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Comment Cross-Post: Framing Again

I posted a comment on Orac’s latest framing post that I think is interesting enough to warrant cross-posting here. So:

I think Blake raises some great points, and not just because he links to me.

In particular: What if the “problem” isn’t that scientists are poor communicators, but rather that the well of public discourse is so poisoned that large numbers of people are automatically predisposed to disregard anything that a scientist says? Think evolution (“Satan’s mouthpieces!”) or climate change (“Hippie communist fearmongers!”).

That’s the problem we’re largely dealing with. There’s a lot of good, accurate, easily-digestible popular treatments on both evolution and climate change. The trouble is that if you give, say, At the Water’s Edge to an evolution denier, he’ll probably just add it to the bonfire.

It’s not at all clear to me how “framing” is supposed to help with that. If your words are automatically suspect simply because you’re a scientist, does it even matter what you say?

I think we as a group need to give up the illusion that we’re going to win over most of the religious right who reject evolution, or most of the conservative right who reject climate change. What’s the point, then, of saying, “Shh, Dr. Dawkins! You’ll spook the Christians!” when the Christians are, in fact, already spooked?

I also find it fascinating that nobody criticises Al Gore for being “too strident” in defending climate change or suggests that he ought to tone it down a bit so as not to upset the oil companies. He’s at least as “extreme” as Dawkins in respect to promoting acceptance of a hardcore version of anthrogenic climate change, but nobody tells him to tone it down even though legitimate climate scientists have raised objections to some of the simplifications and exaggerations he presents.

I think in the second-to-last paragraph I should have said “chickens” rather than “Christians”, just to make the metaphor a bit clearer. But, well, it’s a bit late for that; besides, someone might have then accused me of claiming that Christians are cowards or something. I shrug resignedly.

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