Warnings

feministkilljoys

Listening to those who have made or tried to make formal complaints about abuses of power within institutions is teaching me about institutional mechanics; how institutions work; how different parts fit together. The testimonies I have gathered zoom in on processes that are usually obscure, if perceived only dimly perceived, because of how institutions work. The accounts I have heard have helped me to make sense of the concrete ways we are directed along institutional paths, those well-traveled paths that are assumed to lead to better or happier outcomes, as well as how we are directed away from other paths.

Complaints are “other paths.”

In this post I consider the implications of how those who are considering whether to make a complaint are often warned about the consequences of complaining.  I will share with you some examples of the different kinds of warnings received by would-be-complainers.  By evoking…

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The Rising Tide of Wrongful Convictions

The Rising Tide of Wrongful Convictions

A really interesting piece, showing how science often works in service of the prison-industrial complex.

Longreads

Lara Bazelon | an excerpt adapted from Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction | Beacon Press | 24 minutes (6,738 words)

The National Registry of Exonerations is a small, nonprofit research project founded in 2012. What the project lacks in manpower it makes up in zeal, documenting every known exoneration dating back to 1989, the first year that DNA exonerations were recorded in the United States. Staff members collect detailed information about each case from court documents and news reports, provide a comprehensive narrative about the case, and break down the data into numerous categories, including gender, race, geography, crime of conviction, factors that contributed to the wrongful conviction, and whether the case involved DNA. The registry’s website provides detailed graphs that set out the cause or causes of the wrongful convictions and chart their frequency over time.

On March 7, 2017, the registry released a report…

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survival instinct

survival instinct

Painting by Egon Schiele.

 

I am brain-blockaded animal, hand-trap springtime from unkempt body,/ unkempt circuitry ticking ticking ticking inside the flower walls, the murder-garden inside me is just the history, unstopped watches and sundials & we made those too, another trap for ourselves & my history tortures me in linear, the slow tick of the root-cage bars under the trees, I am there in the dark hovels, there in small corners and the gathered realms of my childhood bedroom-woods, the trees blossoming from floorboard and forestry touching ceiling like jumanji, the world cornered me in & curled me into arms, and it is silent

and it tortures me, I alight with innerness and flaming unsafe sanctum-head, boiling inside rivers like the frothing mouth-blood, snapping myself into blankets I, the rigid curl upon bed-grasses have no light in canopies, the corners are haunted and reaching for me, I
cannot stand the structure without the open but the vastness precludes me from walking into it, myself I
will lose it, myself I will conjure it, myself is vapor and these are winds and cages and neither can I
fit, myself is choking into the back of Mormon temples, unfit for world but fit for robes and I
could have chose their ring of invisibility, all wraiths of adulthood disappearing from sight there it was choose the right or nothing, god closing in and providing steps for suffering & I
walked out, donut-instinct in hand, I led into temptation by father and cookies into screaming over thumb-pain on church entrance floor to a confirmation, at which I
smelled the root-bars and ran again, smelled the clean air and new god & wandered back into similar-aged towers of worship & worn out stairways like tread-down paths in imagination-wilds, tread-down clock hands in cloud-time, tread-down animals in human form, beaten into boxes by fear of wilderness inside & out & I
stammered
is there/ room for a wraith in this mind-nook / is it a room-room and will I come to fear it too / is / is it a canyon and will I hide in it until suddenly wide is narrow and bottom closes in and / I cannot / breathe anymore here / I / I / came up for air / middle of a life-ocean / amphibian-pain still phantom & haunting / how the earth is just like oxygen-cage/ maybe / I could remain if instinct allows

How Academics Can Rebuild Trust in Science

istock-491200976The tools for overcoming declining trust in science lie in science itself.

Ian Anderson, INSEAD PhD Student and Crisis Communications Specialist | November 13, 2017

Originally posted at https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/how-academics-can-rebuild-trust-in-science-7686#T2ileMHY7Fu78PHb.99

Science is currently experiencing a reputation crisis. In previous years it has emerged that many landmark studies are not replicable and some have even been exposed for questionable methodologies or simple data errors. The media has caught on and is adding fuel to the fire in the form of ridicule, feeding the public’s scepticism of institutions and intellectualism in general.

This is a trust-based crisis, which is among the most difficult of crises to solve, especially as the phenomenon is proliferating across government, business and media. But it is incumbent on the scientific community to regain this trust. The public is not only a beneficiary of scientific advancements. It elects members of parliament, senators and congresspeople who make decisions about funding studies and institutes. Businesses that fund research are also under unprecedented public scrutiny.

