Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Climate Change and Public Opinion

I previously mentioned delving into the relationship between belief in the apocalypse and intelligence. An article from Reuters reported, "Gottfried [author of the study] also said that people with lower education or household income levels, as well as those under 35 years old, were more likely to believe in an apocalypse during their lifetime or in 2012, or have anxiety over the prospect". Although the apocalypse came and went in 2012, new predictions emerge just as quickly as they pass. There is a seemingly societal need and urge to respect an "end times" or create an eschatology that justifies actions. For example, the Westboro Baptist Church has created a pre-millenialist view of Christ's second coming, where God is angered by the support of and equality given to members of the LGBTQ community, as well as other "sinful" actors. Once the world delves into too much sin, Christ will return and usher in the rapture, new millennium, and punish the sinners and all who aided them. 

Not all views of the apocalypse are religious, but many religions include their own "end times" stories as a foil to their creation myths. Climate change is an interesting complement to echatological views of the end of the world, as damage and degradation of the environment are popular "signs". Furthermore, the consequences predicted as the most severe or "worst case scenario" for climate change could bring the Earth into irreversible global catastrophe.

Yale's Project on Climate Change Communication published a study about the six types of Americans from the "alarmed" to the "dismissive". Despite a scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming/climate change, nearly equal percentages of the population are highly concerned (12%) as least concerned (10%). Though most Americans fall in the middle categories from generally concerned to disengaged (62%), all groups except for the dismissive group felt like they needed more information about climate change. The dismissive group, though science would indicate that they are wrong or perhaps the least accurately informed felt that they were the most informed about climate change (91% of dismissives said they were very or fairly well-informed).
Graph from Yale's Project on Climate Change Communication (2011)

Gauchat and the Pew Poll on Values would indicate that the politicalization of science has created a large divide between Democrats and Republicans on the environment. Gauchat (2012) discussed the correlation between religious service attendance and conservatism with an increased doubt in the authority of science. Doubting the scientific evidence or predictions for the environment could greatly affect one's opinion of climate change, a environmental future that is difficult to see or completely grasp.

Although knowledge and concern for global warming is polarizing around political parties, there is hope that more people overall are concerned or at least a majority is concerned with the changes occurring in current temperatures and future risks around the globe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Open Access Journals: Information for/by everyone?

I had previously scheduled a different topic, but in light of a few well-reasoned and interesting blog posts by my colleagues at USC, I've decided to throw my own hat into the ring about open-access journals and the future of publishing. I encourage you to read Alex Leavitt's initial post and Andrew Schrock's response post before reading my response below.

First, I wish to declare my support for Alex and Andrew in their praise of open-access. In theory, the term is a sign of open information, shared meanings, and enlightenment. I find, however, that such thinking is, at least in current iterations, overly optimistic. In this vein, I agree more closely with Andrew's caution towards open-access in that there are other things to consider before launching a personal crusade. Alex has taken a more hard-line approach, calling for the complete abstention of "closed access", not only for himself, but for all scholars.  Below I will enumerate issues that I have with such a declaration and why I would urge scholars to question the implications and consequences of such actions. I will also explain why I find Andrew's response and the continuation of some of his ideas as a more practical compromise.

I would call attention to the overarching idea of the initial post: that open-access is moral and hortatorical/obligatory for scholars. This is known as the fallacy by composition, or the logical reasoning that assumes that something true of part of a whole must also be true of the whole. I completely agree that pursuing open access and supporting it is a noble goal for scholars, but I do not agree with its universal application. The implication in making such generalizations is that for all scholars, no matter their discipline or situation, that this is the correct or moral move. This, I believe, excludes the work of other scholars who may not study new technologies, be passionate about open-access and the share of information, or have the same gain by making such an announcement. The community in which and the topics which Alex studies uniquely positions him to make this declaration. Rhetorical scholars would have no interest in my admission to do the same. Creating a blanket statement by definition ignores scholarly differences that may prohibit and inhibit one from making the same choice. Although this would merit another blog post entirely, I will mention here briefly the notion of "white male privilege" that creates a hegemonic structure that rewards those in power for taking risks and penalizes others for not conforming. Whereas a great media and Internet scholar like danah boyd can "get away with" avoiding closed-access publishing, others without such clout or experience could have their careers dashed for making the same choice. This is also inherently linked to one's name/mark in a field and one's youth (read newness) to academia.

