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

47 responses to “Everybody Must Get Framed

  1. Bora,
    Your posts are brilliant and right on the mark.

  2. Yeah, the whole “framing = spin” (with the underlying not-so-subtle implication that “framing is a form of lying”) thing is a straw man argument that I’m getting sick of hearing.

  3. Aw coturnix! If its any consolation, I read you, and Ive never viewed the Frame as spin. I just view it as more than a little condescending, offensive, and naive.
    And again, if its any consolation, no one reads my posts either. Despite numerous links/responses/snipes, no one has addressed my original issue with the Frame and how N/M chose to present it.

  4. Coturnix, I am a bit overwhelmed by the amount of writing that’s been done on the subject. I’m coming at this a bit late, I suppose, so forgive me for not having read it all.
    I have been seeing a bit of the debate, and I am a reader of PZ’s. “Framing” confuses me too. I can definitely see what you’re describing in this post, but I find the use of that particular word a little strange. In my training and documentation work, I’ve always referred to the same idea as “presentation.” I say, “The way in which the material is presented can determine how engaged the students are and how much of it they understand.” The word “framing” just has an unpleasant smell of a cynical marketing campaign, of propaganda, as if the size and placement of the “frame” is carefully and deliberately chosen to hide some of the facts from view.
    If I had to create a five-second soundbite to show my gut feeling on this issue, I’d have to say, “The facts speak for themselves.” I agree that when you are choosing which facts to present in what order, you need to take the needs and limitations of the audience into account. But you must construct your presentation to create interest in the whole topic, warts and all. You mustn’t do as the Mormon missionaries do, and hold back some of the facts that you think are too advanced or uncomfortable for people to know.

  5. Aw coturnix! If its any consolation, I read you, and Ive never viewed the Frame as spin. I just view it as more than a little condescending, offensive, and naive.

    Personally, I think it’s naive to think that better framing isn’t necessary. It seems to require the idealistic belief that people will just “understand” if you put the facts out there enough times.
    Be that as it may, why is it “condescending” or “offensive”? Consider this example, which I as a surgeon encounter all the time. A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and I need to explain the scientific rationale behind my proposed course of treatment. She is a high school dropout (I have a high percentage of charity care patients in my practice), and hasn’t had any science or biology education beyond the eighth grade. What is more “condescending,” simply to tell her this is what needs to be done without an attempt to explain the scientific rationale, which, given her lack of education, will certainly require considerable simplification of the scientific and biological rationale for the surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, with, yes,”framing”?
    I can think of other examples (indeed I think I may well have to post about this issue again), andI remain puzzled why “framing” my rationale so that the patient understands as well as her background allows her to my rationale for my proposed treatment might be so “offensive” or “condescending” in this situation. In fact, I would find it far more condescending to revert to the paternalistic model of medicine and just tell her that she needs this operation and followup course of treatment without bothering to attempt to explain it. In such a case, my well-educated patients would get an explanation of my rationale (because they wouldn’t accept it otherwise) while the less-educated would not.
    Yes, I may have to post about this again.

  6. “The facts speak for themselves.” – they don’t, as cognitive science has discovered. Believing they do is dangerous.
    “….hold back some of the facts that you think are too advanced or uncomfortable for people to know.”
    If teaching PhD students, no, if involved in political persuasion, yes. Given 50 seconds, you have to omit 99.999999% of the information. How do you choose what to leave in? And what language to use it so the message penetrates?
    Read the linked posts for more….

  7. Oops.
    This sentence should read:
    What is more “condescending,” simply to tell her this is what needs to be done without an attempt to explain the scientific rationale, which, given her lack of education, will certainly require considerable simplification of the scientific and biological rationale for the surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, with, yes,”framing” or to frame it for her so that she understands it as well as her background allows?

  8. Jonathan Vause

    You know why noone reads you – it’s all those really long intelligent posts in small print. Chasing the ratings is easy, just keep it short, cheap, and rude.
    Hey, maybe THAT’s how to bring science to the masses!

