Taking Back the Language | Noah Rothman

Nice reminder that language can but both ways by Rothman:

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stumbled into controversy this week, although it was perhaps unwarranted. Trudeau became the subject of derision and mockery when he interrupted a woman at a town hall to correct her use of the term “mankind,” suggesting that she replace this dated designation with the more inclusive “peoplekind.” He only offered his proposal after enduring several minutes of a rambling new-age monologueregarding the chemical composition of “maternal love.” Trudeau’s interjection was probably flippant, but neither his interlocutor nor his critics seemed to notice. It’s hard to blame them.

When it comes to subservience to the many demands that identity politics makes on language and behavior, Canada’s prime minister takes a back seat to no one. It’s only prudent to assume Trudeau’s mawkishness is earnest. What’s more, the fact that “gendered” nouns and pronouns, including “mankind,” find themselves in the censors’ crosshairs isn’t exactly news. The popular grammar-checking program Grammarly flags “mankind” for “possible gender-biased language” and suggests more neutral substitutes like “humankind” or “humanity.” Learning to love unidiomatic expressions and consigning gender-specific language to history is a fixation of political activists posing as academicians, even if legitimate etymological scholars cannot support these arguments by citing linguistic corpora. Those who resent an increasingly overbroad definition of what constitutes offensive language are primed for a fight.

Language policing has been the stock-in-trade of a particular type of activist for decades, much to the consternation of both conservatives and liberals interested more in clarity than conformity. Recently, though, the intramural debate on the left over the limited utility of scrutinizing potentially objectionable speech rather than the ideas conveyed by that speech has been relegated to the back burner. That’s for a good reason.

Donald Trump’s presidency, much like his candidacy, is a brusque counterattack against “PC culture.” Often, what Trump and his supporters call “politically incorrect” language is just plain rudeness. The value of the kind of speech they find delightfully provocative isn’t its concision but its capacity to offend the right people. Thus, some self-styled arbiters of linguistic enlightenment might be tempted to dismiss Trump’s campaign against ambiguous semantics as nothing more than a brutish primal scream. If so, they would have failed to properly appreciate the threat Trump and the presidential pulpit he commands represent to their capacity to shape the terms of the debate through language. Trump isn’t limited to displays of rhetorical brute force. Sometimes, he and his speechwriters are capable of compelling eloquence.

Amid a blizzard of FBI texts, dueling intelligence committee memos, and legalisms regarding the oversight of America’s necessarily secretive espionage courts, the State of the Union address has all but been forgotten in Washington. It’s less likely, though, that a well-received speech watched by at least 46 million Americans will be so quickly forgotten across the country. And that should concern liberals because if there was any single line in that speech that won’t be overlooked, it was one that cuts at the heart of the Democratic Party’s ability to lay claim to the moral high ground. “My duty and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American dream,” Trump said. “Because Americans are dreamers, too.” This was a masterful line. Its potency has been underestimated, and not just by those who resent the restrictive immigration policies it was designed to advance.

The name of the bipartisan 2001 “Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act” transgressed a little in order to achieve a lot for the children of illegal immigrants brought into the U.S. as minors. Referring to this demographic as “alien” is taboo, and an offense against modern sensibilities. But to describe them as “DREAMers” yields a windfall of sympathy for this already deserving group of largely naturalized non-citizens. Trump’s turn of phrase spreads the dreaming around, thus diluting the designation DREAMer of much of its unique sympathy.

Democrats might have missed the significance of this expression amid their irritation over another set phrase in that speech: “chain migration.” Trump’s use of this term during the State of the Union Address to describe the process by which legal immigrants sponsor members of their extended family to become American citizens elicited boos from Democrats. Many implied the phrase is a new invention with racist connotations, but the term has been used by policymakers (including some of these same Democrats) for decades. Maybe it was the self-evident hypocrisy, or maybe it was the contrived effort to move the goalposts. For whatever reason, the Democrats’ campaign to label “chain migration” a racist term landed with a thud. Time was that the left could dictate the terms of a debate by controlling the language of its participants, but their grip on the national dialogue may be slipping. The power of the presidency—you’ll forgive the expression—trumps the braying of the pedantic opposition.

The energy expended by political activists on policing speech is not wasted; dictating the boundaries of what constitutes acceptable discourse is a profitable and productive enterprise. If the right is getting into the game, they’re only following a course forged by their political adversaries.

via Taking Back the Language | commentary


Pope Francis vs Donald Trump: Each one has a guide to fake news — and they couldn’t be more different

Pope Francis captures the essence of fake news:

So finally, here is the pope’s solution. “We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits,” he wrote, “whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.”

