Facts alone, note Aubrun and Grady, aren’t enough to educate people; instead, facts must be carefully packaged (or “framed”) in the context of narratives or explanations if they’re to enhance knowledge. Consider the technically complex issue of climate change, where attacks on science have been rampant and the public has been deeply confused. Grady and Aubrun have found that as an explanation, the “greenhouse effect” simply confuses people. Few Americans have any firsthand experience of greenhouses, and they don’t grasp the proposed analogy between carbon dioxide (a gas) and glass walls. So instead, Grady and Aubrun suggest talking about a “carbon dioxide blanket” encircling the earth—an explanation that instantly helps people understand why a heating effect is taking place. Sure, it’s a metaphor and shouldn’t be taken literally. But then, so was the concept of an ozone “hole”—a phrasing that instantly allowed the public to understand the issue of ozone depletion and that helped to galvanize political action.
When it comes to defending evolution, another communications thinker—the celebrated Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff—has other useful suggestions for the scientific community. The United States is, of course, a very religious country; one in which many fundamentalists attack evolution but also one in which many moderate Christians support it. In this context, Lakoff explains that scientists ought to be defending evolution by highlighting scientists who are able to reconcile evolution with religious faith. The ideal messengers to reach the public on this issue, then, would be evolutionary biologists who are also practicing Christians. People, in short, like Brown University evolution defender Kenneth R. Miller, a practicing Catholic and author of the book Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution.