Category Archives: Framing Science

Journal of Science Communication

Issue 03, september 2010 of Journal of Science Communication is out – always full of articles interesting for further discussion by science bloggers:

Road maps for the 21st-century research in Science Communication:

This is an introduction to the essays from the Jcom commentary devoted to the statute and the future of research in science communication. The authors have a long experience in international research in this domain. In the past few years, they have all been committed to the production of collective works which are now the most important references for science communication research programmes in the next few years.
What topics should science communication research focus on and why? What is its general purpose? What is its real degree of autonomy from other similar fields of study? In other words, is science communication its ‘own’ field? These are some of the questions addressed by the in-depth discussion in this Jcom issue, with the awareness that science communication is a young, brittle research field, looking for a shared map, but also one of the most stimulating places of the contemporary academic panorama.

Notes from some spaces in-between:

Science communication is less a community of researchers, but more a space where communities of research coexist to study and deal with communities of researchers. It is, as a field, a consequence of the spaces left between areas of expertise in (late) modern society. It exists to deal with the fragmentations of expertise in today’s society. In between those fragments is where it lives. It’s not an easy position, but an awareness of this unease is part of how science communication scholars can be most effective; as we examine, reflect, debate and help others manage the inescapable cultural gaps of post/late modern knowledge communities.

Science communication, an emerging discipline:

Several publications have sought to define the field of science communication and review current issues and recent research. But the status of science communication is uncertain in disciplinary terms. This commentary considers two dimensions of the status of discipline as they apply to science communication – the clarity with which the field is defined and the level of development of theories to guide formal studies. It argues that further theoretical development is needed to support science communication’s full emergence as a discipline.

From analogue to digital scholarship: implications for science communication researchers:

Digital media have transformed the social practices of science communication. They have extended the number of channels that scientists, media professionals, other stakeholders and citizens use to communicate scientific information. Social media provide opportunities to communicate in more immediate and informal ways, while digital technologies have the potential to make the various processes of research more visible in the public sphere. Some digital media also offer, on occasion, opportunities for interaction and engagement. Similarly, ideas about public engagement are shifting and extending social practices, partially influencing governance strategies, and science communication policies and practices. In this paper I explore this developing context via a personal journey from an analogue to a digital scholar. In so doing, I discuss some of the demands that a globalised digital landscape introduces for science communication researchers and document some of the skills and competencies required to be a digital scholar of science communication.

Coming of age in the academy? The status of our emerging field:

Science communication is certainly growing as an academic field, as well as a professional specialization. This calls to mind predictions made decades ago about the ways in which the explosion of scientific knowledge was envisioned as the likely source of new difficulties in the relationship between science and society. It is largely this challenge that has inspired the creation of the field of science communication. Has science communication become its own academic subdiscipline in the process? What exactly does this entail?

Open science, a complex movement:

Science must be open and accessible, and diffusion of knowledge should not be limited by patents and copyrights. After the Open Science Summit held in Berkeley, some notes about sharing scientific data and updating the social contract for science. Against the determinist view on technological and legal solutions, we need an explicit reflection on the relation between science and society. Both academic and industrial science seem unable to fulfill open science needs: new societal configurations are emerging and we should keep asking questions about appropriation, power, privatisation and freedom.

Greek students’ images of scientific researchers:

Public images of scientific researchers –as reflected in the popular visual culture as well as in the conceptions of the public- combine traditional stereotypic characteristics and ambivalent attitudes towards science and its people. This paper explores central aspects of the public image of the researcher in Greek students’ drawings. The students participated in a drawing competition held in the context of the ‘Researcher’s Night 2007’ realized by three research institutions at different regions of Greece. The students’ drawings reveal that young people hold stereotypic and fairly traditional and outdated views of scientists and scientific activity. Research institutions are faced with the challenge of establishing a sincere and fertile dialogue with society to refute obsolete and deceiving notions and to promote the role of researchers in society.

The rhetoric of computer simulations in astrophysics: a case study:

This article is a case study and rhetorical analysis of a specific scientific paper on a computer simulation in astrophysics, an advanced and often highly theoretical science. Findings reveal that rhetorical decisions play as important a role in creating a convincing simulation as does sound evidence. Rhetorical analysis was used to interpret the data gathered in this case study. Rhetorical analysis calls for close reading of primary materials to identify classical rhetorical figures and devices of argumentation and explain how these devices factor in the production of scientific knowledge. This article describes how abduction, dilemma, compensatio, aetiologia, and other tactics of argumentation are necessary in creating the simulation of a supernova. Ultimately, the article argues that rhetorical mechanisms may be responsible for making some simulations better and more sound than others.

Pandemic on the air: a case study on the coverage of new influenza A/H1N1 by Brazilian prime time TV news:

In this paper we analyze the coverage of the pandemic influenza caused by the A (H1N1) virus by the main Brazilian TV news. Jornal Nacional (JN) – which can be roughly translated with National News – reaches an average of 25 million people throughout the country daily. We have observed that the attention cycle given to the new flu by JN lasted approximately five months with significant space given to the disease. Most of the news highlighted the number of illness cases and the health measures to control the infection. Only a small amount of news dealt with issues related to research and scientific development, and included scientists as interviewees or as information sources. We believe that the coverage made by JN may have contributed to the dissemination of what some authors refer to as a “pandemic of panic”.

If scientists want to educate the public…but is that the right question to begin with?

Yesterday, Chris Mooney published an article in Washington Post, If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening. It has already received many comments on the site, as well as on Chris’ blog posts here and here and here. It will be followed by a longer paper tomorrow, at which time this link will work and you will be able to read it.
The blogosphere has not remained silent, either, with responses by, among others, Orac, Pal MD, Evil Monkey, Isis and P.Z.Myers. Most of them, as I do, agree with the article about 3/4 through, and are, as I am, disappointed in the ending.
I actually don’t have much to add to this discussion as this one is just another chapter in the discussion of Chris’ book “Unscientific America”. As usual, most commenters focus on one or two aspects of his (and others’, e.g., Randy Olson’s) argument, though the argument has many layers and components.
I don’t have much to add because it is hard to add much to what I have already written at length and in great detail, trying to address and combine all the components in a 30-page (when printed out) post. So, if you are a little confused about what Chris says and about the responses by others to Chris, you may find my old post informative. Here it is: What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?
Update:: More reactions by Chad Orzel, Evil Monkey, Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm and Chris Mooney.

Best posts on Media, (Science) Journalism and Blogging at A Blog Around The Clock

Reposted, as I needed to add several of the most recent posts to the list – see under the fold:

Continue reading

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: should all people be scientifically literate, and if so, why? (video)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on 2012 – World Science Festival:

Video shot at World Science Festival 2010 by Christopher Hite.

Best posts on Media, (Science) Journalism and Blogging at A Blog Around The Clock

As this blog is getting close to having 10,000 posts, and my Archives/Categories are getting unweildy (and pretty useless), I need to get some of the collections of useful posts together, mainly to make it easier for myself to find them. I did that by collecting my best Biology posts a couple of weeks ago. Today, I am collecting my best posts from the categories of Media, Science Reporting, Framing Science and Blogging. There are thousands of posts in these categories combined, most with excellent links or videos, but here are some of the posts that have substantial proportion of my own thinking in them.
It is also interesting to note – if you pay attention to the dates when the posts were published, going back to 2004 – how my thinking and attitude changed over the years, as well as how the world of media, blogs and science communication changed at the same time, forcing me to evolve with it:
Defining the Journalism vs. Blogging Debate, with a Science Reporting angle
What is Journalism?
What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?
What is ‘Investigative Science Journalism’?
New science journalism ecosystem: new inter-species interactions, new niches
The Ethics of The Quote
‘Journalists vs. Blogs’ is bad framing
New Journalistic Workflow
Why good science journalists are rare?
Why is ‘scientists are bad communicators’ trope wrong
Push vs. Pull strategies in science communication
What is journalism and do PIOs do it? And what’s with advertising?
Why it is important for media articles to link to scientific papers
Using Twitter to learn economy of words – try to summarize your research paper in 140 characters or less!
North Carolina science journalism/blogging projects getting noticed
AAAS 2010 meeting – the Press Room….why?
Twittering is a difficult art form – if you are doing it right
Hints on how (science) journalism may be working these days….
Journalism wrap-up from ScienceOnline2010
Making it real: People and Books and Web and Science at ScienceOnline2010
Talkin’ Trash
Scientists are Excellent Communicators (‘Sizzle’ follow-up)
ScienceOnline’09 – Saturday 4:30pm and beyond: the Question of Power
The Shock Value of Science Blogs
Caryn Shechtman: A Blogger Success Story (an interview with Yours Truly)
Behold the Birth of the Giga-Borg
‘Bloggers’ vs ‘Audience’ is over? or, Will the word ‘blogger’ disappear?
I don’t care about business models of journalism/publishing.
The Perils of Predictions: Future of Physical Media
Graham Lawton Was Wrong
Science by press release – you are doing it wrong
Incendiary weekend post on bloggers vs. journalists
Who has power?
D.C. press corps dissed again – but this time for good reasons
Bloggers vs. Journalists Redux, part N
Are we Press? Part Deux
Science vs. Britney Spears
Bloggers vs. Journalists morphs into Twitterers vs. Journalists
Elites? That’s somehow bad?
Will there be new communication channels in the Obama administration?
Smoke Signals, Blogs, and the Future of Politics
I inform people against their will!
To Educate vs. To Inform
Fair Use and Open Science
Talking To The Public
More than just Resistance to Science
One-Stop Shopping for the Framing Science Debate
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed
How to read a scientific paper
Blog Carnivals – what is in it for you?
Science Blogging – what it can be
Michael Skube: just another guy with a blog and an Exhibit A for why bloggers are mad at Corporate Media
Blog is software
What is a Science Blog?
False Journalistic Balance
The Inter-Ghost Connection
ConvergeSouth: creepies, domestic tranquility and amplification of serendipity
Proper Procedure For Shutting Down A Blog

Why is ‘scientists are bad communicators’ trope wrong

For a very long time, I have argued that many scientists are excellent communicators.
I have seen a number of scientists talk over the years and the experience has been mostly very positive. Even if I limit myself only to what I saw over the last couple of months, every single scientist lecture was riveting.
So, where does the “scientists are bad communicators” trope come from?
I think it comes from the people looking at the results – a country whose government (and population) does anti-scientific stuff. They look at various factors that may lead to that state and decide that the audience, while uninformed, is interested in science; that science education is too difficult to fix; that movies portray scientists in a bad light (which may be wrong); that the media does not cover science enough, etc. How do they deduce from this that if only scientists could talk better we can make progress, I don’t know.
I have written at length (I know it’s long, but it’s worth reading) a critique of this conclusion. There are not enough scientists to, even if they were all brilliant speakers and spoke every day, make any difference. The problem is with the “push” versus “pull” models of communication. Many scientists communicate well, but are only allowed by the mainstream media to use the “pull” model which attracts only those who are already interested in science. The examples of “pull” media for science are popular science magazines, news sections of scientific journals, science sections of newspapers, science blogs, science-related radio shows, science-related shows on cable TV, i.e., all those places where people have a choice to seek this information or bypass it.
It is the mainstream media that controls all the “push” venues – the most popular print, radio and TV venues that are seen by everyone and where science could, potentially, be mixed in with the news coverage of other areas of life, thus delivering science stories to people who otherwise would never seek them. And it is there that the scientists have no access, certainly no access on their own terms, and thus it is there where the science communication is blocked. Scientists communicate all the time, and do it well, but only to the already receptive audience which actively seeks them – in special sections, or self-made media, carefully quarantined away from the mainstream news. The corporate media actively prevents the scientists from access to the non-receptive yet potentially interested audience. Thus, it is no surprise that some of the purveyors of the “scientists are bad communicators” trope are themselves journalists, parts of the corporate media culture and thus oblivious to the ways their own professions hinders the communication of science (and thus building trust in scientists) to the masses.
I am not the only one to think so.
But there is another reason why some people accept and push the “scientists are bad communicators” trope. Their understanding of communication – what it is and how it works – is out-dated. It is pre-Web, and they do not grok how the Web changed everything. All the academic literature on communication published earlier than late 1990s is now useless: not just outdated, but wrong.
@DrPetra said it succintly on Twitter the other day:

the ‘scientists are bad communicators’ still implies some one-off talk/top down approach. Public engagement = a dialogue