Full text below:

A writer in the New York Times once called Pope Francis “the anti-Trump,” which we guess would make President Donald Trump something like the antipope.

The essay’s premise was that the two often agreed on the same world problems but proposed antithetical solutions. Example: “Both pope and president are critics of a neoliberal globalism” – but while Francis wants people to help desperate migrants who are the victims of capitalist greed, Trump wants to wall out immigrants so Americans can get richer.

But that’s the New York Times, which Trump has accused of peddling “fake news.” Actually he’s applied that label to almost all mainstream outlets by now, and went so far as to rank them according to fakeness.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Francis released a papal message titled “Fake news and journalism for peace.” And while, like Trump, he think it’s a big problem, his take on it could hardly be more different.

Whereas the president would tell you what is fake news (CNN is, he says; Fox News is not), the pope would rather you figure it out. In fact, his message is more or less a how-to guide.

Francis gives only one example of fake news in his treatise. He is the pope, so no surprise, it’s from the Bible.

“This was the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news,” Francis wrote. He means the serpent in the Garden of Eden, who tricked Eve and Adam into eating forbidden fruit by making up a story about how great it would turn out.

“The tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true,” Francis wrote. ” ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ ”

False premise. “In fact,” Francis wrote, “God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree.”

Eve tries to correct the serpent, and in doing so, falls for his trap. It’s a bit like when you argue with a Facebook troll and get sucked into a long comment thread, eventually saying things you never meant to.

“Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it nor touch it, under pain of death,’ ” Eve tells the serpent, very specifically.

“Her answer is couched in legalistic and negative terms,” Francis wrote, “After listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of the facts, the woman is misled. So she heeds his words of reassurance: ‘You will not die!’ ”

And then, like with a chain email, Eve shares the serpent’s news with Adam, who turns out to be just as gullible. And while they don’t die when they eat the fruit, they do get the human race kicked out of paradise forever.

That’s how fake news worked back in Genesis, Francis wrote, and it’s not much different and no less dangerous in the internet age.

So, he asked, “How can we recognize fake news?”

He listed a few characteristics of the genre: Fake news is malicious. It plays off rash emotions like anger and anxiety. “It grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices,” Francis wrote.

But in most respects, fake mimics truth. On the surface, they can be hard to tell apart. For example Trump once retweeted a video titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The video was real, but police said the attacker wasn’t even a migrant.

So finally, here is the pope’s solution. “We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits,” he wrote, “whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.”

Fake news is as fake news does, in other words. It “leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred,” Francis wrote.

So if you’re feeling those things while browsing Facebook, or find yourself in a flame war, be especially wary of what you just read. Ask yourself if there might be another side. Listen to those who disagree with you, instead of yelling at them.

“The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people,” the pope wrote. “People who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language.”

If you’re wondering, no, the pope does not mention Trump in this message. Not that Francis mentioned him by name either during the 2016 campaign, when he told reporters, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

But the contrast between these two men’s notions of fake news is glaring. If Trump’s appeals, you can find it on his Twitter account. If what Francis wrote makes sense to you, you might try it out the next time your scroll through Twitter.

Ask yourself if what you read makes you feel hateful, or like quarreling. Ask if the pope might find it fake.

And you could ask the same of everything you read, including this article, which brought Trump into the pope’s message, even though the pope did not.

Indeed, Francis wrote toward the end of his essay, “If responsibility is the answer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news.”

Just as everyone should check their emotions against the news, he wrote, the news should avoid inciting them.

Source: Pope Francis vs Donald Trump: Each one has a guide to fake news — and they couldn’t be more different

A Conservative Case for Identity Politics – The New York Times

Jon A. Shields, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, makes a convincing argument:

How should professors respond to the trend of identity politics that is now roiling American college campuses? Although I am a conservative professor, I recommend making a concession to it by explicitly assigning writers of different races and social backgrounds. Let me explain.

When I was in college, I took a class in logic. There I learned that one should never reject an argument because of the characteristics of the person making it. Instead, one should assess the argument itself on its rational merits. And while I agree that the power of an argument should not depend on the person making it, nonetheless, it does.

I learned that lesson during my first year as a visiting professor at Cornell University. I taught a course on American evangelicals, which attracted a mix of secular and religious students. When we discussed “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” a 1994 book by Mark A. Noll about anti-intellectualism in the evangelical tradition, my evangelical students were critical of it. But they were willing to take the book’s thesis seriously because the author was an evangelical.

Perhaps Mr. Noll’s identity shouldn’t have mattered. His historical evidence and the power of his arguments would be worth considering even if he were Catholic, Jewish or secular. But his identity did matter. It mattered because my evangelical students could not simply assume bad faith on the author’s part. They knew Mr. Noll cared about evangelicals as a group of people. Instead of dismissing Mr. Noll as a bigot, my students thoughtfully engaged with his work.