  9. I don’t know why so many scientests are so afraid to have their ideas about communications challenged. It really is a shame.
    The truth is, framing is making a topic important to the INDIVIDUAL as well as being a UNIVERSAL truth. Framing is TELLING A STORY as well as PRESENTING FACTS. Framing is touching the audience’s HEARTS as well as their MINDS.
    It really is that simple. Some few people are able to respond to data filled information and to change their mind about issues. Most people’s eyes glaze over when they are presented with a bunch of facts and figures. They can’t automatically convert raw data into a pertinent story and they can’t see how the information makes any difference to them personally, so they will just stick with what they already believe because a) it’s tried and tested to them, and b) it’s comfortable. This is not rude or condescending to admit. This is just a recognition of the way people behave. If anything, it’s the scientists who are the freaks of nature because they do not operate this way.
    Maybe the issue of framing needs to be framed so these scientists can wrap their minds around it and see how it will ultimately help them reach their personal goals.

  10. In retrospect, I think Chris and Matt made a very serious (or at least potent) error in the way they framed the evolution-creation problem.
    Also, I wonder about the degree to which the framing-spin link is based no so much on what is either a misunderstanding or a deep understanding of framing (which may or may not be spin) as opposed to the degree of understanding of, or effectiveness of the definition of, spin. In other words, the term “spin” is being used, but is it defined?
    I’m not convinced that framing and spinning are distinct, nor am I convinced that just because spinning has a bad reputation (apparently) that it is not appropriate to think more about how we present (frame,spin,whatever) science.
    As I’ve stated in my latest post on this issue, in which I explicitly answer the question Matt posed to me, the religion-science issue is very much part of what we need to deal with. I’m explicitly saying something very different than what Matt and Chris has implied in various places … which some have characterized as appeasement …

  11. I read you, and I think you’ve had the best posts on the whole framing issue. Framing is about speaking to people in a way that resonates with them. It’s about realizing that all discourse has some intended objective, and communicating in such a way as to achieve that objective. You’ve also made clear that people like Dawkins are good science movement as a whole, but also that presenting science as an assault on religion to the general public is very counterproductive.

  12. I’m amazed by the heat this topic has generated – the comments on PZ’s blog are incredibly strong for Scienceblogs. Perhaps M & N were mistaken in mentioning religion-science, but at the moment we see good science pushed aside because the way its communicated is so bad. They say the devil has the best tunes – so science needs to develop some decent music of its own, not simply shout that the devil doesn’t exist.
    Its not enough to say ‘the facts speak for themselves’ – that really didn’t work in Brussels, and it certainly doesn’t work on a 30-second slot on TV. Bora some written some excellent posts on how framing is not simply ‘spin’ or dumbing down – its being careful about how to broadcast your message. Nor is it appeasement. Speaking to people who stopped taking science at 14 because they were bored by it in the same way that you talk to a PhD student is not helpful. Much better to craft what you have to say in terms that the audience understands. This is exactly what we do with our kids – I talk to my 3 year old in a different way to my wife – its not talking down, its speaking to my daughter on a level which she understands.
    Right now, we have bigger fish to fry than Dawkins ego v religion. We have perhaps 10 years before AGW reaches a point where the positive feedbacks make 2 degrees of warming simply a lost hope. We need all the help we can get. I don’t care if 50% of church goers in the US still believe in speaking in tongues, as long as they start to think that they have to do something about climate change. Telling them they are idiots won’t work, telling them that they will help to save God’s creation might – and at the moment, thats good enough for me.
    I think much of the backlash has come from people who think that everyone is as rational, as learned and as certain as they are – and thats all you need. Unfortunately, that’s not enough.

  13. read you, and link to you. Your posts are clearer on the topic than many from the instigators of the discussion and your links are encyclopedic. I treat CLOCK as the blog of record on this framing debate and a few other issues where you did all the leg work for us.

  14. Orac– Personally, I think it’s naive to think that better framing isn’t necessary.

    lol! See what I mean?

