Pharyngula

VICTORY!

As expected, the Laden/Myers tag team utterly crushed the Nisbet/Mooney team. The decision was unanimous. Only a few crazy people might have found the framers at all persuasive. (It helps, too, that Nisbet/Mooney are on a plane flying away and won’t be able to get out their side of the story until later, and even when they do, my blog has more traffic than theirs. I win! Hey, maybe this framing stuff has some virtues.)

If you want an independent account, look in the comments. The whole shebang was taped, so I presume it will be online at some time in the near future. And hey, guess what? Your own decision based on the evidence will be far more important than any framing I try to do — so I’ll win on principle no matter what!

My general impression is that Nisbet and Mooney went out of their way to avoid triggering any conflict — they didn’t bring up evolution at all in their parts of the discussion, which was a little odd. After all, that’s where both Greg and I would be strongest, and where our differences would be greatest, and by trying to draw us into arguments about climate change we’d be a little out of our depth…oh, wait, maybe there was a method to their madness after all. Unfortunately for them, Greg and I ignored the bait and talked about evolution education anyway. They also avoided the dreaded subject of atheism until it was dragged out by a question (good work, Rieux). Chris also did a little song and dance about the People’s Front of Judea/Judean People’s Front to claim that our differences were minimal. Their efforts to defuse any possibility of conflict reeked of fear and desperation (←note framing.)

They still push this idea that scientists are poor communicators, however, and that what they call the “popular science” paradigm is a failure. The “popular science” approach is to actually try and correct people’s ignorance about scientific matters, and through education, to try and generate a science-literate citizenry that won’t fall for the bunkum. We heard several times that people are “cognitive misers” who won’t learn, which, again, is simply an admission of defeat. It also ignores the peculiar problem of evolutionary biology, which is accepted by those “cognitive misers” of Canada and Europe, and in which America is a weird outlier in its rejection by approximately half the population. We have all these counter-cases in which we can’t claim that the populace was snookered into accepting a basic principle of science by pandering to religious values.

For my part, I gave my short definition of framing: a method of persuading people who don’t know anything to trust you. Neither Mooney nor Nisbet objected in their replies, so I’ll assume they didn’t find that false. I said that the real difference here is that the framers focus on the “trust you” part of the definition, and think that’s where the important effort should be exerted…which is fine. Trust is nice. However, the scientists and educators are seeing the “people who don’t know anything” part and noting that framing seems to be a band-aid of rhetoric slapped on the real problem, and that all this talk of framing and appearances and who you’d like to have a beer with does nothing to correct public ignorance, which is the central problem here. We want to produce a science-literate nation, not merely a country that blithely and uncomprehendingly likes science.

I showed the usual horrific statistics from polls that show there is a problem, that half the country gives the wrong answer to the issue of evolution. I argued that the problem is caused by a dreadful synergy of declining quality of K-12 education, an active and malicious religion that benefits from ignorance, and partisan politics that exploits that religious bloc with promises to, from a scientist’s perspective, worsen the problem. Framing evades the root causes. My solution is to support more and better education. We need activist parents on the secular side getting out there and giving teachers the aid they need to oppose the encroachment of the religious on education; we also need more money, more teachers, and better standards in our schools. I admitted that we aren’t going to see odious religion dry up and blow away, but we can do the next best alternative: we can build a well-organized secular and anti-religious constituency to oppose the religious monstrosity lurking in our midst. And that secular constituency will also add a new factor to the calculus of political triangulation and might get us a few politicians who will pander to us with plans to fix the problems.

Those aren’t trivial suggestions, and it’s hard work all the way to implement them. I think they are more substantive answers than trying to “frame” our ideas in the terms the religious and the right-wing like to hear them, which seems to me to be a strategy for reinforcing the authority of the sources of our difficulties, trading short-term and probably temporary gains for long-term buttressing of the institutions that are wrecking us.

Greg Laden made several points that I’m sure he’ll reiterate on his blog soon enough. Scientists are not bad communicators; there’s a wide range of ability of course, but to claim that scientists as a whole don’t know how to express themselves in public is simply wrong. He also argued that we are in a culture war, and that we’ve been the target of a sustained attack for many years; to simply declare that we’ll embrace our attackers’ language now and find reconciliation in their terms is an act of surrender. I don’t think framing productively addresses the structural problems we now confront as a consequence of that attack.

One point we did not make, but probably should have, is that framing is going to be opposed by counter-framing, and the other side is very good at that. It shifts the debate into competing rhetoric, where we have no particular advantage, and away from arguing from evidence, which as we all know, has a well-established liberal/progressive bias.

