Why experts seem to always disagree: the issue of framing

By Joern Fischer

Whether you read newspapers or research articles, it seems that for every problem there are multiple opinions and solutions. Despite its striving for methodological rigour, it often appears that science (natural sciences or social sciences) is no different in this regard.

Some people think resilience is a great concept offers a powerful conceptual framework; others think it’s complete nonsense. Some people have hailed corridors as a potential solution to the biodiversity crisis; other think they are a dangerous waste of money. Some say intensification of land is inevitable, given growing global demand for food; others say famines arise primarily from a lack of access to food, not from a lack of food per se (see the video featuring nobel-prize winning economist Sen below).

Sometimes, there’s a right and wrong answer. But more often, scholarly disagreement is the issue of different people approaching issues in different ways – or framing a given issue in a different way. How we frame a problem fundamentally changes how we address it. If we’re trained in agronomy, we’re probably going to try to tackle the issue of global poverty through better agricultural methods. If we are trained in ethics, perhaps we are more likely to think about food justice and distribution. If we have worked on a species that really benefitted from corridors to move through a landscape, it’s all too easy to think that lots of other species would benefit from corridors, too. Some conceptual frameworks, in turn, ‘ring true’ in an intuitive sense for some people but others don’t connect with them. Ecosystem services, which I discussed in an earlier blog entry, is one such conceptual framework, and so is resilience thinking: some love it, some hate it.

The issue of framing is fundamental to what we do, how we do it, and what we think of other people’s work. But it’s rarely made explicit. A lot of the time, our assumptions about how we approach a problem remain buried and unknown, even to ourselves.

That’s where I think the trick is: if we can uncover more of our own assumptions, learn about other people’s, and then work through why which assumptions make sense in a particular context, we’re likely to get to a deeper understanding of the problem.

Perhaps there’s one truth out there, but there certainly are many ways of approaching it!

2 thoughts on “Why experts seem to always disagree: the issue of framing

  1. Pingback: The research implementation gap | Ideas for Sustainability

  2. Pingback: Poverty versus biodiversity loss, again | Ideas for Sustainability

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