Thursday, August 30, 2007

Framing the debate about science communication around false dichotomies

The debate over new approaches to science communication continues with a series of letters in SCIENCE magazine. Most of them, unfortunately, argue one side of the issue or another, i.e., they frame the debate as an artificial choice between conveying information and framing. A good example, is the first letter by Ohio State Assistant Vice President for Research Communications Earle M. Holland:

"I would hope that researchers continue to rely on their data, rather than on what “spin” on an issue might prove more convincing."

(Click here for the complete set of letters in SCIENCE.)
Framing, of course, has nothing to with spinning non-information. Rather, as the Nobel Prize-winning work by Daniel Kahneman shows (see nanopublic post from April 6, 2007), framing deals with how the presentation of ambiguous stimuli influences audience interpretations. The question is not if we should frame or not. All messages are framed somehow. The question is how we can do a better job of presenting scientific facts, i.e., information that the vast majority of the population sees as ambiguous stimuli, to use Kahneman's language.

For more background, see:

Scheufele, D. A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, agenda-setting, and priming: The evolution of three media effects models. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 9-20.

... and also a piece that Matthew C. Nisbet and I have forthcoming in The Scientist where we discuss some of the debates and their scientific merits in greater detail.

Big Oil, Big Pharma ... and now the NFL

From the New York Times, August 30, 2007

"In a television and online campaign that is to begin today, the league and its advertising agency, BBDO Worldwide, are borrowing the playbook, so to speak, of industries like Big Oil and the big drug companies, which have relied on the magic of Madison Avenue to redeem their public images. The N.F.L.’s idea is to counter the outcry over the criminal behavior of some players — not by apologizing for the misdeeds of a few, but by shining a spotlight on what is presented as the good behavior of the many."

(Click here for the complete article.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nano for the Hybrid-SUV generation

U.S. firms and Forbes's "Wolfe Nanotech Report" finally discovered what European firms have known for a while. People like saving the environment ... as long as it doesn't impact their lifestyle. And nano provides a variety of new applications for the often hypocritical Hybrid-SUV generation.

Along the "nano is nature" frame that European firms have used for a while (see nanopublic post from August 20, 2006), investors are now jumping on the clean technologies bandwagon in the U.S.

Nano Firms See Green in Clean-Tech Josh Wolfe, Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report, Forbes, 08.21.07

Global warming, pollution, dwindling natural resources and soaring energy costs are very much on everyone's mind these days. So it comes as no surprise that there is a strong investor interest in clean technologies, otherwise known as "clean-tech."

"Clean-tech is the future" goes the pitch, and there are big profits to be made for early investors.
Nanotechnology is rapidly revolutionizing American industry. Click here for the special investor report "Nano 101: An Insider's Guide to the World of Nanotechnology," from Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report.

To be sure, we have already witnessed the consequences of Wall Street's enthusiasm for everything clean and green. In the last 12 months, there have been no fewer than 30 IPOs involving clean-tech. And with global markets awash in capital, companies in clean businesses ranging from fuel cells to fuel-efficient vehicles are now the belles of the ball.


Potential clean-tech investors also need to be aware that foreign governments are funding their domestic clean-tech initiatives at a much faster pace than the U.S., with the Asia/Pacific region representing 38% of the pie, followed by Europe and, in third place, the U.S. That means that in addition to competing with large domestic incumbents, U.S. start-ups must also contend with foreign competitors backed by government programs. Notable examples are solar energy in Germany, fuel cells in South Korea and high-performance batteries in Japan.

(Click here for the full Forbes article.)

Ironically, of course, all of this comes on the heels of recent attempts by the EPA and FDA to establish useful regulatory frameworks for the environmental health and safety aspects
of nanotech.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Science as conflict: The frame's still there ...

This week's Newsweek cover story, unfortunately, puts an end to any hopes that journalists may finally have realized that conflict and horse race frames do little to promote informed public discourse about scientific issues. Here's an excerpt from the Newsweek story.
If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. ...

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was "a lot" of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was "mainly caused by things people do."
And the Newsweek article is right on target in assuming that interest groups and think tanks play a large role in shaping public (mis)perceptions. But none of this would be possible, of course, if news outlets like Newsweek didn't almost automatically buy into any conflict frame that these think tanks and interest groups feed them.

Decades of research on public opinion formation have shown that mass media are a key source of people's perceptions of opinion climates, i.e., of perceptions about what everyone else thinks.* And if the public makes judgments about scientific consensus, they rely primarily on what they learn from news media ... or from Newsweek covers like the one this week.

* See for example Scheufele, D. A., & Moy, P. (2000). Twenty-five years of the spiral of silence: A conceptual review and empirical outlook. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 12(1), 3-28.