Mooney/Nisbet lecture on framing science to the public
Posted: 22 August 2007 11:19 AM   [ Ignore ]
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It’s a podcast that can be downloaded from the New York Academy of Sciences website HERE ... it’s the August 17th podcast. It’s about an hour long.

Mooney and Nisbet discuss how to frame scientific debates like evolution, stem cell research and global warming to the public. This is a version of teaching scientists how to be more rhetorically effective in debates where the audience is largely made up of non-science-enthusiasts.

They suggest scientists avoid getting into the nitty gritty of evidence and data, as those tend to devolve into shouting matches with people who bring “alternative data”. Since the public isn’t enthusiastic or knowledgeable about the actual science, they don’t have the wherewithal to know or care how to distinguish good data from junk, and the whole thing sounds to them like an intra-scientific dispute. (E.g., among creationists and evolutionists, or among those who agree or disagree about global warming).

Instead they suggest scientists learn how to “frame” the debate around certain rhetorically powerful concepts, like economic development, better disease treatment, etc. They also suggest engaging with religious people, in the vein of E.O. Wilson’s recent book about the environment.

It’s obviously a tack that’s diametrically opposed to Dawkins’s; but I also think their audiences are different. Dawkins is really talking to the science enthusiasts. Mooney and Nisbet don’t want to. They want to talk across the aisle, and make political change. To do so requires making some compromises.

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Posted: 22 August 2007 12:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Dougsmith,  Thank you for the excellent link. As I’m sure you are aware, Chris Mooney was also on the latest podcast of Point of Inquiry discussing some of the same ideas.

Robert Todd Carroll, also has introduced his readers to the importance of “framing” issues on his the Skeptic’s Dictionary web site. 

http://skepdic.com/news/newsletter63.html

Here, I’ll post just two paragraphs from Carroll’s article, but do recommend a complete reading.

Robert Todd Carroll Wrote;

The framing issue has been popularized by George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant. For those of us who were in college in the 1960s when liberal was a word packed with positive emotive content and conservative was something to be avoided, Lakoff’s explanation of how the conservatives pulled one of the major flip-flops in word history is like a solar flare in a world full of dark matter. I don’t need to retell the story here. Lakoff’s book is very short and repetitious, and not difficult to understand. But one point he makes is relevant to the attack on science that has been going on ever since Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859: The creationists have controlled the public debate by controlling the way the issues are framed.

For example, despite the fact that 99.9999% of the scientific community considers evolution of species from other species to be a fact, the creationists have been very successful in getting the public to accept the notion that evolution is not a fact but just a theory. Two recent articles address this issue: David Morrison’s “Only a Theory? Framing the Evolution/Creation Issue” and Lawrence Krauss’s “Mind your language.” Krauss, a professor of physics, argues in the December 3, 2005, issue of New Scientist that misusing the word theory plays into the hands of creationists. Morrison, an astrobiologist, argues in the November/December 2005 issue of Skeptical Inquirer that to debate “the theory of evolution” is a trap that benefits creationists.

The finer points of how to frame scientific, and by extension, science and religion debates aside, I believe this advocated approach is worth great consideration.

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Posted: 22 August 2007 12:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, I did listen to the PoI podcast last weekend. This talk is a good addition to it, as it gets into more detail about their rhetorical program.

Framing goes back to earlier work in sociology and psychology, but frankly it’s basically another form of rhetoric. Lakoff has discussed it at some length, however I think he takes it a bit too far. He sometimes seems to believe that everything is framing and metaphor. This is the age-old problem of the guy with the hammer. Everything looks like a nail ...

That said, I do think Mooney and Nisbet have important things to say. While framing may not be everything, it clearly is something, and something scientists need to know more about to present their work to the public on politically sensitive issues.

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Posted: 22 August 2007 12:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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mucho gracias senor!

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