Pharyngula

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Matthew Nisbet and Chris Mooney have a short policy paper in Science that criticizes scientists for how they communicate to the public. Mooney says that “many scientists don’t really know what they’re up against when suddenly thrust into the media spotlight and interactions with politicians” — I agree completely. We are not trained to be glib and glossy, and we simply do not come across as well as we could. We’re also not really that interested, generally speaking, in the kind of presentation that plays well in 3 minutes on a news broadcast. It’s more than a cosmetological failure, though; as Nisbet says, “scientists, without misrepresenting scientific information, must learn to shape or ‘frame’ contentious issues in a way that make them personally relevant to diverse segments of the public, while taking advantage of the media platforms that reach these audiences.” I can go along with that, too.

In the battleground I play in, the evolution/creation wars, I know that the majority of the public are victims. We share common values: they are promoting their particular beliefs not because they are stupid or evil, but because they care about living in a good society, because they want their children to grow up economically successful and personally happy, and they are convinced that evolution threatens their personal bliss. (They’re wrong, of course, because they’ve been lied to, but they don’t know that.) One effective tactic for our side is to hammer on those shared values, and point out that good science is essential for economic competitiveness, for medical progress, and to improve everything from agriculture to reproductive biology. People respond well to appeals to the health and welfare of their grandchildren. It’s fair to suggest that instructing the public in abstractions like genetics and molecular biology as wonderful and interesting for their own sake is going to have limited success, because very few will care, while many more will like to hear about the consequences of research in genetics and molecular biology on their well being.

Where we can, we should do a better job of fitting science into the appropriate context of public concerns, and I agree with Nisbet and Mooney that assistance from those better versed in the politics of communication should be welcomed. I appreciate suggestions for polishing. However, I think Nisbet and Mooney are so focused on how better to fit scientist’s goals to the public’s perceptions that they neglect another important function: sometimes we want to change the public’s ideas. We want to break the frames of the debate and shift whole worldviews, and accommodating ourselves to the status quo won’t do.

We are living in a country that has gone horribly wrong; more than 50% of the public reject basic biology, we see citizens denied civil liberties because of their sexual preference, and we’re mired in an unjust war, to name just a few problems. Nisbet and Mooney acknowledge that we’re seeing a hardening of anti-science attitudes along partisan lines. What they propose, though, is a strategy of taking on the problems indirectly, cozening up to people and winning them over on shared values, but basically avoiding contention on other angles that would cause people to shut down and ignore your message.

I disagree. We are a culture afflicted with bad ideas, and it is irresponsible to ignore them. One of our jobs must be to speak out plainly in opposition to bad ideas; sure, we should inform people that evolutionary biology is essential for basic research in medicine, and we should try to avoid boring them with technical details, but at least some of us have to confront deep-rooted social ills that have long damaged the effectiveness of scientific advancement. Asking that we always bow respectfully towards established societal norms is nothing but a demand for conformity, for the maintenance of the status quo, and sometimes we need change, damnit.

For a representative problem, take religion (you knew I’d be going in that direction, didn’t you?) The authors’ press release also makes an issue of it, though, in a conventional nod to the virtues of piety, which I detest.

The authors point out that when scientists discuss science-related policy questions in technical language, many members of the public tune it out. Moreover, even while continuing to employ traditional modes of communication, scientists themselves have come under increasing attack for being too atheistic, too self-interested and/or too liberal.

OK, let’s ease up on the technical language that loses us our audience needlessly; that’s a fair cop. The rest, though, buys directly into the conservative and religious framing (useful word, that) by citing atheism and liberal values as negatives. Why do that? The problem isn’t that scientists are too atheistic or too liberal. It’s that religious leaders are given unwarranted respect and allowed to lie to the public. That’s something we should try to change, not to which we should try to conform or accommodate.

They do it again in the Science article:

The evolution issue also highlights another
point: Messages must be positive and respect
diversity. As the film Flock of Dodos painfully
demonstrates, many scientists not only fail to
think strategically about how to communicate
on evolution, but belittle and insult others’
religious beliefs.

Examples of a religious belief are that the Earth is 6000 years old, that T. rex‘s sharp teeth were used to crack open coconuts, and that the Bible is literally accurate in its claim that the patriarchs were giants because we have pygmies and dwarfs today. Why the hell should I treat such nonsense respectfully? Why shouldn’t we point out clearly, loudly, and frequently that these ideas are irrational, contradicted by the evidence, and just plain wrong? Religion is more than a social convention to negotiate, it is the root of the conflict. This demand for respect for religious beliefs, unjustified except by the fact that people get offended when they are refuted, is precisely the problem — there are some ideas that we have to eradicate with sledge and jackhammer, and there just isn’t any delicate dodge we can use to work around them. Yes, it will hurt, and yes, people will whimper and weep and howl in anger, but running away from the risk of offending people cannot be the be-all and end-all of our efforts.

The major failure of Nisbet’s and Mooney’s vision is that they seem unable to consider that scientists are capable of or should even try to work for major changes in our culture; we are always to be the ones who must conform to the majority’s views, no matter how wrong they are, and we have to be the supplicants who are very careful not to offend and who always beg for scraps in the terms they dictate. Their suggestions are all about tactical poses and completely neglect any long-term strategy or consideration of greater goals than getting by for the day.

I can accept some of their suggestions, but not all. Most importantly, I would emphasize that the role of the public intellectual must be to challenge, not to conform. Yet all I see in their proposal is a policy of appeasement, and nowhere is there an understanding or acknowledgment that scientists must also stretch boundaries, or even break them.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrew Evans
    April 6, 2007

    ‘I’ll drink to that.’

  2. #2 coturnix
    April 6, 2007

    OK, it’s 2:30am here, I am incoherent and I am going to bed now, but I will try to write something tomorrow and I think that you and them are not as much at odds with each other as you think, i.e., I do not think that they would disagree with you (much), they are just focusing on a different facet of the topic, or a different angle, not taking a different stance on the same angle. I may or may not change my mind on this in the morning once I re-read all the articles/posts on the topic again with a rested brain.

  3. #3 ferfuracious
    April 6, 2007

    “we are always to be the ones who must conform to the majority’s views, no matter how wrong they are, and we have to be the supplicants who are very careful not to offend and who always beg for scraps in the terms they dictate.”

    Yet scientists have a reputation for arrogance.

  4. #4 Great White Wonder
    April 6, 2007

    From the authors press release:

    Moreover, even while continuing to employ traditional modes of communication, scientists themselves have come under increasing attack for being too atheistic, too self-interested and/or too liberal.

    i.e., most scientists are not Republican script-reciters.

    Really, the observation (which is probably made-up bullcrap in the first place) is not evidence of scientists’ shortcomings. It’s evidence of the rotten world we live in right now and how anyone who speaks forthrightly as a liberal or atheist is bound to be condemned, ridiculed or viewed as “shrill” at the same time self-described “conservatives” are invited back to national TV over and over again to spout utterly ignorant garbage and smears.

    Of course Republicans want scientists to play nice and treat their fundie base respectfully. The worst thing that could happen to Republicans would be for those fundies to be loudly rejected by conservatives who aren’t insane religious-peddling idiots. Those cracks are barely visible and now is the time to wedge them wide open. The goal is to create a situation where no serious political party wants the public support of the ignorant anti-science fundies, just like no serious political party wants the public support of the Ku Klux Klan.

    PZ writes

    I appreciate suggestions for polishing.

    Don’t use the fundie’s “worldview” rhetoric. It’s not necessary or helpful, IMHO.

  5. #5 AlanW
    April 6, 2007

    Yet scientists have a reputation for arrogance.

    That’s mugglespeak for “Wah! I don’t understand what you’re talking about, and you’re using big words, and….Oh look, it’s Britney, she’s cut her hair, and Brad’s pregnant, and JLo’s fat, and Jennifer’s cheating on…”

    (Sorry, is that arrogant?)

  6. #6 MTran
    April 6, 2007

    You’re speaking clearly and sensibly again, now if that’s not arrogance, I don’t know what is.

    But about this:

    the Bible is literally accurate in its claim that the patriarchs were giants because we have pygmies and dwarfs today.

    I’ve heard this reference quite a bit on this blog and thought it was ridiculously funny… but a joke of some sort. Now you’re saying it’s an actual “argument” that cretinists make? Where did they ever come up with that one?

    Excuse me, my mind is boggling. Must.Not.Read.Creationist.Crap.Ever.Again.
    Aaaaaarrrgh!

  7. #7 Lettuce
    April 6, 2007

    We’re also not really that interested, generally speaking, in the kind of presentation that plays well in 3 minutes on a news broadcast.

    You give them way too much credit if you think they’re going to give you three minutes on a news broadcast. Either you have some in-depth news broadcasts in Morris or you need to get out more.

    The segment might be 30 seconds, maybe a minute on a really slow night (say, Bush hasn’t called anyone a terrorist supporter in a week); they’re not giving any direct quote more than 10 seconds. Fifteen max.

    If you can’t cogently explain evolution, and quash every whack-a-mole claim in a tight seven, you don’t have time left over for a pthy barb and you risk everything ending up on the floor back at NewsCentral.

    They don’t have time for you to go on and on and on for a solif fifteen seconds.

  8. #8 Tran
    April 6, 2007

    Rght n PZ! Nn f ths trtng ppl y dsgr wth rspctflly. Mk sr thy knw wht y rlly thnk f thm; hw nfrr nd stpd thy r!

    Ys, th ppl hv bn ld t, bt PZ Myrs wll tll thm th trth!

    Trst hm! H s nly ntrstd n th trth.

    H hs n thr gnd.

    Y cn bt yr lf n tht!

  9. #9 llewelly
    April 6, 2007

    MTran:

    But about this:

    the Bible is literally accurate in its claim that the patriarchs were giants because we have pygmies and dwarfs today.

    I’ve heard this reference quite a bit on this blog and thought it was ridiculously funny… but a joke of some sort. Now you’re saying it’s an actual “argument” that cretinists make?

    Yes.

  10. #10 tigtog
    April 6, 2007

    Tran: You don’t think there’s a difference between general respect and unwarranted respect?

  11. #11 Jeb, FCD
    April 6, 2007

    Excellent!

    P.S. Don’t feed the trolls.

