Sunday, September 16, 2007

AAAS Panel: Communicating Science in a Religious America

 
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.

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.
Who's on this panel, you might ask? It's some of the usual suspects and some others who I don't recognize.
... 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.

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.
I have sent the following letter to Professor Goldston, the panel moderator.
Professor Goldston,

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
UPDATE: Jason Rosenhouse and Mike Dunford have also suggested that the panel might be biased.

60 comments :

  1. Larry:

    Very well written. And I agree with you. Keep up the good work!

    Ron

    ReplyDelete
  2. Larry said – “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?”

    Larry, You seem to forget, atheism is a religion. It’s god is nature. Darwin and Dawkins are two of its prophets. You are one of its priests. Two of its revered scriptures are the “Origin of Species” and the “Humanists Manifesto.”

    Since you are a person of ‘reason,’ what is the reason that your religion, no matter who its preacher, should hold a superior and exclusive position in the filed of science? “Is that fair?”

    Dragon

    ReplyDelete
  3. Gosh, we've never seen the likes of Mr. Dragon before, have we? Religious troll claims that atheism is a religion. How original. And utterly stupid.

    Now, where is my tax-exempt house of worship again and what supernatural entity am I supposed to be praising? I seem to have forgotten...

    --Wolfhound

    ReplyDelete
  4. Two of its revered scriptures are the “Origin of Species” and the “Humanists Manifesto.”

    Except, of course, that "Origin of Species" is considered highly flawed and outdated, thanks to all we've learned about evolution. It's only important from a historical perspective.

    As for "Humanist's Manifesto", not all atheists are humanists. Humanist morality is about how some of us think the world should be. Science is about the way it is, and the method of science is designed to prevent our personal desires from influencing the results.

    Since you are a person of ‘reason,’ what is the reason that your religion, no matter who its preacher, should hold a superior and exclusive position in the filed of science? “Is that fair?”

    In a fair contest, someone wins. In a fair debate, truth wins. In science, whose method enforces fairness, atheism is, so far, winning. Theists haven't even figured out how to score points, often just claiming that anything they do means victory, even if it's the opposite of a previous "winning" action.

    Of course, that doesn't change anything: Science is a method, and religion violates that method. Truth, knowledge, and diligence cannot compromise with lies, denial, and sloth. That's why we shouldn't spin knowledge.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Since you are a person of ‘reason,’ what is the reason that your religion, no matter who its preacher, should hold a superior and exclusive position in the filed of science? “Is that fair?”

    Speaking as a "person of reason": your question is based on false premises and is therefore meaningless. Next question!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Excellent initiative and well written.

    My reaction (not fit for a letter as it is minor complaints) is that I would like to see a representative cross section of world views on the panel. And if they are going to discuss communicating to groups of world views they should also discuss communication with atheists. Ie how can they discuss alienation of religious groups but avoid discussing alienating atheists, including most scientists, with this initiative?

    ReplyDelete
  7. An afterthought: The reason for leaving atheists out is that they are considered "on board" with science, or at least without influence in US society. Which is consistent with the message that we should cater to militant or influential groups, and that the international perspective is not in conflict with this type of "conflict resolution".

    Talk about framing...

    ReplyDelete
  8. As someone who isn't totally against religion, I'd like to point out that from what I understand, Jesus would agree with Larry here.

    Jesus had to keep reiterating that he was a religious figure ONLY. He wasn't there to usurp the role of Caesar (remember "Render unto Caesar..."?), or science, or even most of Judaism as it was then practiced. His followers and disciples, of course -- who he spent most of the last four years of his life having to smack down -- felt differently. And, once he was no longer around to smack 'em down, acted differently.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In this connection what do people feel about Gould’s idea of non-overlapping Magisteria? It is perhaps ironic that this is a compromise notion that may suit both theist and atheist. The former sees it as way of shielding his/her religion from any scientific threat allowing him/her to escape into a mystical fidiest world of religion without fear of scientific disturbance, whereas for the atheist the NOMA approach can be construed as either a way of diplomatically handling religious sensibilities or of putting religion into a kind of concentration camp of superstition while it awaits the ‘final solution’ imposed upon it by ‘reality’.

    My own view is that the patch work quilt notion of NOMA is itself contrary to experience and a hierarchy is closer to the real situation: to me science is a kind of judicialized and formalized subset of a much broader conflict that takes place daily between experience and theory as they seek synthesis. Since for me the best part of scientific knowledge arrives at my doorstep as texts, then science looks like a subset of history and philosophy, perhaps even of ‘religion’; after all science is an activity whose crucial resource is motivation, and motivation (or demotivation) is very much bound up with one’s world view, whether that view exists with or without a God.