And this is the key. The “scientists are bad communicators” trope requires thinking in a one-to-many mode of communication. It is stuck in the mid-20th century way of thinking about science communication: the scientists give lectures, science cafes, write popular articles, perhaps a Sagan-wannabe shows up on TV. All of that is one-to-many. And all of that deals with communication in terms of “I am the expert, I talk, you listen”. But, a couple of decades into the Web era, audience does not accept this mode of communication any more. This kind of communication does not increase but actually decreases the trust in the person who is doing the talking – “who is this haughty guy and who does he think he is to talk down to us and not listen to us or even let us respond?”
If you were at ScienceOnline2010 or watched it from afar, especially the media/journalism ‘track’ of conversations, you would have noticed that pretty much everyone there came to the same conclusion – the one-to-many model of communication is out-dated. It is a part of one’s toolkit, but on its own it can potentially do more harm than good if one’s goal is the popular trust in science and scientists.
The way to gain popular trust in science is not so much to communicate one’s expertise to passive lay audience, as it is to engage. The other day I tweeted that I am at my best as a science communicator when I am answering someone’s question on Aardvark. Why? Because it is social. It is a two-way street. Even more so than blogs or Twitter, because of technical inefficiencies in these platforms in ‘seeing one’s audience’.
So, while the ability to give a riveting talk is still a great talent to have (or at least something that can be practiced and made perfect), it is not just not enough – it ignores what is really important in gaining the respect and trust of the lay audience: and that is to find the un-interested lay audience and make them interested. The “push”, not the “pull” (see clip).
How do you find and get attention of un-interested audience? You go where they are and engage, not lecture them. If you cannot get access to the mainstream media’s hot spots, you go around them, to where the people are: online. On Facebook, FriendFeed, Twitter, LiveJournal, blogs, Google Buzz, aardvark, etc. Engage, don’t preach. The same goes in the classrooms – don’t give guest-lectures: engage the students in discussion, experiments, even Citizen Science.
The best public speakers, those who get invited to do one-to-many lectures, often diverge from the traditional model and insist on being interrupted with questions during the talk, and leave plenty of time for many questions afterward. This is also why an unconference is much more useful (and pleasant) and more effective than a traditional conference. Now that the people formerly known as audience can talk back, they expect to be given the opportunity to talk back and putting any barriers to this pisses them off – thus you fail as a communicator.
So, not understanding the modern principles of communication in the Web era and relying on outdated academic literature on communication pre-Web is not just outdated, but wrong. Teaching others about this kind of communication as if it was the latest thinking in the field is not just “oh well, outdated but won’t hurt” – it actually hurts our cause! It teaches scientists, who are already good communicators, how to become worse at it. Instead of teaching them how to break out of the kabuki of science communication it teaches them how to get even more entrenched in it and to even more fiercely defend the kabuki and the academic formal hierarchy that the kabuki represents. This sets us all back.

Megalodon and other sharks at Darwin Day

Last night, braving horrible traffic on the way there, and snow on the way back, I made my way to the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences for the Darwin Day shark lecture co-organized by NESCent and the sneak preview of the Megalodon exhibit which officially opens today.
megalodon 001.jpg
I have to say that the trip was very much worth making – the exhibit is excellent! I like the way the exhibit is making good use of the space – so many exhibits feel cluttered and an all-out assault on all of one’s senses. Upon entering the room, it looks quite sparse. Yet, once I started going around I saw how much it actually covers, how well organized the exhibit layout is, how much information (including a lot of new-to-me information) is included and presented so very clearly and tastefully, and how much it has something for everyone independent of age, background or interest. And of course – the fossils! Absolutely amazing and stunning fossils! From the magnificent Megalodon jaws, to some of the strangest teeth arrangements one has ever seen in any jaw of any animal.
megalodon 002.jpg
Then, exhausted and a little faintly from the lack of food yesterday (yes, it was a busy day), I entered the lecture hall afraid I’d fall asleep or pass out in the middle of the talk. I need not have worried – Adam Summers is an amazing speaker. I was able not just to pay attention throughout, I was excited throughout the talk. For a jaded biologist and blogger, when many public lectures tend to present stuff already well known to me, it was refreshing to keep learning new stuff every couple of minutes or so. And not just new factoids, but new questions and new ways of thinking about them – why are sharks larger than bony fish, why sharks have no bone, how do sharks swim, how do sharks and bony fish manage to swim very fast, etc. Questions I never asked myself before.
There were things in there that are outside my realm of expertise, for which I am essentially a layman: engineering principles, a formula I am unfamiliar with, a couple of graphs….yet all of that was made very clear on an intuitive level. How? Because Adam is really good at using analogies (“think of this as…”) and metaphors (snuck into the description without any warning). Be it water-filters, armor, stacks of coins, or houses made of sponges, it all becomes vivid and immediately makes sense.
It is also obvious that a lot of research went into this, yet very few actual data were shown – only the key data that are essential to make the point. This is a public lecture – there is no need to drown the audience in gazillions of graphs and discussions of statistics. The slides, including the images and brief video clips were both beautiful and essential for grasping the point he is making. And then there was quite a lot of humor, mainly of the self-deprecating kind making fun of himself and his students in the context of scientist stereotypes – how they look, talk, think and behave.
All in all – well done. Who ever said that scientists don’t know how to communicate to lay audience, eh?

What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?

If a publisher offered me a contract to write a book under a title that would be something like “Unscientific America”, how would I go about it?
I would definitely be SUCH a scientist! But, being such a scientist does not mean indulging in Sesquipedalian Obscurantism. Being such a scientist means being dilligent, thorough and systematic in one’s reasearch. And then being excited about presenting the findings, while being honest about the degree of confidence one can have in each piece of information.
I was not offered a book contract, and I do not have the resources and nine or twelve months to write such a book. But in the next couple of hours days I will write a blog post (this one, I am just starting) thinking through the methodology I would use for such a project, musing about difficulties, jotting down notes and – this being a blog – asking readers for links to information that can either reinforce or challenge my hypotheses. So please follow me under the fold…..

Continue reading

Jennifer Ouelette about science in the movies at TAM7 (video)

Hollywood and science

Robert Scoble interviews science blogger and author Jennifer Ouellette about the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a “recent initiative by the National Academy of Sciences, was set up to build a new kind of social network of scientists and movie directors.” Worth a watch:

But what if I really, truly don’t like green eggs and ham?

Even after Sam-I-Am persuades me to try them?
On the other hand, can we learn something from this book about selling science? Evolution? Are our anti-Creationist tactics, for instance, better or worse than Sam’s? Or is his strategy inappropriate for this topic?

The advantages of thin layer chromatography in Middle Ages

Viral video marketing of science instruments seems to be flurishing: Monty Python and the Holy Instrument:

Science, Art, Education, Communication

The September 2007 issue of JCOM – Journal of Science Communication – (issue 3, volume 7) is online.: Next issue will be online on the 18th December 2008. There are several articles in this issue that I find interesting and bloggable.

Continue reading

On NPR’s Science Friday today

There was a fantastic example of an anti-vaccination caller on this show earlier today – Parents Protest Increase In Required Vaccinations. Please listen to the podcast, especially to the last caller. Prodded over and over again, she displayed more and more loony conspiracy theories and in the end flatly stated that no kind or amount of evidence would change her mind. Do you think she was handled well? What take-home message would an uninformed listener take from the exchange? Pro or con?

The Genius of Charles Darwin

Not on US television (Channel 4 in the UK only):

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Re-framing ‘Save The Planet’?

Interesting idea:

“Save It” Global Warming message by 10 yr old from 1skycampaign on Vimeo.
[Via - read the post as well]

Scientists are Excellent Communicators (‘Sizzle’ follow-up)

Titles of blog posts have to be short, but I could expand it to something like this:
“Depending on the medium and the context, many scientists can be and often are excellent communicators”
That is what I understood to be the main take-home message of “Sizzle”. If you check out all the other blog reviews, even those that are the harshest do not state the opposite, i.e., that the movie pushes the stereotype of scientists as dull, stuffy communicators. Though, some of the commenters on those blog posts – people who could not have seen the movie themselves yet – imply that this was the case.
So, just a quick summary first, which I will try to use a springboard for some musings on science communication….
‘Sizzle’ is a movie in two parts, two very different halves that are purposefully made to make as much contrast to each other as possible.
The first half is full of exaggerated caricatures of stereotypes: stereotype of mindless Holywood (hard to make a caricature of that, though, as the first scene in which “serious” producers reject Randy’s idea is pretty realistic – after all, big-ego Holywood is openly stating “No more environmental movies”: who do they think they are to make such decisions? After all, ‘Sizzle’ is not a movie about global warming because it could not be funded – GW is there as a subtext, a tangent, and could have been replaced by another scientific topic easily), gay stereotypes (sweet and charming, rich and into fashion, but mercurial, shallow and materialistic, but passionate), Black stereotypes (Hummer, bling, being late), and all those are as exaggerated as possible in order to give people the hint that the other guys in the movie, the scientists, are also presented in exaggerated caricatures of stereotypes – as dry and boring and dull as possible.
The second half turns it all on its head – once out of Holywood, the medium steps out of the stereotype, gays step out of stereotype, Blacks step out of stereotype and, if you need a hint, scientists step out of stereotype and show how good they are at communicating: we get to see the clips that we were prevented from seeing in the first half.
Which makes one wonder – why are the stereotypes there in the first place, and why was the first half believable to some? The first half edited the scientists’ interviews in ways that fit well with the prevailing stereotype, cutting out the good parts according to expectations and biases – but whose expectations and biases? Who would cut the best parts of interview and for what reason? The movie explores the sterotypes of dull, data-hungry scientists, why are the stereotypes there, who is pushing them, and how they can be busted.
Which makes me wonder if we need to systematize our discussion of science communication in some way, distinguishing different types according to various factors – who is talking to whom, about what, with what goals, through what medium?
I can think of three possible goals of science communication:
- Education: you need to know this in order to be an educated, well-informed citizen and in order to make good choices in your personal life.
- Persuasion: you need to know this in order to correctly choose which politicians, organizations and initiatives to support with your money and your votes.
- Entertainment: you gotta see this! It is soooo coool!
- in person in an informal setting
- public lecture or Science Cafe
- classroom
- blog
- newspaper
- scientific journal
- popsci magazine
- radio
- TV
- movie
- theatrical production
- YouTube video
- etc.
Who talks to whom?
- scientists to scientists
- scientists to students
- scientists to media professionals
- scientists, via media, to the general population
- scientists directly to the general population
How many in the audience?
- one-to-one
- one-to-few
- one-to-many
Nature of the medium
- one-way communication
- two-way communication
You really need to read this excellent post by Janet who drew my attention to the importance of this factor.
So, there are many different combinations of all of the above factors. In some of those, scientists excel. In others, they tend to do badly for various reasons, e.g., miscommunication about the goals between players, lack of training, incompatibility between scientific ethical criteria and the demands of the medium, or just being set up to look bad.
Also, individual scientists vary in their ability to be effective communicators in a variety of different settings and combinations of the above factors.
There is no space here to go through all possible permutations, so let’s look at a few plausible scenarios….and especially the one point that ‘Sizzle’ makes – that scientists are much better in communicating directly to their intended audience than through the professional media. Let’s see why this may be the case….
As Janet noted in her post, it appears that scientists are much better at communicating when they get instant feedback from the audience, e.g., at cocktail parties, at Science Cafes, and on blogs. The question is: are they better in those venues because of instant feedback or because of directness of communication, i.e., the absence of the middlemen – the media?
Or let me phrase the question a little differently (and more provocatively): how does professional media screw up the communication between scientists and the audience by interposing itself in-between the two? Is it just due to blocking the feedback? Or is it something about the way they transduce the information from the source to the target (the game of Broken Telephones in which the journalists horribly mangle the message)?
Or is it something third: communication between scientists and journalists is broken due to differing goals, differing expectations, lack of knowledge about each other’s jobs, stereotypes and biases the two groups hold about each other, and thus wrong questions getting asked and wrong answers getting provided?
Take a look at this case of a misquoted scientist! Everyone has or knows of such horror stories. Commenter ‘helen’ writes there:

I’ve been interviewed quite a lot of times and almost never had the so-called quotes match what I said, and most of the time, they’re substantively different. I started learning to speak in sound bites in self-defense — if you can spit out a catchy sounding sound bite, it has a much higher chance of being reported accurately. But sound bite news tends to be stupid and trite. Sigh.