  12. #12 wolfwalker
    April 6, 2007

    It’s telling that of the three ‘bad ideas’ you listed, which are presumably the first three that came to mind while you were writing this post, two of them have absolutely nothing to do with science. One is a social issue, the other a political issue. Your positions on both are merely your opinion, nothing more.

    Did it ever occur to you that perhaps your propensity for using your authority as a scientist to back your positions on non-science issues is (rightly) perceived by your targets as a fallacious argument from authority? And that this serves only to degrade your authority in their minds, so that when the topic is something scientific, like evolution, you’ve already established yourself in their minds as a liar and a con man?

  13. #13 inkadu
    April 6, 2007

    I can’t get to the whole article, but, PZ quotes:
    “Moreover, even while continuing to employ traditional modes of communication, scientists themselves have come under increasing attack for being too atheistic, too self-interested and/or too liberal.”

    Note the “even while continuing to employ traditional modes…” In other words, “Even while scientists are being the most boring frickin’ people imaginable, they are under attack for being interesting.” ANd there’s another political parallel. Is there any connection between the behavior of the victim, and the attacks they are coming under? No, there is none.

    What is happening is that one side is being nasty; they are name calling and getting off topic. If, as the authors point out, messages “need to be positive,” then we would not have a problem. It would be the anti-science side that would be reading articles that say, “We need to stop sounding like knuckle-dragging enthusiasts of the 12th century who are always down on progress.”

    Let’s not kid ourselves. The anti-science crowd doesn’t earnestly hate evolution because they believe in irreducible complexity. They hate science because it is liberal and because it is atheistic. They will attack scientists and science for being liberal and atheistic, no matter what the scientists does or says.

    The proper response to these attacks is to say, “enough,” and kick some balls and go for an eye gouge. Let’s accuse them of being afraid of progress, let’s accuse them of cleaving to fundamentalism, let’s accuse them of being afraid of knowledge, afraid of truth. And notice I did not say, “Let’s attack them for believing in God.” That’s a non-starter. I’m an atheist, and I know that. But there is a way to get in the mud with these pricks and still win. In fact, if we want to win, we have to get in the mud, and that means not being afraid to go negative.

    War is upon us, whether we like it or not. Don’t be this guy:
    http://images.bruinsnation.com/images/admin/theoden.jpg

  14. #14 Jud
    April 6, 2007

    PZ: Sometimes it’s easier, quicker and cleaner to lever a box (or closed mind) open than to try to smash it in with a hammer.

    You said as much yourself: “One effective tactic for our side is to hammer on those shared values….” (OK, you did mention “hammer.” 😉

    Yep, show folks where they’ve been lied to, but there’s no better way to ensure they won’t listen to what you’re trying to tell them than to start by saying “Your long-cherished belief is crap!” Start with the shared values; then show how that contradicts what they’ve been told; then instead of saying, “See, it’s all a lie!” just ask ’em to think about it for a while. (Lots of times they’ll think plenty about it without you having to ask.)

    Folks can be pretty smart; let’s have some confidence that good information will eventually replace the bad in their logic systems. (If one has no confidence in the intelligence and sincerity of most of one’s fellow humans, that really *is* arrogance.)

  15. #15 MTran
    April 6, 2007

    llewelly,

    Yikes! It’s real, pygmies and dwarfs, oh my! I … I … feel ill!

    Thanks for disabusing me of my ignorance on this topic.

  16. #16 Orac
    April 6, 2007

    Yep, show folks where they’ve been lied to, but there’s no better way to ensure they won’t listen to what you’re trying to tell them than to start by saying “Your long-cherished belief is crap!”

    Exactly.

    As satisfying as an all-out frontal assault may be, it’s the one sure way to guarantee that the message will be lost and you’ll just be preaching to the choir.

  17. #17 Chris Mooney
    April 6, 2007

    Thanks PZ for the thoughtful response. It merits a surreply and we’ll have one coming your way. In the meantime, because the Science piece was necessarily brief, I’ve posted a list of resources that elaborate on the argument that Matt and I were making:
    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2007/04/framing_science_additional_res.php

  18. #18 daenku32
    April 6, 2007

    I don’t consider it argument from authority. But again, if a scientist is some uber-marxist, then the population should be able to deal with this fact and separate it from the work of the scientist. It is only the prejudiced framing that causes them to get biased against the scientific work.

    I’m sorry that a professional commenting on things outside of his ‘field’ makes him “a liar and a con man”. But since those two other issues are non-scientific, you don’t need professionalism in order to comment upon them. As purely political matters every (non)profession has equal weight on the matters.

    I suppose that the next time they represent a religious figure that is in opposition to certain scientific issue, they need to include a dozen scientific professionals (including political science I suppose) just to address this ONE religious person. For some reason religious people are given the “ok” to comment on whatever they want while a scientist is expected to comment only on a very narrow spectrum. At the end the public, due to the framing of religion in our society, is still going to take the “religious” opinion with at least equal, if not more, authority than the scientist.

  19. #19 Unstable Isotope
    April 6, 2007

    I think Mooney is right in that scientists really need some kind of media training. We need to learn how to communicate clearly and concisely and how to advance arguments.

    I think PZ is right that sometimes we give religious beliefs too much deference. The so-called “arrogance” is the impatience of an expert with an amateur who thinks they know what they are talking about. I try to frame it like this “if you are going to make a scientific argument then you have to prove your claims, just like any scientists.” This actually works well with the “teach the controversy” people because they want to be reasonable, but believe the creationists rhetoric.

    So my advice – appeal to reason and fairness and frame the debate as a scientific debate using our rules, not theirs. We can disagree without resorting to calling someone stupid. I do not think that giving a lot of deference to the religious beliefs has worked well in the past, I think this is how we got in the position we are in today.

  20. #20 Tran
    April 6, 2007

    Daenke…and what if the scientist is an uber atheist?

  21. #21 Anne Nonymous
    April 6, 2007

    I think the definitive two-word response to all of this nonsense about how the “shrill” amongst us should moderate their speech in order to avoid scaring the poor little sheep is, “Overton window”.

    It’s been working for the right wing nutjobs for the past couple decades. It’s time to make it work for us too, and stop letting the fantasy-based community define the boundaries of acceptable debate. The fact that liberalism and secularism are on the offensive for once is a good thing, so we need to make the best possible use of our advantage while we have it, not walk on eggshells to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of crazy people. As far as I’m concerned, every scientist and every liberal should be shrill.

    We should be pushing that Overton window so far that my children in fifteen years or so will be saying to me, “But mommy, how could they believe something so silly as intelligent design? Why would they be so crazy as to not want to stop destroying the planet? How could they be so horrible as to not let people marry whoever they want, or to make women have babies when they don’t want to? How could they be so dumb as to think that invading Iraq was a good idea? Why would anybody not want universal health care?” And we should push that damn window so far that the only response I’ll have is, “You know, honey, it’s been so long since I thought about those people that I can’t even remember.”

  22. #22 bernarda
    April 6, 2007

    There is an urgent need for better communication if one is to believe this Newsweek Poll.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17875540/site/newsweek/

    Not only is it discouraging for the persistence of superstition, but for the illogic of a large part of the population.

    Though 68% say that an atheist can be a moral person, only 29% say that they would vote for one. That means that about 30% of Americans would not vote for what they think is a moral person only because he/she is an atheist.

    There are other inconsistencies in the responses. Can’t people even think through their basic beliefs?

  23. #23 scotth
    April 6, 2007

    Thanks for the especially compelling entry!

  24. #24 Caledonian
    April 6, 2007

    The public is stupid, no so much because of lack of potential (although that’s also a factor) as because of lack of development, and it has no interest in becoming not-stupid.

    I’m hearing half-truths: yes, the more knowledgeable member of a teaching interaction ought to work to make things comprehensible for the student, but we’re not dealing with willing students, we’re dealing with people who aren’t interested in learning and certainly not in anything we’re teaching.

    Science is essential. Either the masses can learn it, or get out of the way – if they do neither, we will withdraw it and its benefits from them. If you’re not competent to understand the issues, you’re not entitled to decide what needs to be done.

    That is the message we need to be sending – only if we’re willing to carry through on the threat, though.

  25. #25 Zwirko
    April 6, 2007

    3 minutes on a news broadcast? Isn’t it closer to 30 seconds?

  26. #26 Chris
    April 6, 2007

    #16:

    As satisfying as an all-out frontal assault may be, it’s the one sure way to guarantee that the message will be lost and you’ll just be preaching to the choir.

    If *someone* doesn’t make the frontal assault, then people who have their own doubts about the reality of gods will second-guess themselves because everyone else believes it (or appears to).

    Even a few dissenters make it much easier for people to follow their own ideas than when there is a monolithic consensus. Asch and Milgram both proved that. If everyone else is pressing the god button like they’re told to, one person who visibly refuses can make a difference in allowing others to refuse.

    We need a variety of approaches: some people will be repelled by PZ, but respond well to Sagan or Russell, while others need to hear exactly what PZ is saying: there is no god and you’re not the only one who thinks so.

    #12:

    using your authority as a scientist to back your positions on non-science issues

    Non-science issues? Which ones are those? The issues where examining evidence and thinking logically about it is of no help whatsoever? I can’t think of any.

    Normative questions cannot be *completely* decided by empirical means, but even then, a common understanding of relevant empirical facts can be useful. For example, why do people have the sexual orientations they have? That question and its answers may have some relevance to the social issue of how society ought to treat people with less-common sexual orientations, don’t you think?

    Similarly, while science can’t answer the question of whether or not a war is “unjust”, it certainly CAN answer the question of whether or not the public rationale for the war was a pack of lies (forensic examination is a science too, you know).

    Whether you define “science” narrowly or broadly, critical thinking, skepticism and a demand to see the evidence shouldn’t stop at the laboratory door. A democracy cannot be healthy if its people are unable to resist deception.

  27. #27 Anne Nonymous
    April 6, 2007

    Science is essential. Either the masses can learn it, or get out of the way – if they do neither, we will withdraw it and its benefits from them. If you’re not competent to understand the issues, you’re not entitled to decide what needs to be done.

    Er, that sounds a little “Atlas Shrugged” to me. It’s not that “we” will be withdrawing the benefits of science from “them” if we don’t get our way. It’s that “we” and “they” will both start to discover that our high-tech affluent society is simply unsustainable in the face of superstition, loss of technical expertise, and massive social inequality, and “we” and “they” will both lose the benefits associated with that society. The former depiction is merely an unrealistic revenge fantasy. The latter is an actual real-world possibility that “we” are trying to guard against by educating “them”.

