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/09/victory.php

    What’s interesting is that he shows himself to still be clueless as to what “cognitive miser” even means:

    We heard several times that people are “cognitive misers” who won’t learn, which, again, is simply an admission of defeat. It also ignores the peculiar problem of evolutionary biology, which is accepted by those “cognitive misers” of Canada and Europe, and in which America is a weird outlier in its rejection by approximately half the population. We have all these counter-cases in which we can’t claim that the populace was snookered into accepting a basic principle of science by pandering to religious values.

    Sigh. Of course, all these counter-cases are in places where Christian fundamentalism never became the movement that it had become in the U.S., and that in these places, Christians had made their peace with Darwin, even before the secularization of Western Europe and Canada had happened. (Actually, Christians had made their peace with Darwin in the U.S., too, but this was undone by the creationist movements.)

    BTW, Greg Laden, no one is proposing that “K-12 education, magazines like Seed and Scientific American, the various media outlets especially the science press” be replaced.

  7. #7 Janus
    September 29, 2007

    Both Greg Laden and, yes, even PZ Myers agreed that the framing of science can be a useful tool sometimes–perhaps even a good idea sometimes.

    Yeah, I know. Pretty shocking.

    You’re kidding, right? I don’t know how many posts of PZ’s I’ve read that said he approved of the use of many different approaches, including yours. He must have repeated that point at least a hundred times.

    If that’s the only thing you’re trying to convince scientists of, you’ve wasted your time all these months, because no one has ever disagreed with you.

    The real point of contention arises when atheism VS religion comes into it, but apparently Nisbet and yourself did the best you could to avoid that topic. Is avoiding hard topics another characteristic of framing? (Of course it is.)

    On the subject of religion, scientists who favor a forthright approach like PZ have no problem with your way of doing things. _You_ are the one who’s trying to silence _them_, else moderate religionists learn the awful, awful truth: There is a conflict between science and religion.

  8. #8 H. Humbert
    September 29, 2007

    On the subject of religion, scientists who favor a forthright approach like PZ have no problem with your way of doing things. _You_ are the one who’s trying to silence _them_, else moderate religionists learn the awful, awful truth: There is a conflict between science and religion.

    Yep, pretty much.

  9. #9 Russell Blackford
    September 29, 2007

    It seems to me that everyone acknowledges that it’s a good idea to talk to people in a way that might motivate them to think you have something important to say … and that you can be trusted to be honest and competent. It’s also a good idea to speak to their particular concerns, and to use compelling metaphors that will help them to understand the conceptually difficult stuff. If this is “framing”, I can’t imagine why anyone would have a problem with it. Richard Dawkins has sold a lot of books, made a lot of money, been hugely influential, and done a lot of good, partly because he is a master at doing all this.

    The whole problem was something else: the vitriolic public attacks on the New Atheists and the suggestion that it would be better to “silence” them.

    From my viewpoint, the New Atheists are doing a wonderful job to help frame public policy debates. In addition to trotting out standard liberal arguments as to why a modern liberal society should not defer to the views of religious leaders such as Cardinal Pell, we can now add what was previously taboo: a good reason not to defer to such people is that their claims of moral authority are based on doctrines that are pretty bloody doubtful anyway. Dawkins, etc., have done a great job of challenging that taboo, and, no, they should not be silenced. They should be congratulated for it.

    The so-called framers brought this dissension on themselves by totally forgetting how to frame their message for people who support what I just said in the previous para. It came across as, “We know better than Dawkins how to communicate to people” and “We want Dawkins to shut up because he’s cutting across our efforts.” Those messages naturally seemed arrogant, and of course they were cutting across what Dawkins and so on are trying to do, which for many of us who want to end the influence and prestige of religion is actually the main game.

    Maybe you guys can put this episode behind you now, but I hope you see where you went badly wrong in communicating with other folks who are, broadly, your allies, and why there was such a backlash.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    September 30, 2007

    JJ:

    Hey, I didn’t know you were at the Bell Friday night, I would have liked to have met you.

    Next time,

    G

  11. #11 J. J. Ramsey
    September 30, 2007

    Greg Laden: “Hey, I didn’t know you were at the Bell Friday night …”

    Sorry, I wasn’t there. I’m going by what the attendees have on their blogs. What PZ wrote about cognitive misers clearly shows that he didn’t understand what is meant by the term, which was well-defined long before the Bell conference. Unless Nisbet and Mooney’s message has veered dramatically from what they said before, the idea of defanging “K-12 education, magazines like Seed and Scientific American, the various media outlets especially the science press,” etc. would not be on their agenda. Indeed, that you yourself wrote, “I’m not sure you are saying ‘get rid of “Popular Science”‘” would indicate that it wasn’t something that they said.

  12. #12 greg laden
    September 30, 2007

    JJ: I’ll clarify. Chris and Matt, in their presentation as well as in their recent piece in The Scientist, explicitly contrast their approach (the good way) and “popular science” (the way that has not worked). In this way, they’ve set up an argument for framing and against the “Popular Science” model. This is pretty clear.

