You 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.