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The Ethics of Climate Communication

An Interview with Dr. Jean Goodwin

In less than a week, Dr. Jean Goodwin (North Carolina State University) will deliver a public lecture for the Media Ethics Initiative on the ethical issues in our communication and argument about climate change. Dr. Scott Stroud, MEI Director, sat down with Dr. Goodwin (virtually, of course, since we live the future at MEI) and found out more about her approach to rhetoric, communication, and ethics.JG pic

Stroud: Can you tell me a bit about your training and interests in communication? What got you into this line of work, and what are you interested in?

Goodwin: I was enjoying legal practice, but couldn’t figure out an institutional setting I was willing to put up with—staying with the bureaucracy at legal aid, working for a big firm, or hanging up my own shingle and spending half my time trying to squeeze money out of clients. I had had some courses in rhetoric as an undergrad, and had learned that rhetoric was creative, systematic, and argumentative. Cool! I was happy to find that there were actually PhD programs where you could study it.

Stroud: I see you’ve done some past work on classical rhetoric, including important figures such as Cicero. How did you get interested in that area? Why do you think classical rhetoric still matters to us today?

Goodwin: I fell into classical rhetoric partially by accident: when it was time for me to choose a dissertation topic, I had had at least one seminar a year on Cicero, so he was the rhetorician I knew the most much about! But this turned out to be a piece of good luck, since the highly agonistic politics of the Roman Republic provides useful perspectives on our own. Cicero had neither armies, high birth or exceptional wealth; to survive in political combat, he had only words. How did he make them work?

Stroud: What are some of your present research projects? What else are you involved in right now that may be of interest to those thinking about the intersection between ethics and communication?

Goodwin: There’s a fundamental question underlying all communication: Why does it work at all?  Why should we pay attention to others’ messages, much less credit them? After all, junk mail gets tossed into the bin by the door. I have been collaborating with other colleagues in argumentation studies to examine precisely this question, focusing on civic controversies–situations where we expect disagreement and distrust to be widespread. Our research suggests that speakers establish themselves as trustworthy by making and living up to ethical commitments. In this sense, communication can only be effective if it is ethical.

Stroud: Some of your recent work focuses on science communication. What are some of the pressing ethical issues that those studying science communication should think more about?

Goodwin: Scientists often voice concern about the poor state of science communication. But being scientists, what they think they need are social scientific studies that document the effectiveness of specific communication techniques. In my view, communicators who set out to meddle with others’ minds are likely to be perceived as manipulative, and their messages rejected. (In fact, this is an ancient lesson, going back to Plato’s Gorgias.) Instead, I believe that scientists should be thinking much more about their ethical responsibilities–what they need to do to earn the trust of their fellow citizens.

Stroud: Specifically, I see that you’re thinking more about the choices that scientists may make in public deliberation over climate change’s causes and possible solutions. What are some of those ethical choices in the communication over climate change?

Goodwin: Scientists tend to be very aware of disagreement within their own fields. But when communicating with broader publics, they sometimes become less tolerant of differing views. While is is entirely appropriate for scientists to use their rights as citizens and advocate strongly for the single, correct answer, there are other roles that they can usefully play in public deliberations. Selecting among roles–advocate, advisor, reporter, educator–is the key ethical choice a scientist can make in climate communication.

Find out more about Dr. Goodwin’s take on science communication and the ethics of the climate change debate at her talk on November 14, 2:00-3:30PM, BMC 5.208. More details here.

Philosopher Discusses New Media’s Threat to Democracy

By Sarah BallardFig 2- Professor Gregory Pappas explains two different types of democracy, what he calls thin democracy and thick democracy (Photo-Sarah Ballard)

AUSTIN, Texas – In a lecture on Oct. 25, Gregory F. Pappas, a distinguished fellow for the Latino Research Initiative at The University of Texas at Austin and professor of philosophy at Texas A&M, discussed how new media technologies inhibit deeper learning and threaten the health of democracy.

Pappas is well known for his work in pragmatism, which understands philosophical thought as a means of solving problems. He is the author of “Pragmatism in the Americas” and “John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience.”

During his lecture, Pappas explained how the internet and social media allow people to avoid critical thinking and social interaction. He said that the instant gratification new media provides interferes with learning at a deeper level.