  28. #28 cbutterb
    April 6, 2007

    Okay, Orac, Jud, and everyone else who repeats the old canard that starting off by insulting people’s beliefs usually doesn’t work: I’m calling your bluff. I have a hunch that it’s just a thing that atheists who want to be seen as nice keep saying without any evidence that it’s true.

    Prove me wrong, though: Have you ever actually tried it (it being calling a debate opponent’s irrational beliefs, biases, or framing of the issue foolish or just flat-out wrong) and had them, for that reason, consequently shut down to all actual information? Has this ever happened with an opponent who you had any reason to suspect was interested in the truth from the get-go?

    I’m just a sample of one, but I used to be lost in a Francis Collins-ish world of mental compartmentalization–praying, going to (a non-fundie) church regularly, even trying to defend my belief in God, in actual arguments, as belonging to this super-special category of things that logic just didn’t hold sway over. But the habits I had slipped into were incredibly stupid. I’d listen to sermons (at a mainline, moderate, and consequently muddleheaded Protestant church) and spend my mental energy admiring the architecture, the music, or the joviality of the sermon instead of bothering to notice how it all contradicted the bloody book that was right bloody in front of me.

    It is fortunate that I had a close friend (a philosophy major, no less) who felt no compunction about challenging and hammering me on every one of my points, calling them completely silly when they were in fact completely silly. I can’t attribute my consequent rejoining of the reality-based community all to him, of course; I actually started reading science again at about the same time. But the salient point is that I wasn’t so shallow that I took umbrage to a direct assault (though I was offended by it) and consequently shut down to any and all information about how thew world actually works. I was, in fact, interested in actually learning.

    It’s possible my experience was totally unique among mankind, but I doubt it. Surely there are other data points out there of people who were challenged directly and had it actually work.

  29. #29 PZ Myers
    April 6, 2007

    Yes, I know that 3 minutes would be an exceptionally generous allotment of time on the TV. I was being pollyannish. Just look at the recent Anderson Cooper episode, where they gave ten minutes to the creationists, and brought in one token scientist, Novacek…who got to utter two sentences.

    We need people like Nisbet and Mooney who will help us to make the best of our two sentences, but we also need a lot of howling mad scientists who will break the two-sentence limit and change the way people think.

  30. #30 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 6, 2007

    It seems easy to frame debates. But I have some problems with pinning down exactly what framing means, especially in the context of science.

    Framing seems to mean to offer a context, often implicitly taken to mean social, that suits certain reader groups. The message is presented within the frame. Another often used term, spin, would conversely seem to imply to distort the message to suit the purpose, for example by leaving out existing data.

    Then some contexts makes a “scientific frame” a frame as well. The original post is somewhat suggesting conflating social issues frames with other uses, which is confusing.

    Carl Zimmer of the Loom also finds framing science “a bit murky” and sometimes a “surrender”. He comes down on the classical note that education is important. ( http://scienceblogs.com/loom/2007/04/06/scientists_armed_with_frames.php )

    One could of course say that he would, being a science journalist. But blogging and other new media will diversify both debates and how they are done. Frames and other presentation methods are important here, as is scientist participation.

    But in the ways they feel they can do it best. Provocation and moving an extreme of the debate are also strategic presentation methods. It could also be beneficial for scientists to proactively suggest, help construct, or support frames in areas where it is a political debate or social issue. (For example, “point out that good science is essential for economic competitiveness”.)

    It’s telling that of the three ‘bad ideas’ you listed, which are presumably the first three that came to mind while you were writing this post, two of them have absolutely nothing to do with science.

    It is true that it is social questions, and that PZ may want to argue non-scientific such. But if framing, or other participations in a social debate, is to be encouraged it can’t be a one-way street. And more specifically here, all of these areas contains science issues.

    On sexual preferences, there is the question how much is nature and how much is nurture. On the war, it was the question and search of WMD’s, and now studies on the effects of war such as the Lancet report, et cetera.

  31. #31 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 6, 2007

    It seems easy to frame debates. But I have some problems with pinning down exactly what framing means, especially in the context of science.

    Framing seems to mean to offer a context, often implicitly taken to mean social, that suits certain reader groups. The message is presented within the frame. Another often used term, spin, would conversely seem to imply to distort the message to suit the purpose, for example by leaving out existing data.

    Then some contexts makes a “scientific frame” a frame as well. The original post is somewhat suggesting conflating social issues frames with other uses, which is confusing.

    Carl Zimmer of the Loom also finds framing science “a bit murky” and sometimes a “surrender”. He comes down on the classical note that education is important. ( http://scienceblogs.com/loom/2007/04/06/scientists_armed_with_frames.php )

    One could of course say that he would, being a science journalist. But blogging and other new media will diversify both debates and how they are done. Frames and other presentation methods are important here, as is scientist participation.

    But in the ways they feel they can do it best. Provocation and moving an extreme of the debate are also strategic presentation methods. It could also be beneficial for scientists to proactively suggest, help construct, or support frames in areas where it is a political debate or social issue. (For example, “point out that good science is essential for economic competitiveness”.)

    It’s telling that of the three ‘bad ideas’ you listed, which are presumably the first three that came to mind while you were writing this post, two of them have absolutely nothing to do with science.

    It is true that it is social questions, and that PZ may want to argue non-scientific such. But if framing, or other participations in a social debate, is to be encouraged it can’t be a one-way street. And more specifically here, all of these areas contains science issues.

    On sexual preferences, there is the question how much is nature and how much is nurture. On the war, it was the question and search of WMD’s, and now studies on the effects of war such as the Lancet report, et cetera.

  32. #32 Caledonian
    April 6, 2007

    Er, that sounds a little “Atlas Shrugged” to me.

    I’m aware of that. So what?

    It’s not that “we” will be withdrawing the benefits of science from “them” if we don’t get our way. It’s that “we” and “they” will both start to discover that our high-tech affluent society is simply unsustainable in the face of superstition, loss of technical expertise, and massive social inequality, and “we” and “they” will both lose the benefits associated with that society.

    “Being willing to learn” is part of the cooperation they must display. It is not our obligation to cajole the masses into learning the basic skills necessary to maintain our civilization. The simple fact is that the ignorant need the knowledgeable far more than the knowledgeable need the ignorant.

    If you haven’t accepted that there are actual divisions within our society, and that people with a rudimentary understanding of rationality and the scientific method are genuinely different than the people who lack it, I think you’re part of the problem at this point.

  33. #33 Scott de B.
    April 6, 2007

    Though 68% say that an atheist can be a moral person, only 29% say that they would vote for one. That means that about 30% of Americans would not vote for what they think is a moral person only because he/she is an atheist.

    I think you’re combining the two questions, when they are seperate. Just because an atheist can be a moral person in their eyes doesn’t mean they think a random atheist is likely to be moral.

  34. #34 Opisthokont
    April 6, 2007

    The comment about scientists being perceived as “too liberal” brings up a point that someone (I think it was a commenter here — anybody remember who?) said, which I think needs driving home: “reality has a strong left-wing bias” (or something to that effect). This sounds dismissively glib, but I think it reasonable to argue that the scientific consensus is the best picture that we have of reality, and we must accept that ignoring them means removing ourselves from reality. Scientific consensus is not merely another “special interest”; its views should not be made to compete with those of business and religious interests on equal footing. If we think that that consensus is giving us “left-wing” messages, perhaps we need to reevaluate where the “left” and “right” ought to be.

    (Of course, convincing members of the fantasy-based community of this will not be easy.)

  35. #35 dorid
    April 6, 2007

    It’s fair to suggest that instructing the public in abstractions like genetics and molecular biology as wonderful and interesting for their own sake is going to have limited success, because very few will care…

    I think that this sums it up in a nutshell. It’s nothing short of pathetic that we’re living in a culture that values knee-jerk emotional reactions above intelligence and inquiry. I think we have to blame some of it on school systems, who from a very young age train kids to think of what their education gets them in terms of jobs and future financial success instead of learning for learning’s sake. THINKING should be goal and reward, not money or job title.

  36. #36 Opisthokont
    April 6, 2007

    Oh, and as far as that poll goes, I have to wonder about the substantial number of people who identify themselves as atheists/agnostics/non-religious and also believe that God created everything in its present form within the last 10,000 years. Can anyone explain this to me, or are irony meters in such short supply these days that people think them optional equipment?

  37. #37 Steve LaBonne
    April 6, 2007

    The United States is going down the drain because of the (largely religion-fuelled) ignorance, stupidity and pigheaded arrogance (“Shining city on a hill”, my ass)of most of its population. I’m afraid I’m pretty much at the point of despair as to whether it can still be rescued from the oblivion into which all the other great empires of history have passed. I say that not in a gloating way but with immense sorrow.

  38. #38 BlueIndependent
    April 6, 2007

    I agree, and this is one of the places that I differed with Mooney after reading The Republican War On Science. If scientists have to keep conforming language to how others want to hear it, well then they’re just letting the public walk al over them. What if the public wants scientists to relabel evolution as “fuzzy whumplekins” in order to injest it without childish, reflexive emotional fits? What good does that serve at all?

    I am definintely in the camp that says scientists, when speaking to the public, need to enumerate what their research is doing for real people, i.e. what is a probable outcome given 5 years of research and funding? Tell people why it is important work. Bring up China’s progress (which will likely stoke some pro-America sentiment). Show how India is embracing science. Promote science programs at storied institutions across the nations. Show that a science and technology nation is one that thrives in the future.

    As I always say, no nation ever became a world leader, in any sense of the term, because of the god it worshipped, and that is absolutely the case for the United States. God didn’t give us unprecendented national defense. God didn’t give us cures and treatments for diseases thought to be unassailable decades ago. God didn’t give us our scientific and technological knowledge. People earned it. And if this nation is going to earn the future it should have, indeed deserves to have, then science education and scientific curiosity are inseperable from that.

  39. #39 GS
    April 6, 2007

    Nope, let scientists do their job.

    Hire good marketing to make the right noises (seriously!).

    I was at a little supercomputing gathering last year. This guy from a leading chip maker was showing off his bit of research. 5-mins and everyone is nodding off. Nobody could make any sense of the direction this guy was trying to go – you know good research but bad slides and all.

