I don't have the time or the energy to read everything that's been written about the upcoming Mooney & Nisbet Science article. If you want to catch up then check out the Coturnix posting [Framing Science - the Dialogue of the Deaf] for all the latest links.
However, I would like to respond to some of the things that Coturnix writes. He's a defender of framing and he believes that science writers have to improve.
Here's what he says about frames.
Very short summary: words have effects beyond their dictionary definitions. Language evokes emotional responses: 'frames' (as in 'frames of mind'). There is no such thing as emotion-free language. If you can understand a piece of text (and that includes math, not just English), you will respond emotionally. The kind of response to language results in one accepting or rejecting the message (and the messenger). The kind of response to language is dependent on one's worldview - the same sentence will elicit different responses (and thus acceptance or rejection) in different people.No argument there. People have different worldviews. but what does that mean for science writers?
Good news: most people are biconceptual, i.e., they possess both frames in their minds. By evoking the right frame by careful use of language, you gain trust and authority with the audience and as a result they believe that what you are saying is true. In other words, just saying the truth is not enough, as it is processed through ideological glasses. By invoking the correct frame, you allow the truth to penetrate and get accepted. By dismissing framing as method and by being careless in the use of language, you are bound to "buy into" the currently dominant Rightwing frames and will thus reinforce them while at the same time preventing your audience from accepting the truth. Since conservatism, religion and pseudoscience do not have the truth on their side, their frames are deceptive and Orwellian. Since our frames are backed up by truth, in a head-to-head competition we should win, but we cannot let the opposition frame the issues in the first place.First things first.
Coturnix, you live in North Carolina. I live in Ontario. Please don't try and enforce your "frame" on me. I don't live in a society where right wing frames dominate the discourse so your lecture about catering to them is falling on deaf ears. Mooney and Nisbet make the same mistake. They assume that every science writer is only interested in writing for people in Texas or New Jersey. The irony here is that they are "framing" science based on a society that many of us don't recognize. (Think Richard Dawkins in England.)
Second, even if you live in a society where truth is not valued does that mean you have to abandon it in order to get your point across? I hope that's not what you're saying but it sure sounds like it.
Third, you argue that "we cannot let the opposition frame the issues" but that's exactly what you're doing. The entire justification for "framing," as far as I can see, is to modify your language and style to conform to the rules set by our opponents. The real words for that are cop-out and surrender. I guess "framing" is just a more politically correct term.
Coturnix goes on to explain two different meanings of framing.
The first meaning of 'framing' is the use of language to evoke pre-existing frames in a very small, limited audience for a quick and effective "conversion" for a cause that has immediate political consequences, i.e., the next bill in congress, or the next election, etc. You do not educate them in details of science - they are not interested, do not have enough background and it does not matter if they do or don't understand the fine points. The goal is to bring them over to your side and recruit them to do whatever is politically necessary to win a particular battle over the side of pseudoscience/religion/conservatism. This is what Matt and Chris are discussing.If this is what Chris and Matt are discussing then it's not science education and it's not science writing in the sense that I understand it. It's polemical writing that just happens to be about science.
As I explained at the January meeting in North Carolina, the top three requirements for good science writing are scientific accuracy, scientific accuracy, and scientific accuracy. As soon as you sacrifice the attempt to convey good accurate science to the general public then you're not doing science writing. You're doing something else.
If you, Chris, and Matt truly believe that you don't need to educate the public about good science in order to win a political fight about science then we don't just have different worldviews, ... we're on different planets.
The second meaning of 'framing' is the use of language to introduce new frames into the public discourse and, as a result, change the entire intellectual landscape. This is necessarily a long-term project - as in: a couple of decades at best. By placing new frames into people's minds - more science-friendly or reality-friendly frames - it makes it easier in the future to recruit greater numbers of people to the cause-du-jour. A frame that is new now, and perhaps rejected by many as silly, will in ten or twenty years be a normal part of everyone's (especially the next generation's) emotional armamentarium. You put them in there now, and evoke them later when you need them. This is what PZ and Moran are talking about.That's only part of what I'm talking about. What I'm really saying is that I value truth and honesty. If I believe in something I'm going to tell people about it. If that turns out to be a minority opinion then that's the way the cookie crumbles. I don't lie awake at night thinking about how the people of North Carolina might interpret my words. My worldview doesn't get "framed" by others. Does yours? Do you worry about how the average Canadian will look at your articles and then make appropriate adjustments to avoid offending them?
First rule: Know your audience.I write for intelligent lay-people, period. I don't change my style from day-to-day depending on whether I think most people will agree or disagree. Quite frankly, I usually assume that most will disagree. That's what curmudgeons do!
Adjust your language to the audience. One language for fellow scientists, another for educated lay-people who are inclined to agree with you, another for people who are disinclined to agree with you, etc.
Second rule: Truth will not let you free.Truth may not be everything but it's so far ahead of whatever's in second place that it might as well be everything. Once you abandon truth you've lost.
Truth is not sufficient. Dry data will not sway non-scientists. Their eyes will glaze over and they'll move on. Reserve your precision for your papers, posters and talks. You can talk like that to your fellow scientists. But as soon as you leave that narrow circle you will have to adjust your language.
Now I'm sure you really didn't meant to equate "truth" with "dry data" but for a posting that supposed to be about the precision of words, that's a serious slip. What you should have said is that science writers should always tell the truth about science but they don't necessarily need to explain every detail. This has nothing to do with framing. It's just part of the common sense of science writing.
In his article, Coturnix now launches into an extended discussion of how to lie to the public without calling it a lie. He claims that doing this is not dishonest. He claims that it's okay to abandon the essential principles of science; scientific accuracy, honesty, and integrity, in order to convince the public in some scientific debate.
It totally does not matter if the targets of your framing have no comprehension of evolution as long as they believe you when you tell them it is true and then act accordingly in the voting booth. This is not a sell-out to our high-minded principles: we will still adhere to our high standards of accuracy in the classroom and in our research reports. But not in our "Natural History Magazine" articles, or on our blogs, where that is inappropriate (at least in some types of blog-posts, like this one, for instance). That is why I, contra PZ and Larry, think that this movie is an excellent tool. It gets evolution wrong, but that is not the point. It visually frames evolution in a way that an uneducated, uninterested, ADHD-riddled layperson can "grok" it in about two minutes. The movie prepares the person for your carefully crafted spiel. And if the person ends up believing that evolution is a fact, it makes no difference if his/her conception of evolution is not 100% correct (hey, Dawkins and Dawkins get it wrong, so why not some Joe Schmoe?). If one out of a thousand viewers of the movie shows more interest, there are plenty of resources you can use to teach that person finer points and make his/her understanding better.Coturnix, I will not follow you down that path. I do not adhere to a "high standard of accuracy" in the classroom and something else in my textbooks and my blog. If that's what you truly believe we should do, then you are on the verge of losing my respect. If that's what Mooney and Nisbet are saying then they are absolutely, totally wrong about science writing.