Strategically communicating science

| 61 Comments

The latest issue of the journal Science includes a policy forum piece written by Sciencebloggers Chris Mooney (The Intersection) and Matt Nisbet (Framing Science). In the article, they argue that scientists do not, for the most part, use effective communications strategies when trying to defend science. Both Chris and Matt anticipate that this view is likely to be somewhat controversial, and that it is likely to spark a vigorous debate. I think that they are probably right about this, and not just because their article includes at least one paragraph that is likely to set PZ off faster than a lit match dropped into a five-gallon can of kerosene.

As Chris and Matt point out, we scientists tend to act under the assumption that the public will “get it” if we can just get them to understand the science. Larry Moran agrees with that perspective, and points out that people like Gould, Dawkins, and Sagan were pretty good at communicating science just that way. Larry does have a point there, but I think it misses the main point that Nisbet and Mooney were making: it’s also important to communicate concepts to people who don’t give a damn about the science. They also point out that the opponents of good science are very good at framing their views on stem cell research, the environment, teaching evolution, and other areas that fall at the intersection of science and politics.

I think Matt and Chris are right. We do need to spend more time (and thought) on communicating our views effectively, particularly to people who do not care about science.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

61 Comments

Personally, I don’t think the point is made nearly enough that creationists lie. Too many times the creationist “arguments” are addressed as valid concerns, and in doing so are made to appear as merely aspects of an opposing, but legitimate perspective.

But creationism is not legitimate. It is 100% disinformation. It’s not simply a different conclusion based on the same evidence, it’s a cover-up of the evidence, and it needs to be outed as such.

In my opinion, scientists need to start using the “L” word a lot more when explaining creationism to an uninformed public. At the very least, people should come away knowing that scientists don’t feel creationists are merely wrong, but that they lie.

When this website uses the word “science” they always mean evangelizing the religion of evolutionism. The evolutionists have a global audience of captive schoolchildren to whom they not only dessimate their degenerate propaganda but make them take exams to make sure they have mastered it.

To further add insult to injury, they control the doors to an increasing number of professions through their Satanic seminaries called univerisities. If you want to become a doctor/lawyer/accountant you must start with four more years stuffing yourself with the rotten goat meat of Darwinism and vomit it up on each exam day–and pay through the nose for this “privilege!”

Juxtapose this with the street corner and internet evangelizing efforts by Christians. We lack the bottomless budgets of taxpayer loot and coersive state power of the evolutionists, yet we’re winning–at least in this country! Only about 9% of Americans believe in the religion of evolutionism according to polls.

Pumpkinbrains:

You must be aware that many scientists in general, biologists, and science educators are Christians, and have no difficulties reconciling their faith with the facts.

Why, in your view, do these individuals go along with this heinous conspiracy?

cui bono

ps. I think the word you were looking for is disseminate?

faster than a lit match dropped into a five-gallon can of kerosene.

Actually, a lit match dropped into a five-gallon can of kerosene would go out. Kerosene needs a wick to light it, and that’s why it was used in those old lamps.

Gasoline, on the other hand…

Pumpkinbrains:

You must be aware that many scientists in general, biologists, and science educators are Christians, and have no difficulties reconciling their faith with the facts.

Why, in your view, do these individuals go along with this heinous conspiracy?

cui bono

ps. I think the word you were looking for is disseminate?

Spelling tends to be the first thing to go when passion runs high.

However, with respect to your second question Satan, as the father of lies has established many fake anti-Christian churches that have formed organizations such as the WCC and the NCC to crush those who preach the true Gospel and sow confusion among the general public.

Thank you for this article; it was quite good. But I disagree that this is anything like spin. It sounds to me like simply very good pedagogy. Get a student engaged, get them interested, and they learn more. How do you get them interested? Help them see that what you are teaching relates in some way to what they already know. The public we want to teach is the same way.

Pumpkinhead:

Is this another April Fools parody? I can’t tell anymore.

Pumpkinbrains:

Is this another April Fools parody? I can’t tell anymore.

The facts on acceptance of evolution form polling: “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” It’s fair to describe this as the creationist view.

“Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process.” We’ll call this the theistic view.

“Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.” I’ll term this the naturalist view.

Between 1982 and 2006, the number subscribing to the creationist view has ranged from 44 to 47 percent, while those who buy the naturalist take on things account for 9 to 13 percent. The middle-ground theistic position gets 35 to 40 percent of the vote. There’s no clear trend over the 24 years; if anything, the naturalists have gained a few percentage points. Polls by the Pew Research Center and NBC News have found similar support for creationist belief, while surveys by CBS News from 2004 to 2006 and a 2005 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll give it a slim majority, at 51 to 53 percent.

pumpkinhead: Only about 9% of Americans believe in the religion of evolutionism according to polls.

Ummm, about those lies. According to recent polls, roughly 50% of the US population accepts evolution with or without a deity guiding it. Not 9% as you state. Prelaw and accounting majors are required to take little or no science classes in most institutions. These are humanities subjects. Evolution is not a religion. Most mainstream christian and catholic churches don’t have a problem with it.

If you think satan is the father of all lies, better check your W2 form. Who you think you are serving might be rather different than who you are serving.

pumpkinhead again:

“However, with respect to your second question Satan, as the father of lies has established many fake anti-Christian churches that have formed organizations such as the WCC and the NCC to crush those who preach the true Gospel and sow confusion among the general public.”

As Mr. Spock said often, “fascinating”.

You really believe most Christian mainstream protestant sects and the Catholic churches are “Satan…has established many fake anti-Christian churches” Seems like this is the majority of the religion. From your tone, we have to add in most scientists seeing as how they accept evolution at much higher levels than the general population. And the atheists of course.

Looks like by your reckoning most of the US population is satanically inspired and really anti-Christian. How do you sleep at night? Is is scary? And who did I leave out of your list? Where do the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, new agers, and so on fit in?

Speaking of “communicating science,” here’s a little ditty I composed in between pizza runs for levi, who posted this snark on the (now-locked) SUCKERED thread yesterday:

April 4, 2007 8:54 PM

uh words.…..words.…hatred.…words.…so defensive.…..insults, and yet a chimp is still a chimp and evolutionists still claim origin of life doesn’t apply and you still can’t decide if homolgy is proof of common ancestry or not. what happened to your consensus?

I’m sure one of the egghead science types here could explain this better than a pizza hustler like me, but–

This is a bogus, stupid, and just plain illiterate claim in part because the word “still” assumes that chimps were around before there were people. Sneakily, it even suggests that chimps have always been around, and maybe people just got, uh, poofed into existence sometime quite recently.

But, in fact, chimps have not always been around and they have not remained unchanging.

Once there were neither chimps nor people. Around about five, six, seven million years ago, there were neither chimps nor people. There was a predecessor species that gave rise to both (proto)chimps and (proto)people.

Even after the chimps-to-be lineage and the people-to-be lineage split (maybe some of the egghead types could help with the Linnaean nomenclature; I’m just trying to convey the gist…), neither the chimp lineage nor the people lineage just stayed the same.

Anybody with two neurons to rub together knows that, before the latest homo sap version stepped to the fore, we had all kinds of other relatives–australopiths and homo this and that and even more recent relatives, including the neanderthals (heck, there’s still at least one around, right next door at AtBC: What’s up, J-Dog!).

But what some less-well-read folks may not realize is that the chimp side of the lineage has continued to evolve as well. Not only do the different chimp bands bear different cultures, tool use, and so on–suggesting that, with enough isolation (and a little less habitat destruction and intrusion by us, their close cousins) the chimps could easily be on the way to speciation.

But, even more to the point, the chimp lineage itself has already split at least once since bidding good-bye to our forebears:

With levi in mind, I call this next part of our little lesson “Chimps for Chumps”:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17945008/

Bonobos walk on two legs and are the most humanlike in appearance of the great apes. They have sophisticated language skills…

So, levi, ya maroon, when it comes right down to it, a chimp is not still a chimp.

