Saturday, April 14, 2007

Nisbet & Mooney Reveal Their True Colors

 
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.

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.
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.

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.

Scientists have traditionally communicated with the rest of us by inundating the public with facts; but data dumps often don't work.
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?
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.

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.
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.

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?"

30 comments:

  1. What I really don’t like in this framing discussion is the US centered viewpoint. Science is an international endeavor that cannot and should not care about religious sensibilities of parts of the US population. Otherwise one day you will have to think about how to frame issues for the public in Saudi-Arabia. Would this require different framings? In consequence framing will lead to a conformist culture in which science that doesn’t conflict the majorities view points is funded. And this is actually the situation the US is already approaching. It may well be that the religious right did some good framing but IMHO the only way to overcome this situation is rather to strengthen science by loudly defending it than to try to play the game of Idiots and other nuts because these guys are definitely better in spinning and they don’t have to care about the accuracy of data.

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  2. Ends don't justify means. Censoring atheists in an attempt to win votes is wrong. There is also no evidence that it would actually work if implemented.

    Just because people believe things without evidence doesn't mean they are stupid. Especially not when every creationist mouthpiece everywhere would be pointing out this blatant attempt to deceive them.

    The more atheists that speak their minds, the better, as far as I am concerned.

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  3. They wrote: "... blinding people with science."

    That does it for me. They want us to keep our language sufficiently woolly for it to be meaningless. They'd rather see people remain sitting in their churches, blinkered and sedated until the roof caves in, than have anyone disrupt things by shouting, "Fire!"

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  4. Great post, well stated. I want to see you, PZ, Dawkins, et al continue with your current approach - put the theists on the defensive instead of kowtowing to their superstitious beliefs. You are absolutely right that trying to be polite for the past decades has gotten us to where we are today, with a majority in the US not believing in evolution.

    While I agree with the sentiment that "Science is an international endeavor that cannot and should not care about religious sensibilities of parts of the US population", the US creationists and ID proponents are actively trying to spread their poison to the other parts of the industrialized world. Witness the attempts to get ID in the British schools. Fight them at the source!

    BTW, we don't have to worry about framing the issues for the public in Saudi Arabia - in that theocratic country, the issues are never even raised.

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  5. I posted about this and linked to your critique here:

    http://atheism.about.com/b/a/259002.htm

    You and Myers have already pointed out the serious problems in the editorial, but there is an additional theme running throughout that I though deserved attention: Mooney and Nisbet apparently want us to accept their position on faith alone. They offer no evidence for any of their claims or accusations - even though they are making claims which are amenable to testing.

    One of their first sentences is, in effect, the theme for their entire agenda: Let's leave aside the validity and truth of what others are doing and instead do things completely differently. Because people will like us better. Or something like that. Anyway, I'm not going to tell you what you should do differently, I'm just going to tell you that you're totally wrong.

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  6. "Mooney and Nisbet apparently want us to accept their position on faith alone."

    Actually, Nisbet posted a comment in response to Greg Laden on several blogs, where he writes, "His latest post, however, dismisses literally hundreds of peer-reviewed papers across the fields of communication, political science, and sociology," followed by references to several journal articles on framing.

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  7. JJ Ramsey said:
    "Actually, Nisbet posted a comment in response to Greg Laden on several blogs, where he writes, "His latest post, however, dismisses literally hundreds of peer-reviewed papers across the fields of communication, political science, and sociology," followed by references to several journal articles on framing."

    Ramsey- Greg Laden replied to that as well. Nisebt is picking and choosing and may have been swift boating Laden.

    My question to Mooney and Nisbet why do they need to bring up Dawkins? Dawkins is addressing something different than the concerns of Mooney and Nisbet. Dawkins is trying to point out where religion has occupied the space science operates in and calling people out on that fact. His focus is not on the US.

    Mooney and Nisbet want to "win" on global warming and stem cell research here in the United States. Listen to Nisbet on NPR and read the WaPo article. Why not focus on those issues? Why bring up Dawkins and Myers (& objecting bloggers)?

