The Intersection

Well, discussion seems to have mostly run its course on “framing science” premises II and III. I have defended them, at least to my own satisfaction. There may be some folks who still reject them, but at this point, at least for those who don’t, I’m ready to continue with the argument.

So let’s get on to the next two premises that gave some people trouble, or raised issues. Premise V was the following:

Therefore, if–if–you want to get beyond audiences of science enthusiasts who understand the fine details, and move this broad public on these highly complex and politicized issues, you have to do more with your communication strategy than simply informing people about the details of science.


This drew some objections, despite the conditional nature of the statement. For example, Dave X said:

It speaks to the goals of an unspecified “you”. You, Mooney, as a proselytizer for good science communication might want good control and framing of your presentation, while a crusty scientist like Gray or PZ might not care so much about the audience as what they believe in as the science. “You” being scienceblogs as a portal, might want to have sensational bloggers to increase page hits. And finally, “you”, being some group of self-identified enlightened individuals, might not have a truly shared goal worth expressing.

What is the “you” that should do the communicating? And for those who are not included in that group, what should they do?”

It goes without saying that anyone who does not agree with my objectives probably won’t follow me down the chain of logic that I’m laying out for achieving them. My goal is, as premise V says, to “get beyond audiences of science enthusiasts…and move [the] broad public on these highly complex and politicized issues.” Others may have other goals, and that’s totally fine. However, I think a lot of people in science do care about the same things I care about when it comes to communicating.

The single most controversial premise, I think, was VI. Recall, it was this:

Rather, you have to pare down these highly complex issues–or “frame” them–selectively highlighting just those aspects of the issue that will resonate with the core values of the particular audience (and there are different audiences, of course, and different frames will work for them).

John Conway said: “I disagree with #6, the actual framing part, at least in many cases. It looks like disingenuous spin, particularly when done badly, and I think will result in scientists looking more and more like politicians (which would presumably be a bad thing, given how little people trust politicians).”

Similarly, before he bowed out of this dialogue, PZ said, and I quote in full:

I reject your points 5 and 6.

It’s a demeaning opinion of the public, and it assumes that the only way to approach people is to “pare down” the ideas. I think this is false. I can agree with the general idea of framing as a tool to get people to pay attention, but I think you’re going in the wrong direction.

Science educators need to get people to accept new ideas, and they have the goal of having people learn more. You and Matt are too mired in the politics, where the idea is to get people to shift more laterally, to get them to back something without necessarily expecting them to actually acquire new information. Feed their frame, don’t expect them to actually change substantively, but get them to adopt a policy in a way that doesn’t require them to actually change attitudes or beliefs. That’s fine if you’re trying to get them to vote on a bill, but I’m not interested in that.

We want to challenge people, we want to annoy them and shake them up, we want to make them rethink, we want to make them absorb new information and come out of the process smarter. “Framing”, as you and Nisbet have presented it, makes all that undesirable. It’s actually a process for preserving the status quo, and if you dislike the status quo, it’s going to be the opposite of what we want to do.”

Here PZ is disagreeing with both my goals and also with my means of achieving them. I already addressed the goals question, but maybe it is worth reiterating. We may well have different objectives (though I think we probably have at least overlapping ones). If PZ’s goals are different than mine then there’s little surprise that he might reject what I’m proposing.

However, I hope he’ll reconsider on this matter of “paring down.” There is absolutely nothing dishonest about it. It is impossible to communicate any complex idea without some form of simplification, whether you’re teaching, writing, organizing a powerpoint presentation–or whatever. PZ pares down complex information all the time–in fact, he is exceedingly good at it.

One might also make a comment about wanting “to challenge people…to annoy them and shake them up…to make them rethink…to make them absorb new information and come out of the process smarter.” It certainly would be nice if communication and persuasion worked in this way. However, both the research and my own personal experience strongly suggest that it is very hard to get people to change their minds simply by arguing with them on the facts or trying to challenge their core beliefs. They are much more likely to become defensive or dismissive, and even less amenable to persuasion (rather than more).

It is because Nisbet wants (and I want) to move people in the middle, or even the other side, that we go about things as we do. We are pragmatists. We are studying the lessons learned from political campaigns, and applying them to politicized science issues–because we think there has been a large failure to fight back strategically on these issues (and my recent New Republic article should leave no doubt about how serious I am when it comes to fighting back).

In the end, I suspect that PZ and many others will continue to have very different goals, and so will never agree with our core approach. That’s fine. That’s okay.

However, if disagreement persists (which seems highly likely), I would propose something: Even as we continue to differ about goals and means of achieving them, let us not forget that we have very highly organized opponents who present a unified front and implement quite sophisticated communication strategies (including using celebrities and high budget films to get their message out). So wouldn’t it at least be desirable, if, say, PZ and Dawkins were to sit down with others in the evolution defense world–the National Academies, the National Center for Science Education, and so on–so as to identify those areas where their communication and outreach activities can complement one another?

Mooney-Nisbet could facilitate (just kidding). Seriously, though, I think some kind of evolution communication summit, with the goal of identifying as much common ground as possible, would be a pretty good idea.

Any takers?

Comments

  1. #1 Alexis
    April 7, 2008

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  2. #2 bsci
    April 7, 2008

    Chris,
    This is a very odd post. You are essentially saying that it’s only addressed to the people who agree with your subsets of subsets of ideas. If you’re losing the # of people who agree with you at each premise, what’s the point of building an argument and consensus.
    The fact that you are (jokingly?) proposing a summit to coordinate the ideas of communication on evolution research tells me you really haven’t been paying attention to some of the critiques.

    Very strangely, it seems like your key worry is combating the very organized anti-science groups, but (even though I think this is your area of expertise) I think you’re missing a point. Yes they had very organized strategy sessions, but it wasn’t as if everyone ever sat together in the same room. Different think tanks came up with new, well researched communication strategies and the ones that worked rapidly spread across the network of organizations. If you really want to replicate their success, you need subsets of people thinking up new communication strategies. If other succeed at delivering the message people like PZ and Dawkins want to deliver, I assure you, they will start paying attention. If you keep promoting mass coordination sessions, nothing will ever get off the ground.

    I also suggest you familiarize yourself more with the discussions on the growth of liberal blogs. For many of the same reasons scientists don’t walk in lock-step, neither do a lot of liberal organizations. For decades, they fell behind on the think-tank organizational front. Then the large distributed liberal blogs like DailyKos formed and opened up an entire new medium, which has been very successful for communication in a way that still doesn’t have a right-wing equivalent. Sometimes the same communication methods don’t succeed equally as well for each side and I think you need to keep that in mind.

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    April 7, 2008

    Mooney-Nisbet could facilitate (just kidding). Seriously, though, I think some kind of evolution communication summit, with the goal of identifying as much common ground as possible, would be a pretty good idea.

    At this point, if Nisbet were involved, he’d only be able to get a very narrow selection of framing suck-ups to show up (or, more likely, he’d contrive things to exclude any critics), and if Mooney were involved, many of us would be dubious and reluctant. A summit on science communication that covered the gamut from Scott to Miller and on down to even Myers would be an excellent idea, but sadly, you guys have written yourselves out of it.

    Seriously. If Nisbet were a participant, I would refuse to join in. Just as I wouldn’t drink a delicious glass of beer if I were told they’d thrown in a few bits of ground glass and arsenic.

  4. #4 Jon Winsor
    April 7, 2008

    …but it wasn’t as if everyone ever sat together in the same room…

    You’d be surprised: http://tinyurl.com/25g2oa

  5. #5 bob koepp
    April 7, 2008

    Some very basic clarification, please…

    Is the point of all this to improve science communication, i.e., improve the audience’s understanding of science, or is it about persuading the audience to get behind various political agendas? These are not mutually exclusive, but they do need to be distinguished, and priorities need to be clear.

  6. #6 SLC
    April 7, 2008

    Memo to Mr. Mooney

    As long as Prof. Nisbet is associated with this framing debate, I am afraid that Mr. Mooney is barking at the moon. For example, apparently, Prof. Nisbet has again teed off on PZ Myers. Maybe its time for Prof.Nisbet to shut up.

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/04/it_is_ok_to_be_an_atheist_but.php#more

  7. #7 PZ Myers
    April 7, 2008

    Aaargh, no. We do not tell Nisbet to shut up, and irritating me is not grounds for exclusion. I’m feeling rather irritated at you right now, SLC — you are lucky that I am not the Red Queen.

  8. #8 MH
    April 7, 2008

    Chris, if you read the comments in the thread SLC just linked to, you’ll note that it seems like Matt is deleting comments that are critical of his arguments. As you have his ear, can you remind him that such behaviour is not good. Cheers.

  9. #9 Matti K.
    April 7, 2008

    Chris: “Even as we continue to differ about goals and means of achieving them, let us not forget that we have very highly organized opponents who present a unified front and implement quite sophisticated communication strategies (including using celebrities and high budget films to get their message out).”

    Well, some have the guts to take the propaganda of the “enemy” granted and even call one’s “own” side “clueless”:
    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2008/03/expelled_screenwriter_wants_to.php

    Was this blog article an example of superior framing based on excessive research? Or just a superior way to build up the “team spirit”?

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    April 7, 2008

    I would like to see an attempt at addressing the communication issue … the basic issue, not necessarily ‘framing’ per se … in the science literature.

