Investigative Justice

SJRC Visiting Scholar Sally Lehrman (Knight Ridder/Mercury News Professor in Journalism and the Public Interest, Santa Clara University), speaks about what constitutes responsible practices of investigation in journalism, and what might we learn from and with journalism about the challenges of constituting responsible practices of investigation in science?

Sally Lehrman, an award winning journalist and our first Science and Justice Professor, will speak to us about how questions of responsibility in investigative journalism relate to questions of responsibility in science. We look forward to thinking with Sally about how to create more responsible science reporting, particularly in the area of race, gender and genomics. We will ask what these efforts in journalism might reveal about efforts to create more responsible natural and social sciences. While many people think of journalists as distorting responsible science, Sally's work will challenge us to think in a more nuanced way about the relationship between science and journalism, and about how public knowledge about science is produced.

Sally Lehrman, "Investigative Justice"
SJWG Rapporteur Report
13 November 2013
Rapporteur Report by Lizzy Hare
Sally Lehrman, an award winning journalist and the first Science and Justice Professor, spoke to the working group about responsibility in investigative journalism and how it relates to questions of responsibility in science. Lehrman is especially interested in matters of justice and diversity in journalism and science, and wants to work with Science and Justice to think about how science, and journalism can intersect towards the idea of justice.

Lehrman began her presentation with a video of a white supremacist whose DNA ancestry is revealed to him on a British talk show. The test results show that he is 14% sub-Saharan African, and he rebukes, claiming that this is simply statistical noise. Lehrman wanted to show this video because it raises questions about what genomics does, and by extension, what science can do. She then asked us to think about the following questions: Can science solve social problems? Can journalism assist? Should it? How well is it doing? Could it be done better?

Lehrman then gave a brief overview of the ambitions of journalism and some of its historical problems. In some ways, these ambitions and problems are shared with the field of science. Journalists see their duty as informing the public and providing the public with information so that the public may address the issue. The information provided to the public should be truthful, fair, and comprehensive. These ambitions are not always easy to obtain. Journalism as a field is disproportionately white and male, and both journalistic sources and the subjects of coverage reflect racial and gender bias as well. The underrepresentation of groups in the newsroom and as sources and subjects can lead to stereotyping.

According to Lehrman, journalism’s goal is to seek truth and report it. The trouble with science reporting is that because many journalists see scientists as holding the truth, and because scientists typically agree, journalists think that they can take a shortcut when reporting on science. This leads to science being presented as if it holds the solution to social woes without further discussion or debates about how society should use that information. Lehrman suggests that science writers need to be attentive to their own social conditioning and the structures within their field that shape the way they conduct their investigations. Just like with other types of reporting, science journalists need to remember to question the newsworthiness, usefulness, credibility, and framing of scientific stories. Practically speaking, her proposed intervention can be summed up as “question the questions and question the interpretations.”

The final slide in the presentation was an image that she hoped we could discuss. It is from an exhibit on genomics, and she is hoping that our expertise and interest in matters of science and justice could provide useful thoughts on the image. The image shows a female mannequin-like figure with genetic code imprinted on her. She’s dark brown, and lacks facial features and hair. The question next to her reads: “Can genes tell us who we are?” We discussed this image in small groups and then convened to share our thoughts. The working group thought that the image was supposed to seem futuristic, which prompted additional comments about why future people are so often portrayed as hairless
and of indeterminate ancestry and culture (depicted here with light brown skin tone and without hair or clothing to provide clues). Others were troubled by the use of a female body. Was this a conscious attempt not to reproduce the gender bias in medical research? Or does it perpetuate the female body as an object for the scientific male gaze? Or was it because the female form is considered more approachable in our culture?

After the discussion of the image, audience members shared their responses to and questions for the presentation. One person commented that perhaps there should be more burden of responsibility on the informant to help get the story right. Lehrman’s response to this was that typically the journalist has a better understanding of the general audience than the scientist does. That said, she takes serious issue with journalists who write directly from press releases, which are intentionally sensational and might gloss over important points in the research. Working from press releases also adds in the trouble of time, because the turn around time between press release and publication is so short that investigations become truncated and dots aren’t connected. Heidi asked about the problem of “balance as bias” which is especially problematic in reports on climate change, which often grossly over represent the position of skeptics. Lehrman suggests that scientists can be helpful to journalists by pointing out where the debates actually lie within the field. These debates are likely to be much less sensational, but will more accurately reflect the status of mainstream science.

Workshop: Transacademics: Making Use of Interdisciplinary Research Methods Outside of the Academy

Third Meeting of the Bay Area Intercampus Workshop on Interdisciplinarity

This workshop will consider how interdisciplinary research methods and knowledges can be used outside of specialized academic venues, with a particular focus on the importance of collaboration. Scholars who are drawn to interdisciplinary inquiry are often in search of knowledge that has more purchase on ‘real world’ problems. We will discuss how to accomplish this from positions that are both inside and outside of the traditional university setting, sharing insights from our own work, our institutions, and from experts who are now applying interdisciplinary training outside of the university.

Attendees are encouraged to prepare a 5 minute Lightning Talk that very briefly describes their research project and shares an insight, challenge or question about interdisciplinary collaboration that has arisen from their experience. Lightning talks are allowed a maximum of 3 slides. Attendees who do not want to give a lightning presentation are also welcome for the entire day.