    They bring up Myers and Dawkins because they are trying to frame themselves as not being "militant atheists". The unintended consequence of that is that they are playing in the biases in the US that defines atheists as unAmerican.

    This becomes clearer in the WaPo article when they bring up Myers. To be honest most people do not know Paul Myers. He is not as a famous as Dawkins. The use of Myers plays on two frames that are out there. First that he is a militant atheist. The second is he is a blogger. They are tapping into the biases against bloggers (ironic since the authors are bloggers). Notice how they don't ask people to join the debate on their blogs but instead provide their e-mail addresses.

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  8. Nisbet posted a comment in response to Greg Laden on several blogs, where he writes, "His latest post, however, dismisses literally hundreds of peer-reviewed papers across the fields of communication, political science, and sociology," followed by references to several journal articles on framing.

    Nisbet appears to be defending the basic idea of framing. Insofar as you are trying to offer this as a response to me, I will simply have to repeat (with slight alterations) what I wrote on Pharyngula: I didn't criticize them for not providing evidence that "framing" exists, that "framing" is useful, etc. On the contrary, I make a point of noting more than once that framing can be useful and that, in principle, framing might be useful in the context of these issues. What I criticize them for is not providing evidence for the specific claims and accusations they make. I even create a list of the relevant claims and accusations in my article: what Dawkins is doing won't work, what Dawkins is doing is counter-productive, our approach will work, scientists don't communicate well, scientists' poor communication is responsible for the problem we have, etc.

    If someone is going to insist that it is not true that Mooney and Nisbet want us to accept these positions on faith alone, then they must point out where the two authors ave amassed and presented all the evidence for all these claims. Where, in all of those "literally hundreds of peer-reviewed papers across the fields of communication, political science, and sociology" is there a single iota of evidence for their specific claims? Not only have I not seen the evidence, I haven't even seem them allude to evidence existing elsewhere (which would be reasonable in a short editorial).

    Maybe Mooney and Nisbet are right. Maybe Dawkins' approach is wrong, counter-productive, and helping the enemies of science. Maybe scientists are poor communicators whose poor communication and poor framing are responsible for the low acceptance of things like evolution and global warming. Maybe Mooney and Nisbet do have "frames" that will turn everything around, get Americans to accept evolution, and cause the lion to lie down with the lamb. I doubt it, but it's possible. Right now, though, they are expecting others to believe all this on nothing more than faith -- I say that because they offer nothing as a basis for believing it all. Faith is all that's left. When they do offer evidence, I'll examine it and take it seriously. Until then, they have nothing of substance to offer - just unsupported attacks on people whose methods they dislike.

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  9. 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.

    We admire Dawkins' book on evolution, but he is a stark example of scientists' failure to explain issues such as evolution. When they write like that, they leave their opponents very little work to do, other than to point and laugh.

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  10. 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.

    They are accusing Dqkins of aiding and abetting creationism through his stance on atheism. What evidence do they have of this? Michael Ruse made the same accusation, and the evidence he offered was a quote from William Dembski. If their point requires taking William Dembski at face value, then it may not be a very good point.

    In addition, if irrational terror of atheism prevents many believers from accepting solid science, then maybe the source of this should be addressed: brainwashing from the pulpit. This evil should be opposed, not pandered to.

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  11. "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 Nisbet and Mooney want all scientists to act like on-the-wagon, brain-damaged, Rapture-believing frat boys?

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  12. "Ramsey- Greg Laden replied to that as well."

    And Trinifar pointed out some serious problems in Laden's reply.

    "Why bring up Dawkins and Myers (& objecting bloggers)?"

    Nisbet and Mooney are bringing up the bloggers because the bloggers have publicly attacked their work. Unsurprisingly, they defend themselves publicly.

    BTW, Moran claims "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." What is the evidence of this? Indeed, what progress is he talking about? Has acceptance of evolution been more on the increase since Dawkins' book? Are people seeing atheists as human beings instead of stereotypes? It would be nice to know on what basis Moran makes this assertion.