Hmmm, Houston, we have a problem!
When interviewed by the media professionals, scientists tend not to remember that they are indirectly communicating to the general populace. They are focused on communicating to that guy with a microphone. And the two of them are already, a priori, biased about each other!
Scenario #1
The newbie journalist goes to do his/her first interview with a scientist. Never met a scientist before. Has no scientific background so spends some days studying online in order to learn the background and also to impress. Comes in a little nervous. Colleagues say that scientists are tough to interview, dry and humorless, using over-complicated language, showering with data. How to ge that “money quote”?! Gotta get the scientist’s trust somehow in order to get the conversation to open up.
The scientist notices that the young journalist appears very sharp and smart, has some background, has a great command of language, and seems genuinely interested in the topic – so the scientist starts…teaching! Treats the journalist as a science student, a future colleague. Completely forgets that the journalist’s job is not to learn the science, but to make a fun story for the masses.
The journalist goes home and writes a fun story, misquotes the scientist in order to make the story-line follow the preconcieved story-line, picks up the paycheck and moves on to another assignment, just to be surprised by tons of angry e-mails from the scientists, science bloggers, etc., about the innacuracy of the article.
The scientist is livid – there is an utterly crappy misquote in a totally inacurate piece of fluff in the newspaper! How did that happen?
Why did the two never discuss what the goal of the interview was in the first place? Why did the scientist want to educate, and the journalist to entertain, and neither was aware that the goals do not match? Could they have agreed on a common goal? If not, should they have cancelled the interview rather than go on with the farce?
Scenario #2
The journalist, now with some negative experience, decided for the next interview to change tactics and to be more chatty and mellow and even “flaky” in order to prevent the scientist from misreading the intent and responding with a lecture.
The scientist, burned by previous experiences with the press, sees this shallow creature enter the office and works hard, hard, hard to stress how important accuracy is. The poor journalist is drowned in even more data, and even more strident calls fo absolute accuracy. The scientist insists on reading and approving the draft before it goes to print, as this is according to science norms (peer-review and stuff). The journalist refuses as that is against the media norms due to the importance of the freedom of the press (imagine the President having the veto power on every article about him).
The tension grows. There is an impasse that cannot be broken. The mutual stereotypes (humorless scientists and shallow journalists) persist.
Scenario #3
You are a scientist and you get invited to appear on a cable news show in a segment about, let’s say global warming. The segment is about 2 minutes long, out of which you will get, at best, 30 seconds, and that is if you are aggressive. There is another guy on the show who is a GW denialist, employed by some slime like Heritage Foundation or American Emterprise Institute or Cato Institute, personally trained by Frank Luntz to throw out talking points designed to pull at emotional strings of the audience.
What do you do?
Many scientists in this situation make a basic error in thinking they were invited to explain the science. No, they were invited with a pretense of explaining science. They are there to be fodder for the other guy.
Scientific training makes one want to preface one’s statements with a litany of caveats. By the time you are on your third caveat, your 30 seconds are up. You have no time to get into the science.
Your opponent talks aggressively over you and interrupts you (unlike your polite fellow scientists at a conference) and you are fazed and confused.
It is against the Philosophy of Science to make over-confident statements – that is why we always focus on our p-values and Confidence Intervals and standard errors. This does not work on TV. On TV, making any such statements comes off as you being unsure, insecure, having something to hide, perhaps even lying. That is the nature of the medium – only absolute confidence wins.
Your opponent trots out 30 lies in his 30 seconds. Each lie takes 30 minutes to debunk. You do not have that time. At this point you can actually say something like “Wolf, you are supposed to be informed enough to see when he trots out 30 lies per minute and call him out on it, as you know you will never give me hours needed to debunk them myself”. This makes certain Wolf will never invite you to his show again, but may be a good move at the time: the audience will emphatize with your face of exasperation as everyone’s been in those shoes before, they will rethink what they dislike about the media (and everyone hates the Corporate Media these days), and everyone likes to see the media talking-head doofoses smacked down every now and then. If nothing else, you’ll be the hero of the blogosphere for about 24 hours.
Remember – the goal of your opponent is to use his 30 seconds to discredit you. You are not on the show as a scientist but as an official Face Of Science, i.e., as a politician and a speaker. Your job is to use your 30 seconds to discredit the other guy and be better at it than he is about you. You do not need to talk about science at all for this goal. When preparing ahead, do not even go over the science, instead study the other guy – who is he, who pays him, what is his motivation, what other stupidities he has said in the past? That is the information you have to have at your fingertips, not scientific data. If he lies, you talk over him and say in plain language that he is lying. Then say it again. And again.
This is where the Framing Guys can help with their studies and polls and focus-groups, helping you find the catch-phrases that work. You are there to persuade, not educate (while the host wants you to be there for entertainment, as a victim of the other gladiator, thrown to the lions). You do not really need to be a scientist – you are there not because of expertise, but because you have the three letters PhD after your name.
Thus, most scientists should refuse such invitations and refer the studios to a list of a very small number of scientists who are specially talented and specifically trained for surviving and winning in this kind of media massacre.
In a sense, this is not a case of science communication at all, but a case of a scientist tricked into acting as a talking head – something best left to the professionals.
Scenario #4
You run a popular blog and one of the things that irks you to no end are anti-vaccinationists. You keep blogging about them, and how the science annuls all of their claims, and how their movement is dangerous for public health, etc., etc. The symbol of their movement is Jenny McCarthy who half the country is drooling over. I have met Orac and I just don’t think, objectively (sorry Orac), that he can get the other half of the country to drool over him. So, what can he do?
About 1-2% of visitors post comments. Those are usually people firmly on one side or the other. The anti-vaccer loons come in and spew nonsense in the comments, and the regular commenters counter with their arguments. What can Orac do to make sure that the other 99% of the visitors, including those who just arrived for the first time through Google searches (as his blog comes up high in searches), take the correct take-home lesson? How can we all help in this endeavor? After all, his blog nicely combines the three goals: education (facts), persuasion (glorious smackdowns of quacks) and entertainment (glorious smackdowns of quacks) and is very popular. Everyone agrees that Orac is an excellent communicator. Why is he not winning yet? Can the Framing Squad be of help to Orac? How can Orac’s blog and the way he deals with the problem be translated into Big Media in order to reach more people?
U.S. Media culture
OK, so we probably agree that scientists are good when talking directly to the audience (especially if getting instant feedback), but either screw up or get screwed up when trying to communicate through the professional media. In the two-step process, we have looked at a couple of scenarios in which the first step is messed up as the scientists and the representatives of the corporate media mis-communicate with each other. How about the second step, between media and the audience?
I think these two are in a spiral of mutually-enforcing expectations. The media look down at the people and assume that all they want is entertainment, and as low-brow as possible. The audience has learned that all the media is good for is entertainment, so when they switch on that TV, they want to be entertained. It got to the point that most people turn to information elsewhere as they do not expect the MSM to provide correct information – MSM is for entertainment only (and the same goes for movies, talk radio, etc.).
If you are a scientist and a non-scientist asks you something at a party, are you surprised how much interest there is for science? Yes, the amount of ignorance and disinformation out there is frustrating, but that person is genuinely interested and you know how to talk to him/her in a way that is appealing and understandable, and it is obvious that you can quickly and easily build trust and authority. You are looked up at as a scientist.
Now, what you say may not be accepted instantly. The person may keep countering you and disbelieving you, but you have planted a seed of doubt. It may take some time for the information you imparted to get comfortably meshed with that person’s worldview. But it may get there after a while, especially if that person hears the same message from other sources, repeatedly. It is an important aspect of framing that the ideas get repeated often by a variety of different kinds of authorities.
But if you say the same things on TV, people turn away and do not want to listen to you. Why? Because you are not Britney Spears or Jenny McCarthy. You are a wrong person at a wrong time at a wrong place with a wrong message using wrong language – get off my TV, I want to be entertained right now. I’ll ask you again at the neighborhood BBQ, or I’ll come to the Science Cafe next week, but please, man, leave me alone now, I am tired and I want to watch something funny now.
This is a very American phenomenon – that media is equated with entertainment and only entertainment. Yes, you can find some educational stuff on a few of the 500 cable channels, but nobody watches those. But unlike in other countries, the audience has been primed not expect or want anything else in mass media but shallow fun.
Watch BBC for a while to see the difference – educational shows, TV news, documentaries: they are serious, and they are popular.
Back in April, when I visited Belgrade after 15 years of absence, one of the things that struck me was the quality of TV programming. I know they complain there how silly it is, but compared to anything in the USA, the Belgrade TV channels are oozing with pure intellect. Quizzes are not multiple-choice – those competitors really know their stuff and the questions are not trivia either. Political debates (election was upcoming at the time) are long and full of detailed analysis of economic plans, etc., with spade being called a spade and liars being called liars in their faces while everyone is smiling and remaining polite.
My friend Ljuba is a small-animal veterinarian and he has a weekly show on TV in, pretty much, prime time. I have four of the episodes on DVD and have to figure out a way to place them online. The show has a little bit of fun – they start with a question and end with the funniest answer from the audience at the end. The hostess is pretty, so there is a little use of sex-appeal (this is TV, and this is Europe, after all). But for the most part the show is serious, even solemn. There is a dog or a cat in obvious pain on the screen. There is a bunch of vets doing diagnostics and discussing it using big words and explaining what it means. You see how the vets from several practices communicate with each other and how they solve differences in diagnoses. It is explained why a particular treatment is chosen, you see it performed in all the gory detail, and you end with the scene of the animal on the road to recovery. No watering-down of science at all. And it it a popular show there. Now, imagine trying to sell this idea to NBC – they will laugh in your face. The media in the States does not think of themselves as having any role and any responsibility in informing or educating – they are entirely interested in entertainment and the way if brings in profit. And the audience has learned to think of them that way, too.
How do we change this media culture?
Or should we just leave the MSM to rot and die, and put our efforts into new media, the kind in which there is no intermediate (who may believe that he-said-she-said journalism is the way to go) but the communication is many-to-many with instant feedback? Because in such an environment scientists are experts and seen as authorities and listened to and believed.

Cool bloggy miscellanea

Scientific Collectivism 1: (Or How I Stopped Worrying and Loved Dissent):

I want to bring up a discussion about what I perceive is a dangerous trend in neuroscience (this may be applicable to other areas of science as well), and that is what I will term “scientific collectivism.” I am going to split this into two separate posts because it is so long. This first post is the weaker arguments, and what I see are the less interesting aspects of scientific collectivism-however, they deserve a discussion.

What will you be? and the related Friday Poll: Tinker, Tailor, Biologist, Researcher. So, how do you call yourself when you are introduced to a stranger?
A little muddled (especially in not making sufficient distinction between peer-reviewed Journals and pop-science magazines), but an interesting look from the outisde in: The High Cost Of Science:

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you are interested in science and you want to learn more about it. Maybe you’re tired of creation vs evolution debates and you want to do the research yourself, or maybe you just want to become a more informed citizen. Whatever your reasons, you have a few options but none of them are all that appealing.

Online Alarm Clock which, once set, does not need to be online in order to ring on time. Does it work on an iPhone?
Fair Use Rights:

Intellectual property, copyright, creative commons, copyleft, open access… These are all terms high on the science and other agenda these days. For example, public-funded scientists the world over are calling for research results to be available free to them and their peers for the public good and for the good of scientific advancement itself. Librarians likewise are also interested in the fullest dissemination and sharing of knowledge and information, while user-creators and the new breed of citizen journalists that are the result of the Internet Age are also more liberal in their outlook regarding the proprietary nature of creative works.

Survival of the Abudant: Mutational Networks Constrain Evolution:

What has been found over the last few years is that these neutral mutations occur in networks. That means that there are little fleets of genotypes, all of the same “fitness”, that have overlapping series of neutral mutations. Most of these fleets are small, but a few are larger, and its the larger fleets of genotypes that the researchers in this study focused on. The large networks tend to be adjacent to a pretty large number of phenotypes. So you have all these little neutral mutations, next to RNA with a wide variety of phenotypes. Do these little neutral mutations influence evolution after all?

The Kudlow Year:

We’ve had a terrible year. Obvious problems remain, along with whatever else lurks beneath the waterline. Wall Street showed some optimism about the future yesterday, but we’ve still got a long way to go. A lot of this boils down to arithmetic. Pay more attention to the numbers and less to ideologues on teevee or the web who try to tell you different.

Scribd and Lulu partner:

Print-on-demand publisher Lulu (which offers an OA option for content providers) and document sharing site Scribd are partnering, according to ReadWriteWeb. Lulu will begin making some of their OA content available in Scribd’s iPaper format (a “sort of a YouTube for PDFs”), including utilizing iPaper’s ability to embed AdSense ads within the documents.

Rational Voters?

The underlying assumption, of course, is that issues matter, that voters are fundamentally rational agents who vote for candidates based on a coherent set of principles. In other words, they assume that my political preferences reflect some mixture of ideology and selfish calculation. I’ll vote for the guy who best matches my geopolitics and tax bracket.
The problem, as political scientist Larry Bartels notes, is that people aren’t rational: we’re rationalizers. Our brain prefers a certain candidate or party for a really complicated set of subterranean reasons and then, after the preference has been unconsciously established, we invent rational sounding reasons to justify our preferences. This is why the average voter is such a partisan hack and rarely bothers to revise their political preferences.

I Like My Facts Well Done and Humorless. The funny take on Sizzle.
PhysioProf rants and raves on Feministe for a couple of weeks or so. Check the tribal wars in the comments!
A pierced scientist? AKA, I need a mentor:

It occured to me yesterday that I have a lot of questions to ask and nobody to go to for answers. I really need a mentor of some kind. I mean, I have an academic advisor, but he’s an old white man who doesn’t make any attempt to engage me in conversation. He’s very standoffish and business-oriented whenever I meet with him, which I think has been once a year for the last three years. I doubt he knows my name. And I have Dr. Calhoun, my research advisor, who I’m starting to warm up to a little bit but I’m not really at the point where I can ask him the kinds of personal questions that are the most burning. I doubt I’ll ever be able to not be intimidated by him, especially since I found out he’s the chair of the graduate admissions committee.


Olivia Judson is absolutely right – let’s get rid of the terms “Darwinist” and “Darwinism”. She writes, among else:

I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed. (The science would be in a sorry state if one man 150 years ago had, in fact, discovered everything there was to say.) Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn’t think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today.

