Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Framing science (Part II)-A revolution will be needed...

The more I read about the "framing of science" of Mooney and Nisbet the more I am skeptical of what they are trying to accomplish and that they are naive about the enterprise of science itself.

Part of the push Mooney and Nisbet are making for frames is that they want to tackle issues now, which science education won't affect in the next election cycle.
"Science education is critical, but it's also a long-term approach. It doesn't help us deal with the highly politicized hot-button issues that are playing out over the course of an election cycle--like embryonic stem cell research, or like global warming. On these issues, the frames game has already begun, and scientists are way behind. We simply can't wait for a better educated generation to come along and deal with these subjects in a wiser way. It will be too late."

In response to the idea that scientists are already busy:
"Matt and I never meant to suggest that every last scientist has to become a top notch framer. Rather, we want scientific societies, institutions, and universities to rearrange their priorities and step up to the plate on this. That means training a generation of better science communicators (although many scientists will assuredly opt out of the "framing" curriculum). It also means launching communication initiatives--such as advertising--targeted at specific publics, and using the right frames to reach them.

The average bench scientist can happily duck all of this--there can be a division of labor--but for the scientific community as a whole, it's essential."

Ok so Chris and Mike wants to start doing framing in the here and now but want to have major institutions to change how they operate, to spend resources on framing. Ummm, how in the world are you going to make that happen? Societies are run by working scientists. They are busy people. Not to mention, those who probably would be the best communicators of science are usually those that are selected out of science (i.e. those that are not willing to endure the process of getting a PhD, trying to be a faculty member). Universities? Many of them are being run like corporations. Why would they spend money to frame science when they will not see the benefits in the short term? I mean if they were altruistic wouldn't research universities be spending more effort and money to improve undergrad science education? Base tenure on more than research and bringing in grants (on say teaching perhaps)?

There is also the fact many advisors do not exactly look kindly on grad student/post-docs who spend time away from bench work doing things like teaching, learning to teach, to communicate, etc. Those students are not rewarded in the current system. Of those students who want to go on to teach, to go into policy, into science writing are actively shun by many advisors. How do Chris and Mike plan to change that? Without more of those type coming out of graduate school, who is going to frame? The ones who tend to be better at communicating and teaching already handle more than their fair share of duties and labor at most universities. You can't expect them to do more and have families, to have lives outside of science. Having families and lives is exactly the type of grounding that is needed for scientists to frame things correctly.

In order to accomplish what Chris and Mike set out to accomplish, a revolution is necessary. They are not going to be able to "win" today unless they do that. In addition to widening space in the sciences for those who have a passion to teach and communicate is also the need to add diversity. I mean really how are you going to reach out to minorities and women when science is still dominated by white men? Framing just isn't about the message but also the messenger.

Nisbet: "That's the power and influence of framing when it resonates with an individual's social identity. It plays on human nature by allowing a citizen to make up their minds in the absence of knowledge, and importantly, to articulate an opinion. It's definitely not the scientific or democratic ideal, but it's how things work in society."

By playing into biases and ignorance to win a battle today means Mooney and Nisbet are actually making harder to attract the diversity needed in the science to effectively communicate. Citizens making up their minds without knowledge is exactly what holds back minorities and women in our society. That should be fought tooth and nail.

Revolutions start small. People like Mooney and Nisbet need to make space for those currently in the system to do more science framing/communicating to the general populace but in addition make space for those trying to change graduate education, universities. They need to frame things to catalyze the necessary revolution to turn out the type of people who can fill the role of science communicators at societies and universities. The framing though can not be about winning at the expense of the future of science.

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