Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Science, Framing, and the Media

An interesting blog post examines how important the "framing" of science is for public understanding. Social scientists are "critical friends" of other scientists, according to the post, and the "picture we present" to the public can influence perceptions. All in all, interesting stuff.

The idea of "framing" is an old one in the literature. What is framing? Whatever the hell you want it to be, since there are about a million definitions. Like porn, we know it when we see it, but in general framing sets the way we understand a story. Is a story framed as little guy versus big guy, or is it framed as a morality piece? An election framed as a vote on the economy can turn out very different than an election framed on the safety of a nation (see 1992 and 2008 U.S. presidential elections as examples).

And people don't need a lot of information, or any information, to form an opinion, especially about science. A good 2005 study, for example, found that people use heuristics, or shortcuts, to make sense of science stories about nanotechnology depending in part on how they are framed by the media or political elite.

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