I am glad to see that John Wilkins, Jonah Lehrer and Brian Switek also agree with this, though each one cites a somewhat different reason for it. Many of those reasons have been put together into a table form (with deep explanations) by Wilkins before – a good reference for the future, something to bookmark.
Brian Switek says, and I agree that at least for us in the USA, this is the most pressing reason to abandon the terms:

I’ve never liked the term “Darwinism.” To me it has always been more of a watchword that might indicate that I was talking to a creationist, a term I generally do not encounter unless I’m reading or hearing an argument against a straw-man version of evolution. (I’m not a big fan of “evolutionist,” either.) It may have been useful in the past, when evolution by natural selection (as popularized by Darwin) was competing with other systems like Neo-Lamarckism and orthogenesis, but today it doesn’t have any relevance. (It should also be noted that A.R. Wallace wrote a book on natural selection called Darwinism. Despite his own work on the same subject he calls evolution by natural selection “Darwin’s theory.”) If anything it continues the myth that Darwin is the be-all and end-all of evolutionary science, and while he certainly deserves a lot of credit On the Origin of Species is not some kind of secular Bible where every word is dogma.

According to Blake Stacey (and I have heard this before), the terms is used much more widely in the UK, including, until recently, by Dawkins who should have known better about the power of words:

I’ve written before about the different ways people define the word Darwinism and its close relatives. The short version is that American biologists and other academics don’t seem too likely to use the word: they just like to say “evolutionary biology” and be done with it. In the U. S. and A., hearing the word “Darwinism” is a pretty sure sign you’re dealing with a creationist, or at least a person whose knowledge of science derives too much from creationist misinformation. Over in Britain, serious academics still use the word, as do people who appear fairly pro-science (maybe there’s some kind of national pride thing going on?). One can still see negative uses of the D-word over in the UK, of course, particularly from people who confuse “social Darwinism” with actual biology or radically misinterpret kin selection and the “selfish gene” idea, but sorting out all their problems would require a book of its own.

Perhaps, I thought, this is because Darwin was British, so there may be an element of national pride involved. But then, smalled nations with even bigger reasons to push national pride, would have gone further than this, yet I have never heard a Serb proclaim to be a “Teslaist” or “Milankovichist”.
I have ranted about this before (e.g., here, here and here). For instance, here I wrote:

Bashing evolution is an example of phatic language. Words like “Darwinist” and “evolutionist” that are never used by actual evolutionary biologists serve as code-words for belonging to the Creationist Village, just like saying “Democrat party” instead of “Democratic party” immediatelly signals one’s political party affiliation (GOP). These two words, ending with “-ist” also serve to provide equivalency between creationist belief and evolutionary methodology, infering that evolutionary theory is a religious belief instead of a method for understanding the material world. If the two are seen as two opposed religions, they can have a war on equal footing in which “my religion is better than yours” contest can take place and Christians, due to sheer numbers and the tight community spirit are confident in victory. This kind of rhetoric also allows the creationists to show up on TV as equals to evolutionary biologists, as the naive media misreads phatic language as logical language and, following the American fairness sentiment, indulges in destructive “He said/She said” pseudo-journalism.

And here I wrote:

I am not an “evolutionist”. I am not a “Darwinist”. I am a biologist. Thus, by definition, I am an evolutionary biologist. Although my research is in physiology and behavior, I would never be able to make any sense of my data (or even know what questions to ask in the first place) without evolutionary thinking.
As I am also interested in history and philosophy of biology, I consider myself a Darwinian. But not a “Darwinist” or “evolutionist” – those two words are Creationists’ constructs. They arise from the basic misunderstanding of evolution. Being religious believers they cannot fathom that people can operate outside of the realm of belief, thus they assume that evolution is a belief, akin to and in competition with their belief.
I do not believe in evolution. It is not something you believe in or not: it is something you understand or not. I judge the evidence. If I think it is fishy I will delay my judgement until more data comes in. If the evidence looks good, I will tentatively and temporarily accept it as correct until more data come in. Evolutionary biology is sitting on such large mountains of strong evidence collected over the past 150 years that it appears impossible that over the next 150 years we will be able to collect an equivalent amount of data challenging it in order to question the validity of evolutionary theory. It is one of the strongest supported theory in all of science. For all practical purposes, evolution (as in “common descent”) is a fact, an d natural selection is the strongest of several mechanisms by which evolution operates. There is nothing controversial about this.
Those two terms (“evolutionist” and “Darwinist”) have lately also been used on purpose, as code-words for their own audience. They understand that using these terms implies (and turns on a frame of mind in the listeners) that evolution is a religious belief. It is similar to the way I think of myself as a member of the Democratic Party, but Republicans prefer to use the Luntzism “Democrat Party”. It’s all about framing the debate.

Note a little difference between me and Olivia here. I want to preserve one of the three words – Darwinian, but only in the sense of “Darwinian Scholarship”, i.e., the historical and philosophical study of the history of evolutionary thought, rightfully centered around Darwin, and including the world he lived in – the Victorian England. Darwin is a gold mine for scholars. He was a little, let’s say, anal-retentive, so he preserved all of his correspondence, his papers, books, notebooks and diaries. Hundreds of biographies of Darwin have been published, in addition to book about Darwin, about the history of evolutionary thought, biographies of other players (e.g., Huxley, Wallace, Lamarck). I doubt that there is any other aspect of history that is known and studied more than British aristocracy of teh 19th century, so the context for Darwin’s life and work is well understood. The Darwinian Industry has enough material to keep thriving for decades to come.
However, another important reason is the one that Jonah Lehrer empasizes:

My problem with “Darwinism,” then, is the exact opposite of Judson’s. She dislikes “Darwinism” because she thinks the noun is applied too broadly, so that Darwin gets implicit credit for things like population genetics. But I think that “Darwinism” misleads because it causes people to underestimate Darwin’s real achievement, which is far grander than merely getting people to believe that species change. If “Darwinism” should be a synonym for anything it should be the ideology of unrepentant materialism, which is the underlying philosophy of modern science.

I completely agree. Actually, in a very old post I wrote something similar:

What we, who consider ourselves rational are, is not Aristotelian, but Darwinian. What????!!!!! Forget Darwin’s contribution to biology, or the misuse of his name by eugenicists and social-Darwinists of all kinds. The greatest contribution of Darwin is the way we in the Western world THINK! We require data! Give me information! Empirical proof! Statistics! At least give me polls! Before Darwin, people thought their great ideas in the seclusion of their homes and published books. It was my word against your word. Many philosophers became famous this way. Descartes and others started, earlier on, asking for empirical proofs but nobody provided them. Darwin did – he showed how philosophy is done! There were evolutionary theories before him, written by Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Chambers and others that were laughed out of court. Everyone took “The Origin” seriously because it provided a consilient set of proofs: not just internal logic of the argument (many earlier philosophies had that) but a link to the reality of the world. That was the Day One of the Age of Rationality. If asked who my favourite philosopher was, I would have said Darwin and lost the Presidency that very moment! But it is true. The Western world lives in a Darwinian worldview – the worldview of empiricism.


Yes, I am one of many SciBlings and other bloggers who got offered to pre-screen Randy Olson’s new movie “Sizzle” (check the Front Page of for links to all the others). I was reluctant at first, but in the end I gave in and agreed to preview a copy. Why was I reluctant? As a scientist, I need to start my piece with a bunch of neatly organized caveats, so here are the reasons why I thought I would not be a good person to review the movie:
- I am just not a good movie critic. Of the thousands of movies I have seen in my life, I disliked perhaps three. I am terribly uncritical of movies in general. When I go to the theater, I go with a blank mind, no expectations and, just like any Average Joe, I sit back with a bag of popcorn and ask the Director “Entertain me”. And I am usually quite entertained. I do not have the willpower to watch a movie critically – I just go for the ride. I want to enjoy myself, so I do.
- Ïn the past couple of years (and this may have to do with my internet “addiction”) I have found it increasingly more difficult to focus. It is hard to read a book – I need to deliberately remove myself from the vicinity of the computer for this task, so I mostly manage to read books on airplanes and at the pool. The same with scientific papers – I find it hard to focus and read the thing from beginning to end unless I print it out and take it somewhere away from the lure of the Web. It has come to the point that I have the same problem with movies. Sometimes kids drag me to the theater, but if my wife gets something Netflixed, I usually watch a few seconds and leave the room. A person who has the requisite training and the official license to diagnose people, unofficially suggested I would need Ritalin to go through a book, and he knows me pretty well.
- I am not a climate scientist, but I am a scientist and think like one. I am not the intended audience for this movie. Am I able to watch it through the eyes of an Average Joe?
- I am firmly in the camp of Global Warming believers. But it is not because I would know how to make a climate model. Or because I studied the issue deeply. It is because people I trust say so. Good science bloggers (and a couple of good journalists) explained the models in ways I can understand. They explained the issues in ways I can understand. But most importantly, I believe it because of people who say GW is not a problem – their backgrounds, their corporate and political ties and their sources of income make me deeply mistrustful of them. In a way, my view of GW is political: I see who the people on the two sides are, see how nicely the two sides divide between the people who genuinely care and have no reason to lie, and the people whose financial and political interests led them to lie on many other issues before, and the conclusion is clear.
- I have zero background or even context to watch this in. Nothing to compare. I never saw The Incovenient Truth. I never saw Al Gore’s slideshow presentation. I never saw Randy’s other movie The Flock Of Dodos. I never saw Borat (though I saw a couple of older Michael Moore’s documentaries). I never read a book that is specifically about Climate. The only related thing I saw was that action movie in which GW arrives in hours and traps some kids in a library in the frozen NYC (which I, of course, enjoyed, as I always do, despite of obvious scientific flaws). So, my mind is less prepared for this than either scientists or the Average Joes.
- I am weary of the Framing Wars in the blogosphere and I am afraid that a bunch of blog reviews of the movie will start off another round. This time, I am not sure if I want to participate…
- I am such a stupid Luddite! Knowing that my DVD player can’t do anything with a CD-ROM, I unthinkingly assumed that the reverse is also true, i.e., that my computer would not know what to do with a DVD. So, this stupidity resolved, Sizzle was the very first movie that I ever watched on my computer. I usually watch movies with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine, in a comfortable chair or bed, like most people will watch it. But this time I watches it crouched over my laptop, with my earphones on, the way only geeks will see it. I do not know if that is good or bad.
So, I got the DVD and watched the whole thing in one sitting. Normally, I would have quit after the first few minutes, but I persisted because a) I promised to do it, b) I heard that the second half is better than first, and c) because I could not believe that Randy would really be that bad, so I wanted to see more, to see how I was played by Randy in the beginning. It appeared too bad to be genuinely bad – there must have been a catch!
So I put myself into my typical inert film-watching state of mind: my idiotically zen-like, blank-slate, “entertain me”, uncritical, unscientific, impressionistic mode. And through the first half of the movie I was frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated, frustrated!
The first half is so over-the-top awkward. There are totally shallow gay and Black stereotypes. Randy looks and acts like a doofoos and a jerk. The critique of the Star-Obsessed movie-making culture was painful, especially since I had my own experiences with it: younger and more “have-something-to-prove” the movie-makers, more shallow, self-centered, ignorant and arrogant they are. But they needed horses (and people who can ride them, in costumes) and they paid well, so we did try to survive their torture.
For the scientists, the first half (heck, the whole movie) is frustrating because there is very little data and very little explanation of the science of climate change. For the politically minded, like me, the first half is frustrating because it looks like a typically “balanced” He-said-she-said piece, where both sides are given equal time and equal merit. Heck, if anything, the Bad Guys were given more time – there are interviews in there with six sweet-talking GW deniers whose political and financial ties are not put up front for all to see, versus only two climate scientists and one environmentalist spokesperson, none of whom was as eloquent as the deniers. Randy’s occasional angry assertions that denialists are lying are weak and off-putting and make you like the denialists better, especially since the “Average Joe” – Marion, the cameraman – is cool and hip and easy to identify with and yet he swallows all the denialist crap bait, hook and sinker.
I hope people do not get up and leave during the first half.
Because it is subtle. And the second half shows how. The whole movie has to be seen to the end.
The first half is frustrating to us because it shows us our own view in the mirror. Many of us in the sciences, or in the “reality based community”, will find it uneasy and uncomfortable to see that view, but many of us are just like Randy: too serious, too controlling, blind and deaf to the “regular” people’s ways of looking at the world, and overconfident that “truth will set you free”. Yes, it is a caricature, but not too far from the reality of how many of us try to communicate to people who do not think like us.
When we try to explain something and the person we talk to does not believe us, despite of all our years of study, we get frustrated and try to persuade them the same way we try to persuade our scientific peers: by throwing more data at them. But they are not our scientific peers – the data do not hold such a large sway on them. You need to persuade them to believe you, not to understand the graphs. And that is where the professional PR hacks do better – they do the PR tricks: they smile, and bribe, and compliment, and talk like “regular folks” and appeal to emotion. And it works. We know it works. I believe in GW because people who study it persuaded me to believe them, not because I understand their science, or even have any interest in the details of their data. They earned my trust in other ways, and the opponents earned my distrust in other ways. Even for me, a scientist, data had no effect on my current belief – it is the way two sides present the data, or manipulate the data, and explain “what it really means” that one side earned my trust.
And that is exactly what is shown in the second half of the movie. Randy’s mom, and his crew (mostly the sound man, until then pretty silent, even refusing to talk) pretty much sit Randy down and give him a lesson. Now we see some other, previously unseen snippets from the interviews: how well the climate scientists explain stuff when asked by laymen in regular language. And how sleazy the denialists are in their sweet-talking, but can be derailed by a straightforward, direct question.
We are shown a simple graphic of how the six denialists disagree with each other. Oooh!
Then we see two superb examples of scientists who are great communicators, chatting and bantering, at ease with answering questions from skeptical lay audience, putting it all very plainly yet very effectively. While watching the polar bears play. Just before going to New Orleans to see the devastation still there two years after Katrina, and what people who live there have to say.
Every sympathy for the denialist side you could have gathered in the first half disappears after this. No need to show any data, to present any facts, to get angry in the face when screaming that the denialists are lying. You clearly see who is honest and who is not. Who is compassionate and who is a sleazebag. You easily choose who to trust and who not. Without any additional information, you grasp that GW is real, is man-made and should be fixed by us, humans, and soon.
Then you realize that the frustrating over-the-topness of the first half is subtle and there on purpose, to give us contrast, to show us how we keep trying to do it wrong, and then how to do it right.
I noticed how many times I laughed during the second, “serious” half of the movie. I was overjoyed. And I never even chuckled during the first, “comedic” half. The joke was on me. Us.
That is powerful.

