Monday, March 31, 2008

For Once, Chris Mooney Talks Sense

 
Read Chris Mooney's latest posting on The Intersection where he addresses the framing controversy [A Dialogue on Framing, the F-Word, and the Future of ScienceBlogs, Part I: Framer Culpa].
When I teamed up with Matthew Nisbet a year ago to talk about the subject of framing science--which I still believe to be a very important one--it was not my goal to alienate or outrage a group that I consider one of my most important audiences, namely, ScienceBlogs bloggers and readers. And yet when you look at the latest blowup over what I have posted, Sheril has posted, and Nisbet has posted about Expelled, it's undeniable that there is now an audience that reacts very negatively even to any basic mention of the concept of framing.

And there's just no other way to spin it--this is a painfully ironic communication failure on the part of those of us who wanted to introduce what I view as a very important communication tool to the science world. If we can't explain something so useful to an important segment of our own audience, how can we possibly hope to use it to counter the other side?
Good for you Chris. The irony has been apparent to many of us and it's really good to see you confess to having created the problem. My respect for you just went up several notches.

Let me just correct one little thing. There are plenty of science bloggers out there who don't like your views on framing science. Not all of us belong to the ScienceBlogsTM consortium.
Now, to be sure, the concept of framing has been quite influential already for many people who care about science, but who are not seemingly well represented on ScienceBlogs. When I go around lecturing with Matt Nisbet, we constantly encounter enthusiastic, receptive scientist-laden audiences at universities. There is simply nothing like the response that we've seen here over the last week. Indeed, I believe the reactions at lectures may have skewed my perceptions, and made me neglect or dismiss, to a significant extent, the way our ideas were faring in the science blogosphere.

But no success on the lecture circuit can change the fact that somehow--and I'll have ideas about how it happened in later posts--the concept of framing has been blackened on Scienceblogs, which I consider a truly tragic occurrence. And while I'm hardly the only guilty party here, I certainly played a role in that, whether actively or by omission.
It's very common for people on the lecture circuit to get an exaggerated—and false—impression of their message. This is because the only people who come to your talks are the true believers. When dissenters do show up it's often hard for them to debate the speaker just by posing questions from the audience.

I'm not surprised that the Nisbet/Mooney road show fooled you into thinking that your ideas were widely accepted in the scientific community. The other way of fooling yourself is to organize a conference where the only people invited are those who agree with you. This is what Nisbet did at AAAS.

Allow me to re-iterate the point I made earlier. It's not just on ScienceBlogsTM that the concept of framing has been blackened. I've met many scientists who think that your views on framing1 are an unacceptable way to teach science. A good many of those scientists have never read a single posting on any ScienceBlogsTM blog and, furthermore, they have never even heard of Seed and the group it supports.

I admire the fact that you confess to poor framing of your ideas. Now. how about discussing whether they are even correct? Up to now all you've done is reject any criticism on the ground that we don't really understand framing. Maybe we do, but we're still opposed. Have you ever thought of that?

Your message still seems to be that you just made the mistake of not presenting your ideas correctly. In other words, you didn't frame properly. I hope that subsequent postings won't continue in that vein. It's time to realize that it was not only the medium that was flawed but also the message.


1. Framing is deliberately altering what you want to say in order to make it more acceptable to your audience.

10 comments :

  1. It's only a partial mea culpa, "I was right, but I didn't spin it well"

    Mooney still stands by Nisbet and characterizes the negative responses to Sheril Kirshenbaum's thread, "PZ Myers, Mind Your Manners," as nasty attacks.

    I think Mooney is only half way there.

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  2. Just last night I downloaded and listened to the latest podcast episode of 'The Skeptics Guide to the Universe'. On the show they had an interview with Eugenie Scott from the NCSE - you know, one of the groups that Nisbet and company were recently suggesting should be deferred to by atheistic public scientists such as Dawkins and Myers and someone who they implied would carry on their strategy of ignoring the Expelled crowd and deny them the oxygen of publicity. I listened to her entire interview and thought "bloody hell! - the framers actually think she's on their side!"
    Basically she spent about 15 minutes gleefully recounting the PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins incident, and laughing at the inanity of the Expelled creationists. She urged people to link to a website called expelledexposed.com so that google searches of 'Expelled' would link to that site. All in all she took exactly the opposite line to that suggested by Nisbet/Mooney - in other words she advocated the blindingly obvious - publicize the hypocritical stupidity of the producers of this movie as much as possible.
    I wondered what effect this interview would have on Nisbet and Mooney but I didn't expect such a quick retreat from Mooney.

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  3. Your message still seems to be that you just made the mistake of not presenting your ideas correctly. In other words, you didn't frame properly. I hope that subsequent postings won't continue in that vein. It's time to realize that it was not only the medium that was flawed but also the message.

    If Mooney were PZ, he'd just respond with a simple "Fuck you", and that would suffice. Not much you can do about that argument.

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  4. I really think that Mooney and Nisbet just don't get what we're interested in doing as we defend science.

    We're fighting for a world in which evidence and proven rational and logical methods will prevail, at least where it comes to science and science education. The fight is against those who frame, and for a space in which framing will at least be minimal, so as not to obscure empirical issues.

    The last thing we can do is to frame our arguments for minimal framing--if we're hoping to be understood with respect to our vision and goals, let alone to expect to avoid being known as hypocrites. That framing occurs in science is not in question. However, the primary concerns of real scientists is how to prevent excessive framing, and to help humans to see through the framing that inevitably occurs.

