Okay, so: After reading over some ninety comments, I think I am ready to advance the framing science discussion further. Recall that I am starting from the ground up, because I believe that while I have made some errors and Nisbet has made some errors, and there has been some unfortunate polarization and nastiness on top of that, I still think that the concept of framing holds considerable import for the future of science communication.
So I am now going to defend those premises that received considerable criticism in my previous post. I want to go in order, because I want to play this out logically–and recall, Matt Nisbet agrees that I have represented the basic premises of the “framing science” argument correctly.
First, though, some housekeeping items. Janet parses all the premises here, but I am not clear whether she’s fundamentally disagreeing or mainly problematizing. It seems more like the latter for the most part. As far as that goes, let me say that I wrote these premises up quickly, and so there are probably places where language could be tightened or improved, but I’m confident the basic ideas are there intact.
Another housekeeping item: When some readers demand “substance” it seems they are asking for case studies of how framing works or has succeeded in the past. This is a bit frustrating to me because if you go through everything I have said and written and that Nisbet has said and written there are numerous case studies. In fact, one of them is now in a National Academy of Sciences report! Read here for the example of how framing helped the 2004 California stem cell ballot initiative succeed.
But now, back to the premises….
First of all, it doesn’t seem anyone really rejected, at a fundamental level, premises 1 and 4. To recall, they are (out of order):
Premise 1: “We have long-running politicized science controversies on subjects like evolution and climate change, with separate polarized camps and the repeated use and misuse of complex scientific information in the arguments.”
Premise 4: “Furthermore, in the fragmented media system, many members of the public can opt out of receiving high quality scientific information entirely–and often do. They can just turn the channel. They can watch the Food Network.”
I’m glad we can all basically agree on this.
Premises 2 and 3 were more contested. So let me defend them. First, Premise 2:
“Wonks and science enthusiasts–and ScienceBloggers!–can parse these arguments. But most members of the general public are unlikely to grasp the fine scientific details, and–having neither the time nor the interest to deeply inform themselves about them–are more likely to make up their minds about these complex issues in the absence of real detailed knowledge about them.”
To this there were some objections. Sharon said: “…expecting people to be too stupid or too bored to parse the arguments does them a disservice. I think that getting information out to the public doesn’t need the perfect frame, it just needs someone who’s a good public speaker.” And bsci said: “(2) I think this assumes the details are overly complex or “the public” is overly lazy. It really isn’t hard to grasp the basic concepts on these issues without much work. We don’t expect people to read textbooks, but it should be possible to give the gist of global climate change vs “global warming” or why evolution matters in a 2-5 minute interview. You can’t go into all details, but the main points are possible and can hopefully encourage more searching.”
Perhaps I should clarify. With premise 2, I certainly did not mean to demean anyone’s intelligence. I perhaps most of all do not have the time or the interest to fully inform myself about every complex issue out there. It’s just too much work. So I skip tax policy, medicare policy, peak oil, and, well…many, many other issues. There are vastly more areas where I am more or less ignorant than areas where I am well informed. And how could it be otherwise?
This isn’t about stupidity, this is about how much time there is in a day. Nobody can know everything or even close. Even scientists don’t deeply understand fields outside of their own. So it’s inevitable that most members of the public won’t be deeply informed about complex science policy issues.
Let’s move on to Premise 3:
“Rather, these members of the public will rely on cues, cognitive shortcuts, and sources of information that may not be scientific–e.g., church leaders, neighbors, Fox News. They will use these information sources, in combination with their partisan, ideological, or religious backgrounds, to make up their minds.”
This one also drew some objection. For instance, Jackie wrote, “we should work on trying to change number three in your premises. I don’t think getting people to accept scientific truths for the wrong reasons should be what we are aiming for. I understand that it is important to push some issues, like global warming, because it is an urgent problem. But for issues such as evolution, in which convincing the general public is not QUITE as urgent, we should aim to get them to accept it for the same reasons that the science community does: because all the evidence is there.”
Similarly, tulse said: “The motivation for framing seems to be the assumption that the public can’t think critically, and that we can’t teach them to. As a result, we have to rely on what are essentially the same propaganda techniques as our opponents. This may very well work for specific issues in the short term, but it doesn’t solve the larger problem, which is irrational thinking and beliefs.”
Hey, I’m all for long term educational policy improvements–and long term cultural changes. But framing–the height of political pragmatism–is about communicating through the mass media on contested issues of immediate import, where you don’t have time for either educational reform or long term cultural change. So framing should be seen as complementary to these needed efforts.
And…that’s a long enough post for now. I will have more to say on the other premises (and other aspects of this debate) next time I get the chance to post….