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

25 responses to “Did I frame that wrong?

  1. Whew! That’s a lot for others to follow. I wonder if many will try to catch up with all that.
    Yes, in a sense I’m a new blogger. On the other hand I am a usenet veteran, and have been discussing environmental issues online since 1991, especially during my own period of dissertation avoidance (’93-’96). Look for me in the sci.environment archives.
    While you were writing this lengthy (and, I am guessing, hard to follow) summary, I was thinking further about our disagreement myself. My attempt to clarify my position is visible right here under this clicky thing.

  2. The Usenet environment trains one to be quick on the trigger! I am glad I got out of it in the early 90s (can you imagine how aggresive were Usenet groups in Serbo-Croato-Bosnian languages at the time? I am much more mellow now – most blogs are a level above the usenet in tone.
    Hey, I may be the only SB blogger not to have banned ‘Deep Thought’ from my comments – au contraire he is welcome although we disagree on everything and easily throw epithets at each other (but we can, because we’ve known each other for a couple of years and thus trust each other never to cross the ‘line’).

  3. Damn! Just when I thought I was making some really interesting comments on your previous posting it turns out that I only “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.”
    Oh, silly me. I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you that your first posting (since revised) wasn’t as clear as you originally intended? Or even–perish the thought–you were wrong? 🙂

  4. raised hackles, indeed 🙂 if it was a trap you set, guess i fell in, making the exact point of the importance of framing along the way. and fair enough – you’re very right that emotive language brings with it both connotations and preconceived notions. the dangers of these notions are in fact what underlie some of my more major concerns about framing.
    but between you and me, and with all of my concerns aside, the necessity of framing in today’s “me”-centric media is slowly making more sense to me. but it still doesn’t make me happy.
    [and, for the record (and to reiterate what i’d blogged), i thought your contentional post was a superb overview, and quite rational]

  5. Larry: many, many people responded to the Nisbet/Mooney paper as well as to my post, and you are the one of only two who did not get it. Perhaps you should consider that you are wrong, particularly as you do not appear to be familiar with the literature on framing and speak entirely out of personal experience as a scientist. In other words, you are the target audience of their paper, but due to its brevity, and your reluctance to dig into the primary literature, you refuse to budge.
    And my addendum did not bring anything new, just summarized the entire post. All I am doing is giving you an easy way out, i.e., not accusing you of selective quote-mining (which is dishonest), but suggesting that perhaps you did not read it closely enough (which is an honest mistake). As you are a very smart guy, I doubt that you could read it thoroughly and still not understand it (the third possible explanation). Take the best of the three when offered.

  6. How about the best of the four? Add “read it carefully and charitably, and did not find it satisfactorily substantive”? It’s also poor framing to tell people that they only have a choice of three alternatives, because the first thing many of us will do is try to think of others.

  7. P.S. Think “Kobayashi Maru”. It’s how the great ones triumph.

  8. Yup – Larry suggested that fourth alternative in his comment. As I disagree, I offered the additional three to choose from.
    What is Kobayashi Maru? It does not elicit any frames for me – blank slate.

  9. Google. Now I see – this is something only Trekkies would know. Not me. Remember, I was second but last in the geek contest.

  10. “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”
    That’s Larry’s typical M.O. Anyone who’s had him write entire posts based on objections to their writings that, in fact, have nothing to do with their writings, know this. He doesn’t read to comprehend, he reads to find fodder for a new post regardless of its relevance to the post he links. But hey, he’s on the “right” side.

  11. I’m disappointed.
    I want to see the graphic that goes with this version of the Great Chain of Being.

  12. The quail on top!

  13. Larry: many, many people responded to the Nisbet/Mooney paper as well as to my post, and you are the one of only two who did not get it. Perhaps you should consider that you are wrong, particularly as you do not appear to be familiar with the literature on framing and speak entirely out of personal experience as a scientist.
    I getting really, really sick of hearing people say that I’m not familiar with the literature on framing. It’s true, I haven’t read the literature on framing. I also haven’t read the extensive literature on propaganda but that doesn’t mean I should engage in propagandizing.
    What you and Nisbet and Mooney are trying to do is convince me that I need to be framing. You aren’t doing a very good job and simply telling me that I’m not an expert on framing isn’t going to do it.
    The irony here is that you claim to be an expert on communicating because you’re read the literature on framing. Why don’t you put your expertise into practice by framing your argument in a way that scientists understand? Tell us why we should change the way we’ve been teaching science.
    I responded to your earlier posting by pointing out where I disagreed with you. So far you haven’t responded to the problems and questions I raised. All you done is point out that most people agree with you. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t impress me very much.