Since then, I have taken identity into account every time I have assigned new books for one of my courses. I currently teach a course called Black Intellectuals, which is focused on debates around racial inequality in the post-civil rights era. It tends to attract progressive students who, in analyzing racial inequality, are drawn to arguments that stress structural obstacles to equality and the enduring power of white racism, especially in our criminal justice system. The course features black authors who do defend that view, but I also teach the work of others who depart from it in some measure, including heterodox thinkers like Thomas Chatterton Williams and conservatives like Jason Riley. Much like my conservative evangelical students at Cornell, my progressive students at Claremont McKenna College are less likely to assume these contrarian black thinkers are acting in bad faith or are motivated by bigotry — even when the thinkers criticize hip-hop culture or defend white police officers. So the students engage the challenging arguments and ideas instead.

As conservatives have long observed and psychologists have since confirmed, human beings are hive-minded animals whose moral judgments are shaped more by sentiments than by reason. Thus, when we are confronted by arguments we disagree with, we can easily find reasons to reject them. The search for disconfirming evidence, however, can sometimes be short-circuited, especially when we feel close to the person making an argument we disagree with. As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt concluded in his 2012 book, “The Righteous Mind,” if we have “affection, admiration, or desire to please” other people, we lean toward them and attempt to “find the truth” in their arguments. Social proximity matters.

If we want our students to consider the work of authors they’re inclined to disagree with, we professors must take the identity of those authors into account. This doesn’t mean scrubbing all white men from our syllabuses. But when we design an education for our students, we should remember that humans are partial, tribal beings — not rational automatons.

Some readers — especially those on the right — may suspect that embracing identity in this way will only embolden campus radicals. But that objection ignores an important truth: Practicing the new identity politics in the right way can subvert the dogmas that drive its excesses. When students read books by a broad intellectual range of evangelical or female or black authors, for example, they learn that there is no single evangelical or female or black perspective. Disagreements about ideas transcend these social categories.

The left has often placed too much faith in the power of human reason. Conservatives make the same error when they insist that the identities of intellectuals should never matter. The fact is, they do. And they would, even absent new movements on campus.

via A Conservative Case for Identity Politics – The New York Times

Stephen Gordon: Guess who’s got more credibility—professors, think tanks or…the CBC

Interesting piece by Gordon:

Think-tanks are an ever-present, yet somehow under-examined feature of the public policy landscape. Think-tanks get a lot of press, at least partly because they are adept at issuing press releases advertising their work to the media, complete with pullquotes and readily available experts for radio and TV hits. Academic studies — the sort of work written by professors for professors — pass almost unnoticed, mainly because most of it is not relevant to current policy debates, and because peer-reviewed publications are not so readily accessible. But is visibility the same thing as credibility?

It would seem not. Carey Doberstein, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, recently published a study in Canadian Public Policy on the credibility gap — he calls it a “credibility chasm” — between academic research and research published by think-tanks and advocacy organizations. Interestingly, his study is not carried out among the general population, but among policy analysts in the provincial governments of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Participants in the study were asked to read and evaluate the credibility of different studies in two areas of provincial competence — minimum wages and income-splitting. The analysts were asked to evaluate a set of five or six studies produced by academics, think-tanks and advocacy groups. Doberstein very sensibly does not draw inferences about credibility from these evaluations: one study is hardly enough to evaluate the credibility of one group, or even of one researcher. He focuses instead on how the source of a study affects policy analysts’ perceptions of its credibility.

Instead of sending the studies out to the analysts under their proper affiliations, Doberstein randomly altered them. For example, a study on the effects of an increase in the minimum wage written by researchers at the University of Toronto and published in a peer-reviewed journal was sent out with the correct affiliation to one group of analysts, under the name of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) to another group, and under the name of the Fraser Institute to yet another group. Similarly, in addition to being sent out under its own name to one group, a CCPA study would be sent out as a University of Toronto study to a different group, and represented as a Fraser Institute study to yet another set of analysts, and so on. Two advocacy groups, the Wellesley Institute and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, rounded out the minimum wage exercise, and a similar mix of academic, think-tank and advocacy groups was used for the income splitting case.

This randomisation strategy allows Doberstein to identify the reputation effects of the various sets of researchers: How is a study’s credibility affected by its affiliation? The answer is: pretty much in the way you’d expect. Adding a university affiliation to a think-tank or advocacy group study increases analysts’ perceptions of its credibility, while adding a think-tank or advocacy group’s name to an academic study makes it less credible. Generally, credibility among policy analysts declines as you move from university affiliations to think-tanks to advocacy groups.

