Home » Culture, Science » “Framing Science” — Because the masses cannot be reasoned with but must be manipulated

“Framing Science” — Because the masses cannot be reasoned with but must be manipulated

“Framing,” as a colleague of mine pointed out, is the term that UC Berkeley Professor of Linguistics George Lakoff uses to urge Democrats that the public will agree with liberal policies if only the policies are described in different terms — “framed” in other words. Politics aside, framing is part and parcel with the condescension of our secular elite that the masses cannot be reasoned with and must therefore be manipulated.

The authors of “Framing Science” (see below), which appeared in Science, are world-renowned scientists and therefore know whereof they speak. Well, not exactly. Matthew Nisbet is a professor of communication and Chris Mooney is a correspondent for the atheist magazine Seed. (Nisbet’s blog is also hosted by Seed.) Nisbet and Mooney are both outspoken defenders of Darwinism and critics of ID — which is no doubt why the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of Science) regards them as qualified to “frame” science.

FRAMING SCIENCE — A Science and Society Policy Forum
Matthew C. Nisbet and Chris Mooney

Science 6 April 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5821, p. 56
SOURCE: www.sciencemag.org

Issues at the intersection of science and politics, such as climate change, evolution, and embryonic stem cell research, receive considerable public attention, which is likely to grow, especially in the United States as the 2008 presidential election heats up. Without misrepresenting scientific information on highly contested issues, scientists must learn to actively “frame” information to make it relevant to different audiences. Some in the scientific community have been receptive to this message (1). However, many scientists retain the well-intentioned belief that, if laypeople better understood technical complexities from news coverage, their viewpoints would be more like scientists’, and controversy would subside.

In reality, citizens do not use the news media as scientists assume. Research shows that people are rarely well enough informed or motivated to weigh competing ideas and arguments. Faced with a daily torrent of news, citizens use their value predispositions (such as political or religious beliefs) as perceptual screens, selecting news outlets and Web sites whose outlooks match their own (2). Such screening reduces the choices of what to pay attention to and accept as valid (3).

As another example, the scientific theory of evolution has been accepted within the research community for decades. Yet as a debate over “intelligent design” was launched, antievolutionists promoted “scientific uncertainty” and “teach-the-controversy” frames, which scientists countered with science-intensive responses. However, much of the public likely tunes out these technical messages. Instead, frames of “public accountability” that focus on the misuse of tax dollars, “economic development” that highlight the negative repercussions for communities embroiled in evolution battles, and “social progress” that define evolution as a building block for medical advances, are likely to engage broader support.

The evolution issue also highlights another point: Messages must be positive and respect diversity. As the film Flock of Dodos painfully demonstrates, many scientists not only fail to think strategically about how to communicate on evolution, but belittle and insult others’ religious beliefs (8).

On the embryonic stem cell issue, by comparison, patient advocates have delivered a focused message to the public, using “social progress” and “economic competitiveness” frames to argue that the research offers hope for millions of Americans. These messages have helped to drive up public support for funding between 2001 and 2005 (9, 10). However, opponents of increased government funding continue to frame the debate around the moral implications of research, arguing that scientists are “playing God” and destroying human life. Ideology and religion can screen out even dominant positive narratives about science, and reaching some segments of the public will remain a challenge (11).

Some readers may consider our proposals too Orwellian, preferring to safely stick to the facts. Yet scientists must realize that facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted in direct proportion to their relevance to the political debate and decision-making. In short, as unnatural as it might feel, in many cases, scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details
of science when trying to defend it.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

23 Responses to “Framing Science” — Because the masses cannot be reasoned with but must be manipulated

  1. (My emphasis)

    Instead, frames of “public accountability” that focus on the misuse of tax dollars, “economic development” that highlight the negative repercussions for communities embroiled in evolution battles, and “social progress” that define evolution as a building block for medical advances, are likely to engage broader support.

    Perhaps my paranoia is acting up, but that sounds vaguely like a veiled threat.

    Final paragraph to the rescue:

    Some readers may consider our proposals too Orwellian, preferring to safely stick to the facts. Yet scientists must realize that facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted in direct proportion to their relevance to the political debate and decision-making. In short, as unnatural as it might feel, in many cases, scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it.