‘The Hairy Beast’ or ‘Super Virgin’?

Ha! Made you look! Which is exactly the point! Go and add your own ideas in the comments there….

Science in the 21st Century

Bee and Michael and Chad and Eva and Timo and Cameron will be there. And so will I. And many other interesting people. Where? At the Science in the 21st Century conference at the Perimeter Institute (Waterloo, Ontario) on Sep. 8th-12th 2008. And it will be fun. This is the blurb of the meeting:

Times are changing. In the earlier days, we used to go to the library, today we search and archive our papers online. We have collaborations per email, hold telephone seminars, organize virtual networks, write blogs, and make our seminars available on the internet. Without any doubt, these technological developments influence the way science is done, and they also redefine our relation to the society we live in. Information exchange and management, the scientific community, and the society as a whole can be thought of as a triangle of relationships, the mutual interactions in which are becoming increasingly important.

So, register now while there is still space!

Obligatory Readings of the Day

Orac: The American Academy of Pediatrics versus antivaccinationist hypocrisy
Drake Bennett: Black man vs. white woman
Sheril R. Kirshenbaum: The Presidential Science Debate That Happened TODAY In Boston! and The Boston Debate
Mike Dunford: The Role of Science in Politics: A Plea for Activism
John S. Wilkins: The ‘design’ mistake and, Brian Switek: No thanks, Ken; that argument is poorly designed
Ed reports on how we are messing up with future historians: I Always Wondered Where Those Things Went. How many historical artefacts and writings we believe to be true, but are not?
Paul Jones: Gorillas on my mind

Obligatory Reading of the Day

Abel PharmBoy: Herding cats and framing science
What he says.

How to Think About Science

CBC has started a series of interviews (later available as podcasts) with scientists and others about the nature of science, the public undrestanding of science and related issues. Let me know what you think and feel free to blog about individual interviews if you particularly like or dislike what someone there said.

How It All Ends

Knowledge-Able Citizen

The other day, Kate organized a talk by Sheila Jasanoff about science communication and subsequently summarized the talk on her blog. You need to read the whole thing, but the main point is that there is a difference between a one-to-many communication of usual science communication (the ‘public service model’), including science education, policy speaches, etc., more often than not presented by non-scientists, e.g., journalists, politicians, etc. and the many-to-many interactive engaging of scientists with the public in a two-way communication (the ‘public sphere model’):

Thus, perhaps the issue is not how we package science, but how we engage the public to think critically about the science. While packaging can be done carefully and with reference to specific audiences, Jasanoff maintained that packaging fails to energize the ideals of the public, which would represent the most forward-thinking approach, and thus may represent apathy or acquiescence. Only after conveying the deeper importance of science will the public lend its energy and support to the scientific enterprise, as, in Jasanoff’s words, “all human-created work is worth reflecting on.”

In a follow-up post Kate elaborates on the idea from her own perspective:

But scientific literacy stems from much more than this initial info-bite. I have rarely had someone who, after I’ve spouted some sort of scientific semi-nonsense, hasn’t asked me insightful questions and pushed to understand more about it. Whether a scientist or non-scientist, most people have an innate curiousity that drives us to understand our surroundings, who we are, how we work – all the major fundamental questions driving science itself. When kids are little, this curiosity is wonderfully unaffected, but as we age, we either grow more jaded, more insecure, more over-scheduled, more whatever that causes us to restrict that curiosity, securing it away with an airtight cap. So, to me, Jasanoff’s argument on behalf of the Knowledge-Able Citizen rings true – society is composed of people very much capable of knowledge, of curiousity, and of understanding. And, if many of those are willing to engage with science, given the opportunity and the time, it seems that the most effective way to communicate science is by nurturing that curiosity, encouraging critical scientific thinking, and engaging the public more deeply in thought-provoking, challenging issues. The seeds of it are already there.

Now you can see “Flock of the Dodos” in the peace of your home

Randy Olson’s movie had a very short and limited release. Reed rallied the troops so NCSU library got a copy and there was a public viewing that I could not attend.
But now, everyone can watch it, as Jennifer reports. It is available, for instance, on I’ll put it on my wishlist for now, so it is there, ready for me to buy it when I get some money next time.

Image and Meaning

If I was not already scheduled to appear on a panel in Wisconsin at the same time, I would have loved to go to this:

The fourth Image and Meaning workshop, IM2.4, part of the Envisioning Science Program at Harvard’s IIC will be held Oct. 25 and 26, 2007, Thursday and Friday, at the Hilles library on the Harvard campus. Application deadline is September 17, 2007
Scientists, graphic designers, writers, animators and others are invited to join us and LEARN FROM EACH OTHER while exploring solutions to problems in the visual expression of concepts and data in science and engineering. This will be a workshop in the truest sense: small, interdisciplinary groups discussing and working collaboratively to tackle challenges created by the participants themselves.
Experience gained from three highly successful workshops around the country over the past year will inform the structure of the October program to be hosted by Harvard. Previous participants have told us in their evaluations that they have found useful connections between fields as well as new ways of looking at and solving problems in their own work. We are confident it will be so again in IM2.4, the last of the IM2.x cycle of workshops presented with major funding from the National Science Foundation.
Because of the immersive nature of the workshop, it will be imperative for each participant to attend the entire program, from the opening session at 3 PM Thursday, October 25, through the evening and a full day Friday, October 26. Four meals will be provided. The cost is $150 per person for non-Harvard participants.
Information can be found at: Click on ‘How to Participate’ in the left navigation bar. For further information, please contact Ruth Goodman, Program Manager:
We encourage you to spread the word to your students and colleagues.

Science Communication Consortium

Kate Seip of The Anterior Commissure and two of her colleagues have announced the formation of Science Communication Consortium:

There’s been a good deal of recent discussion, both face-to-face amongst colleagues and friends and within the blogosphere itself, on how scientists can effectively communicate their work to mass media and journalists, science writers and educators, and politicians and policymakers. To address these issues, we have partnered with New York Academy of Sciences to develop an inter-institutional Science Communication Consortium in the greater NYC region.
This newly-minted Consortium will consist of lecture series and discussion forums on the theory and application of effective science communication to a variety of audiences and across multiple purposes. With this series, we hope to provide scientists with tools and resources for effective communication with a variety of audiences, and to promote scientific literacy and the public understanding of science in the non-scientific public.

As they write on their new blog:

We three graduate students in the sciences have teamed up with the esteemed New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to form the first inter-institutional lecture series on science communication in the greater NYC area.
Now more than ever, scientists need to effectively communicate their work to mass media and journalists, science writers and educators, and politicians and policymakers. This lecture series is timely and extremely vital to promoting scientific literacy and the public understanding of science.
We intend to make this lecture series accessible to both scientists and non-scientists alike. Lectures will include how to effectively facilitate appropriate scientific dialogue with non-scientific audiences; exploring the roles of mass media, journalists, and science writers in science communication; and understanding how scientific communication can inform scientific policymaking and controversial decision-making processes.
Lectures will be held on a rotating basis at participating institutions, including Columbia University, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical, The Rockefeller University, New York University, Rutgers/UMDNJ, and Stevens Institute of Technology.
We intend for this blog to act as a forum for stimulating discussion on topics related to science communication, a space to announce upcoming lectures, and a suggestion board to post issues that you’d like to see incorporated or addressed in the series itself.

So, if you are in the NYC area and can help in some way – blog about it, coax people to give lectures, help with hosting, etc. – contact Kate et al. and make it happen.

Final Scifoo Wrap-up

As I predicted, bloggers have waited a day or two before they wrote much of substance abour Scifoo. First, you don’t want to miss out on any cool conversations by blogging instead. Second, the experience is so intense, one needs to cool down, process and digest everything. Before I write my own thoughts, here are some links to places where you can see what others are doing:
The campers are joining the Science Foo Camp Facebook group (honor system – only campers are supposed to join, but it is open) and exchanging links, pictures and information.
There is an official aggregator where you can see the recent posts by bloggers who attended scifoo.
More and more people are loading their pictures on Flickr.
You can see blog posts and pictures on Technorati (watch out for the dates – the 06 and 07 pics are mixed up together).
There is a Nature aggregator as well (appears to be the cleanest of them all), or you may choose to use Connotea instead.
Or you can use Google Blogsearch to find the recent posts about the meeting. They are all worth reading (I’ll highlight a few posts below).
Patrick is collecting a list of books mentioned at Scifoo.
Finally, people are posting ideas about potential future projects on Scifoo Prototypes, set up by Nikita of JoVE.
My previous posts about it are here:
Taking over the Silicon Valley
Science Foo Camp – Friday
Science Foo Camp – Saturday morning
Science Foo Camp – Saturday afternoon
Science Foo Camp – Sunday
A question for Scifoo campers
That out of the way, follow me under the fold if you want to hear my angle on the story….

Continue reading

Framing San Francisco

Just came back home from a very pleasant dinner with Matt Nisbet. What luck that our trips to San Francisco coincided so well! Oh, and of course, Profesor Steve Steve was there as well…

A cool nerdy video about Global Warming

Mindy discovered a cool series of videos on YouTube, done by a physics teacher.
The first one is called The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See:

Then, to respond to questions and comments, he added Patching Holes #1, Patching Holes #2 and Patching Holes #3, also well worth watching. This is certainly no Al Gore!

More on Framing Science

These three links have recently become freely available:
Chris Mooney’s interview with Treehugger.
Chris Mooney’s article in Harper’s Magazine/
And a report from the NYAS meeting.

Science Cartoon Contest

The Union of Concerned Scientists has picked the 12 finalists in their cartoon contest and it is now your turn to vote for the best one.
While I personally prefer the TomTomorrowesque #9, I think that the simpler cartoons, e.g., #2 and #10, may ‘frame’ the issue the best (i.e., making it simple and not limiting itself to just one or two topics, e.g., global warming). You take your own pick…

Talking To The Public

So, Anton Zuiker and I went yesterday to the Talking To The Public panel discussion at Duke, organized by Sigma Xi, The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and The Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy.
There is nothing yet on their websites about it (the 20th century school of thought!), but the entire panel discussion was taped and I’ll let you know once the video is available online (in a week or so?). Once everything is online, it will also be easier for me to write in great detail (links help!) about the event.
It was nice to see David Jarmul and Rosalind Reid again as well as to finally meet Karl Leif Bates (about whose recent activity I will blog a little later).
The panelists were Richard Harris, Joann Rodgers, Cristine Russell and Huntington F. Willard.
Of course, recent blogospheric discussions about science journalism and about framing science were fresh in my mind as I was listening to the panel and the audience.
Harris did the best thing: he played us a short audio of an interview with a Nobel Prize winner conducted one day after the prize was announced. The question was to explain briefly what the research was about. To a journalist. After a few minutes the entire audience at Duke laughed – we were all scientists and not a single one of us understood any of the scientific jargon. I still have no idea if the guy got his Nobel for physics, chemistry or physiology (certainly not for literature!). This really drove home the point that so many of us are so engroessed with our day-to-day research and discussing it with people who are “in the know” that many of us are incapable of recognizing that 99.999999% of the Earth’s population have no idea what you’re talking about!
Harris said that he recently spent some time with a couple of scientists, doing a story that will air in a couple of weeks. He got the absolutely best explanation of the research (on climate science) one day when the 5-year old son asked his Dad something about it and Dad explained it. Bingo! When you talk about your science – think “Five Year Old”! And you’ll get it right. As Harris said – nobody’s ever complained you made it too simple in an interview.
Much of the advice to scientists and to journalists has already been covered by many participants in the blogospheric debate about science journalism. The only one that was new to me was the advice to scientists to ask the journalists questions as well – make it a two-way interview. And in the end, when you explain your work to the journalist, ask the journalist to explain it back to you. That way you’ll know if the message got through or not. If not, keep repeating and rewording it until you get the person to be able to explain it back to you in a satisfactory manner. Then, the published article will likely be OK as well.
The entire debate just reinforced my earlier observation that scientists want to educate, while journalists want to inform. The former pitch to an audience with an assumed scientific background, the latter know that the audience does not know what DNA is and thus pitch much lower. The former insist on accuracy, the latter on relevance. The former eschew the narrative and the anecdotes, the latter know that those are necessary ingredients of a news story without which nobody will read it. But, as I said before, if the two parties are aware of this discrepancy, the two can work together to produce an article that is satisfactory to both.