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  13. Since N&M isn't interested in defining their terms, substantiate their facts or present strategies I quickly lost interest in their proposal. But Pharyngula draw me back in and pointed to this excellent post and commentaries. I especially liked the conclusion in the last paragraph of the post.

    I wont repeat what I said there since it is already treated here. (As I said, excellent thread. ;-) Except to complement Austin's comment with that Dawkins strategy to move the extreme of the debate and get more freedom for discussing the problems of religion has been successful. Another example is the gay movement, where several similar and successful strategies can be found.

    It seems doubtful if N&M will be able to find such examples, as they would have presented those already. So far they have mostly been criticizing others.

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  14. Ugh. Some good points juxtaposed with so many straw men - and it's weird, because the main points could easily be met head on.

    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).

    This is probably a very true statement in the United States - and in Canada, you can just as easily replace atheist and belief system with political equivalents. Instead of trying to skew what they're saying, as you seem to do frequently this article, why not just ask the simple question "so what?". So what if it has this polarizing effect? Ultimately this is how the battle will be won.

    Framing isn't about modifying your opinion and it never has been - it's about presenting information in a way that is receptive to your audience. N&M might have (ironically) done a poor job presenting this, but their point should be well taken.

    As an extreme example, suppose you're suppose to give a presentation on evolution to two different classes: one consisting of all deaf kids, another consisting of all blind kids. Your presentation is going to be different - one will consist of lots of pictures, while the other auditory. That doesn't mean you have to chance your message, or modify your opinion - just your presentation of it.


    Hmmm ... so scientists have failed to explain global warming and evolution to the general public? They made the terrible mistake of speaking the truth, just like Richard Dawkins.


    Oh come on - it has nothing to do with speaking the truth. On the issue of global warming, for instance, compare what Al Gore has done for public awareness versus say, what Jim Hansen has done (nothing against him, he's a brilliant guy). Both people spoke the truth (Gore messed up a few details, but it wasn't because he was trying to lie), but one was actually able to communicate to the public on their level.

    I also disagree to some extent that scientists have failed, and moreso that the media has made it virtually impossible for scientists to succeed. Of course, this is a far better rebuttal to what N&M are saying that your silly straw man.


    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.


    This should be underlined and put in bold, because this is at the very heart of the problem. I certainly think some presentations of science can be framed better - undergraduate courses, for instance. However, when it comes to the general public, there's a large segment that just doesn't want to know the truth - it challenges their beliefs, be they political or religious. A segment of the population just has no interest in listening to reason.

    To say this again, your above statement is the number one thing N&M have missed. However, I disagree that we can change their mind. Focus on the next generation, and work towards an age of enlightenment in the future.

    As for the rest of your post, you seem to think that when they say "scientists" that they're talking about every single one, no exceptions. There are a lot of scientists, such as Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan, who have done (in my opinion) a marvelous job of communicating with the public. There are a majority of scientists who haven't, and are downright terrible at it.

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  15. I agree that the approaches of Dawkins, Myers, Dennett, Moran, and others can turn off some believers and make them not listen. However, if you look at the popularity of books from Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris, and the popularity of Pharyngula, I think it's clear that they have large and growing audiences.

    I agree that the approach of Nisbet, Mooney, Kenneth Miller, Howard Van Till, etc. is more effective at reaching some people.

    What I conclude from that is that a diversity of approaches is the right way to go. But then again, maybe Nisbet and Mooney's approach includes framing themselves as opponents of Dawkins et al., and they think that will help them reach people they otherwise wouldn't.

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  16. J.J. Ramsey asks:

    "BTW, Moran claims "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." What is the evidence of this? Indeed, what progress is he talking about? Has acceptance of evolution been more on the increase since Dawkins' book? Are people seeing atheists as human beings instead of stereotypes?"

    Ask and ye shall receive:

    The numbers of atheists and other nonbelievers are surging, and there is evidence that they now make up a critical bloc of American swing voters. Atheist books are burning up the bestseller lists. Intelligent design has been dealt a decisive blow in the courts. And last but hardly least, the American religious right was trounced in last November's elections and is now in a state of disarray.

