Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The approach formerly known as framing science

Yesterday's post about Carl Safina's outreach to evangelicals on climate change has generated some conversation. That's a polite word for it. For more, check out Pharyngula, Evolution, Carl Safina's blog, and the Radula.

I raised the issue because there's much debate these days about how to get science to play a stronger role in shaping public policy, and some scientists think the answer is to attack religion. Others suggest "framing" science to (among other things) appeal better to religious people. And it's turned into a bit of a tussle.

Carl's outreach looked good to me, and I wanted to see how it looked to those who want to attack religion.

Interesting, they generally like Carl's outreach, but say it's not framing science to appeal to religious people. OK, I can see some common ground there.

Who cares what we call it, let's just do it. Henceforth, I plan to use the approach formerly known as framing. I'll reach out to anyone who cares to listen, using accesible terms and trying to build trust in the listeners, just like Carl. I'll connect first on shared values and also tell the truth about science. I'll make sure to be respectful while I say things that might contradict messages they've heard previously. And I'll drop the threatening language...no more f-words like framing.

5 comments:

Chad Skutle said...

I appreciate the message. Some people though get off by arguing semantics.

Keep doing what you're doing. I love the site.

Greg Laden said...

Thanks for the post.

First, I want to put my own challenge out there, respectfully, to anyone arguing that we are arguing semantics. Please explain what you mean. I have not seen anyone arguing semantics, at least at the core of this discussion.

Now, Mark, you have dichotomized the argument, and I think it might be fair to say that there are more or less two positions being argued here, but I would not put it the way you have put it.

I am in what one could call the anit-framing camp. This is not because i'm against framing, but I'll live with that label if I have to. According to your description, the way I want to get science "out there" in relation to public policy, etc., is to attack religion. This is simply not true.

Whether I or PZ myers or anyone else wants to attack religion is one issue, and our position on framing is another.

We are not interested in attacking religion in order to develop better frames in support of science. Our frames do not have an attack religion clause. It is not what we are saying, it is not what we are suggesting, it is not what we are advocating.

However, it is true that from some religious perspectives (a vocal minority, but not too small of a minority, I think) there are aspects of science that are not tolerable. This is not a problem of science, it is a problem of those particular religious perspectives.

If I was trying to "bring over" a goup of Creationists to some, any, aspect of science, I might poll them to figure out which bothers them more: Macroevolution an old earth, contemporaneity of dinosaurs and humans,God's hand in evolution in general or just not in human evolution, origin of life, etc.. Then, I might ask myself, which of these messages ... macroevolution or an old earth and so on ... do I want to get across most.

Let's say I decide that old earth and god's hand not being involved in post origins are the most important, because these are critical to both habitat preservation (if god's hand is not directly involved we can't rely on him to save the spotted owl) and to realistically dealing with climate change.

So then I develop a framing strategy that does not oppose the believes in god creating life to begin with, does not oppose the idea that macro evolution can't happen, and stays away from human evolution.

Remember, we're talking policy here. Not just conversation, but shaping policy.

So now we call up NASA and tell them to stop studying the possibility of life on mars, we cancel all NSF funding of human origins research, and we cancel all NSF funding on the origins of life research.

No.

The religious views that the origin of life is in god's hands and that there is not a scientific explanation for it, that god guided human evolution even if he left other evolution more or less alone, etc. are wrong.

Am I attacking religion when I say that? No. It is not my problem that religion has these things wrong. I'm just saying that from a scientific perspective, those ideas are incorrect, and when it comes to issues that science deals with, we can't pay any attention at all to those ideas. Period.

Is there any part of that is either unclear (quite possibly!) or objectionable (no way!)?

thomas said...

I very much appreciate your no-nonsense approach. It seems to me like the people arguing about framing science do a lot of arguing on principle. Improving the level of scientific conversations in the public is important. Rather than fighting about terminology, I would rather talk about practical approaches to solving problems.

Problems like:

Climate Change
Stem Cell Research
Policy Accountability
Agriculture
Environment

If being friendly, honest, hard working and a good listener is 'framing science' then I want to be a framer. If framing science isn't those things, I still aspire to be honest, hard working, friendly and a good listener.

Mark Powell said...

Thomas, The things you list are a great basis for learning to be a good science communicator. But, IMHO, there are also some techniques and insights that can be helpful, and the approach formerly known as framing is one of them. I recommend you look into it, read a book by George Lakoff, for example, for advice on framing related to politics. I recommend "Thinking Points" or better yet, "Moral Politics" (MP much denser).

Mark Powell said...

Greg, You take my breath away with something you said. Not necessarily in a good way. When you say the following, you're not talking about policy in the way I'm talking about policy:

"So then I develop a framing strategy that does not oppose the believes in god creating life to begin with, does not oppose the idea that macro evolution can't happen, and stays away from human evolution.

Remember, we're talking policy here. Not just conversation, but shaping policy.

So now we call up NASA and tell them to stop studying the possibility of life on mars, we cancel all NSF funding of human origins research, and we cancel all NSF funding on the origins of life research."

Greg, what's this about ending certain types of research because some possible allies think God created life? Why do that? I would never do that. I don't understand what you're talking about. Would that be currying favor? That's certainly not my view of the approach formerly known as framing science.

How do I do policy work? My suggestion for how you should try to win over some unlikely allies using the approach formerly known as framing:

Decide what you want to accomplish, find people you want to win over to your side, spend some time talking with them and learn about what they care about. Look for overlapping values and speak to those values. Then you can both sign on together to some policy proposals that you both support. If there are things you disagree about, don’t work on them together. Put them aside for the moment and maybe work on them after trust and a real realationship have developed. Or maybe never work on them together.

If we want real, science-based measures to reduce climate change, then work with anyone who wants to save the earth, including possibly evangelicals. If you disagree about God, but agree about saving polar bears, then leave God out of it and work on saving polar bears. And, framing can help you reach those people who might otherwise mistrust you at the start and dismiss everything you say without hearing it.