    ReplyDelete
  10. 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.

    [snigger.wav]

    Larry, the simple fact that you're arguing for the "right" to insult, belittle, talk down to, and otherwise openly and aggressively offend people whom you're trying to convince to become your allies should convince you that you're taking a foolish and wholly counterproductive position.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Wolfwalker certainly takes full and frequent advantage of the right to lie.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hm. Hitchens is definitely not a scientist. In this respect he differs from Dawkins, Dennet, Myers, and yourself. Dawkins and Myers - and as far as I know - Dennet, and yourself are pacifists, to the extent that you all eschew and condemn physical violence. Hitchens is something of a war monger, having mongered some very bad wars based on some very bad logic. Hitchens has relatively little in common with the rest of you.

    ReplyDelete
  13. And then there's Sam Harris, who is at least a scientist in training, and who is an advocate for torture.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Larry, the simple fact that you're arguing for the "right" to insult, belittle, talk down to, and otherwise openly and aggressively offend people whom you're trying to convince to become your allies (Wolfwalker)


    Well, at least as I know that Larry isn't going to accuse me of blasphemy! Got to be thankful for small blessings!

    ReplyDelete
  15. wolfwalker says,

    Larry, the simple fact that you're arguing for the "right" to insult, belittle, talk down to, and otherwise openly and aggressively offend people whom you're trying to convince to become your allies ...

    I'm not trying to convince them to be my allies. I'm trying to convince them to switch sides.

    ... should convince you that you're taking a foolish and wholly counterproductive position.

    What are you saying? That I shouldn't have the "right" to speak my mind?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Some arguments from religionists are so prima facie stupid one wonders how they got out of the mouths of the arguers without stumbling and choking the guy. For example:

    Larry, You seem to forget, atheism is a religion. It’s god is nature.

    We Christians believe that nature is from God, another testament of God. Nature can no more be a god to atheists that the Pope can be confessor. Study of nature is one way of understanding the divine -- but in any case, nature is not the exclusive preserve of atheists. Such a statement defies the basis of most religions, but especially Christianity.

    Darwin and Dawkins are two of its prophets. You are one of its priests. Two of its revered scriptures are the “Origin of Species” and the “Humanists Manifesto.”

    Well, this tails off into irrelevance and inanity, doesn't it? Most atheists have never read Origin of Species and probably never will; while atheists do tend to study ethical behaviors, that book of Darwin's is almost completely bereft of any such discussion Claiming the book as a scripture of atheism indicates an unfamiliarity with atheism and with the book.

    As to the Humanist Manifesto, it's really no more than a creed, similar to those favored by some Protestant sects, but with a heavier focus on acting ethically toward others and to improve conditions for humans on the planet. It would make good scripture for anyone pursuing good acts -- so it's curious that this person phrases it as if it might be pejorative.

    Shouldn't doing good deeds also be a focus of people of faith -- of any faith?

    Who was it said that Christianity is such a good religion that someone should try it sometime?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Larry,

    Bias is often in the eye of the beholder. In other words, perceived bias is strongly correlated with how intensely people feel about a topic or how deeply they believe in it.

    For example, in classic studies from the 1980s, when they showed a group of pro-Palestinian students and a group of pro-Israeli students the same news footage about the Middle East, both groups rated it as slanted against their favored cause.

    In communication research, this common finding across opinion intense groups and issues is called “the hostile media effect.” In published studies, on the issues of animal experimentation and on plant biotech, this orientation towards perceived bias among the deeply committed even shows up among scientists. See the work of Al Gunther at UWisc for more.

    Given the topic of the AAAS panel and that perceived bias is so common among the intensely partisan, I left it up to the review committee of experts and AAAS organizers to decide its’ balance.

    If anything, when the review came back, they requested that I make slight revisions to include more diversity in terms of panelists offering a religious perspective, before the panel was finally accepted. A request that I think improved the panel!

    I had also originally asked EO Wilson to participate but he replied he will be out of the country.

    Here are a few direct responses to your concerns:

    1. It is a panel about communicating science, not about communicating atheism, or critiques of religion.

    The criteria for inviting speakers were people who have done research in the area or who have been successful in engaging religious audiences.

    Given the panel topic and criteria, I am not sure how having a New Atheist on the roster is relevant.