Mooney and Nisbet said a bunch of stuff that amounted to the argument that people will drink a beer with people with whom they would like to drink a beer, which I don’t disagree with at all — I just find it unproductive and missing the whole point of the argument. It’s not the job of science and scientists to make people comfortable; often our job must be to tell people about change and new ideas and that what they believe is actually wrong.

I’m sure Nisbet/Mooney will have their own take on the debate that they’ll post later in an effort to spin it into a victory for their position. Do not be swayed. I’m telling you first and loudest that we won.

Comments

  1. #1 Caledonian
    September 29, 2007

    Perhaps the real issue here is that everyone is loudly declaring that the things they’ve specialized in, that they’re good at and can be considered ‘authoritative’ in, are the solutions to our various problems.

    No one really seems to be analyzing the problems and producing plans tailored to those needs – everyone, including PZ, is offering their own favored stock solutions and well-rehearsed techniques and claiming that they’ll help.

    PZ has a hammer. Nisbet has a screwdriver. And they’re both trying to use them to serve a rice pudding.

  2. #2 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    September 29, 2007

    I really think that scientists should steer away from a “Trust Us” frame to a “Test Us” frame. We can still have a beer with you, but if you (scientists) publish something that is nonsense, or that we think is nonsense, we should at least be learning how to evaluate the claims.

    Statistics is one area of math which is treated lightly in secondary schools, and it wasn’t until I got to college and took experimental design and statistics classes that I finally figured out how science works. If more people understood even basic statistics, Michael Behe wouldn’t be able to get an audience, nor would Jonathan Wells impress as many people as he seems to.

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    September 29, 2007

    They still push this idea that scientists are poor communicators, however, and that what they call the “popular science” paradigm is a failure.

    Apropos (well, kind of), I’ve been having a fascinating discussion with Graham Lawton, features editor of New Scientist. It started when the SF writer Greg Egan noticed some rather kooky items in that magazine and made note of it at the math/physics/philosophy blog The n-Category Café. I expanded on Egan’s points a little at my own site, Mr. Lawton showed up, and we had ourselves some good old-fashioned verbal sparring.

    One point we did not make, but probably should have, is that framing is going to be opposed by counter-framing, and the other side is very good at that. It shifts the debate into competing rhetoric, where we have no particular advantage, and away from arguing from evidence, which as we all know, has a well-established liberal/progressive bias.

    Yes. You should have made that point.

  4. #4 greg laden
    September 29, 2007

    PZ: Glad to see you made it out of Dinky Town alive. 30,000 drunken students form a significant obstacle whether you are on foot or in a car…

    Yes, there will be counter framing, but actually, the Chirs/Matt framing is the counter framing against the previously well developed right wing efforts.

    Good job at being first and loud. I really thought I had first, but I’m going a little slow this morning… time to break out the meds, I think.

  5. #5 CalGeorge
    September 29, 2007

    Nisbet is trying to be the coach of a movement that is too big and loud and proud and boisterous to be subdued or corralled by an etiquette expert.

    We don’t need no Mr. Manners.

  6. #6 Jim Kakalios
    September 29, 2007

    Good morning. I thought it was a fun event, and you and Greg did a great job. Your “frame” of what framing is: Getting people who don’t know anything to trust you, is clever and effective.

    Over frosty malts and french fries at Annie’s after the event, my wife and I, and my teenage son and his friend thought both sides make valid points. I thought some more about what I briefly mentioned to you afterward, and after reading your post just now, I think I’ve figured something out, as to how you are both right.

    That is: Framing is an effective means to an end, but it is not the end. For the problem: explain physics to non-scientists, many of whom are math-phobic an insecure about their math and science skills. This is a real problem. When I explain something to a colleague in my department, and he or she doesn’t understand something, they will interupt, question and ask me to try again. Doing the same with someone who is not confident of their science skills, and they are likely to assume that their lack of comprehension is their fault, and remain silent, thus not follow the explanation.

    One solution: “Frame” the discussion in terms of comic book superheroes. The listener is not as anxious, and does not expect that the story will lead to something scientifically valid. They won’t raise their shields as quickly, and there is a greater chance of being challenged/questioned and accomplishign something. Superheroes are only one of thousands of examples one could use, of course.

    But the superheroes are not the point. The goal, as you said last night, is to change the “people who don’t know anything” part. The Frame of superheroes goes to the “trust me” part. Neither is effective without the other.

    and I think that in many cases you need the frame when you wish to preach beyond the choir. No one likes being hectored/nagged/ranted at. They tune out, or get bored. You can never change the “people who don’t know anything” part if the people are not listening.

    So, in the best sense – I think it was a tie. Greg made some outstanding points, regarding the exclusion clause, culture wars, and the one week of the term devoted to evolution. So maybe a split decision for your side.

    A fun night out, for sure. and a fantastic turnout, given that I did not see it advertised anywhere on campus.

