"Scientists must improve communication tactics, Science article proclaims"
No, I didn't write that headline. The PR firm for an article written by Seed magazine writer Chris Mooney and American University professor Dr. Matthew Nisbet did.
They are co-authors of an April 6th Science article titled “Framing Science.” The article suggests that as the 2008 election approaches, scientists should adopt new communication techniques, rather than merely seeking to “get the facts out there.”
They highlight global warming, evolution and embryonic stem cell research as politically hot topics that need help from scientists to 'frame' the debate in ways the public understands.
Obviously I couldn't agree more that scientists should be actively getting information out there. The days when science, politics and culture were separate are long gone. But I disagree that people will feel like they benefit from being 'framed.'
“In writing this article together, we argue that scientists shouldn’t exclusively blame politicians and journalists for gridlock on issues like climate change,” says Mooney. “Part of the problem is that scientists carry with them the wrong assumptions about what makes for effective communication.”
They rightly note that the public often tunes out when the language is overly technical but it's not a good idea to sell the public short. "Talking points" that highlight only one side of an argument tend to create a backlash.
They recommend "framing" the arguments and similar marketing techniques. In the article they write
Frames organize central ideas in a debate, defining a controversy so that it will resonate with core values and assumptions. Frames pare down complex issues by giving some aspects greater emphasis than others. They allow citizens to rapidly identify why an issue matters, who might be responsible and what should be done.
That sounds like selectively presenting the data to me. More politics than science. They don't agree.
“Our suggestions should not be confused with spin; rather, we are advocating the conscious adoption of more effective (and thus, more informative) communication techniques,” said Dr. Nisbet. “Already, influential sectors of the scientific community are beginning to realize that new public engagement strategies are desperately needed.”
We can agree on one thing. The more information from scientists that gets into the hands of the public - without filtering, without editorial bias from any side, straight from you to them - the more informed people will be. People don't need a Ph.D. to understand fundamental concepts, they don't need the data "framed" for them ( Mooney's bio says he wrote a book called "The Republican War on Science" so his framing is not going to be welcome to 50% of the American population ) by one group or another, they just need plain talk from all sides of the debate.
We do that every day here. Keep up the great work. The rest of the internet is catching on to our idea.