1. says

    My response to framing, cross-posted (with some changes) from Sandwalk:

    I really think that Mooney and Nisbet just don’t get what we’re interested in doing as we defend science.

    We’re fighting for a world in which evidence and proven rational and logical methods will prevail, at least where it comes to science and science education. The fight is against those who frame, and for a space in which framing will at least be minimal, so as not to obscure empirical issues.

    The last thing we can do is to set out to frame any more than is necessary to get the point across–if we’re hoping to be understood with respect to our vision and goals, let alone to expect to avoid being known as hypocrites. That framing occurs in science is not in question. However, the primary concerns of real scientists is how to prevent excessive framing, and to help humans to see through the framing that inevitably occurs.

    It’s like they’re telling us to be deceptive and to misrepresent the truth in our bid to keep science and education honest. To ally ourselves with the devil in order to enhance our fight against the devil. There is no sense to it, and thus it is self-defeating.

    I am not unaware that some simplification and framing has to be used to communicate popular science and in communicating about issues involving science to the public. Carl Sagan used a minimal amount of framing to get science ideas across–but that’s the point, he used about as little as he reasonably could when communicating to those who did not know much science.

    So I am not altogether opposed to some framing by educators and those who must teach science, plus it is impossible to fully divest any human endeavor of framing, including science. But we do not seek to do anything other than to minimize the framing necessary, while maximizing impact–especially since many of the necessary metaphors are already farther than the truth than anything we would ideally desire.

    The point of science is to try to avoid prejudice and framing as much as possible, while Nisbet and Mooney are trying to increase the prejudicial framing that cannot be entirely eradicated. They just don’t seem to realize our whole point, which is that science is not a religion or even much of a “worldview,” it is a vital method of cutting through the BS with which the various proponents of framing try to dupe their audiences. Framing is the opposite of the science endeavor, and to push framing into science and science education is an anti-science tactic.

    Glen D

  2. pedlar says

    Like James Hrynyshyn I’ve recently read – or, more honestly, skimmed – most of M & N’s take on framing. Nothing there I didn’t already know as a 14 year old.

    They give Ph.Ds for this stuff?

    Fair enough, I suppose. They give them for Theology, after all.

  3. says

    Excellent. I think he puts into words exactly the problem I have with framing something that is based on data. Spin. Creationists use spin to corrupt much of the data they use for their own purposes. Scientists doing the same does nothing but give the creationists/deniers/wackos ammo.

  4. says

    This is what Nisbet and Mooney wrote in Science about communicating evolution to the public:

    “As another example, the scientific theory of evolution has been accepted within the research community for decades. Yet as a debate over “intelligent design” was launched, antievolutionists promoted “scientific uncertainty” and “teach-the-controversy” frames, which scientists countered with science-intensive responses. However, much of the public likely tunes out these technical messages. Instead, frames of “public accountability” that focus on the misuse of tax dollars, “economic development” that highlight the negative repercussions for communities embroiled in evolution battles, and “social progress” that define evolution as a building block for medical advances, are likely to engage broader support.”

    Have any of these been ignored? But what is Dover going to care about the negative repercussions in their economic development, and people who deny the soundness of evolutionary theory aren’t likely to be swayed by arguing about medical advances (or accountability for tax receipts) from this supposedly “bogus science.” The lawsuit issue should matter to them, of course, and we do bring that up.

    I think that especially with respect to evolution Mooney and Nisbet have been wrong. Most people are concerned about the “truth” of the matter, both on the evolutionist and the creationist sides. The money issues are trivial, compared with filling children’s minds with lies–again, both sides say that. The issue is whether evidence prevails(and thus our system of justice and all other Enlightenment ideals), or whether we’re supposed to believe some ancient “revelation” handed down through hands whose integrity is unknown.

    The fact is that framing probably has more value in other debates, especially something like global warming. You mostly aren’t fighting over the meaning of “truth” where global warming is concerned, but rather the facts, the risks to economy and community, and what might be done about it.