  7. #7 April
    September 29, 2007

    I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, as I had to be up early in the AM for work, but M & N really did try to “frame” their argument to keep it out of PZ and L’s expertise. And they framed the whole thing as absolute common sense, but it seemed that the audience wasn’t as easily sold as they anticipated and didn’t buy their full line.

  8. #8 Zeno
    September 29, 2007

    Caledonian: PZ has a hammer. Nisbet has a screwdriver. And they’re both trying to use them to serve a rice pudding.

    Is it a claw hammer? In that case, you can scoop up quite a bit of rice pudding with it. And then the screwdriver is useful for scraping the pudding off.

    Win win.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    September 29, 2007

    A while back, I found a quote from Origen (the third-century theologian) which keeps popping to mind whenever fr*ming comes up:

    As this matter of faith is so much talked of, I have to reply that we accept it as useful for the multitude, and that we admittedly teach those who cannot abandon everything and pursue a study of rational argument to believe without thinking out their reasons.

    It’s an old, old argument.

  10. #10 Despard
    September 29, 2007

    Statistics is one area of math which is treated lightly in secondary schools, and it wasn’t until I got to college and took experimental design and statistics classes that I finally figured out how science works.

    Huh, that’s nothing. I managed to get a first class honours undergraduate degree in physics without understanding how science worked. Because you don’t need to, you can just learn the equations and how to derive them and how to solve various problems without needing to think about anything else.

    I didn’t learn about how science worked until the rude awakening of switching disciplines into neuroscience and studying at a graduate level. When you’re finally confronted with the task of designing your own experiments, collecting your own data and integrating it into established theory, then you learn how it works. And the trouble with physics is that you don’t design any experiments until graduate level anyway, or at least I didn’t.

  11. #11 Greg
    September 29, 2007

    Statistics is one area of math which is treated lightly in secondary schools, and it wasn’t until I got to college and took experimental design and statistics classes that I finally figured out how science works.

    Mike: I’m sure you are right. (Great meeting you last night, by the way … sorry the parking lot was keeping late hours so we had to pay to get out.. oh well). Anyway, I’m actually amazed at what My daughter is learning in school. Basic probability, prediction, graphing, etc. (in 6th and 7th grade). This is the outcome of new math and science standards just enacted. An example of improvement in the “Popular Science” area.

  12. #12 Blake Stacey
    September 29, 2007

    Greg Laden (#11):

    Anyway, I’m actually amazed at what My daughter is learning in school. Basic probability, prediction, graphing, etc. (in 6th and 7th grade). This is the outcome of new math and science standards just enacted.

    New standards? You intrigue me. In what schools have they been applied, and where can I learn more?

    I ask because I’m pretty sure I had picked up on those things by that age (I was and continue to be a bookworm), but I don’t remember seeing probability in class until high school.

  13. #13 Monado
    September 29, 2007

    I didn’t hear the debate but I know I’m the wrong audience for framing. I like science. If people like me were the majority, we’d follow the latest discovered subparticle instead of baseball statistics. And if someone isn’t the target audience, the message just whizzes past them. Just ask the people who write advertisements. I found that a video ad which spoke to me very strongly about a mother’s need to get safely home to her children meant nothing to an older man – and he was an expert on video communications! So what’s wrong with presenting physics in terms of car crashes and statistics in terms of lottery odds – as long as the practical applications speak to the students and reinforce their learning of the facts? We could even throw in a few statistical discussions of mutation rate in bacteria – such as last year’s Skylab experiment that showed bacteria changing 167 proteins and tripling their infectiousness in one trip to zero gravity. Just a thought. Use framing to motivate interest and then let the facts speak for themselves.

  14. #14 gerald spezio
    September 29, 2007

    Blake; Hosanna, I am finally able to blog at Pharyngula again. Probably, I owe PZ a Grazi.

    Your comparison of framing with Origen is not allowed according to framing law established by those who are trained. Too on point and accurate. No comparisons, no matter how precise.
    Stop it now lest you get banished by the framing police.

    The quote in your first comment above is a classic definition of English and mericun adversarial law.
    If you don’t like my insidious comparison, you can sue me or banish me from ever typing again.
    Try it and I will tell PZ on you.

  15. #15 gerald spezio
    September 29, 2007

    Blake, Your classic quote is a succinct and powerful reminder that lawyering has always been framing and re-framing to keep people from focusing on the evidence.

    The yuppie framing geniuses are re-packaging Medieval rhetoric as a profound new esoteric discipline.

    It is manipulation and propaganda pure and simple.
    Joseph Goebbels made the very same statements seventy years ago.

