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Framing is the practice of applying a schema, or structure of metaphors, to a complex issue, often used in public relations (PR) to make a particular view appeal to (and be adopted by) a constituency. While old-school rationalists may consider it an appeal to intellectually lazy lumpenfolk, in actual fact framing precedes and determines policy. Framing in a PR context makes practical use of the simple fact that 95% to 98% of cognition occurs below the threshold of awareness. Any attempt to sway public opinion based on strictly "rational" arguments, which assume that the facts only need to be presented for logic to prevail, is doomed to failure. People make sense of the world around them by means of metaphors and metaphorical entailments, hardly aware that they do so.
A simple example is the common association of evolutionary theory to mass murder in places like the former Soviet Union, despite the fact that the Soviets were very much against evolutionary theory at the time most of their mass killings occurred, endorsing the pseudoscientific genetics of Lysenkoism instead, and even persecuting scientists who disagreed with it. An example relevant to the current US political landscape is the metaphor "Nation as Family" with two possible frames entailing very different policy styles: the "strict father" model, and the "nurturing parents" model. It is natural for adherents of either frame to believe that their policies are the correct way to proceed.
While framing is widely practiced by right wing demagogues, a fierce debate rages on the left on the value of framing as a technique to reach the public, with opponents (many of them scientists) feeling it to be a form of inappropriate dumbing-down, and proponents believing it to be necessary to make esoteric issues of rationality and political matters that don't seem to affect the constituency more immediate to the public. The issue burns especially hotly in the skeptical community, where scientific rigor is sometimes perceived as intellectual snobbery to outsiders.
Framing in United States politics
Since the 1970s, conservative activists in the United States have led an extended effort to apply marketing and PR techniques to politics in an effort to sell a radical conservative message as espoused by neoconservatives and the religious right to the American public. Republican activists such as Frank Luntz, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and Newt Gingrich have been particularly closely associated with this movement, as well as media personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.
- Lakoff, George (2008) The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain. Viking, New York.
- Lakoff (2008)
- "Conscious thought is the tip of an enormous iceberg. It is the rule of thumb among cognitive scientists that unconscious thought is 95 percent of all thought—and that may be a serious underestimate. Moreover, the 95 percent below the surface of conscious awareness shapes and structures all conscious thought. If the cognitive unconscious were not there doing this shaping, there could be not conscious thought." Lakoff and Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought, 1999, p. 12
- Lakoff (2008)