These results aren’t hard to explain. Policy analysts know full well that advocacy groups cannot be expected to publish anything that does not fit their stated agendas, so a study showing (once again!) that the data supports their previously-held position is not a particularly strong signal. Doberstein finds a similar effect among think tanks: Think tanks with a more stridently ideological focus (CCPA, the Fraser Institute) are viewed as being less credible than the relatively neutral C.D Howe Institute.

Is this good news or bad? On the positive side, it shows that policy analysts are well aware of the incentives facing various sets of researchers, and know enough to put their work in context. On the downside, one might have hoped that analysts could set all that aside and evaluate the research on its own merits. Of course, that’s an ideal that almost no one can match: this is why so many academic journals use double-blind peer review, in which neither authors nor reviewers are identified to each other.

Perhaps the more interesting question is why advocacy groups and ideologically-driven think-tanks even bother to produce reports that are discounted so heavily by policy analysts. One answer might simply be that their reports aren’t written for the benefit of analysts; they’re written for the benefit of their donors. People like to have their beliefs confirmed, and they’re willing to pay to have someone tell them that they were (once again!) right.

This discussion also provides some insight into the challenges facing the media, particularly as it concerns the markets for news and opinion. Asking people to pay someone to tell them what they want to hear is a viable business model, and many digital outlets — from The Rebel through Canadaland to Rabble — are in the process of filling out that landscape. (It also raises the question of why the CBC would want to cut into this action with its CBC Opinion site. There’s no obvious market failure here that needs a public-sector fix.)

News, on the other hand, has the elements of a pure public good: everyone benefits from knowing the basic facts of what is going on, and technology has made it almost impossible to control access to news once it’s been published. Profits from advertising revenues can no longer finance news gathering to the same extent that they used to, but academic researchers can still fall back on teaching to cross-subsidize their research work. If you really want to make an academic researcher sweat, ask her to imagine trying to make a living from her research alone.

Source: Stephen Gordon: Guess who’s got more credibility—professors, think tanks or…the CBC

Professors owe their graduate students more than what Lindsay Shepherd got: Clifford Orwin

One of my better former professors on the Shepherd case:

With the stunning revelation that there never were student complainants against teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd – not even one – the reputation of Wilfrid Laurier University should hit rock bottom. Ms. Shepherd’s hectorers were lying to her, like cops trying to extract a confession from a suspect, and they knew they were lying to her.

Rather than complainants, there were merely students overheard discussing Ms. Shepherd’s class. Isn’t that what is supposed to happen at a university, students discussing their courses (hopefully with some animation)? Even taking strong stances pro and con about the teachers and their presentations? My dream of the perfect end to one of my lectures would be a vast crescendo of buzz, indicating that the students will carry the discussion far beyond the lecture hall. If that was Ms. Shepherd’s effect on her students, then some Canadian university should snap her up. One doubts that it will be Laurier.

That there were no student complainants is, as far as it goes, encouraging. Yes, there’s this culture of outrage on our campuses, and the multiplication of groups dedicated to squelching those who offend them. But only a tiny minority of students believes that to disagree with them is an affront (or even a threat) to them. Most are grateful to teachers who introduce them to opinions other than their own. They recognize this as an integral (even the most important) part of a true education. I’ve been disagreeing with students for 43 years now, and they have thanked me for it.

To confront Ms. Shepherd with these phantom complainants was indefensible. You hear a lot about vulnerable groups on campus; you can count graduate students among them. Begin with their material problems: They are faced with a declining job market and the rising costs of education.

This economic reality aggravates the predicament of graduate students in other ways, including their dependence on the opinions of their supervisors. The temptation is to play it safe in the hopes that the jobs will go to those who have done so. (This, too, was an anxiety on which Ms. Shepherd’s supervisors were playing: conform or find yourself professionally toxic.)

In these difficult times, professors are called more than ever to perform their duty of mentorship. Whether in supervising students’ theses or their teaching, we must put their intellectual development first.

In the case of teaching, that means both modelling best practices on the one hand and encouraging our teaching assistants (TAs) to find their own voices on the other. Here Ms. Shepherd’s teachers set bad examples in both regards. They sought to crush her budding intellectual and pedagogical independence; attempted to coerce her into agreement with them concerning both the substance and the methods of their course; banned her from bringing further videos into her classroom and required her to submit all future teaching materials for their prior review. This was an object lesson in how not to treat a graduate student. Did it not occur to them that a TA as engaged and lively as Ms. Shepherd was a blessing to their program?