    So around 25min mark there comes a slide (definitely slide number >40) that he claimed marketing designers forced him to include against his *better* judgment. Unfortunately for his *better* judgment, that slide was the only one that tied together everything he said before or after.

    I have been more respectful of my marketing group (designers et al) since then 🙂

  40. #40 jb
    April 6, 2007

    Caledonian, #24:

    Science is essential. Either the masses can learn it, or get out of the way – if they do neither, we will withdraw it and its benefits from them. If you’re not competent to understand the issues, you’re not entitled to decide what needs to be done.

    LOL!!! According to census figures, all scientists and related technicians account for just under 2.5% of the US population. Biologists account for maybe 0.3% if we’re generous. Notable loudmouth religion-haters attempting to impose their metaphysical beliefs *as* science don’t add up to a full complement of fingers and toes.

    Yet the general public is the largest contributor to science funding, even though they seldom receive the benefits of applications. Thus the public has a direct interest in how their funds are distributed, and are not all that impressed with claims of infallibility or personal arrogance from the proudly amoral inventors of designer plagues and other WMDs gifted to shady politicians so they can kill people more effectively.

    It’s a lot more likely that questionable ‘scientific’ endeavors will find themselves without public funding altogether than it is likely a handful of rabid haters will succeed in appropriating the public purse with empty-headed threats. This would be a shame, but humanity will survive.

  41. #41 Steve LaBonne
    April 6, 2007

    Yet the general public is the largest contributor to science funding, even though they seldom receive the benefits of applications.

    I’m willing to bet that you wouldn’t survive a year without those benefits, of whose extent you seem to be remarkably unaware.

    Humanity in fact could survive only with a vastly reduced population and standard of living without the application of scientific knowledge. (And the process of getting to that radically lower population density would be ugly indeed.)

  42. #42 tristero
    April 6, 2007

    Scientists:

    I’m sure PZ didn’t mean it this way but to be clear: Please, please, please don’t stint on the technical details when they’re important. How else are we going to understand things otherwise?

    Dumbing down the science has the potential to be bad ideological framing. When you leave out too many details, then the reader has to take the science article on faith.

    I’m not advocating that science articles in the NY Times be filled with jargon and equations. But please understand that interested laypeople are willing to be challenged and positively enjoy puzzling out a complicated, but well-written science story.

    In fact, I just did so: PZ’s marvelous post on the Hagfish!

    love,

    tristero

  43. #43 Greg Peterson
    April 6, 2007

    The bias in favor of religion can even be seen in something as trivial as a review of the new (crappy looking) supernatural thriller, “The Reaping,” which refers to the lead character as “losing her faith.” Really? Because as a former evangelical Christian who is now a thoroughgoing atheist, I do not consider that I so much “lost my faith” as “awakened from my delusions.” I think that’s why we usually say a drunk is “sobering up” rather than “losing his slurs and stumbles.”

    I think we might need to fight this war on two fronts, sort of good cop/bad cop, as PZ implies in this post. The bad cop part is the full-on message that the masses are being lied to and fooled about many matters of fact. But the good cop part, expressed very well in Philip Kitchers “Living With Darwin” and in portions of Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell,” is sympathy for what the masses think is at risk. Yes, we want healthy children with good opportunities in the world. But religious leaders convince many people that without their dogmas and superstitions, those children will have no basis for morality, and no sense of meaning or purpose in life. We must address that concern in more reassuring tones, even as we condemn the factual lies in no uncertain terms. Seeing that the very people who denounce religion’s lies are essentially moral and fulfilled people can start to set up a cognitive disonance in believers that might help pry their minds free from the tar pit of religion.

  44. #44 Mona Albano
    April 6, 2007

    Wasn’t the U.S. just surpassed by Denmark in the scientific productivity stakes? It seems to me that an Internet article to that effect just zipped by.

    And believe me, I know all about watching your country’s sensible values tipped down the drain by the Yahoos and fundies in government…

  45. #45 Peter M.
    April 6, 2007

    For those with a strong stomach, here’s a news story about authentic Good Friday reenactments: http://rawstory.com/news/afp/Gruesome_crucifixions_in_annual_Phi_04062007.html

    I guess in the Philippines they go all out for Palm Friday.

  46. #46 garnetstar
    April 6, 2007

    OTOH, scientists in my field are highly, though covertly, discouraged from speaking to the public, although there is lip service paid to the idea that it is a good thing. One’s peers tend to believe that you are just a publicity-seeker, and that your simplifying the technical language is exaggeration and hyping. This is not a promising state of affairs.

    Jared Diamond has speculated that Sagan’s intensive effort to speak to the public is one reason that he was never elected to the National Academy. There is defnitely a stigma involved, in at least some fields.

  47. #47 gwangung
    April 6, 2007

    NEVER, NEVER, NEVER start with the assumption that you’re “dumbing down” the message, that they’re the “ignorant masses” and so forth.

    The minute you do that, you’re trying to force the unintiated into your frame of reference and putting the burden on them to do most of the work. And you’ve immediately lost.

    Like it or not, YOU are going to have to do much of the work to explain, to connect and to bring your information to them. Given the nature of the world, there are many, many things people have to pay attention to in this world, ranging from the trivial to the important (and don’t discount the trivial; in your own life, you’re bound to have SOME interests other people will find lightweight). And individuals have to develop strategies for handling this information overload–many of these strategies will be derived from their familiar religious and moral background.

    Ignore that and you are doing a crappy job in communicating.

  48. #48 TheBrummell
    April 6, 2007

    As usual, PZ managed to state a very close approximation of my opinions in a much more clear and lucid manner than I could.

    Thanks, PZ, and let me say that I agree with you 100% on this issue, and I’d like you (and lots of other people) to continue the frontal assault.

  49. #49 tim gueguen
    April 6, 2007

    Some of the people who claimed to be non-religious in the Newsweek poll may in fact be Christians, as a a certain strain of Christian thought holds that Christianity is not a religion.

  50. #50 Anne Nonymous
    April 6, 2007

    Re #31, Caledonian, the thing that I have a problem with in your comments is the seeming notion that there’s some well defined group of “us” who have some sort of sole ownership of science, and who are capable of acting in concert to deny its benefits to the rest of our fellow citizens, like we can just all pick up and go live in a hidden city in the wilderness somewhere and watch from a distance as the rest of civilization crumbles while we point and laugh.

    I don’t disagree that there are divisions in society, but I also don’t think they’re quite as clear-cut as you seem to be implying they are. There are people with greater and lesser degrees of understanding of the scientific method and with greater and lesser degrees of facility at approaching the world in realistic terms. But I can’t see how it’s even remotely reality-based to believe that there’s some kind of clear bright line between “us” and “them” rather than a multitude of shades of gray, and a bunch of people who are able to apply these skills in some areas but not others. Consider, for example, Francis Collins.

    And the concept of a deliberate science embargo is so silly and impractical (and unethical) I don’t even know how to begin addressing it. It doesn’t seem to me that any deliberate action along these lines is even possible, much less necessary if you really want to see all those inferior imbeciles get what’s coming to them. Like I said before, if we don’t address this widespread ignorance, the ignorance itself will screw the country over (and is screwing us over, actually) without scientists having to make any attempt whatsoever to hurry things along.

    Make no mistake, I’m happy to be shrill, strident, uppity, forceful, and even a bit of an asshole about getting the people of this country to see sense and develop some respect for science. But I think Objectivist fantasies about how the masses are too dumb and “we” should abandon them to their fate are just as much part of the problem as Francis Collins is, and I’m gonna be shrill, strident, uppity, forceful, and even a bit of an asshole about pushing that point too.

  51. #51 Chaoswes
    April 6, 2007

    We must remember that both methods work but on a different section of the public. The hard-core nut-jobs are nothing more than sheep. They are programed to do what they are told. Right now, they are being directed by their religious leaders. To convince these people (if that is possible), you must boldly tell them what to believe and then direct their actions. The middle of the road, don’t give a shit, I just go to church for appearances segment of the population needs to be coaxed into a new position. These people respond better to subtle convincing rather then blatant confrontation. The key is to have people doing both. I am glad that PZ, Dawkins, Harris and others are loud and abrasive. We need that. It is also great that Nisbet and Mooney and others are using the “nicer” approach. We all seek the same goal and variance in rhetoric can only prevent the “enemy” from using a single defense. It is not only how the message is being presented that matters, it is the fact that people are spreading the message that matters as well.

    Chaoswes

  52. #52 Blake Stacey
    April 6, 2007

    garnetstar:

    Jared Diamond has speculated that Sagan’s intensive effort to speak to the public is one reason that he was never elected to the National Academy. There is defnitely a stigma involved, in at least some fields.

    I think the stigma is a little weakened, now, since we’ve got a generation of scientists who all grew up watching and reading Carl Sagan.

    Anne Nonymous:

    Make no mistake, I’m happy to be shrill, strident, uppity, forceful, and even a bit of an asshole about getting the people of this country to see sense and develop some respect for science. But I think Objectivist fantasies about how the masses are too dumb and “we” should abandon them to their fate are just as much part of the problem as Francis Collins is, and I’m gonna be shrill, strident, uppity, forceful, and even a bit of an asshole about pushing that point too.

    Yes.

    PZ:

    Yes, I know that 3 minutes would be an exceptionally generous allotment of time on the TV.

    But on YouTube. . . ?

    All in all, I have to wonder what the “ground level” effects of all this framing talk will possibly be. Is someone going to organize seminars for scientists to learn about talking to the public, talking to high-school students, or (hardest of all) talking to politicians? Will we see a drive to recruit more scientist bloggers? That could be a very helpful thing, I think: get more and more scientists used to communicating in manageable chunks to a wide audience, allowing each person to practice striking their own balance between technical exactitude and popular appeal. (The balance doesn’t always lie in the same place, and not all pieces should be written to the same specifications. How can I learn more about anything if all essays are framed in the same damn way?)

    I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think that “framing” any scientific issue of importance will sweeten bitter medicine. Maybe in an honest world, playing to people’s values would help more, but on this planet, we’ve got to deal with a thriving community of callous frauds who will wear any mask and tell any lie to increase their power. That’s the Discovery Institute and AiG in a sentence; I don’t think anybody here has slept through the whole affair, so it should be pretty obvious.

