Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The future of this blog

When I first started this blog, my intention was fairly modest: namely share a bit of my expertise in my areas of research and to perhaps do a bit to promote recently published and presented work that I have authored or coauthored with students or colleagues. I still intend to do so as I have in the past.

However, if this last year (and really the last several years) has taught me anything, it is that there is a considerable lack of both media literacy and science literacy in the US in particular, but probably to a degree elsewhere as well. As it turns out, my background uniquely positions me to address both concerns. I primarily teach methodology courses at my current university, and much of what I do is provide hands on training in conducting proper scientific research - beginning with learning the basics of descriptive and inferential statistics and creating research prospectuses, and culminating with completed research that can be presented at our Psychology Symposium each fall semester. I also am an aggression researcher who primarily is concerned with the influence of media violence on all facets of our cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes. Although my own focus has been on aggressive cognitive and behavioral outcomes, I do have some published work that address how certain forms of media manipulation can lead individuals to accept human rights violations that they otherwise might not accept. Given the exaggeration of violence in all facets of our mass media (including news reporting as it appears in traditional mass media as well as social media), I can take some inspiration from the work begun by George Gerbner and apply that work to our current situation.

I have been more keen to address science literacy in a number of ways, including examining the benefits and pitfalls of the path advocated by such organizations as the Open Science Foundation (with the caveat that I am generally supportive of OSF's general intentions), and have done so over the last year or so. I would love to devote some posts to how to make our work more available to the public, and how we can devote more classroom time from K-12 onward to providing better science training, including in the behavioral and social sciences. Although the scientific method is not perfect, its insistence on valid research design, well-reasoned conclusions based upon the available data, and independent verifiability and replication has been crucial to our civilization's development, and will continue to be crucial as we face this century's challenges. So, there is an area where I think we should spend some time in the months to years to come.

We clearly as a society need a crash course in media literacy. One of the hard lessons learned from this electoral cycle was just how little critical examination of news stories actually occurred. The proliferation of clickbait and fake news sites led to outrageous half-truths and often outright falsehoods going viral on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I have been trying to provide a few posts as of late to highlight efforts to combat these particular fake news and clickbait sites. I may have a few more posts in me as new resources spring up. My general advice will be pretty straightforward: keep fact check sites bookmarked (Snopes, for example is well worth visiting), make certain that a story is appearing in more than one source (or related set of sources), and avoid echo chambers in order to prevent confirmation bias (a phenomenon I noticed way too often even among my own personal circle of friends - many of whom I expected to know better). In essence I am and will continue to advocate for being a good critical thinker when consuming news. My own morning go-to news sites span a number of ideological perspectives and are ones that are generally reputable. I actually rarely watch cable news outlets, preferring to read articles published on their sites instead if possible. My primary rationale started mainly from my media violence background and my understanding of Gerbner's cultivation theory: that overexposure to media, and especially portrayals of violence, have a number of unwanted outcomes on human behavior, and many of those outcomes are ones that are not healthy for any democratic society. So expect more of a conversation along those lines.

So, a fair amount of what you've read from me this year is likely a foreshadowing of what is to come. As always, my intention is to be evidence-based in my presentation to you. I may post a few other items that I think might be interesting as well, either because they provide some interesting historical context, or provide examples of internet memes that can be used to counter the prevailing tendency to fall for confirmation biases of one sort or another.

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