Public scepticism will be hard to overcome. While many have merely lost trust in the scientific community, others have become completely deaf to its self-correcting efforts, clinging to ideas that have been disproved by science itself at the expense of new research. Despite the fact that in 2010, The Lancet retracted the paper that first suggested a link between vaccines and autism and a mountain of evidence to the contrary, the anti-vax movement persists and even seems to be gaining momentum.

Fortunately, academia has an ace in the hole: science itself.

Turning the tide

By turning to well-established ideas that it has itself produced, the academic community has a solid base from which to respond. It begins with looking at why people react the way they do to information and what we can do about it.

In their paper, “Perseverance of Social Theories: The Role of Explanation in the Persistence of Discredited Information”, Craig Anderson, Mark Lepper and Lee Ross found that even after the initial evidential basis for certain beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions to those beliefs. People’s theories survive virtually intact even when personal beliefs based on inconclusive data from everyday experiences are corrected.

Another study by Gregory Berns and colleagues examined what happens when an individual’s judgement conflicts with that of a group. It has previously been established that individuals will often conform to the group’s thinking because it is unpleasant to stand out. Berns et al. find that this conformity is associated with decreased activity in the part of the brain that controls reason, and increased activity in the regions of the brain where perceptions are formed. This makes it hard for anyone to stand up for science or even consciously believe in it when they conform to entire online communities of sceptics. An INSEAD study on Reddit showed that wild theories peddled by users with little credibility spread much better than credible information. The researchers also found that the polarising nature of debate on the platform made it very hard for people to remain neutral as they entered the fray. When people have a choice of being for or against an idea, many swing in the wrong direction.

Why fake news proliferates

The proliferation of fake news is being driven by customised social media news feeds that provide ideological echo chambers for their users. People often share fake news knowingly, maybe because they believe in it but also because they gain social approval in the form of likes and shares from the likeminded.

Fake news is also easier to understand. It is couched in simple ways and designed to provoke outrage. Science on the other hand, while thorough, presents people with uncertainty. People are not particularly likely to share information they do not think they understand, nor to spend time trying to understand it. Discomfort with the content and fear of standing out make people less likely to share scientific ideas or developments.

In their book Denying to the Grave, Sara Gorman and Jack Gorman, however, argue that people are more likely to share ideas if they feel they can grasp the key concepts. There is also some evidence that making people aware of their biases and the way in which they are processing persuasive messages can help them rethink their attitudes. In one experiment, researchers exposed subjects to a message from either a likeable or dislikeable source. Some subjects were specifically told not to let “non-message” factors affect their judgement of the message. When subjects were already being persuaded by such a factor (e.g. the authority of the speaker), being alerted to a possible bias resulted in more careful scrutiny of the message and less bias in interpreting it.

The opportunity for science

This presents science with a few key opportunities to start turning the tide. First, the scientific community needs to acknowledge that it has some problems. Honesty about the scientific method, why many studies produce flawed results and how science’s self-correcting mechanism works, would be a start.

Personal beliefs are persistent. If we want to influence them, we have to alter the way information itself is presented. Ways to do this could include distilling the information into shorter form and including more background. Explaining the reason a certain study was carried out can give the public more context, teach them the history of the issue and even show how the study of the subject has advanced over time. Crucially, it will also be important to be transparent about the limits of the study and where it should advance. This may sound like a mammoth task, which requires nothing short of an academic paper to explain it all, but there are new technologies that can enable this such as short animated videos or even gamification.

Methods like these can help people to reconsider ideas in a non-exhausted or non-loaded state, especially one in which self-esteem isn’t threatened: Those who lack confidence can’t be expected to contradict ideas of a group which comforts them. According to Gorman and Gorman, a person with low self-esteem will be resistant to overly technical scientific arguments that have the not-so-hidden message “Even though you are not smart enough to understand what we scientists are telling you, believe us anyway.”

Scientists also need to market themselves better. They should aim to become more relatable. Putting a face to studies can increase people’s receptivity to them. An exemplar in this regard is Neil deGrasse Tyson who attracts 10 million followers on Twitter. He makes science easy to understand, while putting the advances of science in context. His awe for study rubs off on others. So do his disarming jokes.

Stephen Hawking isn’t on Twitter, but his book, A Brief History of Time, does an admirable job of explaining the origin of the universe, space and time, as well as the search for a unifying theory that can describe the universe in a coherent way. He also boasts in the opening pages that he has “sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex”.To many academics, this might seem an effort they have little time for. But whether we like it or not, we are engaged in an information war. It will be crucial to better position our work and ourselves in order to disarm doubters and give us a better share of voice.

Ian Anderson is a PhD student in Marketing at INSEAD and a Crisis Communications Strategist.

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