Posted by: Dan | April 3, 2008

The Opposite of Educating

I know, I just had a quote posting, but here’s another hot off the presses. In response to ‘framing’ as laid out by Nisbet/Mooney, PZ has the money quote on why Mooney’s grand scheme for duping the public into greater acceptance of science is bullshit:

[Framing implies] a demeaning opinion of the public, and it assumes that the only way to approach people is to “pare down” the ideas. I think this is false. I can agree with the general idea of framing as a tool to get people to pay attention, but I think [Mooney/Nisbet are] going in the wrong direction.

Science educators need to get people to accept new ideas, and they have the goal of having people learn more. [Chris Mooney] and [Matt Nisbet] are too mired in the politics, where the idea is to get people to shift more laterally, to get them to back something without necessarily expecting them to actually acquire new information. Feed their frame, don’t expect them to actually change substantively, but get them to adopt a policy in a way that doesn’t require them to actually change attitudes or beliefs. That’s fine if you’re trying to get them to vote on a bill, but I’m not interested in that.

We want to challenge people, we want to annoy them and shake them up, we want to make them rethink, we want to make them absorb new information and come out of the process smarter. “Framing”, as [Mooney] and Nisbet have presented it, makes all that undesirable. [Framing is] actually a process for preserving the status quo, and if you dislike the status quo, it’s going to be the opposite of what we want to do.

Exactly. The last thing we want is for the public to treat science like a list of facts to memorize. As I said recently on Bitesize Bio, what we want above all is to be promoting inquiry and discussion of descriptive expertise by kinesthetic instruction of the scientific method where we can. And where that’s not feasible, by engaging the public in thoughtful discussion as though they were adults. We must trust that understanding of the scientific method itself will unlock doors to greater rationality in the layperson’s mind, which he or she will then choose to walk through on their own accord.

Not framing.


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