"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Sunday, April 8, 2007

More on the Framing Frame [updated]

Courtesy of Jim Torson who writes a lengthy diatribe to the globalchange googlegroup.

Here's Nisbet and here's Mooney.

Also Jim points to Blog around the Clock/Coturnix. I'm not sure whether Jim endorses this article, but I surely don't. Consider this:

The result of training is that scientists are uniquely trained to be poor communicators of science. Scientists - a tiny percentage of any population - are the only people in the society who even try to think and talk in a value-free way, get insulted when someone suggest they shouldn't do so, and view other people who can't do so as intellectually inferior.

I think that captures something interesting. I'm not sure I entirely agree with the substance but it's an interesting idea.

Unfortunately, it's stated in such an extreme, overstated and confrontational way as to thoroughly offend both scientists and nonscientists in equal measure. One could hardly come up with a way to frame the opinion that does more damage to discourse.

I thoroughly dislike the rest of the "Clock" article. It gets even worse.

Apparently anyone who doesn't agree with the author about absolutely everything is an inferior being, who has yet to progress to the level of perfection that the author has attained. Charming.

[Addendum: let me expand on this.]

Here is an approximation of the evolutionary ladder as displayed in an image on this article (sorry, I don't have time to do this up as a fancy graphic)

Coturnix (highest possible form according to Coturnix)
People who agree with Coturnix
Atheists who have some quibbles with Coturnix
Christians (lowest form attained by humans according to Coturnix)
Anerobic Bacteria

Notice there is nothing whatsoever about science on this chart. The purpose of public communication of science, it is revealed, is to slyly and secretly move people UP the ladder of development so they are more Coturnix-like.

Maybe all of us in some corner of our minds believe there is some ladder of correctness with our own opinions at the top, and people who thoroughly disagree at the bottom. Grownups tend to know enough to temper this with a tad of humility. On the other hand, publishing your secret arrogance is guaranteed not to win you any friends. Publishing it in an article intended to advise people on public communication is, hmmm, perhaps a tiny bit like shooting yourself in the foot to emphasize your message on firearm safety.

[end addendum]

Humorous sarcasm about bloggers you disagree with is one thing. It's fair game.

Arrogant, humorless contempt for huge swaths of humanity is another. There is hardly a worse example of framing the dialog possible than the toxic sludge of this article.

The amazing thing is that this article claims to offer advice on how scientists should approach public communication. Ironically it violates every bit of good advice it can muster and then some. If you want to know how to communicate in your area of expertise, study this article for form rather than content, and then don't do that.


Anonymous said...


I have always disagreed with people using insult to make a care for why research is invalid. Unfortunately, if a group like Union of Concerned Scientists makes a career out of fomenting doubt about the scientific integrity of people they disagree with, it will happen to everyone.

I agree with your concerns about the tone of some of the people writing about what is a serious subject - 'framing debates' - but there's science and then there's pop science and the pop science guys have a bigger audience than you and me for a reason. They are appealling to a market that likes that stuff.

Bora Zivkovic said...

In case you missed it, that was self-sarcasm. I am a scientist and I am aware that I have been trained to be a uniquely bad communicator to non-scientists. Four years of blogging are slowly changing that, but I am far from being as good as I could have been have I never got scientific training. Obviously I have a lot to learn, as I was not clear enough for you to understand that the humor/sarcasm was targeted at "me" or at worst "we", not at "you" or "them". English is also a foeign language to me, which increases the likelihood of such misundarstandings.

Michael Tobis said...


Fascinating. You absolutely had me fooled. I guess I don't know to what end you managed it.

I saw another of your postings that seemed to have some of the same characteristics as your self-satire. I am not sure what to think now.

I don't want to discuss my religious beliefs publicly, but I must say that I am no atheist.

I will therefore explictly state that I don't accept that atheism is a necessary qualification for scientific work, and more than is any other preconceived notion.

I didn't find your suggestion to the contrary amusing or ironic, and I don't see the rest of the "framing" discussion treating it that way. I saw another posting that reinforced my impression that you are not only unalterably hostile to religious thought (which is your right) but that you believe that the scientific culture is necessarily of the same mind (which is arguably not your right at all, and is certainly tactically disastrous in a country where most people take religion seriously).

