Framing Science

Having been away for the past two weeks i’ve missed most of the exciting “Framing Science” stuff. I feel most sympathetic to the PZ view… In that addressing your message to your audience seems fairly obvious. But I rather like this from the globalchange mailing list:

> does a field of human endeavour which has at its foundation a
> profound belief in the value of reason go about addressing an audience
> which, for a variety of reasons, has a large proportion of members
> whose response to the issues is irrational and who do not value reason
> in the same way, instead apparently preferring an almost pre-rational,
> mythic narrative and its associated value system?

...I think the Pielkian (Jr) answer is to redefine the
problem in such a way that the denialists can swallow an acceptable
solution, the Mooney and Nisbet answer is to dress it up in language
that might disarm their objections, and the scientists' answer is to
wait for them to die out.

[Update: that was JA responding to FB, btw -W]

The scientists answer has worked before for other questions, but perhaps not for things that actually require policy responses.

BTW, Eli has a nice joke that is partly relevant… check the comments as well.

So how do I know if I understand the framing stuff? N+M say “In reality, citizens do not use the news media as scientists assume. Research shows that people are rarely well enough informed or motivated to weigh competing ideas and arguments” – weeeelll… I assume that citizens are thoroughly confused by the news media, as they get different incompatible stories from different sources – or even from the same source on different days. Judging from the way the media publish things, the stories are there for entertainment not enlightenment – and I assume that is what their readership wants.

10 thoughts on “Framing Science”

  1. I thought your response to the Sachs lecture illustrated perfectly why most scientists will never be good at ‘letting citizens make up their minds without knowledge’ (Nisbet) – what the guy said wasn’t exactly wrong, but the scientist in you freaked out because it wasn’t exactly right. Incidentally, the other aspect of ‘framing’ is apparently ‘recruiting opinion leaders’, selling the science to them (here we can use reason and data dumps, because leaders should be intelligent enough to understand it), and then letting them get on with motivating people to act using whatever method they want. Which bring us back to you rolling your eyes at an economist mangling climate science – his message was basically right, so never mind the details.


  2. But Jonathan, this takes us to the centre of the problem, for the scientist. Is it right to let the truth get a bit mangled, if the message is thereby better ‘framed’, or must s/he stand by principles and say ‘this is not quite right’?

    As has been noted on other threads, most public concern about GW correlates strongly to personal and immediate experience. In the absence of this, it may well be, as William suggests, simply another talking point for the bar-stool philosopher, a temporary subject of interest in the absence of any meaningful sports or other entertainment to discuss. The proportion of the population actively concerned and willing to act on this is relatively small, and noticeably ‘middle-class’ (if you’ll excuse the English implication), and the reactions tend to be about gestures and status-points, rather than activism or serious commitment.
    At the moment, most of the politics is focussed on energy policy, consumption and use. this isn’t unrelated, but it doesn’t communicate the issues arising from AGW which matter to the populace; it simply annoys them, because they feel that they are being held responsible and they are expected to pay for it.
    I wonder if it is time for eminent scientists to speak out clearly and say ‘AGW is not about energy policy, it is about energy production’, or somthing more appropriate.


  3. No, scientists should never be caught letting the truth get mangled – in fact I think they should go out of their way to cultivate the public perception that they are a detached elite doing very difficult work that normal people don’t understand, because that’s the truth of it. But if a NON-scientist says something slightly inaccurate on an issue that’s controversial for some reason but on which scientists overwhelmingly agree (teaching evolution in school/climate change etc), then the last thing scientists should do is distract attention from the main thrust of the argument by nit-picking.


  4. William –

    But if it is fairly obvious, as suggested by PZ and apparently endorsed by you, that one must address one’s message to one’s audience, why is there so much resistance to the seemingly scientific, empirical approach of looking at the evidence of how audiences actually understand and respond to the information provided? Nisbet and the body of research he and Mooney cite offer a great deal of evidence that the very methods PZ offers in response don’t work, or only work in a very limited fashion, because people don’t understand the information being given to them in the way PZ (and he’s a proxy here for a whole line of argument offered by many) want them to.

    [Because just as they have a way of listening to things, we have a way of saying things :-). But I’m not sure this resistance is as great as you say. When I talk to public audiences I do slim things down. I’m concious that it is still largely going over peoples heads, though. And that many people, afterwards, only want to talk about their pet skeptic talking point. This is, I think, because the evidence *for* GW is too boring for most people. I’m not really sure what to do about it – W]


  5. John –
    Funny you should say that; thanks to Inel, William and the globalchange group posters, such thoughts have been going through my mind as well. Ideas and suggestions welcomed on my blog; or we can go to your place, if you like…


  6. Fraud in science – Why on the increase? [big cut -W] Forty thousand journals published yearly produce a million articles, and part of this flood “is symptomatic of fundamental ills, including a publish-or-perish ethic among researchers that is stronger now than ever and encourages shoddy, repetitive, useless or even fraudulent work.”


    [Errm, thank you. Yes p-or-p is indeed a problem, but nonetheless the amount of fraud appears to be very low -W]


  7. Marilyn, you may find more interest in your material over at Pharyngula. I understand the proprietor is especially appreciative of long cut-and-pastes similar to the foregoing.


  8. psychologists studying decision making find that most decisions people make are made rapidly by gut feeling, not logic, and are justified after the fact. This reflects in the way people respond to climate change info. The people W mentions who just want to talk about their favourite skeptik talking point are probably using it as a convenient post-justification that confirms their gut feeling on the issue. They would be more likely to change their view when an opinion leader they identify with changes their position. They are unlikely to be persuaded by evidence, however solid, presented by someone they don’t identify with because many people simply don’t assess evidence in the way a scientist does.


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