Matt Nisbet has organized a panel for the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Boston next January. The title of the panel is Communicating Science in a Religious America. According to Nisbet's posting [AAAS Panel: Communicating Science in a Religious America], the panel will discuss framing. Here's the synopsis for the panel.
Over the coming decades, as society faces major collective choices on issues such as climate change, biomedical research, and nanotechnology, scientists and their organizations will need to work together with religious communities in order to formulate effective policies and to resolve disputes. A major challenge for scientists will be to craft communication efforts that are sensitive to how religiously diverse publics process messages, but also to the way science is portrayed across types of media. In these efforts, scientists must adopt a language that emphasizes shared values and has broad appeal, avoiding the pitfall of seeming to condescend to fellow citizens, or alienating them by attacking their religious beliefs.Who's on this panel, you might ask? It's some of the usual suspects and some others who I don't recognize.
Part of this process includes "framing" an issue in ways that remain true to the science, but that make the issue more personally meaningful, thereby potentially sparking greater interest or acceptance. With these themes in mind, the proposed panel combines the insights of scientists who have been successful at engaging religious publics with the findings of researchers on how media messages and opinion-leaders shape the perspectives of citizens. The panelists draw upon their experience working across the issues of evolution, climate change, stem cell research, and nanotechnology.
... the panel features Brown University biologist Ken Miller, Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno, William & Mary anthropologist Barbara King, Kansas science standards chair Steve Case, and University of Wisconsin communication researcher Dietram Scheufele. The panel is moderated by David Goldston, former chief of staff for the House science committee, now a lecturer at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and a columnist for Nature magazine.I have sent the following letter to Professor Goldston, the panel moderator.
As part of the panel, I will be presenting on the topic of "The New Atheism and the Public Image of Science," a first paper based on a research project I am currently working on here at American University with the help of two graduate students.
Professor Goldston,UPDATE: Jason Rosenhouse and Mike Dunford have also suggested that the panel might be biased.
I have just read Matt Nisbet's blog article on the upcoming AAAS meeting in Boston.
As I'm sure you know, Nisbet has some very strong views on this issue and he is known to be a vocal opponent of athiests like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. He has attacked the positions of many atheist scientist bloggers such as PZ Myers, Jason Rosenhouse, and me. He refers to this group as the "New Atheists," a term that is widely perceived as misleading at best, and offensive at worst.
Nisbet believes that scientists should spin their scientific messages in a way that avoids upsetting religious people and religious groups. That point of view has been hotly contested in the blogosphere. Many of us believe that this is a fundamentally dishonest way for scientists to behave. We believe that science should not be deliberately "framed" by the personal beliefs of scientists whether they are atheists - as are the majority of scientists - or Christians, or whatever.
We believe that science should be presented as uncompromised pure science and that it is wrong for scientists to consciously alter their message in order to appease religious citizens who might be offended by hearing the scientific truth. It is not the business of scientists to second guess what the religious public wants to hear, or not hear. Furthermore, it is not the business of scientists to tailor their message to the citizens of a particular country as the title of the panel implies. Is it realistic to expect scientists to communicate science one way in America, and another in Saudi Arabia, China, or France?
We all know there are scientists who have strong opinions about religion. Richard Dawkins is a vocal atheist, for example, and Ken Miller is a vocal Roman Catholic. Both of them have written books putting forth their points of view on religion. They are free to do so as long as they do not distort or misrepresent science.
But this is not what Nisbet is talking about when he refers to the public presentation of science - at least it's not what he should be talking about. Both Dawkins and Miller are perfectly capable of communicating scientific information without referring to religion, and they do so quite capably in many forums. Nisbet strongly implies that the Ken Millers of this world should be given preference over Richard Dawkins and other atheists when it comes to science education. This a form of censorship that should not be tolerated by AAAS.
I don't object to Nisbet presenting his point of view at a AAAS meeting but my respect for AAAS and your panel would be greatly diminished if the other side did not get a chance to make its case. Surely you do not want to give the impression that AAAS will only support scientists who agree with Nisbet? Surely you do not want to have a panel where the so-called "New Atheist" perspective is excluded and only religious scientists, or their close allies, are allowed to speak? Is that fair?
Please make sure that you have appropriate balance on your panel. Please make sure you don't give the impression that AAAS endorses Nisbet and his ideas about framing. The other side needs to be heard.
Laurence (Larry ) A. Moran
Professor of Biochemistry
University of Toronto