This brings me to the issue of "choice" in general. I have previously written about this in regards to the Taylor Cotter incident, and the topic emerges here again. The truth is that although "open access" is a laudable goal, who is this information really "open" to? As Andrew mentions, scholars live in  "privileged media and spaces that are not open to everyone" by definition, because our work is shared not necessarily to the general public, but for the purposes of academic advancement, theory, and methodology. This is not applicable to all scholars, of course, but I feel that for the majority, it is. For example, my current RAship with the Earth Science Communication Initiative is working on helping combine multiple voices (scientists, politicians, religious leaders, and activists) in working towards climate change. Will the people we work with and access be interested in the theory papers I write on apocalyptic rhetoric and political inaction? Probably not. Will they be interested in plans for action, evaluations of the conversations  and solutions? Most likely. That distinction for me is the clear divide between open and closed access, simply not everything has to be or is somehow better because it can (but won't) be accessed by non-scholars. Andrew makes this point as well, noting that few people have ever denied him copies of papers he has wished to read. I have also never been denied and I have emailed copies of my papers after conferences when asked even if in theory they reside only in closed-accessed spaces. As a side note, aren't all universities closed systems of information? How many people get to see the paper I wrote for Randy Lake's "Social Movements as Rhetorical Form" class unless I publish it? Wasn't the creation of journals and online publications for this very reason?

The ultimate goal of "open access", I would assume, is for the free and open sharing of information, an online Habermasian coffee shop of academic intellect. But, I think one of the best places for this to happen is at conferences and meet-ups. Of course, this brings me back to the idea of choice and the access related to money/wealth that some scholars do not have. Conferences, especially inter/national ones are not affordable for everyone, though I think academics are creating solutions to this such as local conferences (my VisComm conference in Utah was more engaging than the national ones I've been to) and creating tiers of payment for cheaper options of registration. Those issues aside, conferences are more personal and expressive points of interaction that online spaces (for now). I am sure that the capabilities will continue to grow, but for now, there is no equivalent to the panel experience. For example, my past panel at NCA gained me new colleagues, gave me new insights into the topic (Romney's Mormonism), and I exchanged numerous business cards from panel attendees. This most likely would not have been possible if I had merely posted this paper online. Part of the problem is in the bog of online scholarship, where does one begin? How to sift through all of the information accessible? Again, it comes down to one's name in the field. Whereas Alex may be receiving much attention for his post, this one will most likely go unnoticed. How does one get to the place where open-access is recognized, lauded, and meaningful? After participating in the current system.

Andrew also praises the networking opportunities that come from associations and conferences that may not be hosting everything online, as spaces for expression and exchanging of ideas. These are possible because of communication associations that host them. These associations are also responsible for the publishing issues that we have. As a previous employee of a journal publishing company, I will first say that vilifying the publishing company for the state of academic research is not only unwarranted, but it is also counterproductive. Without going into too much detail about the process, I would merely say this: how successful would a publishing company be that placed restrictions on its clients? Publishing companies provide printing and online service at the request of the association/organization, nothing more. It is that group's decision for how to have journals accessed and available to members. These prices increase with options and there may be monetary royalties per subscriber or journal downloaded, but overall, these are restrictions and choices placed by the organizations themselves. Are we now to boycott any type of scholarly communication organization? Do we become lone wolf scholars trapped in an online bubble? Either way, the publishing company is simple providing a service, information and access is not for them to decide.

In conclusion, though I admire Alex's passion for the open-access movement, I find it highly problematic to engage with at the exclusion of associations, journals, and other scholars. I find myself agreeing with Andrew, more or less and his more measured approach, that praises free and open publication, but does not demonizes those who do not engage, as there are many  reasons for doing so. To think that I could not approach my friend and colleague to work on a paper, conference submission, or journal saddens me because those ideas/collaborations will be fully lost to the academic community, as opposed to being slightly restricted. I suppose that I will not be co-authoring anything with Alex in the future, but perhaps Andrew and I may.

To summarize, TL;DR
  • Open access in theory is a moral no-brainer, but in application, it is problematized by issues of choice, universality, and execution
  • Female, minority, or any combination of intersectionality may not have the same "choice" that Alex made
  • Scholars who are young, at lower ranked universities, or not in technology/new media studies may be unduly hurt by restricting their publishing
  • The current system is changing to encompass more of these demands for online access (why destroy and boycott the system that is already attempting to do what we ask of it?)
  • Shouldn't we be opening access to those we know will read/are interested, as opposed to the general public out of principle? (obviously this depends on one's field/research)
  • There is no substitute currently for the in-person exchange of information
  • Associations/organizations that obtain/release information are to blame, not publishing companies
  • Currently, these associations provide scholars with more benefits that restrictions

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Post-Racial Society and Django Unchained

First, the title is a bit of a misnomer, as I believe there is no such thing as a post-racial society, a society "behind" or "after" race. It is merely used as a foil to the representation of slavery in Tarantino's Django Unchained and as an entry point into this inquiry into modern race relations and more specifically, the changing role of race in American society, culture, and politics. Here I will insert a fairly large disclaimer that I am not the person who can/should/ought to be writing about this topic, but I am attempting to broaden my rhetorical and scholarly horizons that have been opened to me by colleagues whom I deeply respect. This is an initial attempt to incorporate these discussions into my scholarly purview.

