On Framing, Thoughts from Kansas, John Horgan, & CJR
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."
As we go on the road with our Speaking Science 2.0 tour, it's a chance for many to hear a more detailed presentation of the Nisbet & Mooney thesis. It's also a chance to engage in an important conversation about new directions in science communication. (For example, based on our talk last month at the Stowers Institute, Josh Rosenau has this comprehensive summary over at Thoughts from Kansas.)
Monday night at the New York Academy of Sciences, close to 150 people turned out to hear our latest presentation, with a lively question & answer period that followed. Among those in the audience was Gavin Schmidt, NASA scientist and contributor to Real Climate.org. I enjoyed sharing ideas with Gavin at the reception afterwards, as we took in the spectacular view from the New York Academy's new digs on the 40th floor of 7 World Trade Center.
Curtis Brainard from the Columbia Journalism Review was on hand covering the event, and he filed this report on our talk, featuring several thoughts from Schmidt. (Chris has this response.)
Also in attendance was John Horgan, author of The End of Science, one of my favorite books investigating the social, philosophical, and personal side of scientific knowledge. At his blog, Horgan offers some reservations about what he perceives as "spin," and I wanted to take time out to respond:
By definition, framing is already a central part of traditional science communication. Whether writing up a grant proposal, authoring a journal article, or providing expert testimony, scientists often emphasize certain technical details over others, with the goal of maximizing persuasion and understanding across contexts. Moreover, press officers and science reporters routinely negotiate story angles that favor particular themes and narratives, or at the expense of context, define news narrowly around a single scientific study.
The point is that even in the context of a journal article or traditional science coverage, packaging is unavoidable. Facts, rarely if ever, speak for themselves.
When attention to science shifts from the science pages to other media beats, new audiences are reached, new interpretations emerge, and new voices gain standing in coverage. These rival voices strategically frame issues around dimensions that feed on the biases of journalists, commentators, and their respective audiences.
If scientists do not adapt to the rules of an increasingly fragmented media system, shifting from frames that only work at the science beat to those that fit at other media outlets, then they risk ceding their important role as communicators. Scientists should remain true to the science, but recast issues in ways that connect more closely to the social background of non-traditional audiences and that fit the imperatives of the particular media beat.
E.O Wilson's latest book The Creation is a leading example. He defines environmental problems both in terms of science but also morality, arguing that scientists and religious Americans should share similar goals when it comes to stewardship of the planet. In doing so, he appeals to a religious audience who might not otherwise read popular science books. His framing efforts have also functioned as a news peg at religious media outlets, sparking incidental exposure to coverage of the environment and climate change. In this effective message strategy, certainly no one would accuse E.O Wilson of engaging in spin!
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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