    My gut tells me the opposite is true, that many are hungry for the facts, and desire for information about scientific discoveries over the past few decades to be made more accessible, rather than obfuscated. I suggest that ID would benefit by seeking to be the proxy for that accessibility. My own preference is for visual mediums, because they’re easy to share, although personally I have no allergy to reading. The DVDs Unlocking the Mysteries of Life, and The Privileged Planet have served as a great starting point, but left me hungry for more.

    …as unnatural as it might feel…

    It may feel as unnatural as a biologist having to “…keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

  2. 2

    The sheep at denailism.com talked about this article as well. Here’s an excerpt of what they thought:

    “Mooney and Nisbet have an interesting point and I tend to agree with it. From my perspective… the technical aspects of the science under discussion are largely irrelevant…”

    denialism.com on Framing

    It’s ironic that a site supposedly dedicated to helping “people identify the difference between legitimate science/policy debate… and illegitimate debate, in which one of the opponents uses illegitimate tactics and is essentially not an honest broker in the discussion” would be unconcerned for the facts in a debate.

    The Scubaredneck

  3. …many scientists retain the well-intentioned belief that, if laypeople better understood technical complexities from news coverage, their viewpoints would be more like scientists’, and controversy would subside.

    Surely the author jests. The problem is, I understand the technical complexities too well, and they undermine orthodox Darwinian mechanisms and render them impotent in light of what is known from modern science. Mainstream news coverage presents anything but “technical complexities”; it mostly presents annoyingly superficial fluff with almost no substantive or technical content.

    Yet as a debate over “intelligent design” was launched, antievolutionists promoted “scientific uncertainty” and “teach-the-controversy” frames, which scientists countered with science-intensive responses.

    Yes indeed, scientists countered with “science-intensive responses,” like co-option and how biological information and information-processing systems can be created by random mutation and natural selection.

    With so much profoundly persuasive news coverage and so many science-intensive responses, how could any reasonable person remain a skeptic?

  4. Prof Dembski:

    You have highlighted an important trend — “Science” [often falsely so-called] as ideological agenda. Well needed.

    My responses — I would love to see your follow up as a scientifically literate philosopher in your own right, as well as a philosophically and theologically literate Mathematician:

    1] Too many SCIENTISTS are ill-informed of general science issues, phil of science, much less the wider logic, epistemology, ethics and metaphysics to make sound counsel. A SCIENTIST IN HIS LAB COAT SPEAKING BEYOND HIS SPECIFIC EXPERTISE IS NO BETTER THAN (AND OFTEN WORSE THAN) A COMMON-SENSICAL PERSON WITH A REASONABLE DEGREE OF PRUDENCE. (The dismissive remarks above on embryo-destructive stem cell research which do not address the facts on so-called adult stem cell treatments, aptly illustrate the sort of calculated deceit and inadvertent, often emotionally driven misleading that can happen. After all, the Nazis achieved great technical medical research through their studies of untermeschen [sp?], which reportedly saved more lives than were lost through the holocaust. Why then did Medicine find it necessary to go back and replicate the findings using ethically acceptable methods — wasn’t that a “waste” of money and effort? What is the value of a human embryo, relative to say an endangered bird in the egg?)

    2] Plato warned through his famous parable of the Cave, on how closely knit cultures and their elites — the Citizens of Athens were a tiny elite — can create a manipulated, en-darkened [as opposed to what it usually imagines: "enlightened"] group-think mentality that resists truth and opposes those who would correct it. THe acts of institutional science today such as in the Smithsonan, are telling in this regard.

    3] Finally, as you have alluded to in other contexts, Aritstotle in his The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2, warns us:

    Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . .

    I therefore think it appropriate to comment:

    –> Our emotions and associated perceptions and desires are powerfully persuasive but too often rest on a distorted view of the world. (Too often, that distorted view is based on somebody’s shadow play. And, in that game, you look to those who hold power, not those who are raising questions and pointing to places where the stage props are inadvertently revealing, as the prime suspects!)

    –> 99+% of the time we are consciously or unconsciously using authorities in argument, so we need to reckon with its power and limitations. On the latter we must realise no authority is better than her or his facts, evidence, assumptions and reasoning. (The evo materialism frame falls down badly here, as has now long since been exposed. But institutional power can keep an unsound system going long past its sell-by date. Just ask the former Communists about that! Me thinks we are in the parallel to the early 1980′s here . . . where Thatcher and Reagan’s view that Communism was on its last legs was viewed, and academically sliced and diced and duly peer reviewed and published as nonsense by the “experts.”)

