Friday, June 17, 2011

"Live" Blog from Worldviews Conference 2011: Day 2

09:12: Panel now beginning: Science research, science journalism, and science policy. Hosted by Bob MacDonald of CBC's Quirks & Quarks. Participants: Penny Park, Science Media Centre; Pallava Bagia, Science; Valera Roman, Clarin.

09:19: Bob MacDonald: I know how hard it is to get journalists out of bed in the morning!
We don't ask for opinions, only for the basic stuff. Sometimes this gets frustrating because I'll have a scientist who's an expert raise a "red flag" about something; then I see how the politicians do not act. Or people who aren't scientists have an agenda and put out info to mislead the public. This is what science journalism is for--to set the record straight. Sometimes we're up against some powerful forces that don't want those messages to get out there.
Movies and sciences--scientists are always "mad", even if they start out good they turn into the bad guys or women; I love how science is misrepresented. Superman--defying the laws of physics, and not just in the superhero way. Lois Lane shouldn't have survived even being caught by Superman; he couldn't have caught her with "arms of steel" without her getting pulped. Nice!

Pallava Bagla, chief correspondent for Science for South Asia; New Delhi TV; author of multiple books.
India has a large population that is illiterate; the way to get the message of science out was through TV and I opted for that.
Report came out--glaciers of Himalayas would melt by 2035. These are 3rd largest accumulation of water in the world. Over 1.5 billion people depend on this water. I realised there was a problem with the reports. A lone journalists against a couple of thousand scientists, not an easy task. Glaciers don't behave the same way in the Himalayas as they do in other parts of the world. Just before the Copenhagen conference we put out a story on TV. I was attacked by several members of the IPCC. How can you take a pot shot at such a learned party.

I didn't attack--I just out a fact out that highlighted your error. Finally they offered their regrets.
A case where the best and the worst of science came together in the space of a few weeks.

Several other stories that went against the tide.
1998 India exploded a nuclear bomb, for the second time. I questioned the size of the bombs, whether they were large or small.

09:30: Times of India: largest English-language paper in the world.
Policy: 80% of research, funding comes from the government. Increased public funding, India has decided that it wants to increase private sector funding for research.
India sent its first probe to the moon. International partners on Indian mission. I broke this story in 1999, for the next 6-8 years I reported on this extensively. In 2009, when the probe dies prematurely, having reported on this some people felt I was as much a part of the space association as any of the scientists. Space and nuclear are two very secretive areas of work and I reported on both of them.
Same moon probe came up with first evidence of water on the moon.

09:36: Valera Roman, Clarin; Vice President of the World Federation of Science Journalism.
Reveals barriers to teaching evolution in Argentina.

Science journalism is a way to learn new things every day; I live in Argentina which is a developing country so we need to improve the situation there. It's a difference with journalists in developing countries because we feel the journalism is a way to change the environment.
While I work for a national paper, after MIT I thought I should work as an activist for science journalism. I started to organise some workshops and meetings to bring together science journalists. We had a big problems because science journalists work for multiple institutions at once (conflict of interest). But this is a norm, we have these "two hats". it's a problem to face.
In Argentina we have a lot of stories to tell about science because the situation has been brewing, so we have more scientists in the country a lot of people who were overseas came back, so we have a new science initiative.

Last week Argentina launched a satellite. We work to reach the general public with scientific evidence. In developing countries most political decisions are taken without considering science. So we're trying to fill this gap. A good example is the tobacco control issue in Argentina, for 30 years the tobacco industry has been lobbying against any regulation.

The industry paid doctors to say that second-hand smoke is not harmful. They paid off journalists and politicians, it was a big problem. But the past 5 years, the media have paid more attention to the scientific evidence for controlling tobacco. This past year--2 weeks ago--there is a new law and the country has become a smoke-free country. So we have to face a lot of problems, but I think science journalists can make a big difference.

