Eduvation Blog

Politicizing Science & the Science of Politics


Good morning!

By the time you read this… we likely still won’t know the outcome of the US election. But hopefully the widespread riots many feared – whether instigated by QAnon or BLM – will not have materialized. And hopefully you can face this “Wellness Wednesday” with a little less anxiety than we had yesterday.

Yesterday we were overwhelmed by global eruptions of civil unrest, terror attacks and cyberterrorism aimed at some revered institutions of civilization (like churches, synagogues, universities and polytechnics).

But in many ways, those institutions have been feeling besieged for a long time, in a society divided by religious zeal and political polarization. Ultimately, we’re going to look at the responsibility of education to overcome those divides and maintain (or rebuild) a civil society. But you know me – I always have to start at the beginning!

So today, a look at the anti-intellectualism that has grown over the past decade, some striking findings of political neuroscience, and the gender stereotypes that have fanned the flames of this pandemic.

But first, we can’t ignore more than a hundred new cases of COVID19 at a Quebec university…


COVID on Campus

CdnPSE has reported 102 cases since yesterday…

uLaval has identified ~100 cases of COVID19 in its community since the term began – but no outbreak has been declared. The cases involved 86 students and almost 20 employees, most of whom were working or studying remotely. Only a few attended campus, or lived in residence.  Journal de Montréal

Wilfrid Laurier U reports a 26th case of COVID19, this time a student living in the Macdonald House residence hall.  The Record

uWindsor reports a confirmed case of COVID19 in its community.  CTV


Politicizing Science

Populist movements around the world have promoted an anti-intellectual, anti-science perspective that seems to challenge the expertise of academics and the value of knowledge itself…

Science is on the Ballot

In a “normal” US election, presidential candidates might have subtly differing priorities for science research investments: “Nanoscience versus neuroscience, say, the moon versus Mars.” Election 2020 is clearly not normal: “respect for science in government is at stake in this election.” The Trump administration has not only ignored or contradicted public health guidance, but interfered with scientific decision-making at the FDA and CDC, and muzzled scientific expertise on climate change, fossil fuel, and environmental protection. (The Silencing Science Tracker website documents 471 times the Trump administration has attempted “to restrict or prohibit scientific research, education, or discussion.”) The US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord is official today. Scientific journals have endorsed Joe Biden and criticized Trump, overturning more than a century of precedent. When Biden said he would “listen to the scientists,” Trump mocked him for it. Inside Higher Ed

(Oh, and of course let’s not forget, Trump threatened to fire America’s foremost infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, whether or not he won yesterday’s election.)

“He’ll listen to the scientists. If I listened totally to the scientists we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression.”Donald Trump, mocking Joe Biden


Partisan Polarization

In the US, mandating face masks (or even wearing one) and reopening schools and college campuses have all become politically polarized: following scientific advice is now solely the province of Democrats, while Republican governors and senators have defiantly pushed for the opposite. American colleges that reopened this fall did so, not based on regional COVID19 infection rates, but based on the politics of lawmakers in the state – and they were most likely to remain undecided well into the summer.  APSAnet


Feminizing Science

Ironically, while higher ed is still working to establish gender equity in STEM research labs, the general public seems to subconsciously regard public health precautions as emasculating…

Fragile Masculinity

Joe Biden observed that Trump’s resistance to wearing a facemask was “macho,” some kind of male bravado. A Fox News commentator retorted that Biden “might as well carry a purse.” Certainly much of Trump’s term as president has revolved around “masculinity contests” of one kind or another. Females have been more likely to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks across North America, and men represent more COVID19 cases, hospitalizations and fatalities. Stereotypical social demands on men are that they display strength, take risks, hide their fear and appear in control. Public health advocates observe the same challenges with encouraging birth control and the use of condoms.  New York Times

Female Leaders Rule!

No doubt that helps explain why countries led by women seemed to have significantly better outcomes managing the COVID19 pandemic than those led by men. “Women leaders [are] significantly more risk averse in the domain of human life, but more risk taking in the domain of the economy.” National Post

The US might have had a very different outcome from the pandemic, had Hillary Clinton won in 2016…


Studying Politics

While science has been politicized, politics is also being put under the microscope – literally…


Politics & Neurobiology

I find it fascinating that there even exists a field of study called Political Neuroscience – and that MRI research has found structural differences in the brains of conservatives and liberals. “On the whole… conservatives desire security, predictability and authority more than liberals do, and liberals are more comfortable with novelty, nuance and complexity.” Conservatives have more developed amygdalas, which focuses on evaluating threats (and makes them less likely to participate in political protests). Liberals tend to have more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area that helps detect errors and incongruencies, and resolve conflicts. (In other words, responsible for critical thinking?) Partisanship influences memory and reasoning, and “helps to explain why people place party loyalty over policy, and even over truth.” Scientific American

“Maybe the way to interact with someone who disagrees with me politically is not to try to persuade them on the deep issue… It’s more to try to understand where they’re coming from and shatter their stereotypes.” Jay Van Bavel, Assoc Prof of Psychology & Neural Science, NYU


The challenges facing our national politicians have much in common with the challenges facing college and university leaders in times of turbulence, budget cuts, furloughs and enrolment uncertainty…

Counter Despair with Integrity

Either Trump or Biden will win this election, but “our deepest problems aren’t really amenable to resolution by a president,” says AEI scholar Yuval Levin. A steadily growing social crisis is “evident not only in the breakdown of our political culture but also in the isolation and despair that have driven up suicide and opioid-abuse rates, and in a sense of alienation that leaves whole communities feeling excluded from the American story and in turn angrily rejecting it.” In the aftermath of this “manic” election, we need to figure out how to deal with those “mortal enemies” on the other side. Ultimately, we’re all craving a society of integrity, justice, and legitimate authority – whether our protests look like “cancel culture” or “Black lives matter,” whether we push against police brutality or the coastal elites. Solidarity will start at the grassroots, local and interpersonal level – not at the top. When we confront shared problems and seek collective solutions, we speak “less about ‘them’ and more about ‘us’.” We must “heal what’s broken from the bottom up.”  New York Times


Be Ready for What’s Next

Yesterday, Vancouver Island U launched its new fall recruitment campaign: Be Ready for What’s Next. “We are in a time when many people are rethinking their options, taking a look at different career and educational paths, and looking for a way to get started. There is a starting point at VIU for anyone who wants to attend university.” The What’s Next landing page prompts prospective domestic undergrads to share their contact information for a chance to win a $2,500 tuition credit for Fall 2021 – and promises a steady stream of email information thereafter. VIU

The 1:15 min campaign vid introduces the west coast experience: “At VIU, student life is everything. On beautiful, wild and warm Vancouver Island, the mountains, ocean, and forests provide year-round world-class recreation. Let the rich coastal culture, urban amenities and west coast vibe inspire you.”  YouTube


Thanks for reading!  Be safe and stay well,

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