    One of my posts–
    Another one:
    Making complicated issues personally meaningful will activate public support much more effectively than blinding people with science.
    Well thank you for the news flash. Thats exactly what I do, quote:
    Another reason would be to get these kids to transmit this information to their parents. Like Ive said over and over and over, Average Joe Creationists slide right off that Creationist-Wagon when they realize how evolution is directly connected to their quality of life. Its not just about ‘dogs turning into cats’– its about Mom not having to go on chemo when she gets breast cancer because her genotype matches the cancer that can be treated with radiation alone. Its about inventing new drugs and vaccines to make our lives better. Get high school kids to write about these kinds of real-world benefits, and suddenly Mom and Dad dont mind evolution being in the curriculum anymore. Might even be inclined to start fighting against Creationism.

    I dont mean to poke fun, Orac, you know I respect you even though we disagree on some issues, but maybe this explains why it appears to me as if everyone is ignoring my issues with science communication.

  15. I think the word “framing” is used so much by political spin-meisters that the word has become synonymous with “spin” in many people’s minds. However often you say it doesn’t mean that, the connection to obfuscation and lying persists. Isn’t language fun?

  16. ERV–
    Your poking fun aside, I still haven’t seen you answer my question about what’s “condescending” or “offensive” about framing in the context of dealing with patients, as I described above. I find it rather ironic that you say I ignore your points when you just did the same thing with the main point of my comment.

  17. Hi everybody.
    Bora/Coturnix, I do follow your posts. Turns out, you are one of my favourite on SB (no offense to the others) together with Orac and Wilkins, exactly because you take your time to explain things, instead of.. well..Jonathan Vause made the point in one of the comments above.
    ERV, I have read your post before you commented here. The problem here is that yes, we are not science communicators. However, universities do have “expert lists”. How many of the experts contacted by the science writer out there actually respond at all, unless one goes through a unversity’s communications people? Zero. And sometimes, even when the communications people give you a hand, the scientists won’t get back to you. Which leaves you to write the article on your own.
    Been there, done that. Tried to contact people for a DCA article – something that should be relevant to oncologist where I am, as I told them that I had evidence that people in the province/state were/are trying to access it. Did they ever get back to me? No.
    So, whose fault is it now? The communications people did get back to me. The scientists/doctors didn’t. So here comes the point: do it yourself, then do it well. It is hard. But even though the other scientists did not come on board, I went ahead anyway. I wrote for a newspaper where the editors do not even know what the FDA is. I wrote for people who might not even remember what a cell or DNA are (seriously!). And the topic was obviously simplified, but not dumbed-down (we all know there is a difference). If they want to know more, I usually sneak a few sources in the article.
    I am tired of these people, used to write/talk to science-knowledgeable audiences, pretending they do not know what framing is. Try talk to a social sciences/arts graduate about science, and you will be framing instantly – people have limited time, attention spans and background knowledge, therefore making information not only accessible, but relevant to them is key. And yes, from the reactions we saw, that is breaking news to some people in or around ScienceBlogs.
    Frame well, provide some additional sources only once you have generated interest (that is the trick), keep it sweet and to the point. Remind them: a T rex is not a chicken – just we do not have that many reptile genomes sequenced out there, and the closest turned out to be chicken.
    Spend half the time you (“you” as in “you who complain”) spend on complaining about framing on doing “science communication” for normal people, and you will understand framing instantly. N & M screwed up when they mentioned Dawkins and acted as religious appeasers: but apart from that, their message is still valid. And necessary, seeing what kind of lashing out we saw on certain blogs few days ago.

  18. There’s waaaaay too much out there now for me to catch up on it all. Lemme see if I have the gist:
    Bora, Nisbet et al.:

    1. framing just means “the way you present information”
    2. you *have* to make choices about how to present information; not choosing is still a choice, and a dumb one
    3. scientists could stand to think more directly about those choices, and make better ones

    Myers, Moran et al.:

    Ph’nglui mglw’nafh lies! spin! politics! Cthulhu! wgah’nagl fhtagn aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!

