John Horgan takes exception to the idea that insights gleaned from neuroscience could help scientists to "frame" global warming in a way that would make it more coherent and palatable to the public.
Framing is just spinning, and neuroframing is spinning plus brain scans.Although he acknowledges that we don't reliably "make choices based on self-interest [!] and reason," and are more likely to be influenced by "fear, suspicion, empathy and other emotions," Horgan worries that making the effort to adapt to this reality will simply reinforce the perception -- or the "frame," if you prefer -- that environmentalists are deceptive.
First of all, we don’t need MRI studies to tell us that we’re emotional, complicated creatures. Moreover, many people already view environmentalists as self-righteous and manipulative. This is a framing problem that neuroframing may exacerbate. The message is that environmentalists will go to extraordinary lengths—seeking guidance from cutting-edge brain science!--to help the dim-witted public see the world in the same enlightened way that environmentalists do.There are a few problems here. First, choosing your words carefully, with regard to their likely effect on the perceptions of your audience, isn't going "to extraordinary lengths," nor does it necessarily imply that you believe your audience is "dim-witted." You'd think a professional science writer would understand this.
Second, Horgan blurs the distinction between "environmentalists" and "scientists," which is a perfect example of how not to proceed. The idea that environmentalism amounts to a special interest of some sort is fantastically weird and wrongheaded, in my view, but it's very common all the same. Given what the term signifies in everyday discourse, it's neither accurate nor constructive to conflate environmentalists with working climate scientists.
Third, Horgan seems to think that "framing" represents some sort of a departure from ordinary discourse (his own, for instance). But communication is...well, communicative, not just of facts and opinions but also of implicit and explicit messages about the speaker and the listener. Presenting oneself or one's field as the de facto embodiment of honesty and rationality and objectivity is no less a matter of framing than the tactics Horgan objects to (and can just as easily be attacked as elitist, arrogant, unethical, or whatever).
Horgan also seems to have fallen prey to the Broderist delusion that if you stop giving your opponents ammunition, the spirit of Fair Play will oblige them to stop shooting at you. This is a very popular response, nowadays, to organized bullying by corporatist reactionaries. You can ask the Democrat Party how well it's worked (or if you've succumbed to cynicism, how well it's intended to work).
My own concern about what Horgan calls "neuroframing" is that it may overlook the actual structure of the journalistic field and the money and allegiances that produce it, which is a bit like trying to describe space-time without any reference to gravity. It's not just that scientists have to understand how to talk to the public; it's that they have to understand how to talk to the public through media that distort their positions at best, lie about them at worst, and would never dream of subjecting the accuracy and honesty of their own journalists and editors to the microscopic scrutiny they give the IPCC.
That said, philosophical and political concerns about what constitutes legitimate knowledge and authority can't necessarily be overcome by "laying out the facts as clearly and honestly as possible," as Horgan recommends...especially if someone from, say, the CEI is brought in to ensure that what Pierre Bourdieu calls "the naively idealized vision of the 'scientific' community as the enchanted kingdom of the ends of reason" is properly balanced by "the cynical vision which reduces exchanges between scientists to the calculated brutality of political power relations." (Teach the controversy!)
And these are actually the least of my qualms about Horgan's article. Get a load of this:
Not all global-warming skeptics are ignorant, irrational idiots. I teach at an engineering school, and about one third of my students identify themselves as global-warming skeptics. They tend to know more about global warming than students who accept it as a fact.I really don't want to be lectured on effective communication by someone who fails to see the rhetorical pitfalls here. If I were to claim that "evolution skeptics tend to know more about evolution than students who accept it as a fact," I'd be accused of talking nonsense, at best. I don't see what makes Horgan's version of this argument respectable or relevant or coherent.
As for the bit about "ignorant, irrational idiots"...it's silly, because a call for improved framing doesn't imply that people are idiots. And it's hypocritical, because Horgan not only acknowledges that human beings are irrational by nature, but also seems to believe that skeptics are ignorant (as evidenced by his desire that they be exposed, again and again and again, to the "facts").
Furthermore, Horgan has no problem calling people "wackos" when it suits his purposes.
Inconvenient Truth was a framing masterpiece, but Al Gore’s linkage of global warming to Katrina, however qualified, has made it easier for wackos to claim that single weather events, like the big blizzards that struck Washington, D.C., this winter, contradict global warming.Maybe so. But is overstating the significance of single weather events what we're talking about when we talk about "framing"? Is this, or anything like it, what the neuroframers with whom Horgan has been hobnobbing actually recommend? Failing that, is it an inevitable result of their approach? If not, then what in God's name is Horgan's point?
Climategate showed that some climatologists have become so obsessed with framing that they have harmed their credibility.Much as I hate to stray from the dispassionate objectivity of scientific discourse, that's a metric assload of unmitigated fucking bullshit. This attack on scientists "harmed their credibility" because their goddamn e-mails were stolen and cherrypicked, and because intentional misrepresentations of the things these e-mails said were treated as intellectually serious and scientifically relevant by countless media outlets, while simple and factual corrections were either ignored, or dismissed as mere opinion.
Again, before Horgan rejects framing, he might want to note that there's a huge difference between reinforcing the victim-blaming denialist narrative of "Climategate," and presenting it, accurately, as an orchestrated and pathologically dishonest media spectacle based on a fucking crime, for fuck's sake.
Environmentalists should forget about neuroframing. And that’s my we-map talking.And the moral of that is: Be what you would seem to be, or if you'd like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.