    I’ve noticed that PLoS often has a “author’s summary” which is presumably meant to be understandable by a broader audience. It is, though, an abstract. I’ve noticed the following pattern relating the scientific abstract and the “author’s summary”:

    1) Both are incomprehensible to any but an expert (if that)
    2) The abstract is incomprehensible but the summary is clear to the average non-specialist educated reader; and
    3) Both are comprehensible and the only difference is a couple of terms are avoided in the author’s summary.

    The fact that pattern 1 exists proves that there are scientists who can’t communicate even when they are specifically asked to do so by editors. The result of this inability to communicate is that press reporting the findings have to keep asking dumb questions until they get an answer they can convert into an article or press release. I’ve noticed that when you read the press release for type 1 papers, the press release often has little to do with the research, or overlaps a tiny bit but is often inaccurate in presenting the important bits and pieces.

    Chris, you must have a lot of experience with this sort of thing.

    I’ve often thought that sending journalists to science school is a good thing (and I still do … remembering back to a class with Roger Lewin, for instance) but now I’m thinking that scientists (some, anyway) need to be sent to take some (specialized) journalism classes.

    This would be funding well spent.

  11. #11 caynazzo
    April 7, 2008

    Unless you’re a televangelist, mullah, rabbi, pastor, bishop, pope, mosque leader, vicar, cleric or imam, on whose authority do you urge the faithful to imagine a common ground between science and faith, rationalism and revelation? Those in the pews and in Congress whose ears you wish to borrow don’t take their queue from liberal professors and journalists reporting from behind enemy lines. If you really want your message heard, convince those who started this cultural war, the leaders of megachurches. Then I’ll start to take framing a little more seriously.

  12. #12 SLC
    April 7, 2008

    Re PZ Myers

    Prof. Myers is misinterpreting my comment. I said that Prof. Nisbet teed off on Prof. Myers, not that Prof. Myers was teed off by Prof. Nisbet. Just as Tiger Woods tees of on the golf course.

    z Myers

  13. #13 Matt Penfold
    April 7, 2008

    “‘ve often thought that sending journalists to science school is a good thing (and I still do … remembering back to a class with Roger Lewin, for instance) but now I’m thinking that scientists (some, anyway) need to be sent to take some (specialized) journalism classes.”

    Imperial College, part of the University of London, offers just such a course. It is intended for those who have a first degree or better in science who want to pursue a career in science writing or journalism. If I recall you can specialise in either science writing, with the emphasis on writing books and for scientific magazines, or for TV/Newspaper style journalism.

  14. #14 Paul W.
    April 7, 2008

    Chris,

    I think your points V and VI could both be a lot clearer.

    I think most of us are okay with some reasonable interpretation of #V…

    Therefore, if–if–you want to get beyond audiences of science enthusiasts who understand the fine details, and move this broad public on these highly complex and politicized issues, you have to do more with your communication strategy than simply informing people about the details of science.

    …but it’s actually ambiguous in several important ways.

    Most of us have multiple goals and multiple strategies for achieving those goals, and I don’t think anybody thinks you can just dump loads science details on people and achieve those goals. Of course not.

    That makes your point V hard to interpret and agree with. People have to wonder where it’s leading—e.g., how the rubber meets the road to get to your point VII—and start withholding assent. It sounds like we’re being set up to conflate a goal and a strategy with the strategy for achieving the goal.

    So, for example, if you think that one of the root causes of science denial is religion, it may make sense in the long run to attack religion per se, and shift the Overton window on that issue. (Even if you don’t personally care about religion except to the extent it fosters science denial.)

    What we need to know is exactly whether and when it makes more sense to fight the narrow fights against creationism or AGW denial or whatever, rather than to fight a broader fight against irrationalism.

    It seems to be taken for granted among so-called “framing” advocates that a narrower fight on particular science issues is the only realistic choice, and that a broader “culture war” will fail. Supposedly, the “New Atheist noise machine” is counterproductive and will only produce nasty backlash.

    I think it’s worth thinking about the supposed “New Atheist noise machine.” I guess the term was chosen to be insulting, comparing it to the right-wing noise machine.

    In terms of framing strategy, however, there are much worse things to be compared to. The right wing noise machine may be awful, but it certainly has been shockingly effective, and we should try to learn from its success.

    The right wing noise machine has not succeeded by shutting the extremists up and just trying to seem nice to moderates in the wobbly middle. It has succeeded largely by encouraging the extreme voices to speak, chipping at the centrist consensus and making the less extreme versions seem moderate and reasonable.

    Most strikingly, the RWNM has demonstrated that backlash against extreme views is often vastly overrated. Yes, there’s backlash, but typically you only make three steps back for each four steps forward, and in the longer term, that’s called winning.

    As Overton said, the function of think tanks and pundits is not to present realistic short-term policy choices; it is to shift the window of acceptable public opinion so that the previously impossible becomes possible in the longer term.

    You and Matt seem to entirely miss or ignore this elephant in the strategery room. Your advice seems to conflict directly with the most strikingly successful political strategies of our time.

    That has been pointed out repeatedly, and you seem determined to ignore it. You’ve made a reasonable-sounding argument that is vulnerable to an equally reasonable-sounding reductio ad absurdam. Something’s gotta be wrong somewhere in there.

    Your point VI is iffy as well

    Rather, you have to pare down these highly complex issues–or “frame” them–selectively highlighting just those aspects of the issue that will resonate with the core values of the particular audience (and there are different audiences, of course, and different frames will work for them).

    Again, the problem is not that it’s wrong; it’s that it’s not clear what it really comes down to.

    I think most of us here agree that in a general sense, framing is necessary and even unavoidable. (Whether it’s conscious or not.) We’re very leery of the term “framing,” however, because it seems to have gotten associated with particular narrow, short-run strategies that ignore things like Overton windows.

    One of the ways your point VI seems iffy is that it makes it sound as though the “core values” of a given audience are coherent, and that somehow you get a unique best strategy for reaching people. Often Nisbet and you seem to think that you understand the values of the audience and that your particular approach is the obviously right one—but the rest of us get lost because we think it can’t be that simple.

    One of Lakoff’s basic points his early work on framing (e.g., Moral Politics) is that people’s “core values” are not consistent, and that you can make a somewhat more difficult argument if you know the pressure points that activate one complex of values as opposed to another.

    You and Matt don’t seem to talk in those terms. You leave out that step when advising us what to do. (My impression is that Lakoff often does that as well, in practice.) The issue of whether to frame gets conflated with the issues of how to frame and whether your particular framing is the best one, or the only reasonable one.

    So, for example, when the issue comes up that the Expelled folks are clearly lying, that’s a golden opportunity, suitable for framing. Essentially everybody has among their not-terribly-coherent core values the fairly strong sense that lying is bad, or at least the sense that pathological, incompetent liars are not to trusted.

    I’m one of many people here who basically buys the general framing framework. We just don’t see how the general theory leads to the particulars you and Nisbet keep asserting.

    (I, for one, have a good background in cognitive psychology, and can’t see how the basic theory could be false. I also can’t see how the application of the theory could be anywhere near as simple as you and Nisbet want to make it.)

    You and Nisbet seem to think that we should avoid backlash at almost any cost.

    Similarly, you pay lip service to the idea that there are different audiences with different preconceptions and predispositions you have to frame for.

    Then you fail to give us a good analysis of who the audience is for PZ, or for the Four Horsemen.

    You make it sound as though they’re speaking to the general public, and of course the backlash will outweigh the frontlash.

    Realistically, that’s just not true. They’re speaking mainly to a small subset of an elite audience. Yes, their views may be extracted and used by “the other side” to vilify “our side.”

    So what? Can you quantify the trickle-down effect of informing and galvanizing the semi-elite on your side, or the countervailing backlash? Can you quantify the short term vs. long-term effects?

    Overton says that you have to take short-term hits for unpopular stances to shift the window of political possibilities. Is he wrong? More precisely when is he wrong, and how do you know?

    That’s where the rubber has to meet the road—in making hard calls about conflicting goals, conflicting strategic principles, etc.

    Making framing strategy “simpler than possible” is utterly unconvincing.

  15. #15 Tulse
    April 7, 2008

    Very well stated, Paul W.

  16. #16 Left_Wing_Fox
    April 7, 2008

    I agree wholeheartedly with Paul W. Bravo.