  19. One thing Myers et al don’t have is a background in communication theory. That’s pretty obvious. So when I finally get around to writing the article I’m going to do about framing for scientists, I’m going to have to start probably from beyond first principles. That’s ok, but it’s going to cut down on the potential depth I can get into.
    In this case, “frame” is being used in the same sense as “frame of reference,” which is a term with a long and venerable history. The background for this formulation comes out of theoretical work by George Lakoff, Andrew Orotony, and others, who primarily started out as metaphoricists. You could also say it’s the reflection in praxis of Marshall McLuhan’s axiom “The medium is the message.” In fact, our brilliant Coturnix gave an excellent example of exactly what those five words mean in practice by detailing how an Excel spreadsheet (the medium) conveys information (the message).
    One of the things that the scientific anti-framing or I-don’t-get-it crowd may be getting thrown by is the relativeness of the message (impacted by the various media in which it’s transmitted and the various audiences who receive it). These are very res ipsa loquitur kind of people, but the reses in question don’t really speak for themselves, or at least, they speak much better if we give them a helping hand by contextualising them properly for an audience (the particular audience we’re addressing) and make appropriate communications decisions based on that audience analysis. (I don’t think Dr. Myers gives much thought to audience analysis, although that’s not his fault; being a professional communicator, I don’t give much thought to Hox genes, either.)
    Orac, it’s really splendid that you get this.

  20. What I find incredibly frustrating and that is fueling my exasperation with “frames” is that everyone is saying that it’s a tool to communicate appropriately to people about science…and here I am, saying that you guys have done an incredibly bad job of explaining this “science” to me, and you just want to pretend it’s all my fault. You are undermining your own claims about framing!
    As I’ve said repeatedly, I am not intrinsically opposed to doing a better job of communicating (quite the contrary, actually), but at every step I’m finding that you, Matt, and Chris are doing such a tin-eared job of addressing my concerns with the subject that I have become convinced that none of you know what you’re talking about. Try doing as you say sometime, instead of “framing” everything in a way that instantly turns me off.

  21. Orac–I still haven’t seen you answer my question about what’s “condescending” or “offensive” about framing in the context of dealing with patients, as I described above…

    Ah! Nonononono! Not condescending or offensive towards the patients/Average Joes! Condescending and offensive towards scientists who have discovered this mystical magical ‘Frame’ and already use it every day (in your case) or in every presentation (my case).
    I read the Science article as ‘If you scientists would just frame things better there wouldnt be a problem’, as if this was a novel idea and the heart of scientific illiteracy in this country. To me, suggesting everyone ‘frame’ their presentations appropriately is like telling everyone to make sure they present in a language their audience speaks– Duh! So that ‘suggestion’ from N/M was incredibly condescending from my perspective.
    And I maintain that ‘framing’ is incredibly low on the list of hurdles for communicating science to the public (as everyone already does it), thus suggesting that improving framing will improve Average Joe scientific literacy is naive. My problems havent come from the side of the scientists– theyve come from people who have a vested interest in keeping their flock/followers/readers/viewers in an anti-science environment. I need help dealing with THAT!
    I apologize for not being clearer, as thats obviously the source of our disagreement 🙂

  22. I posted this challenge in one of PZ’s threads (so appologies to anyone who takes offense at the duplication). In that post I present what I think is one of the best frames for climate change and ask if anyone can produce something as powerful for religion vs. atheism.
    PZ, I take your point, although I think you are being coy, that you’d be happy to be shown how to communicate more effectively. It is not as if there is a 5-step algorithm that produces effective framing and that doesn’t mean framing is merely an art. It just means it is not simplistic.
    That’s the essence of the challenge on my post.
    I also think Pharyngula has become so popular (so many commentors commenting so much) that it’s nearly impossible to have a meaningful discussion there on a hot topic. (Oh, the burdens of “success”!) Perhaps this is a place where we wee bloggers can help out. 🙂