    –> It is only when “facts” are true and materially represent the truth, that there is a basis for sound reasoning. Then, it is only when logic is right that we either have a valid deduction or a credible explanation. Mostly, the latter, and that is always provisional.

    _________

    MEMO to Nisbet, Mooney and ilk:

    A little more humility and honesty rather than the tired game of painting those who question the status quo as “ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked,” please.

    GEM of TKI

  5. 5
    The Scubaredneck

    kairosfocus wrote:

    “Too many SCIENTISTS are ill-informed of general science issues, phil of science, much less the wider logic, epistemology, ethics and metaphysics to make sound counsel. A SCIENTIST IN HIS LAB COAT SPEAKING BEYOND HIS SPECIFIC EXPERTISE IS NO BETTER THAN (AND OFTEN WORSE THAN) A COMMON-SENSICAL PERSON WITH A REASONABLE DEGREE OF PRUDENCE.”

    The Scubaredneck responds:

    I think this is precisely the problem many times. With his latest book, Richard Dawkins finally got far enough out of his depth that a number of philosophers have come forward to decry his inanity. Unfortunately, many folks choose to believe him simply because of who he is.

    Your comments on embryonic stem cell research (and the dismissiveness towards adult stem cell work) are very telling of the lack of ethical thought. More often, the arguments are similar to those expressed by Jeanna Lee Ryan, who runs a designer embryo clinic in Utah:

    “”People say well, ‘Is this ethical to do what you do? Is it moral to do what you do?’” Ryan said. “Is it ethical or moral not to do it when I have the means and ability to do it? Knowing that I can, should I continue listening to women lament that can’t have children?”"

    ABC news story

    Translation: “I have the technology so I am ethically bound to use it.” If this doesn’t scare you, you’re not paying attention.

    The Scubaredneck

  6. Hi Scuba:

    Thanks for the points. Interesting . . .

    Sort of reminds me of the story of he man caught with a “worm” used in distilling “moondew” if you know what I mean.

    The judge was going to throw the book at him as possession is deemed evidence enough to convict.

    The man pleaded in his own defence: “I would like in that case sir to plead guilty to rape too. For I have the instrument for that too . . .”

    Have we ever seriously thought of the idea: technology and knowledge as enablers of temptation?

    Or, of the ethical contrast between legitimate desire for knowledge and vicious curiosity that destructively and self-ishly disrespects the moral bounds on substance, ends and techniques of research and study?

    GEM or TKI

  7. PS: My remarks are not original, if memory serves [it is jogging away now -- one of those deeply buried phrases that surfaces thingies] — not sure if it is Lewis or Schaeffer or someone like that . . .

    Can anyone help my recall?

  8. kairosfocus,

    Sorry can’t help you with that reference, but if biblical perspectives are of any interest to you, the apostle Paul describes his own struggle with sin and law in Romans 7, beginning with verse 7. He suggests that knowledge of the law allowed sin to deceive, producing a spiritual “death” that prior to [knowledge of] the commandment was not present. He proposes that prior to the knowledge, sin had no hold.

    It’s suggestive that sin is absent without knowledge of good and evil. From this perspective, one could reason that any subsequent knowledge, following knowledge of good and evil, would subject one to the law that Paul describes in Romans 7:21.

  9. Apollos

    Biblical perspectives are indeed of interest to me [my handle is in light of a similar cultural history to yours], and Rom 7 – 8 is indeed an interesting text. (Though, extended comment in this forum is not on topic.)

    All the best

    GEM of TKI

  10. Without misrepresenting scientific information on highly contested issues,

    ROTFLMAO!!!!!

    On the embryonic stem cell issue, by comparison, patient advocates have delivered a focused message to the public, using “social progress” and “economic competitiveness” frames

    Which is basically GIVE ME MONEY! GIVE ME MONEY, I SAY, AND YOU WILL WALK!! AND SEE!! AND HEAR!! But you must prove your faith BY GIVING ME MONEY!!!!

    Note the embryonic stem cell debate is all about distributing tax dollars. It is not illegal to use embryonic stem cells anywhere in the U.S.

    Yet as a debate over “intelligent design” was launched, antievolutionists promoted “scientific uncertainty” and “teach-the-controversy” frames, which scientists countered with science-intensive responses.

    Which was basically DON’T LISTEN TO THE CREATIONISTS!! DON’T LISTEN TO THE CREATIONISTS!! DON’T LISTEN TO THE CREATIONISTS!! LALALALALALALALALAL

    BTW, this framing thing isn’t anything new. Lenin was taking about it way back in 1917.