And if you were expecting a piping-hot virtual pizza when ya saw my name, levi, I’m afraid you’re plumb out of luck. Though if a chump like you really wants a pizza, you could always check the dumpster.

(Out back. The boss is kinda picky about who gets to come in the front door.)

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The problem is that scientists are not as congenial as hucksters such as “Dr” Hovind. science isn’t about working a crowd, it’s about specific things that the public has a problem understanding. specialization has made it difficult for the layperson to understand.

their article includes at least one paragraph that is likely to set PZ off faster than a lit match dropped into a five-gallon can of kerosene.

Those flames are yet to be seen. PZ commented on Moran’s blog:

PZ Wrote:

I’m willing to listen when these guys offer constructive suggestions on how to better communicate to the public, but I think they crossed the line in a few places where they try to tell us what to communicate (yes, thebrummel, my buttons were pushed). When they suggest that scientists are communicating poorly when we offend the public, they’re missing the point: sometimes we want to offend. In particular, I think what they are requesting is a passive, socially conformist science.

( http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives[…]cally_c.html )

Quite a reasoned reaction, I think.

Jedidiah Wrote:

But I disagree that this is anything like spin. It sounds to me like simply very good pedagogy.

I think so too. My first attempt to distinguish the concepts came out as:

TL Wrote:

Framing or spin? I’m not sure, but framing seems to mean to offer a context, often implicitly taken to mean social, that suits certain reader groups. The message is presented within the frame. Spin would seem to imply to distort the message to suit the purpose, for example by leaving out existing data.

And i note that a “scientific frame” is a frame too, suitable for some purposes. The original post is somewhat suggesting conflating social frames with others, which I think is confusing.

Sorry. The correct link above is http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/0[…]375704885431 .

H. Humbert Wrote:

Personally, I don’t think the point is made nearly enough that creationists lie.

I probably object more than everyone else combined whenever someone implies that “creationists” honestly believe their nonsense, or just don’t “understand” evolution. Yet, ironically I avoid the L-word in favor of “misrepresent,” “mislead” “deceive,” etc. in the rare case that the one spreading the falsehood might himself have been deceived, or suffer a serious case of Morton’s demon.

The key is to stop referring to anyone who objects to evolution as belonging to one big group of like-minded “creationists.” That’s the way most people misunderstand the situation — I did for 30 years — and if we don’t correct that misconception, we reinforce it at our own peril.

First, the public needs to know that there are anti-evolution activists and followers. There’s no hard line between them of course, but one should never confuse a Dembski, who clearly knows that there’s no problem with evolution and thus misrepresents it as “Darwinism,” and the person on the street who just innocently parrots some feel-good sound bites like “the jury’s still out.”

Next, we must stop implying that ID activists are all closet YECs. Maybe Paul Nelson is (I doubt it), but the rest of them know that YEC is nonsense, both as science and as a strategy to promote fairy tales to keep the “masses” from behaving badly. There is a wide range of anti-evolution positions and strategies, and the only reason that there is so little internal debate between promoters (as one would expect if the ideas were truly scientific) is to keep political support.

The third thing that must change — and no one will do it if we won’t — is to take a cue from Dembski and stop “taking the bait.” Everyone loves to defend evolution, but many times doing so is just what the activists want. It takes the focus off of the fact that they have nothing but weasel words and a dichotomy that they know is false, and gives them more juicy facts to misrepresent and an opportunity to “Gish gallop.” Instead, we must drum it in to people how these scam artists increasingly evade even providing even a rough outline of “what the designer did and when,” let alone test anything that could qualify as a theory. That’s the exact opposite of what one would do if one truly thought he had a better scientific explanation than evolution.

Pumpkinhead wrote:

Juxtapose this with the street corner and internet evangelizing efforts by Christians.

Last year 4000 people attended an intelligent design conferencechurch rally in Florida. That must have been some street corner.

We lack the bottomless budgets of taxpayer loot…

Well I have no doubt that you have no trouble making it up with the taxfree, bottomless collection plate. All the anti-science organizations have budgets of millions and access to wealthy fundy supporters looking for charity deductions.