  24. Another more modest challenge:
    First of all I must say that I’m pro-frames. As I’ve said in other comments I just think that there’s a difference between persuading and convincing, and I believe that scientist should use frames to convince people, not to persuade them. Let the latter to the policy makers.
    Also, I think your examples of framing are excellent. However, frames have to be tested for their efficacy. They’re not just about thinking how you’re going to say things but, since you have goals, they’re also about testing if a particular way of saying something is going to accomplish these objectives. And here’s where all the complexity of frames becomes evident.
    For example, there’s the problem of “inter-temporal choice” that intrigues framers like David Laibson. That is, the weight of the now in our decision-making calculator. If you ask people, ‘Which do you want right now, fruit or chocolate?’ they say, ‘Chocolate!’ But if you ask, ‘Which one a week from now?’ they will say, ‘Fruit.’ We always want to eat the chocolate today and start the diet tomorrow. Pollute now and clean the air in 30 years. There’s even a formal model for this: if, for instance, an action has an immediate cost of 8 units, but will produce a delayed benefit of 10 units, the net gain won’t be two units because we tend to devalue the future. Supposing that future events have half the value of present ones, the eight units become only four, and taking action today means a net loss of two units.
    That’s why smokers won’t quit, even though, they know cigarettes produce cancer, or why people with high cholesterol can’t stop eating bacon despite knowing they can die from a heart attack. This kind of behavior occurs not because of ignorance or stupidity but because the way in which we make decisions isn’t always based on rational calculations.
    So, I have a challenge for you and your readers. I’ve been trying to persuade my father, who has diabetes, to loose weight. I’ve framed the problem in many different ways. I’ve even tried pre-commitment a strategy proposed to address inter-temporal choice. If you can suggest a frame to achieve my goal, I’ll put it to the test and tell you the results. I’ll be very grateful if it works.

  25. Paula,
    That is the problem. You want a frame now. The soundbite culture isn’t created quasi overnite. It isn’t going to happen
    Framing is a cultural issue. You need to literally build a scaffolding of understanding to achieve what needs to be done. You are however pointing out the obvious issue we are dealing with.
    Framers say that the Enlightenment model is flawed, man is not a rational animal. You are presenting the data. M & N are simply trying to engineer a solution using the hypothesis and laws as they are currently understood by congnitive scientists.
    But I agree, neither Mooney nor Nisbet have ‘framed’ the issue in a very posititive manner. They got off to a bad start – would have made a GREAT book launch though. 🙂

  26. Please. I am not being “coy”. I do not expect a magic solution.
    I do expect a clear statement of what framing is and how I can use it, even if I’m warned that it will take years of hard work to master the skills; that hasn’t been made yet, and I’m losing confidence in its most ardent proponents. Why not just call it chi or the Force, and tell me more cryptic zen pronouncements on how it permeates me and can be used to manipulate the minds of others?
    I’m going to have to meet Mooney and Nisbet so they can wave their hands at me and say “these are not the droids you are looking for”, and then I’ll be a convert.

  27. PZ doesn’t get it. He’s a scientist and a science writer, and most people think he’s a damn good science writer. But he’s not an expert on framing. The framing experts–who mostly aren’t scientists–tell him that he’s full of sh*t. And so is Richard Dawkins.
    Pay attention PZ. You’re supposed to listen to the experts on science education. They know what they’re talking about. You need to change everything you’re doing because you’re doing it all wrong. Follow the examples of Nisbet and Mooney and Bora.
    Framing is a polite word for “spin.” It’s something that you deliberately and consciously have to do in order to alter your message so that it conforms to what your audience wants to hear. It doesn’t come naturally and that’s why Bora, Nisbet, and Mooney have to lecture us on how to do it. Not only that, they have to tell us what to do (e.g., don’t talk about atheism). Framing/spin is the opposite of what scientists are supposed to do. It’s the opposite of honesty and sincerity.

  28. Nobody’s telling PZ to change anything! He is popular for a reason because he is good at it…for his audience. And Larry has such powerful emotional attachment to the notion of scientific purity that he reads everything through those glasses and willfully misrepresents what about 50 posts so far are saying. Lost cause? Perhaps. Inability to admit he’s wrong in the face of overwhelming consensus of the “other side”? Perhaps. Or he may, being a smart guy, stop yelling and start listening and re-reading and trying to see what everyone is really trying to say, not what Larry thinks everyone is trying to say.

