And the frame stuck. The public has bought into the idea. This, of course, highlights once again the need for scientists to pay attention to their language when communicating publicly about science. The words and frames they use to present their findings and their disciplines can have a a huge impact on long-term public discourse and public thinking about scientific issues. I have written about this repeatedly (for overviews, see nanopublic posts from September 30, 2007 and August 30, 2007, for example).
And Thompson's suggestions for a solution follow the same logic. He argues that we need a reframing of science ... not the content, just the label:
"For truly solid-gold, well-established science, let's stop using the word theory entirely. Instead, let's revive much more venerable language and refer to such knowledge as law."Unfortunately, it may be too late for that. Most academic research (for an overview, click here and here) suggests that once a frame is established in public discourse it is difficult to change. And the uncertainty frame around the "just a theory" slogan didn't have much competition from scientists for a long time. At this stage of the debate, it may be impossible to counter.
(Click here for the WIRED piece.)