Tuesday, May 06, 2008

What "Expelled" tells us about the whole science-framing thing

I think the moronic creationist pseudo-documentary, Expelled, tells us the anti-science framing crowd can be wrong even when they're right.

The science framers, mostly Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet, want to spin the discussion of science (in a good way, supposedly) to appeal the most to the target audience. The anti-framers, people like PZ Myers and Greg Laden, say science shouldn't be spun, a cacophony of voices is just fine, and strident opposition to stupidity is effective. The debate plays out repeatedly at the scienceblogs.com websites.

As of today, Expelled has made $6.6 million, and will certainly be the fifth highest-grossing political documentary in history. The pro-framers have said the anti-framers should shut up about the movie, and argued that constantly talking about it has made it successful. The anti-framers claim the movie isn't successful.

The anti-framers are wrong on two counts. First, the movie's clearly successful by any non-ridiculous standards. Second, one of the framing concepts is that people will not accept any fact that contradicts their mental model of the world, and the anti-framers' refusal to acknowledge the movie's commercial success is itself a proof of this framing concept.

Despite all this, I throw in with the anti-framers in general. I think science is or at least should be more like a cacophony of opinions being tested out, and science communication should reflect that. And strident opposition to creationist nonsense can be refreshing. But the anti-framers need to acknowledge the evidence wherever it goes, and not acknowledging it here is ridiculous.

One tangential point I haven't seen raised: when to see Expelled. I don't think there's much point in seeing it, but if people do want to, they shouldn't go until after it's been in the theater where they're thinking of going for over two weeks. Expelled's producers get a much bigger cut of ticket revenues in the first two weeks, so waiting reduces the amount they take in.

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