  29. No,
    framing is not something you do “in order to alter your message so that it conforms to what your audience wants to hear”. That is an immoral use of framing, not framing itself. Framing is a tool – how you use it is up to whether you are an ethical person or not.
    Framing is…well, read what the people who study the use of framing have to say about that:
    “As a macroconstruct, the term framing refers to modes of presentation that journalists and other communicators use to present information in a way that resonates with existing underlying schemas among their audience (Shoemaker &Reese, 1996). This does not mean, of course, that most journalists try to spin a story or deceive their audiences. In fact, framing, for them, is a necessary tool to reduce the complexity of an issue, given the constraints of their respective media related to news holes and airtime (Gans, 1979). Frames, in other words, become invaluable tools for presenting relatively complex issues, such as stem cell research, efficiently and in a way that makes them accessible to lay audiences because they play to existing cognitive schemas. As a microconstruct, framing describes how people use information and presentation features regarding issues as they form impressions.”
    If you want to read more about this, and why framing and spinning are not the same thing, you can find quite some info here. Mind you, I am not in communication studies, I am a researcher, but I also provide the sources, so if you want to go more in depth….well, from what I gathered, chances are that you’ll get turned off before you ever get there.
    What I definetely agree on, as PZ and Trinifar have suggested, is to try and make this practical. How do we take a new journal article that maybe wishes to be controversial (something like the Science article on the effect of certain silent mutations in the MDR1 (P-gp) gene), and present it:
    1. in short form (about 500-1000 words)
    2. for reading by a lay audience
    3. presenting it for what it is (i.e. yes, the idea of silent mutations is still valid and why)
    4. generating actual interest in your audience without using titles of the kind “Scientists were all wrong! These mutations actually do something!”
    That is what any next post on framing (in my humble opinion) should focus on: how do we do this? some advice? how do we (and if we should) get more involved with the conventional media? what are the obstacles? etc.
    Those are my five cents. Maybe I will try to respond to the challenge raised by Trinifar, maybe not: but I will be surely waiting to see if somebody can come up with some practical examples of “how they did it” or “how to do it”.
    Take care,
    steppen wolf

  30. Coturnix says,
    Or he may, being a smart guy, stop yelling and start listening and re-reading and trying to see what everyone is really trying to say, not what Larry thinks everyone is trying to say.
    This is gettng very frustrating. PZ has asked repeatedly for specific examples. That’s because he’s really dense (so am I) and he just can’t figure out what it is you’re trying to say. It may be clear to you but it ain’t clear to me.
    Here’s an example of clarity of expression from Matt Nisbet when he’s being interviewed on On the Media.
    BROOKE GLADSTONE: How would you have advised Copernicus to advance his highly controversial and unpopular sun-centered theory of the solar system?
    MATTHEW NISBET: Well, again, you know, there are certain ideas that come about in science that clash so strongly against prevailing world views that any type of short-term communication effort is going to run up against a wall.
    What I’m really talking about is on these short-term issues where there needs to be a policy decision made in the next five years, the next ten years, during the presidential election cycle, what’s the best way to engage the public by way of the media? And certainly you can’t get around the idea that framing is central to that.
    What the heck does that mean? How am I supposed to frame my views of evolution and religion in response to a comment like that? And what kind of “policy decision” is going to be made about whether evolution is a fact or not?
    The problem is that you guys are talking about something very different than science education but you just won’t admit it. You’re talking about (American) politics and policy.
    So Bora, what would you have said to Copernicus? What’s your best advice for Richard Dawkins?

  31. steppen wolf asks,
    What I definetely agree on, as PZ and Trinifar have suggested, is to try and make this practical. How do we take a new journal article that maybe wishes to be controversial (something like the Science article on the effect of certain silent mutations in the MDR1 (P-gp) gene), and present it:
    Okay, this is obviously a reference to the article I posted [Silent Mutations and Neutral Theory]. I’m all ears. How would you have “framed” your article? Let’s get practical.

