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
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