Did I mention that they held that church rally at the Florida SunDome. I wonder how much it cost to rent that?

…and coersive state power of the evolutionists, yet we’re winning—at least in this country! Only about 9% of Americans believe in the religion of evolutionism according to polls.

I am not surprised that Americans have such trouble understanding good science because the anti-science forces have utilized the coercive power of intimidation to force out the teaching of good science wherever they can.

Insincerely,

pumpkinhead = JAD?

Well I have no doubt that you have no trouble making it up with the taxfree, bottomless collection plate. All the anti-science organizations have budgets of millions and access to wealthy fundy supporters looking for charity deductions.

Did I mention that they held that church rally at the Florida SunDome. I wonder how much it cost to rent that?

Oh, the irony! Christians rent a building from the evolutionists’ university to have a conference. While the Christians shell out their money to preach the Gospel of Christ for one day the evolutionists who run the university teach their doctrines in classes day in and day out to students who are paying a whole lot more for that charade than the price of tickets to this conference.

Let’s reverse the roles, shall we? What if Christians could establish as a prerequisite for entering all the professions that now require a college degree a detailed knowledge of the Bible for which people would have to pay five-figure per semester sums to churches to lecture and administer exams on this topic? What if the churches also rented their buildings to evolutionists once in a while for one day conferences to increase their bottom line? What would you think of that?

Ummm, about those lies. According to recent polls, roughly 50% of the US population accepts evolution with or without a deity guiding it. Not 9% as you state.

Well, check out this poll! In 1991, only 9% were confirmed believers in the religion of evolutionism. The theistic evolution group are a bunch of confused thinkers bamboozled by Darwinian propaganda from the schools and their “churches”–a la Ken Miller. They don’t know what to think.

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Prelaw and accounting majors are required to take little or no science classes in most institutions. These are humanities subjects. Evolution is not a religion.

Penn and Teller’s stock phrase applies here. Evolutionism dominates the whole curriculum. Darwin’s disciples, Marx and Freud, inform the humanities the same way the godfather himself informs the natural sciences.

A distinction needs to be made between promoting science education and USING science as part of front for a political/religious agenda, in the manner of Dawkins, Sam Harris (who claims to be working on a Ph.D. in neuroscience but won’t say where) and PZ Myers.

Now you are making things complicated, because both Dawkins and Myers (I don’t know much about Harris) is promoting science education as well.

But the main reason they use what they know best, science, to analyze, discuss and attack religion is because of anti-science consequences as I understand it.

After all Dawkins tries to tell us most of the “best” scientists are atheists

I believe it is statistics and examples that tells us that, not Dawkins.

they want much more than that; to label religious people as delusional, child abusers, etc, with most likely an eventual goal…were they to achieve actual political control…of caging religion and seeing it preserved only in zoos. (Dennet, Darwins Dangerous Idea)

I haven’t read Dennet either, but you seem to conflate his ideas with the others.

What I recognize is the common labeling of religious ideas as delusional and that Dawkins argues to label a child accordingly to the surrounding society, specifically its family, amounts to child abuse. The former isn’t controversial (or at least it shouldn’t be, since there are no facts to back them up), and the latter seems rather fair as well - a child should not be abusively labeled.

Pumpkinhead again and for the last time.

“were confirmed believers in the religion of evolutionism.”

raven: evolution is not a religion, it is a scientific theory.

“Evolutionism dominates the whole curriculum. Darwin’s disciples, Marx and Freud, inform the humanities the same way the godfather himself informs the natural sciences.”

raven: You’ve never been to a university for more than 5 minutes. Universities generally reflect the society they are part of. Marx and Freud are about as important in universities these days as they are at Walmart.

You never did address your claim that roughly half of the US population is satanically influenced, those mainstream protestants and Catholics plus whoever else makes your demons list. Why are you wasting time on a scientifically oriented board when you could be trying the Pope for witchcraft or whatever?