Every large university course is a collaboration between the lecturer and the teaching assistants. Of course there must be co-ordination, and the TAs must avoid contradicting the lecturer in ways that might confuse the students. But the success of any large course depends on the TAs’ contribution as much as on the lecturer’s. That contribution should not be micromanaged. The lecturer should offer them advice where they solicit it, leave them to spread their wings where they don’t. Should an issue arise between a student and a TA, then of course I must look into it. Otherwise, the lectures are mine, the tutorials are theirs. The course will succeed only if they buy into this arrangement. If I treat them like Lindsay Shepherd was treated, they won’t.

via Professors owe their graduate students more than what Lindsay Shepherd got – The Globe and Mail

Umberto Eco Decodes the Secret Meaning of the Cell Phone

Fun and stimulating to read:

I wrote a fairly irate article in the early ’90s when cell phones were in the hands of just a few people, but a few who were making train journeys hell. I said, in short, that cell phones should only be allowed for organ transplanters, plumbers, and adulterers. For everyone else, especially in cases where otherwise unremarkable people were mouthing away in trains or airports about stocks and shares, metal section beams, or bank loans, it was more than anything a sign of social inferiority: those in real power don’t have cell phones but twenty secretaries who filter their calls and messages, whereas those who need them are middle managers who have to answer to the CEO at any moment, or small businessmen whose banks need to tell them their account is overdrawn.

As for adulterers, the situation has changed twice since that article: initially they had to forego this extremely personal means of communication since its acquisition gave rise to entirely justifiable suspicion in the mind of their spouses; then the situation changed—everyone had one, so it was no longer cast-iron evidence of an adulterous relationship. Lovers can now use them, unless they’re having affairs with persons who are to some degree in the public eye, in which case their conversations will certainly be tapped. No change with regard to social inferiority, there are still no photos of Bush with his ear to a cell phone, but it’s a fact that the cell phone has become an instrument for communication, and excessive communication, between mothers and children, for cheating in exams, and for photomania. Younger generations are abandoning their wrist watches because they can check the time on their cell phones; added to this is the birth of text messages, of up-to-the- minute news information, of the opportunity now to connect with the internet and receive wireless emails, offering, in their more sophisticated forms, even the functions of pocket computers, so that we’re now in the presence of a phenomenon that is socially and technologically essential.

Can we still live without a cell phone? Given that “living-with-a-cell-phone” means a total acceptance of the here-and-now and a frenzy of contact that deprives us of a single moment of solitary thought, anyone who cherishes their own inner and outer freedom can exploit the very many services it offers, apart from its use as a telephone. At most it can be switched on just to call a taxi or tell those at home that the train is three hours late, but not for being called: all you have to do is keep it switched off. When anyone complains about this practice of mine, I reply with a rather somber argument: when my father died over forty years ago, and therefore long before cell phones, I was on a journey and it was many hours before I could be reached. Well, those hours of delay had changed nothing. The situation would have been no different had I been called within ten minutes. This all means that instant communication provided by the cell phone has little to do with the great questions of life and death; it’s of no use to someone who is studying Aristotle, nor to someone struggling over the existence of God.

Does a philosopher therefore have no interest in a cell phone, apart from it allowing him to carry in his pocket a list of 3,000 books on Malebranche? On the contrary. Certain technological innovations have changed human life to such an extent as to become a topic for philosophical discussion—and just think of the invention of writing, from Plato to Derrida, or the advent of mechanical looms, see Marx. Curiously there has been little philosophical reflection on other technological changes that seem so important to us, such as the car or the airplane, though there has been on the changing concept of speed. But we use the car and the airplane only at certain times, unless we’re a taxi or a truck driver, or a pilot, whereas writing and the mechanization of most of our daily activities has had a radical impact on every second of our lives.

Maurizio Ferraris has written about the philosophy of the cell phone in Where are you? Ontology of the Cell Phone. Perhaps the title raises a hint of light amusement, but Ferrari draws a number of serious reflections from his subject, and involves us in a rather intriguing philosophical game. Cell phones are radically changing our way of life and have therefore become “philosophically interesting.” Having also taken on the role of pocket diary and mini-computer with Web connection, the cell phone is less and less an oral instrument and more and more an instrument for reading and writing. As such, it has become an all-inclusive instrument for recording, and we’ll see how words like “writing,” “recording,” and “inscription” might make a confederate of Derrida prick up his ears.