    2. As for my my blog posts discussing Dawkins and the New Atheism, I am only following the lead of many prominent atheists such as Michael Shermer, Paul Kurtz, and Phil Kitcher (who by the way all use the common term “New Atheism” to describe the movement.)

    At my blog while drawing attention to and echoing their reservations about the impact of the New Atheist message, I also support Dawkins et al.'s right to voice their personal opinions about religion.


    Moreover, as a social scientist, given how strongly New Atheists mix arguments about science and religion, I consider an analysis of media coverage of the movement to be directly relevant to the panel topic.

    3. My specific AAAS presentation is not a critique of the New Atheist philosophy or its leaders, but rather an analysis of how science and religion have been portrayed in the media over the past 20 years and what might be different over the past four or so years (since the rise of the New Atheists.)

    Figuring out and measuring quantitative indicators of these media trends is the first step in figuring out media influence. The next is to design surveys and analyze opinion data that matches exposure and attention to this media coverage with perceptions. This is a standard method in media effects research, and one I have applied to multiple topics.

    Like any social scientist studying society, I have my own views about things. That's only human. As for my presentation, I will let it stand on its merits, and the eventual paper, will be judged by the opinions of editors and reviewers and my scholarly peers.

    Btw, as far as I am aware, I am the only one actually gathering data on what the impact of media coverage of the New Atheist phenomena might be on the American public.

    Hopefully you or others will join me in gathering data and testing propositions.

    4. The meetings are sponsored by the *American* Association for the Advancement of Science, they are set in Boston, the majority of attendees are from the US, and the United States is the country where communicating about science with a diversity of faith traditions is a very salient and important question. Hence the panel’s focus on the United States.

    5. Apart from myself, I know there is at least one other atheist on the panel. I can’t speak for others.

    5. As for whether or not the other panelists endorse framing per se, I’m not sure for everyone!

    Certainly Scheufele does, as one of the major scholars in that area of research, and a co-author on an upcoming cover article at The Scientist.

    Steve Case wrote on my blog that he thought it was an idea worth listening to though his presentation has nothing to do with framing, as far as I know.

    Otherwise, I don’t really have an idea of what the other panelists think about framing.

    David Goldston, however, has voiced reservations about aspects of our Science essay and WPost article.

    That's one reason I asked him to be a moderator. He also has years of experience working on science issues with a wide diversity of constituent groups.

    See this post at our blog. (Goldston is Sherry Boehlert’s former chief of staff and occasional speech writer):

    http://scienceblogs.com/speakingscience/2007/05/our_reply_to_sherwood_boehlert.php

    ReplyDelete
  18. Larry said:

    I'm not trying to convince them to be my allies. I'm trying to convince them to switch sides.

    But when it comes to winning friends and influencing people beware: there are good and bad ways of doing it!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Larry,

    What are you saying? That I shouldn't have the "right" to speak my mind?

    No, of course not. You always have the right to speak your mind. Every human has the inalienable right to make a fool of him/her/itself in whatever way he/she/it chooses. I'm just saying you have a responsibility to exercise some judgment in how and when you choose to use that right. Sensible people don't spit into the wind, don't get into a pissing match with a skunk, and don't waste time (whether theirs or others') haranguing people who don't want to hear it. That tactic sometimes gets people to pay you to go away, but it will never get them to agree with you.

    Why, exactly, do you want to get yourself or one of your aggressive-atheist pals onto that panel? Is it because you honestly think you have something new and useful to contribute to the discussion? Or is it just because you can't bear the thought of such a panel being held without you having a chance to preach the Gospel of the New Atheism, whether those in attendance want to hear it or not?

    ReplyDelete
  20. The criteria for inviting speakers were people who have done research in the area or who have been successful in engaging religious audiences.

    Given the panel topic and criteria, I am not sure how having a New Atheist on the roster is relevant.


    Forgive me if I am mistaken, but it sounds like you are saying that no "new atheist" has done research on the topic and none have been successful in engaging religious audiences.

    It is a panel about communicating science, not about communicating atheism, or critiques of religion.

    Moreover, as a social scientist, given how strongly New Atheists mix arguments about science and religion, I consider an analysis of media coverage of the movement to be directly relevant to the panel topic.

    These two points directly contradict each other.

    And if you are going to be covering "new atheism" on the panel perhaps it would be good to have someone in that group. Otherwise it is just people who disagree with that position. As I read it, this is precisely Larry's point. You are discussing a particular group of people but only have opponents of that group present. The conclusions of such a panel are easy enough to see.

