Monday, July 14, 2008

More Framing Dust

Wow. Frame-master Nisbet has really outdone himself with this post on The Great Wafer Crisis of 2008; let me count the ways:

  • Even as he trolls with concern over the state of scienceblogs, the photo at the top of the post shows PZ Myers standing next to Richard Dawkins. While PZ Myers is a leading contributor to scienceblogs, Richard Dawkins has nothing to do with scienceblogs. Nisbet couldn't find a photo of PZ Myers without Richard Dawkins? For exactly how many seconds did he try?

    In any case, exactly what argument does Nisbet think he's ending by invoking Richard Dawkins? Here's my wild guess -- the argument that says that Richard Dawkins is bad, bad, bad for science because while his books and other writings reach enormous audiences, he doesn't follow Matt Nisbet's advice about addressing matters falling outside the narrow boundaries of biology. In other words, the argument Nisbet thinks he is ending is his own argument about the proper way to communicate about science. Nice.

  • "Don Imus Atheism" -- Nisbet made a funny! Is that framing? And if so, to what end? I suspect it's Nisbet's hilarious way of saying that PZ Myers is to science communication as Don Imus is to ... um, whatever it is that Don Imus is doing. That is, PZ Myers just can't get out of his own way and should just shut up!

  • Can anyone spot the gigantic error in the following, as quoted from Nisbet's hiliarious "Don Imus Atheism" post? Here goes:
    Even fellow atheists and free speech advocates are troubled. Here's what Andrew Sullivan has to say:
    It is one thing to engage in free, if disrespectful, debate. It is another to repeatedly assault and ridicule and abuse something that is deeply sacred to a great many people. Calling the Holy Eucharist a "goddamned cracker" isn't about free speech; it's really about some baseline civility. Myers' rant is the rant of an anti-Catholic bigot. And atheists and agnostics can be bigots too.
    What alarms me the most about the incident, however ...
    Kudos to you if you identified multiple errors in this. The first error is in the implication that Andrew Sullivan is an atheist. He is not an atheist. He is a Catholic. And this gets to the larger flaw, namely, the fact that Sullivan has been called out very effectively for this criticism of Myers (e.g., here and here, without even leaving scienceblogs). Several critics have noted that Sullivan's cracker-defending comments represent a complete reversal of Sullivan's take on the Danish Cartoon Controversy, another case in which religious fanatics got overheated about symbols and responded with very non-symbolic, real-world actions.

    It's true to say that even Andrew Sullivan, usually an advocate of unfettered free speech, took exception to PZ Myers' insults to the cracker. It would be more completely true to say that Andrew Sullivan engaged in a good deal of special pleading in doing so, and was called on it (and to his credit, published some of the criticisms on his own blog), and subsequently backed away from his initial assessment. The net result, contra Nisbet's implication, is that PZ Myers engaged in free, albeit widely offensive speech, and free speech advocates have coalesced around that view of the matter.

This distinction between presenting what is true and what is more completely true is what irks people about Matt Nisbet's approach to framing, and why his "Don Imus Atheism" stuff will just kick up more dust.

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