TR Gregory on Fr*ming

ERV points me to Genomicron, where TR Gregory has a good post on “framing” science. Gregory outlines three major reasons for which the Mooney–Nisbet thesis causes dissatisfaction:

I will say that I found much to agree with as far as the descriptive components were concerned. That is, I think Mooney and Nisbet make some good arguments with regard to what is and is not working in scientific communication. This is Nisbet’s subject of research, and it was useful to see actual data applied to the question. My sense was that “framing” likely is something that nonspecialists do use when evaluating complex issues, and that this is a problem for scientists who want to convey complicated ideas with societal ramifications to them. However, I think the discussion runs aground in three major areas: 1) How it is presented to scientists, 2) In the failure to distinguish it from “spin” or “marketing”, and 3) When it shifts from description to prescription.

Gregory’s three points parallel, to a considerable extent, my seven points. He also points to Hayes and Grossman’s A Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media (2006), which I had noticed in the local Barnes-and-Borders-a-Million but haven’t had a chance to read (sometimes, The Tale of Genji takes priority). Now, Gregory has had his own not-so-good experiences with science journalism, so I think his opinions are worth consideration.

The first of Gregory’s three points bears closer examination:

As to the first, Mooney and Nisbet seem to use an only partially appropriate “framing” when speaking to scientists who, both as individual people and as part of a collective, exhibit inherent preferences, biases, and other filters. To wit, scientists in general will be unwilling to compromise certain principles, and there appears to be insufficient appreciation of this fact by framing advocates. For example, scientists will not simplify to the point of eroding accuracy, they will not do anything that could be perceived as lying to the public, and they will never give up on the notion that getting the public to understand science is the primary long-term goal. From what I can gather, Mooney and Nisbet are not asking scientists to compromise on these principles, but this is not stated clearly — following their own advice, this should be presented clearly and repeatedly so as to reassure scientists that they are not being told to betray their scientific ideals. (And if they are asking scientists to do so, then this should be made clear also so that the debate can be put to a swift end).

As I’ve remarked before, I have come to hypothesize that there are the reasonable Mooney and Nisbet, who refrain from asking scientists to compromise on such grand principles, and then there are their insane twin brothers who keep trying to kick those uppity atheists back into the corner. (Similar statements about rational and bizarre twins have been made for Thomas Kuhn and Lee Smolin.) It seems to me undeniable that if you accept the truths of Nature, you’re going to worship different divinities than those who don’t — and the odds will go up that you’ll worship none at all.

Some people would call that “progress.”

To make me say otherwise, you’ll have to convince me otherwise, or get me to compromise my principles.

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