My friend Matt Nisbet, an expert on science communication at American University in Washington, believes that Templeton is far more successful than traditional scientific organizations at "creating news pegs around science and religion." Matt organized an impressive session on Communicating Science in a Religious America on this afternoon's AAAS program. The description of the session asserts that scientists need to learn
to craft communication efforts that are sensitive to how religiously diverse publics process messages but also to the way science is portrayed across types of media. In these efforts, scientists should adopt a language that emphasizes shared values and has broad appeal, avoiding the pitfall of seeming to condescend to fellow citizens or alienating them by attacking their religious beliefs. Part of this process includes “framing” an issue in ways that remain true to the science but that make the issue more personally meaningful, thereby potentially sparking greater interest or acceptance.
Matt suggests that writings like Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion make many religious Americans regard science and scientists as alien enemies. Of course we wouldn’t want Dawkins teaching high school biology in
“Gathering of Top Scientists Marred by Lack of Conflict” is a not a story headline I’d want to have to pitch to any news desk in
How exactly is this bad for public understanding of science? Science will be personally meaningful to the religious insofar as it has something to say about their deepest cultural beliefs. Saccharine rhetoric about "shared values" may fare better, but I'm aware of no compelling empirical evidence that it is. I find it at least as plausible, if ironic, that the presence of science-religion agonists in public debate makes accommodationists better known and liked, which in turn get them more news pegs.
Come to think of it, what is a news peg, anyway? Maybe it's what you hang a frame on.