  16. #16 katie
    September 29, 2007

    I did a lot of field work in rural Nova Scotia. One of the things you have to do, when you’re out working by yourself, is to get people to trust you that you’re not some big, bad, scary scientist out to destroy their land. It probably helps that I’m only 5’3″ and rather non-threatening looking.

    But yeah, there’s been a certain amount of “framing” I’ve had to do, just to be able to do my job. And I don’t think it covers the real problem, but maybe it helps it a bit? People thinking a little bit more about the natural world around them can never be a bad thing, I think.

  17. #17 greg laden
    September 29, 2007

    Blake: Here is your gateway to the Minnesota standards (this is done state by state):

    http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Academic_Excellence/Academic_Standards/index.html

    Most states now have pretty similar standards.

  18. #18 steve
    September 29, 2007

    Framing is an essential part of communication. Matt Nisbet is just a really bad advocate of that position, doesn’t understand how to productively frame his own position, and picks on atheists for the wrong things.

  19. #19 Blake Stacey
    September 29, 2007

    Greg Laden:

    Thanks! After a quick perusal, I’d say that the one area which those standards include and my public-school education didn’t is probability and statistics.

  20. #20 AJ Milne
    September 29, 2007

    We heard several times that people are “cognitive misers” who won’t learn, which, again, is simply an admission of defeat.

    I think it’s false, entirely, too. People aren’t naturally cognitive misers. They’re naturally curious. Hell, you could generalize that to primates in general. Got too much space upstairs, always looking to fill it. They like to learn, want to know. Show most people a tokamat fusion reactor, they’re not naturally gonna say: oh, dear, no, please don’t make me think! They’re going to ask: how’s that shiny piece of coolness work? What’s the principle? Fusion works how? I want to get this. Don’t even know why, I just do. I’m a primate, dammit! Gimme grist for my neurons.

    There is a current of anti-intellectualism in certain cultures, including the US one in particular, and yes, there are kids who’ve learned curiosity in certain fields just isn’t done, or that grasping certain things is naturally going to be beyond them (or even a danger to their mortal souls), but I see those more as odd historical contingencies, whatever you think are their causes, and things that can, in fact, be contended with. Seems to me those currents are counter enough to human nature that I don’t even think it should be that hard. Sure, it’s a witches’ brew, in the US, with fundamentalist religion, the old agrarian hinterland/metropolis hostility kicking its two cents in, and the more vacuous streaks of post-modernism proposing wilful ignorance as a legitimate point of view just makes things worse, not to mention the ubiquitous emotive appeals of advertising (underlying message is: don’t think; consume), but remember: all of that takes effort to maintain, on the part of the systems that enforce it. Primates aren’t really wired that way. They have to be moulded to that.

    I think, in fact, looking at the ‘framing’ debate that that’s part of the problem. There’s a tendency to mistake these odd historical contingencies for hard facts of life, to overcompensate, try to negotiate with the apparently omnipresent anti-intellectualism on terms that ultimately fail to deal with the real problem: that dulling of natural curiosity. Among the things I think are most important to remember is: anti-intellectualism isn’t universal. It’s a cultural thing, frightening in places where it’s powerful enough, sure, but still just a cultural thing, and something that waxes and wanes. And, in fact, it’s something we have seen can be killed very, very, very dead in someone if you sufficiently pique their curiosity about how the world really is.

  21. #21 Sven DiMilo
    September 29, 2007

    Do you have to be from Minnesota to be able to use the sobriquet “Dinkytown” with a straight face? I had formerly only heard of it as an early haunt of the nascent genius from Hibbing who called himself “Bobby Dillon” at the time.

  22. #22 tomh
    September 29, 2007

    Steve Wrote:
    Matt Nisbet … picks on atheists for the wrong things.

    And what are the right things?

  23. #23 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 29, 2007

    It’s not the job of science and scientists to make people comfortable; often our job must be to tell people about change and new ideas and that what they believe is actually wrong.

    Agreed. But I wouldn’t take it as far as to suggest that science is necessarily confrontational against everyone. For one, most literate people and politicians are on board with the science project if not its details. And as AJ Milne reminds us, people are basically curious, and curious people are eager to find out and even change ideas when necessary.

    We should concentrate on the positive, so we should sweeten the medicine with a lot of gusto. I’m thinking of Sagan and similar presenters, of course. The basic problem is that age and education conspire to extinguish genuine curiosity except in the hardy few.

    [Okay, so that wasn’t a positive end. I just saw the two first episodes of Eureka!, and realized that the era of science portrayal (really, the larger era of “nerds”) is drawing to an end. And its nowhere near the charming atmosphere and mystery of Twin Peaks, at least not yet. So parodies of science (and nerds) are now “the new formula” to evoke a dying interest.