10:30-11:00 Gather

11:00-11:15 Opening Remarks and brief introduction to the Science & Justice Research Center (Reardon and Metcalf)

11:15-12:45 Guest Speakers:

Natalie Purcell (Director of Collaborative Patient Care, Veterans Administration in San Francisco)

Karen Andrade (Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and The Science Shop, UC Berkeley)

12:45-1:15 Lunch

1:15-2:00 Optional walk and chat (dress for walking on moderate hills)

2:00-3:45 Lightning Talks

4:15-4:30 Break

4:30-5:00 Open Discussion

The UCSC Science & Justice Research Center | UCSC, College 8, Room 301 | Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Transacademics: Making Use of Interdisciplinary Research Methods Outside of the Academy"
Third Meeting of the Bay Area Intercampus Workshop on Interdisciplinarity
SJWG Rapporteur Report
2 November 2013
Rapporteur: Lizzy Hare, Anthropology
The goal for this workshop was to consider how interdisciplinary research methods and collaborations can be used outside of academic venues. Natalie Purcell, Director of Collaborative Patient Care at the Veterans Administration in San Francisco, CA and Karen Andrade, founder of the Berkeley Science Shop and Ph.D. candidate in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, spoke about their experiences applying interdisciplinary training to their work outside of the university. Workshop attendees also gave 5-minute Lightning Talks to briefly describe their research and share an insight, question, or challenge from their own experience in interdisciplinary collaboration.

The workshop began with introductions and participants offered questions that they hoped would be addressed over the course of the day. Workshop attendees were concerned with making transacademic work that is research done outside of traditional academic settings, legible as valid contributions to research and in career development, with issues of translation across audiences, disciplines and different degrees of specialization and expertise. There was also significant interest in being involved in research that can address real world problems and help to build a more equitable and just world.

In her introduction, Jenny Reardon talked about the importance of institutional recognition and support. Quality work ought to be recognized both financially and through certification on transcripts, and this is something that requires the involvement of the university. Funding for the Center for Science and Justice, for example, initially came from the National Science Foundation, but the NSF supports research, not institutions. In order to receive additional funds from the NSF that money will need to go towards research that supports the institution.

Natalie Purcell talked about her experience at the Veterans Administration in San Francisco. She began working at the VA through a fellowship program and was surprised to find that she would not be working on sociological research, but instead was tasked with administrative duties. While this was frustrating at first, she realized that many who leave academia face similar challenges and that the assigned tasks provided an opportunity to apply education in unexpected ways. One of the examples Purcell used was the customer service classes that she was asked to lead. She was able to incorporate sociological principles by expressing them using in the language of the people in charge. She said that her graduate training fostered a suspicion of pragmatism, and a distrust of people who work within compromised institutions and frameworks, but that these expectations weren’t realistic in her current position. She cautioned that adhering to a sense of purity in one’s research simply displaces the problem and forces others to compromise.

Karen Andrade spoke about developing the Berkeley Science Shop, an organization that connects UC Berkeley graduate and undergraduate students with research projects that benefit local non-profits, businesses and governments. By connecting students who wish to do research and organizations that could benefit from scientific research, the organization hopes to foster innovative solutions for local social and environmental problems. The Science Shop connects undergraduate students with graduate research mentors, and allows them to engage in research that has real-world impacts.

In the afternoon, conference attendees gave brief “lightning talks” about their experiences working collaboratively both inside and outside the academy. More than one talk questioned the assumption that collaboration is inherently good. Attendees were concerned that collaboration might be seen as a quick and easy solution to issues of credibility or a lack of diversity, but it can just as easily reproduce silences and impose limitations on ideas. Instead, collaboration needs to be done for the purpose of coming together around a common concern. Stopping to thinking of collaboration as co-labor-ation might be one way to remind ourselves of what is entailed in the act of engaging in collaboration. We should also be attentive to when and how interdisciplinarity and collaboration is good and why it is good in those situations. It can be helpful in exposing the normally invisible theoretical, methodological, and organizational assumptions that are a part of the collective sociality of disciplinary training, but we must be careful not to reproduce those in our collaborative, interdisciplinary work.

Sibyl Diver, a PhD Candidate from UC Berkeley, explained that presenting technical language as a gift might be one way to avoid alienating people with academic jargon. Instead of thinking and acting as though people should be familiar with technical words, she has tried to present them as a tool that could be used by people if they want to, if they find it useful. Several attendees said they liked the idea of using technical language as a gift in this way, rather than as a tool to exclude people.

One theme that ran through the entire day was that the divisions that are invoked to keep research “pure” and inside of the academy can also make it much more difficult to make a difference. Working to enact change outside of an academic context might require the provisional acceptance of logics that we might want to critique within the academy. Natalie’s talk provided an example of this, and Emily York offered an example from her own research as well For Emily, attempts to instantiate changes in the undergraduate nanoengineering curriculum at UCSD might require that she works within capitalist and humanist frameworks that she critiques in her more traditional academic work. Instead of seeing situations like this as a compromise, they could be considered successful in bringing attention to social and ethical issues that would have otherwise been ignored. Transacademic research is one way of being more attentive to these different research products for different intended audiences.

The day ended with concluding thoughts from Jenny. The problem of translation is recurrent, and we talked about the use of translate as a metaphor in this context. In linguistics, translation implies a slight slippage. Do we mean to suggest that, or are we using it differently? It seems we are using translation to describe the process of making research appeal to multiple audiences, but maybe we could find a more productive metaphor that doesn’t suggest incommensurability.

Future meetings will continue to work towards the goal of intercampus collaboration and research that benefits people outside of the academy. This process will require being humble and carefully listening to each other. Jake Metcalf will be working on the UCOP multi-campus research initiative to try to gain institutional and monetary support for our efforts.