This is some sort of extremist fundie fanatic who is closed minded and seems out of touch with reality. Most of the US churches are “Satan established fake anti-christian churches”, universities are dominated by Marxian/Freudian thought, Marx and Freud were disciples of Darwin the godfather, evolution is a religion, and on and on. Who is also trolling and adding nothing worthwhile. Way off topic for this board and I’m, at least, not going to waste any more time.

Oh, the irony! Christians rent a building from the evolutionists’ university to have a conference. While the Christians shell out their money to preach the Gospel of Christ for one day the evolutionists who run the university teach their doctrines in classes day in and day out to students who are paying a whole lot more for that charade than the price of tickets to this conference.

You know what they’re teaching? Evidence. You wouldn’t understand, it’s a science thing.

Let’s reverse the roles, shall we? What if Christians could establish as a prerequisite for entering all the professions that now require a college degree a detailed knowledge of the Bible for which people would have to pay five-figure per semester sums to churches to lecture and administer exams on this topic?

The reason you want to “reverse roles” is that indeed such a course would be a violation of free thought, the marketplace of ideas, and the constitution. Now vegetable-head, that is exactly why science is taught instead of religion. Your shrill herd-bleating notwithstanding, evolution is far from being a religion—I’m sure that you’d supply honest evidence for it if it was, instead of intellectually dishonest repetition of the same tired IDiot nonsense.

What if the churches also rented their buildings to evolutionists once in a while for one day conferences to increase their bottom line? What would you think of that?

That would be theocracy. What we have now is a republic, while you wish to do all that you can to force your theology into the institutions of learning and honest research.

Your thinking is decidedly second-rate, or you’d realize that we’re trying to prevent everything you “warn us” about, the takeover of honest science by religion. Your “role reversal” is exactly why we oppose ID and its attempts to manipulate science for theology.

If you respond, finally provide something more than bald-faced lies. The fact that you can’t back up your accusations is enough reason to dismiss them for now and until you actually bring forward some meaningful evidence in context. See, we care about honest evaluations of evidence, and must oppose your mindless rants which avoid any hint of data or evidence.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Well, check out this poll! In 1991, only 9% were confirmed believers in the religion of evolutionism. The theistic evolution group are a bunch of confused thinkers bamboozled by Darwinian propaganda from the schools and their “churches”—a la Ken Miller. They don’t know what to think.

And yet Ken Miller can discuss all of the relevant subjects, and you haven’t given us any cause to believe that you can discuss theology, science, philosophy, or even common-sense notions of evidence. You’re just a street-ranter, with your firm denunciations of everything you don’t understand.

“Michael Martin” troll? Neither he nor you could ever discuss anything but your own prejudices, and neither of you could never supply any reason why we’d want to believe your narrow bigotry. Indeed, you supply all of the evidence of what is wrong with creationism, it’s inability to address evidence in any relevant manner. You also show that reaching many of you with sense will be forever impossible.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

Raven and Pumpkinhead -

Putting aside the obvious parody nature of Pumpkinhead’s comments, those polls about human origin understate the US public’s acceptance of evolution. I’m sorry not to have a link, but the percentage goes way up when people are asked whether plants, bacteria, insects, or the like evolved or were created in their present form.

There is a well-known bias in polling (among many others) which is sometimes refered to as “social desirability bias”. It probably explains the reluctance of Americans to admit that humans evolved. It is obvious that in American popular culture, images of hominids, pre-historic “cavemen”, and the like are widespread and provoke little or no negative reaction. So implicitly, Americans seem to accept that humans evolved, but be reluctant to admit this to pollsters.

Here’s a related old link that suggests that Americans over-report religiosity in polls -

http://ffrf.org/fttoday/back/survey.html

Larsson -

“Delusional” is best used as a clinical term, and clinical defitions of it correctly exclude widespread cultural beliefs. It most certainly does not mean “holding any belief for which there is no evidence”. If it did, we would all be delusional, and the term would have no meaning.

The definition of a delusion in the most recent DSM, which is widely available in many public venues, is…

“A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture.”

Of course, the term can be used colloquially, as an insulting way of describing another person’s beliefs or attitudes. It is common for words from psychiatry and psychology to be appropriated as playground taunts, and in the case of some adults, especially those who seek to gain publicity by making exaggerated, outrageous, insulting comments about large groups of people, we see persistence of this behavior.