    Proof positive that (some) change and new ideas sucks. :-P]

  24. #24 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    September 29, 2007

    It’s not the job of science and scientists to make people comfortable; often our job must be to tell people about change and new ideas and that what they believe is actually wrong.

    Agreed. But I wouldn’t take it as far as to suggest that science is necessarily confrontational against everyone. For one, most literate people and politicians are on board with the science project if not its details. And as AJ Milne reminds us, people are basically curious, and curious people are eager to find out and even change ideas when necessary.

    We should concentrate on the positive, so we should sweeten the medicine with a lot of gusto. I’m thinking of Sagan and similar presenters, of course. The basic problem is that age and education conspire to extinguish genuine curiosity except in the hardy few.

    [Okay, so that wasn’t a positive end. I just saw the two first episodes of Eureka!, and realized that the era of science portrayal (really, the larger era of “nerds”) is drawing to an end. And its nowhere near the charming atmosphere and mystery of Twin Peaks, at least not yet. So parodies of science (and nerds) are now “the new formula” to evoke a dying interest.

    Proof positive that (some) change and new ideas sucks. :-P]

  25. #25 Rieux
    September 29, 2007

    And what are the right things?

    Our overwhelming sex appeal. It’s a real obstacle to deconversion efforts when your god-soaked subject is constantly going weak in the knees.

  26. #26 Michael Ralston
    September 29, 2007

    Framing is nothing more and nothing less than a way of presenting arguments which are tuned to the audience in order to try to win a debate.

    This need not be deceptive. (for instance, if you’re trying to convince a computer scientist of the plausibility of evolution, you can make all sorts of arguments via the fitness landscape analogy and such – and you simply don’t address many of the facts which won’t help you convince him.)

    However, it also only wins debates – and they can be public policy debates, or court actions, but that doesn’t change public perceptions.

    The way to do that is to shift the Overton window – push for whatever things are acceptable to the general public but are as close to your “real” position as possible. An example in public policy is the semi-recent issue of “partial birth abortions” (which, by the way, was a frame!) which has made restriction abortions more acceptable than it was previously – because after all, that restriction has passed without much resistance.

    As for the claim that because most countries in the world accept Evolution, there’s no need to frame it for America? That’s ridiculous on the face. The reason most countries in the world accept evolution is because the way in which it was presented to them was acceptable, while the way it wss presented to America was not! Now, since the way it was presented to America and to, say, Europe is fundamentally the same … the logical conclusion to draw is that America’s response to that frame is different than that of Europe. Which is hardly controversial, is it? America is different from Europe, after all.

  27. #27 Ophelia Benson
    September 29, 2007

    It is true that people are cognitive misers – there’s an easy test you can do that shows that. One of the lecturers at the Center for Inquiry ‘Beyond Belief’ seminar last July gave that test to the class, and it worked just as predicted. But N & M may have been using it too broadly. It doesn’t mean we aren’t curious, it means we take shortcuts.

  28. #28 Ophelia Benson
    September 29, 2007

    “Mooney and Nisbet said a bunch of stuff that amounted to the argument that people will drink a beer with people with whom they would like to drink a beer, which I don’t disagree with at all — I just find it unproductive and missing the whole point of the argument. It’s not the job of science and scientists to make people comfortable; often our job must be to tell people about change and new ideas and that what they believe is actually wrong.”

    Yes yes yes yes yes.

    And that job shouldn’t be denigrated for the sake of different goals, especially when the chain of reasoning is so weak. (Atheist scientists irritate believers therefore believers will decide global warming is fun and wholesome? I’m not sure that’s right.)

  29. #29 Janus
    September 29, 2007

    As for the claim that because most countries in the world accept Evolution, there’s no need to frame it for America? That’s ridiculous on the face. The reason most countries in the world accept evolution is because the way in which it was presented to them was acceptable, while the way it wss presented to America was not!

    You’re assuming that it can only be a question of framing.

    The reason Canada and most of Europe tend to accept evolution while the USA don’t is that Canadians and Europeans are less religious than Americans. That is, not only are the religious believers of Canada and Europe less devoutly religious than those of the USA, but there are also more atheists over there.

    No difference in framing could have made a difference in the USA, because fundamentalists will reject evolution no matter what. The only kind of “framing” that be be used is to try and convince creationists that there is no conflict between their religion and science, which is:

    a) Deceptive.
    b) Precisely the approach that has been tried in the last few decades. Do you think it’s been successful so far?

  30. #30 John Morales
    September 29, 2007

    It shifts the debate into competing rhetoric, where we have no particular advantage, and away from arguing from evidence
    If Blake (#3) hadn’t, I’d have noted this seems like an important point. I have anyway, for emphasis.

    Mike (#2) seems to make a lot of sense too
    I really think that scientists should steer away from a “Trust Us” frame to a “Test Us” frame

    I think PZ has the advantage in this argument; he has less problem with framing than MN has with not framing.