    I find it difficult to see how you can discuss the media portrayal of "new atheism" without drawing even the slightest conclusions about whether that media portrayal is having a positive or negative effect. However, the very difference between "new atheists" and "accommodationists" is how they perceive the public response to being vocal about atheism.

    ReplyDelete
  21. That's the first comment I've seen by Nisbet that wasn't raving lunacy. He should work harder to maintain this level of communication skills.

    ReplyDelete
  22. @wolfwalker:
    Well you actually said he should shut up because the other side might not like what he has to say.
    To bad. The game is science. The rules are very clear. If you want to play science and have to drag religion into it you cannot change the rules due to the rules disqualifying religion. Science is not fair, science goes for truth or as close as we can get there without having to invoke magic.

    Why on the panel? Probably to create awareness. The hardcore religious fanatics won't be convinced but this panel is not directed at them. It is directed at scientists. To give them tools to work with the majority of people who are religious but not fanatics.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Matthew,

    "2. As for my my blog posts discussing Dawkins and the New Atheism, I am only following the lead of many prominent atheists such as Michael Shermer, Paul Kurtz, and Phil Kitcher (who by the way all use the common term “New Atheism” to describe the movement.)"

    Paul Kurtz? Paul Kurtz has criticized "Dawkins and the New Atheism" in the same terms you have? Really? Do you have a link or a reference?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Nisbet writes:

    "Bias is often in the eye of the beholder. In other words, perceived bias is strongly correlated with how intensely people feel about a topic or how deeply they believe in it"

    Nisbet's bias is against the conflating of atheism and science. He seems to think that the study of nature does not lead many scientists to reject supernaturalism (as when he emphasizes that one of the better predictors of a scientist's religious beliefs is his/her upbring, rather than the study of science itself). Perhaps he thinks that one can forever ignore supernaturalism. I don't think that it would say much for the integrity of scientists who didn't challenge belief in the supernatural if they felt that such beliefs hindered the public's ability to understand the natural world as it really is.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Nisbet pulled a juvenile reframing ploy on the Intersection today, and I went for his throat. As a result, I have been excommunicated from the Intersection (you are forbidden). If you are interested here; http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2007/09/come_on_pz_and_nisbet_give_me.php It appears that I am forbidden access to any science blog including Pharyngula.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Nisbet tried to reframe the New Atheist debate into;
    It's very male dominated - the feminist hook.
    And the climate change hook; It's keeping us from focusing on climate change.
    Enjoy Nisbet shooting his frame in the head here; http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2007/09/come_on_pz_and_nisbet_give_me.php

    ReplyDelete
  27. I'm going to quote a public letter of Richard Dawkins here, since (as usual) it nails the truth up, to be seen by all:
    "Peter Stanford ("Doubts about Dawkins", 14 September) writes that the recent books by Christopher Hitchens and myself "deserve a decent response. But how to fashion it?" A decent start would be to read them."

    and:
    "Cornwell's slighting of my reading list is singled out for special praise by Stanford. This is a stock criticism. It assumes there is a serious subject called theology, which one must study in depth before one can disbelieve in God. My own stock reply (Would you need to read learned volumes on leprechology before disbelieving in leprechauns?) is superseded by P Z Myers brilliant satire on the Emperor's New Clothes (Google: "Courtier's Reply").

    Stanford's trump card is his observation that "religion is not primarily about belief, as we understand the word, but faith". Religion, as he sums it up, "simply isn't about facts". Exactly. I couldn't have put it better myself."

    ReplyDelete
  28. Wolfhound said – “Religious troll claims that atheism is a religion. How original. And utterly stupid.”

    Dragon replies – Wolfhound, can you articulate a difference, except that atheism (naturalism, materialism, humanism or whatever) has a different object of devotion and worship?

    Bronze Dog said – “Science is about the way it is, and the method of science is designed to prevent our personal desires from influencing the results.”

    Dragon replies – If your statement is true, why are there official moves to cut down on the fraud in science?

    Bronze Dog said – “atheism is, so far, winning.”

    Dragon replies - What world do you live in? Have you not noticed that the vast majority of humans have gravitated toward theism and religious practice for all of their existence? Further, according to an AARP poll, people gravitate toward religion more as they age.

    Phoenix Woman said – “Jesus would agree with Larry here.”

    Dragon replies – Jesus said, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.’ Do you think Larry would agree with that?

