Framing science

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Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney have a provocative Policy Forum (subscription required) in the latest issue of Science. They argue that

  • People are overwhelmed with information,

  • They use conceptual shortcuts, “frames,” to make decisions and to form opinions about issues that they don't have time to study, and

  • Scientists should “strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it.”

They're right. People are much more likely to remember and be influenced by Gore's comment that the “planet has a fever” (source) than the IPCC's conclusion that “Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many
natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly
temperature increases” (source, p. 2).

In response P.Z. Meyers argues that scientists sometimes want to “break the frames of the debate and shift whole worldviews,” that “[w]e are a culture afflicted with bad ideas, and it is irresponsible to ignore them,” and that “[o]ne of our jobs must be to speak out plainly in opposition to bad ideas.”

No argument there. But if we want to change people's minds, if we really want to “shift whole worldviews,” then we have to get the people whose minds we want to change to listen to us.

If, for example, we want to ensure that evolution is properly taught in public schools, many religious believers (85% of the United States population -- source) are going to have to be convinced that intelligent design and other forms of creationism aren't reasonable alternatives. That means framing evolutionary insights in terms that do not challenge religious belief1 and that make them personally relevant to those with influence over school curricula.

Nisbet has more commentary and a selection of reactions on his blog.

4 TrackBacks

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Fear of framing from Uncommon Ground on May 20, 2007 10:33 AM

I mentioned the Nisbet and Mooney Policy Forum in Science on Friday. I've seen a couple of posts reacting to their article since then, and both of them make points I was going to make until I saw that the... Read More

Resisting science from Uncommon Ground on May 21, 2007 11:35 AM

Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg have a fascinating article in last week's issue of Science: “Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science” (link; subscription required). They review evidence from developmental psychology and argu... Read More

In early April Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney published a policy forum piece in Science entitled “Framing science”, causing quite a furor in the blogosphere. The debate how now reached the pages of Science in the form of a series... Read More

A little over a week ago, Chris Mooney made a post suggesting that the Dawkins/Myers/Expelled controversy was helping the movie to get attention it didn't deserve. The result was an explosion on ScienceBlogs, with invective and insults flying. Chris di... Read More

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