Best of the Blog 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, we’ve compiled ten blog posts that resonated most with our readers over the past year. Popular blog themes closely mirrored current events, and the state of global political realities — immigration, inequality, fascism, and environmental issues; additionally, readers were taken by posts on critical thinking, “slow” cinema, indigenous and world poetry, and the secrets unearthed from an ancient metropolis.

Have a happy new year, and see you in 2018, the 125th year of UC Press’s founding!

Immigration historians from across the United States launched the website #ImmigrationSyllabus to help the public understand the historical roots of today’s immigration debates, inspiring us to follow suit with a list of UC Press suggestions to provide further context to the ongoing conversation. View the Immigration Syllabus: UC Press Edition.

Raj Patel & Jason W. Moore’s A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things focuses on seven areas that are the foundation of modern commerce: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. In this excerpt, find out how the cheapening of care has made the world safe for capitalism: #7CheapThings: Cheap Care

In Trump’s Transgender Crisis, Jack Halberstam, author of Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability, responds to Donald Trump’s tweeted policy change banning trans soldiers from the military to ask: at a time when the visibility and acceptance of transgender people has never been higher, why this ban, why now?

In today’s fast-paced political news cycle, terms like “fascism” and “populism” are often used, but not always clearly defined. This excerpt from Federico Finchelstein’s From Fascism to Populism in History, explores the origins of these ideologies, their significance, and the important distinctions between them: Fascism or Populism? Playing the “Democratic Game”

One of the earliest, largest, and most important cities in the ancient Americas, Teotihuacan is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. Take a Look at Teotihuacan to see some of the rare and awe-inspiring artifacts featured in the exhibition and accompanying catalogue Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire.

 

Fifty years since its original publication, Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred continues to inspire and educate readers with its ability to expand the possibilities of poetry throughout the world. Rothenberg recently visited the UC Press offices to discuss the book’s enduring power and read from the 50th anniversary edition.

 

 

Peter M. Nardi, sociologist and author of Critical Thinking: Tools for Evaluating Research, addressed the importance of looking beyond the “two-sides-of-the-coin” perspective when responding to complex issues in his post False Balance, Binary Discourse, and Critical Thinking.

Releasing in May 2018, Paul Schrader’s seminal text Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer will be reissued with a substantial new introduction representing his experiences and ideas as a filmmaker that have evolved over time, giving the original work both new clarity and a contemporary lens. Hear Schrader discuss some of the techniques and attitudes of slow films in Transcendental Style in Film Revisited.

During the 2017 International Open Access Week, we interviewed Interim Director Erich van Rijn to survey the landscape of OA publishing at UC Press, discussing the progress and future of Luminos (our OA monograph program), and Collabra: Psychology and Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene (our two OA journals).

What is a case study, and how can case studies positively impact critical thinking and knowledge acquisition, as well as inform research in academia and training in professional practice? In the post The Case for Case StudiesCase Studies in the Environment Editor-in-Chief Wil Burns explains what case studies are, and how they can provide an important bridge to understanding important environmental issues.


False Balance, Binary Discourse, and Critical Thinking

This guest post is published as part of a series related to the American Sociological Association conference from August 12 – 15 in Montreal, Quebec. #ASA17

By Peter M. Nardi, author of Critical Thinking: Tools for Evaluating Research

Just because two sides of a story are presented does not necessarily mean the truth is somewhere in the middle. Nor does it mean there are only two sides and each side is equally balanced. Most social behaviors and attitudes exist for complex reasons. When people argue from a “two-sides-of-the-coin” perspective, we fail to realize that there are in fact multiple sides, perhaps even a continuum with viewpoints all along the way.

Humans have a tendency to dichotomize reality: male and female, life and death, religious and nonreligious, tall and short, body and soul, pro and con, Republican and Democrat. How simplistic to think of reality in such limited ways with such minimal binary conceptualizations.

As anyone who has ever watched television news knows, endless debates about controversial topics characterize cable shows. Partly due to journalistic ethics of demonstrating fairness by providing balance, viewers get to experience shouting matches and unintelligent debates among competing perspectives.

