Midst the cacophony that drowns out rational thinking during political campaigns I have long perked up my ears when I heard that Kathleen Hall Jamieson would be the guest commentator. In her measured, critical but positive way she invariably helps us challenged voters to make sense of the rhetoric. I am confident that, when Bill Moyers or another thoughtful interviewer asks an intelligent question, Jamieson will offer a cogent response in words well chosen to communicate meaning to the average voter. For a quick refresher on the media persona of Jamieson, view the first clip on this pre-2012 election discussion on Bill Moyers: http://billmoyers.com/content/web-extra-analyzing-debates-and-ads-in-the-elections-final-stretch/
Intrigued, eager to learn more about a scholar who was willing to share her thoughts with the average voter, I have discovered just how this unique woman continues to shape powerful resources that curb rampant misinformation, propaganda and naked lies.
Born in Minneapolis in 1946 Jamieson graduated from St. Benedict’s High School in St. Joseph, a residential school operated by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict. She received her BA from Marquette University with an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Following a career in academia Jamieson was named Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Along the way she has authored or co-authored sixteen books and articles beyond calculation. One example is a February 2015 article “The Discipline’s Debate Contributions: Then, Now, and Next,” published in the Quarterly Journal of Speech. In that article Jamieson synthesizes some of the contributions scholarship has made to understanding televised presidential debates – learning from debates, factors that mediate audience, and the ways in which candidate debate communication forecasts the presidency of the eventual winner.
Renowned as a media guest Jamieson has been honored with a host of teaching awards. In May 2013 she spoke at the University of Minnesota Center for the Study of Politics and Governance; Eric Black’s thoughts on that presentation are an essential read for anyone who wants to understand more about what motivates – and distresses – Jamieson. (http://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2013/05/kathleen-hall-jamieson-and-attack-fact)
What many who know Jamieson from her media appearances do not know is that, in her role as Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, she is responsible for the familiar FactCheck.org, for FlackCheck.org, the political literacy falsehood-detector, and, most recently, for SciCheck.org.
Founded in 2003 FactCheck.org was one of the first websites devoted to refuting misleading assertions about US politics. FlackCheck.org operates as a parallel resource. What’s new is SciCheck.org launched earlier this year. The mission of SciCheck.org is to evaluate the scientific claims made by politicians. This podcast and print overview of SciCheck.org affirm that the coverage is nonpartisan and bipartisan:
In a video interview with Mother Jones Jamieson “credits” another Minnesotan, Michele Bachmann, as the inspiration for SciCheck. “When Michele Bachmann made false allegations about the effects of…a vaccine, in public space on national television…the journalists in the real context didn’t know how to respond to the statement as clearly as they ought to….The time to contextualize is immediately. That [allegation] should have been shot down immediately.” Specifically, it was Bachmann’s diatribe against HPV, underscored by false scientific assertions about measles vaccine safety and her rants against climate change, that spurred the urge to nip misinformation in the bud.
In a recent episode of Mother Jones Inquiring Minds podcast Jamieson expands on the need for the media to respond with alacrity and viable facts to false claims and outright prevarications: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/02/michele-bachmann-factcheck-scicheck-inquiring-minds
Though Jamieson is tongue in cheek about Bachmann, she is serious about her concern that, in spite of the vast and valid amount of solid scientific information available, voters too often get their news from highly ideological media outlets. Especially since the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, the flow of information is subject to the heavy hand of vested interests that counter and drown out legitimate reporting on science issues.
Thus, when the Stanton Foundation, legacy of one-time CBS executive Frank Stanton, approached Annenberg, Jamieson was firm in her conviction that what the Center needed to do was “hire ‘real science journalists’ with the expertise to refute false claims and to get those corrections ‘into the bloodstream of journalism more quickly.’” (Update: the issue of scientific viability came to a head in late February when the House passed by a vote of 229-191 the Science Advisory Board Reform Act which would effectively prevent scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice to the Environmental Projection Agency.)
Meanwhile, Jamieson is at work creating a complementary strategy known called LIVA, an acronym for “leveraging, involving, visualizing, analogizing”. The intent of LIVA is to more clearly communicate the evidence and overcome the biases of communicators and receivers of science-related messages. These biases Jamieson identifies as “endpoint bias,”, the tendency to overemphasize the last point in a trend line, and the inclination to overvalue recovery from a loss. Jamieson’s goal is to leverage the credibility of well-accepted sources such as NASA, involving the audience in a visual presentation of the evidence, and using an analogy to make the conclusion clear.” The authority and impartiality of sources of information are the premise on which the LIVA method rests. The LIVA strategy is outlined in a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences co-authored by Jamieson and researcher Bruce Hardy.
Above all, Jamieson holds that the people’s right to know, to have access to accurate and unbiased sources of information by and about the government is paramount. Speaking at the University of Minnesota in 2013 Jamieson concluded:
There’s a sustained ongoing set of challenges for those who believe in the policy model in which one set of institutions is responsible for coming to know as best we can, and protecting the record, and some other set of institutions is engaged in policy making. To the extent that we don’t find some way to blunt these forces that are subverting these institutions we are going to have high levels of deception backed by large sums of money wreaking havoc with the way in which we make policy.
A wise woman’s timely challenge for Sunshine Week 2015.