  17. #17 Rick MacPherson
    April 7, 2008

    Chris said, “It certainly would be nice if communication and persuasion worked in this way. However, both the research and my own personal experience strongly suggest that it is very hard to get people to change their minds simply by arguing with them on the facts or trying to challenge their core beliefs. They are much more likely to become defensive or dismissive, and even less amenable to persuasion (rather than more).”

    i support part of your assertion, chris, that getting people to change their minds simply by arguing with them on the facts won’t often lead to their changing their personal core beliefs by the end of the argument… but everything that i’ve come to understand about learning theory (and what graduate schools of education have supported) is that engaging learners in a process that forces them (sometimes uncomfortably) to defend their core beliefs is an important and necessary step to meaningful learning… allow me a brief “constructivist learning” thought or two…

    studies (bransford, J.D. 2000, Gardner, r. 1994, Kolb, d. 1984, driver, r. 1994, wiggins, g. 2001, loucks-horsley, s. 1999) have shown the tenacious nature of preconceptions… even in the face of overwhelming evidence, studies have demonstrated that people are not quick to relinquish their core beliefs (sometimes referred to as their “private universe”)… but research has demonstrated that opportunities where personal belief systems are challenged or when learners experience “cognitive dissonance” in defending their mental constructs, are the most effective, over time, in helping learners acquire new ideas, deeper understandings, and construct more complete mental frameworks… again, research has shown that it is when learners (of all ages) grapple with alternate ideas raised by their own experiences that concepts are retained and new learning takes place…

    successive experiences over time seems to be the key… asking an audience to challenge their preconceived world view or challenge it’s “fit” to evidence isn’t always easy (or welcome)… moving people out of their personal comfort zones, however, is what the research data seems to indicate as a vital part of meaningful learning… what i’m saying is that perhaps we need not worry so much that our message is “uncomfortable” to our audience… that discomfort may very well be an important part of the process…

  18. #18 Tulse
    April 7, 2008

    If I may further address this issue of how to shift public opinion, Chris writes:

    if [...] you want to [...] move this broad public on these highly complex and politicized issues, you have to do more with your communication strategy than simply informing people

    That may be true, but by far the best recent example we have of a shift in general public opinion is surely the rise of conservativism in the US starting in the 1980s, and reaching its apex in the late 1990s. During that period the baseline of American political discourse was shoved very far to the right from its earlier position. And was that accomplished by building consensus, by appealing to common ground? Hardly — this was a period most notable for the extreme polarization of politics, by the rise of right-wing talk radio and hyper-partisan punditry. And that strategy was hugely successful (as you yourself are aware, having written a book that in part touches on this).

    To me, that serves as the perhaps the best empirical evidence for the notion of the Overton window, a concept that I have yet to see either Chris or Matt discuss, but which seems remarkably descriptive of what happened in US politics. More to the point, it also seems to describe the public discourse on science and religion, as it is hard to imagine we would even be having this debate without Dawkins et al. pushing as they do.

    Now one could argue that taking an extreme position is itself a frame, and so does not violate premise V, only premise VI. And that may be true, but then the issue is providing strong empirical evidence for VI. As Rick points out above, and as I suggest here, there is a lot of counter-evidence, or at least data that suggests the strategy of VI is not the only one available to induce socio-political change. And frankly, I haven’t seen any evidence that supports VI. Sure, it seems intuitive, but that is hardly evidence.

    Most discouragingly, when Matt is challenged on this, the primary “evidence” he cites is the National Academies Report on the design of Science, Evolution, and Creationism. I have repeatedly pointed out that neither this study, nor the published data on which it is based (the Coalition of Scientific Societies survey), contains any concrete data supporting the notion that only “positive” framing is effective, or that attacking religion is not. Matt, however, has not responded to this repeated observation. I find that disturbing, not out of my own vanity, but because it seems to be a central claim, and the “evidence” cited simply does not speak to the issue, suggesting that Matt either isn’t aware of this (which would be problematic for someone claiming expertise), or that Matt is being intentionally obfuscatory and disengenuous on this matter (which is even more troubling).

    So, since Matt won’t respond, Chris, perhaps you can address this issue, namely, that while it seems that there is strong evidence that challenging individuals beliefs and/or expressing extreme positions is a very effective way to achieve attitude change, there seems to be little direct evidence that a more “congenial” approach works. I’d honestly be happy to see some supportive evidence, but such has yet to be forthcoming.

  19. #19 Pascal Lapointe
    April 7, 2008

    Allow me to add my 2-cents, from my Quebec perspective, and with both my journalist’s hat, and my science popularization teacher’s hat.

    Last year, when I first heard about the « framing science » theory, it was on those blogs. And I was unable to understand why so much people were fighting for what was, for me, so obvious : framing is old news. It is something that all science popularizers are doing since as long as there are science popularizers. As do all science writers. As do all the people involved in one way or an other of communication for a general audience.

    And then I realized : this misunderstanding about framing is probably a matter of culture. As a journalist, I come from, let’s say, a « communication culture ». But for a scientist, who has been trained to always talk and write to his colleagues the same way (the « introduction-development-conclusion » structure), maybe it isn’t obvious at all.

    Yet, Chris Mooney is from the same « culture » than me, so I figured, there must be something I quite do not understand.

    And then, during last week-end, I discovered the first message in this serie, formulating the 8-points premises that are supposed to be the basics of framing. And the same bad feeling is coming back to me.

    After the social context (points 1 to 4), and the very obvious sentence that everybody « want to go beyond audiences of science enthusiasts » (5), Chris himself establishes that framing is old news :

    6- Rather, you have to pare down these highly complex issues–or “frame” them–selectively highlighting just those aspects of the issue that will resonate with the core values of the particular audience (and there are different audiences, of course, and different frames will work for them).

    Old news, because what Chris is describing in the above paragraph is what science journalists are always doing, or trying to do. More than that, this is what they teach in the first class of the first year of all communication programs of probably all the universities of the Western World : YOU MUST ADAPT to your audience.

    Indeed, as every science writer knows, you don’t write the same way for Scientific American and for your local weekly, EVEN if you’re writing about the same subject. You adapt. As every teacher knows, you don’t explain neutrinos the same way to an high-school group and to a first year university group. You adapt.

    So, IS THIS framing? If it is, well, no big deal. I know Chris wrote that in reality, it is much simpler than that, but the length of this discussion is eloquently demonstrating the contrary.

    So if THIS is framing, why is it necessary to create a new word to define something that was already defined in numerous books on communication, journalism and science journalism, seminars and classrooms since at least half-a-century?

    It seems to me what you need in the United States -what WE need too, in Quebec- is to push to the creation of more science communication classes inside the science programs. It would be much more easier to justify that effort, using the numerous examples of bad communications from scientists, than trying to formulate a theory that will stay inside the ranks of specialized academics.

  20. #20 Sharon
    April 7, 2008

    I agree with Rick MacPherson (several comments up) on this one, and he makes the point much better than I could but I want to chime in.

    One of the things I did in undergrad was an minor in education, and one of the classes was “Intercultural Education” which was about dealing with different cultures (and religions) in the classroom. One thing that was stressed again and again was that the most effective way to get students to change preconceived ideas about others (including racism and religious intolerance, but also more subtle things) was to challenge them, push them right to the edge of their comfort zone. The professor certainly did it with us, and there were days I left the classroom confused or upset or in denial – but I also learned.

    Certainly there’s a limit to how far you can push someone before they shut down and ignore your point, but you still have to push them in order to get somewhere.

  21. #21 Tulse
    April 7, 2008

    what Chris is describing in the above paragraph is what science journalists are always doing, or trying to do. More than that, this is what they teach in the first class of the first year of all communication programs of probably all the universities of the Western World : YOU MUST ADAPT to your audience

    But that’s not the whole of framing, because it is not just about communication, but persuasion. Nisbet’s examples aren’t about explaining science to different audiences, but instead about influencing public policy on science-related issues, such as global warming and creationism. This is a distinction that neither Matt nor Chris have made explicit, but it seems obvious from what they’ve written.

    And once you move from a goal of communication to a goal of persuasion, you begin to have different criteria for success, and different means of achieving it. For instance, if the goal is solely to shift public opinion on some policy matter, it theoretically isn’t even necessary to be accurate in one’s communication, since what one values is political change, and not necessarily “the truth”. The distinction between “communication” and “propaganda” can potentially get blurred. To be clear, I am not saying that Matt and Chris explicitly advocate propaganda in the service of the greater good, but framing is certainly compatible with that approach.

    So I disagree that this is mere journalistic skills, the way one does reportage. This is about persuasion, and so has more in common with marketing than with journalism. (Again, that is not necessarily bad.)

  22. #22 Shirakawasuna
    April 7, 2008

    I mentioned this in the last thread, but you need to change the title of what you’re describing. Calling it “framing” or “framing science” in no way distinguish it from the basic idea of framing and your more complex, highly-opinionated version. Call it putting up drywall or something, I don’t know. Half of this issue is that you keep describing the *basic* version of framing and equating it with your opinion of what a ‘bad’ frame is.

    “Similarly, before he bowed out of this dialogue, PZ said, and I quote in full:[...]”

    — I think it’s stretching to call this a dialogue. A dialogue means one person makes a point (this helps Ben Stein), the other person makes counterpoints (PZ’s many responses), then, get this: the other person responds to the counterpoints! I have never seen you follow up to create anything like a dialogue, it always returns to a general declaration that we don’t understand framing and that if we only saw your articles again we’d ‘get it’.

    Your critics have generally been very patient with you. They point out what they think is wrong, get a substanceless response, reiterate their points and make new ones. They even point out how your responses are substanceless! What follows tends to be silence. Personally, I think you should appreciate how patient others have been with your (un)willingness to discuss and defend your ideas in the form of dialogue.

    You go on to explain your premises, but here is the problem: despite your intention to defuse the situation by starting from the ground up, your premises are tainted by your later statements (in the minds of others). ‘Paring down’ ideas is indeed what people (and scientists) do all the time, in a sense. No one has a problem with the way they do it. But let’s see how you have advocated framing in the past:
    “The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between [Dawkins'] advocacy of evolution and his atheism.” In that article, you go on to list how Dawkins’ combined arguments against religion and for rationalism/evolution feed into one of the many ways creationists rationalize dissent: guilt by association, the association being atheism.