“I like to recall the tragedy of Dr. Zhivago who, after many years, sees Lara on the tram. He cannot alight in time to reach her, and dies. If both had had mobile phones, how would their tragic story have ended?”
The first hundred pages on the “anthropology” of the cell phone are fascinating even for the non-specialist. There’s a substantial difference between talking on a telephone and talking on a cell phone. On the telephone we could ask whether a certain person was at home, whereas on the cell phone, unless it’s stolen, we always know who is answering, and whether he or she is there, which also changes the quality of intimacy. But with a landline we know where we are calling. Now, with the cell phone, there’s the problem of where the person is. There again, if he or she replies, “I’m right behind you,” but has an account with a cell phone company in a different country, the answer is travelling halfway round the world. Nonetheless, we don’t know where the other person is whereas the telephone company knows where we both are, so that while we can avoid letting the other person know our precise whereabouts, our movements are totally transparent when it comes to Orwell’s Big Brother.

via Umberto Eco Decodes the Secret Meaning of the Cell Phone

Webinar: How to write an op-ed

This is a well done and the tips and advice apply both to op-eds and writing more generally:

You’ve poured energy and passion into your research – now you want to make sure your findings and your expertise make an impact outside of your immediate network. But how do you get policy-makers, potential collaborators and the wider public to take notice? One recent estimate is that 82 percent of the peer-reviewed articles published annually are never cited.
Jennifer Ditchburn, editor-in-chief of Policy Options, and Shannon Sampert, editor and director of the Evidence Network, spend their days devoted to mobilizing knowledge from Canadian researchers. They share their strategies on how to write sharp op-eds for broader consumption, one of the most important ways to ensure your analysis and research is shared in the public sphere.

via Webinar: How to write an op-ed

Canadian think tanks have a problem with transparency on funding: Yakabuski

Agree that there is an issue here. Beyond the issue of funding, some think tanks provide more nuanced analysis (e.g., Conference Board) than others (e.g., Fraser Institute):

Between 2000 and 2015, representatives from Canada’s 10 leading think tanks appeared at least 216 times before parliamentary committees and were cited in the Canadian media almost 60,000 times. It gave them and their research priceless exposure and influence in shaping government policy.

But at what price to Canadian democracy?

There is little doubt that the research conducted by Canadian think tanks often enriches public-policy debates. While they claim to be independent, however, most think tanks rely on funding from wealthy benefactors, corporations, unions or lobby groups seeking to push their own causes.

Yet, few Canadian think tanks will tell you who exactly is funding them, or, if they do, how much they get from such benefactors. Indeed, think tanks here lag well behind their peers in the United States and Britain in providing detailed disclosure on their sources of funding. That’s according to the first-ever report on Canadian think tank transparency by Transparify, a non-profit initiative that has been scrutinizing these organizations in other countries since 2014.

“This presents a clear danger to Canadian democracy,” Transparify executive director Hans Gutbrod says of the spotty disclosure standards at Canadian think tanks. “At their best, think tanks are capable of strengthening public debate, developing policy solutions and highlighting little-discussed problems. However, they can also distort public discourse.”

Just ask Donald Abelson, a political-science professor at the University of Western Ontario, whose 2016 book Northern Lights examines the policy-making role think thanks play in Canada.

“Although those who labour at think tanks often claim to serve the public interest, they do not represent parliamentary ridings or congressional districts, nor do their names appear on ballots,” writes Prof. Abelson, who worked on the Transparify report set to be released on Tuesday. “They are policy experts who interact regularly with policy-makers and the public for the purpose of shaping public opinion and public policy in ways that satisfy their institutional interests and those of their generous benefactor.”

The Transparify report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, reveals that the most active and influential Canadian think tanks provide little or no disclosure about their funding. Transparify ranked the Conference Board of Canada, the Fraser Institute and the Pembina Institute as “highly opaque.” The Conference Board and Pembina were awarded zero out of five stars, while the Fraser Institute earned a single star.

That contrasts with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, which received five stars and was deemed “highly transparent” by Transparify. CIGI was set up in 2001 with a $30-million endowment from BlackBerry founders Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis and matching funding from Ontario and federal governments. That makes it unique in that most think tanks do not accept or receive public funding. But at least CIGI is upfront about where it gets its money.

There is hope that others will follow. A few of the top 10 Canadian think tanks (based on parliamentary committee appearances and media citations) moved to improve their disclosure between the time Transparify initially contacted them in April and completed compiling its data in September. In April, the average transparency score among the top 10 was a miserable 1.5 stars. But by September, the average rating had risen to 2.4 stars. To earn a two-star rating, think tanks must at a minimum disclose a list of their largest donors, but not necessarily the amounts given.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, for instance, got two stars from Transparify. But the think tank has committed to disclosing its funding to a four-star standard by 2019. To meet that standard, it would need to disclose the names of all donors who provided at least $5,000 (U.S.), or about $6,400 (Canadian), and the broad amount given by each.