  14. Aha! I’ve got it. Nisbet and Mooney are actually …. (as they peel off the latex face mask with the old Mission Impossible theme song playing in the back ground) none other than William Dumbski and Ken the Ham.
    “Mwaa haa haaa….” they intone as they look upon the science bloggers and evolutionary biologist go at each others throats …
    Did you notice that you never see Nisbet in the same room as Dumpsi, and Mooney in the same room as Ham? Did you?
    If work out the numerology of the word “FRAMING” it comes out to ..
    …. 666

  15. I think this conversation (not just THIS one here but the whole thing) requires something more substantial, something real, to bring this discussion to a point of real practical reality. I’ve posed a very specific question with an example and everything. Actually, I describe (and this is open to critique by the framistas) details of a key published study on framing and then offer a roughly parallel example that would relate to Evolutionary Biology. I’d like to know what the experts think of it.
    It is here:
    C: I’m not trying to spam your site. But maybe breaking out a fire extinguisher or at least getting a bucket of cold water would be good.
    And, you really need to work that tree of life into a full blown Baltimore Catechism style graphic!

  16. How long have we been discussing this? Five days? First, there is only the short Mooney/Nisbet piece and blogospheric response to it so far. Matt provided us with papers we’ll read and discuss them in the future. There will be, I hear, a response in letters to Science. There will be, I think, a long detailed response by Matt and Chris. Then, once we get to some kind of a better undrestanding what framing is (and it’s fine if there are a couple of dissenters remaining on the sidelines), we can start on the project of actually designing specific strategies for specific cases of countering anti-science spin in the media (short-term) and the project of long-term strategies for changing the American (and to a lesser extent international, which is already in a much better stats except in the Middle East) way of thinking about science – a project that will, among else, involve science education and popularization, the science education of science journalists and writers, etc.
    As for the Chain of Being, someone with good Photoshop skills should do it and I’ll proudly display it here – blogging is supposed to be fun, after all, including making fun of ourselves.

  17. Coturnix:
    I’m ready now. I’ve read a half dozen papers provided by Matt/Chris. I’ve formulated a fairly clear question that does not require background in the literature to address, and I think it is a good formulation because it speaks directly to the issues brought up by several concerned individuals. Matt and Chris or any other Framista is more than able to reformulate my question or critique my brief characterization of the gay marriage research paper … I may have missed key points in the summary.
    I’m not sure why we have to suddenly stop and wait for the next Science piece (maybe that is not what you are suggesting).

  18. No, that’s fine and I expect Matt and Chris will respond once they get online and find some time. We are each on our own timelines here – I have not found time to read all of the papers Matt sent me yet, but will blog about it once I get to it.

  19. Anyway, can we get back on track and try to answer Michael Tobis’ concerns here.

  20. I understood what Tobis is saying. In fact, as I read the original post, I imagined a medieval-style Scala Naturae with DS Wilson, Lakoff, and Lewontin at the top (the Trinity?), Pinker and Williams several rungs below (where do Mae-Wan Ho and Brian Goodwin go?), etc all the way down to, I don’t know, theo-wingnut warbloggers.
    The model, positing causal linkages between three continua – historical progress, individual maturation, and differentially sophisticated contemporary worldviews – is almost Haeckelian and reminded me of pre-Synthesis notions of ontogeny and progressive evolution reviewed by Stephen Jay Gould in the first part of Ontogeny & Phylogeny.
    Perhaps I’m extraordinarily obtuse, but is the model intended to be: a) a serious contribution towards a new synthesis of developmental psychology, politics, and the sociology of science b) a light-hearted lark, or c) a little of both? I understand that the format of blogging favors the polemical, but most readers are going to take what’s written at face value.
    It’s noteworthy that one of Gould’s recurring themes was that newer – whether in the realm of evolution or ideas – was not necessarily superior. One of his missions was to extract the useful parts of older ideas that had been mostly discarded at the time, like Goethe’s laws of form and catastrophism. Gould believed that the later stages of the Modern Synthesis had hardened into a narrower doctrine, excluded too many heterodox perspectives. Arguably, one of Gould’s greatest accomplishments was helping to revive interest in the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny, although he cautioned against simplistic mapping of maturation during the life cycle to unilineal progress.