09:44: Penny Park, Science Media Centre executive director.
Science Media Centre is a new organisation that's been set up to help journalists cover science.
Our goal is to raise the level of discourse in this country. There are few specialists in reporting science in Canada, but science issues are part of the stories we need to discuss in a democracy. The idea is based on one that started in the UK about 10 years ago, partly in response to the terrible tabloid journalism that had been going on relating to GMOs, for example. An organization that would help journalists get access in a timely way to good, evidence-based, accurate information. That's the sort of thing we do.

Who reads the media? We all use it; policy-makers, legislators, entrepreneurs, scientists, are the audience. Making sure the info they have access to is accurate. We're trying to improve the discussion rather than presenting any one particular point of view. Science needs to be part of the discussion at the table. Policy: science should be "sitting there". Other aspects of policy--economics, values--should be part of the discussion. We need evidence-based research. In Canada we've has some interesting discussions.

E.g. safe injection site in Vancouver; should money be going to this? The science says "yes".
yesterday we had a discussion with a Canadian Stem Cell researcher who was running a clinic at U Michigan, and the state had legislation that didn't allow for that kind of research; so he was part of the move to change the legislation in the state (Proposition 2) and was up against a lobby group that spent 10 million to try to shut down stem cell research in the state.
Climate change, nuclear energy..all these issues we need to be discussing as a society; ensuring that science is part of the discourse; that's what we're trying to do.

09:57: [Great discussion with questions on this panel; science journalism has a special role as science has such an influential role in our society, and many issues are fraught with tension because lobbyists, corporate sectors, scientists and so on, all have an interest in these outcomes, and the outcomes (especially policy on major science-related issues) have an effect on the general public.]

10:22: Keynote: Are you listening? Has the "cross-dressing" of media and academia created better understanding between these worlds, or do they remain two solitudes? by Michelle Stack. Moderated by John Fraser, Massey College. Includes Adam Habib; Cat Warren; Nicole Blanchett; Ann Rauhala; Jerrfrey Dvorkin; Sandy McKean.

10:40: Our understanding of education in contemporary society; universities under pressure to brand themselves in current context. Issues around branding and neoliberalism are important. But we have needed a conference/discussion that goes beyond critique; need to dialogue and work better together (journalists and academics). Public policy debate and policy about what is a good and worthwhile education in a democracy society. Who gets invoked as an expert?

The media has a direct effect on policy making. Of course! Policy making is mediated. The public come to know about policies through media. So how do journalists decide what is a good education story?

Are academics and journalists two solitudes? There are impediments to this relationship, they are central to which voices policy makers hear and listen to.
The door's left wide open for policy makers to provide "false choices".

10:45: Issue of impediments to engaging the public: decline in newspaper audiences and large cuts to budgets; journalists have less time for fact checking and investigative reporting. Journalists experience the pressures of intensification of work conditions just as academics do.

Journalists and academics often reinforce each other in circulating discourses about education. E.g. rankings: circle of mutually-reinforcing reiteration? Journalists use rankings to talk about the "best universities".

Journalists as watchdogs? What about the lapdog? Friendly, small, obedient to government and business, who provide regular "meals" (information, issues to write about). Academics--the ivory tower--a symbol of virginal purity. This metaphor is used to show the academy's "distance and disdain from "reality". But these metaphors don't reflect the complexity of academics and journalists.

Sometimes journalism can be stronger than academic research. E.g. immunisation debate over vaccines and autism: the Lancet published this piece, which gave the author/researcher a "launching pad of credibility". A reported did journalistic research to uncover shabby academic research.

Cross dressers? Noam Chomsky: got involved in politics in the 1960s; he wanted to critique the academy and had to engages with the public in order to get this message across. He used his research to create opportunities for understanding. Barbara Ehrenreich: Nickel and Dimed. Did investigative research on low-income workers in the U.S. She realised that PhDs were not immune from sexism; she quit her job and became a full-time journalist. Both these people are public intellectuals. Ehrenreich became a journalist, Chomsky because a media figure. They both found ways to transcend the definition of their fields.

10:58: Perhaps we're asking the wrong question when we ask "is this work academic or journalism?" What are the methods, the beliefs about responsibility and the public that underpin this work?

