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

14 responses to “Just a quick update on ‘framing science’

  1. There is one crucial issue that must be addressed before scientists will be able to engage in effective “framing”: re-instatement of the Fairness Doctrine. As it stands now, even the most effective science ambassadors to the public are systematically excluded from fora whose audiences scientists most need to reach, namely right-wing talk-radio and other conservative-leaning outfits like Fox “News”. Limbaugh, Hannity, et al. can now lie with impunity, knowing full well that the Fairness Doctrine’s repeal guarantees that their audiences will never hear challenges to their lies.
    Unless the Fairness Doctrine is reinstated, all the scientific “framing” in the world will accomplish next to nothing, because those “framed” scientific messages will be continue to censored by the very right-wing gate-keepers who now have such a stranglehold on the information that currently reaches conservative-leaning Americans.

  2. “those “framed” scientific messages will be continue to censored by the very right-wing gate-keepers who now have such a stranglehold on the information that currently reaches conservative-leaning Americans.”
    In an era of blogs, podcasts, vlogs, Pacifica, local cable, zines, satellite radio, Keith Olbermann, even small cities boasting alternative weeklies, Chomsky on bestseller lists, historians Zinn to Paul Johnson on required reading lists, spoken word political CDs, Air America, right wing talk radio, four networks, three-plus 24 hour cable networks, semi-serious political opining even on a comedy network courtesy Stewart and Colbert, political documentaries enjoying box office success, political videos posted on YouTube, PBS having as incisive reporting as ever, and widespread access to BBC, Le Monde, and al-Jazeera, that’s a very curious redefinition of “censorship.” When have there been more media choices available? If information is not reaching those “conservative-leaning Americans,” they’re just not making the minimal effort to acquire that information – and that’s their own fault. Or perhaps that’s just false consciousness on my part.

  3. If information is not reaching those “conservative-leaning Americans,” they’re just not making the minimal effort to acquire that information – and that’s their own fault. Or perhaps that’s just false consciousness on my part.

    I know a lot of red-state-of-mind folks (some in-laws in particular) who get their nearly all their “information” from the right-wing sources I mentioned. They will not make any effort to tap other sources of information — without Fairness Doctrine action, they will *never* hear a rebuttal to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly. To them, blogs, podcasts, scientific/educational documentaries, alternate web-sites, etc…. are completely irrelevant.
    The fairness doctrine also might help make right-wing commentators more accountable — accountable in that well-framed rebuttals to their idiocy will be made right smack in the middle of their air-time, when their loyal followers are most likely to hear said rebuttals. Knowing that they end up looking like idiots would hopefully make right-wing radio commentators think twice before spewing some of the more outrageous falsehoods that they currently spew.
    As far as ignorance being the conservatives’ fault, that’s beside the point. The huge numbers of ignorant conservatives pose a direct threat to democracy in the USA, regardless of who is to blame for that ignorance. Something needs to be done to reduce the overall ignorance level amongst the 30 percent of Americans who are part of a democracy-threatening mass movement, and a Fairness Doctrine reinstatement could help to that end.
    Now, if we were talking about 1 to 2 percent of the population, that would be a different (and much less threatening) situation. But we are talking about a segment of the American population that’s large enough to put democracy at risk.

  4. Correction to above:
    Knowing that they might end up looking like idiots would hopefully make right-wing radio commentators think twice before spewing some of the more outrageous falsehoods that they currently spew.

  5. caerbannog: I completely agree with you.
    The Imus episode gives me hope – advertisers, media entities and the talk-show hosts themselves are now forced to take a second look and think hard. Imus today. Limbaugh tomorrow?
    Also, the way Edwards refused to appear in two FoxNews debates with the “escuse” that FN is not a news channel but a PR organization, made it permissble for other chatterheads in the media to say the same thing. Saying that FN is not news is not “unspekable” on TV and radio channels (or in newspapers) any more.
    I think that the reaction to the “we make reality” crowd is growing and that it is a fertile ground for the reality-based community to reclaim the country and bring back the Enlightement. After years of disastrous rule (let’s not call that ‘governing’), more and more people are looking for leadership that is pragmatic – evaluate the problem and figure out how to fix it (what I call the “plumber approach”). Thus, I don’t think that 08 election will be a “personality” election the way 00 and 04 were. More people will stop and think twice before voting for the guy they want to have a beer with and will probably take some time to check where the candidates of both parties stand on issues they care about. Here is where science also comes in because one needs experts to explain the economic models, etc. Expertise will be in vogue again. With the RNC e-mails, and all the other mounting evidence that the current GOP is just a bunch of crooks, there will be a time soon when putting back the Fairness Doctrine will be an obvious thing to do and it will be proposed and passed by Congress.