Even so, there is no way for Transparify or anyone else to determine whether think tanks that appear to be highly transparent really are. The International Institute for Strategic Studies had been rated “broadly transparent” in Transparify’s 2016 report on British think tanks. But Bahrain Watch, a group that promotes democracy in the Middle Eastern kingdom, subsequently obtained documents showing the IISS had received £25-million ($44-million) from the Bahraini royal family that the think tank had not disclosed.

That led Transparify to create an entirely new category. IISS now gets a “deceptive” rating and zero stars from Transparify.

So, the bottom line for Canadians looking for policy guidance from think tanks? Caveat emptor.

via Canadian think tanks have a problem with transparency on funding – The Globe and Mail

The Jobs You’re Most Likely to Inherit From Your Mother and Father – The New York Times

Interesting analysis:

When children choose what to be when they grow up, they often follow in their fathers’ footsteps. But mothers are powerful, too.

Working sons of working fathers are, on average, 2.7 times as likely as the rest of the population to have the same job but only two times as likely to have the same job as their working mothers, according to an analysis by The New York Times, one of the first to look at mothers and daughters in addition to fathers and sons. Daughters are 1.8 times as likely to have the same job as their mothers and 1.7 times as likely to have the same job as their fathers.

How often a man has the same job as his:
Father 2.7× as likely
Mother 2.0× as likely
How often a woman has the same job as her:
Father 1.7× as likely
Mother 1.8× as likely

Try these jobs to start: Bartenders, cashiers, elementary and middle school teachers, lawyers, doctors and structural iron and steel workers. Some jobs are not available due to low sample size.

The estimates, drawn from General Social Survey data between 1994 and 2016, show that mothers, despite working in lower numbers, are still influential in inspiring their children’s career choices. And the passing down of occupation and other measures of socioeconomic status seems to affect boys more than girls.

Some of the jobs most likely to be passed down include steelworker, legislator, baker, lawyer and doctor. Children are less likely to follow their parents’ careers if they are middle managers or clerical or service workers. These findings broadly align with previous research.

“It’s not just a matter of education or what your parents can buy — there’s something about the occupations themselves,” said Kim Weeden, chairwoman of the sociology department at Cornell University, who is researching the topic with April Sutton, also a sociologist.

It’s another example of the powerful role family circumstances play in shaping children’s lives. Children with unemployed parents were more likely to say they didn’t know what they wanted to do for work, they found. “There’s an inheritance of advantage but also disadvantage when you talk about occupational plans,” Ms. Weeden said.

A big factor in passing down occupations — and advantage or disadvantage — is the connections parents offer children. Children who pursue the same job as their parents often start ahead, whether through inheriting a family business, getting an internship at a parent’s company or having a parent put in a good word with a colleague.

“If people lack financial capital, they likely lack these other types of capital as well,” said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard. “For all of these reasons, the world is not a very fair place for some kids.”

Some fields are particularly dynastic, like Hollywood acting or politics.

…Children often pursue their parents’ jobs because of the breakfast-table effect: Family conversations influence them. They fuel interests or teach children what less commonly understood careers entail (probably one reason textile spinning and shoemaking are high on the list of jobs disproportionately passed on to children). In interviews, people who followed their parents’ career paths described it as speaking the same language.

Certain aptitudes may be inherited. Families also have their own cultures, reflected in how they value spending time — whether making things by hand, achieving academically or filling the home with art and music. People described flirtations with other careers as teenage rebellions before settling into a parent’s occupation.

How Frequently Do Daughters Share an Occupation With Their Parents?


Fishers 362x as likely
Textile machine operator 159
Medical and laboratory techs 126
Aircraft mechanics 118
Librarians 106
Printing press operators 91
Packaging machine operators 39
Electrical, electronics and electromechanical assemblers 28
Lawyers 27
Doctors 19


Military officer 281x as likely
Shoemakers 135
Metal and plastic workers 105
Dishwashers 91
Human resources managers 78
Textile machine operator 75
Textile workers 65
Textile winding and twisting machine operators 60
Factory workers, food preparation 49
Travel agents 48

…Though research has focused more on fathers, mothers have always influenced their children’s career paths, social scientists say. “What we’re learning is that both parents are quite important, and quite important for both boys and girls,” Ms. Weeden said.

In our analysis, sons are 20 times as likely to be a scientist if their mother is one. Gil Rabinovici is the son of Sarah Bacus, a cancer scientist, and Eliezer Rabinovici, a theoretical physicist. After giving up the idea of becoming the next Steven Spielberg or playing third base for the Chicago Cubs, he became a neurologist, studying memory disorders at the University of California, San Francisco.

How Frequently Do Sons Share an Occupation With Their Parents?


