Sunday, August 31, 2008

Science and Public Relations

 
I have come to this conclusion: the greatest tragedy of public polity, in science and without, in the democratic nations, one that looks very likely to me to be the major proximal cause of the ultimate failure of democracy, is the invention of public relations.
Read more from John Wilkins at Spin versus framing: the tragedy of PR.


22 comments :

  1. Nice bit of spin, putting the pic of Obama there...

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  2. Maybe a picture of Nisbet or some "framer" but... OBAMA?
    Explain yourself, larry

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  3. Obviously he's not happy about Obama becoming president- which will happen soon.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Do I really have to explain the relationship between public relations and a picture of Barack Obama in front of an enthusiastic crown and behind a lectern with "Change We Can Believe In?

    Sheesh! Like John says, they used to call it propaganda.

    (I would probably vote for him but that doesn't mean I can't recognize when I'm being manipulated.)

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  6. Maybe you mean that Obama's race is a better PR move for the US.

    That he may be better PR doesn't take away the fact Obama would still be far better than Bush continuism.

    Being realistic, Obama is hardly "safe" PR. It still amazes me he won over Hillary despite being black, but he did it pure and simple: votes!!

    Race can constantly play against Obama. Cynics can always say it's all about his race, as if he were nothing else. Even after reaching the presidency, racist feelings, private our outspoken, are alive and well, including many people in high places (as Watson painfully reminded us). There are many pussies and paranoids out there that are scared of Obama, too, but won't admit to themselves they are just playing racist "associations"

    Most people in latin america know by experience that quality of people is not really about skin color. maybe ots becuase they deal wit may equals and superiors with different skin color, not just, say, the janitor, as in much of the US and europe.

    I like to think the US is evolving in that direction.

    If there is something that makes the americas different form europe or asia, it is this: we are the biggest racial meltpot.

    Mr Obama, go ahead: Unite the americas!!

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  7. He's a politician , for jibes sake. He's campaining. Are you accusing him of....propaganda???. I must ask: Are you flippin idiot, by any chance?

    I'm sorry Larry, the association of Obama to the kind of putrid shit Wilkins is talking about is so off the mark we are left to wonder about your feelings

    Are you sure you don't like McCaine better? After all, bush continuism would NEVER resort to propaganda...right?

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  8. Obviously he's not happy about Obama becoming president- which will happen soon.

    That outcome is far from certain at this point. The RNC and Rove are very good at PR. And McCain/Palin would be a disaster.

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  9. anonymous says,

    That outcome is far from certain at this point. The RNC and Rove are very good at PR.

    Glad to see that somebody else remembers swift boats. This election, like all others—including the upcoming election in Canada—isn't about truth and values. It's about PR.

    So far, Obama has used his PR skills very effectively to capture the "progressive" voters. Many of them actually believe that there will be change in Washington. The trick now is to see if Obama can hold on those voters while courting the conservative voters.

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  10. The trick now is to see if Obama can hold on those voters while courting the conservative voters.

    Implicit in what you are saying, is that only PR can fight PR. A sad commentary on the human condition, if pontius pilate's question is up for grabs.

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  11. But science LOVES PR! It loves propaganda. Scientists at universities and other institutions hire legions of PR people to puff up and publicize their work so that they can get more money from governments and the private sector.

    Scientists despise free inquiry and free expression. They value control. They resist any and all attempts that aren't fawning to cover their work. They take courses to teach them how to "handle" journalists. They depend on their PR employees to keep inquiry at bay.

    Science is a major supporter of propaganda. It values control over freedom, PR over the press, marketing over truth-telling, closed meetings and bureaucratically enforced secrecy over openness. Science as an institution (if not in its cognitive content) is a major anti-democratic force, a force for growing authoritarism.

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  12. anonymous says,

    Scientists at universities and other institutions hire legions of PR people to puff up and publicize their work ...

    No they don't. However told you that is lying.