    That all seems like progress to me. Far from Mooney and Nisbet's hand-wringing pessimism, I think we're making a great deal of progress, and the strong, passionate advocacy of scientists like Richard Dawkins is surely a part of that.

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  17. Ramsey wrote:
    "Nisbet and Mooney are bringing up the bloggers because the bloggers have publicly attacked their work. Unsurprisingly, they defend themselves publicly."

    The WaPo article is framed to be about advocating framing science. Most of the audience who reads the WaPo is not reading ScienceBlogs let alone Myer's particular blog. They don't know about the debate going on here. The first half of their article is framing themselves as not scary atheists. Why? Why not spend time describing framing? Why not go into the details of framing an issue showing Mooney and Nisbet are not going to take the easy road? Instead Mooney and Nibset decided to frame themselves as not militant atheists. They decided to tap into the anti-atheism bias that exists in the US.

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  18. "Ask and ye shall receive:"

    Thank you.

    "The numbers of atheists and other nonbelievers are surging, and there is evidence that they now make up a critical bloc of American swing voters."

    Good news, but when I look at your numbers, the polls date from 2001, 2004, and May 2006. This doesn't mean that the polls are a bad indicator of religious trends, but they don't support Moran's contention that more progress has been made in the past six months than in the past several decades.

    "Atheist books are burning up the bestseller lists."

    As a measure of progress, this is dicey. It doesn't tell me, for example, whether the buyers of these books accept their message, or worse, if they see them as the confirmation of their stereotypes about atheists. The God Delusion, for example, is quite uneven. It also doesn't tell me whether critical thinking is being promoted. Again, The God Delusion is a mixed bag. For example, Dawkins' treatment of the Trinity could be used as an example of how to make a string of false and dodgy assertions almost look like an argument. That's no way to promote rationalism.

    "Intelligent design has been dealt a decisive blow in the courts."

    For which we can thank the so-called "appeasers."

    "And last but hardly least, the American religious right was trounced in last November's elections and is now in a state of disarray."

    Which has less to do with religion and more to do with displays of incompetence like the mishandling of Katrina and the increasing realization that Iraq is a mess.

    ponderingfool: "Most of the audience who reads the WaPo is not reading ScienceBlogs let alone Myer's particular blog."

    But a good chunk of the audience either already does read those blogs or would find them by Googling for info on Mooney and Nisbet.

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  19. I agree that the approaches of Dawkins, Myers, Dennett, Moran, and others can turn off some believers and make them not listen. However, if you look at the popularity of books from Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris, and the popularity of Pharyngula, I think it's clear that they have large and growing audiences.
    That's part of the problem with this (ie. the intra-atheist and/or intra-evolutionist) conversation about "framing". The public is diverse, and for any claim about the effect of any particular rhetoric, you can probably find an exemplar out there. Exactly what the net effect -- averaged over all society -- is, is a bit hard to say (well, I certainly don't know).

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  20. Logicallyspeaking said: "you [Larry Moran] seem to think that when they say "scientists" that they're talking about every single one, no exceptions. There are a lot of scientists, such as Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan, who have done (in my opinion) a marvelous job of communicating with the public. There are a majority of scientists who haven't, and are downright terrible at it."

    I'm curious, logicallyspeaking, Which part of the Mooney/Nisbet claim that "scientists carry with them the wrong assumptions about what makes for effective communication" has Larry Moran (supposedly) misinterpreted?

    It sure looks to me like they are painting most (if not all) scientists with the same broad stroke: "you guys just suck at communication -- always dumping (data) on the public, as it were".

    It could be true that scientists have "made the wrong assumptions about what makes for effective communication", but Mooney and Nisbet have presented no evidence that this is true and neither did you when you claimed above that "There are a majority of scientists who haven't, and are downright terrible at it [communicating with the public]."