    See, now right here we obviously have the *implicit* (and sometimes explicit) goal of convincing the public that evolution, or stem cells, or global warming, are real and true, in a political style. We want them to support these things as found in polls (apparently). I’ll note first that polls tend to be terrible at gauging how deep or superficial an answer is, especially concerning this kind of issue.

    But does Dawkins have that goal? Does he want people to simply agree with him on the hot-button issues? No. He wants to promote the public *understanding* of science, not complacency with scientific facts. Beyond that, he also wants to advocate rationalism as opposed to religion. How does framing meet his goals? Given how you and Nisbet speak in that article, it doesn’t. Proper framing, as advocated in that article, means he should separate those issues out so that more people will accept the evolution parts and go vote on it, or have it ‘resonate’ with them. This would require him to be dishonest to himself, however, as your goal is *not* his goal. This is why Larry Moran and others have a quite valid point concerning honesty and integrity. If Dawkins wants to mix evolution and anti-religion sentiments as part of his goal, the proper framing is to indeed do so. Asking him to do otherwise is asking him to change his goal, not increase his communication abilities.

    Perhaps your name was added to that article and it was mostly Nisbet. I don’t see why one should be forced to make such rationalizations, though: just be straightforward and honest, answer our points. Stop trying to create a ‘consensus’ starting point, you’ve tried to do that in the past, we ‘get it’.

    I can see the response now: “We’re not saying that scientists and their allies should “spin” information; doing that would only harm their credibility.” (from that same article)

    But that’s exactly what you ask for when you want Dawkins to split up his messages, when in fact they are part of the *same* goal. Part of spinning a message is the willful omission of contrary facts or opinions which one *knows* would be relevant. If Dawkins thinks he should include those facts due to their relevance, that is his prerogative and he does is very, very well. If we want to get into a match about effectiveness, at the very least Dawkins is a public name, whereas ‘framing’ (in your sense, not the general one) seems to only be applicable as a post-hoc label for anecdotal cases.

  23. #23 Shirakawasuna
    April 7, 2008

    “It is because Nisbet wants (and I want) to move people in the middle, or even the other side, that we go about things as we do. We are pragmatists. We are studying the lessons learned from political campaigns, and applying them to politicized science issues–because we think there has been a large failure to fight back strategically on these issues (and my recent New Republic article should leave no doubt about how serious I am when it comes to fighting back).”

    — This makes my point for me beautifully as it proves my points about the superficiality of agreement you seem to be advocating and clearly lays out your goal. It just isn’t the same goal of others (to the exclusion of other, conflicting goals).

    “In the end, I suspect that PZ and many others will continue to have very different goals, and so will never agree with our core approach. That’s fine. That’s okay.”

    — Good, you see that there are different goals. Why would you still think that the bloggers opposing you don’t understand the type of framing you advocate, then? And yes, it’s a type of framing, as it presupposes a goal other than mere effective communication.

    “However, if disagreement persists (which seems highly likely),[...]”

    — I’m going to be nitpicky and wonder why you put “However,” in there. If you have different goals, then naturally disagreement will persist, not ‘however’ ;).

    “, I would propose something: Even as we continue to differ about goals and means of achieving them, let us not forget that we have very highly organized opponents who present a unified front and implement quite sophisticated communication strategies (including using celebrities and high budget films to get their message out). So wouldn’t it at least be desirable, if, say, PZ and Dawkins were to sit down with others in the evolution defense world–the National Academies, the National Center for Science Education, and so on–so as to identify those areas where their communication and outreach activities can complement one another?”

    — More discussion is never a bad thing. However, the NCSE already does a very good job, the best thing we could do is fund it better. Given your commentary, this *really* seems like another appeal to be reasonable, implying we are unreasonable. Maybe we’re simply touchy now that you’ve condescended so many times, not answered questions, or simply ignored points for a year. Maybe this is just how you deal with criticism. In the future, an effective communication strategy isn’t so simplistic – simply pointing out where we agree can be easily seen as an attempt to hide the places where we don’t agree and as condescension.

  24. #24 Chris C. Mooney
    April 7, 2008

    Folks,
    I just got off a plane again. If I don’t always answer every last point in this discussion, I hope you will bear in mind that is because I don’t always have time, and this is not my actual day job. If you’re not satisfied with my level of engagement, I’m sorry, but I can’t do more than I’m doing at present.

    Anyway, there are many interesting and valuable things above that I hope to address as best I can. Some of them Nisbet would be better equipped to address than myself, but of course, whenever he posts, he just gets pounced upon. This is something of a disincentive.

    PZ, I keep offering an olive branch. I keep hoping you’ll take it.

  25. #25 Francis
    April 7, 2008

    Chris: since you feel so strongly about the quality of work done by NCSE, why don’t you invite Eugenie to put up a guest post on her views about Expelled, and the way that PZ, Nisbet and you each responded to it and each other?

    I know I’d be fascinated to see her “frame”.

  26. #26 Francis
    April 7, 2008

    Here, just for kicks and grins, are titles from two of Chris’s posts about a week apart.

    “This Controversy HELPS Ben Stein, People”

    “Scientists Need to Strap on the Gloves”

    The juxtaposition tickled my funnybone. Scientists picking fights good? Bad? Our framing oracle will let us know.

  27. #27 Chris Hallquist
    April 7, 2008

    Mooney:

    However, both the research and my own personal experience strongly suggest that it is very hard to get people to change their minds simply by arguing with them on the facts or trying to challenge their core beliefs. They are much more likely to become defensive or dismissive, and even less amenable to persuasion (rather than more)…

    We are studying the lessons learned from political campaigns, and applying them to politicized science issues…

    The basic problem with this is short-sightedness. Yes, it’s hard to improve people’s thinking in substantial ways. But it certainly is possible (something you carefully avoid denying) and worthwhile when you can do it.

    Similarly, yes, political-style tactics can win short-term gains. However, the current style of political discourse has failed on the whole to produce clear thinking or good policy, and it isn’t obvious that this big picture would improve if more people went along with the game.

  28. #28 Chris Hallquist
    April 7, 2008

    P.S.: I’ve also noticed you equivocate between two senses of “paring down.” What you’ve clearly advocated is dropping the evidence-based approach all together, what PZ does on his blog is present that stuff in an audience-appropriate manner.

  29. #29 Pascal Lapointe
    April 7, 2008

    Answering me, Tulse wrote:

    But that’s not the whole of framing, because it is not just about communication, but persuasion.

    Well, if that’s the case, it is not at all obvious by the 8-points premise, as the last week discussion (s) demonstrate.

    And if that’s the case, well, I will have the same interrogation than in my last post: why is it necessary to create a new word (framing) to define something that was already defined (persuasion) in numerous books on communication, journalism and science journalism, seminars and classrooms since at least half-a-century?

  30. #30 Michael Glenn
    April 7, 2008

    Chris, like many here I’m an admirer of yours who has some familiarity with the problems involved in communicating science, in my case because I work in the publications department of a research institution.

    I hope you address the points raised by Paul W., Rick MacPherson, and Tulse. As has been pointed out, your premises seem vague in that they conflate communication (I don’t think anyone seriously believes effective communication lies in “simply informing people about the details of science”) with persuasion.

    At the same time, the ways in which (for example) the political Right has been so persuasive the past several decades go unaddressed.

    Most of all, I would like to know exactly what you mean by “resonate with the core values of the particular audience.” I think that has the potential (depending on what’s meant) to be a real sticking point.

  31. #31 Tulse
    April 7, 2008

    Some of them Nisbet would be better equipped to address than myself, but of course, whenever he posts, he just gets pounced upon. This is something of a disincentive.

    *sigh* If you really want honest dialogue, how about not editorializing? For the record, my own perspective (or “frame”) is that on this issue in general, and L’Affair Myers in particular, Matt has been extremely light on specifics, has ignored repeated serious, substantive questions about the conceptual and empirical bases for his claims, and has generally refused to carry out a meaningful dialogue (which is not the same as posting a lot). And that’s saying nothing about his general ‘tude, which has been less than conciliatory and collegial.

    Sure, some people have been impatient with him, but for the most part his early tenure here started out reasonably cordial, and I would hardly say that repeated suggestions that he address specific substantive issues he had avoided is “pouncing” on him. Heck, I’ve seen just as vigorous exchanges at university colloquia when I was a grad student, so I really don’t see a reason to get all upset.

    (And, no offense, but I honestly don’t understand how two alleged communications experts continue to make basic mistakes with an audience they claim to want to engage. “Pounced upon” by “screechy monkeys”? How is that not a disincentive to seriously participate?)

    I have greatly appreciated, Chris, that you’ve generally avoided the somewhat imperious and dismissive approach of Nisbet, and have been willing to explain your position. And I understand that your time and resources are limited, that posting here isn’t your real job, and that addressing all these comments can try anyone’s patience. I just hope that you’ll keep the editorial asides to a minimum, which I think would help to bring the general level of heat down.

  32. #32 Pascal Lapointe
    April 7, 2008

    One after-thought. In fact, saying that framing means “persuasion” rather than “adaptation” is not so important in my eyes, as a distinction, because many communication’s analysts and journalism’s teachers could say that every communicator, every science popularizer, every science journalist, is doing, at one level or an other, some kind of persuasion.