    It's the universities and institutions who hire the PR people. As a general rule, scientists tolerate the press offices but could easily live without them.

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  13. I'm afraid that's an evasion of responsibility. The professoriate demands that its administrators (presidents, vice-presidents, deans etc.) hire PR people and then demands that the PR people protect them (the scientists and the administrators) from questions while puffing up their work. The scientists then disclaim responsibility! It is the doctine of deniability or having your cake and eating it too.

    And there's more: scientists demand that their administrators hire people to produce propaganda house organs that extol their brilliance. There isn't a university in North America that doesn't do that. The people who produce those house organs are controlled. They are not permitted to inquire freely or express freely. They are subject to prior restraint, censorship and suppression. They MUST publish puff and propaganda or be terminated.

    Tenured and tenure-stream faculty members are very controlling and they demand that their universities and other institutions spend many millions of dollars every year asserting that control and fending off genuine journalism.

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  14. anonymous says,

    I'm afraid that's an evasion of responsibility. The professoriate demands that its administrators (presidents, vice-presidents, deans etc.) hire PR people ...

    No they don't. Whoever told you that is lying. Or, perhaps you just made it up?

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  15. There is not a generalized state of crookery, the picture that anonymous paints is ridiculous. Many areas remain pretty "pure", specially those without much direct economic influence (for instance, paleontology)

    However, let's acknoweldge: there are problems, specially regarding the "applied" sciences, scientists that court private companies and interact with them(pharmaceuticals, etc).

    And the there are areas of scinece that subsist thanks to misconceptions that "float" when exposed to the public, and that is designed to catch headlines. Take the "evolutionary psychologists" of the London school of economics; people all over the world get to that men prefer blondes because it is "a sign of youthfulness"... or in medical sciences, they get to read about the latest genes for liberal or conservative inclinations, or for whether you will be a good husband or not...

    This is simply crap that may resonate in mass media but among truly knowledgeable biologists this speculative garbage is mostly ignored.

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  16. University scientists are more than simply complicit in propaganda, prior restraint and censorship. As academic administrators, they demand prior restrain, PR and marketing manipulation; as ordinary faculty members they react quickly to suppress any public description or discussion that they do not find flattering. Internally this kind of suppression is simple and easy; they simply call their department chair or dean. The chair or dean then have the offending item killed or re-written. The careless miscreant who attempted to tell the truth is punished (to the degree possible to avoid any embarrassing accusations of censorship). This is routine practice at all universities and it is in government departments and in the private sector.

    Externally suppression can be little more difficult. On the very rare occasion (at least in Canada) when a serious journalist attempts a serious story, the PR apparatus is mobilized to maintain control of information and to spin the facts. If the matter is serious enough, academic administrators place calls to publishers and producers and attempt to undermine the item. This too is routine practice.

    I'm sorry to say that Prof. Moran is not up on the common, day-to-day practices of his and other universities.

    But he needn't take my word for it: he can do an experiment. Take a matter of public interest in a university department and begin to make serious inquiries and publish your findings. Pick something "sensitive" like hiring practices (cronyism and nepotism are widespread at universities), treatment of grad students, salary structure (from the most senior professor to the many many contractually limited and casual teaching and administrative staff), etc. And then see how far he gets before his colleagues mobilize (with the considerable assistance of their PR people) to shut him down.

    Alternatively, he should secure a seat on the Senate and/or Board and attempt to 1) eliminate all impediments to the free flow of information; 2) demand an end to all university PR and marketing manipulation; 3) propose a "no pressure on the press" policy that forbids contact with editors and publishers designed to propagandize, manipulate and suppress--a policy with real teeth.
    My hypothesis: Prof. Moran will find that his colleagues are not receptive to his proposals.

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  17. Here's another way for Prof. Moran to look at it:

    Universities exercise as much control as they possibly can. And yes they protect their faculty members as much as they can.