  31. #31 Bee
    September 29, 2007

    Katie (#16):

    Hi Katie, I live in rural NS, and I’m curious (if you don’t mind saying)as to which science you were doing field work in and what was making the locals nervous.
    Sometimes people fear scientists because they don’t understand the science, but sometimes it’s because they do – for example, if a bunch of geologists are poking around in your back forty, chances are good they are looking for something to mine, which may have unpleasant consequences for you and your neighbours. A bunch of paleontologists poking about would be viewed with considerably less nervousness.

  32. #32 Caledonian
    September 29, 2007

    People aren’t naturally cognitive misers.

    Ehhhhh! Wrong.

    Most people find thought to be so unpleasant that they’ll expend ridiculous amounts of resources to avoid having to do it.

    It’s what’s responsible for so-called “cognitive dissonance”.

  33. #33 katie
    September 29, 2007

    Hi Bee…

    I’ve spent the last two summers doing diversity surveys on deerflies and horseflies. The first summer it was a project with Bowater-Mersey around Keji Park, which makes people nervous because they’re (understandably) worried about mucking around with the forestry operations and rare species being found on their land.

    The second I was on the South Shore, working for a prof who was just interested in natural history. Mostly people were quite willing to let me survey on their lands (there’s a really neat bog that has some nifty species on it in Lockeport, for instance).

    So, my work was very low-key and low-impact. Just me, running around with a net and sometimes a Manitoba trap. And I met a lot of interesting people–Nova Scotians are wonderful hosts!

  34. #34 Chet
    September 29, 2007

    It’s what’s responsible for so-called “cognitive dissonance”.

    Clearly you have no idea how much thinking is involved with maintaining a state of cognitive dissonance. It takes 24-7 mental effort. People don’t do it to avoid thought; they do it to avoid action.

  35. #35 Stagyar zil Doggo
    September 29, 2007

    We heard several times that people are “cognitive misers” who won’t learn, which, again, is simply an admission of defeat. It also ignores the peculiar problem of evolutionary biology, which is accepted by those “cognitive misers” of Canada and Europe, and in which America is a weird outlier in its rejection by approximately half the population.

    This article (link courtsey of Ichthyic) suggests that many of those Canadians and Europeans who accept Evolution don’t actually understand it. They just accept it on the authority of scientists, as opposed to many Americans who reject it on religious authority. Both situations seems to be instances of ‘cognitively conservative’ behavior.

  36. #36 Bee
    September 29, 2007

    Katie, sounds interesting – but I bet anybody would have told you the deerflies and horseflies are too damn diverse!

  37. #37 Pierce R. Butler
    September 29, 2007

    PZ Myers: … and who you’d like to have a beer with …

    Did Mooney & Nisbet actually use that literal phrasing?

    If so, double shame on them: riding a trope owned (whether or not coined) by the GW Bush campaign since Y2K (and one singularly malapropos in that context – ever been around when a problem drunk falls off the wagon?) evokes a bad taste in the mouth for an increasing majority of Americans, as well as revealing a dire paucity of imagination.

  38. #38 Tom Foss
    September 29, 2007

    One point we did not make, but probably should have, is that framing is going to be opposed by counter-framing, and the other side is very good at that. It shifts the debate into competing rhetoric, where we have no particular advantage, and away from arguing from evidence, which as we all know, has a well-established liberal/progressive bias.

    I think this is the best summation of the problems involved with focusing primarily on “framing” that I’ve read so far. We can have a rhetoric war with the religious nuts, but that only ends up giving them ammunition to say that it’s a battle between two different dogmas, and there’s no real right answer. We have to stick to the evidence: it’s the biggest thing we have that they don’t.

    And the win/win part is that if we continue to fight for good education and to promote critical thinking, science, and logic there, we’ll be creating an atmosphere in which more budding intellects will learn to trust evidence over superstition and tradition. Hopefully.

    Incidentally, it seems to me that the framing argument against atheist activism misses a major part of the point: atheist activism isn’t just a crusade against religion, it’s a rallying point for atheists. Most of us don’t realize how many of us there are, and are afraid to speak up about it. It seriously bothers me that the framers can’t seem to acknowledge this as a benefit of the outspoken godless. Perhaps it doesn’t further the causes of science, but promoting science isn’t the only goal of atheist activism.

  39. #39 dave
    September 30, 2007

    The whole issue of evolution is one of framing: Malthus and Paley were part of an “empirical tradition” in theology that started with belief in Christianity, expected God’s laws to be empirically detectable in nature and thus saw appearances of complexity as evidence of God and Christianity. Darwin left Cambridge uni fully convinced by this argument, but was persuaded by evidence to reject the doctrine that species were unchangeable.

