The Parsing of Nonpartisan Information
Updated: Apr 10, 2018
With the fog that permeates the media coverage of the political atmosphere, it can be difficult for the public to discern true facts from “fake news.” So, how can scholars make sure the public gains access to this important, nonpartisan information? Dr. Amanda Friesen works to slice through the fog and provide the public accurate, objective information on the political realm through her social media outlets and public appearances. Dr. Friesen feels every scholar is influenced by their perspective on the world and in the questions they ask so she takes active steps not to harm the science of her findings in the dissemination process.
Dr. Friesen is an associate professor of Political Science and research fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Her research focuses on political psychology within American political behavior. She looks at why people do what they do, think what they think and believe what they believe. Dr. Friesen deeply studies the correlation of environment and genetics with political attitudes and religiosity. She shares her findings in published scholarly papers and academic blogs.
Scholars in the academy have struggled to find a particular outlet to disseminate knowledge and research. In the past five years, there has been an expansion of the number of academic blogs. One of the original political science blogs, the Monkey Cage, was started by a group of academics who were tired of political research being over looked by the media and policy makers. In similar spirit, academic blogs throughout all of the disciplines have gained popularity from a variety of consumers outside the scholarly discipline. Dr. Friesen uses her various platforms to communicate complex methods and findings in a way that can be understood by a variety of audiences.
Dr. Friesen’s engagement with academic blogs covers a depth and breadth of the political science field. One blog, actually featured on The Washington Post Monkey Cage, Paul A. Djupe, Dr. Ananda Edward Sokhey, Dr. Friesen and Dr. Andrew R. Lewis spoke to followers of evangelical clergy not speaking up to their opposition of Trump. This blog also spoke to the great powers of partisanship in today’s world. Dr. Friesen teamed up with Djupe previously in 2017 for an article on the contingent morality of American Christian clergy. This blog was based off their article in Social Science Quarterly and proves as an example of employed strategy to get the research to a broader audience. Another blog Dr. Friesen frequently publishes in is LSE US Centre’s daily blog on American Politics and Policy. Where she has been featured on a blog with Dr. Aleksander Ksiazkiewic about their twin study on influence of environment and genetics on political and religion attitudes. And one she wrote solo, on how Trump supports share a “Las Vegas” style American dream. These are just a few examples of Dr. Friesen’s online appearances in the political science hemisphere.
The engagement doesn’t start and end with blogs, social media platforms such as Twitter are a popular means of scholars to relay information as well as stay up-to-date on new findings in the field. Dr. Friesen commends the collaborative Twitter community and has actually participated in joint research with other scholars she met on the platform. As an interdisciplinary scholar she feels there is a lot she would miss out on if she did not follow various scholars, journalists, societies and associations on Twitter. Not only does she collaborate, but she also uses Twitter as a means to relay information to her public audience; like in 2016 when Dr. Friesen live tweeted most of the presidential debates. She also uses her Twitter to share scholarship information, news, and commentary on hot topics.
Along with blogs and social media platforms, Dr. Friesen gets media appearance requests. During presidential election years, political scientists get daily requests for appearances. She makes many interview appearances on topics ranging from the likelihood of marijuana legalization to the public’s perception of a candidate.
Dr. Friesen said, “The most challenging thing about community engagement is that everybody wants a prediction. Who’s going to win the election? Is this [bill] going to pass?”
There are three levels of what scientific researches do: describe, explain and predict. Dr. Friesen divulged human behavior predictions are very challenging and it’s a moving target, so the error term is a lot bigger than in other disciplines such as life science. There is a lot of criticism about the communication of scientific studies in the media. In many cases the findings are construed to make a good headline. Our media environment with television, radio, and the Internet perpetuates the culture of getting the quick fact or soundbite.
“Science is about conditionality. It’s about incrementalism,” said Dr. Friesen, “We build on knowledge a little at a time and context matters. I can conduct a survey on a sample of 500 people but if it’s geographically restricted you have to be careful in the external validity and how you can expand that or extend to people beyond the population you drew from.”
And it’s not just those reporting on science that are misrepresenting findings, but rather the press releases that come from the university. The university may want to punch up the results or present the information in such a way that appears there was a big finding or discovery. If the university is bias in the information sent out and the media is bias in their writing, then how does the public have a fighting chance at accessing factual, quality information?
Even so, what should one do when they find a high-quality piece with accurate research findings? Scientific findings should be understood through replication and convergence. Reading one article on one study should not be consumed as the gold standard but rather a point place for understanding and education. It is not only an issue of getting the facts out but keeping awareness on how they will be understood.
Dr. Friesen said, “The key to understanding science is there’s no one thing, no one answer. It’s never the end of inquiry when you have a particular finding.”
There are numerous obstacles to the community engagement of political scientists. Aside from the factors noted previously, they also battle perceived bias and reader contest of information.
Understanding both the limitations and implications of sharing political science research with the public will be important to reading and relaying information in the future. Friesen believes it is her moral obligation, as a political scientist and a citizen, to keep her media presence as an expert weighing in on topics. The steps she takes in her daily life to provide accurate, nonpartisan political information to the community is crucial to the discipline, media outlets and people in the community. Dr. Friesen announced, “Science is more important to me than advocating my political view.