    What constitutes “truth” is the main debate with respect to evolution, however. And for us to budge from the importance of following the evidence with a minimum of prejudice is to announce both our hypocrisy and our eventual defeat. Nisbet’s and Mooney’s frames for the debate over the policy on evolution aren’t necessarily “wrong,” but they’re certainly the incorrect emphasis for this matter, since they mean almost nothing to anyone who thinks evolution is either wrong or seriously in doubt.

    The truth is that Nisbet and Mooney did get into specifics at least with respect to evolution, and they are almost completely wrong about how to frame the issue of evolution. We have to frame evolution as we understand it, as the most honest conclusion about how life forms arose, from the most honest methods available to researching life’s origins. We frame it as science because we’re fighting for the freedom to do and to teach science (though I like to compare it to determination of guilt and innocence as well, not so much a frame as an analogy) without the encumberances of acknowledging the Abrahamic God before we are allowed to do so.

    Glen D

  5. xebecs says

    Well. I don’t know why we should take this guy seriously: his parents virtually disemvoweled him at birth.

  6. says

    This is framing:

    Ben Stein to ring the halls of the Missouri Capitol with his monotone voice today
    JEFFERSON CITY | Ben Stein — that white-haired monotoner who played teachers in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Wonder Years” — will be at the Missouri Capitol today.

    Stein is starring in a new documentary, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed ,” which purports to unmask the conspiracy by scientists and educators to discredit intelligent design.

    The movie opens April 18.

    In addition to being an actor with a shockingly narrow range, Stein also has some reputation as an intellect — note his Comedy Central game show, “Win Ben Stein’s Money” and a stint as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

    Now, he’s cast himself as an activist for intelligent design, the assertion that the complexity of life on earth can only be the work of a creator.

    Stein will screen the documentary for lawmakers at 5:30 this evening in the Capitol rotunda, and will hold a press conference tomorrow morning.

    Promotional flyers pasted around the building show Stein, 63, decked out in a schoolboy uniform, complete with short pants.

    Here’s hoping that he opts for a suit today.

    I suppose hoping for honesty from Ben wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

    I thought this might serve both as a kind of example of what people are reacting to when framing is mentioned (not necessarily the best example), and as an alert to more machinations from the IDiots.

    Moving back to the article, though, if Ben got an undeserved reputation as an “intellect” or “intellectual,” he seems determined to prove wrong those so snookered by his useless pile of facts (seriously, he seems to have no integrated body of knowledge about anything).

    Apparently few Florida legislators went to a similar showing in their state, suggesting that they aren’t all willing to be swayed by ill-presented swill. Are Missouri legislators as little interested in dishonest propaganda, or will they show themselves to be willing dupes and easy marks?

    Glen Davidson

  7. JJR says

    Well, Missouri is the “Show-me State”, so maybe there’s hope. Sadly, I know that there was some trouble with creationism in schools in the small town of Potosi, MO (where a great Aunt of mine used to live), several miles from Jefferson City, the state capital (Potosi is closer to St. Louis, about 68 miles south of STL, actually).

    Missouri also has a depressing number of obnoxious anti-abortion billboards along its highways, at least the roads I used to travel with my parents as a kid and as a young adult, visiting relatives in the summertime and/or Christmas season. It also proportionally has a lot more elderly people (who skew towards the religious) than my current home state of Texas.

    #3 by pedlar:
    “They give Ph.Ds for this stuff?
    Fair enough, I suppose. They give them for Theology, after all.”

    (Slightly OT rant follows)
    Shoot, they give PhD’s in Fashion Design and Marketing, for cripes sake. Probably there’s a PhD in Sports Marketing out there somewhere as well. One library colleague once derisively referred to our MBA students as “vocational students”…

    Meanwhile, English and other *real* humanities PhDs eke out a living as part-time adjuncts and instructors/lecturers, or have to seek alternative employment options outside of academe…often as office workers, etc.

