Cross-dressing at the first Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education

Read our round-up for the highlight presentation and discussion on journalism and academic cross-dressing; what banned U.S. academic Bill Ayers had to say; plus what happens when academic research hits the media.

June 17
Keynote and panel: Are you listening? Has the “cross-dressing” of media
and academia created better understanding between these worlds, or do
they remain two solitudes? A presentation by Michelle Stack, a faculty
member at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Educational
Studies. Presentation was followed by a panel discussion featuring:
Adam Habib, University of Johannesburg; Cat Warren, NCS; Nicole Blanchett Neheli, Sheridan College; Ann Rauhala, Ryerson University; Jeffrey
Dvorkin, Centennial College/University of Toronto; Sandy McKean,
Sheridan College.

The quick hit: Michelle Stack concluded that there are plenty of people
who dip those toes in both the academic and media worlds. These worlds
are not two solitudes, she said in her presentation, but rather two
different approaches to tackling any said issue. Sometimes journalistic
research can be stronger than academic research, she added. Yet while
academics must become more media literate, she says, journalists, too,
must become more research literate. By working together, and out of
their solitudes, they can productively engage in complex corporate,
social, cultural and economic dynamics — and stories. Panellists dished
on the issue of cross-dressing after her presentation.

Notable quotes: “Often the result [of academic research] that you do, or
I do, is in the form of a thesis that most people are not able to wrap
their heads around because of the way it was packaged.” — Nicole
Blanchett Neheli
; “People are not being outspoken because they’re afraid
to lose their jobs.” —Jeffrey Dvorkin; “A newsroom is a classroom. One
of the big differences is as a journalist you don’t have the luxury of
time.” — Sandy McKean; “For academics, it’s time to step up to the
plate, quite frankly. They need to try and understand the news cycle,
[and the idea of] story, and focus.” —Sandy McKean; “We’re all shy
egomaniacs.” —Jeffrey Dvorkin

June 16
Keynote: Bill Ayers, The responsibility of academics to contribute to public debate in the media

The quick hit: American academic Bill Ayers was supposed to be the premier keynote speaker for the first-ever International Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education. Unfortunately, for the conference, the retired University of Illinois at Chicago prof was banned from entering Canada — again. He was first barred from entering in 2009. While he says he has never been given a reason for his denied entry; though never convicted of a felony, he is, infamously, a founding member of the Weather Underground, a 1970s protest group that was involved in anti-Vietnam war bombings of public buildings. None of this stopped Ayers from speaking at the conference, however. Instead of being there, Ayers addressed the crown via a pre-filmed video. “I apologize for this awkward format,” he says in the flick’s opening, “I assure you, I feel ridiculous.”

Despite all the controversy, though, Ayers doesn’t dwell on the ban — saying he doesn’t want to “get derailed by that stupidity” — and jumps right into his talk. That is, academics need to open their eyes to the issues of today and speak up — again, and again, and again. Academics, he says, need to start speaking up and sharing their opinions, knowledge and insights intot he world, openly and loudly, with media. To refuse comment, and to hide behind title of academia — professor, doctor, etc., — is to be morally blind, he says.    

Notable quotes: “Not since McCarthy-ism have we seen such a cold wind blowing through the academy.”; “We have to be willing to protect the unconventional ideas.”; “We have to remind ourselves we are not simply academics.”

Keynote: Does the showcasing of university research successes distort the actual nature of research? Moderator, Joseph Wilson, MaRS. Speaker, Ivan Semeniuk, Nature

The quick hit: Ivan Semeniuk, editor-in-chief of Nature, talks about how social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, are changing the nature of scientific research, how it is disseminated — and how it is reported. He lists two examples: the recent NASA paper on arsenic-using bacteria and their implication when it comes to alien life, and Mike Brown’s live-tweeting of his observations of dwarf planet Haumea as one of its moons passed in front. (In case you didn’t know, Brown tweets as @plutokiller, a nod to his role in the demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet). In the first case, media and scientists completed a total take-down of the hyped-up arsenic paper, which contained both questionable methods and conclusions. In the second case, Brown caused a furor among scientists who were aghast at his tweeting of observations before it was written, peer-reviewed, edited, etc. Now, thanks to scientists like Brown, instead of hearing about the event 18 months after the fact, journalists can report on scientific events in a timely manner. For journalists, this wealth of information can only be a good thing.

Notable quotes: “The science was taken down in a matter of days on Twitter, Facebook, etc.”; “It’s good to have it [academic research] subject to the same questions, the same scrutiny that journalists would apply to all public life.”; “I’m not happy with our coverage.” re: story on arsenic-using bacteria and alien life.