|Framing the Findings of Science
One of my favorite periodicals is The Scientist. It's kind of a pop-science life science journal -- quite serious but easy to read with lots of emphasis on real-world implications of scientific discovery. The October 2007 issue covers the topic of Framing Science in an article and an associated editorial.
, by Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele and entitled "The Future of Public Engagement", makes a strong case for bending the message for the audience. They cite examples in stem cell research, plant biotechnology and nanotechnology. But I can readily translate their views to other critically important topics like geopolitics, environmental conservation, homeland security, energy policy, and such.
The authors maintain that "60 years of research in the social sciences ... suggests that citizens prefer to rely on their social values to pick and choose information sources that confirm what they already believe, often making up their minds about a topic in the absence of knowledge". They go on to suggest that "scientists must learn to focus on presenting, or
framing, their messages in ways that make them personally relevant and meaningful to different publics" and "if scientists don't evolve in their strategies, they will essentially be waving a white flag, surrendering their important role as communicators". In response to some of their critics, Nisbet and Scheufele maintain that "framing does not mean engaging in false spin", an attitude shared by many scientists and their organizations which "confuse strategic, goal-directed communication with marketing and public relations".
by Richard Gallagher, Editor of
, which appears in the same issue comes down on the authors' side in favor of scientists framing their messages. It also points the reader to the
results of a survey
on this issue conducted at the publication's Web site.
Well, it seems to me there's no viable option to science and engineering professionals -- and knowledge workers generally -- taking on more responsibility for "framed communications". It's unrealistic to imagine that various segments of the general public can possibly expand their scientific sophistication and interests enough to yield better societal decisions without expert, guided help.