    There are several issues having to do wit hthe current Mooney?Nisbet thesis. One of them -- and the key one -- is that they have not clearly identified the problem they are trying to solve. Is the problem:

    1) that scientists are poor communicators?

    2) that the public simply won't accept what they have to say for reason unrelated to the scientists' communication? (because of religious and other preconceived notions, for example)

    3) that their has been a disinformation campaign that has interfered with scientists attempt to communicate?

    4) some other issue?

    One of the first rules that one learns in science or engineering is that if you do not clearly identify a problem, there is no chance of "solving" it.

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  21. 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.

    Larry, I wish you would give that quote a permanent home at the top of your page. This is what needs to be hammered home over, and over, and over again to combat the constant calls for appeasement.

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  22. So is that it? Should we all be closeted atheists? Or even so, closeted scientists?

    I agree that scientists need to take some of the communication effort in their own hands; I understand that properly done framing will not involve "spinning", or "dumbing down"; I agree with all of this, and I am spending a lot of my free time trying to educate myself to be a better communicator, not just a better scientist.

    But fear of openness is not the solution - and the success of LGBT (for the allies, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) activism is proof that staying in the closet is a losing battle.

    And if we have to bleed in this fight to win, I am in: but to do not ask me to be fake, calculated and dishonest; do not ask me to put down my personal and professional pride. Some people in the audience will always hate us, will never change their mind no matter what, and that is a statistical fact (look at stats on global warming opinions).

    My guess is, those are already lost votes, and they are not the ones we'll be talking to.

    P.S. And for goodness' sake, Mooney and Nisbet and all those who keep doing this: stop thinking the whole world is the U.S.! I am pretty sure that even in Poland we would not find that 15% of Polish believe that Jesus will come during their lifetime!!!

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  23. Some more comments for J.J. Ramsey:

    Good news, but when I look at your numbers, the polls date from 2001, 2004, and May 2006. This doesn't mean that the polls are a bad indicator of religious trends, but they don't support Moran's contention that more progress has been made in the past six months than in the past several decades.

    The U.S. elections were within the past six months. So was the release and subsequent success of The God Delusion. (Also, another one I didn't mention - the public announcement of the first openly nontheist U.S. congressman.) And if we disregard the arbitrary six-month deadline, we can see still more examples of social progress made by atheists, like the Kitzmiller verdict. All these events have coincided with the rise of a passionate and vocal atheist movement.

    As a measure of progress, this is dicey. It doesn't tell me, for example, whether the buyers of these books accept their message, or worse, if they see them as the confirmation of their stereotypes about atheists.

    This is grasping at straws. Are you seriously claiming that the majority of people buying these bestselling atheist books did so just so they could read and reject them?

    For which we can thank the so-called "appeasers."

    Evidence, please? The Kitzmiller plaintiffs were advancing the notion that intelligent design is an inherently religious idea and cannot be taught in science classes without violating the First Amendment. That doesn't sound like a very "appeaser"-like position to me. Also, Barbara Forrest, widely acknowledged as the most influential expert witness to testify in the trial, is hardly an "appeaser" but an atheist who claims that atheism is the "only reasonable" metaphysical position to take, given the success of methodological naturalism in science.

    Which has less to do with religion and more to do with displays of incompetence like the mishandling of Katrina and the increasing realization that Iraq is a mess.

    Did you read my post? I cited an article that specifically talked about the Republicans' failure to appeal to nonreligious swing voters as a major cause of their defeat.

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  24. ebonmuse: "Are you seriously claiming that the majority of people buying these bestselling atheist books did so just so they could read and reject them?"

    No, but rather that many of those reading The God Delusion would see its content (e.g. his reference to "dyed-in-the wool faithheads," casting the moderate religionists in the role of Hitler) as reinforcement of atheist stereotypes.

    ebonmuse: "Evidence, please?"

    As Barbara Forrest pointed out, noted "appeaser" NCSE was involved in the court case. Ken Miller was even an expert witness.

    "The Kitzmiller plaintiffs were advancing the notion that intelligent design is an inherently religious idea and cannot be taught in science classes without violating the First Amendment. That doesn't sound like a very 'appeaser'-like position to me."