  11. Framing?! How about this from Richard Feynman’s Cargo Cult Science:

    “For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of his work were. ‘Well’, I said, ‘there aren’t any’. He said, ‘Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind’. I think that’s kind of dishonest. If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing — and if they don’t support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.”

  12. BTW, this framing thing isn’t anything new. Lenin was taking about it way back in 1917.

    You got that right, tribune7.

    It really took off when the Frankfurt School and the Deconstructionists went at it from their respective directions.

  13. It really took off when the Frankfurt School and the Deconstructionists went at it from their respective directions.

    That’s exactly what this fight is about. The funny thing is we are the ones on the side of science and objective truth.

    History lesson for today: Antonio Gramsci

    Looks like Science is one of those institutions his progeny marched through.

    And note that Nisbet and Mooney are literally saying they have to resort to semantics to win the debate. So much for objective truth and the scientific method.

  14. Unfortunately to a certain degree I think the authors are correct in their analysis. Many people have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination to delve into the complexities of many issues scientific or otherwise. I need issues in evolution or climate changed to be framed to a certain degree. I have gone through very limited university courses on both subjects and have spent a considerable amount of time examining both issues on my own. I would not however be so pompous as to think that I understood either field.

    I have studied the design and implementation of foreign policy fairly rigorously for several years. After having many conversations with almost exclusively college graduates I have come to the realization that intelligent people that think they have a grasp have no clue about the complexity of the field. They may have an understanding considerably more nuanced then what you can get from the paper or God forbid cable news programs, but they still pull on understanding from other areas of life to fill in gaps of understanding and inevitably error in their analysis despite their general competence. That is why I regretfully acknowledge that framing to some degree is necessary; for me and everyone else outside a given discipline. That is also why our media has gravitated to the sensationalist to such a degree. They are not evil manipulators trying to dumb down the public. They are giving the public exactly what it wants. There just are not the ratings in sober and detailed investigation of an issue.

    The important thing is whether or not the framing has honesty at its core or deception. Most unfortunately on this issue and others I have seen dishonesty coming from both sides of the debate.

  15. That is why I regretfully acknowledge that framing to some degree is necessary;

    Once “framing” becomes “necessary” it is no longer science but politics.

  16. Irony meter about to explode. Must. Escape.

    I don’t want to make this blog “all Egnor all the time.” Really, I don’t. No matter how much the Discovery Institute’s creationist neurosurgeon may embarrass the hell out of me, I’ve recently been trying to ration the rebuttals of…

  17. “Once ‘framing’ becomes ‘necessary’ it is no longer science but politics.”

    Yeah, and once a lying deception (aka “framing”) takes hold we are on the road to tyranny. As for the dumbing down—that’s a Sixties legacy you can chalk up to the Left. A lot of people may know more today—more about their job and hobby niches—but they don’t know how to think. On the positive side there’s a rebellious and growing minority that are rather impervious to deception. Let’s hope there’s enough of them to stave off the disaster that looms from within and from without.

  18. [...] FRAMING SCIENCE — A Science and Society Policy Forum: comment by Dembski: 9 April 2007, “Framing Science” — Because the masses cannot be reasoned with but must be manipulated” . The point is well-taken, framing is just MAD-AD tactics in disguise. ID, I fear, is another such disguise (framing). Science 6 April 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5821, p. 56 SOURCE: http://www.sciencemag.org [...]

  19. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” – J. Goebbels.

  20. scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details
    of science when trying to defend it.

    Sound like Nesbit and Mooney realize their position is indefensible from a scientific perspective.

    By the way, Democrat Pamela Winnick continues to write devastating critiques of Mooney’s less than truthful assertions.

  21. Following up:

    I spent more years than I want to remember in science and technology education, and in policy advocacy and projects funding and appraisal etc linked to sci and tech issues. On the strength of that, I think I can back off a notch or two and analyse again:

    Without misrepresenting scientific information on highly contested issues, scientists must learn to actively “frame” information to make it relevant to different audiences . . . . scientists must realize that facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted in direct proportion to their relevance to the political debate and decision-making . . . in many cases, scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it.

    Of course the very first part sounds pretty okay — people will pay attention to information in an infoglut age only if they find it relevant — and you have about two seconds to show that.