  6. Bora,
    Thank you for your wonderful post. I couldn’t agree with you more whole-heartedly. You’ve been an incredible contributor to this framing dialogue. It’s a debate we desperately need to have in the pro-science world, I feel, and it’s also one which we have to keep civil and thoughtful. You’ve done a great job at that.
    In fact, I think this has stirred the pot enough by now that perhaps there ought to be a public event where we bring in everyone to air the issues more thoroughly.
    More from me soon.

  7. Chapel Hill?
    Or first-class tickets to anyewhere?
    Thanks…. 🙂

  8. Holy cow! how do you all keep up with all this? I can barely keep track of the posts at the pharyngula thread!
    Anyway, I’ve only read what was in this post (not what you linked to) and I almost fully agree. For one, as scientists go I don’t like Collins or Miller. I appreciate what they’re trying to do for science, but I think they’re doing more harm than good and I think one can gain people’s trust and stuff without having to invoke god, so I don’t think we need them per se.
    and secondly, I don’t really think being like Dawkins backfires in the short term… I think it makes fundamentalists more vocal, but I don’t think it really turns anyone away from science or harms science in any way.
    Other than those details I completely agree with this post though.

  9. It all depends on who’s the audience. Being like Dawkins doing what Dawkins does in very public venues is great. Being like Dawkins and talking to a congregation in Kansas about the need for legislation to free up stem-cell research can backfire.
    And, if we had more people who could talk to the great grey middle, we’d have no further need for Miller and Francis…

  10. I disagree that moving the Overton window IS intrinsically a long term activity. Look how quickly we’ve gone from Vermont legalizing civil unions to a majority of Americans being in favor of them.

  11. Years. Not minutes.

  12. great post that is most similar to what I actually think about framing after reading a lot on the topic (though it’s becoming impossible to keep up by now…)
    I theorize at the moment that some of the criticism M&N are receiving stems from their not being very clear (or giving specific examples) in their argument and thus not “framing” it appropriately for the rationalistic people at scienceblogs. I like how you’re giving this more of a political/social science context.
    Another thing, if this doesn’t exist already, that would be really helpful right now in order to address the doubts of people here would be a blog post with readable summaries of important research that directly pertains to what M&N are proposing (By this I mean research about effective strategies, not just what people think and why). This would do a lot in convincing someone like me, who doesn’t know a lot about relevant social science research but who likes to see evidence behind opinions.
    I would disagree though that what Dawkins does is necessarily useless in the short term (see statistics here that someone posted on the thread at pharyngula. I’d guess there are quite a few people who tepidly question religion, and people like Dawkins given them a place to start by letting them know that there are other options. And why is this? Because he’s currently being given a voice in the media which he wouldn’t get if he were more conciliatory. Ultimately, aside from entrenched cultural traditions, this framing debate is about what ideas the media gives credit to. “Blaming” scientists is thus not always the right way to go if they’re not being given a platform outside one addressing people who are already interested in scientific topics.

  13. aaaand i didn’t see your previous comment, so nvm on the long term/short term thing.
    but seriously (though this may be too optimistic) I wonder if, once we get rid of bush in 2009 and (with any luck) put a democrat in the white house things might not turn around quickly in terms of good science policy.
    on the other hand, democrats do go out of their way sometimes to pander to conservatives, but hopefully some of that will change once they’re actually in power.

  14. I love how brutal this post is (not that I disagree with any of it); if I were to summarize it, I’d say:
    “We need to fast-talk enough of the ignorant and lazy so that we can get a crack at their kids (thus producing less ignorant and lazy people) and jam our ideology down the throats of the kids of the Dominionists, who are neither ignorant nor lazy, but instead nutbars who are going to get us all killed.”
    Again, not that I disagree. I just appreciate the pragmatism.