As it turns out, this isn't about about framing at all. It's about religion. Here's an excerpt from an article published by Matthew C. Nisbet and Chris Mooney in tomorrow's Washington Post [Thanks for the Facts. Now Sell Them.].
If the defenders of evolution wanted to give their creationist adversaries a boost, it's hard to see how they could do better than Richard Dawkins, the famed Oxford scientist who had a bestseller with "The God Delusion." Dawkins, who rose to fame with his lucid expositions of evolution in such books as "The Selfish Gene," has never gone easy on religion. But recently he has ramped up his atheist message, further mixing his defense of evolution with his attack on belief.So now we see what "framing" is all about. It's about conforming to the Nisbet & Mooney view of how we should combat superstition. According to them, Dawkins is bad, bad, bad.
Leave aside for a moment the validity of Dawkins's arguments against religion. The fact remains: The public cannot be expected to differentiate between his advocacy of evolution and his atheism. More than 80 percent of Americans believe in God, after all, and many fear that teaching evolution in our schools could undermine the belief system they consider the foundation of morality (and perhaps even civilization itself). Dawkins not only reinforces and validates such fears -- baseless though they may be -- but lends them an exclamation point.
Forget about the fact that Dawkins has done more to change the climate of the debate than Nisbet & Mooney have ever done with their appeasement policy. That dosen't matter. If you're a fan of "framing" then you've got to modify your opinion so you never disagree with anyone.
Well, phooey on that. No wonder "framing" has such a bad name.
We agree with Dawkins on evolution and admire his books, so we don't enjoy singling him out. But he stands as a particularly stark example of scientists' failure to explain hot-button issues, such as global warming and evolution, to a wary public.Hmmm ... so scientists have failed to explain global warming and evolution to the general public? Well, silly them. They made the terrible mistake of speaking the truth, just like Richard Dawkins.
As we've seen during the framing debates on various blogs, Nisbet & Mooney seem to be incapable of making the distinction between explaining science and what you do with that knowledge. Evolutionists have done a good job of explaining evolution. If Nisbet & Mooney don't think this is true then I challenge them to come up with a better way of describing the science of evolutionary biology.
What they're upset about is the fact that a segment of the population doesn't buy the scientific explanation. That's true, but it doesn't matter how well you explain it to those people, they still won't accept it. They won't accept it even it's economically beneficial and leads to medical advances.
Why won't they accept it? Because it's against their religion. How do we change their minds? Part of the solution is to show them that their religion is false if it conflicts with science. This doesn't have anything to do with explaining the facts of science. It has to do with fighting superstition and anti-science attitudes.
Scientists excel at research; creating knowledge is their forte. But presenting this knowledge to the public is something else altogether. It's here that scientists and their allies are stumbling in our information-overloaded society -- even as scientific information itself is being yanked to center stage in high-profile debates.Wait a minute. Nisbet & Mooney are spinning so fast here it's hard to keep up. They start by criticizing Dawkins for promoting his opinion on religion and now they're switching to criticism of scientists who inundate the public with data dumps. Did they forget that this is the same Richard Dawkins who's sold several hundred thousand books like The Blind Watchmaker? That's a data dump? What about The Ancestor's Tale? Another data dump?
Scientists have traditionally communicated with the rest of us by inundating the public with facts; but data dumps often don't work.
People generally make up their minds by studying more subtle, less rational factors. In 2000 Americans didn't pore over explanations of President Bush's policies; they asked whether he was the kind of guy they wanted to have a beer with.So Richard Dawkins should concentrate on projecting the same image as George Bush, Jerry Flawell, or Ronald Regan? Matt, Chris, please tell me this is satirical comedy. You can't be serious.
So in today's America, like it or not, those seeking a broader public acceptance of science must rethink their strategies for conveying knowledge. Especially on divisive issues, scientists should package their research to resonate with specific segments of the public. Data dumping -- about, say, the technical details of embryology -- is dull and off-putting to most people. And the Dawkins-inspired "science vs. religion" way of viewing things alienates those with strong religious convictions. Do scientists really have to portray their knowledge as a threat to the public's beliefs? Can't science and religion just get along? A "science and religion coexistence" message -- conveyed in Sunday sermons by church leaders -- might better convince even many devout Christians that evolution is no real threat to their faith.Oops. You guys haven't been listening, have you? Dawkins thinks that religion is the enemy (so do I). What you're suggesting isn't framing, it's surrender. You want Dawkins to give up his fight entirely and form an alliance with the very people he is opposing. Time for a reality check. You are so far off base, you're not even in the game.
Paul Zachary "PZ" Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris, wrote on his blog, Pharyngula, that if he took our advice, "I'd end up giving fluff talks that play up economic advantages and how evolution contributes to medicine . . . and I'd never talk about mechanisms and evidence again. That sounds like a formula for disaster to me -- it turns scientists into guys with suits who have opinions, and puts us in competition with lawyers and bureaucrats in the media." Myers also accused us of appeasing religion.Someone's missing the point here and it sure ain't PZ. After decades of appeasement in America we have a situation where it's the only Western industrialized country in the world objecting to the teaching of evolution. What do Nisbet & Mooney propose to do about it? More of the same, that's what.
Yet he misses the point. There will always be a small audience of science enthusiasts who have a deep interest in the "mechanisms and evidence" about evolution, just as there will always be an audience for criticism of religion. But these messages are unlikely to reach a wider public, and even if they do they will probably be ignored or, in the case of atheistic attacks on religion, backfire.
What is Dawkins doing about it? Pointing out that there's a hippo in the room. In the past six months since the publication of The God Delusion, we've made more progress than the Nisbet's & Mooney's of this world made in decades. The very fact that the appeasers have been forced to defend their failed strategy is proof of that.
More proof can be seen on television, newspapers, and magazines. All of a sudden people are talking about atheists and asking questions about religion. (Incidentally, Mooney could have gained a lot of credibility with me if he'd mentioned that PZ Myers is a columnist who writes for SEED magazine as well as being a blogger.)
We're not saying scientists and their allies should "spin" information; doing that would only harm their credibility. But discussing issues in new ways and with new messengers can be accomplished without distorting the underlying science. Good communication is by its very nature informative rather than misleading. Making complicated issues personally meaningful will activate public support much more effectively than blinding people with science.I know spin when I see it and I see it clearly in the Nisbet & Mooney articles.
I wish they'd get their story straight. Are they complaining about how we scientists teach science or are they complaining about our opinions on other issues such as the influence of religion or what we should do about global warming? Who knows?
Oh, and by the way, who are the "new messengers" and what are Nisbet & Mooney going to do with the old ones? Do they honestly believe that their silly arguments are going to shut up Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers and all the rest of us who disagree with Nisbet & Mooney? Like that's going to happen.
One thing is clear. No matter how much you know about framing this isn't a question of whether you should be aware of the literature and the field. I mention this because many bloggers have criticised me for not being an expert on "framing." This isn't about framing. This is a straightforward disagreement over an important issue—is religion a problem? Nisbet & Mooney say no and that's why they're opposed to Dawkins. The fact that they couch this in terms of proper "framing" is intellectually dishonest. They're trying to "frame" this as a debate over who knows the most about "framing." Can you say "spin?"