At the journal Science, a Nisbet/Mooney focus on framing
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
I have a Policy Forum article appearing this week in the journal Science that is likely to spark a major debate. Co-authored with Chris Mooney and titled "Framing Science," the themes covered will be familiar to readers of this blog.
In the piece, we respectfully argue that scientists shouldn't blame politicians and journalists all the time for gridlock on issues like climate change, stem cell research, or evolution. Indeed, part of the problem is that scientists carry with them the wrong assumptions about what makes for effective communication.
More than sixty years of research in the social sciences suggests that something more than just always focusing on improving "science literacy" will be necessary to successfully engage the public. Given this challenge, scientists, without misrepresenting scientific information, must learn to shape or "frame" contentious issues in a way that make them personally relevant to diverse segments of the public, while taking advantage of the media platforms that reach these audiences.
In short, as unnatural as it might feel, sometimes the best way to communicate with the public is to avoid talking about the science and to go beyond traditional media outlets. In the article, we provide examples. Here's a passage from our Science commentary that applies our argument on framing:
...as a debate over 'intelligent design' was launched, anti-evolutionists 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, 'public accountability' frames that focus on the misuse of tax dollars, 'economic development' frames that highlight the negative repercussions for communities embroiled in evolution battles, and 'social progress' interpretations that define evolution as a building block for medical advances, are likely to engage broader support.
It's likely that many will consider our article outright heresy, and prefer to just "stick to the facts" when it comes to public communication. Yet as we outline, once an issue becomes politicized and emerges as a partisan or religious debate, this strategy doesn't work. Moreover, even as scientists remain "neutral communicators," they come under increasing attack, with their authority and objectivity called into question.
The article derives from the research I have published over the past couple of years, and from thoughts accumulated at recent lectures I have given at venues in DC and other cities. Chris Mooney, as a science journalist and commentator, has arrived at similar observations.
Chris and I truly believe our message is urgent, since scientific topics will once again be pulled into the political crossfire in the context of the 2008 election.
So we are going on the road, making our argument in a number of upcoming multi-media lectures targeted towards the scientific community but also towards science advocates more generally. Some of these lectures in DC and New York are listed in the sidebar of my blog. Venues include the Center for American Progress, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the annual meetings of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Expect many more to be scheduled soon, hopefully at your campus or in your city.
See round up of blog reaction.
New research links urban planning and political polarization.
- Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
- Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
- People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
- America's two political tribes have consolidated into 'red' and 'blue' nations, with seemingly irreconcilable differences.
- Perhaps the best way to stop the infighting is to go for a divorce and give the two nations a country each
- Based on the UN's partition plan for Israel/Palestine, this proposal provides territorial contiguity and sea access to both 'red' and 'blue' America
Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.
- Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
- What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
- Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
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