    Dragon replying to Timothy V Reeves – Timothy, you seem to buy the argument that science and religion are in conflict. If the God of special revelation (The Bible) and also of natural revelation (nature) is the same, then it’s illogical that they are in conflict. What makes it seem that way is either a materialistic interpretation of science or a young-Earth interpretation.

    Wolfwalker said – “Larry, the simple fact that you're arguing for the ‘right’ to insult, belittle, talk down to, and otherwise openly and aggressively offend people.”

    Dragon says – that it’s fun to watch Larry insult his allies and not simply his enemies.

    Ed Darrell said – “Nature can no more be a god to atheists that the Pope can be confessor.”

    Dragon replies – Webster: Religion is “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices; a cause, principle, or belief held to with faith and ardor.” Is this not the way evolution is viewed by atheists?

    Dragon closes with, When are we going to get back to science?

    ReplyDelete
  29. I learned this morning why I was excommunicated from The Intersection AND all science blogs. I offended the grand professor of framing, Nisbet.
    According to Mooney on his website, this post is the culprit - what a frame too. What an honor.



    Nisbet made the following statement on April 5, 2007, and pondering fool has both quoted and made mince-meat of it again.

    "That's the power and influence of framing when it resonates with an individual's social identity. It plays on human nature by allowing a citizen to make up their minds in the absence of knowledge, and importantly, to articulate an opinion. It's definitely not the scientific or democratic ideal, but it's how things work in society."

    Would Joseph Goebbels have embraced Nisbet's specific statements explicitly and precisely? Read each sentence and ask yourself if Nisbet's statements aren't a classic definition of pure unadulterated propaganda. Nisbet calls it framing.

    "Things work" like this, most efficiently when the fascist/framer engineers it. I call it crypto-fascism.

    What ever happened to the noble tradition of telling your neighbor how NOT to fall into the quicksand?

    Posted by: gerald spezio | September 15, 2007 3:20 PM

    ReplyDelete
  30. I also said this about the framing professor.

    "It plays on human nature by allowing a citizen to make up their(sic) minds in the absence of knowledge ..."

    As far as I know, this is precisely what science teaches us not to do.

    Would you practice Nisbet's professed technique of outright manipulation on your children or your neighbors?

    Would you support, endorse, and advocate a teacher practicing this stated technique in the classroom?

    Posted by: gerald spezio | September 16, 2007 9:36 AM

    ReplyDelete
  31. Matt Nisbet says,

    Btw, as far as I am aware, I am the only one actually gathering data on what the impact of media coverage of the New Atheist phenomena might be on the American public.

    It may be correct that you are the only one collecting data. Apparently, this hasn't stopped you from already reaching a conclusion.

    Matt, there's a big different between being a sociologist studying controversy and telling scientists how to behave. I'm well aware of the fact that you see these conflicts in terms of political conflicts. Your goal is to achieve a political objective and part of that process is to modify the message to attract as many allies as possible.

    I don't accept your premise. You are advocating that scientists behave a certain way in order to advance your particular approach to politics. When you advocate "framing" it's always in the context of avoiding "offense" as much as possible. This is your personal bias and it's not necessarily the right thing to do.

    What I object to is your unwillingness to entertain the possibility that your approach may not be the best one. You want to shut down any debate about your basic assumptions and you do so by claiming that you are the only possible expert on the subject.

    That's bullshit. When it comes to the debate between atheists and believers, you are no more of an expert than I am—or the Pope, for that matter. Who are you to be telling me how I should behave? What makes you think that your opinion is so important that you can have an entire panel at the AAAS meeting to promote your biases about science education and the role of religion in society?

    The meetings are sponsored by the *American* Association for the Advancement of Science, they are set in Boston, the majority of attendees are from the US, and the United States is the country where communicating about science with a diversity of faith traditions is a very salient and important question. Hence the panel’s focus on the United States.

    Matt, I'll let you in a little secret. Science is an international endeavor. Any scientist who communicates about science in the USA is likely to be read in many other countries. Most scientists are very worried about seeming to be parochial. You may find this concept difficult since you live inside the beltway and hang out with American politicians a lot.

    Here's a bit of free advice. When you attack the New Atheists during the AAAS meeting you might want to confine your criticism to Christopher Hitchens, who recently became an American citizen. Richard Dawkins is surely out of bounds because he's not an American, right? You wouldn't want to be advising a foreigner how to behave just because his works might be read in America, would you?