    No, it isn't an appeaser-like position, which says a lot about the poverty of rhetoric about "appeasers."

    "Did you read my post? I cited an article that specifically talked about the Republicans' failure to appeal to nonreligious swing voters as a major cause of their defeat."

    None of which indicates that religion was the swing issue for the swing voters. Certainly, if one followed the congressional campaigns, the Democrats tried and largely succeeded in making the elections a referendum on the Bush administration screw-ups, like Iraq.

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  25. No, it isn't an appeaser-like position, which says a lot about the poverty of rhetoric about "appeasers."

    The Dover decision was neutral to the appeaser v. non-appeaser debate raging among secularists, and was a decision that both could agree one.

    I actually partly disagree with Ebonmuse's use of it as a positive sign of a changing public opinion. It was a court decision, not a referendum. I doubt that public opinion on the matter has changed one way or another since the decision. Fortunately our legal system doesn't rely exclusively on democratic processes.

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  26. From the very first comment:
    Martin said...

    What I really don’t like in this framing discussion is the US centered viewpoint. Science is an international endeavor that cannot and should not care about religious sensibilities of parts of the US population. Otherwise one day you will have to think about how to frame issues for the public in Saudi-Arabia.


    I think the framing is right on the money on that one, actually. This IS a US-centric problem. It's the only country in the western world that has these overwhelming problems with religion vs. science. Europe has long since reconciled its personal religion with science by keeping it out of politics. That pretty much solved all the other problems.

    The only reason that the framing has a US centered viewpoint is that the problem only exists to this extreme extent in the US. Oh, and a few countries in the Middle East too of course. These two places seem to be the only societies that teach creationism.

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  27. I'm coming at you from outside, so you will think these remarks bizarre.

    "Science" is not the same as "scientists".

    "Science" is like "Art" or "Love" or "Truth" or "Beauty". Some sort of strange absolute, to which we may aspire, but of which we will never know very much.

    Scientists are people. Men & women. Humans. Subject to egos. Desirous of making a name for themselves. Hoping to go down in the history books. They claim they are the purveyors of Truth & Justice & the Absolute, but why believe them? Why? Who appointed them? Are they any different than any other priesthood?

    Ah, but you will say, their offerings have been "proven". Yes. They have "proven" things to themselves. Let me show you two things that are "proven".

    First, it is "proven" that craters on the moon - and everywhere else in the known solar system - were created by impact. They were not. I challenge anyone, anywhere, to create a perfectly circular, shallow, flat-bottomed crater, in solid rock, by any sort of impact whatsoever.

    Second, the expanding universe & the Big Bang are "proven". How this was ever proven I do not know, since explosions have tighly defined geometries, which the known universe does not in any way resemble. Everywhere we look we see thousands & millions of galaxies fleeing away from us at speeds approaching that of light. Which of course means that our humble Earth was the original focal point. Which is absurd. The known universe resembles nothing so much as what we see when we stick our heads underwater: Everything fades away in equal measure, in all directions at once. And there's nothing surprising about this. Immersion in water - or air - produces a pronounced blue shift. Immersion in space - a lot of space - merely produces a red shift. Why should space ultimately not have a color of its own? Can we really believe that a trillion light years would not have some sort of ultimate opacity?

    These are two scientific myths. There are many more. I have as much contempt of scientists as I do of priests, and for precisely the same reasons. Science is something else altogether. About it I can say absolutely nothing, as it is far greater than the opinions & beliefs of any mere mortal.

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  28. I'm coming at you from outside, so you will think these remarks bizarre.

    This is the one thing you got right.

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  29. Everywhere we look we see thousands & millions of galaxies fleeing away from us at speeds approaching that of light. Which of course means that our humble Earth was the original focal point. Which is absurd.

    It certainly is!

    Oh, you forgot to mention that the universe is also spinning around the Earth once every 24 hours, again providing us with further evidence of the Earth's central location.

    That too is absurd..

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