    To be fair, “pure” Natural Sciences PhDs (as opposed to applied sciences/engineering types) also have it pretty rough, too.

  8. longstreet63 says

    I’m a tech support professional.
    Anyone who deals at length with technical support organizations will probably sympathize with the feeling that technical and communications skills seem inversely proportional.
    It’s not quite true. The inability of technicians to communicate is no good indicator of their competence. You simply can’t tell if they know what they’re doing when they can’t effectively talk about it. On the other hand, a technician who can give you a good floor show which makes you feel as if they are speaking the same language as you may also be able to fix your problem.
    The end goal, for the problem to go away, is the primary concern. The secondary goal, of giving the person with the problem some sense of participation in the process, is actually a close second. One can fail to fix an issue and still offer a successful transaction if the user feels as though they understand the problem.
    As this relates to framing, it illustrates the flaw in the concept: The majority of the people targeted in the science framing debate don’t have a problem they want solved.
    It is the educator/scientist with the problem that needs to be solved, i.e. that the religious zealots stop interfering with them.
    In this situation, it is unlikely that any amount of framing by the scientist will have any useful effect on the problem. The zealots have their frame already and it excludes that with which they do not agree.
    Should one have a hard drive issue, one cannot solve it by consulting a technician who only knows about modems, no matter how carefully one tries to frame it as a modem problem.
    Or, to leave the tech support analogy, when all you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails. Science isn’t in the position of the hammer vis the zealots, but the nail. We aren’t going to get anywhere by telling the hammer that we’re a sort of nail.
    They already know what to do with nails.
    Our best bet is to keep loudly insisting that we’re a screw. Or a herring. Or a bus.
    Steve “Anything but a nail.” James

  9. says

    Once again it pretty much comes down to the fact that scientists are doing a bloody good job of communicating science but the religious don’t like science, and the “communications experts” are so crap at communicating that they blame the scientists.

  10. bill says

    `Framing’ is a new name for analysis of discourse, which is essential in history and anthropology and pretty much any sort of social science. `Discourse’ is how people communicate things–what metaphors they choose, why they choose them, what aspects of an argument to emphasize, etc. I study medieval Italian mathematics–the discourse about Arabic numerals vs Roman numerals is both important and fascinating; what arguments did people find convincing enough to shift from Roman to Arabic?

    Discourse, and understanding it, is important. Nisbet, apparently, thinks of `framing’ as taking the results of discourse analysis and applying it to the current discourse over science and religion. That’s not a bad thing, I think, but it requires a thoroughgoing understanding of the current science and religion discourse, which is extremely multi-faceted. I think this is where Nisbet (and Mooney) fall down–they’ve reduced the discourse to `us vs them plus fence-sitters’, and have never really analyzed who the fence-sitters are. For example, the literalness of the Bible is a discourse going on in Christian circles. Most traditional Christian faiths (certainly Catholicism) have a theology that allows (or encourages) allegorical interpretations of the Bible; fundamentalism does not, nor does Islam. Are more traditional Christians moving to a fundamentalist position on interpretations of the Bible? If so, the science and religion discourse will get shriller–perhaps the best thing for scientists to do is to encourage Lutherans and Catholics that their traditions of allegorical interpretations of the Bible should be maintained, and literal interpretation should be condemned. Allegorical habits of reading the Bible lessen the tensions between science and Christianity.

    To summarize, science and religion discourse should be analyzed; Nesbit does a terrible job of analysis; trying to guide the discourse is next to impossible; the best thing to do is to be aware of what you believe and be clear when you talk about it, and try not (too much) to deliberately anger people.

    And, if you want to see a great example of framing, see the American Mathematical Monthly for December 2007, where Hadlock frames why mathematicians should get involved with regulatory affairs.

  11. Mark Gisleson says

    It’s tempting to blame Lakoff, but the problem isn’t with him so much as it is with the political blogosphere that seized his message and tried to implement framing as a weapon. It is important to understand framing, but only in so far as it helps you to understand how the “right” constructs their message.