    It does not have to be (fortunately!) as polarized as the creationism versus evolution thing. The idea can simply be to “persuade” that, yes, boys and girls, believe it or not, but science is something interesting. As a science writer, it is an unconscious part of my work, because, to quote Chris Mooney in his 8-points premise:

    everybody want to go beyond audiences of science enthusiasts

    Don’t believe I want to start an additional debate on “persuasion versus adaptation”. My point is only: as described until now, “framing science” seems to me to be old news. At least 400 years old news, according to the last book on the History of science popularization I’ve seen.

  33. #33 bsci
    April 7, 2008

    Anyway, there are many interesting and valuable things above that I hope to address as best I can. Some of them Nisbet would be better equipped to address than myself, but of course, whenever he posts, he just gets pounced upon. This is something of a disincentive.

    Chris. I don’t think this is Nisbet’s problem. He doesn’t seem to want to form a healthy community of commenters. I commented on this thread:
    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2008/04/a_note_on_comment_policy.php
    We had a brief exchange which ended with him “agreeing” that perhaps serious framing discussions just can’t happen on blogs. I responded that there’s a serious discussion happening on Chris’s blog so perhaps the problem is the tone of calling readers “screechy monkeys” and not the topic itself. He didn’t approve this comment even though later comments were approved.

    While I’m critical, I do think that I write respectably and appropriately for these forums.

    Agree or not with my comment, Nisbet is using his filter to censor opinions on his blog. “MH | April 7, 2008 11:14 AM” noticed a similar thing, although he didn’t list a specific example. This really isn’t the way to encourage civilized discussions or to encourage people writing serious comments to come back to his site and improve the level of the discussion there.

  34. #34 MH
    April 7, 2008

    bsci: “Agree or not with my comment, Nisbet is using his filter to censor opinions on his blog. MH noticed a similar thing, although he didn’t list a specific example.”

    It was Ichthyic who noticed it. I was just trying to make Chris aware of Matt’s actions. I thought he’d care.

    Of course, now Matt has now acknowledged his censoring. There have been very few comments at Framing Science since, though one has to wonder if this is due to the chilling effect of heavy-handed moderation or the moderation itself.

  35. #35 MH
    April 7, 2008

    I just noticed that Rieux tried to post a critique of Matt’s Paul Kurtz piece. That too seems to have been binned by the communications Prof.

    There are other instances of censorship reported in the link above, but I don’t want this comment to fall foul of the spam filter, so I’ll let you find them.

  36. #36 Screechy Monkey
    April 7, 2008

    The important thing is that this whole discussion has helped me choose a nickname.

  37. #37 miko
    April 7, 2008

    “… let us not forget that we have very highly organized opponents who present a unified front and implement quite sophisticated communication strategies…”

    Chris,

    You’ve identified here the key weakness of the left compared to the right (at least as these groups are construed in the US). The left demands and accomodates a plurality of opinions and voices, thus we tend to fight among ourselves. The right marches lock-step (though luckily fissures are starting to show).

    We should NOT march lock-step. To adopt the strategies of the right is to debase some of the most important values of the “left”: openness, honest dialog and debate, and acceptance of disagreement.

    Of course, this is only a weakness in the contemporary realm of the sound-bite and 24 hour news cycles. It’s really a strength, and one we can exploit in the pluralistic realm of blogs, DIY media, etc. I think the whole framing premise was based on the idea that there’s a “right” way to participate in the civic realm. It’s wonky and elitist.

    And, once again, I’d like SOMEONE to give me an honest explanation of how science as a whole does not undermine supernatural religious beliefs. Not with anecdotes about Francis Collins or someone’s personal cosmology… I want the data. This is the crux of the dishonesty I sense in framing…that we should claim that science is in no way a threat to religion.

  38. #38 Matti K.
    April 8, 2008

    Chris: “Some of them Nisbet would be better equipped to address than myself, but of course, whenever he posts, he just gets pounced upon. This is something of a disincentive.”

    Nisbet and Mooney are “pounced upon” simply because they made a few very polarizing comments in their blogs. Personally, I see nothing wrong in provocative statements. However, I sense hypocrisy, beacuse the “framers” themselves preach non-confrontation. Moreover, it seems clueless to complain about heat when you yourself have lit the match.

    If the “framers” cannot put off a fire of their own making, I don’t think there is very much value in framing.

  39. #39 Russell Blackford
    April 8, 2008

    I think the whole thing went off the rails with the New Atheist Noise Machine meme … which took no account of the fact that the so-called New Atheists have other objectives (basically, to promulgate scepticism about religion) and their own reasons for pursuing those objectives.

    I basically support those objectives and the reasons behind them. Some of my reasons have been stated, at different levels of elaboration, in various places, including here). However, I do disagree with particular New Atheists about particular things (e.g., I think Dawkins underestimates the force of the Problem of Evil).

    IMHO, it was a mistake to be so dismissive of the New Atheists, attack them for helping the fundies, and so on. This was all badly handled from way, way back, and I note that the aggression first came from the “framing science” side of this debate. The, ahem, screechy monkeys have tended to push back, after the early response from their/our “side” was cautiously conciliatory.

    For myself, I agree with the basic idea of framing, if it simply means finding ways to make your ideas salient and attractive to your audience(s) – using metaphors, image clusters, appeals to practical applications, and so on. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with that.

    What I don’t agree with is that there is only one set of goals for scientifically-informed folks to pursue; that Dawkins and so on are doing a bad job at pursuing their particular goals (they seem to me to be framing the issues as they see them rather well); or that the goals of, say, Dawkins should be subordinated to those of someone else (e.g. someone whose goals are tied up with a strategy of not offending religious people).

    I see nothing in what Chris has been publishing of late that demonstrates disagreement with the above, but his past views have sometimes seemed inconsistent with it. This is where clarification would be most helpful, at least to me.

  40. #40 Sigmund
    April 8, 2008

    Come on Chris, out with it man!
    Admit that its all a hoax.
    There is no Matt (“he came with the frame”) Nisbet, is there? You and Sheril just made up that unfeasibly nice-haired character to try a little Sokal type experiment on the science-blogging community. Well we’ve played along for long enough, its time to put an end to this unseemly charade.
    I think your biggest mistake was playing up the moderation angle too much. Theres only so much calls for calm, decorum and reason you can make while simultaneously calling people ‘clueless’, ‘screechy monkeys’ and part of the ‘atheist noise machine’ – ‘Don Imus’ branch.
    It was funny while it lasted but lets not wear the joke out.

  41. #41 Chris C. Mooney
    April 8, 2008

    Many of the comments above are constructive, polite, etc. I want to thank those of you who wrote them.

    But many are still hectoring and just plain relentless.

    At this point, more than a week on into blogging about framing, I am just exhausted by the constant siege. I’ve been trying to calm things down, but many people just won’t.

    I am not going to delete comments–say whatever you want–but I also am not going to continue on in this way.

    At least for now, then, I’m suspending posting on this. My apologies to all the good commenters out there, as well as the readers who might have enjoyed a systematic account of the logic behind framing, followed by an application to specific issues, etc. And my thanks to those, like Chad Orzel, Abel Pharmboy, and others who called for moderation and keeping this civil.

    Alas, it isn’t working out as I’d hoped, and now I’m just worn out. Sorry, folks.

  42. #42 Screechy Monkey
    April 8, 2008

    Yes, Chris, let’s all praise Chad Orzel’s efforts to “call[] for moderation and keeping this civil,” specifically:

    — labelling people “screechy monkeys” who throw “poo-flinging tantrums,”
    — dismissing _all_ arguments against framing as at best “disingenuous” and otherwise “breathtakingly stupid”
    — declaring that “I no longer think the other side is worth talking to”

    and that’s just in one post.

    But yes, Chris, it’s “our” side that won’t calm down and be moderate and civil.

  43. #43 Tulse
    April 8, 2008

    Many of the comments above are constructive, polite, etc. I want to thank those of you who wrote them.

    But many are still hectoring and just plain relentless.

    Some folks may be “hectoring”, but for the most part the “relentless” questions have to do with substantive issues, such as what is the evidence base for purely positive framing, to what extent is this a matter of short-term political gain versus long-term understanding and change, is the way framing has been presented the only mechanism for persuasion, etc. These are honest, real questions, and to the extent that you want folks to understand and support framing, they need honest, engaged answers. The reason these questions are relentlessly asked is simply because they have yet to be answered.

    I can understand wearying of this discussion, really, I can — this has been an emotionally charged situation. But to dismiss the substance with the chaff is to miss the point, and I think to miss perhaps a final opportunity to convince doubters before they write the whole notion off.

  44. #44 caynazzo
    April 8, 2008

    Contrary to all myths the most deadly place on the American political spectrum is in the center.
    Oftentimes this push toward moderation or triangulation of the issues seems a bit as if you one were navigating a ship and given two reliable coordinates to plot a course, then deciding to split the difference and head recklessly straight up the middle into uncertain waters.

  45. #45 Pascal Lapointe
    April 8, 2008

    Maybe it is the proof by A + B that this discussion, from the beginning -that is, last year- should not have been on blogs. At least, not on those blogs.

    Allow me to explain what I mean before thinking I’m talking about censorship. Remember that there is a huge difference between science and social science. Science can frequently imagine practical applications to a theory (well, Ok, it’s more difficult in maths and theoretical physics). Social science, like sociology, will elaborate some models, will try to define things in a better way, but rarely with a practical application in mind. Rarely do people will change their behavior accordingly to a new theory in sociology, political science and even communication studies. At least, not before this theory has been discussed and re-discussed and re-re-discussed in academic circles during many, many years.