    In further discussion, I sense that the definition of “popular science” … and this is based partly on what Chris and Matt have said and partly just on how this discussion has gone, includes much of what has been done in areas of media, public education, and public outreach.

    I’m certain, because of things that they have said, that Chris and Matt are not interested in dismantling the public education system, or closing down scienceblogs.com, or canceling their subsription to American Scientist, or even, in Chris’s case, no longer writing science books for public consumption. This is why I say that I’m sure that the intent of the “framing/pop-sci” contrast is not intended to produce such a result.

    However, in using the framing/pop-sci contrast, this implication may well result even if not intended. That would be bad. That is the entire meaning of my comment. Am I making myself clear yet?

  13. #13 Greg Peterson
    October 1, 2007

    I already posted this on Pharyngula, but it seems relevant to Chris’s audience, too, so I’ll reiterate:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/09/victory.php
    The whole thing’s a mess. Nesbit surprised me by saying some things I found really insightful, Laden disappointed me by rambling and using a case study on moral intuition as an example of risk assessment, PZ was probably the most cogent and succinct, but his idealism seemed at times to be the enemy of pragmatism–I left feeling doomed, frankly. I am extremely unimpressed by E.O. Wilson’s book, which gets cited often as some sort of framing paradigm…by people who don’t understand religion or the thoughts and commitments of religious people.

    So think of it this way–when Christians cook the research to make it look like abortions cause cancer, how does that make you feel? You know they’re lying on two levels, right? In the first place, they don’t give a fuck if women get cancer (look at the opposition to HPV immunization); what they care about is women not having sex. Same thing with the abstinence only education. Bunch of lies, but the BIGGEST lie, the really transparent lie, is that it has anything to do with health science.

    Only the stupidest person on earth would not be able to see that the “health concerns” are a stalking horse for their brand of hysterical, repressive sexual mores. Well, they can see right through us in the same way. We can pretend that we’re building some kind of “moral” or “values” case associated with their religious commitment, but they’ll know that’s just a stalking horse of a different color–metaphysics for science, in this case.

    Which leaves us screwed, I think. What shall we murder? Our ideals–facts, integrity, humanism? Or humanity itself…as we commit the crime of depraved indifference as our species heads into the abyss?

    There were a few laughs and flashes of insight at the Bell, but mostly it made me want to stop off at Jonestown for a cool one.

    Chris, you had the funniest moment of the evening, following the challenge of your derision of how scientists are portrayed in pop media. Those sorts of really human moments are what make such gatherings worthwhile. I can get the information I need in pring–indeed, most of what your side said was expressed well in the article in The Scientist. I might not buy completely all this framing stuff, but being human, having a sense of humor, admitting to falability–if science doesn’t have representatives with those capacities, I will stand by my “we’re screwed” assessment. Fortunately this is decidedly NOT the case.

  14. #14 the real cmf
    October 2, 2007

    re: “PZ is claiming victory….but omits the part where he claimed framing was a good idea in some ways!”

    It is important to note that PZ is one of those people to whom “being right” is equivalent to everyone else being “wrong”, and hence, invalid. His bully pulpit, diuretic approach to the whole thing is one of the main reasons that people steer away from science, rationality, and atheism in general, and into religions easy morphine of ignorance.

    Laden on the other hand, is the guy to follow here in Minnesota if you want good PR, or a legible response to your main points, unfettered by the playground mentality of PZ Meyers self induced and illegible brand of constant insult/assault as a means of discussion.

  15. #15 Luna_the_cat
    October 3, 2007

    Janus says:

    On the subject of religion, scientists who favor a forthright approach like PZ have no problem with your way of doing things. _You_ are the one who’s trying to silence _them_, else moderate religionists learn the awful, awful truth: There is a conflict between science and religion.

    Except that, oddly enough, there are hundreds of millions of people around the world who accomodate both religion and science, and function perfectly well as rational and productive members of society. And telling them that in order to “believe” science they MUST disbelieve in God or other emotionally important concepts does, in many people’s experience, simply piss people off. PZ doesn’t claim that it doesn’t, but does claim that this doesn’t matter, as far as I can tell. This is a fundamental point of disagreement.

    Also, acknowledging that there is a real, fundamental, psychological difference between the statements:

    “Believing in God is not rational”
    and
    “You’re an insane idiot if you believe in God”

    and that this difference has meaning and occasional deleterious effect when it comes to discourse and influencing public opinion, does NOT — sorry, I didn’t emphasize that enough — does NOT equal “silencing” the New Atheists.

  16. #16 Luna_the_cat
    October 3, 2007

    …As bad of me as it is, I also feel forced to note in passing that when Caledonian says

    Having things in common isn’t nearly as important as what you don’t have in common – the nature of the differences in your positions are what are crucial.

    my irony meter spikes, given his past attitudes towards anyone who dares disagree with him.

  17. #17 Serge Cherry
    February 12, 2008

    I saglasen with Luna_the_cat

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