  32. Are you implying that, unlike Larry, I’m not as attached to “scientific purity”? Or that you aren’t?

  33. “The problem is that you guys are talking about something very different than science education but you just won’t admit it.”
    The problem is that we are screaming that this is not about science education, but about winning short-term political battles that are urget, on global warming, for instance. We are not hiding it, au contraire, we keep trying to tell you that it is most decisevly NOT about science education.
    That is why I do not think you have read my posts. In the two-tier approach to framing (short-term and long-term), science education is only a part of the long-term strategy and has nothing to do with the short-term. N&M are concerned, in this debate at last, with the short-term: the political, the ‘Republican War On Science’ and how to fight back right now. Education is too slow process for this to succeed.
    The anti-framers are concerned with long-term and are pushing for science education, which, in 9 posts so far, I explained to be a different yet related activity. Better the science education, easier it will be to win political fights in the future because the correct frames will be already planted into more minds and will be easier to elicit with dogwhistles.
    As for PZ contrast to Larry, PZ appears to be more open to dialogue, that’s all.
    Also, why is everyone asking N&M to spoonfeed “frames”? Theirs was a call for the science blogging community to put their heads together and use collective wisdom in order to come up with a useful strategy for undermying oposition’s frames and persuading the uninterested ‘middle’ (nobody suggests that anything can move the hard-line fundies, but their framing is seductive and venomous and needs to be countered smartly).

  34. So Bora, what would you have said to Copernicus?
    How about adding a preface to his book saying it was just a mathematical model, not a statement of fact?
    Since that worked out so well, a similar approach could make books on evolution more palatable to the public. Maybe we could use stickers?

  35. The Copernicus question is a “long-term strategy” question and Matt’s answer is that it does not matter in a short-term kind of strategy. How many lives were gonna be saved if Copernicus was accepted earlier than later (as in months)? None. An irrelevant question, thus Matt rightly brushed it off.
    It is not about education, it is about fast persuasion on critical policy decisions that rely, in part, on scientific information that most people would not have enough background to understand (or at least not fast enough, even if inclined to listen and put an effort into learning, which is doubtful for most people).

  36. And Dawkins is a master of the long-term game (which I stated several times already but it falls on deaf ears), so the advice to him is to keep doing what he is doing. But the advice to people who are concerned about the political battles is not to try to emulate the Dawkins style because it is not appropriate for the short-term political battles.

  37. You know, this is what’s frustrating: you and Nesbit/Mooney set this issue up as a criticism of scientists — they suck at communicating, Dawkins is the devil, we’re all f-wording everything badly — and then when we say OK, give us specific details and tell us how to improve, and we raise our objections, we’re reassured that we should keep on doing what we’ve been doing.
    Which is it? Do we suck, or are we fulfilling our role appropriately?
    The mixed messages are annoying. They are among many problems (particularly the absence of useful suggestions) that tell me this is all nonsense that I can ignore.

  38. This is part of what I wrote in Rosenhouse’s comment thread:
    “Also, I did not get the impression that Matt and Chris are asking ALL scientists to participate. Some won’t for various reasons. Probably most would rather stay out of it and keep doing research and teaching. Others may already be involved in the greater Culture Wars against pseudoscience, religion and superstition and may be too well known from that arena to be appropriate messengers of pro-science message to particular audiences.
    I also do not get the impression that Matt and Chris are asking ONLY scientists to participate. But, wherever expertise is needed the experts are scientists – it will be scientists who are invited to testify in court or in front of Congress, or will be invited to explain stuff in the media. It would be nice if science writers or science journalists could do that as they are trained in communication, but they do not possess official expertise on the matter so they will not be invited.
    Unfortunately, most scientists are not trained in communication, especially to potentially hostile audiences (and no, as much as it may seem that way sometimes, our students are not potentially hostile audience). Look at you or me or Orac or a bunch of other science bloggers: thousands of words per blog post! That does not work. But, the idea is that a small number of scientists with the aptitude and enthusiasm for this GET communications training and be the ones who always go to explain the stuff to the media, congress and juries.”
    So, it is not a criticism of scientists, it’s a wake-up call about communications deficits that are a usual result of our professional training. We are very good at communicating to receptive audiences, but not to non-receptive audiences, and we – at least a few of us – need to learn how for political reasons. We are very good at giving 50-minute talks or lectures, but usually pretty bad at giving 5-second sound-bytes, and we – at least a few of us – need to learn how for political reasons.
    There is a division of labor. You and Dawkins are doing great at what you are doing: the long-term education and long-term fight against forces of unreason. By being so prominent in that arena, you are not appropriate messengers for persuading the grey middle, because they will balk at just hearing the Dawkins name and quit listening before he says a word. Different people, with no record of screming against religion need to be recruited for those audiences – they need not mention religion in any way – positive or negative – perhaps SHOULD not, but they should not be automatically dismissed by the adience due to what one can Google they said in the past.