Voters’ Brains and Framing Politics

First, a video of Jonathan Haidt – Morality: 2012 (Hat-tip to Kevin):

The social and cultural psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks with Henry Finder about the five foundations of morality, and why liberals often fail to get their message across. From “2012: Stories from the Near Future,” the 2007 New Yorker Conference.

Second, a post by Drew Westen – Winning Hearts and Minds: Why Rational Appeals Are Irrational If Your Goal is Winning Elections:

The difference between the Clinton ad and the Kerry ad — like the difference between the Clinton campaign and virtually every other Democratic presidential campaign of the last three decades — reflects the difference between understanding and misunderstanding mind, brain, and emotion in American politics. If you think the failure to tell a coherent story, or to illustrate your words with the evocative images, is just the “window dressing” of a campaign, you’re missing something very important about the political brain: Political persuasion is about networks and narratives.

Finally, the latest articles from the Rockridge Institute:
Debating Energy as if Communities Mattered
What the Media Is Missing about the Summer of Love
To Catch a Wolf: How to Stop Conservative Frames in Their Tracks

So, which cover do you like better?

This one?
Or this one?
Framing Science is not just verbal. Visual aspects are also important.

The Headline of the Week

“Fine in practice, but how does it work in theory?”

This headline (in a French paper, of course), prompted Sally Green to pen a fine, fine post – an Obligatory Reading of the Day – about class, education, the psychology of class, the difference between academia and the real world, the difference between theory and practice, and the difference between the people who fight for the equality of opportunity and the people who oppose it (and their rhetoric).

More than just Resistance to Science

In the May 18th issue of Science there is a revew paper by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. An expanded version of it also appeared recently in Edge and many science bloggers are discussing it these days.
Enrique has the best one-sentence summary of the article:

The main source of resistance to scientific ideas concerns what children know prior to their exposure to science.

The article divides that “what children know prior to their exposure to science” into two categories: the intuitive grasp of the world (i.e., conclusions they come up with on their own) and the learned understanding of the world (i.e., conclusions they absorb from the adults around them):

Continue reading

One-Stop Shopping for the Framing Science Debate

You may be aware that there is a huge discussion about framing science going on in the blogosphere. It has gotten out of hand. But, for those who want to dig in, or want to analyze the posts and comments (that is a lot of data!), here is the comprehensive list of links (excluded are links to Creationists’ sites). Most of the posts also have long and interesting comment threads as well, worth reading through:

Continue reading

Everybody Must Get Framed

I guess nobody reads me, and everyone reads PZ, but I am astonished how many people, after my eight lengthy posts on the topic, dozens of posts by others who ‘get it’ and literally hundreds of comments by people who ‘get it’, still equate framing with spin.
For instance, in his latest post criticizing Michael Ruse – and I agree with every word of the criticism which Ruse totally deserves – Larry sinks low in the last paragraph, conflates what Ruse does with Mooney/Nisbet stuff (I guess equating all your enemies-du-jour is a ‘cool’ rhetorical technique these days) and ends the otherwise excellent post with this piece of nonsense:

We all know about frames. It’s just a fancy word for spin.

This, as well as many similar comments I saw on various posts, suggests that some people think that framing is something one adds to the message. This, in turn, implies that there is such a thing as a frame-free message. How on Earth?
If you are, for instance, a climate scientist, and you send people an Excel file full of numbers, that is communication and – it is framed. You chose to frame it as an excel file of numbers with no commentary. While most people will think you’re nuts, there will be a few other climate scientists who will appreciate the communication framed in this way, will feed the data into their own software and make their own conclusions.
If you decide to give that file a name “AnthropogenicGlobalWarmingData.xml”, you have just framed your communication differently. Is it (negative) spin? Yes, if your data show no anthropogenic effects. Even if you started out trying to measure anthropogenic effects and thus the experiment is about it, titling your data-set in this way is (negative) spin because it suggests opposite of what the data say. If the data, on the other hand, show that there is man-made contirbution to global warming, such a title adds an additional framing to the existing frame of the raw data, but is not (negative) spin because it is true. You can call it “positive spin” if you wish.
You can re-frame your communication in various ways, depending on three factors: a) your goal, b) your audience and c) your medium of communication. And you never need to diverge a micrometer away from the truth.
So, for instance, you may do some statistics on the data and instead of sending out hundreds of thousands of numbers in a spreadsheet, you can send out only a few dozen numbers of statistics – various mean temperatures and rates of change over time, etc. The information is still correct (if you did the stats right), yet it is framed differently. Misuse the stats so your numbers show what data do not, and that is spin.
Then, you may choose to show your data in a graphic form. Choosing a line-graph, or a bar-graph, or a pie-chart, plus careful picking of ranges of values displayed on the x and y axes, are all instances of different ways of framing the data. The data are still correct, the information is still true, but the different graphs will have different psychological effects on different people depending on their grasp of statistics, the importance of visual intelligence in their overal intelligence, and their ideological stance towards global warming. A careful pick of the design of the graph can positively or negatively affect the way the reader is emotionally affected by looking at the graph, thus accepting or rejecting your message out of hand, without actually doing any deeper analysis of the data, or even understanding how you got your numbers in the first place.
Next, you may expand your data to add some commentary of your own, i.e., adding an intro, materials&methods and discussion. You can present the data in this way to your peers in a paper or in a talk at a conference. The information you are giving is still correct, but it is framed differently. The medium is different. The audience are peers. The goal is to show them what you did, not to convince them (oh, they have already been convinced for years) that global warming is a reality and that it is man-made.
Or you can tach a semester-long college course on global warming within which you will show your own findings. There, the audience, the medium and the goal are different, so you will frame it differently – you will use different words to convey the same message, geared to the educational level of the students and the overal aims of the course. It is still all true, but this is a teaching goal, so the way information is framed will be different.
If you turn your paper into a popular science article, or a newspaper article, you will have to frame it yet differently. You have to write it at a 5th grade level without losing any of the truth. The audience is….well, just anyone who can read. Your goal is to convince, perhaps inform, but not to educate (that is not a proper medium for education, nor is there enough space provided to do it effectively). If you are not cognizant of the way different words and phrases trigger, for instance, conservative frames, your article can backfire.
Or, you may be an expert invited to testify in Congress. How do you frame global warming to them? Why that way?
Finally, if you are given 50 seconds on TV or radio to explain your stuff, you have to be super-prepared. Do you say “global warming” or “climate change”? How do those two phrases emotionally affect conservatives vs. liberals? Who is your audience and what is your aim? Are you informing listeners of Air America about the new study, or are you trying to persuade some FoxNews viewers that global warming is a reality? Do you say “anthropogenic” or “man-made”? Do you know how the opposition’s word-choice affects the viewers? Do you know how to undermine their framing by using yours? Are you alone on the show or paired with a denialist? How much do you want to convey urgency to act? How much do you want to stress that necessary changes are not going to destroy the economy of the nation/world or the pocketbook of an average citizen? We have seen many a scientist go on TV and use all the wrong words for a disastrous effect.
That is why it is very important to start on the project of learning how to frame science-related political issues now. There is no such thing as frame-free communication, so make sure to learn how to frame everything right. If you don’t frame it right, you will frame it wrong and have the opposite effect of what you intended.
So, it is disheartening to see the “anti-framers” spinning – trying to say that framing is not what it is, just because Chris and Matt deigned to point out that the God Dawkins has different emotional effects on different audiences and should thus talk to audiences where he is effective and refrain from talking to the audiences where his schtick is counterproductive.
Matt Nisbet, Daemon Fairless at Nature Newsblog, Skeptigator, Trinifar, Steppen Wolf, Chris Rowan, Teresa Lhotka , John Fleck, JLT (in German), and FriendlyAtheist have more.
Watch a video dialogue on Bloggingheads and read more by Alonzo Fyfe, Eclectics Anonymous and Trinifar.
John Hawks updated (doubled? tripled?) his initial post on the topic.
And another good one by Orac.
The transcript of Matt Nisbet’s NPR interview is now available online and Matt comments on it.
Greg Laden wrote another important post, to which PZ responds.
Additional thoughts by Skeptigator, Tobasco da Gama and Jon Udell.
And here is Chad Orzel’s take. And the opposite tack from Tristero who may selectively read only PZ’s take on the issue. Matt Nisbet responds.
Also read Jason Rosenhouse, Jason Rosenhouse again and Kevin Beck.
A must-read by Alonzo Fyfe!
Josh Rosenau has two in a row: Part I and Part II. And then there is Mobjectivist.
Steve Case from the trenches.
Aileen Thompson has a summary.
Chris of Mixing Memory delves into the cogsci aspects of framing in two important posts here and here.
More from PZ Myers, Mark Chu-Carroll, Kevin Beck, Kristjan Wager, Chris Hallquist and Nicole Michel.
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Framing Politics (based on science, of course)

On Neurophilosopher’s blog, I saw this, one of the winning cartoons from the 2006 Scientific Integrity Editorial Cartoon Contest, drawn by Reva Sharp from Warren, PA (btw, you have only about a month to send in your entries for the 2007 contest):

Continue reading

Framers are NOT appeasers!

In the latest dust-up over framing science, an unfortunate frame is emerging that I want to nip in the bud, that ‘appeasers’ in the big culture war against religion are the same as ‘framers’ in the current debate, and likewise that ‘anti-framers’ and ‘vocal atheists’ are the same people. It is a result of confusion, and I want to clear it up right now.
You know that I am strongly in the Dawkins/Myers camp in the fight against religion:

Dawkins, Harris and Dennett are changing the landscape of the discourse, forming an environment in which it is possible to talk about atheism and religion on a level field. Without them, we’d be forced to hide our atheism even more than before and allow the fundies to define us as amoral.

And I have explained before (and I totally agree with Sean Carrol on this) that the Dawkinses of the world are performing a necessary function of moving the Overton Window.
But, I am also strongly in the Mooney/Nisbet camp on framing because it is an entirely different battle:

Thus, the term ‘framing’ has two meanings and one is discussed by one group and the other meaning by the other group. As the two meanings suggest two different strategies, the two groups think that they disagree with each other.

But, if you have a hammer, you only see nails. Matt and Chris are not talking about the same battle, about the same fora, about the same audience, or about the same messengers, but if all you care about is how to defeat religion, you will not notice that there are other battles as well. You will erroneously assume that Chris and Matt are suggesting methods for fighting your favorite battle.
And of course you will disagree, as the two battles can sometimes negatively affect each other. Fortunately, people selectively choose sources of information, so the target audiences of the short-term and long-term battles are unlikely to see much of the unintended-for-them messengers.
I doubt there are many bookstores in the Deep South that carry ‘The God Delusion’. He has not sold millions – more like tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thosands at best – that is more than enough to top all the best-seller lists in the world. Many of those copies were sold abroad. Others were bought by people concentrated in big cities and the coasts (I bet the map of his customers fits well with the map of precincts that voted for Kerry in 04).
Bible sells in hundreds of millions.
So, if you live in Europe or New England, your perception of the world is skewed – all those rational people around you! If you only read science and atheist blogs, you get the erroneous feel that there are many more atheists in America than there really are. Take a slow car trip through the North American continent – the middle of it. Gazillions of very nice, smart people who, due to the upbringing and the surrounding culture think that Atheist=Satan. But you want those people to push Congress to do something about global warming, don’t you?
Then think strategically how to talk to them about it. This is political battle, not a science battle or a religion battle. So stick to politics. Back it up by science only as much as needed to be understood and trusted. Starting out by telling them they are stupid makes the conversation stop before it ever started.
Related (and containing links to all the other blogospheric responses):
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’ (not that ‘quick’ after all!)
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
More blogospheric reactions: Mark Hoofnagle, Zeno, John Fleck, Rebecca Hartong, Matt Nisbet
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Joshua Bell and Framing Science

