Who are we trying to convince?

9 04 2007

Earlier this morning I posted about my thoughts involving the big “science framing” debate going on, and shortly thereafter I thought about the film Thank You For Smoking. If you haven’t already seen it, I highly suggest you do as it was one of the most thoughtful laugh-riots I have ever seen, but one particular scene reminded me of the back-and-forth going on right now. Here it is;

I have yet to actually read the Nisbet/Mooney article for myself (I lack a subscription to Science), but Bora has put up a must-read thesis and link-fest over at A Blog Around the Clock. After a smattering of the latest links, he writes that the majority of bloggers who don’t agree with the “framing” article are putting up irrelevant protests about education/inspiration; this is primarily about politics. He writes;

Framing is about persuasion – making people believe you are right, not learning anything new, not getting interested in the topic (though this can be a nice side-effect), just aligning themselves with you because of who you are, what you said, and how you said it. It is about making political allies, people who will do the right thing when it matters – at the next election (or protest, or write-in campaign). It is about swaying the public opinion, about winning in court, about pushing the right legislation through Congress, and about winning political battles. If we win them, we will be able to teach and popularize science in the future. If we lose, we’ll end up in Gitmo whenever we try to do so. In short, it is not about science itself, it is about politics.

This especially reminded me of the above video clip. For my own part, if framing is all about politics (or a close relative to spin) and persuading people, I’ll be glad to leave the politicians to it. Perhaps I will write more on the topic after I actually get a chance to read the article that started all this, but I find swaying public opinion with education or understanding to be a secondary concern/benefit to be a bit distasteful. Yes, perhaps this falls into the “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” category, but such strategies remind me of the way zoos (and often museums) are set up. Such places are primarily about visual input, seeing all the bones and animals and display, and if the visitor gets any understanding or insight that’s a bonus. Maybe that keeps money coming in to run conservation programs in some zoos, but shouldn’t we strive for more than that? I get a similar feeling from what I’ve been hearing about framing; it’s most about shoring up numbers than actual understanding.

If scientists ignore politics entirely, they do so at their own peril, but at the same time I wonder what having a few talking heads well-versed in creating sound bites merely to win votes or temporary conversions will do. I agree that when scientists (or those who wish to speak for science) appear in mass-media outlets, they need to be able to be concise and to-the-point, as oftentimes cranks and detractors get the majority of the air time. A recent exchange between Bill Nye and Richard Lindzen on Larry King Live reminds me of exactly this point;

Indeed, it’s important for scientists to be concise and be able to make important issues accessible to average viewers, but I do worry that framing could easily give way to spin because belief is weighted more heavily than understanding. Perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t believe “framing” is the answer the the plague that is pseudoscience in America; if positive change is to be made (and to lessen the need for excessive persuasive tactics) education systems must be improved, those in the media must be more responsible in conveying science, the public is going to have to speak out for change, and scientists have to continue to push to get their ideas heard. As I said in my previous post, there is no one area that is the problem nor any one solution, and while some may wish to concentrate on framing I would rather concentrate on trying to spread at least some amount of understanding.

In the end, however, I’m a minor player in this debate; I’m not a credentialed scientist as yet and I’m not a real science writer either. Rather than working within a framework to get people to agree with me, I simply enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for science and nature, and I will surely continue to do so.



5 responses

9 04 2007
Asher Heimermann


Asher Heimermann

16 12 2010
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14 05 2011
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