    So -and again, remember, it’s from my Quebec perspective and my double hat, as a journalist and as a popularization science’s teacher- maybe it’s the problem you have here. “Framing science” is saying essentially what every journalism teacher I know and every popularization science’s teacher I read, is saying since generations. Whatever subtil details framing science has to distinguish itself from those authors, is deserving debates in academic circles, about the criterias to meticulously define what would be a “great communicator”, and what would be an efficient communication, and this and that, and so on.

    And maybe, juste maybe, in a few years, when it would have surfaced –if it surfaces– as something more substantial, more useful on a day-to-day basis, not only in polarized cases but in all situations where communicating science is difficult, then maybe, the practioners (journalists or scientists) would began to integrate it in their work.

    But for the moment, for those (journalists or scientists) who just want to communicate better to a larger audience, there are numerous books, seminars and conferences about the basics of communicating science.

    (and sorry for my English, which is not my first language!) :-)

  46. #46 MH
    April 8, 2008

    “But many are still hectoring and just plain relentless.”

    So just ignore them. Don’t use it as an excuse to walk away from genuine criticisms of your ideas. I see that behaviour all the time from creationists. People on our side should demonstrate more integrity. All I can assume is that you must have had a pretty easy ride through academia if you find the challenges here difficult to deal with. This is the ideal opportunity for you to evolve your theory into something more robust, but you’re giving the impression that you are more interested in your ideas being unquestionably accepted. This is nothing personal, btw; engage your critics seriously, and I’ll be the first to applaud you.

    “And my thanks to those, like Chad Orzel, Abel Pharmboy, and others who called for moderation and keeping this civil.”

    Is that the same Chad who calls people who critique his way of thinking “screechy monkeys” of the “monkey army”? Do you really regard that as being civil, or were you being sarcastic?

  47. #47 Lurker
    April 8, 2008

    Mr Mooney, you’re behaving like a petulant child.

  48. #48 M.
    April 8, 2008

    “At this point, more than a week on into blogging about framing, I am just exhausted by the constant siege. I’ve been trying to calm things down, but many people just won’t.”

    What do you expect? I understand that you are trying to calm things down – but avoiding the core of the problem and rhetoricizing (is that a verb?) around the deeper goals of framing isn’t the way to peace.

    You have to address the central problems. Why did Nisbet write the front-page article for UD? How can we trust that framers know how to effectively communicate when we see you doing the exact opposite? Why do you keep talking about civility while, at the same time, supporting breathtakingly offensive attacks at people who disagree with you (Nisbet’s “shut up”, Orzel’s “screechy monkeys”).

    (I, for one, cannot comprehend how you can, with a straight face, even say that Orzel’s post was a call for moderation? Is that respect for the other side – are you going to communicate evolution to evangelicals by calling them “screechy monkeys” if they disagree with something you say?)

    I’m sorry you feel this is “hectoring”, but seriously, as an expert communicator, you should be able to understand why this doesn’t work.

  49. #49 Jon Winsor
    April 8, 2008

    Contrary to all myths the most deadly place on the American political spectrum is in the center.

    No, Chad Orzel isn’t calling for “centrism” a la David Broder, he just has different priorities than yours. Not everyone wants to set their course damn-the-torpedoes for Atheist Utopia. And people can have some pretty good reasons for having other priorities, which shouldn’t come as a shock or an outrage, but it seems to for many people on this board.

  50. #50 MH
    April 8, 2008

    And one final thought: do you think all this would have got so heated if you’d engaged your commenters as your peers rather than your audience?

  51. #51 Jon Winsor
    April 8, 2008

    do you think all this would have got so heated if you’d engaged your commenters as your peers rather than your audience?

    It’s a great democratic medium. But I’d hope Chris would be spending most of his time on publishing things (news stories, etc.) As someone who’s familiar with his work, I’d hope he’d view that as his first priority.

  52. #52 MH
    April 8, 2008

    It’s a great democratic medium. But I’d hope Chris would be spending most of his time on publishing things (news stories, etc.) As someone who’s familiar with his work, I’d hope he’d view that as his first priority.

    Jon, he could (indeed should) do both; publish his current ideas, but also test them to their breaking point, so that his future publications can be even better. This seems like a great opportunity to do the latter, and although it doesn’t pay the bills (at least I don’t think he gets paid for his Sb posts), he should look upon time spent here as a good investment. I think this whole business could have been a great opportunity for Chris.

    But, if he decides not to take it, that’s his prerogative. I still wish him well for the future.

  53. #53 caynazzo
    April 8, 2008

    Obviousy, Jon, we all share the priority of communicating science more effectively, but our motivations are different, as are the ways and means to go about it. That the framing side is seen as myopic, while the PZ side is seen as idealistic seems a redundancy on these long strings.

    I always find it odd that the “New Atheists” success is largely a phenomenon (natural backlash) of the rampant US religiosity over the past decade or so, but these late-comers are the first group told to cease and desist their polarizing approach so as to get with the program. Where was the outrage from the moderates against the anti-science and anti-atheist Expelled movie? It’s typically the countercultural agents who suffer great injustices in the name of cultural preservation.

  54. #54 caynazzo
    April 8, 2008

    Do I have this right? Mooney chides PZ for bowing out of the discussion in the very post whose comment section we find Mooney himself bowing out of?

    PZ couldn’t help himself, perhaps Mooney will do the same.

  55. #55 Jon Winsor
    April 8, 2008

    “Natural backlash,” sure. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate and reasonable points of disagreement. You people can be awfully anti-intellectual and thin-skinned for a bunch of self-identified rationalists.

  56. #56 caynazzo
    April 8, 2008

    Unless I’m missing something Jon, you’ve inverted the two positions. It was the Framers who are speaking to a common ground while deferring to the NCSE on all points contentious and the Framing skeptics saying we have different motivations and to hell with the idea of a science communicator monolith.

  57. #57 Jon Winsor
    April 8, 2008

    I think it was a disagreement about how to best convey science to a public that’s having trouble accepting it. They had a different opinion of who would be the best spokesmen in this case. It’s a legitimate disagreement.

    BTW, I don’t think they are as attached to their “monolith” as you guys seem to be attached to yours…

  58. #58 Russell Blackford
    April 8, 2008

    Chris, I’m surprised at your reaction. It looks to me as if this is (generally) a very civil discussion in which various people are flagging issues that they’d like to see you address at some point. I do appreciate your trouble with this series of posts, but you still have not written a post identifying your version of where and how the debate went off the rails, and whether for example it was because you and Nisbet didn’t properly appreciate that different people legitimately have different objectives.

    There’s a lot still to be addressed. For example, the whole Lakoff “framing” thing takes it as an article of faith, almost, that the moderate religionists are basically on “our” side in pursuing “nurturant parent” politics, rather than “strict father” politics. Accordingly, if we are “nurturant parent types” (i.e., in the American context, Democrats) we must include those people in our progressive coalition. Did you and/or Nisbet simply take this article over when developing a plan for framing science? Did you, perhaps, not realise that many of us don’t think in Lakoff’s terms and really are opposed to religion, not just the so-called strict father version of it, even if we can get along with genuinely moderate religionists? Hence, we don’t see ourselves as part of any grand plan to form alliances that include so-called “liberal” Catholics (who are still going to be anti-abortion, anti stem-cell-research, anti-therapeutic cloning, etc.).

    If that’s how you were thinking, it’s no wonder that you were not careful about offending people who are batting on the same team as Dawkins … though forgetting that those people are part of your audience (and have their own core values and so on) would have been a mistake. Has that been part of the problem, as you see it?

    For our part, maybe we owe you more explanation of why it is religion as such, and particularly Catholic theology and ethics, rather than just the strict father brand of American religiosity, that we object to, why we think that religious morality/moralities need to be challenged, why we tend to label Catholicism,in particular, as a cult of misery (which is part of how we frame the debate, as well as being something that some of us are not only sincere but actually passionate about), and so on. But we have nowhere near reached that point in the discussion. At the moment, I have no idea whether you’ve thought about any of this or not, but some of us have thought about it deeply.

    In short, there’s still a lot to be said to clear the air and understand each other better. I don’t think people calling for a deeper discussion of all this – and who are prepared to have it with you in a friendly spirit – are “hectoring and relentless”. I think that they (or “we” if I am one of them), are trying to work out what the real issues are that have divided the framers from the screechy monkeys in the past, so that they can be discussed openly and, yes, calmly, perhaps with a view to us not treading on each other’s toes so much in the future.

    Those real issues seem to me, and seemingly to others, to go beyond whether or not we accept the basic idea that we need to adapt our messages to our audiences and find ways to make them salient to different kinds of people. Everyone accepts that. But we don’t necessarily accept the application of the idea, or the objectives that you and Matt have, or any more specific theory (Lakoff’s, Nisbet’s, or anyone else’s) about how framing should actually be done.

    I must also echo the sentiments that the “calls for calm” that portray us as screechy monkeys have been far nastier than anything being said to you by your critics (there’s been a fair bit of nastiness directed at Nisbet, but not all that much directed at you). Fortunately, the “calls for calm” have been so over the top that I, for one, am just screeching, er, laughing at them, rather than being upset.