    But, as we go down a bit, we begin to see that all is not sweetness and light: an agenda is being pushed, and “scientific information” and “facts” are not at all as innocent or admirable as they at first appear. (We need to note this one — for thhen objections can be twisted through citing the innocent sounding part then saying in effect “how can you object . . . ?”)

    The crux of the matter plainly hinges on what “scientific information” is; as opposed to the actual — as opposed to claimed — “facts.”

    For, we live in an era where those who play by say Md Barbara Forrest’s rules routinely misrepresent the actual state of scientific [and ethical, and historical, and philosophical and legal, etc] facts, in major part through imposing a naturalistic re-definition on science that can neither be historically nor philosophically justified.

    As Dan Peterson aptly summarises — and shows thereby that facts and reasonable inferences can in fact be clearly and plainly communicated to the layman on science and policy matters:

    . . .If one defines the universe as consisting only of material forces, there is no intelligent designer and hence there can be no intelligent design. Materialism thus rules ID out of bounds, and holds it to be false, by definition.

    That is what leads to the emphatic claims that intelligent design is “not science.” . . . But are materialism and science the same thing? Must all science be based on a view that matter and energy are “all there is,” and that there cannot possibly be an ordering intelligence behind the creation of life, the design of physical laws, and the place of human beings in the cosmos? Will a theistic worldview stop science in its tracks, as some materialists claim, because scientists who accept design will throw up their hands, and refer all explanations to “the will of God”?

    No, no, and no. The attempt to equate science with materialism is a quite recent development, coming chiefly to the fore in the 20th century. Contrary to widespread propaganda, science is not something that arose after the dark, obscurantist forces of religion were defeated by an “enlightened” nontheistic worldview. The facts of history show otherwise . . . [details follow!]

    In short, on abundant evidence and excellent reason, science is not applied atheism. Nor is it the handmaid of those who wish to use it as a Trojan Horse to advance a secularist “progressivist” agenda that could not stand on its own merits if fairly examined. [And, where -- on 150 year track record -- will that "progress" end up, Ms Forrest?

    No wonder, evo mat advocates struggle to persuade the public in the face of facts and pointed questions once reasonably informed people have access to enough mikes that they must be heard. No wonder they distort, demonise and dismiss. No wonder, they now reach for the weapon of censorship, often with the aid of courtrooms and major science institutions.

    Methinks, it is high time to think again. For, progress is relative to, and no more desirable than, its destination . . . [Cf here Rom 1 and v 18 ff. on one kind of progress made in Rome ~ 2000 years ago. Is that where we want to go?]

    GEM of TKI

  22. Putting a spin on things, or “framing” is really not all that new.

    Emily Dickinson, perhaps America’s greatest poet wrote of truth: that it should dazzle slowly, that it should be told in slant, or every man be blind.

    The Bible itself uses linguistic license to emphasize the severity of consequences of going against God, or the unimaginable peace that passes understanding, which derives from acknowledging God. There is parable and metaphor and simile, etc. There is the revelation interwoven with actual events of the day.

    We like to exaggerate a little for effect. We spend a great deal of effort on “dressing up” our places of worship because we are reaching to the highest. We dress up our wee children, not to make them look better, but because they are beautiful already.

    The huge difference between admiring/worshipping/adoring/venerating truth, beauty, and decency, and spinning liberal webs of deception is a matter of “data”.

    If temperature measurements are not significantly different over some time interval, then it is quite wrong to force them to suggest otherwise. If CO2 is requisite for life then it is misleading to call it toxic.

    If the existence of something cannot be explained by necessity or chance, then it is quite wrong to overlook that fact.

    If the rule “survival of what survives” is spun to be an intelligent description of naturalistic progression, then entropy is deconstructing intelligence faster than information.

    IOW, demonstrating the truth does not mean falsifying the data. It does not mean manipulating the data. It does mean respecting the data.

  23. There’s a big difference between the rhetoric of persuasion (such as Thomas Woodward documents), and the propaganda of demagogues. The difference is honesty. Do we want to persuade or deceive? Are we in for the best argument that is logically sound and rhetorically convincing, or is our intent to deceive? Are we completely up front? Is our materialism “framed” as theism? Or our theism as Darwinian? Is our liberalism framed as conservativism? Or our conservativism as liberalism?

    In this postmodern age we no longer believe that a pursuit of truth is possible—and therefore this distinction of honesty is being lost. Logic is an illusion and language is a political weapon. This kind of nonsense is the natural outcome of materialist philosophy, and for those who love it that way Darwin becomes The Essential Darwin.

Leave a Reply