Journalism, politics and the scientific method

Photo source: Art by Jennifer J. Dolan

I have justifiably been called tangential. It comes from my ability to make seemingly random, sometimes obscure, connections between ideas. While this allows me endless hours of amusement it does not always help me communicate well with others. Please stick with me while I introduce myself by developing the connection between politics, the scientific method and why I support independent journalism.

I grew up in rural California, far away from the beaches that many people associate with that state. Instead I grew up in the dry foothills around what I considered a small town of 70,000 people. My father grew up in a town of 43 and my mother was from a town with a population of a few thousand. My father never finished college but he advocated that I get a college degree, if that was what I wanted. Meanwhile, our neighbors appeared to value hunting, fishing, partying, rugged individualism, and hating the government, education and anyone that did not fit into their narrow idea of what it was to be an American.

I went off to college to study computer science and eventually received my first bachelors degree in instructional technology (designing training for companies). After moving to Wisconsin I received a bachelors in political science and, last year, earned a masters in communication. You might find that quite the collection of unrelated degrees, however here is where I bring all these elements together with the scientific method and why I am here helping with Middle Wisconsin.

At first glance computer science, training and political science look unrelated. All three start out from a similar spot. You see a problem, an opportunity for improvement that could be effected by a change. The computer scientist might want to get her computer to cook the perfect omelet, the trainer wants to find a solution to the problem of employee tardiness, while the political scientist might be searching for a solution to multi-generational poverty.

To make this change, to meet the challenge, you first must do your background research to learn more about the issue. This omelet craving computer scientist will look into robotics, computer vision, and just what makes a perfect omelet. The trainer will look at the workplace, the background of the employees, the weather, and standing policies employed at the company. The political scientist will look at population statistics, policies which encourage multi-generational poverty, and corporate practices which reduce the possibility of good paying jobs.

The next step looks very similar in all three cases, however the deliverables look very different. The computer scientist builds a robot and writes some code. The trainer designs a curriculum, and the political scientist drafts recommendations for lawmakers.

Then all three need to run a test by trying their ideas out in the real world: giving the robot some eggs, giving the training to the company, helping to implement a policy strategy. Despite good research, good planning, and good circumstances, things still could go very wrong for all three.

After testing, all three go back to their desks and see how things turned out. The computer scientist may need to figure out a better way to crack eggs after scraping egg off the garage ceiling. The trainer may need to figure out what went wrong if the company’s employees start showing up at work even later than before. The political scientist may need to look at their recommendations or policies to see if their changes made a difference in the lives of poor families.

So what does all this have to do with journalism? Journalists observe facts, ask questions, and try to make sense out of things. Journalists, like scientists, recognize their own biases and work to overcome them. Journalists relay the facts and what they might mean to the general public in a way that hopefully helps them make good decisions and better understand the world in which we live through the use of communication techniques. Lastly, good journalists will admit when they are wrong and will work to change their message.

I know that this article has been long, complicated, and maybe hard to follow. What I think I am trying to show you is that I think a lot about frames of reference and how even different perspectives can sometimes be related. I have tried to connect people to the knowledge they need, the skills they need to live their lives well.

I do this with impaired vision, with one working eye, so I literally do not share the same perspective as most people. I do my best to look at situations from the perspectives of, the reference frame of, other people.

That’s who I am and why I believe in the work we do here at Middle Wisconsin.