Framing: Getting Practical

One of PZ Myers’ criticisms of the whole idea of framing scientific communication is the lack of specifics about how to implement the ideas Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney are pushing. I’ve been feeling as well that the whole discussion has been a bit lacking in the way of concrete examples (Gavin’s attempt to anchor by example notwithstanding).

This morning, over at the WorkBlog, I wrote about what is, to me, an intriguing example that raises questions about the argument Chris and Matt are pushing. It’s a story from the Joliet Herald News about a public meeting regarding the U.S. Department of Energy’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. If you read through the story, you see the key opponents using what seem to me to be framing strategies. The DOE official uses the “nuclear power can play a key role in meeting our nation’s energy needs” frame. The project’s critic frames it thusly: “We are all electricity addicts.”

But if you read the story, you find a third frame, which appears to have been chosen by the reporter: the nuclear transportation safety frame.

How can a scientist be successful framing, as Matt and Chris suggest they must, if the news media doesn’t play along? And what is and should be the role of the news media in choosing the frames to highlight?

I’ve got no answer here. The floor’s open for discussion.

One Comment

  1. Hi John,
    Effective framing on the part of scientists and their organizations is precisely necessary when an issue leaves the science beat and becomes part of the political pages, opinion pages, and other outlets. It’s here that if scientists don’t frame issues in ways that play to the imperatives of these journalists and their audiences (though always remaining true to the science), then someone else will.

    I talk about this in a recent post on what the Discovery Institute understood about framing…

    What frames to use depends on the issue and goal of communication. In the case of nuclear energy, the goal of communication might be to open up discussion on the issue in a way that is not in the direction of risky technology/industry with too much influence.

    This is where “the middle way/compromise” frame might prove effective, connecting nuclear energy in a new way to the “bigger” question of climate change.

    Specific to the particular article you mention, it’s rare that only one frame will be used in interpreting an issue. Journalists will balance stories by offering competing frames or interpretations. Sometimes scientists/advocates will be successful at getting only their preferred interpretation into the news, other times it will be balanced by competing interpretations. (That’s where, as Chris and I wrote at CJR in 2005, journalists need to be more sensitive to whether balance is always accurate.)

    On the history of framing of nuclear energy, see this Skeptical Inquirer Online article I did:

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