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Presentation on theme: " Framing Science: Understanding the Battle Over Public Opinion in Policy Debates Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. Assistant Professor."— Presentation transcript:

1 Framing Science: Understanding the Battle Over Public Opinion in Policy Debates Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. Assistant Professor School of Communication American University 10.11.06 AAAS Science Policy Alliance Series

2 Overview Traditional models of science communication Face challenges from media system and media strategists Dont fit with a scientific understanding of the mass public What Else Works? Framing, examples from politics Framing, examples across science Evidence? Stem cell debate Global warming debate

3 Science Literacy and Popular Science Assumption: If the public knew more about the technical side of science, then the public would view issues as scientists do, and there would be fewer controversies Emphasis is on science education and mass mediated popular science.

4 What about the Public Engagement Model? Two-way interaction between scientists and citizens. Upstream development of research (nanotechnology). Take advantage of localized understanding and knowledge. Increase citizen efficacy, sense of involvement, and fairness.

5 The American people have spoken. Seventy-two percent of Americans support ethically based stem cell research. In vetoing this legislation, the President would be saying No to 72 percent of the American people. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Science and the Battle Over the Mass Public

6 A Fully Informed Public Versus a Miserly Public? Lessons from Political Campaigns If he doesnt live your life, share your values, or is someone you would want to have a beer with, then he shouldnt be your President. Its the issues, stupid! J-H-o-S: Jobs, Health Care, and National Security.

7 Strategic Communication Is About Activation, Reinforcement, and Mobilization NOT Persuasion Source: CNN

8 Latte Drinking Liberals: Framing as Activation Frames are thought organizers, devices for packaging complex issues in ways that activate value predispositions. Frames activate by emphasizing certain interpretations of an issue over others, structuring which parts of reality become noticed. Frame devices communicate in short hand the underlying meaning of a frame. Can be catchphrases, slogans, cartoons, symbols, or images. Frames are most influential when they resonate with existing religious, ideological, or cultural values. George Lakoff?

9 Framing the President: LEADERSHIP STYLE AND COMPETENCY Pro-Bush argument A: Bush has strong convictions and beliefs, he is a strong leader, and does not back down from goals based on polls or when short-term trends do not go his way. Pro-Bush argument B : Bush is the first CEO president, the first president with a Harvard MBA, smart enough to know that he needs to surround himself with really experienced, loyal people he can trust. Anti-Bush argument A: Bush is a blind ideologue. He is willing to bend facts/data ideology. Even if new information suggests that his original decisions were wrong, Bush is unwilling to change his mind. Anti-Bush argument B: A small group of like- minded ideologues protect him from information or input from other members of government that contradict his ideas or decisions.


11 Woodwards STATE OF DENIAL

12 NARRATIVE FIDELITY: Past Devices 2003 2004

13 NARRATIVE FIDELITY: First Presidential Debate It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong. It's another to be certain and be right, or to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put them to use in order to change and get your policy right. What I worry about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on the ground, he's not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he's not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global warming and other issues. And certainty sometimes can get you in trouble. John Kerry when asked to describe the differences between himself and the President

14 Framing Nuclear Energy: Social Progress & Economic Competitiveness "It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter… Lewis L. Strauss, Atomic Energy Commission to NASW 1954. Gamson, WA. and Modigliani, A. (1989). Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 1- 37.

15 Framing Stem Cell Research & Plant Biotech: Social Progress & Economic Competitiveness

16 Framing Nuclear Energy: Pandoras Box, Public Accountability & Uncertainty

17 Framing Plant Biotech & Stem Cell Research: Pandoras Box, Public Accountability & Uncertainty

18 Framing Global Warming: Pandoras Box

19 Framing Global Warming: Uncertainty & Economic Competitiveness

20 Framing Global Warming: Moral Duty & Economic Competitiveness

21 NISBET APRIL 2005: Knowledge of Politics and Science of Stem Cell Research Mean= 1.8 SD= 1.3 1.Bush decision. 2.California proposition. 3.Why scientists think ESC is important. 4.Regulation of cloning. 5.N-I-H stands for? Source: National RDD Telephone Survey, March 19 to April 29, 2005 N=774, adults 18 and older. OSU and SRI @ Cornell University.

22 The Social Progress Frame JDRF 2001 As you may already know, a stem cell is the basic cell in the body from which all other cells arise. Medical researchers have been able to isolate stem cells from excess human embryos developed through in vitro fertilization and fetal tissue that has been donated to research. The medical researchers believe that human stem cells can be developed as replacement cells to cure diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, burns, or spinal cord problems. Do you favor the funding of stem cell research by the National Institutes of Health?"