    The problem isn't with control at the university level. Universities are just as entitled as any other institution to their messages and to keep news from being reported. They know this and act accordingly.

    The real problem is with Canadian journalism (the situation is different in the US, given the Constitution, genuine coverage of universities by many newspaper and the existence of specialty publication that do nothing but cover universities). Canadian journalism just doesn't cover univerities. They dip in now and then for a pro forma story about enrolment ("up three per cent this year" etc.) and the occasional scandal. But mostly they ignore universities, which has meant that people are just not informed about the ways these publicly-financed mega-corporations now operate. Universities support the "no coverage" practices of the Canadian media by publishing their own "news" (which isn't news at all of course). They even get together and publish their own employment recruitment advertising, which deprives private sector news outlets of the revenue that might attract them to universities. But if the universities are happy to keep the media out, it is the media itself that is responsible for this sad state of affairs.

    You would think an online news site dedicated to covering universities on a day to day basis, without hype and with a good deal of critical intelligence, might emerge, but so far that isn't the case in Canada. (Again the US is different).

    All corporations (including publicly-funded universities) and government departments today practice extreme info control and marketing -- complete control internally, as much control as possible externally. Sadly, the press and other media just haven't kept up and are now all but excluded from real coverage in many domains, including higher education.

    The answer may be to provide real incentives (in the form of tax breaks) for publishers who hired reporters to cover the extended public sector (universities, hospitals, social service agencies) on a day to day basis. That would be real freedom of inquiry and would serve the public right to know.

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  18. anonymous says,

    University scientists are more than simply complicit in propaganda, prior restraint and censorship. As academic administrators, they demand prior restrain, PR and marketing manipulation; as ordinary faculty members they react quickly to suppress any public description or discussion that they do not find flattering. Internally this kind of suppression is simple and easy; they simply call their department chair or dean. The chair or dean then have the offending item killed or re-written.

    This is not correct. Whoever told you that is lying.

    In my university, my Chair or Dean would laugh in my face if I even suggested such a thing.

    The careless miscreant who attempted to tell the truth is punished (to the degree possible to avoid any embarrassing accusations of censorship). This is routine practice at all universities and it is in government departments and in the private sector.

    This is nonsense. Whoever told you that is lying.

    For one thing, most faculty members belong to unions who zealously protect academic freedom. Any Chair or Dean who behaved as you describe would be fired.

    For another thing, most Chairs and Deans are also zealous protectors of academic freedom. That's why they would laugh in my face.

    I can't speak for the private sector.

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  19. Sorry, Prof. Moran, but you simply are not aware of the way these things work. Universities as bastions of prior restraint, censorship and suppression.

    Try to reveal something on your blog that the powers-that-be at your university do not wish to have published. Even you will be pressured to stop. And you will stop. Imagine what happens to those who are not faculty members and have no job protection.

    Read your own university house organs and web sites. Ask yourself if they contain anything that your institutional authorities do not wish to see there. If Canada were a university, the Globe & Mail would only be allowed to publish glowing articles about the outstanding work of government leaders and those they favour.

    As for the media, they ignore the universities and, on the rare occasions when they dip in, the universities respond vigorously to keep them out.

    It is a very sad situation.

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  20. anonymous says,

    Sorry, Prof. Moran, but you simply are not aware of the way these things work. Universities as bastions of prior restraint, censorship and suppression.

    Try to reveal something on your blog that the powers-that-be at your university do not wish to have published. Even you will be pressured to stop. And you will stop. Imagine what happens to those who are not faculty members and have no job protection.


    Okay. Now I get it. You were pulling my leg, right?

    I apologize for thinking that you were stupid.

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  21. Not at all.

    You just aren't well informed.

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  22. Here's a place to start:

    http://insidehighered.com/news/2008/06/23/press

    Search "censorship" and "free expression" on insidehighered.com for many more examples.

    Canada has no insidehighered.com or chronicle.com, so the situation is much worse here.

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