Framing Things Correctly: What Should PZ Have Done?

This NPR story comes at a perfect time given the current discussion over framing. Although ostensibly about rumors, the story makes several good points that can be applied to the current “troubles”.


The story examines several rumors, including the Obama is a muslim rumor, and points out that, usually, attempts to refute or debunk rumors end up adding to the credibility of the rumor. The NPR piece also links to this New York Times piece:

Consider, for starters, this paradox of social psychology, a problem for myth busters everywhere: repeating a claim, even if only to refute it, increases its apparent truthfulness. In 2003, the psychologist Ian Skurnik and several of his colleagues asked senior citizens to sit through a computer presentation of a series of health warnings that were randomly identified as either true or false — for example, “Aspirin destroys tooth enamel” (true) or “Corn chips contain twice as much fat as potato chips” (false). A few days later, they quizzed the seniors on what they had learned.
The psychologists expected that seniors would mistakenly remember some false statements as true. What was remarkable, though, was which claims they most often got wrong — the ones they had been exposed to multiple times. In other words, the more that researchers had stressed that a given warning was false, the more likely seniors were to eventually come to believe it was true. (College students in the study did not make the same mistakes.)

The best one can do is recite the facts – sans mention of the rumour itself. What does this mean for the current situation? Let’s flip it on it’s head somewhat. PZ went to a screening of the movie Expelled and was singled out and kicked out of the movie theater by the producer of the movie. Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins was let in. Sans supporting details, these are the facts. Truth can be spread the same way rumor can and with the same effects – the phenomenon works in reverse. Everytime the producers try to spin, rationalize, or deny the facts they are only giving them more credibility. So how did PZ “frame” what happened? By reciting the facts (okay, there was some hysterical laughter). The producers, having the whole premise of their movie undermined, are now spinning hysterically and have canceled all screenings of the movie – a panicked reaction if I have ever seen one. In the process they are giving credibility to PZ’s statement of the facts. Continued statements of the facts should prove even more beneficial.

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3 Responses

  1. [SARCASM]
    Oh, you science types are always biased in favor of facts!
    [/SARCASM]
    … and the general theories which explain the most of them.

  2. Usually I would agree with Nisbet and Mooney, that PZ and Dawkins do not frame well (with regards to communicating an appreciation for science to a theistic audience), but in this case (PZ being expelled from Expelled) I think they did a great job. The moderate theists do not like hypocrisy (even if many atheists think otherwise), one will not communicate with the fundamentalist theists (or fundamentalist atheists) they are too entrenched in a world view of confrontation. But one can communicate with the “swing voters”, the moderates. This has been shown in Kansas repeatedly, it has been shown in Pennsylvania. I think that PZ and Dawkins have done an excellent job in exposing the expelled producers and taking a big part of their message away. Now what we need is moderate (theistic or atheistic) scientists to step up and communicate that science isn’t about atheism, science isn’t about calling atheism good, theism bad, it is about explaining the NATURAL world.

  3. I think PZ is doing what he does best….in relation to unintelligible propositions like ID:
    “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”
    — Thomas Jefferson,

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