    ReplyDelete
  32. Wolfwalker asks.

    Why, exactly, do you want to get yourself or one of your aggressive-atheist pals onto that panel? Is it because you honestly think you have something new and useful to contribute to the discussion? Or is it just because you can't bear the thought of such a panel being held without you having a chance to preach the Gospel of the New Atheism, whether those in attendance want to hear it or not?

    Of course it's because I honestly think I might have something new and useful to contribute to the discussion. Was that a rhetorical question?

    ReplyDelete
  33. Mooney's tough stance on a tough issue. Nisbet is a wordsmith. I read Nisbet's words.

    I "actually compared Matthew to Joseph Goebbels."

    Ayup, I dunnit, I dunnit.

    Here is how Mooney calls it, as a referee.

    When we opened up the blog to free commenting, we knew we had to be vigilant. And now we have.

    Sheril and I have agreed to ban Gerald Spezio. The comments above make it quite obvious why. In a previous thread, he actually compared Matthew Nisbet to Goebbels.

    We don't like having to take this kind of action. But at the same time, we're responsible to all of our readers. Which means: Repeated ad hominem attacks or other behavior that adversely effects the quality and intellectual seriousness of commentary on this blog will not be tolerated.

    -Mgmt.

    Posted by: Chris C. Mooney | September 18, 2007 5:07 AM

    ReplyDelete
  34. Dragon says,

    What world do you live in? Have you not noticed that the vast majority of humans have gravitated toward theism and religious practice for all of their existence?

    I've also noticed that throughout history the majority of humans have accepted slavery, the inferiority of women, and that the Earth is the center of the universe. What's your point?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Wolfhound, can you articulate a difference, except that atheism (naturalism, materialism, humanism or whatever) has a different object of devotion and worship?

    The difference is there is no devotion in science except to finding the truth, and no object of worship at all. No scientist worships Darwin or Dawkins, far from it many have major criticisms of both. The very issue we are discussing right now should be all the proof you need of that.

    Dragon replies – If your statement is true, why are there official moves to cut down on the fraud in science?

    Because scientists are human. One of the ways science works to eliminate bias is to make it as difficult as possible to falsify data and make sure any biases that a particular scientist has are made as clear as possible to his or her colleagues. Of course neither of these are absolutely essential, if there is a problem with the research it will become clear when other scientists try to reproduce the work. But preventing the problems in the first place can help prevent wasting time and effort on this sort of thing.

    Dragon replies - What world do you live in? Have you not noticed that the vast majority of humans have gravitated toward theism and religious practice for all of their existence? Further, according to an AARP poll, people gravitate toward religion more as they age.

    You cut out Bronze Dog's part about "in science", completely changing his argument. Out-of-context quotations at its best.

    Dragon says – that it’s fun to watch Larry insult his allies and not simply his enemies.

    Yes, that is because science doesn't think in terms of "friends" or "enemies". Science is about finding truth. What side you are on is irrelevant. The whole idea of never criticizing your allies no matter what they say is something you see in religion and politics, not science. Criticism is the heart of science, and scientists are expected to criticize each other if they think the other is wrong no matter what side of any particular ideological disagreement they are on.

    Dragon replies – Webster: Religion is “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious beliefs, attitudes, and practices; a cause, principle, or belief held to with faith and ardor.” Is this not the way evolution is viewed by atheists?

    No, nowhere close. There are no religious beliefs, no attitudes, no practices, and nothing held on faith or with ardor. It is simply an explanation for a set of phenomenon, so far the only scientific explanation for that phenomena that actually fits the data we have available and is able to predict data that had not yet been collected. It has nothing to do with faith, nothing to do with religion or worship, it is just an answer to a question. Religion may also be an answer to a question, but there is a lot more to it than that. There really isn't with evolution, besides the amount of evidence supporting that answer.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Mooney wrote "The Republican War on Science," to expose those Republican framers, peeyar flaks, and wordsmithing phonies who work to distort and destroy the most objective way of knowing that has ever been discovered by humankind.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I find it most peculiar to think that the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University is not considered for such a panel. Surely, Dawkins has demonstrated admirably his ability to convey the message of science to a wide and diverse audience. His attitude toward religion would surely make this an interesting panel discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Larry Moran said... “I've also noticed that throughout history the majority of humans have accepted slavery, the inferiority of women, and that the Earth is the center of the universe. What's your point?”

