Two outspoken defenders of Darwinism and critics of ID have contributed a Policy Forum piece to Science on how scientists should contribute to "highly contested issues". They identify three cases for consideration: human-induced global warming, evolution and ID, and embryonic stem cells. In each case, they suggest that the thinking of scientists has converged towards an unambiguous position. But, they write: "Research shows that people are rarely well enough informed or motivated to weigh competing ideas and arguments." We live in societies where political and religious ideologies act as screens to distort the messages they hear. So we need to develop skills of communicating: "scientists must learn to actively "frame" information to make it relevant to different audiences". "Frames organize central ideas, defining a controversy to resonate with core values and assumptions".
These two communicators realise that they are advancing ideas that could be seen as manipulation of the media to keep the masses submissive. They conclude: "Some readers may consider our proposals too Orwellian, preferring to safely stick to the facts. Yet scientists must realize that facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted in direct proportion to their relevance to the political debate and decision-making. In short, as unnatural as it might feel, in many cases, scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it."
The fundamental problem evident here is that the authors have failed to grasp that all three of their illustrative cases relate to contested issues within science, as well as having major ramifications for society. There is a significant debate as to whether global warming is human-induced; there is a community of scientists who dissent from Darwinism, many of whom are ID advocates; and there are good scientific reasons for focussing research on adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells. The authors are seeing these controversies through their personal ideological "frame".
They qualify their advice on strategy using these words: "without misrepresenting scientific information". However, their analysis of the controversial issues reveals that they have already misrepresented scientific information - by failing to acknowledge the reality of scientific debate and by linking dissent only to political and religious agendas. This is a sure sign of Orwellian control police and a sad day for science.
Matthew C. Nisbet and Chris Mooney
Science 315, 6 April 2007: 56
Issues at the intersection of science and politics, such as climate change, evolution, and embryonic stem cell research, receive considerable public attention, which is likely to grow, especially in the United States as the 2008 presidential election heats up.
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