  59. #59 J. J. Ramsey
    April 8, 2008

    Russell Blackford: “I must also echo the sentiments that the ‘calls for calm’ that portray us as screechy monkeys have been far nastier than anything being said to you by your critics”

    What do you mean by “us”? What makes you think that you are supposedly a “screechy monkey”? There are outspoken atheists and outspoken atheists. There are outspoken atheists who bluntly criticize religion yet treat the vast bulk of theists with the respect one gives people who are mistaken on some matters but not generally stupid. There are also outspoken atheists whose contempt for theists is poorly hidden, and they often come off as well, screechy. From what I’ve seen, you’ve generally been part of the former category. I think, though, that you’ve been far too charitable to those in the latter category, and have mistaken them for those in the former.

  60. #60 MH
    April 8, 2008

    Ah, the no true screechy monkey argument!

    ;-)

  61. #61 rmp
    April 8, 2008

    Thanks MH. I’ve had kind of a crappy day and I needed a laugh!

  62. #62 Science Avenger
    April 9, 2008

    … both the research and my own personal experience strongly suggest that it is very hard to get people to change their minds simply by arguing with them on the facts or trying to challenge their core beliefs.

    Perhaps, but when the problem IS their core beliefs, as it certainly is with the vast majority of evolution denialists, then you don’t have much choice.

    It is because Nisbet wants (and I want) to move people in the middle, or even the other side, that we go about things as we do. We are pragmatists. We are studying the lessons learned from political campaigns, and applying them to politicized science issues

    I see no evidence that you are pragmatists. Nisbet in particular seems intent on repeating mistakes.

    But you do reveal the fundamental difference between you and your critics: You seek to make politicized science issues more political. We seek to make them more scientific. We are not nearly as interested in short term electoral victories as we are in long term epistemological shifts of conscience that make such short term efforts unecessary. If I teach someone science, I don’t need to frame them through every issue that arises. They’ll be able to do it themselves. But I sure as shit can’t get them there if I’m afraid to attack one of the flaws in their thinking because some might consider it a core value.

  63. #63 rmp
    April 9, 2008

    My definition for pragmatist is a pessimist in denial.

    Long live the optimists!

  64. #64 Matti K.
    April 9, 2008

    Chris: “I am not going to delete comments–say whatever you want–but I also am not going to continue on in this way.”

    It is good that you have finally made your choice and don’t try to please everyone. Framing might well be a concept that is better (or at least more effectively) conveyed through one-way communication (f. ex. lectures and articles) to friendly audiences. Let’s hope that is a strategy that enables you to preach also to others than the choir.

    One thing is sure: ignoring well-formulated criticism will certainly not win you any support among the die-hard scientists. These people tend to think that outspoken criticism and answering it is essential for the refinement of ideas. Scientists also tend to be very allergic to calls of self-censorship. If they don’t trust you (or Nisbet), they will not trust you to convey their message, either. Can you afford it?

  65. #65 Sigmund
    April 9, 2008

    I didn’t come from no screechy monkey!
    I’m sorry but this whole thing is turning into a farce. Chris, do you have any idea how vigorous an average scientific debate can be? Try going to Larry Morans blog and arguing about the function of ‘junk’ DNA, the definition of the central dogma of molecular biology, or how the terms ‘gene’ or ‘evolution’ can be defined – you’ll see ten times more invective than anything I’ve seen on any of your recent threads.
    And do you know what?
    Thats OK. Because that is what science is all about. You present your ideas to the world and defend them against all comers using empirical data that supports these ideas. And if you fail to present any evidence or run away when asked to do so then you can be expected to be laughed at or dismissed. Thats just how it works.
    Most of your critics here are asking the same question over and over again – explain how framing science can cope with groups of people with different objectives – specifically those of us who feel that the most important barrier to rationality is the belief in supernaturalism and without this being challenged then all other gains are temporary and subject to rapid reversal through new irrational arguments.
    If you are unable or unwilling to answer this point then please don’t act shocked or annoyed when your claims are not taken seriously.

  66. #66 Christophe Thill
    April 9, 2008

    Chris, what conclusions do you draw from the fact that things “didn’t work out as you thought”? That some people are just plain bad and can’t behave? Or is there something else?

  67. #67 Quentin Long
    April 9, 2008

    Quoth C. Thill:

    Chris, what conclusions do you draw from the fact that things “didn’t work out as you thought”? That some people are just plain bad and can’t behave? Or is there something else?

    I’m not Mooney, but speaking as an outside observer who was never clear on how, exactly, this “Framing” stuff differed from presenting one’s material in a manner that would be comprehensible to one’s audience, here’s the conclusion I draw: This “Framing” stuff is utterly worthless and irrelevant. I mean, seriously…

    Mooney: Assertions X, Y, and Z about Framing.
    Critic: Okay, but why should I care?
    Mooney: Let me repeat my initial assertions.
    Critic: Sure, but what difference does it make?
    Mooney: I refer you to my original statements.
    Critic: Yeah, yeah. Where’s the beef?
    Mooney: I’m sure you will understand my point if I repeat myself, in exactly the same words, yet one more time… so allow me to repeat myself. In exactly the same words.
    Etc, ad nauseum…

  68. #68 Shirakawasuna
    April 9, 2008

    I hope I’m not the only one who saw this coming… Chris has been patting himself on the back and complaining about supposedly uncivil comments this entire time. His complete lack of patience and ability to deal with criticism has been ridiculously obvious to me and has made itself more clear over time. The general trend of Nisbet and Mooney’s “dialogue” with critics follows a general pattern, as others have noted:

    1) present framing in the happy, simple sense. Everyone is tentatively supportive, but it’s hard to see how it’s anything new or special.

    2) Make polarizing comments and equivocate them with advocating good/bad framing. Never explain how this follows from the thesis, always use implicit goals. Some people criticize, but hey, they’re just starting out. We can’t expect them to pore over every comment.

    3) Critics respond with full posts and criticisms, asking for clarification, making counterarguments. These critics always receive the label of someone who simply doesn’t understand framing (look at this video, look at this article). Along with this response, the benefits of framing are lauded, often with some anecdotal case or vague references to studies. At no point have I seen Chris or Matt participate in dialogue, which would look like this: quote say, Larry Moran’s criticism in full, doing their best to explain specifically how they are wrong or answer questions. But that is clearly too much to ask.

    4) Repeat. A lot.

    In this case, we merely have more heat in the responses as the polarizing comments made have been frankly stupid. That doesn’t mean Chris Mooney is stupid, obviously. Only the comments. I don’t assume and haven’t concluded that Chris is trying to be shifty or dishonest, either: he just doesn’t seem willing to, well, participate in academic discussion (yes, ‘fuck you’ comes up there as well). For all the knowledge of communication they claim to possess, all that is useless without being candid and ready to meet valid criticism.

    Maybe I haven’t been blunt enough. Chris, you have a claim (lots, actually). Scientists criticize claims. This is a good thing. They also lose respect for people who are unwilling to back up their claims and respond to criticism, considering them lazy or arrogant. You are quickly losing the respect of many in this regard. This is also a good thing, or at least it’s good of your critics to do so. I see no reason that anyone should respect an idea so intrinsically tied to its promoters if those promoters cannot substantiate their claims, in fact I’m starting to lean towards considering you unintentionally arrogant (it’s possible!). This isn’t an ad-hominem, this isn’t abuse. It’s a description of how you seem to act.

    Either framing is the best thing since sliced bread, supported by all this communications knowledge, or it’s not. If it is, a non-arrogant person would support it in detail, with rigor. If it’s not, a non-arrogant person would admit that framing is a new idea, probably not terribly-well-formed, and certainly wouldn’t try to editorialize on how it should be applied. I think we have a combination of both here: you think it’s a good, effective tool, supported by all that communications knowledge and strategizing. But you don’t support it rigorously, you have a job, are busy, etc. (As a side note, I’ve mentioned that you should avoid comments that can make you seem arrogant. That’s one of them: we work too, you know.)

  69. #69 Philip H.
    April 9, 2008

    “Either framing is the best thing since sliced bread, supported by all this communications knowledge, or it’s not. If it is, a non-arrogant person would support it in detail, with rigor. If it’s not, a non-arrogant person would admit that framing is a new idea, probably not terribly-well-formed, and certainly wouldn’t try to editorialize on how it should be applied.”

    This sounds a lot like the scientific peer review concept, which serves science very well. Unfortunately, it also allows anti-science folks (like climate change deniers an Intelligent design groupies) to claim that the science isn’t “settled.” This rigorous back and fourth, iterative process that we scientists so love is exactly what Chris has been trying to tell us WON’T work with such people. It’s so ironic to me that so few of you see that, instead preferring to throw Chris under the bus just because he didn’t answer YOUR explicit point. chris was trying to reset the universe, and by describing where he felt his commenters agreed with him (and what his concepts were originally) I think Chris hoped to NArrow the focus of what he had to respond to.

    Yes, Chris has failed to step us through answers to each of his critics – but really, folks, how could he. A quick back of my Bev-Nap calculation shows me he’d have to categorize something like 2000 comments, and then try to write a response for each comment within each category. Even then, if the original commenter didn’t like his response, or it didn’t jibe with some or another world view, where would Chris be? It’s not about arrogance, but reality. Chris can no more answer this volume of mail then can any “celebrity” and I’ll wager our debate here has far more substance then all the letters to Brittney Spears.