    Dragon replies - Your statement implying that the negative aspects of human behavior are attributable to religion is exaggerated and grossly inaccurate and simply reflects your personal view of life and history. Nothing in your reply addresses the longing in human beings that has been evidenced by religious expression thought history.

    Dragon

    ReplyDelete
  39. Todd said... a lot!

    I’d love to respond to all that Todd said. Maybe sometime I'll come back to this with my best attempt. Thanks, Todd!

    Dragon.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Dragon replies - Your statement implying that the negative aspects of human behavior are attributable to religion is exaggerated and grossly inaccurate and simply reflects your personal view of life and history.

    Larry implied nothing of the sort. He is simply saying that just because something was believed and accepted by most people for most of history does not make it right.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Larry said – “I've also noticed that throughout history the majority of humans have accepted slavery, the inferiority of women, and that the Earth is the center of the universe. What's your point?”

    On second thought, Dragon replies - You and others make anti-religious statements like that all the time. Will you answer the following questions?

    First, your point seems to be based on what you deem to be ‘bad’ things. From an atheistic, naturalistic, materialistic, humanistic point of view, how can there even be bad things, since every material thing is a purposeless accident?

    How do atheists, naturalists, materialists and humanists explain bad things, especially those that happen without any religious influence?

    Even if there were a religious influence, human nature would seem to have some responsibility for itself. How does materialism explain the human propensity to do bad things of any degree, small or large, and is responsibility assigned to anyone or anything?

    Dragon



    Todd said – “Larry implied nothing of the sort. He is simply saying that just because something was believed and accepted by most people for most of history does not make it right.”

    Dragon replies – It doesn’t make it wrong either. Further, not meaning to put words in his mouth, but I think Larry certainly wants to leave that impression.

    Todd how would you reply to my questions above?

    Dragon

    ReplyDelete
  42. First, your point seems to be based on what you deem to be ‘bad’ things. From an atheistic, naturalistic, materialistic, humanistic point of view, how can there even be bad things, since every material thing is a purposeless accident?

    Good and bad are measured based on their impact on humanity. Good things have an overall positive impact on humanity, bad things have an overall negative impact.

    That is the humanist perspective, at least as I interpret it. However, atheism is merely a lack of belief in any god or similar supernatural beings. It does not require any particular interpretation of the world, any particular moral perspective. So there is really no one way atheists are supposed to answer your question as a group, although individuals will have their own perspectives. Atheism is not a moral perspective, not a belief-set, not a judgment. It is simply the lack of belief. Trying to ask how "atheists" explain good and bad something is like trying to ask how Europeans explain tastiness. That category irrelevant to that particular question, so there is no reason to expect all atheists or all Europeans to agree on the issue.

    Similarly, humanists do not have to be atheist. Religious people can be humanists just as easily as atheists.

    ReplyDelete
  43. spezio, Goebbels advocated and actively participated in genocide. Nisbet, though his attacks on Dawkins and other atheism advocates are misguided, has done nothing remotely comparable to vile crimes committed by Goebbels. Argumentum ad Nazium is always a bad thing.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Nisbet's words speak for themselves.

    Nisbet is a classic propagandist.

    Nisbet, Mooney, and Kirschenbaum are upset because Nisbet has been perfectly framed on his own framing petard.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I am honored to help expose Nisbet as a pompous yuppie with so little content that it is hard to find any content. Framing, framing framing. The Reaction from the Three manipulative Framers proves the point.

    Being excommunicated from the framing fluff is an honor.
    But when Moonbaby throws the excommunication switch, it means that I can't even speak to PZ at science blogs.

    Talk about censorship from professed yuppie communication geniuses who want to get into a real ring with real tough issues.
    Hey, don't step on my polished yuppie shoes.

    My gratitude to Steve Labonne who took Nisbet to the woodshed.

    ReplyDelete
  46. llewelly, you lied about what Spezio said on Pharyngula as well as here. What's up with that? Once more, for the umpteenth time, what he ACTUALLY said was that Goebbels would easily recognize Nisbet's description of "framing" as applying to his own propaganda techniques. And that, let's face it, is at the very least a plausible assertion, however tasteless you may find it.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Joseph Goebbels at the 1934 Nuremburg Rally;

    Political propaganda in principle is active and revolutionary. It is aimed at the broad masses. It speaks the language of the people because it wants to be understood by the people. Its task is the highest creative art of putting sometimes complicated events and facts in a way simple enough to be understood by the man on the street. Its foundation is that there is nothing the people cannot understand, but rather things must be put in a way that they can understand. It is a question of making it clear to him by using the proper approach, evidence, and language.