  53. #53 Dann Siems
    April 6, 2007

    As Popper (1945, Open Society and its Enemies)put it, “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them… We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.” (from Wikiquote)

  54. #54 Observer
    April 6, 2007

    I have to agree with Caledonian’s (#24, #31) comments in that I think he’s basically saying, “You can lead a horse to water…” There are MANY scientists who can communicate well; there are MANY science museums, zoos, TV programs, and web sites all over the Internet where science is being communicated to the masses in every possible way. There’s much devoted to public outreach on government sites such as NASA, NOAA, the CDC, etc, let alone tons of bloggers.

    When I link Talk Origins as a site to peruse the evolution/ID debate for starters, and some conservative parrot comes back with, “I’m not going to read some lefty site,” and they won’t even educate themselves from all perspectives (goes for global warming, too) when it’s all out there for the taking, then that is not the fault of scientists or framing. If someone chooses to watch American Idol rather than a special on climate change, that’s a choice. It’s society’s obligation to instill value on continous education (and I don’t mean institutional only). If one is not willing to educate themselves about topics, even in an understandably surface way, then have the decency to admit that you’re a parrot, and thus don’t make uninformed decisions.

    I applaud those who keep at it – trying to get people to care and put their votes and money where their mouthes are, but I see so much not caring going on, I’m in the Very Cynical Club at the moment. Geesh, nothing changes…

    More than 2,000 years ago, Cicero listed the following six mistakes of man:

    1)The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others,
    2)The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed,
    3)Insisting that a thing is impossible only because we cannot accomplish it,
    4)Refusing to set aside trivial preferences,
    5)Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying,
    6)Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

  55. #55 Gabe
    April 6, 2007

    “We are living in a country that has gone horribly wrong; more than 50% of the public reject basic biology, we see citizens denied civil liberties because of their sexual preference, and we’re mired in an unjust war, to name just a few problems.”

    You need to separate those problems very, very carefully. The first one you quote has to do with objective observations of nature, the next two with purely social human political constraucts. By fitting the first in with the other two, you are making acceptable the idea that scientific questions fit in a political arena, and should be subject to a “fair and balanced” approach. Your statement immediately convinces a large number of less-informed spectators that the creationists have a valid political stance they should be allowed to defend.

    Case in point: Global Warming. Whether or not anthropogenic warming exists is a question with a concrete answer, like whether 2+2=4. There is an unambiguous truth at the end of that question. But the question has been politicized, and the science subjugated to the need to “let every side have its say.” Creation/evolution debates are quickly sliding down that slope, if they haven’t already.

    In short, please do not make the veracity of evolution a “liberal” issue. I know you are not trying to, but you are. In doing so, you are hurting our cause and undoing some of the great work you do elsewhere. Scientists tend to be liberals because they need a government that is large enough to fund research. Don’t let that get in the way of the science itself and never allow the results of inquiry to be lumped in with all the truly purely political issues of the day. The moment “the common man” sees creationism/evolution as just another axis on the conservative/liberal debate, our whole civilization is jeopardy.

  56. #56 francis
    April 6, 2007

    PZ: I’ve been reading your blog since you started and this may be one of the most important posts you’ve ever written. because the way i see it, this country is actually at a critical turning point in its history, and it’ll be people like you who prevent incredible damage to our species.

    credentials: i’m a land use/water lawyer in Southern California.

    On NPR’s Day-to-Day show this morning, it was reiterated that the entire American Southwest has slid into a multi-year drought. For the next 15 years (until i retire), I’m going to be mediating disputes that are ultimately not resolvable for the simple reason that the Colorado River is grossly over allocated. Global warming IS HERE!

    what should a scientist say? Start with the following: If it weren’t for scientists, most people watching this program would be dead or never been born. If the people watching this show enjoy the quality of life they have, they have scientists to thank. All the work ever done by my opposition has never kept a baby alive, cured cancer, or fed a population of 6 billion people. People are entitled to their own faiths, but they’re not entitled to their own facts. And the facts are that without the understanding provided by evolution, neither medicine nor agriculture would be where they are today. And that means that you, your parents, and most of your kids would already be dead.

    Final point: people LIKE extremists. They’re interesting and fun. Anne Coulter writes books and Rush Limbaugh pontificates to millions of people because they push the envelope. Dawkins gets air time because he pushes people’s buttons. Go ahead and be extreme. That’s how you change the terms of the debate.

  57. #57 Observer
    April 6, 2007

    Blake Stacey said: Is someone going to organize seminars for scientists to learn about talking to the public, talking to high-school students, or (hardest of all) talking to politicians? Will we see a drive to recruit more scientist bloggers? That could be a very helpful thing, I think: get more and more scientists used to communicating in manageable chunks to a wide audience, allowing each person to practice striking their own balance between technical exactitude and popular appeal.

    That’s not the problem! There are tons of sites devoted to educating kids, adults, and whoever the heck wants to learn about anything. Heck, I see these scientists on TV all the time. Even ridiculous ways to attract attention to programs doesn’t work with everybody. We don’t need more science bloggers, we need people to read them. That takes parents, teachers, and Joe Blow on the street to encourage others to care.

  58. #58 Ed Darrell
    April 6, 2007

    Yes, we should work to stamp out irrationality that damages people and society. I’m with you 99.9% of the way on this one, P.Z.

    But:

    Examples of a religious belief are that the Earth is 6000 years old, that T. rex’s sharp teeth were used to crack open coconuts, and that the Bible is literally accurate in its claim that the patriarchs were giants because we have pygmies and dwarfs today. Why the hell should I treat such nonsense respectfully? Why shouldn’t we point out clearly, loudly, and frequently that these ideas are irrational, contradicted by the evidence, and just plain wrong? Religion is more than a social convention to negotiate, it is the root of the conflict.

    Those are beliefs held by religious people, but generally they are not religious beliefs. For example, there is no major Christian university on Earth that teaches those things as scientific fact. Evolution is taught in the biology departments of all major U.S. universities with Christian affiliations. If flood geology is mentioned at all in the geology departments of those schools, it is as a footnote in geology history, and not as science, unless it’s how to scientifically determine there was no flood of Noah as described in scripture (as Darwin noted).

    Those beliefs don’t deserve a lot of respect — but they are just as out of the mainstream for most Christian faiths as they are out of the mainstream of science.

    It is not that religion is inherently evil in this regard; but it is true that religion has a lot to atone for when it does not stand against these beliefs.

    There is some irony here. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, to pick two of the biggest culprits, wanted to do away with the way scriptures were taught in their day, with a preacher telling people what was in the Bible, and often getting the telling wrong. They thought that a more decentralized system would work better, and so they encouraged public education so that every person could read the scriptures and see where the preachers got it wrong, and correct the errors.

    Unfortunately in this case, it has led to many if not most Americans thinking that Christianity is pretty much whatever they want it to be — and in this case, the creationists have been hammering away since at least 1925 to twist the interpretations of scripture to the bizarre stuff we now recognize as creationism.

    The more serious question is whether Christians in America are able to stamp out irrational and silly superstitions, and beliefs that either run contrary to their faith or are unnecessary to it, especially when those beliefs and superstitions are harmful.

    Can I push the final 0.1%? Religion has not shown itself to be a thoughtful player in public discourse much since some Christians campaigned to end slavery (and let’s not forget the Quakers, who were shunned by most Christians for their anti-slavery and pro-peace advocacy).

    Religion needs to call people to rational, non-harmful behavior at a minimum. A kid in our Sunday school made a wonderful poster a few years back: “Jesus came to take away our sins, not our minds.” Religion that works for justice and peace, and which emphasizes the use of rationality in seeking those things, may be indistinguishable from good science.

    But religion which encourages dark superstition, as creationism does, is no better than the foulest form of Thuggee belief.

    It’s not the leap of faith that hurts; it’s the leap of faith against the flow of rationality.

    There are many rational people in Christianity who are offended when the dangers of superstition are pointed out to them. They think they are the targets.

    If we could, could we recruit them to the cause, to stamping out irrational belief — for the sake of their churches, as well as for the sake of society? I hope that would be possible.

    Kepler wrote, in Somnium in 1634: “So long as the mother, Ignorance, lives, it is not safe for Science, the offspring, to divulge the hidden causes of things.”

    It is ignorance that we need to fight against. I suspect many in the churches would join us in such a fight.

  59. #59 Observer
    April 6, 2007

    Ed Darrell: It is ignorance that we need to fight against. I suspect many in the churches would join us in such a fight.

    And ignorance of history has no less a consequence as ignorance of science – both are abused for political and religious reasons. Tell me, how do you get a 60-year old to re-read the Constitution before they claim something is in it that’s not? Neon lights? Sugar and spice? Berating them? Asking please try to be an informed fellow citizen – just try? :-/

  60. #60 JT
    April 6, 2007

    If new scientific evidence comes along that contradicts a previous scientific claim, let alone a religious one (obviously), than by all means “shatter the frame”! Share your knowledge. Tell it like it is! For all that is good in this world, please don’t be like Coulter or Limbaugh. Great post PZ.

  61. #61 CalGeorge
    April 6, 2007

    Take a planetary view:

    6+ billion people, consummately anti-intellectual media firmly entrenched around the world, and fundie religions on the rise everywhere vs. a few hundred scientists dedicated to proclaiming enlightenment.

    Unless there is some revolution in world sensibility, things are not going to work out for the best.

  62. #62 Thousands or Billions
    April 6, 2007

    I agree with everything except the T-Rex coconut part. I’m willing to bet that T-Rex could indeed make a tasty Pina Colada.

  63. #63 matthew
    April 6, 2007

    very well done PZ

  64. #64 Minnesotachuck
    April 6, 2007

    Preface: I tried to post this earlier today, back when the post was current, but every time my browser before your comment server responded. Let’s see what happens this time.

    —-snip—-

    As I see it, there are two fundamental objectives in the teaching of science, and these operate regardless of the branch of science or the level at which it is being taught. This holds true from primary school all the way through post-graduate education and beyond; the only differences are the specifics of the content and the depths to which it is addressed. The first goal is to convey an understanding of the scientific method, and the second is to transfer to the students the knowledge base that has been accumulated through the use of that method.

    A major weakness of science education in my (long ago) experience is that the former goal is given short shrift in comparison to the latter, and then mostly in the context of specific issues pertinent to the branch of science being taught. Thus the student is seldom exposed to the overarching advantages of the scientific method as a means of acquiring knowledge. Or, to use more highfalutin terminology, the epistemology of science.