Brilliant! Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of this?
A post on Anomalous Data connects the Framing Science debate to the recent Joshua Bell experiment (check some more good bloggy reactions to it).
If you are not familiar with the story (follow the links): Joshua Bell played violin in a subway station and almost nobody stopped to listen or to give him money.
Saw Lady explains exactly why – no framing!
In the experiment/stunt, Bell deliberately played at a wrong place (in the hall where everyone walks through, not at the platform where people wait for trains), at a wrong time (morning rush hour), wearing street clothes and playing unrecognizable (to the mass audience) pieces.
This is like mailing a paper from “Cell” to all your neighbors. They will not read it. If they try, they will not understand it. Then they will trash it (and, if they are impolite, will tell you that you are an idiot for giving them that).
Joshua Bell usually plays within a particular frame. At a concert hall. Wearing a tux. Audience has a printed program that tells them who he is and what pieces he is going to play. It is a very self-selected audience – people who paid big money for the tickets and decided to put aside everything else in their lives for two hours so they could listen to him. They are also people knowledgeable about music and can appreciate his mastery of the instrument. They are likely to be familiar with the pieces. They focus for two hours and listen to every note.
These are cell biologists reading a paper in “Cell”.
But, Bell could have done better by framing himself differently. He could have played on the platform. He could have played during the afternoon rush hour. He could have worn a tux. He could have had a placard stating who he is (establishing ‘expertise’). He could have talked to the passers-by and engaged them. He could have mixed obscure pieces with some popular pieces (those are not “lies” – they are just more interesting pieces to the particular lay audience than to the experts).
I bet people would have stopped and listened and given money.
End result: people would have heard and appreciated the obscure pieces he played.
Know your audience. Engage it. Gain its trust. Establish authority with them. Then, you can deliver your message.
That is framing.
It has nothing to do with the appaling state of music education in the country, with the bad musical tastes of the population, or stupidity of people who did not instantly recognize his mastery. That was not his job at the moment (though he may also be involved, in a completely different way, in fighting for music education, etc.).
Katie Kish has more on framing science.
Update: Revere, Teresa Lhotka, Austin Cline, Madhu, Daniel, Tyler DiPietro, Kristjan Wager, Marco F, Daylight Atheism, Alethian and Daniel Morgan are chiming in.
Matt Nisbet, Chris Mooney, Steppen Wolf, Brad, Kristjan Wager, Eric Eckl, Terry and LeisureGuy add more….
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Just a quick update on ‘framing science’

Matt Nisbet analyses George Will and Chris Mooney responds to some more recent discussions.
Matt talks about framing on NPR (listen here) and now they both have an article published in the Washington Post.
Also, check out some older articles by Matt and Chris, including this one on CSI and this one in CJR.
With this, I will stop adding new links to blogospheric discussion at the bottom of this post (my first – and uber-long one – on the topic) and will start with a clean slate. But you go and check them, as discussions in the comments are still going on at some of those linked blogs.
There is also still some discussion on my more recent posts on the topic here and here.
Devo of White Souse blog explains the difference between rhetoric and framing.
Oh, Matt’s brother also has a blog!
It appears that Larry still does not understand the difference between long-term and short-term aspects of framing.
In the distinction between short-term and long-term aspects of framing (the topic of my first post on the topic), Dawkins is the best there is in the long-term effort of moving the Overton window over the time-frame of years and decades so the reality comes back and all kinds of superstition (including religious) and pseudoscience are in total retreat. Online, PZ and Larry and many others (myself included) do that part and do it wonderfully. The Window is already visibly moving.
The denial of reality, which may have started with the Great Generation while enjoying the high and free love in the 1960s, has been decaying into oblivion on the Left, but has been fully embraced by the Right. The Right fully embraced relativism and wishful thinking and framed everything that has to do with rational thought-processes as elitist (I usually deplore Bill Maher, but that article is spot on).
The current reaction to this, induced by the obviously catastrophic consequences of trying to govern by denying reality (“from the gut”), makes the present moment the right moment for people like Dawkins to be loud as the audience for his message is growing and getting more receptive. Nobody, and certainly not Matt and Chris, ever wants Dawkins or PZ or Larry to shut up.
But, Dawkins (and the rest of us on that team) sucks in short-term aspects of framing: persuading the uninterested, uneducated and more-or-less-religious folks to get on the right side of science-related political issues of the day. Other people are good at short-term, though, and we need more of those. We may not agree with Ken Miller or Francis Collins on everything, but they can do what we cannot: get the religious audiences to listen and to embrace reality, be it on evolution, or global warming or whatever science-related political issue of the day.
In other words, we need people who can make the busy, short-attention-span, uninterested people, as well as people with a knee-jerk negative response to Dawkins, mentally prepared to even start listening to Dawkins. Such communicators need to be gentle to the fragile, fearful egos of the audience and to gradually prepare them for the harsh truths delivered by Dawkins. This takes skill and time.
Here, let me try to make a tabular summary of distinctions betwen short-term and long-term aspects:
Short-term is about politics. Long-term is about science.
Short-term is about persuasion. Long-term is about education.
Short-term has nothing to do with religion (and mentioning it backfires). Long-term is about combating religion/superstition.
We are pretty good at the long-term strategy. Dawkins is great. So are Larry and PZ.
We suck at short-term. We are unable to persuade people who are not already inclined to agree with everything we say anyway.
We need to learn how to persuade the people who hate us, don’t give a damn about science (or reality for that matter) and are easily swayed by the Rightwing/Creationist/Dominionist rhetoric. Why? Because some science-related policy issues (especially global warming) cannot wait for the next generation – hopefully properly educated in science – to grow up and vote. We have to persuade their fearful, indoctrinated, religious parents right now. You don’t do it by teaching – they won’t listen. You need to find alternative methods to put them at ease and get them to push the right lever when it is important. Nothing to do with science. Science comes later – when we teach their kids.
Update 2:
PZ responded to the WaPo article without reading my response to Larry first, and it shows.
Antonio Granada, Buridan, Davo and SA Smith have some more.
Chris Mooney: Round II begins!
Tyler DiPietro and Josh Rosenau take sides.
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Framing and Truth

Truth, All the Truth, and Nothing but the Truth.
You are all familiar with the phrase. It actually figures prominently (though unspoken until now) in this whole discussion about framing science.
Nobody – absolutely nobody – ever suggests that anything but The Truth should be used when communicating science or communicating about science.
The wisdom of framing is that ‘All the Truth’ can be omitted, as too much information puts off the target audience in some cases, and is thus counterproductive.
The self-styled Defenders Of The Truth insist that a) ‘All The Truth’ should never be omitted, and b) that ‘framers’ want to omit ‘nothing but the Truth”, i.e. to advocate lying. Nothing is further from the Truth.
The important issues of the day – evolution, global warming, stem cell reseach – are too contentious and politically hot. Thus, to illustrate how omitting “All The Truth” does not mean lying, I’ll use the examples from my own reasearh, as far from political (or even politicizable) as can be.
For instance, this is the way some of our data are presented to the peers in the field. Compare that to this treatment of the very same data intended for a different audience – readers of a science blog (some scientists, some interested lay-people, no chronobiologists). There is more background, more explanation of the basics, a more casual English language, and almost no numbers/statistics in the latter. Both contain the Truth and Nothing but the Truth, but the latter is not “All the Truth” as some less relevant information has been omitted. Does it turn it into lying? Not at all. Does it make more comprehensible and interested to a non-expert? Yes. The published paper was read by the dozens, the blog post by the hundreds at least – hundreds who probably could not have understood the published paper anyway and who don’t need all the nitty-gritty details in order to understand it.
Or, how about this example: here is the actual paper, and here is the blog post about it. Not just does the blogpost explain in an easy language what the paper is about, but it also adds the wisdom of several intervening years of research and thinking, i.e., puts the paper in a historical perspective. It also has a slightly different emphasis on what was really important in the paper – something we learned only in hindsight. So, which of the two is The Truth? The paper has all the details and statistics that the blog-post lacks. The blog-post has the post-hoc insights that the paper lacks. Are they, thus, both Lies? No. They are both true, framed for different audiences at different times in history.
How about this one: here is the paper and here is the blog-post. The blog-post puts the data from the paper in a much, MUCH broader context, including data from a number of other papers by other people, and ends with new data that never saw the light of day previously, followed by a novel testable hypothesis that was never included in the original paper. Which one is The Truth? Both, of course. Just framed differently.
Another example: here is the published paper while here and here are two different blog treatments of the same data. The first post explains the data in the paper (sans boring details and numbers) and puts the paper into a historical perspective. It adds some of the background thinking that was not included in the paper – about my motivations for doing the work, about expectations how the data would turn out, the way we responded when the data did not turn out the way we predicted, and the way to see the data from the lens of what we know now seven years later. The second post also describes the data in simple English, yet goes further – by placing the data into a different context (ecological instead of physiological) it ends up proposing a novel hypothesis to be tested in the future. Which of the three treatments are the Truth? All three, of course, but each framed differently.
OK, that was my MS stuff. I am not allowed to tell you the details of my PhD work, but there is a way to frame it so you can understand what it was all about without revealing any specifics.
For instance, if asked by a person (professional or lay-person) interested in evolution, I would describe my PhD work along these lines: “I am interested in evolutionary implications of sex, strain and individual differences in circadian and photoperiodic time measurement in Japanese quail, with potential insight into group selection”.
If asked by a physiologist of some sort, I would describe it like this: “I did studies in the way exposure to sex steroid hormones by embryos and adults affects the way bird brains measure time of day and time of year”.
If asked by someone whose primary interest are humans, I’d say something like this: “I use an avian model to study the way circadian system is altered during adolescence”.
If I were young and single and talking up a girl in a bar where loud music makes language economy an imperative, I’d say “I am a brain surgeon”.
And you know what? All four statements are True. Nothing but the Truth. But obviously not All the Truth. Each emphasizes a different aspect of my work. Each neglects to say that the work is already done and that I have not set foot in the lab for a while. And each is framed for its target audience. The first reflects my real #1 interest and can help bond with a like-minded fellow. The second is my #2 interest, but that is what my Dissertation is supposed to be about and this is the way most people in the field (including my advisor) would like to hear about it. The third is good for selling my work to NIH, but also good for giving a polite answer to a non-scientist friend who asked the question out of being polite him/herself. The fourth emphasizes one of the methods in my toolkit and has a different goal in mind.
Each of the four is framed differently because the audience is different, the question (“What is your research about”) was asked for different reasons, and my goal is different (though establishing my expertise and staking my turf are a common thread to all four): bonding, teaching, persuading, or self-aggrandizing, respectively. And I never inserted a single lie anywhere. Oh, and without knowing any details, you now have a pretty decent idea of my rresearch interests, don’t you?
That is what framing is about. Knowing what your goals is. Knowing what to omit when. And knowing what style of language to use with which audience. No need to ever be dishonest. Leave that to Creationists and Republicans.
But, what really is The Truth in science and in journalism? Oh, do click on that link, I know you want to and it is worth it.
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Did I frame that wrong?

As you know, the last several days saw quite a flurry of blog posts about framing science. I posted my thoughts here and I keep updating my post with links to all the new posts as they show up (except the expected drivel by William Dembski, some minor creaitonists and Lubos Motl). Some of the other bloggers ignored my post, many linked to it without comment, and many linked to it with positive commentary – with two exceptions.
One was Larry Moran (who probably skimmed it quickly, found what he did not like in it with his own frame of mind at the time, and used it as a starting point to make his own point) who does not grok framing, but, as I stated in the initial post as well as in comments elswehere, plays an important role in the ecosystem and is and will remain my daily read because he is a great blogger. His “niche” in the blogosphere is a curmudgeon and that is why we like him, even as each one of us occasionally gets to see his double-barrel shotgun aimed at our own faces. Fine. We are definitely on the same side of the famous M&M debate and we can agree to disagree on framing.
The other one was Michael Tobis who I have not heard of before (have you?). He appears to be a new blogger (so he has an excuse for being a novice) and he is a climate scientist on the right side of the political debate on global warming – his blogroll reveals it. He also gets framing quite well: his next two posts on the topic are good – all linked in my post at the bottom, although he liked learning about the concept of Overton Window from Eli Rabbet and not from me.
I was really taken aback by it and I thought that perhaps the guy is conservative and did not like my treatment of conservatism (although I did warn in a parenthesis somewhere in the post that it was not framed to be liked by them). I still don’t know his political position, but it appears that it was my damning of religion that irked him, although I was careful to damn the Righwing version of religion specifically, with a mild slap on the wrist at the liberal religionists for not stepping up more vocally against the Rightwing version.
Perhaps he was disinclined to listen to someone who proclaims to be an atheist in the “About Me” section. He also did not like the graphic I took from the NCSE article by Eugenie C. Scott (which I first saw in Skeptic magazine) for some reason. Some of the stuff he wrote suggested that he may see the world in a hirerachical manner, as I described in several older posts linked from my framing post.
I blog because I like to make friends and have fun. Some people blog because they like to vent and get in flame-wars. He thought I was the latter kind for some reason unfathomable to me. Anyway, he and I agreed that we should be on the same side (at least on science)and there must have been some deep misunderstanding and we agreed to let my commenters be the judge. So, here is the complete exchange and let us know in the comments what you think:
First, he wrote this in his post:

Also Jim points to Blog around the Clock/Coturnix. I’m not sure whether Jim endorses this article, but I surely don’t. Consider this:

The result of training is that scientists are uniquely trained to be poor communicators of science. Scientists – a tiny percentage of any population – are the only people in the society who even try to think and talk in a value-free way, get insulted when someone suggest they shouldn’t do so, and view other people who can’t do so as intellectually inferior.

I think that captures something interesting. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the substance but it’s an interesting idea.
Unfortunately, it’s stated in such an extreme, overstated and confrontational way as to thoroughly offend both scientists and nonscientists in equal measure. One could hardly come up with a way to frame the opinion that does more damage to discourse.
I thoroughly dislike the rest of the “Clock” article. It gets even worse.
Apparently anyone who doesn’t agree with the author about absolutely everything is an inferior being, who has yet to progress to the level of perfection that the author has attained. Charming.
Humorous sarcasm about bloggers you disagree with is one thing. It’s fair game.
Arrogant, humorless contempt for huge swaths of humanity is another. There is hardly a worse example of framing the dialog possible than the toxic sludge of this article.
The amazing thing is that this article claims to offer advice on how scientists should approach public communication. Ironically it violates every bit of good advice it can muster and then some. If you want to know how to communicate in your area of expertise, study this article for form rather than content, and then don’t do that.