    Propaganda is a means to an end. Its purpose is to lead the people to an understanding that will allow it to willingly and without internal resistance devote itself to the tasks and goals of a superior leadership. If propaganda is to succeed, it must know what it wants. It must keep a clear and firm goal in mind, and seek the appropriate means and methods to reach that goal. Propaganda as such is neither good nor evil. Its moral value is determined by the goals it seeks.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Who sounds explicitly like whom;

    http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/goeb59.htm

    ReplyDelete
  49. llewelly, taste and elegance are for tailors and literary critics.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Let's reframe propaganda. We'll call it framing.

    Here is the Master at Nuremburg 1934 again;

    All propaganda has a direction. The quality of this direction determines whether propaganda has a positive or negative effect. Good propaganda does not need to lie, indeed it may not lie. It has no reason to fear the truth. It is a mistake to believe that the people cannot take the truth. They can. It is only a matter of presenting the truth to people in a way that they will be able to understand. A propaganda that lies proves that it has a bad cause. It cannot be successful in the long run. A good propaganda will always come along that serves a good cause. But propaganda is still necessary if a good cause is to succeed. A good idea does not win simply because it is good. It must be presented properly if it is to win. The combination makes for the best propaganda. Such propaganda is successful without being obnoxious. It depends on its nature, not its methods. It works without being noticed. Its goals are inherent in its nature. Since it is almost invisible, it is effective and powerful.

    ReplyDelete
  51. What the world needs is more framing geniuses to pitch messages PROPERLY and EFFECTIVELY. Properly framed messages, for science sake! Whycancha see it?

    Most especially, this pretentious no distorting no lying science puffery had better get with the program lest they "surrender" to the forces of darkness and "really distorting distortion."

    ReplyDelete
  52. Gerald,
    I think Nisbet is an asshole if he threw you out for comparing him to Goebbels. Those quotes are interesting to consider. The fact he was a nazi seems secondary to me; Nisbet is being oversensitive or just playing a well-established cultural anatema to kick out noisy critics.

    But PZ is an asshole too. I got expelled from his blog.
    No censorship: It WORKS. Sandwalk is a great example.
    You can tell whe you have a mere propagandist, when he has decided to convert his blog into a pamphlet rather than keeping it a free ground for open discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  53. From the Oxford English Dictionary:

    propaganda (n.)
    3. The systematic dissemination of information, esp. in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a political cause or point of view.

    Mr. Spezio, who is the propagandist?

    ReplyDelete
  54. Bindex, your definition is precise.
    Both, therefore, are propagandists by definition.
    Or they both could be labeled as practitioners of marketing.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Mr. Spezio, i was speaking more to your (rather than anyone else's) systematic dissemination of information to promote your point of view...

    but as Mr. Nisbet already pointed out, bias in the eye of the perceiver.

    ReplyDelete
  56. bindex says,

    The systematic dissemination of information, esp. in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a political cause or point of view.

    That sounds a lot like the definition of framing to me. Nisbet wants us to stop doing what we've been doing all along and start pitching our communiques according to his view of what the public wants to hear.

    ReplyDelete
  57. To me, the composition of a panel comes down to a question of dynamics.

    Do you want to include only moderates who you hope will consider all viewpoints, or do you want to include extremists as well, and let them thrash things out.

    Forget the obvious problem of identifying who are the moderates and the extremists, just hypothetically speaking, do you want a war of ideas or do you want a dialog?

    I think the answer depends partly on temperament and partly on our philosophy of knowledge. I'm split because temperamentally I prefer the moderates in a civil intellectual discussion, but my theory of knowledge tells me that this would avoid important nuances that only an extremist with an uncompromising viewpoint would relentlessly make clear.

    So I would include the extremists but try to set up the groundrules so that they could contribute but not dominate the discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Regarding framing, I think it's possible to use the concept constructively with honest intent to communicate an idea, without turning it into propaganda.

    To me it becomes propaganda at some ill-defined but real point when you find yourelf using it systematically to obscure or negate the points made by others rather than just articulating your own points. Framing is a legitimate way of getting a message across effectively, but is easily overused as a tool for argument.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Todd I. Stark asks,

    Do you want to include only moderates who you hope will consider all viewpoints, or do you want to include extremists as well, and let them thrash things out.

    I want to include moderates who oppose the attempt to politicize science as well as the extremists who advocate framing. That's the whole point.

    ReplyDelete