    At the same time liberal theology was subjecting the Bible to historical critique, and by the 1850s such theologians, particularly Baden Powell, concluded that evolution did occur and that science and religion had to be kept separate, or both would suffer. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species of 1859 provided authoritative scientific support for this position, and by the end of the nineteenth century most Christians had adopted this position. However, fundamentalism which originated around 1914 took up anti-evolution after reports that German military ideas were founded on evolution.

    Creationism since around 1929 has sought to turn the frame back to the 1820s idea that nature provides evidence supporting the Bible. This is explicitly stated by ID proponents, who want truth to be defined as Jesus in accordance with St. John’s gospel – the one that includes what Darwin called the “damnable doctrine” that if you don’t believe you get burnt.

  40. #40 Caledonian
    September 30, 2007

    Clearly you have no idea how much thinking is involved with maintaining a state of cognitive dissonance. It takes 24-7 mental effort.

    See, here’s the problem: mental effort != thought.

    And you’ve also misunderstood the term: cognitive dissonance is what happens when you confront the inconsistencies on your beliefs. Avoidance and repression, while requiring effort, don’t “maintain” dissonance, they prevent it.

    Is there anything else you’d like to get wrong? I have a lot of stuff to do today, and I’d like to get my corrections of ignorance out of the way early.

  41. #41 Sven DiMilo
    September 30, 2007

    Jeez, Cal, you’re such a dick.
    I mean, I think you’re usually, maybe even almost always, correct, but jeez.

  42. #42 greg laden
    September 30, 2007

    Sven (inre Dinkytown) … you are right. One gets used to it, then you stop noticing how silly it is. If you live near and experience Dinkytown, and learn some of its history, the reality of Dinkytown becomes more palpable than the silliness of its name. Though, in reality, it is mostly silly.

  43. #43 Greg Peterson
    October 1, 2007

    The whole thing’s a mess. Nesbit surprised me by saying some things I found really insightful, Laden disappointed me by rambling and using a case study on moral intuition as an example of risk assessment, PZ was probably the most cogent and succinct, but his idealism seemed at times to be the enemy of pragmatism–I left feeling doomed, frankly. I am extremely unimpressed by E.O. Wilson’s book, which gets cited often as some sort of framing paradigm…by people who don’t understand religion or the thoughts and commitments of religious people. So think of it this way–when Christians cook the research to make it look like abortions cause cancer, how does that make you feel? You know they’re lying on two levels, right? In the first place, they don’t give a fuck if women get cancer (look at the opposition to HPV immunization); what they care about is women not having sex. Same thing with the abstinence only education. Bunch of lies, but the BIGGEST lie, the really transparent lie, is that it has anything to do with health science. Only the stupidest person on earth would not be able to see that the “health concerns” are a stalking horse for their brand of hysterical, repressive sexual mores. Well, they can see right through us in the same way. We can pretend that we’re building some kind of “moral” or “values” case associated with their religious commitment, but they’ll know that’s just a stalking horse of a different color–metaphysics for science, in this case.

    Which leaves us screwed, I think. What shall we murder? Our ideals–facts, integrity, humanism? Or humanity itself…as we commit the crime of depraved indifference as our species heads into the abyss?

    There were a few laughs and flashes of insight at the Bell, but mostly it made me want to stop off at Jonestown for a cool one.

  44. #44 Ichthyic
    October 1, 2007

    what they care about is women not having sex.

    what they really care about is control.

    they must have control of all aspects of their lives, including the women in their lives.

    controlling sexual access is a great way of garnering overall control.

    Think about it; who are the people presenting a public face that are pushing all these supposed “family values”? 99% of it is men, and most of those faced similar historical peer pressures like those commonly found in the South. If you’re from Louisiana, you know what I mean (I’m not, myself, but have had many female acquaintances relate the horror of growing up in certain parts of the South).

    they just use the religion as a charade to mask their real fubar control issues, likely stemming from the very cognitive dissonance mentioned several times in the thread – having a controlled life is one way to help minimize the impacts of the energy spent trying to balance craziness with reality.

    science (or knowledge of any significance, really), is to be avoided at all costs because smart people are obviously much more difficult to control. So, the peer pressure makes those interested in science in many rural areas the butt of jokes and physical abuse. To fix science ignorance in this country, we have to reverse that, and framing alone is quite insufficient. You have to change the entire social structure of the areas these people grow up in; remove the idiotic peer pressure the kids are under all the time, and slowly (over several generations), you will begin to see things change.

    There simply is no quick fix to this.

  45. #45 Caledonian
    October 1, 2007

    Jeez, Cal, you’re such a dick.
    I mean, I think you’re usually, maybe even almost always, correct, but jeez.

    I love you.