    I suggest that science curricula be reinforced to include introductory courses (or at least units) in both high school and early college that focus primarily on the scientific method as a means of acquiring knowledge. There should be a lot of cross-disciplinary brain-storming about how these courses should be structured, but it seems to me that it would be beneficial to make use of case studies from across the history of each of the main branches of science. The approach used by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions comes to mind as a possible model for such use, though obviously in a much less detailed way.

    This suggestion, of course, does not address the immediate problem, but I think it would be very beneficial in the long term.

  65. #65 Mark Davis
    April 6, 2007

    This is an excellent example of the type of presentation that I think would help to boost general understanding of scientific concepts.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVimVzgtD6w&mode=related&search=

    I know some of you will be turned off in the first couple of minutes due to the gentleman’s hard to understand accent, but bear with it and see how he presents his data on world health. I don’t think I have ever seen a more compelling presentation of complex data. We need to come up with more tools like that to help shed light on other areas of scientific (mis)understanding.

    Mark

  66. #66 Warren
    April 6, 2007

    Late to the initial post, but I was a little inspired.

  67. #67 David Bruggeman
    April 6, 2007

    PZ (#29) “we also need a lot of howling mad scientists who will break the two-sentence limit and change the way people think.”

    Should I take this to mean PZ doesn’t think framing would be useful for changing thinking? I beleive Mooney and Nisbet aren’t distinguishing between presenting scientific research or arguing against anti-scientific thoughts or paradigms. What am I missing?

  68. #68 thwaite
    April 6, 2007

    Cultural illiteracy about science and in general isn’t limited to America’s religious fundamentalists. Gregory Bateson, the English biologist who taught at U.Calif. Santa Cruz in the 1970’s (I was there too), later generalized from such experiences:

    I have taught various branches of behavioral biology and cultural anthropology to American students, ranging from college freshmen to psychiatric residents in various schools and teaching hospitals. At all levels I have encountered a very strange gap in their thinking which springs from a lack of certain sorts of tools of thought. This lack is rather equally distributed at all levels of education, among students of both sexes, and among humanists as well as scientists.

    The lacuna is, strangely, less conspicuous in two groups of students who might have been expected to contrast strongly, one group with the other. These groups are Catholics and Marxists. Both of these have thought about or have been told about the last 2500 years of human thought, and both groups have some recognition of the importance of philosophic, scientific and epistemological presuppositions. …

    My subject matter is close to the core of religion and to the core of scientific orthodoxy. The presuppositions – and most readers need some instruction in what a presupposition looks like – are matters to be brought out into the open.

    There is, however, another difficulty which is almost peculiar to the American scene. Americans are, no doubt, as rigid in their presuppositions as any other people (and as rigid in these matters as this writer) but they have a strange response to any articulate statement of presupposition. Such a statement is commonly assumed to be hostile or mocking or – and this is the most serious – is heard to be authoritarian.

    It so happens in this land founded for the freedom of religion that the teaching of religion is outlawed in the state educational system. Members of weakly religious families, get, of course, no religious training from any source outside the family; i.e., what they get is from parents who went through the state system.

    So, to make any statement or premise or presupposition in a formal and articulate way is to challenge the rather subtle counter-attack, not of contradiction because the hearers do not know the contradictory premises nor how to state them, but of the cultivated deafness which children use to keep out the pronouncements of their parents.

    Be all that as it may, I personally believe in the importance of scientific presuppositions…

    (from his 1978 essay Number is Different from Quantity)

  69. #69 thwaite
    April 6, 2007

    Apologies for the length of that bolus from Bateson. But he does raise well the fundamental question of whether most people even possess any frame to be ‘shattered’ per this thread.

    A frame element: “most people” – well, many – now lack any familiarity with the natural world, which isn’t prominent in urban or suburban childhoods. So I’m pleased to see PBS has lately added “natural moments” to its filler segments, which are simply videos of things like sea turtles – 60-90 seconds, with no audio (so no authoritarianism) just the compelling and primal esthetic appeal of nature in the raw. Clever.

  70. #70 Kristine
    April 6, 2007

    Something that bothers me: how arrogant is it to speak for people and what they believe? Doesn’t that make these self-styled religious leaders arrogant? They weren’t elected by the public; they moved up the theological ladder through schmoozing with the powerful and/or through flamboyant means of attracting attention (like the guy who claims to be Jesus) from people who want to be led.

    Perhaps scientists need to talk about themselves more. People like stories; for better or for worse they like personal stories. Though of course we know that they do, scientists need to reiterate that they have values. They need to talk about what they care about.

    I think America has become very segregated by the fact that people have sedentary lives – they stay in the house, they drive to work, they drive home – and don’t meet a lot of people different from them. This causes all kinds of biases, with the stereotypes of scientists being only one.

    It isn’t that scientists need polish; I think they’re reticent about tooting their own horn and drawing attention to themselves and their achievements. That’s the problem. Just be honest; be yourself; but toot! People will respond to it and then, without giving in to superstition, you have cleared the ground for a deeper talk about what is and is not to be regarded as science.

  71. #71 Caledonian
    April 6, 2007

    Re #31, Caledonian, the thing that I have a problem with in your comments is the seeming notion that there’s some well defined group of “us” who have some sort of sole ownership of science,

    People who practice science. They, by definition, are the only ones who can be said to have any “ownership” of science. It is a well-defined group, in that there are clear and objective standards for what qualifies as science and we can check relatively easily whether someone is practicing it.

    * * *

    Trying to get people to accept the message without understanding it is doomed, because the message is all about the importance of understanding over acceptance. No method of distributing a message that is incompatible with the message itself can be successful.

    More to the point, trying to fight irrationality on its own terms is hopeless. There are no lies, no rationalizations, no half-truths or comforting delusions you can create that will be more satisfying than the ones people seek out for themselves. You cannot hope to compete with people whose talents and skills are centered around feeding people what they want to hear, nor can you induce people to accept painful truths by telling them what they want to hear.

    It’s not only an ethical nightmare, and incompatible with the deepest nature of science, it’s a tactical and strategic error to try to pander to willful stupid. We simply cannot accomplish our goals by taking that path.

  72. #72 Anne Nonymous
    April 6, 2007

    So, Caledonian, what category do you put Behe in? What about those creationist engineers? What about Francis Collins? What about smart technically-minded people whose work is more on the engineering end and less on the science end? What about those people who aren’t technically minded at all but still have some baseline respect for science (like Al Gore)? Which of these people are members of your elite and which are not?

    As far as I can see, the important thing here isn’t who is a scientist, but what is science. And we shouldn’t just be asking people to take it on our lordly scientific authority. We should be working to teach them, from preschool on up, to have some basic understanding of how science works, and what makes a particular idea scientifically viable or not. The goal would be to ensure that they at least have some way to recognize when something is amenable to scientific study and being presented in a scientific fashion, even if the content is beyond their expertise, just like any practicing scientist can do when confronted with material well outside their particular field of study. Most of the adult population may be a wash, too set in their ways and satisfied with their ignorance to be bothered to learn better, but kids are worth teaching, and even some adults can be brought around if you work at it. I’ve seen it happen.

    I absolutely agree with you that pandering is a debasement of science, and ultimately counterproductive. An awful lot of supposed popular science presentations make me alternate between wanting to smash the transmitting medium and wanting to track down the producers and smash their faces. And this is why I think we need to work on upping our standards of science education, so that popularizers aren’t so tempted to talk down to their audiences, so that audiences will demand to be shown more than pretty lights and flashy animations, so that the notion of science as magic and scientists as a priesthood guarding its mysteries will be demolished once and for all.

    I also think there’s no reason to wait around and only start presenting things sensibly to kids. I think we need to go forth and be demanding with regard to adult media as well. We need to hold mainstream journalists’ feet to the fire on coverage of scientific issues. We need to hold science journalists’ and science popularizers’ feet to the fire on pandering. Hell, we need to hold entertainment producers’ feet to the fire on crappy portrayals of science in fictional media. And we need to go forth and explain and defend the way science is actually done — all the jargon, the attention to detail, the slow careful study, the incremental results, the nuanced communication, the first person plural, passive-voice writing. And we do need to demand respect for the scientific process. Because it’s the best damned way to obtain actual useful knowledge that anybody’s come up with yet. It’s not just one way of knowing among many, it’s the only worthwhile way of knowing, as far as I’ve seen to date.

    My objection is that it’s wildly inappropriate (and hypocritical) to try to accomplish this from an authoritarian perspective. And it’s just plain silly to suppose that if the entire community of people whose official day job it is to do scientific research got wiped out (or if somebody managed by some magic to convince every single one of us to pack up our bags and run off to Shangri-La), there wouldn’t be other humans with at least some capacity to step into our places, although replacement would certainly take a while.

    I simply think that we need to approach these issues with a firm unwillingness to back down or compromise the values of science, but also without resorting to ridiculous hyperbolic fantasizing that sounds like it comes straight from the pen of Ayn Rand. It may be that there’s no actual fundamental disagreement between you and me about what should be done. But some of your phrasing just seems to me to be so counter to the spirit of science that I’ve been getting whiplash watching you go back and forth between seeming Objectivist cant and defenses of a discipline that’s the exact opposite of cant.

  73. #73 Caledonian
    April 6, 2007

    ‘Education’ is not the answer to all of the world’s problems, especially when the term is used as a euphemism for social engineering.

  74. #74 Anne Nonymous
    April 6, 2007

    Of course education isn’t the answer to everything. And you’ll notice that I proposed other things as well that are not directly education, like being as loud and obnoxious as necessary in all the appropriate fora to start dragging the debate in more sensible directions simply by sheer volume. But education is a pretty good piece of the answer to an awful lot of things, and teaching kids how to engage in critical thinking and giving them the tools necessary to interact realistically with the world hardly seems like it deserves the implicit pejorative that’s contained in the term “social engineering”.

    And, okay, fine, let’s say everything I’ve proposed is all really stupid. As far as I can tell, you’ve proposed even less in the way of practical solutions than I have. Taking “your” toys and going home isn’t even possible — it’s absurd to think that you’d get a large enough percentage of the scientific community and its potential replacements to go along with that so as to actually have any effect whatsoever. Frankly, most scientists like being paid to do research as their full-time job, and Neverneverland is unlikely to be able to provide that particular amenity. Even if you really could get all the scientists to go along with it, it’s not like the real world would go with you and everybody else would be left with just a fantasy world. The real world would still be right there with them, demanding to be rediscovered, and they would surely rediscover it given enough time. You can’t really take science away from people because it’s not a physical thing, it’s a collection of ideas. And ultimately ideas belong to anybody who finds them.

