Framing the skeptic as a denialist

Chris Mooney talks about his co-authored paper in Science at his blog. Climate Science takes off on that to further discuss the idea of the need for framing by scientists who want to ‘educate’ the public. There are a number of examples in these entries and the comments that should be noted.

One is this idea of framing. Another term for this is spin. As Mooney says:

Nisbet and I are advising scientists to start to actively “frame” their knowledge, especially on hot-button issues like evolution, global warming, embryonic stem cell research.

On these highly politicized topics, scientists need to stop thinking that technical knowledge, alone, suffices to drive decision-making or change minds. That’s simply not how the media works, or how the public perceives and processes information

“Sticking to the facts” is being submerged beneath the need to convince the public of the ‘truth’ and the proper interpretation. The public is too dumb to handle the technical details or to understand what the scientist knows. Therefore a bit of spin is needed to make sure the funding continues and the appropriate attitude prevails. Then ends will justify the means taken.

Another term gaining ground is denier when skeptic might be more appropriate. An example is from one of the comments

Demiers of anything will always find areas of uncertainty to mine. During my research of WWII for a book, I unfortunately ran into a holocaust denier. They use a series of false causes basically, in which they attribute the blame to some kernal of truth, and discrediting the evidence of certain intra-events is a key part.

The latest example is on the stem cell debate. Here, the matter of federal funding is being portrayed – e.g. framed or spun – as whether or not this sort of research is to be banned by nasty anti-science, Christian fundamentalist, Republicans. The reality is that the issue is about whether the federal government should fund research in only one aspect of such research.

Getting the true story is made more difficult when you have folks spending their efforts ‘framing’ the conversation and not in getting the issues out on the table.

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