    No, the average person doesn’t understand frames, but I would argue that they know the smell of a frame by now. They may not know why David Brooks is utterly full of it night after night on The News Hour, but they know enough to change channels.

    Framing is yesterday’s trickery. Today’s youth watch “comedies” with plots that can best be described as “old people never make any sense and you should just ignore them if you want to be happy.” These young people don’t know a frame from iambic pentameter, but they certainly understand that listening to politicians is the anti-smart drink.

    An occasional bit of framing helps with an argument, but to rely on frames is tantamount to admitting that your case is so weak you found it necessary to trick your audience into agreeing with you.

  12. Sonja says

    Ahhh, this debate makes me reminisce about the dozens of debates about tactics I’ve been witness to in political organizations. Eventually it will work out that there is room for a variety of tactics.

    Why? Because the audience is not homogeneous — different tactics will reach different audience members. Also, these messages are cumulative. They don’t really take away from each other. Instead they have the affect on the audience of adding up to reach the point where people do change their views.

    Have fun.

  13. says

    I draw the distinction this way: a well-framed story will provide all of the important details but will only elaborate on those details that are relevant for the audience, and it will provide information that is accessible to the audience’s comprehension level. Spinning includes omitting relevant information and over emphasizing certain information in order to the change the over all story.

    Here’s my test to divide spin from frames: In a well-framed story, the audience will draw similar conclusions to what a subject expert would from examining all of the data. If the story is a spin, the audience will draw opposing conclusions from those that a subject expert would from examining all of the data.

  14. pedlar says

    Bill @ 21 writes:

    I study medieval Italian mathematics–the discourse about Arabic numerals vs Roman numerals is both important and fascinating; what arguments did people find convincing enough to shift from Roman to Arabic?

    And then:

    Nisbet, apparently, thinks of `framing’ as taking the results of discourse analysis and applying it to the current discourse over science and religion.

    I agree with everything here, but there is a key difference. The first example is history, the other ‘current’. Analysing history is relatively simple – because history has done the work for us. It has sifted the results and left the evidence. At the most basic level we already know that Arabic numbers won therefore their arguments were more convincing.

    This just doesn’t work in real time – at least not any better than we (or Ben Stein, economist) can predict the stock market. Here’s a quote that sums it up for me:

    First, you will have to accept the self-evident premise that the activities of man are too shrouded in complexity for anyone to accurately predict their consequences. Should you not accept that, I will assume you either have shares in a fortune-telling booth or are the last remaining member of the Karl Marx fan club; goodbye. It follows, therefore, that neither logic nor morality provides any excuse whatsoever for acting unethically. Put simply, we might as well do what is right. Take care of the here and now – and let the future take care of itself. But we are arrogant; we forget that we are human; we think, in fact, we can behave like gods. And that is our greatest illusion.

    Shorter version: Screw framing. Tell the truth.

  15. Sastra says

    My local paper ran a story recently on neurological studies which were finding out that pleasure centers in the brain were active not only when people received a benefit, but when they gave one. The scientists who were interviewed talked about evolutionary pathways leading to a tendency towards generosity and charity.

    The headline? Something like “Scientists discover Bible is right after all: Better to Give Than Receive

    There wasn’t a word in the story about the Bible, or Christianity, or God. But you obviously had to reassure the audience that explaining benevolence as a purely natural evolved feature of the human animal somehow shows us that God is being confirmed as vital and necessary. How many people will take away the message from the headline alone? And how many will get that message as “we need God to explain morality and kindness, and even scientists have to admit that now?” And how many of them will not even get that far, but remember only “Science confirms that the Bible is true?”

    But it got folks to read and like the story. Framing.

  16. tsig says

    Those who say something can’t be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

  17. Joss says

    I have to agree with Steve “Anything but a nail.” James

    “It is the educator/scientist with the problem that needs to be solved, i.e. that the religious zealots stop interfering with them.”