  39. Coturnix,
    The problem is that we are screaming that this is not about science education, but about winning short-term political battles that are urget, on global warming, for instance. We are not hiding it, au contraire, we keep trying to tell you that it is most decisevly NOT about science education.
    Okay. Then I’m not interested. Goodbye.

  40. Did you read the next paragraph or is that too much for a mind already set in stone?

  41. How many lives were gonna be saved if Copernicus was accepted earlier than later (as in months)? None. An irrelevant question, thus Matt rightly brushed it off.
    How many lives are going to be saved by knowledge of the age of the dinosaurs? Evolution is important to medical research, but why not frame that as simply microevolution that is more widely accepted? Does the public need to know about fossils to make the correct medical policy decisions? [/devil’s advocate]

  42. “How many lives are going to be saved by knowledge of the age of the dinosaurs?”
    None. But that question is wrongly worded. How about this:
    How many lives are saved if ordinary people believe in evolution?
    How many lives are saved if physicians and biomedical researchers believe in evolution?

  43. Although it would be useful for some other reasons if everyone believed in evolution.
    But, how many lives will be saved if everyone believed that global warming is anthropogenic?
    All lives.

  44. Coturnix, you’re last point is why I care about this issue and thanks for the good work you’ve done trying to make the idea of framing science more accessible. Just like in the evolution/creationism conflict, there is a small group that is not going to listen. The only thing surprising is who some of the people in that group are! Ugh.

  45. This argument has been my introduction to Larry Moran, and seeing the level of argument he engages in, I’m just as glad.
    There is a certain kind of ego that insists that “I know” when the best that is honesty achieved is “I believe”. It’s the difference between fundamentalism and liberalism. The fundamentalist betrays that it’s primarily a question of their own ego, of what they want because they will elevate their fixation to being the only thing that is important, it is the only thing that they are willing to consider. And it’s a mindset that an atheist can have as well as a religionist. Some liberal atheists I know are getting kind of fed up with the atheist fundemantalists who get all the attentions, make total jerks of themselves and only make things worse. But since they don’t really care about the results of their venting, that’s just fine with them.
    Fundamentlists won’t work to better things, they’re too busy preening in their integrity.

  46. You can call it “positive spin” if you wish.

    This is so going to annoy the particle physicists.

  47. The more I read about psychology, the more I’m convinced about the importance of framing information properly in order to better convey the information. Some time ago I even had a sort of epiphany, by reading a debate where the people standing for real science were sounding much like woos, while the woo was sounding pretty much reasonable, from my perspective as someone who does not really understand much on the subject (particle physics). Without using an “ad hominem” argumentation to convince myself, the only point that “settled” the debate for me was the faulty statistics (not that I’m an expert on this subject either) used by the real woo.
    It made me to realize how it’s easy to forget the importance of framing when we are an “insider”, when we do know, beyond reasonable doubt, what’s certain and what is not. I think that from this perspective, we tend to communicate in a way that is only barely effective, it’s more “preaching to the choir” than anything else. It may work somewhat from someone who’s honestly in an agnostic position and willing to go anywhere the best evidence points to, but even so, innocent things like a little more bit of sarcasm instead of dealing with the argument per se may backfire.
    I haven’t read the mentioned posts on Mixing Memory yet, but that is a really nice blog and probably has something on the subject of “cognitive dissonance”, which I think that is of key importance, and yet perhaps almost neglected, on science popularization.