Scholars Look for Ways to Restore Respect for Expertise
April 23, 2018
A gathering of United States scholars last week took up the question of how their work can remain relevant in a ‘post-truth’ era, when alternative facts can influence public policy and fake news can be leveraged to try to swing election results.
The scholars also took themselves to task, acknowledging how they may be enabling the assault on their stock-in-trade, evidence and expertise, if only by remaining silent.
"We live in a kind of anti-knowledge era, and I am surprised by how [many] of us sit by passively and watch,” Hyman Bass, a long-time University of Michigan professor, said in one open forum.
At the core of their concern is the presidency of Donald Trump, who has inspired discussion of how the academic community can best respond to what it sees as the devaluation of knowledge and the politicisation of facts, data and research.
Perhaps most unsettling of all is the recent revelation that a company named Cambridge Analytica planted fake news on targeted Facebook accounts in a bid to help Trump win the election. That the ruse may have made a difference aligns with empirical studies showing that most people use research to confirm their prior beliefs.
Several AERA speakers raised that point.
"When people have deeply held values or convictions, no amount of facts" can persuade them otherwise, said University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Emerita Gloria Ladson-Billings, an AERA honoree this year for her contributions to education research.