  21. Coturnix says,
    Then, once we get to some kind of a better undrestanding what framing is (and it’s fine if there are a couple of dissenters remaining on the sidelines), we can start on the project of actually designing specific strategies for specific cases of countering anti-science spin in the media (short-term) and the project of long-term strategies for changing the American (and to a lesser extent international, which is already in a much better stats except in the Middle East) way of thinking about science – a project that will, among else, involve science education and popularization, the science education of science journalists and writers, etc.
    Me and most of my friends have been designing such strategies for about 35 years. There are newsgroups, listserves, blogs, books, and conferences that debate these things. If you’re confused about it, just ask and I’ll be glad to explain it to you.

  22. And what good did it do? It’s obviously not working.
    The method you are using (and we all are using) is great for TEACHING the willing audience. It does not work for swaying uninterested voters to do what is right and pressure politicians to do something about global warming, stem cell research, environmental protection, teaching evolution in schools.
    That is why this entire project is starting – to use the findings of cognitive science to find a method thatWILL work.

  23. Maybe I need to be more concrete, since people don’t seem to understand what I think is wrong with what Coturnix says.
    It is accepting the misleading framing of the enemy to link atheism and evolution.
    That is why it is a very bad idea.
    It is our job and our responsibility to establish trust with the general public. We are failing in some circles, for a number of reasons.
    Coturnix’s linking of science and religion falls perfectly into a framing trap. Coturnix is welcome to believe in not-God, but this belief is of an entirely different quality, and the evidence for this beleif of an entirely different nature, than is his understanding of evolutionary biology as a professional scientist.
    By linking the two, he absolutely and abjectly falls into the trap set by the professional bamboozlers, of reinforcing the link between theism and “believing in evolution” as if evolution were a philosophy rather than a substantive scientific consensus.
    I’m not saying we should mince our words, saying “hmm, well, evolution is probably kinda true sorta, maybe”. What I’m saying we should not do is agree with the opposition that evolution is closely linked with atheism.
    That is what they are saying, remember? This is the best way to help keep evolution out of the public schools.
    So for people to be looking to Coturnix for his wisdom about framing is, umm, weird. (It’s late, somebody fetch me a colorful analogy, I’m a Texan now, can’t be tongue-tied like that…)
    His original article is horribly misframed, and as far as I can tell nobody gerts it. So let me be really clear about it.
    Linking evolution and theism is the tactic of the enemy.
    Avoid the linkage, which is nonsensical. Only the most superstitious and backward ideas of religion have anything to say on such questions.
    Accepting the proposition that evolution has anything to say about religion in general (as opposed to one or two very simpleminded religions) plays directly into he hands of the cynical people who promote these naive ideas for selfish ends.
    It is very bad framing. Please stop it.

  24. OK, my post argues: a) there is a link between conservative theism and bad science, b) the link between atheism and good science is not nearly as strong (as liberal theist are often OK on science), c) linking atheism and evolution when talking to particular audiences is counterproductive (as liberal theists have a knee-jerk response to side with co-religionists against good science), and d) pushing atheism separately, and vigorously, in society as whole, will change mindsets of the population in a way that it will make is easier for us in the future to teach (and, yes, sell), good science.

  25. Also, this looks like a confusion between ‘framing a scientific issue’ and ‘talking about framing as a method’. My post is the latter and thus necessarily cannot work as the former – it reveals the “tricks” to the enemy, if you wish to put it that way.
    Reminds me of the time when Lefty bloggers thought that Lakoff’s notions of Strict Father and Nurturant Parent were understood to be frames themselves, instead of ways to organize one’s thoughts when preparing a message. The two terms were never to pass your lips once you talk to the voters – they are “internal memos” about the way to think about the way people think.
    So, as I noted in paranthesis, my post was not framing, it was about framing, and was bound to offend the theists and conservatives. And this is my blog so I have no interest in writing posts that will make me palatable to the morons from the Little Green Footballs – I am bound to write stuff that half the country will disagree with, there is no way not to.