23 The Morality Frame NCCB 2001 Stem cells are the basic cells from which all of a persons tissues and organs develop. Congress is considering whether to provide funding for experiments using stem cells from human embryos. The live embryos would be destroyed in their first week of development to obtain these cells. Do you support or oppose using your federal tax dollars for such experiments?

24 Stem Cell Debate: Whos Winning the Frame Contest?

25 What is the Nature of Media Coverage? Two Sided Trending More Positive

26 VCU 2001 & 2002: Value Predispositions as a Perceptual Screen SOURCE: Nisbet, 2005. The Competition for Worldviews: Values, Information, and Public Support for Stem Cell Research. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.

27 PEW: Since 2001, As Awareness Increases, Support Increases to Slight Majority a)All in all, which is more important: Conducting stem cell research that might result in new medical cures OR Not destroying the potential life of human embryos involved in this research? b)As you may know the Fed. Govt. has debated whether to fund certain kinds of medical research know as sc research, have much have you heard about this?

28 VCU: Since 2001, Increasing Support to Slight Majority Level On the whole, how much do you favor or oppose medical research that uses stem cells from human embryos--do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this?

29 2005 NISBET: BUT Cloning Remains a Frame Device Source: National RDD Telephone Survey, March 19 to April 29, 2005 N=774, adults 18 and older. OSU and SRI @ Cornell University. +/-3.5% at 95% confidence level.

30 PROP 71: How the West Was Won

31 One is the extraordinary opportunity we have here to eradicate these diseases that are plaguing our friends and families, diseases like Alzheimer's, MS, diabetes. (PROGRESS) Our scientists are not going into this field because there's not adequate funding, there's not adequate resources. Or if they are, we're losing them to other countries like Singapore. (ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.) I think the mistake is looking at this as just a cost. We should be looking at this as an investment for our economy. … As new treatments were found health care costs would go down. What history has shown us is that it's cheaper to--to cure a disease than it is to continue to treat a disease. (ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT) –Actor Brad Pitt on NBC Today Show, Oct. 26, 2004 STAYING ON MESSAGE: Brad, Why Do You Support Prop. 71?

32 How the West Was Won: Ad Blitz, One-Sided Framing Shifted Support

33 PEW: Since 2001, Differential In Support By Religious Affiliation

34 PEW: Since 2001, Differential In Support By Partisanship

35 GALLUP: Is medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos morally acceptable?

36 What About Global Warming? Similar Pattern: Knowledge is Low Public Rely on Frames Frames Activate Partisanship as Perceptual Screen

37 GALLUP: Most Scientists Agree GW is Occurring

38 PEW: Consensus Among Great Majority of Scientists that GW Exists and Poses Threat

39 OSU/ABC: Most Scientists Agree GW is Happening Or Is There a Lot of Disagreement?

40 GLOBAL WARMING: Knowledge of Bush Decision on Kyoto Do you know whether George W. Bush has decided that the US (United States) will continue to support the global warming agreement, enacted in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, or has he decided to withdraw US support from that agreement?

41 Framing Kyoto: An Economic Burden GALLUP Pres. Bush recently announced that the US will not adhere to the Kyoto International Treaty, which sets voluntary limits on the production of carbon dioxide and other global warming related gases. Bush says Kyoto places too much of an economic burden on the US while demanding little of developing countries. Do you approve or disapprove of Bushs decision?

42 Framing Kyoto: No Interpretation Provided PEW As you may know, George W. Bush has decided that the US should withdraw its support from the global warming agreement, adopted in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. Do you approve or disapprove of this decision?

43 GALLUP: Worried Great Deal/Fair Amount About Global Warming

44 Gallup 10/2005: Partisan Differences in the Interpretation of Katrina Thinking about the increase in the number and strength of hurricanes in recent years, do you think global warming has been a major cause, a minor cause, or not a cause of the increase in hurricanes?

45 CONCLUSION: Towards a Scientific Understanding of the Public Science literacy and public engagement models are limited, esp. when thinking about the mass public. For strategic communication, there is nothing essentially unique or different about science from other political issues. Battle for public opinion is about activating favorable predispositions and these predispositions are then used as powerful filtering devices by public. Frames are the primary tools of activation. Miserly citizens use frames in combination with their value predispositions to cut down on information costs.

46 LOOKING AHEAD? What are the generalizable frames for science issues, and what language and symbols across issues trigger these interpretations? These general principles apply to global warming, intelligent design, plant biotechnology, nuclear energy, nanotechnology and other issues. Framing can be most influential when an issue is new i.e. stem cell research, plant biotech, and nanotechnology. Going beyond survey data and focus groups, can case studies inform?

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