Sunday, November 13, 2005

Framing the teaching of science

One question I thought about asking Dr. Lakoff last night (see previous post), but decided against, was "How should we reframe the evolution issue?"

The reason I didn't ask is that I knew the answer. It hadn't quite occurred to me in explicit terms until the event, so I thought I'd share the realization.

It's important to note that framing is not some dishonest trick. To be effective, it has to be true, because the idea is to connect your idea to a similar idea that you audience already agrees with. As a classic example, taxation is seen as bad, so "double taxation" must be worse. But that "double taxation" is taxation on unearned income, and most people think you should earn a living. How you talk about the issue connects to one frame or the other. It's not trickery. Think of it as shorthand. It's how you express your own deeper thought process so that other people can understand you as a thinking, moral person, not as a wonkish robot (see also Al Gore, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis).

Creationists frame their cause as "teaching the controversy." That connects to fairness, and people like fairness. That's why you see lots of polls where people want to teach both evolution and IDC. I bet if you tossed in other ideas that have been rejected outright (Lamarckism or Lysenkoism for instance), you'd get majorities in favor of teaching those controversies, too. Fairness is a frame.

Science advocates, especially TfK, have treated this as an issue of keeping science in science classes. This connects to integrity, and that, too is a frame.

I thought about this again this morning because the panel discussion on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" all used that framing. Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts and George Will (not a liberal panel by any stretch) each said something like "People want science taught in science class." There was no one saying "we should teach all sides of every issue."

DI's attempt at framing, their high-price D.C. PR firm, and all their fancy suits couldn't get their spin accepted by opinion-makers. It doesn't cut it.

It doesn't quite connect to how people want children treated. Neither a strong father nor a nurturant parent would offer children two sides of an issue when one side is not acceptable according to experts. Scientists and science teachers are experts, and people respect their judgments whichever big frame they see education through.

It's also disingenuous. The Discovery Institute and the IDC movement have as explicit goals "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies," and "replac[ing] materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God." That isn't about fairness, nor is it about integrity. It's about imposing themselves on others.

People don't like that. They respect fairness and expect to be treated fairly. People who identify as theistic evolutionists reject the notion that the acts of God are within the realm of science, which means they don't belong in science class. IDolators disagree on that specific point. Most people think that God intervenes in the world, but haven't really thought through whether that's science or not.

Consider the Pope's statement on Thursday, which the AP describes as "saying the universe was made as an 'intelligent project' and criticizing those who say its creation was without direction." Most scientists don't rule out the possibility that God imposes some direction on the universe in some way, they just don't think they can scientifically detect that direction. That excludes those ideas from the science class, but not from other classes.

It's about the integrity of education.