    So I’m kinda wondering, do you actually have any sensible ideas here, or are you just toying with revenge fantasies and trying to shoot down anybody who’s actually addressing the real world? Because if all you have to say is, “Muggles suck, let’s leave them to drown in their own idiocy,” then you’re sure not part of the solution here. And you know what the alternative to being part of the solution is.

  75. #75 Anne Nonymous
    April 7, 2007

    I just had to add some other methods of working to change the direction this country is going in that I think are important.

    • Attack the special treatment religious beliefs get as being off-limits for debate and criticism. A lot of this stuff is allowed to go unchallenged in the mainstream media because people think that calling something a religious belief means it’s automatically deserving of kid gloves treatment. It’s well past time for this to stop.
    • Don’t treat other forms of willful ignorance as deserving of respect either. When your Republican acquaintance dismisses something out of hand because “Al Bore” said it, say, “That sounds more like willful ignorance and childish namecalling than an actual point of discussion. Why don’t you go read it and see if you can develop arguments that are actually worth listening to?”
    • Don’t be afraid to get medieval on their asses. Deliberate displays of righteous, articulate fury can go a long way towards making people actually take you seriously and reconsider their viewpoints. Most people are polite and don’t actually like to give offense, and having somebody become angry with them can occasionally cause them to be taken aback enough that they will reconsider their views. This has worked for me on a number of occasions, although of course it’s hardly a magic bullet.
    • Political activism outside of the usual scientific fora is also important. It’s true that you can lead a horse to water, etc., but a big problem these days is that a lot of the horses aren’t actually being led. Science museums, the Discovery Channel, and popular science literature only reach an audience that’s already got some baseline interest in science. And most of the discussion in these media is more about scientific facts than about the methods and philosophy of science, or the relationship of science to important political issues of the day. I frankly think we need more science pundits who spend their time drawing these linkages in popular fora, as opposed to the science reporters who talk about the new miracle drug that will maybe cure cancer in ten years and then we never hear about it again. PZ and others like him are making a good start on this, but we need to push for this to move into the mainstream media that everybody sees, as opposed to its circulation remaining restricted to relatively special-interest blogs.
    • Carpe the goddamned diem already! There may actually be a window of opportunity here, with the Republican party weakened and its ability to work to oppose reality-based thinking at a low ebb. Now is the time to be working hard to push things in a more sensible direction. It’s not the time to be bitching and moaning about how people are stupid and we should just let them rot like they deserve. Particularly since we’ll be screwed too if the society we live in rots. Defeatism serves nobody. Working to push ahead and find solutions while we actually have a chance to be heard is the only sensible response.
  76. #76 Deb
    April 7, 2007

    If scientists could just explain what a freakin’ “theory” is, I’d be happy.

    Oh, and I hate it when scientists cow tow to religion. I love it when they instead stand up for science, like Neil deGrasse Tyson does.

  77. #77 bad Jim
    April 7, 2007

    Brava, Anne N.!

  78. #78 Prince Roy
    April 7, 2007

    Shorter Nisbet and Mooney: “dumb it down for the rest of US.”

  79. #79 Kadin
    April 7, 2007

    the Bible is literally accurate in its claim that the patriarchs were giants because we have PYGMIES + DWARFS today.

    Fixed.

  80. #80 Caledonian
    April 7, 2007

    Let me phrase that differently:

    Although I am contemptuous of the American educational system, it’s not so bad that it causes people to misunderstand.

    The facts have been presented to the masses, many times over. They don’t turn away from science because they’re ignorant, they are ignorant because they have turned away from science, and no amount of presenting that science to them will remedy the problem.

  81. #81 Caledonian
    April 7, 2007

    The media will pander to whichever groups best support their profit margins – or more precisely, whichever groups’ boycotts of them will most hurt the bottom line.

    Get this through your heads: you cannot accomplish anything here by running a PR campaign. Yang strength cannot stand against yang weakness – it always degenerates into its lesser form. Rationality does not possess the capacities to resist irrationality. Try to use the tactics of social manipulation and you’re taking the battle to the enemies’ home field, where they have the vast advantage.

    Of course, the real problem has never been the people attacking quality thought, because they’ve always been there. The real problem is that the erstwhile defenders of reason have failed here, and have consistently failed, and will probably continue to fail.

  82. #82 Anne Nonymous
    April 7, 2007

    Okay, so what you’re saying, Caledonian, is, give up, there’s no hope, we’re fucked, why even bother trying? You have no positive suggestions whatsoever of your own and no interest in trying other people’s positive suggestions? Fine then. Get out of the way and let those of us who are willing to try do so.

    Of course there’s no ultimate solution to these problems. Many of these things are a perpetual tug of war between competing interests, neither of which ever really go away. But if we stop tugging, they’re gonna drag us through the mud for sure, and keep dragging until we get tired of it, pick ourselves back up, and start pulling again. I dunno about you, but I’m pretty goddamned tired of the mud.

  83. #83 Chris
    April 7, 2007

    Try to use the tactics of social manipulation and you’re taking the battle to the enemies’ home field, where they have the vast advantage.

    It’s worse than that. Social manipulation would be self-defeating. You can’t set yourself up as a Liar for Truth and expect it to work. Even if you succeeded you’d end up becoming a new Lysenko, enshrining your mistakes as dogma – and not even knowing it.

    Rationality is hard work, but taking the shortcut of tricking others into believing what you believe on rational grounds will corrupt what you are trying to build. Even if what you convince them to believe is actually true, as long as they believe it for irrational reasons, you have not made any progress in promoting rationality or equipping them to resist the next con job, delusion or just plain mistake.

    *That* is why evolution, and atheism, and the age of the earth are ultimately all side issues. The real issue is not what you believe but why you believe it. Once you have that, everything else follows. Convincing people who are dedicated to believing what the evidence says is easy: just show them the evidence.

  84. #84 Caledonian
    April 7, 2007

    You are substituting emotional outrage and frustration for reason and careful thought, which is impeding both your ability to comprehend the written statements of others and your ability to analyze the situation.

    If you cannot master your emotions well enough to prevent them from overriding your higher thought processes, sit down and shut up.

  85. #85 Caledonian
    April 7, 2007

    Chris, you are absolutely correct.

    On this issue, if we consider the means by which we reach conclusions to be more important than the specific conclusions we reach (as science requires), we can only conclude that resorting to social manipulation to further the interests of rationality and science is the wrong strategy.

    If we consider the ends to justify the means, then we *still* conclude that resorting to social manipulation to further the interests of rationality and science is the wrong strategy.

    Pragmatism and idealism AGREE on this matter. Why are some people still suggesting otherwise? More importantly, why are we still listening to them?

  86. #86 Anne Nonymous
    April 7, 2007

    Oh, and, seriously, Caledonian, if you’re trying to say that the tactics I’ve proposed are dishonest or manipulative or counter to the spirit of science, then please explain what exactly is dishonest or manipulative or anti-scientific about them, because so far you’ve just been flinging these implications about with absolutely nothing to back them up.

  87. #87 Anne Nonymous
    April 7, 2007

    You are substituting emotional outrage and frustration for reason and careful thought, which is impeding both your ability to comprehend the written statements of others and your ability to analyze the situation.

    If you cannot master your emotions well enough to prevent them from overriding your higher thought processes, sit down and shut up.

    I see we’re approaching the level of ad hominem attack now. I haven’t noticed much comprehension of my comments on your end, either, and it’s been seeming to me that you’re substituting expressions of frustration and a general attitude of smug superiority for actual attempts at problem-solving. I also haven’t noticed you addressing any of the points I raised at all. Did you even read what I said about pushing for more public discussion of the philosophy and methods of science as opposed to scientific facts? It’s not clear to me why you think this is use of the methods of irrationality, as opposed to use of the methods of rationality.

    As a working scientist, I can tell you that being willing to be vocal and forceful about your ideas, not backing down when challenged (unless you discover you’re wrong), working to present your conclusions in the most widely-read journals possible, and refusing to respect willful ignorance are absolutely the way that science is done. These are the only way to get your ideas heard by the scientific community and get other scientists to start thinking about them and discussing them. I don’t see why the presentation of the philosophy and methods of science to the general public should be handled any differently, or why this should be considered counter to the spirit of science.

    Education of the youth in critical thinking and scientific philosophy is also perfectly in line with the spirit of science — science is a great game, and we want everybody to be able to play as much as possible. There’s a reason a large percentage of research scientists work at, you know, universities and spend some of their time teaching classes and training graduate students as well as directly doing science.

    The only thing I’ve suggested that’s not really a very scientific method is being willing to display anger. Emotions are usually considered to be outside the bounds of scientific discourse, and I think that’s generally a pretty reasonable attitude. But from my perspective, articulate displays of well-justified anger are just part of the continuum of ways to demonstrate a refusal to respect willful ignorance, so I think it’s a perfectly legitimate tool to have in one’s toolbox when dealing with the willfully ignorant.

    I’d finally like to note that taking our toys and going home sounds to me like pretty much the exact opposite of the spirit of science. The ideal of science that I’m familiar with says that it should be about free and open debate, and that scientific ideas should be available to everybody to discuss, develop, and criticize. The notion of it as “ours” is so counter to the free sharing that I’m used to that it is hard for me to not have a certain level of emotional reaction to it.

    Now maybe I’m just dramatically misconstruing what you’ve said, and if so, I’m sorry I’ve pissed you off. But it would be helpful if you’d bother to explain exactly how I’m misconstruing you instead of just continuing to misconstrue (and now beginning to insult) me in turn.

  88. #88 Peter McGrath
    April 7, 2007

    2.30 am? Truly Coturnix bloggeth around the clock. As with many debates, there is something to commend on both sides here: yes scientists should learn to fight for space and how to communicate in the mainstream media. We should also be getting our supporters into the media so that science literate journalists start working their way into the editorial decision-making positions. And we need our frame-smashers. We also need – occasionally – to tear ourselves away from informative and entertaining sites like this and go and talk about this stuff with others outside the science blogs.