    He is right.I think that this is the biggest problem with the issues that science is communicating. The fact that the issues that are being fought are ones that cause people problems, and don’t appear to solve any.

    If climate change science is right then that causes me some inconvenience so its easy to listen to someone who disagrees, and so far we aren’t really seeing problems that people can associate with climate change appearing in their day to day life (though that is starting to change). Whereas no one is arguing with gadget related science cause it solves problems, not points them out. If evolution is right it interferers with some peoples religious beliefs, that causes a problem, but what problem that relates to every day life does it solve.

    I think that is where people miss the leap. For a scientist, answering questions that they had is problem solving enough. Intellectual problems need solving. For the average Joe on the street they want the science to solve problems that they have, and for the most part these aren’t itellectual problems. If you can show that the use of evolutionary theory can result in practical physical problems being solved in their day to day life.. ie medical, agricultural problems etc then the resistance will be less.

    I think its the disconnect that is there. Its not like evolutionary theory doesn’t solve help solve practical problems, its just that people can’t see how it does. It doesn’t require framing necessarily just a more practical perspective than “This is the obvious solution to an intellectual issue I was having”

  18. gerald spezio says

    The new age blockbuster film, “What the bleep …,” brazenly and falsely frames quantum Physics as a scientific tool granting human choice the extraordinary power to fabricate and/or “frame” reality and the future by virtue of the act of human choosing.

    For anybody unversed and unsophisticated about precisely what quantum physics says and does not say, it would appear that such cavalier wordsmithing is as reasonable as the film’s yuppie entrepreneurs mandate.

    The film has delivered millions of dollars of real money into the pockets of its producer/framers.

    A local medical doctor with exemplary academic credentials and much scientific training loved “What the Bleep …” because; “it gives me hope.”

    When I suggested to my doctor neighbor that the film grotesquely distorts quantum physics and that no such claims are made by the overwhelming majority of quantum physicists, she accused me of spoiling both her exhilaration and her hopes.

    The false hopes of propagandist/framers may be far worse than much slimmer hopes, and much real money may change hands in the process.

  19. kanaio says

    “…the primary concerns of real scientists is how to prevent excessive framing, and to help humans to see through the framing…” –Glen Davidson


    I have often wondered how the process of evolution got to be described as “survival of the fittest” and selfishness. This seems to be a type of framing to me, making evolution seem “dog eat dog.” I wonder if concepts like Gaia and the study of ecology are reframing evolutionary theory so that evolution is seen as more reflective and interdependent. While great emphasis has been placed on reproductive success, less emphasis has been placed on the collective ability to organize in evolutionary theory, at least in terms of public perception. –Just a comment from the peanut gallery.

    I am impressed by this passage from Contemplative Science by Alan Wallace:
    “As Thomas Kuhn argued decades ago, human worldviews, scientific and otherwise, are always influenced by the societal context of the people developing and advocating those views. And Robert Laughlin comments more recently, ‘Scientific theories always have a subjective component that is as much a creation of the times as a codification of objective reality.’ But as long as we remain surrounded by people who adopt the same view from the same stance, it is difficult to identify our invisible, unsubstantiated assumptions and idols. A practical way to discover these hidden absolutes lurking within our belief systems is to engage with people whose ways of exploring reality are radically different. Regardless of how diverse their views may be, if common rules of logic and standards of empirical rigor can be found, meaningful collaboration may occur.” pg. 161

  20. Thomas Allen says

    Pretty much all that need be said:

    [Framing science is] either a trivial concept to which an entire academic career should not be devoted, or it’s a corrupting influence that threatens everything for which science should stand.

  21. Nick Gotts says

    “Screw framing. Tell the truth.”
    As well as being ethical, this has the strategic advantage of automatic consistency maintenance.

  22. Wrought says

    I think we should go with this “false spin” idea. Let’s tell Creationists that once science progresses to a certain level the aliens will make first contact and show us proofs of God. That should keep all sides happy, no?