“With such a dependence on computers, students technically do not even need to go to class, and technically there isn’t a need for universities at all,” said Pappas. “However, this type of learning is lacking quality. It is not a meaningful learning experience as the students are missing out on the process of learning.”

Pappas went on to discuss how democracy is affected by this, explaining that most people think of democracy as “thin,” which refers to the simple act of voting in elections. However, he explained how democracy needs to be more in order to become “thick” democracy.

“Thick democracy is so important, yet it is hard to achieve with the Internet grabbing our attention constantly,” said Pappas. “With thick democracy, you develop citizens who think critically, think on their own and challenge authority.”

Pappas explained that, in contrast to thin democracy, thick democracy involves fraternity, which includes both communication and community. As our society has become incredibly dependent on the web, the Internet has polarized people and taken away the community aspect.

“I thought Dr. Pappas was very enthusiastic about the issues technology has created, specifically with education and democracy,” said Morgan Malouf, a senior public relations major. “He called to the audience to become more aware of the negative impacts [of] our everyday technology.”

Pappas’ research includes Latin American traditions of philosophy. His current project is called “An Inter-American Approach to the Problems of Injustice.” He is vice president of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy and the editor-in-chief of the online scholarly journal The Inter-American Journal of Philosophy.

This lecture, which took place in the Jesse H. Jones Building, was a part of the Media Ethics Initiative lectures series. The Media Ethics Initiative supports research that explores topics relating to communication and the media.

Anthems and Activism in the NFL

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The Media Ethics Initiative Presents:

Anthems and Activism: Mediating the Politics of the NFL

Dr. Michael L. Butterworth

University of Texas at Austin

October 11, 2017 — 1:00-2:00pm — CMA 5.136

In recent months, professional football players have used the national anthem ceremony as a stage for political protest. Such moments of activism have sparked significant conversation and controversy, and they have also received substantial media coverage. This talk examines the ethical and historical context for political protest in sports, considers the relationship between the NFL and sports media, and speculates about the future of activism during the national anthem and beyond.

Dr. Michael L. Butterworth is a Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Director of the Center for Sports Communication & Media at the University of Texas at Austin. His research explores the connections between rhetoric, politics, and sport, with particular interests in national identity, militarism, and public memory. He is the author of Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity: The National Pastime and American Identity during the War on Terror, co-author of Communication and Sport: Surveying the Field, and editor of Sport and Militarism: Contemporary Global Perspectives.

Free and open to the UT community and general public

For further information, contact Dr. Scott Stroud

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[Video of Talk here]

Media, Democracy, and Education

The Media Ethics Initiative Presents:

Are New Media Technologies Good for Education and Democracy?


Dr. Gregory F. Pappas

Professor of Philosophy, Texas A & M University

October 26 – 12:30-2PM – CMA 5.136

We live in a digital-electronic age and the internet is becoming more the central medium of information and communication. Dr. Gregory Pappas, a philosopher in the pragmatist tradition, explores the following questions and provide some answers in this research talk. Are the new media technologies good for education or the improvement of learning? Do they help us solve the crisis of education today? How do they foreground certain concepts of the “good” or “bad” when employed in education?   What do these new media technologies mean for a deep sense of democracy, or the view inherent in some strains of American thought that seeks to improve citizen participation and empowerment?

Dr. Gregory Fernando Pappas is a Distinguished Fellow for the Latino Research Initiative at The University of Texas at Austin and Professor of Philosophy at Texas A & M University. Dr. Pappas works within the American Pragmatist and Latin American traditions in ethics and social-political philosophy. He is the author of the books Pragmatism in the Americas and John Dewey’s Ethics: Democracy as Experience; he is also the editor-in-chief of The Inter-American Journal of Philosophy and the Vice President of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy.  His current research project, “An Inter-American Approach to the Problems of Injustice,” develops a theoretical framework for approaching problems of injustice in Latino communities, drawing on the insights of philosophers (e.g., Luis Villoro, Gloria Anzaldua, Jane Addams, John Dewey) concerned with local injustices in different regions of the Americas.  

Free and open to the UT community and general public

For further information, contact Dr. Scott Stroud

Follow us on Facebook

[Video of Talk here]


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