  89. #89 Chris Mooney
    April 7, 2007

    Hi PZ,
    Thanks so much for your post on this issue. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. I guess I think that we have to start somewhere in order to move people, and that means meeting them halfway (or, even better, where they actually are). I think that’s where I disagree with you. I elaborate here
    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2007/04/framing_science_some_replies_1.php

  90. #90 L
    April 7, 2007

    In its most benign form, framing is little more than a means for making information relevant and meaningful to one’s audience.

    At it’s worst, framing is a propaganda technique (as a tool for swaying blocks of voters in political campaigns, for example).

    The former is very appropriate when it comes to educating the public about science but the latter is most certainly not.

  91. #91 Jonathan Vos Post
    April 7, 2007

    20th Century American Scientists and Engineers who shook the frame, and excelled at soundbytes (in now particular order):

    Edison, Margaret Sanger, Millikan, Einstein, Rachel Carson, Ruth Benedict, Richard Feynman, Margaret Mead, Carl Sagan.

    The American Press can only handle one at a time, but they Made A Difference!

  92. #92 L
    April 7, 2007

    Chris Mooney says above “I guess I think that we have to start somewhere in order to move people, and that means meeting them halfway”

    .

    What Galileo might have said to the Pope (and thereby saved himself years of headache), if only he had known about framing…

    “No, Your Celibacy, I am not saying the sun is at the center. I’m simply saying it is just a teentsy, eentsy, weentsy bit closer to the center… Just a couple nanometers, mind you.”

  93. #93 Krystalline Apostate
    April 7, 2007

    My post is up in the Blog Against Theocracy blogswarm.
    There’s much to be said for many of the POVs debated here. I might add my 2¢ worth.
    There will be those demographics that are just simply unreachable. Deep Southern Baptists, fr’ex. The Kennedy’s, the Dobson’s, all those dip-a-roos, it’d be more akin to having a conversation w/a carrot, nothing imparted.
    However, pandering to the lowest common denominator (which I dislike intensely), CAN sugar-coat the unwanted pill. It’s an effective marketing technique. It’s sad that it works so well: but we don’t live in a geniocracy, that’s pretty apparent.
    We live in an age of sound bytes & brief glimpses. Best to use the tools, however we dislike them. & most newcomers glaze over w/data overload, so breaking items apart in easily digestible chunks works wonders.
    When you teach a child math, 1 starts w/simpler concepts, & as the learning process grows, the more complex modalities can then be learned. & of course, the process should be made more entertaining for those less inclined.

  94. #94 greensmile
    April 7, 2007

    and its a good post for blog-against-theocracy too.

    but I would like to point out that as far as I know, science is not about finding sound bites It is not quite fair to criticize scientists for not synching up with the communications discipline that TV has rendered adequate for important purposes like selling soap and cars. Idealistic though it may be, I would instead demand that NO ONE gets through high school with out understanding what kind of answerss science does strive for. I think that would be far better, especially for basic science than marketing science in terms that equate to the objectives and attention span of the typical Fox News viewer.
    Sooner or later the congressmen talk like the voters:” you want a hundred million dollars to prove what?”

  95. #95 Sean
    April 7, 2007

    “Yet scientists have a reputation for arrogance.”

    Arrogance among scientists tends to be proportional to their accuracy. In other words, you’d be arrogant too if you were always right.

    Articles like this tire me out. The more I read them, the more I feel like resorting to violence. Nothing affects change like a large-scale armed upheaval.

  96. #96 Keanus
    April 7, 2007

    I have to be honest and admit I haven’t read more than half the foregoing comments, so if I repeat someone, I apologize. (I also haven’t read the Mooney/Nisbet piece in Science, not having a subscription or immediate access to that.) But I see a number of things that should be said.

    A. Most of the public, and here I mean the educated public, those with some college or more, have no clue what “doing” science means much less understand the rigor new ideas in science undergo before acceptance. Just witness the extent to which the public conflates “believe” with “accept because of empirical data.” And the extent to which that same public thinks truth in religion means the same thing as truth in the sciences.

    B. As much of an impediment it is to understanding, attacking religion directly is seen by almost all religious people as an ad hominem attack. And nothing closes the ears more quickly than that. One has to attack the tenets–e.g., the 6000 year old Earth, that the Noah hosted dinosaurs, that mankind’s only ancestor are Adam and Eve–since they are one root of the problem, but religion per se should remain off base, if one is to have any hope of traction.

    C. Attacking religion generally or specifically will immediately render all one says as irrelevant. Someone else has observed that Dawkins energizes both opponents and supporters by his attacks on religion and belief, and labeled him the “Hillary Clinton” of evolution. He has a point. She’s a polarizing figure and so is he. Polarizing figures in a society as divided as the US do not solve problems; they sustain them.

    D. Given the low level of understanding of science in the US, any reasoning has to be offered at a vocabulary and syntax understandable by one’s audience. Reader’s Digest long ago learned to rewrite its articles to an eighth grade level or lower to succeed. (Like it or not, that’s the reading level of the average “educated” American.) We need to do the same for our arguments.

    E. The media need to be made to understand that the intellectual classes, the ones on whose ideas the rest of society depends are heavily skewed toward the skeptical–atheists and agnostics if you wish–and that in society at large atheists and agnostics are no marginal minority. Polls consistently show us to exceed 10% of the population and growing. We now number in excess of 30 million and we vote in disproportionate numbers to our portion of the population. Media should and must give us as much of a voice as the fundamentalists, evangelicals and Pentecostals, if they want to reflect the country as a whole. They do not now. Most of the time they ignore us or invite someone who’s more caricature than reality.

    I joined the board of a regional Planned Parenthood affiliate a few months ago and one of the points I’ve hammered on, aside from sound medical care, honest accounting and good solid management is that PP needs to cease self censoring itself. The majority of the adult population supports what PP does–providing solid, low-cost reproductive health care to those who otherwise would have restricted access to it–but because we’re so harassed by protesters we tend to pull our punches publicly, ceding the public ground to the loud mouths who protest. Supporters of solid science need to do the same. Be loud, be pugnacious, be positive, and don’t be intimidated. That’s a score on which I suspect PZ and I would agree.

  97. #97 Krystalline Apostate
    April 7, 2007

    greensmile:
    Thanks.

    It is not quite fair to criticize scientists for not synching up with the communications discipline that TV has rendered adequate for important purposes like selling soap and cars.

    I’m not blaming or criticizing scientists at all. I think the whole system stinks. Scientists have better things to do than constantly have to conduct battles on a media battleground. It’s ridiculous. They could be off doing better things. But there’s no use bitching & moaning about the cards dealt: best to play poker.

  98. #98 Anne Nonymous
    April 8, 2007

    You are substituting emotional outrage and frustration for reason and careful thought, which is impeding both your ability to comprehend the written statements of others and your ability to analyze the situation.

    If you cannot master your emotions well enough to prevent them from overriding your higher thought processes, sit down and shut up.

    I see we’re approaching the level of ad hominem attack now. I haven’t noticed much comprehension of my comments on your end, either, and it’s been seeming to me that you’re substituting expressions of frustration and a general attitude of smug superiority for actual attempts at problem-solving. I also haven’t noticed you addressing any of the points I raised at all. Did you even read what I said about pushing for more public discussion of the philosophy and methods of science as opposed to scientific facts? It’s not clear to me why you think this is use of the methods of irrationality, as opposed to use of the methods of rationality.

    As a working scientist, I can tell you that being willing to be vocal and forceful about your ideas, not backing down when challenged (unless you discover you’re wrong), working to present your conclusions in the most widely-read journals possible, and refusing to respect willful ignorance are absolutely the way that science is done. These are the only way to get your ideas heard by the scientific community and get other scientists to start thinking about them and discussing them. I don’t see why the presentation of the philosophy and methods of science to the general public should be handled any differently, or why this should be considered counter to the spirit of science.

    Education of the youth in critical thinking and scientific philosophy is also perfectly in line with the spirit of science — science is a great game, and we want everybody to be able to play as much as possible. There’s a reason a large percentage of research scientists work at, you know, universities and spend some of their time teaching classes and training graduate students as well as directly doing science.

    The only thing I’ve suggested that’s not really a very scientific method is being willing to display anger. Emotions are usually considered to be outside the bounds of scientific discourse, and I think that’s generally a pretty reasonable attitude. But from my perspective, articulate displays of well-justified anger are just part of the continuum of ways to demonstrate a refusal to respect willful ignorance, so I think it’s a perfectly legitimate tool to have in one’s toolbox when dealing with the willfully ignorant.

    I’d finally like to note that taking our toys and going home sounds to me like pretty much the exact opposite of the spirit of science. The ideal of science that I’m familiar with says that it should be about free and open debate, and that scientific ideas should be available to everybody to discuss, develop, and criticize. The notion of it as “ours” is so counter to the free sharing that I’m used to that it is hard for me to not have a certain level of emotional reaction to it.

    Now maybe I’m just dramatically misconstruing what you’ve said, and if so, I’m sorry I’ve pissed you off. But it would be helpful if you’d bother to explain exactly how I’m misconstruing you instead of just continuing to misconstrue (and now beginning to insult) me in turn.

  99. #99 greensmile
    April 8, 2007

    —or maybe, PZ, by “shatter the frame” you are saying something I just agreed with?

  100. #100 Anne Nonymous
    April 8, 2007

    Whoa, wtf, how did I just double post that like a full day later?

  101. #101 Keith Douglas
    April 10, 2007

    Greg Peterson: The phrase “losing one’s faith” is used in a negative sense; you’re pleased to be areligious (or whatever), so it doesn’t apply to you.

    Gabe: Scientists tend to be liberal because of their funding? Evidence, please?

    Minnesotachuck: It is of course my own professional bias speaking in part, but I have always thought that a philosophy of science module would be very useful to everyone. Unfortunately, one needs some substantive scientific knowledge for such to make any sense, and so we have a circle.

    Chris: But the very idea of evidence for things is poorly grasped by people – people agree you should give evidence but what counts as it is rife with superstition. Bunge is right to point out that epistemology and methodology itself changes with scientific findings itself, which is why his works on epistemology include a lot of summarized findings from psychology, sociology, etc.

    It is important to stress the practical fruits of science, but it also can distort by making people think all science is good for is the technology that results, and that’s bad. Stress on the explanatory role is vital.

  102. #102 mark brenneman
    June 11, 2007

    Regarding a more accurate assessment.

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