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).”
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.