    It's like they're telling us to be deceptive and to misrepresent the truth in our bid to keep science and education honest. To ally ourselves with the devil in order to enhance our fight against the devil. There is no sense to it, and thus it is self-defeating.

    I am not unaware that some simplification and framing has to be used to communicate popular science and in communicating about issues involving science to the public. Carl Sagan used a minimal amount of framing to get science ideas across--but that's the point, he used about as little as he reasonably could when communicating to those who did not know much science.

    So I am not altogether opposed to some framing by educators and those who must teach science, plus it is impossible to fully divest any human endeavor of framing, including science. But we do not seek to do anything other than to minimize the framing necessary, while maximizing impact--especially since many of the necessary metaphors are already farther than the truth than anything we would ideally desire.

    The point of science is to try to avoid prejudice and framing as much as possible, while Nisbet and Mooney are trying to increase the prejudicial framing that cannot be entirely eradicated. They just don't seem to realize our whole point, which is that science is not a religion or even much of a "worldview," it is a vital method of cutting through the BS with which the various proponents of framing try to dupe their audiences. Framing is the opposite of the science endeavor, and to push framing into science and science education is an anti-science tactic.

    Glen Davidson

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  5. Personally I withhold judgment on the completeness of Mooney's mea culpa. It is entirely feasible that his "ideas about how it happened" is still within his old frame.

    And it was never entirely a framing issue. Nisbet's lack of early positive demonstrative examples and arrogance started the negative feedback cycle N&M has been stuck in.

    Framing is deliberately altering what you want to say in order to make it more acceptable to your audience.

    That is effectively what N&M asks scientists to do. The original concept of framing seems to be more neutral, from economics presentation of rational choice problems over social sciences schema of interpretation:

    * Program A: "200 people will be saved"

    * Program B: "there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved, and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved"


    vs

    "Counterterrorism as law enforcement" vs. "Counterterrorism as war".

    But we do not seek to do anything other than to minimize the framing necessary, while maximizing impact

    I see what you did there, presented a suitable frame of "minimal framing". Or at least I imagine that this could be N&M's response; everyone communicating is a framer, everything communicative can be analyzed as frames.

    But FWIW I agree with that this is a robust longterm strategy for science. (Personally I prefer the frames that science is useful (orthodox frame, consistent with minimal framing) respectively sexy (CSI frame, asking for a shorter message).)

    And since N&M so far seems hell bent on shooting down the idea that other types of framing is a useful shortterm tactic, there isn't much more to say here.

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  6. And it was never entirely a framing issue. Nisbet's lack of early positive demonstrative examples and arrogance started the negative feedback cycle N&M has been stuck in.

    It amazes me that so many people in Scienceblogs failed to notice this. Orac, from Respectful Insolence, is a prime example of the misunderstanding of what is wrong with the N&M version of framing.

    The idea that saying things in one way rather than another will likely affect the willingness of people to listen to you is obvious. Therefore, any advice for scientists on how to say things so that the general public will be more accepting and less irrationaly hostile is interesting.

    However, after all this time, Nisbet's advice appears to boil down to this:

    10% =
    Nisbet: DO NOT say that religion and science are in any way incompatible! You must be as friendly to religion as you can! Never cross religion in any way!

    Scientist: But I do think religion and science may be incompatible! SHould I just lie about it?

    Nisbet: YES, GODDAMNIT, YES!


    And 90%=

    Nisbet: You are just a useless idiot: you can't do anything right! Look, just shut up, okay? And next time let me do the talking, asshole!

    And then he wonders why people don't fall in love with him at first sight...

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  7. The concept of framing, i.e., "(...) deliberately altering what you want to say in order to make it more acceptable to your audience", should be strange, by definition, to the scientific community. Science deals with facts. Facts are verifiable observations on the way the natural world works. If there is no body of evidence disproving those facts, and they are sustained , again, by independently verifiable empiric evidence, then they remain as such. No amount of "framing", or, as my grandma used to say, "dressing the donkey to its owners will" will change the situation. That is science, and that is the way the scientific method works, and that dispassionate way to reason and communicate should be the fulcrum of educating the public. Severe consequences of the inane mix of reason and will or outlook when striving for a decision on action have been shown (and are still evident)in history. Unfortunately, all that Nisbet has accomplished for the AAAS with his antics is to decrease its credibility by orders of magnitude. "Expelled" from the AAAS because you do have an alternative theory (and I do mean theory, not "goddidit" or "guttfeeling", or even "intimateconviction")? Where is the procedure of weighing in the evidence? Where is the scientific method? This from the American Association for the Advancement of Science? Are Americans becoming so self-centered that they implode into their own asses? Blaahh...The AAAS and Science magazine by association just lost whatever remaining credibility for me.

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  8. Read Chris Mooney's latest posting on...

    I don't go there much anymore. Clicking on his pages would give the false impression to Matt, mini-Matt, and their potential advertisers that I pay attention to their message.

    And it was never entirely a framing issue. Nisbet's lack of early positive demonstrative examples and arrogance started the negative feedback cycle N&M has been stuck in.

    Not only a lack of positive demonstration, but coupled with negative attacks on persons more accomplished than himself. I saw Nisbet as a self-promoter from the start, and I haven't seen anything since to change my mind.

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  9. Maybe it's just an April fool's joke, and Mooney has not seen the errors of his ways.

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  10. "Matt, mini-Matt"

    LOL! Can't resist posting this again.

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