Textile machine operator 415x as likely
Boilermakers 275
Fishers 275
Drywall installers 136
Structural iron and steel workers 135
Door-to-door sales workers 130
Cabinetmakers 127
Prepress technicians and workers 116
Textile workers 105
Railroad conductors 94


Paralegals and legal assistants 191x as likely
Bakers 66
Credit counselors and loan officers 58
Postal service clerks 43
Clinical laboratory techs 38
Bartenders 36
Hairdressers 26
Butchers 24
Packaging machine operators 18
Child care workers 16

“I think seeing work for them growing up as a passion rather than a chore is something I’m sure had an influence on me,” he said.

The effect of his mother’s science career has been intergenerational, he said: His 9-year-old daughter spends time drawing neurons and brain schematics. “It definitely influenced how I view gender, and probably having a strong role model as a scientist influenced her,” he said.

…Yet over all, parents have less of an effect on daughters than on sons, in career and socioeconomic status more broadly, according to research.

One explanation is that previous generations of mothers had fewer job options than their daughters, so their daughters consider a broader range of jobs. Men, meanwhile, are unlikely to take jobs that haven’t typically been done by men.

Because daughters are less likely to work or earn as much, parents might invest more in sons’ careers. But more likely, researchers said, parents invest equally, and women make more career compromises because of family obligations. Especially with young children, some women “can’t do the jobs that they wanted or were trained to do by their parents,” said Melinda Morrill, an economist at North Carolina State University.

The General Social Survey analysis is not conclusive. For instance, because of the small sample size, we could not control for age, which matters when considering how women’s careers are affected by motherhood. The survey may also misclassify the dominant career of the parent. Survey respondents were asked only what their parents’ latest occupation was, so if the parent was a steelworker in the prime of his career, but now is a greeter at Walmart, the survey would classify him as a greeter. The same is true if the parent is now retired.

Also, it is impossible to isolate the influences of parents. But we know that children inherit economic standards of living from their parents, and the occupations of parents are one determinant of the American dream — whether children are better off than they were.

via The Jobs You’re Most Likely to Inherit From Your Mother and Father – The New York Times

Does Canadian federalism amplify policy clashes?

Interesting analysis by Érick Lachapelle, Éric Montpetit, and Simon Kiss of how values may play a more important part than regions on a number of policy issues:

Another example comes from the recent debate over the restriction of religious symbols, which is often interpreted in Canada as an issue that pits ardently secular Quebec against English Canada. But examining new data from over 5,000 Canadians interviewed from across the federation, we find that Quebec is not that distinct when it comes to this issue.

As indicated by the relatively flat slopes in the left panel of Figure 2, egalitarian values do not appear to shape public opinion on religious dress as much as one might expect. This finding probably reflects the tension that exists between egalitarian predispositions toward framing this issue as one of gender equality on the one hand, or of protecting minority rights, on the other. Meanwhile, we find that a greater predisposition toward legal rigorist values is associated with greater support for restricting religious symbols across all regions. In fact, the strongest support for restricting religious symbols is not found in Quebec, but rather among legal rigorists living on the Prairies, and to a lesser extent, in Ontario and British Columbia.

On a range of other issues, from abortion to foreign policy, we find remarkably similar patterns across regions — the same values explain the same contentious policy disagreements across Canada, which suggests that a weak form of regionalism best characterizes policy disagreements in the federation. Moreover, compared to other explanatory factors, we find that values explain a considerable amount more of observed differences in the preferences of Canadians. This holds in models that control for age, gender, religion and partisan affiliation, which account for much less of the overall variation in policy preferences.

The upshot is that there may be a tendency to exaggerate the role of regions as the primary source of policy disagreement in Canada. Our paper thus highlights three main implications for thinking about policy disagreements, and how they might be surpassed.

Regional differences might be overcome through carefully reframing issues in ways that mobilize the value predispositions present in all regions.

Those who seek support for policies may wish to develop regionally sensitive communications strategies, notably to appeal to a region’s dominant value orientation or to appeal to values that have been overlooked in specific regions by policy-makers in the past.
Provincial policy-makers may find it beneficial to exchange with their counterparts in other provinces when developing policies and strategies. This may enhance their capacity to frame proposals in ways that appeal to specific sets of values and to build cross-regional support.

To be sure, policy disagreements are a legitimate part of any well-functioning democracy. However, when they become too entrenched, or are exaggerated by the media, they may be distinctly unhelpful when it comes to developing policy solutions to complex problems. Although regional differences cannot be ignored, our research suggests that paying greater attention to values has much to offer in terms of better interpreting policy disagreements, and that appealing to shared values may actually attenuate regional clashes over policy. This may, in turn, enhance the quality of public debate in Canada, as well as the legitimacy of public policies and programs.

via Does Canadian federalism amplify policy clashes?