(Incidentally, I am not now, have never been, and have never claimed to be either a psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health counsellor of any sort.)

All -

Hopefully I haven’t started a Dawkins war. If so, I surrender in advance.

It’s worth noting that “Pumpkinhead”, were he not a rather entertaining parody poster, would probably meet even a stringent definition of “delusional”.

Well, sure, you can’t have “Religiosity” in the DSM.

But try another venue. Supposing a witness on the stand made continual reference to “God’s will” and “God’s plan for [the defendant]”

How hard would it be for opposing counsel to discredit that testimony, even if every single individual in the courtroom was a convinced theist?

So, I would say that belief in God, per se, couldn’t be called a delusion under the DSM, but that a wide range of beliefs about God could be. In a nutshell, modern society coddles belief, as long as you don’t think the Big Omnipotent Dude can actually do anything. Or, perhaps more accurately, as long as you don’t think that you’re a reliable detector of Deific activity.

Which just makes belief even more pointless, but that’s me.

CJO -

I don’t understand your point.

If you’re saying that a religious comment would necessarily negate otherwise credible court testimony, I disagree. If a person states that events that they witnessed (and accurately describe) must have been due to the will of Allah or karma or the like, that would tend to be irrelevant, but would not necessarily negate the testimony. In some cultures, making such a statement would be considered the norm. In fact, witnesses in court take an oath on the Bible.

If you’re saying that some religious views can meet the DSM definition of delusional, of course that’s true. What I said was “it is not true that all religious people are delusional (it is not true that all men are Greeks)”. I did not say “no religious people are ever delusional (no men are ever Greeks)”.

If you’re trying to say that in your opinion, it is reasonable to state that all religious people or beliefs are delusional, why don’t you come right out and say so? I’ve already explained why I disagree with that.

I am giving my real name. Also, since sarcasm does not “transmit” well through the internet, I will type truthfully:

Christians have absolutely NOTHING in this world to complain about. They never have. Why don’t all those christian churches pay taxes on their property just like everybody else has to? Why don’t all those baptist churches let scientists and atheists in there to speak about what THEY believe and know?

Why don’t you christian discuss and analyze REAL unexplained events in this world: extraterrestrial visitations, bigfoot, etc? Events which have had hundreds of independent witnesses?

For centuries dumbf*** christians kept non-christians out of universities.

The one great thing about Communist countries like China was to forbid christianity. Yet, crimimal christians there still decide to break the law there and get arrested. They deserve to be punished.

I am a proud atheist and mathematician (PhD). Even *I* know the difference among various levels of proof and logical consistency with our everyday world, regardless of my level of belief or disbelief in them. From conjecture (I believe the Goldbach conjecture is true, but have no way to prove it), to loads of indirect evidence (I strongly believe the ET Hypothesis for many UFO sightings; I even more strongly believe astrology is a total load of shit), to

On a related subject, do you dumb subhuman christians ever analyze what it means “to believe” something, from a neurological point of view? Seriously, if someone comes up to me and asks me, “Do you believe Japan exists?”, and I say, “yes” or I say “no” – 1) does either answer really matter to the outside world 2) is one, but not the other, answer somehow “encoded” in my brain? 3) I have personally never been to Japan. I have received only secondhand information. So, my belief has to be consistent if I replace the question with “Do you believe many UFO sightings are alien craft?” for which I also have received only second-hand information. If it LOOKS like a craft and ACTS like a craft, then why the hell shouldn’t I call it an (alien) craft?

Now replace that question above with a more emotional equation, such as “Do you believe the Holocaust against Jews and Slavs and gypsys by the Nazis happened?” Same analysis has to follow.

Does “belief” ultimately mean some sort of EMOTIONAL response of the brain?

I doubt christians can even begin to ASK these questions. I’m sorry.. I mean, I KNOW christians are too stupid to think about these questions.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Dunford published on April 5, 2007 4:39 PM.

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