Pharyngula

I’ve tried a different tack now — I’ve left several comments on Matt Nisbet’s very own blog, in the fading hope that he’ll actually pay attention to what I’m saying, rather than what he imagines I’m saying, or what other people tell him that they imagine I’m saying. Comments there are held up for moderation, so in case you really want fast feedback, I’ve tossed my comments below the fold here where you can savage them instantly … or you can head on over to Framing Science and state your piece there.

Nisbet writes about Steve Case on Framing and Dawkins, which is basically a post of some fan mail from Steve Case. We already know that some people agree with him—this does nothing to help me understand what Mooney and Nisbet are telling me to do.

The weirdest thing is that he plays up Case (deservedly, I agree) to a high degree — agreeing with Nisbet does wonders for your reputation.

Case has been in the trenches and on the front lines for the past three decades. He probably has more experience working with science teachers and dealing with the news media than anyone in the country. Indeed, he is perhaps the most successful and savvy ambassador for science education in America.

Case is smart and media-friendly and he certainly deserves more attention. I’m just struck by the fact that in the WaPo article, Nisbet went out of his way to slam Richard Dawkins and call him a failure. Case is an educator in Kansas. No disrespect intended, and Case has certainly persevered wonderfully, but when presented with the equations Dawkins = Failure and Case = Success, I find myself hoping for more failure. Is there some criterion for success here other than agreeing with Nisbet?

So here’s my comment:

Yes, Steve Case is one of the good guys. Now imagine that my strategy for getting everyone behind my plan (whatever it is) was to begin by slamming him.

If the defenders of evolution wanted to give their creationist adversaries a boost, it’s hard to see how they could do better than Steve Case, the famed University of Kansas scientist who tries to accommodate religion in science.

Why, everyone who respects the fellow and appreciates his work would instantly be predisposed against me.

That’s “framing”, right?

So when I read your WaPo article that started in just that alienating way, I had two possible interpretations. One is that you are a tin-eared incompetent at this framing business, which means I ought not to pay attention to what you say. The other is that you seem to be a smart guy and you’ve studied these rhetorical strategies for years, and that you’ve actually made a cunning, conscious decision to stick the knife in a subset of the people who fight creationism in order to curry favor for your ideas in the public eye.

You may “have the best interests of [your] community at heart”, but you’ll have to understand that the impression I have is that either you have your heart in the right place but you’re very bad at this, or your community is not my community and you’re poising yourself to oppose mine.

Is there a third possibility? I don’t know. I keep waiting for you to offer an alternative.

He posts more fannish support, quoting two articles On Framing, Two More Candles in the Dark, which purport to explain why some of us are critical of Nisbet/Mooney. I guess I am an awful communicator, because I thought I’ve been explaining rather plainly why I find myself less than satisfied with the framing arguments.

Ho hum. Neither Orac nor Chad are anywhere near the mark. I spend more of my time now trying to sell science than I ever did before, which is why I was initially looking forward to your articles and was so disappointed when I read them. I am looking for the best way to promote science; the problem that Chad overlooks is that everywhere I look in my discipline, the primary obstacle is religion. Apparently, though, it’s the one problem we’re never, ever supposed to address, because people have this automatic deferral to religious authority. How about if some of us work to end that, eh?

We opponents have repeatedly stated our objections. Why do you ignore them to favor second or third hand guesswork?

I am not dead set against better communication tools, and would welcome advice. My primary complaints from the very beginning were that 1) you haven’t explained how to use these nebulous frames in a way I can understand and use. 2) You have muddled up suggestions about how to communicate with what to communicate; a communication strategy that tells me I’m supposed to simply abandon a significant part of my message is useless to me. And 3) while telling us that we have to maintain a conciliatory tone to the religious community, you have taken an antagonistic tone to the atheist community; there’s some dissonance there that discredits your message, since apparently you aren’t going to practice what you preach.

It’s nice that you’re leaving comments on other blogs. The problem is that none of those comments have actually answered any of our criticisms. Is it just easier to answer questions that some people imagine that we’ve asked? If you’re serious about trying to understand why we criticize, maybe you’d be best off paying attention to what we say are the basis of our criticisms, rather than what people who don’t share our views are claiming are our reasons.

Finally, he quotes the transcript of his interview on NPR: Are we asking scientists to be advocates? To spin false information? Read the transcript. So I read the transcript. It seems to be the kind of thing the Nisbet Fan Club would find satisfying, but it raises yet more objections in my mind — it’s like the man is talking about the politics in Tibet, while I’m asking about the weather in Croatia. It doesn’t help, and it only confirms that I can’t expect much assistance from the “framers”.

Once again, I state my problems with that interview.

You would think folks like PZ et al, who are professional educators, would know that “Framing” is what you do all the time in teaching, especially in teaching classes for non-science students.

You would think…so why is the ‘framing’ message precisely the opposite, that we don’t know squat?

Notice, though, what Nisbet says:

You start recasting the issue in ways that are still true to the science but, in fact, actually you’re not talking about the science.

That is not my interest or my mission, and in a lot of ways I see that as the antithesis of my mission. I do not go into the classroom and say, “Genetics is really important! Here’s why you need to learn it! There might be a job in it for you some day!”, and on and on for a semester, without ever actually telling them what genetics is or how it works. What Nisbet is describing are cheerleaders, not players or participants in the process.

He is not laying out an appropriate role for scientists.

We do take into account the knowledge base of our audience. We do try to explain matters at an appropriate level, and we aspire to making it enjoyable. We do tell stories in the classroom. But one thing absolutely essential to who we are and what we do is explain how we know what we know, and why the evidence leads us in specific directions. Asking us to avoid doing that completely misses our strengths and our interests — it’s like complaining that construction workers aren’t good realtors, and for those of us with some pride in our discipline, it’s an affront.