Solitudes and configurations of power: Is that person a "real" researcher or a "real" journalist? E.g. the Daily Show--provides more news than anything on FOX or CNN.
Debates/relationships are different in different places (e.g. different countries).
Different models of academic public engagement. But a new model means nothing if issues of inequity are not highlighted and challenged.

Structural biases in both professions: most had not considered why most experts are white and male. Academics in the Global North: making careers talking about their research on globalisation, whilst excluding those most affected by globalisation.

Knowledge dissemination: WHO is invoked as an expert, who is the beneficiary of expertise? Certain groups are more quoted in mainstream media than others. I.e. white men. In media women's foundation: women 1/3 of full-time journalism workforce in one survey of 500+ companies. Studies point to power configurations that invoke some as experts, others as beneficiaries.

Internal power configurations of respective fields (e.g. political economic issues). Journalists and academics: what are the implications of these systemic issues for the quality of public debates? We need to have serious conversations about who has access to the mechanics of power within and across these two fields.

Disciplinary/professional "solitudes": re-frame the question in terms of what are the ethos that frame journalistic and academic knowledge about education? To expand conversations about public education, we need more comparative research, and more conversations like the ones facilitated by this conference.

Graham Hingangaroa Smith: Encouraging public rather than privatised academics.
Work going on in New Zealand :-) More examples: University of Venus; Informed Opinions (works with female academics to get them to engage with media).

Educational activism is important: but activism without attention to media is not sufficient. Academics must become media literate. Solitude can be a lonely place though it can also be an important space. But eventually we have to come out of these "solitudes" and engage in new ways, especially as a means of informing a democratic/pluralistic society. It's imperative that we consider the engagement of media & academia as vital networks for invigoration of public spaces, and development of research/information literacy of the public.

3:12PM: Panel on "The research arms war and the battle for researchers". Includes Wisdom Tettey, Noreen Golfman, and Philip Altbach. Moderated by Glen Jones of OISE.

Wisdom Tettey: the African context and African researchers in the global research architecture.
Significant competition globally for research and researchers; reputation, researcher support; excellence begets further research and support. Situation yourself as attractive partner for research collaborations; ranking (implications).

Global architecture: everyone wants the "best minds" no matter where they're located. Implications for academics around the world who want to be part of this network but aren't being provided the resources for this.
Institutions in the North are trying to attract academics from around the world.
How that struggle to attract people will affect research relevance.
EU has a "blue card" system to attract researchers, for example.

GDP in African countries lags behind the rest of the world [so there are fewer resources for research]. No granting councils in many of these African countries.
Implications for publishing capacity of the institutions. How do they find the resources and the outlet.
Reality of "knowledge architecture". Recognition that's given to knowledge networks around the world tends to marginalise certain kinds of researchers.
Implication beyond individuals is that institutions are mimicking what the "leading" institutions are doing; implications for diversity of research.
Who defines the research agenda and how that shapes the location of African research.

How uncritical institutions are when engaging in these partnerships-?
Will engagement open up doors to the global stage?

3:20PM: Recruitment drives going on as institutions engage in what's euphemistically called "internationalisation"--commodification of knowledge.
Media; tendency to focus on African primary and secondary education.
Universities, what goes on it often disconnected from the public in general.
Institutional support for engagement? Many universities have public engagement but they haven't made significant efforts to open up spaces for engagement.

Philip Altbach: Global knowledge economy does affect the way knowledge moves around. "true academic revolution" propelled by two main things.

Massification: dramatic increase in enrolments. Move to "universal access".
In many countries, this has led to a differentiated and increasingly segmented system of HE. What that means for this topic is that we're talking about a tiny top of this huge massified system. No global arms race for community college teachers. Only for the people at the topic of the system. Active researchers.
[Note: this is the interesting conflict between "meritocracy" and "democracy".]
Decline in the quality of the higher education systems around the world; though in Canada it seems that the overall quality has been "protected".
Top universities may be less great than systems where there is a more formal tiered system (like in California). [Note: not sure if California is really the best example for us to look at right now...the whole system is practically falling apart right now.]

Beginnings of global language and scholarship, i.e. English; it's the Latin of the 21st Century. English isn't the medium of instruction globally.