Photo from Wikipedia of the 1,000,000 Hoodie March in honor of Trayvon Marting
Walkers wore hoodies and carried Skittles representing Trayvon's outfit/pocket contents when killed
Considering the long, complicated history of race in America, it is naive to think that a simple presidential election could replace, mitigate, or somehow atone for the past. Stories that make headline news about the disenfranchisement of minorities in elections, Arizona's SB1070, and the murder of Trayvon Martin should reiterate that racial hierarchies and prejudice are still alive and well in America.

Though not "healed" fully in any way, Django Unchained has emerged as a cinematic reminder of how far we have come from the days of slavery some 200 years ago. Though there is little evidence of Mandingo fighting, the classic Tarantino emphasis on gore was a startling reminder of the gruesome way that slaves were treated. The whippings, dog attacks, punishments, and exploitation of "comfort slaves" serve as stark visual counterparts to the often diluted textbook descriptions. Though audiences have positively responded to Django, notable critic of Tarantino's works, Spike Lee, made a strong statement for not watching the film as blaxploitative and racist. I have already read further into this divide in an article by Sean Tierney called "Quentin Tarantino in Black and White" in the book Critical Rhetorics of Race. To summarize the argument with undeserved brevity, Tierney seeks to explain the negative opinions of Spike Lee towards Tarantino. Primarily, interviews with Tarantino and citing directly from his films show that Tarantino's co-opting of black culture is both offensive and hegemonic. Tarantino profits from black culture without acknowledging the hierarchy that allows him to do so without retribution or without the reverse being possible. Tierney (published before Django Unchained) also mentioned critics' aversion to the overuse of the n-word in Tarantino films. He mentions that the word is often removed from its political context and becomes what the re-appropriation was meant to avoid: having whites use the term and blacks use the term without respect to its political meaning. Though Django is set in times of slavery, the word is used over 100 times during the film, often times for laughs, quote Samuel Jackson, "It that a nigger on a horse?"
Django Movie Poster
I will admit that as a film, I enjoyed Django, but I find myself wondering, if it should have angered me. Over the winter break, I heard a story from my Mom who heard it from my recently passed Great Auntie Phil. She told me about her ancestors, my Great Auntie Phil and her brother, my Grandfather, and their family, who were brought from Africa to Jamaica as slaves. In Africa, the tribe my family belonged to differentiated wealth with bracelets made from various quality material. My Mom told me about the bracelet that she saw passed down to the youngest of the Harry's, my new baby cousin, a finely threaded bracelet of silver, a sign of wealth. I felt a pang of guilt, thinking of the unity of my family that represents a joining of white and black, free and slave, past and present, and what role I, as a blonde, blue-eyed white female, play in that narrative. I do not look in any way like my Jamaican and thus African ancestry, but like my 100% English father, a country that perpetrated much violence and conquered half of the world under the cover of imperialism, progress, and hegemony. Should movies like Django offend me in honor of my family history? The simple answer is that they cannot offend me in the same way they might have offended my Grandfather. Despite the history in my blood, I have not had, could never have, nor could ever imagine a life unlike the privileged one I currently have. Understanding that in and of itself has been a life-changing realization. The truth is that I did sit in the movie theater, ponder the recent readings on racial rhetoric, but at the end of the day, simply enjoyed the film as a Tarantino epic, an Inglorious Basterds of the Civil War era.

Political Cartoon retrieved online: thoughtful representation of race dynamics
I don't know what movies like Django Unchained offer to race relations in America. I would assume that these films complicate the relationship by glorifying a by-gone era and reinforcing that the changes from then to now is somehow sufficient or substantial. Spike Lee has said that he will not see the film, but I wish that he would. I would much appreciate a more critical and knowledgeable lens on the details of the film. I've merely laid brushstrokes over the existence of the film and its director. A more in-depth look into the film would be quite enlightening.

Award update: Quite a noticeable pan of Jamie Foxx's performance but great praise for Tarantino, DiCaprio, and Waltz this award season. At the Golden Globes, Django was up for best picture, Tarantino for best director and best screenplay (winner), Waltz and DiCaprio were up for best supporting actor (Waltz won), yet Foxx was not nominated. Again, the Oscars has Django nominated for best screenplay and best picture, with Waltz gaining the only actor win.