Despite engaging with alternative ideas and hearing varied views, we tend to listen selectively and employ confirmation bias in reinforcing our already-held opinions. What should be presentations of facts and scientifically-derived evidence typically turn out to be shouting contests of personal opinions. A critical thinker needs to discern these opinions, attend to the wide-range of claims and data, and decide what a fair and balanced approach to the issues should be. Not all topics require a range of positions, of course; you wouldn’t have a member of the Ku Klux Klan as a balance to someone highlighting hate crimes against ethnic and racial minorities. Or would you, as presidential comments about recent news events from Charlottesville suggest?

When engaging with news stories, research, and media reports, it’s important to critically think about the ways fairness and balance may actually be misused. Objectivity in gathering information is almost always affected by some subjective elements of those people collecting, interpreting, and disseminating the facts. Often just the choice of what to report or research is reflective of someone’s preferences and biases.

Notice also that when established views or facts are questioned by an activist group or individual protesting the status quo, media often then seek out commentary from “the other side” composed of established leaders and officials, thereby reinforcing the conventional wisdom and power positions.

Reporting of controversial events with balance may seem fair unless the language, visuals, and commentary used in introducing various positions are loaded with consciously chosen or inadvertent bias. Look for such labels as “the so-called leader” or defining the murderer as a “thug” or a “terrorist” or a “loner.” What impact do these loaded words have on the public when a claim is made in this manner?

One of the problems with balance in the media is that it can distort the proportion of opposing views. When two sides are given equal treatment, viewers might assume a 50-50 split on important topics, thereby creating a false impression. False balance occurs when “both sides” are presented despite one perspective being overwhelmingly agreed upon by scientific consensus. Research confirms that this kind of two-sided balancing creates uncertainty about the topic in the public eye. Consider that while there is 97% agreement among scientists (in published peer-reviewed articles taking a position) that human activity causes global warming and climate changes, less than half of respondents in a Pew Research study thought scientists agreed on this subject.

When the media highlight an “other side of the coin” skeptical view to balance a scientifically agreed upon position, it creates an impression that these 3% represent half of the experts. Critical thinking skills demand we look more closely at these public presentations of complex issues. Such false balance and belief in a limited binary approach perpetuates the divisions in public discourse, social policy, and presidential pronouncements. False balance and simplistic “sides of the coin” arguments are no way to address the needs of a society and its citizens seeking leadership and intelligent responses to the complexities facing us today.


Peter M. Nardi is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Pitzer College. He is the author of Doing Survey Research: A Guide to Quantitative Methods.

For Critical Thinking: Tools for Evaluation Research, visit the  companion website, which includes links to articles and books mentioned in the chapters, illustrative items, videos, and current news and research that elaborate on each chapter’s key concepts.


Editor Spotlight: Maura Roessner, Senior Editor for Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Law and Society

MR_headshot_112414_2. Maura RoessnerIn this Q&A with Senior Editor Maura Roessner, we learn about what brought her to publishing and her plans for Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Law and Society. 

Why did you become an acquisitions editor? 

It’s the perfect mix of intellectual, creative, and personal work. Back in college I worked at both the library and the university press, so I was clearly destined for one book direction or another. I did everything at that press from writing catalog copy to driving the forklift in the warehouse, but for me, there’s nothing more satisfying than working directly with authors to turn a good idea into a great product.

What projects are you working on now to develop the Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Law and Society list at UC Press? 

I’ve been at UC Press for five years, developing projects not only for scholars but also for students, general readers, and practitioners. So, we have an impressive catalog of recent publications from a terrific lineup of authors, but here’s a sneak peek at a few upcoming projects:

You’re developing new textbooks and course books. Why is new content intended for use in courses important to you? 

I believe that the pursuit of justice begins in the classroom. If students learn to think critically about our systems of law and justice, they gain the tools they need to act as catalysts for change when they go on to work for, against, or near the criminal justice system.

Join Us 

Interested in publishing your work with Maura and UC Press? Contact Maura at mroessner@ucpress.edu.

And learn more about Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Law and Society as well as the Higher Education Program.

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