    Is he perfect? NO, far from it. But the purpose of blogging, as I understand and practice it, is to self publish in short snippets ones’ thoughts and ideas. Yes, if you say controversial things, you should be ready intellectually and emotionally for the response. But as an author, Chris isn’t ultimately bound to give us answers to our EVERY criticism. This isn’t an anonomous review panel for a journal afterall. Unless, of course, each of your comments starts coming with a substantial check so he can abandon his career as a journalist and spend his time fully here on SB answering every one of you.

  70. #70 J. J. Ramsey
    April 9, 2008

    MH: “Ah, the no true screechy monkey argument! :-)”

    Not really. Isn’t it fair to say that you can’t be a screechy monkey if you don’t screech?

  71. #71 Tulse
    April 9, 2008

    Philip, I think you are being overly dramatic. Peer review, even this informal version in blog comments, is how science gets done. I think it is silly to argue that Chris should somehow be exempt from this process.

    And no one is asking him to respond to every criticism — that is an absurd claim. There are several basic points that have been summarized numerous times by numerous commenters, point to which he has not replied. I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to ask that he devote at least a little time to respond to those points.

    No, Chris has no responsibility to us to respond — it’s his blog, and he can do as he wishes. But he’s the one with the idea to promote, he’s the one with the approach to sell. No one here has put any sort of responsibility on his shoulders — he did when he began promoting framing. The only reason any of us are here is because he’s posted, and because he has been trying to convince people of his position. If he doesn’t want to do that anymore, that’s fine, but then he can’t reasonably complain when people go away unconvinced.

    I still do hope that, after a restorative pause, Chris will consider addressing some of the basic issues that have been repeatedly raised. I do think this can be a useful exercise.

  72. #72 Paul W.
    April 9, 2008

    I’m with Tulse.

    The framing skeptics here have been remarkably civil here lately.

    I’m trying to figure out who the “screechy monkeys” are…

    Tulse? Shirakawasuna? Rick? Russell? Me?

    It does seem that we’re “relentless” but that seems to me mostly a case of repeating the same questions that keep going unanswered, and which have gone unanswered since the last go-round.

    I think most of us have read Matt & Chris’s posts that we’ve been referred to, and watched their YouTube video that was supposed to make it all clear, and yet we are unconvinced.

    I myself have studied cognitive science and philsophy for years, sat in on George Lakoff’s framing seminar at Berkeley, and read his books. (And even gone to his house and helped craft a model op ed about energy policy. Cool, huh?)

    All that before I ever heard of PZ, or Matt, or Chris. (And before the “New Atheism” was even new.)

    I am seriously interested in framing, but also seriously interested in reasonably full, reasonably convincing account of framing.

    I don’t think I’m alone here. The questions others are asking are not the kind of questions you’d expect from a clueless army of screechy monkeys flying out of PZ’s capacious butt to harrass the reasonable, moderate grownups.

    They’re the kinds of questions you’d expect from people trying to reconcile the seemingly reasonable but superficial analysis given with equally reasonable-seeming but superficial refutations. (E.g., Overton window issues.)

    Maybe Chris is too busy now to seriously address our concerns—congratulations, Chris, by the way!—but please don’t try to frame this as a simple failure of the screechy framing skeptics to listen to reason.

  73. #73 Michael Glenn
    April 9, 2008

    “I’m trying to figure out who the ‘screechy monkeys’ are…”

    As a relative outsider who’s been following this thread, I’ve been trying to figure out the same thing.

    “Isn’t it fair to say that you can’t be a screechy monkey if you don’t screech?”

    Define screech.

  74. #74 J. J. Ramsey
    April 9, 2008

    Michael Glenn: “Define screech.”

    This isn’t exactly a definition, but one might be a “screechy monkey” if one is fond of sarcastic strawmen.

  75. #75 Michael Glenn
    April 9, 2008

    “One might be a “screechy monkey” if one is fond of sarcastic strawmen.”

    I haven’t seen many comments on this thread that I would characterize that way.

    However, as the saying goes, “Your mileage may vary . . .”

    On the other hand, like Tulse, I too hope that “after a restorative pause, Chris will consider addressing some of the basic issues that have been repeatedly raised.”

  76. #76 Shirakawasuna
    April 9, 2008

    Philip H.:

    “This sounds a lot like the scientific peer review concept, which serves science very well. Unfortunately, it also allows anti-science folks (like climate change deniers an Intelligent design groupies) to claim that the science isn’t “settled.” This rigorous back and fourth, iterative process that we scientists so love is exactly what Chris has been trying to tell us WON’T work with such people. It’s so ironic to me that so few of you see that, instead preferring to throw Chris under the bus just because he didn’t answer YOUR explicit point.”

    But that’s the entire problem! It seems to me like we *do* get that, often stating so explicitly.

    It is a bit like scientific peer review, but I think it’s simply what one should expect in any academic discussion, which is surely how ‘framing’ is forwarded. To lack the qualities I listed would seemingly make framing a weaker concept, something we should not expect to be properly defended, much like the political promises made during a campaign or how one feels about soda flavors.

    I do not unrealistically think that Chris should be expected to read all comments, let alone answer them. That is completely understandable, anyone who did that would be neurotic and have no life! But we don’t just have a couple questions missed here and there, the same points have been made through the majority of comments and they always go unaddressed. I don’t think that’s something we should expect in posts which are trying to defend an idea, especially given the ‘formula’ I listed above for how this dialogue goes. It’s happened multiple times as well.

    I suppose my basic point remains this: either this is an academic idea which is totally awesome, which would imply that it’s defensible, or it isn’t. It’s been sold to us as not only fairly obvious, but clearly necessary for effective communication. I don’t expect him to answer all comments, but when essentially all critics ask the same fundamental questions and criticisms and receive deflection, we have a different situation.

  77. #77 Shirakawasuna
    April 9, 2008

    Oops, also I should note that the critics of Framing are not constituted entirely by the comments section of this blog, nor just by ScienceBloggers. I think we can indeed expect someone to address specific points and questions in the form of a dialogue if they’re actually replying to individual’s critical blog posts.

  78. #78 Shirakawasuna
    April 9, 2008

    And in case it seems like I’ve been too harsh or others have been too mean, I’d like to point out that this type of criticism is a bit like tough love ;). If I met Chris in real life I wouldn’t go at his throat or insult him, and I doubt anyone else would either. We’d probably buy him a beer ;)

  79. #79 Shirakawasuna
    April 9, 2008

    Also, I really don’t get this whole “screechy monkeys” thing. I can’t find where Chris has used this term nor that he is specifically talking about the people reacting to it. It’s just another sign of poor communication and alienating those who still hold out hope for defending framing. When the majority of replies are vague and talk about commenters as uncivil, it should be no surprise that people hoping for a response to the most common questions read a bit too far into it.

  80. #80 J. J. Ramsey
    April 9, 2008

    Shirakawasuna: “Also, I really don’t get this whole ‘screechy monkeys’ thing. I can’t find where Chris has used this term nor that he is specifically talking about the people reacting to it.”

    It’s actually from Chad Orzel. This post probably has the best example of its use in context:

    http://scienceblogs.com/principles/2008/04/the_problem_of_moderation.php

  81. #81 Michael Glenn
    April 9, 2008

    OK, I read the Orzel piece, and it inclines me to think that “moderation” itself can be a kind of ideological position. Certainly throwing around charges of extremism and terms like “screechy monkey” and “monkey army” can create a sense of “screechiness” for a casual reader like myself.

    Again, I haven’t seen many comments on this specific thread that I would characterize as either extremist or “sarcastic strawmen,” though, again, “mileage may . . .”

  82. #82 Paul W.
    April 10, 2008

    Michael,

    It may be that our latching onto Chad’s immoderately insulting call for moderation constitutes something of a straw man here, on Chris’s blog. Chris didn’t call us “screechy monkeys” in so many words.

    On the other hand, he did chastise some of us (?) for our relentlessness and “hectoring,” and turn right around and thank Chad for his “call for calm.”

    Recall that Chris invited us to have a serious, decorous discussion here, and we’ve been trying to do exactly that. Then he thanked somebody for calling us poo-flinging monkeys and dismissing us as not worth talking to.

    I’m sure Chris didn’t really mean it that way, but hey, nice backhand.

    In lieu of constructive engagement, it’s hard to resist whiling away the wait by taking humorous cheap shots at humorously cheap shots, but I’m sure that if we just take a deep, calming breath and put the poo down, nobody will get hurt.

    Seriously. Put the poo down.

  83. #83 Michael Glenn
    April 10, 2008

    Nicely put, Paul W.–that was basically my point as an outsider looking in (so to speak): I’ve seen very little that I would characterize as “poo” on this thread.

    Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for some constructive engagement . . .

  84. #84 Russell Blackford
    April 12, 2008

    So, are we declaring this topic dead … at least for now? If so, it’s fine with me.

  85. #85 Matti K.
    April 12, 2008

    I feel sorry for Chris in his difficult situation. It seems that regarding the substance, there is very little disagrement between him and the atheists whose outspokenness he criticises. Unfortunately for Chris, many readers interpet his criticism as a call for self-sensorship, which is a no-no for many readers.

    I think Chris wants his readers to understand that for his political agenda (= winning christian souls to fight global warming) it is absolutely necessary to point publicly fingers at outspoken atheist scientists.

    Chris should have by now received the message that with his attitude he does not get new friends among people who prefer frank and unambigous dialogue over PC euphemisms. He probably has made the conclusion that he does not need such friends. I think that is wonderful, since people trying to please everyone are very obnoxious, IMHO.

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