    Seriously, now, it’s easy to agree with someone you like without thinking about it, and easy to disagree with someone you don’t like.

    But being able to acknowledge that someone you like is wrong, or that someone you hate is correct – that is the true test of whether a person is rational.

  46. #46 greg laden
    October 1, 2007

    Greg P:

    My point was that the example was a case of risk assessment. The moral intuition study is flawed because humans have very good risk assessment abilities.

    I knew at the time I was not being clear. Now I have proof!

    Sorry to disappoint….

    GTL

  47. #47 Greg Peterson
    October 1, 2007

    Other Greg (Laden):

    Naw, not at all. You added some really important info, and hey dude–I LIKE you! I like your blog, what you stand for, your willingness to go up there and educamacate us folks–all of it. I sure couldn’t have done as well as anyone on the stage did. I just like pith, you know? And I still disagree that the study (which is, as you note, flawed…but interesting) has more than a glancing relationship with risk. I would maintain that the whole ridiculous thought experiment included your having a Taser to knock the fat guy out before you through him off the bridge and onto the tracks, and there was a scary-looking spider on the switch to divert the train to hit the one walker and save the several on the train–most people’s moral intuition would still have them throw the switch before heaving a person off a bridge. That’s the real point of the “experiment.” It could be that some of what we think of as moral intuitions actually evolved as risk assessment heuristics. But I don’t think it’s a clear case that Hauser’s experiments really focus on risk assessment.

    Minor point, anyway. The last thing I meant to say is that you or anyone else was ineffective (and proof? my opinion doesn’t even rise to the level of “evidence”). If anything, everyone was TOO effective. That’s what left me feeling sort of depressed by the whole experience. The need is so crying, and the possible solutions seem so paltry in the face of that need, that it’s hard not to despair. But I have nothing but admiration for everyone who is trying. And if there’s one thing I learned from watching Joss Whedon’s “Angel,” it’s that you do keep doing the right thing, even if the result is unassured. ESPECIALLY if the result is unassured. Slow the grind of ignorance and superstition by just. That. Much.

    So…you rock.

  48. #48 greg laden
    October 1, 2007

    See how much stroking just a little whining can get you!?!?

  49. #49 Caledonian
    October 1, 2007

    See how much stroking just a little whining can get you!?!?

    How much is necessary NOT to have one’s ego stroked?

  50. #50 Mana
    October 1, 2007

    I sure hope “we won” because this debate shouldn’t happen in the first place. Saying that we need to establish “ethos” in presenting scientific facts is like saying we need to be nicer about explaining that one plus one makes two. I don’t see many people trying to argue with the believers by presenting doctoral papers. Unfortunately the debate is not over complicated matters that need doctoral papers to support the arguments. The believers are not debating the ground state energy of a particle, they’re debating accessible enough scientific facts that could endanger their authority, their hold on their flock. So I agree, no matter what the framing there will be counter framing.

    And when we do try to play “nice” about presenting science we end up with an inane headline like the Discover article from June, titled, “Microscopy Approaches Fundamental Limits; If God can’t pin down tiny atoms, what hope do mere mortals have?” Three months later and I still wonder why the editor didn’t just say “particles may never sit perfectly still for the camera.” It’s just not as sexy as throwing god in there is it?

  51. #51 Caledonian
    October 1, 2007

    Discover’s been going steadily downhill ever since they were bought out by Penthouse.

    I mean, look at the formatting: tiny text, with wide margins and lots of space in-between lines. The content has really degraded as well.

  52. #52 Justin Moretti
    October 4, 2007

    #43: There was a quick fix, but the window of opportunity ended in 1865. Even then, probably no decent human being would have sullied his hands with it, even if you’d shown him what was going to happen one day.

    A similar moral irony arises vis a vis the British and the Boers – in my experience, the people who sympathize with the underdog Boers surviving against Teh Exterminating Might Of Teh Evil British Empire(TM) are also the ones who are most revolted by apartheid…

    PZ: I admitted that we aren’t going to see odious religion dry up and blow away, but we can do the next best alternative: we can build a well-organized secular and anti-religious constituency to oppose the religious monstrosity lurking in our midst.

    What about the theistic evolutionists and scientists – the live-and-let-live brigade – who are thoroughly horrified at what the Religious Right is saying and doing in the name of their (the moderates’) God? They could help the brainwashed sheep prepare for the absence of their evil shepherds. Only then will they be ready for the liberation you propose.

    The brainwashed flocks of the evil aren’t yet ready for “There is no God; there is only Science,” but they might be ready for “Behold Science; you do not have to reject God in order to embrace it.” Believe me. I’ve hung around with members of the brainwashed flocks (adolescents and young adults), and with the Evil Shepherds, and I’ve seen how they think.

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