The peripheries are "bleeding" to the centres that's a characteristic of the academic "arms races". The academic world is also becoming more "multi-polar"; different parts of the world are now building research centres and infrastructure (e.g. China).

3:38: South Africa is "bleeding" to the US and Canada, but it's stealing from its neighbours; South African scholars, mainly (but not all) white, are going to the U.S.; Saudi Arabia is hiring from other Arab countries, e.g. Egypt and Syria. And the Americans steal from everybody. The U.S. pays the best salaries still [question: is that overall, or just for tenure-track faculty?].
Unequal, centre-periphery, but highly mobile work context/dynamic.

[3:42: Canada Excellence Research Chairs issue comes up in a question. No, there were no women candidates; and all CERC hires were international. This is a program that highlights the equity issues involved in these high-stakes competitions.]

4:30PM: I'm late for this panel after walking back down from the Munk Centre, but happy I didn't miss all of it. Panel: "Muted Voices and Higher Education Media Coverage". Shari Graydon, John Miller and Vinita Srivastava, moderated by Minelle Mahtani.

4:48PM: Globe & Mail [I don't have this speaker's name--she wasn't on the program]: Huge role for communications departments at universities. [Note: I take it this means public relations comms rather than Communication Studies ;-)]

The media tend to pick the same person again and again due to time constraints and so on. But there are ways of building up these relationships without being "sought out". Academic blogs can be one way of doing this; creating contacts with trusted individual reporters/journalists. Men may be more comfortable being self-promotional. Downside: time consuming and journalists may want a reductionist or simplistic version of research points. Even emailing the paper to find out what happened to your op ed can be a good idea.

Leaders impact who gets air time, who has access to influencers. Not caught up with demographic shift; nonwhites are completely under-represented in the media AND in universities and colleges. 70% of leaders in GTA in business, nonprofits, media, education, and so on, are non-white. Companies that track and count diversity actually get better results; a lot of subconscious bias can be overcome in this way; diversity doesn't "just happen" on its own. The media, something like 4% of leaders are from diverse backgrounds; and these are the people shaping public attitudes, no surprise that there's not very good representation in the op-ed section.

4:50PM: Vinita Srivastava on using social media.
Importance of media representation: mainstream media has historically marginalised racialised groups. Media sparks public dialogue.

How social media might make space and influence the dialogue: The public prefer the "authentic voice" over expert opinion/coverage (?).

Is bypassing the media a good thing? You need to get your voice into mainstream media, but this relates to building social capital (first).

One in ten African Americans using Twitter every day, far higher than whites and Latino/a users. [How do we interpret that data? What does it "mean"?]
Many people/groups have been "left out", are social media helping people to feel "empowered"?

Benefits of using social media: access to a community of scholars who aren't necessarily around you (geographically/physically). Less isolation; direct communication with students; changes to self-perception/ego.

5:27PM: Last panel for me today: Should universities and colleges, drawing on the experience of academia in science, politics, economic development, arts and culture, and community affairs, bypass the mainstream media?
Includes: Moderater Paul Fain, plus Wilf Dinnick of Open File, Jenny Leonard of Futurity, Andrew Jaspin of The Conversation, Hanson Hosein of University of Washington.

Jenny Leonard, Futurity publication--launched in 2009. Promotes research.
The kind of stories that can engage the imagination.

Andrew Jaspin: We're just 10 weeks old. Similar to Futurity except that we focus on analysis, commentary and news, and issues such as academic freedom. E.g. death threats to climate scientists in Australia (recent issue covered). Major series on debunking the climat change denials, actually using peer review on the climate denials.
We also engage in real time; a team of 14 editors engaging with the news cycle; all writers are academics, and there are 1,000 of them; a larger virtual newsroom than any mainstream media in Australia.
Mainstream media are bypassing themselves; they've had "bypass operations", they are their own worst enemies. E.g. the Globe and Mail five years ago was a much larger and very different paper.
Offer an alternative service that is based on reliable and trustworthy content.
We were able to produce much more quickly a very deep analysis of Osama Bin Laden's death/assassination.

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