Sociologists see frames of references as macro constructs with broad socio-cultural impacts. Linguists focus on the cognitive aspects surrounding semantics and our understanding of language. And Daniel Kahneman's Nobel Prize-winning work in economics and psychology taps individual-level reactions to very specific frame manipulations in the area of risk perception and consumer behavior. For the last 25 years, research in political science, communication, and sociology has been tying together some of these ideas and building a macroscopic theoretical framework, linking theories of individual-level decision making to larger-scale social, cultural and political dynamics. A piece I wrote back in 1999 in Journal of Communication summarizes some of these developments. Understanding framing, therefore, means standing on the shoulders of giants from different disciplines, to borrow from Robert K. Merton one more time, and understanding the dynamics explained by the concept of framing at different levels of analysis.
Dynamics of Framing
(From: Scheufele, D. A. (forthcoming). Framing theory. In W. Donsbach (Ed.), The international encyclopedia of communication. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.)
And this is what Nisbet and Mooney are arguing. More importantly, they make recommendations for applying these empirical findings from different disciplines to a specific context, i.e., science communication that reaches broad cross-sections of the public rather than scientifically-interested elites or issue publics. And they distill useful lessons for both scientists and science communicators. Ironically, many of their online critics don't address that central part of Nisbet and Mooney's argument. Instead, their responses focus on terminological disagreements or disciplinary turf battles that are largely irrelevant to the point Nisbet and Mooney are making. And that is the trap that is so easy to fall into when communicating about scientific research. We are talking to each other, using words and distinctions that most of the public does not care about and that sometimes, unfortunately, miss the larger point altogether. And then we're surprised if nobody pays attention.