Perhaps you should clarify on your own site.

Bora Zivkovic said...

I've been clarifying it for years.

I am not hostile to religious people, or to personal beliefs. I am hostile to organized religion and what it does to people's thought-processes and to the politics of the country (and other countries as well). I am hotile to what organized religion does to science.

A blog post, not being 1000 pages long, cannot contain all the caveats every time - it necessarily has to deal with overgeneralizations and stereotypes which have been clarified, defined and explained in old posts. One tends to write for the regulars, and occasionally a newcomer is baffled, as in joining in a TV series in he middle of its fourth year and not being able to figure out who is who immediatelly.

Write yor perceptions of me in a comment on my blog and see what the regulars say.

Bora Zivkovic said...

It is interesting that, out of such a long post, you picked that one paragraph to highlight and ignore the rest of the article. This paragraph is a tangential insert, which would be excized if an editor asked me to shorten the article, for instance, as it is not necessary for the main line of argument.

Also, to be clear, not the entire article is self-sarcasm - this paragraph is. The rest is a serious analysis of framing science (and yes, how it relates to framing politics and religion - as the RightWing political and RightWing religious forces have used framing quite well over the decades). This is one of a few places in the article where I intentionally used different/provocative 'framing' to see who will react and how.

I was very careful in my wording in the article as a whole (as I usually do) to highlight my disagreement with Rightwing religion and Rightwing politics, not with religion per se. I just don't care for that hypothesis, but I have no problem with liberal variants of religions. It's a free country - people can believe whatever they want as long as they don't try to preach/teach others and leave others alone to believe whataver they want.

It is interesting that people - atheists and theists alike - assume that because I am an atheist, I just HAVE to be a rabid proselytizing atheist. Not so. Having the "atheist" descriptor in my "About Me" section is sufficient to raise hackles from the religious and to make atheists certain I am the ally, but the nicest thing is that I do not have to write anti-religious screeds ever! And I don't. There are more funs things to write about (and blogging to me is about having fun and makingb friends, not about being a curmudgeon and making enemies).

But I do want to know why people believe what they believe - as a scientific hypothesis - because religious belief when organized into big Religions and coupled with big Politics, affects me and other humans in various ways, often negative ways.

So, you can believe what you want, but I'd like to understand why you do, and if you (not you personally, but "one" - got lost in English language again, sorry) do, how it affects the society.

Since you placed your comment in the thread of that ancient post that nobody reads any more, I'd like to ask your permission to promote it to the top of the page (i.e., to copy and paste it into a brand new post) so my readers can see it and comment on it there. Just say Yes or No either here or on my blog somewhere. Thanks.

Michael Tobis said...

Sure. I'd be happy to continue this discussion on your blog.

I believe you mean well, but I'm afraid your efforts are likely to backfire.

I am not sure I understand which paragraph you think I am referring to. I disliked the entire article, and I was referring especially to the diagram. I think much of what you do on your site violates the advice you give in the article, including the article itself.

Bora Zivkovic said...

OK, thanks. I'll also copy some of this (including my own) commentary here (unless you object) and you're welcome to come on over and debate.

'll try to put it up some time tonight.

Anonymous said...

I'll pass on arguing about UCS; I've thought highly of them and their work for a long while. I see you're from that new 'scientific blogging' site, been there, not impressed.

Moving on, watching Coturnix and Michael work out the misunderstanding --- good example. I've read you both long enough to have assumed rightly about the hierarchy being intended to be funny. But I see how easy it is for readers coming along later, lacking context and history, to miss even the broadest attempts at humor, let alone subtlety. We really have to remember, and I know Michael has written this clearly before --- write for the later reader, not the immediate correspondent.

I think we're seeing a _whole_ lot more chaff thrown into the mix now that the IPCC has weighted in and the old tactics of having prominent spokespeople making the public denials have become a bit too easy and obvious to point out.

I'm seeing astroturf everywhere lately.