How can chastising people for looking down at others be perceived as looking down at others? In the comments, I wrote politely and diplomatically, as I usually do:

In case you missed it, that was self-sarcasm. I am a scientist and I am aware that I have been trained to be a uniquely bad communicator to non-scientists. Four years of blogging are slowly changing that, but I am far from being as good as I could have been have I never got scientific training. Obviously I have a lot to learn, as I was not clear enough for you to understand that the humor/sarcasm was targeted at “me” or at worst “we”, not at “you” or “them”. English is also a foreign language to me, which increases the likelihood of such misunderstandings.

His response:

Fascinating. You absolutely had me fooled. I guess I don’t know to what end you managed it.
I saw another of your postings that seemed to have some of the same characteristics as your self-satire. I am not sure what to think now.
I don’t want to discuss my religious beliefs publicly, but I must say that I am no atheist.
I will therefore explictly state that I don’t accept that atheism is a necessary qualification for scientific work, any more than is any other preconceived notion.
I didn’t find your suggestion to the contrary amusing or ironic, and I don’t see the rest of the “framing” discussion treating it that way. I saw another posting that reinforced my impression that you are not only unalterably hostile to religious thought (which is your right) but that you believe that the scientific culture is necessarily of the same mind (which is arguably not your right at all, and is certainly tactically disastrous in a country where most people take religion seriously).
Perhaps you should clarify on your own site.

Hey, you are free to believe in Unicorns, and you have a right to talk about it in public places, and yes, unfortunately, you have a right to teach your belief to your kids (and thus make them go through the painful process of freeing themselves from shackles of religion when they grow up), but you do not have the right to have your beliefs aired by entities – public or private – that do not want to or constituationally are not allowed to (which was the point of the Blog Against Theocracy week, after all, part of which my post was about), and you have no right not to hear people laugh back at you when you talk publicly about Unicorns.
But my response was much more diplomatic, trying to meet him halfway:

I’ve been clarifying it for years.
I am not hostile to religious people, or to personal beliefs. I am hostile to organized religion and what it does to people’s thought-processes and to the politics of the country (and other countries as well). I am hostile to what organized religion does to science.
A blog post, not being 1000 pages long, cannot contain all the caveats every time – it necessarily has to deal with overgeneralizations and stereotypes which have been clarified, defined and explained in old posts. One tends to write for the regulars, and occasionally a newcomer is baffled, as in joining in a TV series in the middle of its fourth year and not being able to figure out who is who immediatelly.
Write yor perceptions of me in a comment on my blog and see what the regulars say.

He added this to his initial post:

Here is an approximation of the evolutionary ladder as displayed in an image on this article (sorry, I don’t have time to do this up as a fancy graphic)
Coturnix (highest possible form according to Coturnix)
People who agree with Coturnix
Atheists who have some quibbles with Coturnix
Christians (lowest form attained by humans according to Coturnix)
Anerobic Bacteria
Notice there is nothing whatsoever about science on this chart. The purpose of public communication of science, it is revealed, is to slyly and secretly move people UP the ladder of development so they are more Coturnix-like.
Maybe all of us in some corner of our minds believe there is some ladder of correctness with our own opinions at the top, and people who thoroughly disagree at the bottom. Grownups tend to know enough to temper this with a tad of humility. On the other hand, publishing your secret arrogance is guaranteed not to win you any friends. Publishing it in an article intended to advise people on public communication is, hmmm, perhaps a tiny bit like shooting yourself in the foot to emphasize your message on firearm safety.

Tell that to Eugenie Scott!
Then, in the comments of my first framing post, he wrote:

I thoroughly disliked this article, taken at face value, and said so here.
Coturnix got wind of this and made what I consider to be an astonishing response, that this article is satire.
Quoth he:

In case you missed it, that was self-sarcasm. … Obviously I have a lot to learn, as I was not clear enough for you to understand that the humor/sarcasm was targeted at “me” or at worst “we”, not at “you” or “them”.

Well it fooled me entirely. Did others read this present article as satirical?
It seems to me consistent with at least one other article on this site.
To be specific I also disliked the cavalier dismissal of the research on the heritability of religiosity. The idea seems to me an entirely sound (in the Popper sense) falsifiable hypothesis, and in studying twins raised apart, investigated using a sound methodology. Coturnix’s response to that also, to me, betrayed both arrogance and a nonrational hostility to religion even as an observable behavioral phenomenon.
Coturnix’s further reply was to advise me to consult with his regular readers on this blog, so I am doing so now.
Did you read this present article as satire? What do you think of the exchange on between me and Coturnix on my linked blog article?

All the twin studies in history are suspect, as they were all done by genetic determinists. And the heritability of religion is much better explained by the effects of the environment: parenting, the social norms of the community, etc.- something that interests me (to see if it can be reversed) so I have studied it for quite aliong time. A couple of papers so far suggesting that adherence to particular religion is written in the DNA are laughable. And tendency towards religosity is an interesting area of research, especially as religiosity means several different things: belief in supernatural, enjoying rituals, fitting into the hierarchy, defining in-group vs. out-group, to name just a few. And there were other red flags in that press release as well. Correlation between church-going and altruism? A positive correlation? Altruism based on fear of punishment is not altruism, and neither is altruism towards one’s in-group members. I touched on the distinction between Internal and External Locus of Moral Authority in my framing post as well. And I wrote about my own personal ‘religious’ history before. But why go on that tangent at all?
My response:

It is interesting that, out of such a long post, you picked that one paragraph to highlight and ignored the rest of the article. This paragraph is a tangential insert, which would be excised out if an editor asked me to shorten the article, for instance, as it is not necessary for the main line of argument.
Also, to be clear, not the entire article is self-sarcasm – this paragraph is. The rest is a serious analysis of framing science (and yes, how it relates to framing politics and religion – as the RightWing political and RightWing religious forces have used framing quite well over the decades). This is one of a few places in the article where I intentionally used different/provocative ‘framing’ to see who will react and how [the use of the term "convert" elsewhere in the text was another example of such a trial balloon, which rasied hackles out of Kate, for instance].
I was very careful in my wording in the article as a whole (as I usually am) to highlight my disagreement with Rightwing religion and Rightwing politics, not with religion per se. I just don’t care for that hypothesis, but I have no problem with liberal variants of religions. It’s a free country – people can believe whatever they want as long as they don’t try to preach/teach others and leave others alone to believe whatever they want.
It is interesting that people – atheists and theists alike – assume that because I am an atheist, I just HAVE to be a rabid proselytizing atheist. Not so. Having the “atheist” descriptor in my “About Me” section is sufficient to raise hackles from the religious and to make atheists certain I am the ally, but the nicest thing is that I do not have to write anti-religious screeds ever! And I don’t. There are more fun things to write about (and blogging to me is about having fun and making friends, not about being a curmudgeon and making enemies).
But I do want to know why people believe what they believe – as a scientific hypothesis – because religious belief when organized into big Religions and coupled with big Politics, affects me and other humans in various ways, often negative ways.
So, you can believe what you want, but I’d like to understand why you do, and if you (not you personally, but “one” – got lost in English language again, sorry) do, how it affects the society.
Since you placed your comment in the thread of that ancient post that nobody reads any more, I’d like to ask your permission to promote it to the top of the page (i.e., to copy and paste it into a brand new post) so my readers can see it and comment on it there. Just say Yes or No either here or on my blog somewhere. Thanks.

Growing up in a non-religious place, the word “convert” first brings to my mind currency conversion, then converting a car so it looses its roof, then changing one’s mind on anything in light of new evidence, and only at the end a religious conversion. But I understand that people who grow up inbued with religion will think of that last meaning first – that was an intended lesson in framing right there.
I want my children to be luckier than that (see this, this, this, this, this and this) and grow up as Natural Atheists, not having to go through the pains of either deciding for themselves after drifting around aimlessly, or going through the “deconversion” process.
He said “Yes”, so now you decide….
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Framing ‘framing’

As you may have noticed, there is a vigorous debate going on in the blogosphere about framing science (all the links to all the relevant posts can be found if you click on that link).
For the uninitiated, this may look as a big dust-up and bar-brawl, but that is how blogosphere works, ya know, thesis + anthithesis and all. Dialectics, that’s the word I was looking for! Does not mean that Larry Moran and I will refuse to have a beer with each other when he comes to Chapel Hill next time!
The sheer quantity of responses, the passion, and the high quality of most posts, thoughtful and carefully written (even those I personally disagree with) demonstrates that this is a very important topic to scientists and people interested in science. I am really glad that the discussion has started.
The blog posts, as well as numerous comments, are, in themselves data. They show how people interested in science think about the concept of science communication. I am assuming that Matt and Chris will delve deep into them and use these data in further work.
The debate also shows that many people are unclear as to what exactly “framing” is. It also shows that the topic is broad and multi-faceted, as different commenters homed in on different aspects of the idea. This resulted in some misunderstandings, of course, but also brought to light the weaknesses of the ways framing is explained to people unfamiliar with the concept.
In my post (linked above), I tried to divide the concept into two broad categories: short-term and long-term.
The short-term framing operates at the time-scale of seconds. Its goal is to persuade. To make the listener believe that what you say is true.
The long-term framing operates at the time-scale of decades. Its goal is to make new generations much easier to persuade, and once they are persuaded, much easier to teach and inform about science.
A sub-set of responses also deals with the question – who should do it: all scientists, some scientists, or professional communicators (e.g., journalists, writers, pundits). I hope that my post also makes it clear that everyone is a part of the ecosystem, playing a role in the division of labor that most fits his/her temperament and inclination.
The debate also reveals something new to me: an automatic negative emotional reaction to the very word “frame”. This was something new to me and, as it baffled me, I tried to think about the reasons for this. I may be wrong, but I think I figured it out – I am not a native English speaker. Let me clarify….
I grew up speaking Serbo-Croatian. At about the age of 5 I started learning English, first at home, later in school, at a Language Institute and a few summer schools in the UK. For many, many years, the only meaning of “frame” for me was the thing you place a picture in. A picture frame can be a piece of art in itself. A well-chosen frame accentuates the art of the picture. The very act of framing a picture means that you have taken it out of a binder hidden in some dusty corner and are going to display it on a wall. All very positive meanings of the word “to frame”.
I saw “Who framed Roger Rabbit” in translation. I guess I knew the original title and had it stored somewhere in the back of my mind but never thought about what it means.
Then, I started reading Lakoff and other literature on framing. There, I understood the word to be a technical term, pretty neutral, or even a little on the positive side: about how to communicate well.
So, I was taken aback when I saw people responding – really, really fast – to the notion of framing by equating it to some very negative connotations: spin, lying, propaganda, selling-out, washing-down, branding, marketing, etc. Concepts that do not have much really to do with framing and some are actually opposite to it. Why does the word “frame” elicit negative frames?
Scientists are generally pretty intelligent and well educated people, people who could make a killing in a business world. Yet, we chose to forgo the money and fame and pursue the Truth instead. Instead of yachts, Irish Wolfhounds, racehorses, trophy-wives, champaigne baths, caviar dinners and personal jets, we’d rather spend our time in the lab, the field and in the classroom. We hate dealing with bureacracies of all kinds, be it the University administration or funding agencies.
Perhaps we are congenitally ‘allergic’ to the notion of selling. Selling is dirty. Marketing what you are selling is even dirtier. Something to be left to less-than-honest people in the world.
I do not know the backgrounds of all the bloggers who chimed in on this topic, even less the commenters, but I will speculate that people most resistant to the idea of framing are: a) scientists, b) native English speakers, c) quite Left on the political/ideological continuum and d) people who have not spent much time immersed in the cog-sci literature on framing (which may inncoulate one from feeling the negative emotions towards the word). All four. I am a) and c) and that is not enough for me to be hostile to the idea.
Is that true?
Tell me, if your reaction to the word “frame” is negative, why is that so? What, as a non-native English speaker, am I missing?
Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf
Framing ‘framing’
Did I frame that wrong?
Framing and Truth
Just a quick update on ‘framing science’
Joshua Bell and Framing Science
Framers are NOT appeasers!
Framing Politics (based on science, of course)
Everybody Must Get Framed

Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf

Blog%20Against%20Theocracy.jpgMy SciBlings Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet just published an article in ‘Science’ (which, considering its topic is, ironically, behind the subscription wall, but you can check the short press release) about “Framing Science”
Carl Zimmer, PZ Myers, Mike Dunford (also check the comments here), John Fleck, Larry Moran, Dietram Scheufele, Kristina Chew, Randy Olson, James Hrynyshyn, Paul Sunstone and Alan Boyle have, so far, responded and their responses (and the comment threads) are worth your time to read. Chris and Matt respond to some of them. Matt has more in-depth explanations here, here and here (pdf) that are worth reading before firing off a response to the whole debate.
This is not a simple topic, but I will try to organize my thoughts in some way….

Continue reading