At one time, framing referred to the building of supportive structure of something; our founding fathers, for example, are also known as the framers of the Constitution. Now, however, framing has an altogether new meaning. According to WikiPedia, “Framing defines how an element of rhetoric is packaged so as to allow certain interpretations and rule out others.”
This used to be known as spin. Spin, however, began to take on negative connotations, once people started realizing that they were being had by the so-called spin doctors. Now, instead of being spun, information is being framed to put it in the best context possible. I’m guessing that the term came from photography, where you frame your subject in the viewfinder. You choose your composition carefully to emphasize your subject and to exclude as much undesirable elements in the as possible.
There is, perhaps, a slight difference between spin and framing, although the effect is roughly the same: the public ends up with incomplete but highly processed information. Spin is trying to nuance existing information, whereas framing has to do with how to present information to the public. Framing is all the rage in politics, as you can imagine. And now, framing is being talked about by scientists.
Yes, scientists. You see, it seems that the general public still doubts global warming, the benefits of stem-cell research, and even Darwinism. In fact, it seems that atheism is actually in decline! Anyone who has read A Brave New World or any number of other futuristic novels knows that in order for the science-elite to control the world, they need buy-in from the public. So, some scientists are suggesting that the answer is in framing the information to make it more acceptable, and even desirable (“it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”).
So in today’s America, like it or not, those seeking a broader public acceptance of science must rethink their strategies for conveying knowledge. Especially on divisive issues, scientists should package their research to resonate with specific segments of the public.
The Post article also quotes PZ Myers, who takes a different view (it’s odd to actually agree with Myers at times…):
“I’d end up giving fluff talks that play up economic advantages and how evolution contributes to medicine … and I’d never talk about mechanisms and evidence again. That sounds like a formula for disaster to me – it turns scientists into guys with suits who have opinions, and puts us in competition with lawyers and bureaucrats in the media.”
So, the question of “to frame, or not to frame,” is still being debated, and I’m guessing we’ll hear more. With Ben Stein’s movie coming out in February, the framing issue may heat up, but we’ll have to see. Jake Young has an interesting look at the framing issue as it relates to science and atheism, Why Pairing Science and Atheism is High-Brow. Some problems with his thinking are pointed out by Joy at Telic Thoughts. Again, I expect we’ll hear more on framing science.