Zoom notes for Research Class Lecture

Areas of expertise - Cambridge Assessment

Sean Hannity dropped out of NYU and Adelphi. It was his radio experience that enabled his charismatic presence to cover for his lack of expertise in anything he discusses. In the world of Mass Communications, he is not a journalist, though he plays one on TV. If any student comes remotely near this man or someone like him on a works cited page, you’ll fail.

Rush Limbaugh dropped out of Southeast Missouri State University. His radio experience enabled his smooth voice and sharp wit to cover for his lack of expertise in anything he discusses. Students who cite him must buy pizza for the entire class.

These two have no background or degrees in journalism or how to verify information properly, no training or education in political science, and remain little more than disc jockeys with opinions.

Mike Savage has three degrees in botany, medical anthropology, and nutrition. He is not a journalist, not a political scientist, and not someone who should be a bestselling author of multiple books about politics.

Thom Hartmann has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State despite his best-selling books about politics, for which he has no credentials.

The first and most important question any professor will ask when reading a research paper for every class throughout college is this: Where did you get your information.

Worth repeating: Where did you get your information?

There is a chasm between News and Commentary. There is, in fact, very little “news” anywhere; that is, the objective presentation of indisputable facts. The majority of airtime is dedicated to talking heads chatting about “possibilities” based upon how they “feel” about something, each (both parties) bringing with them their own prejudices, ignorance, and agendas. Before anyone talks, and long before any student attributes information to a source, you’d better make clear their degrees, their experience, and their qualifications to be considered an “expert” whose opinion is worthy of weighing.

Oh, and speaking of “experience,” there is a difference between an expert and a participant. An expert has all the information about the bigger picture, understands the cultural and historical context, has digested and contemplated the multiple facets of the topic through education, experience, and consultation with other experts. A participant was there. I have been teaching English at the college level now for more than thirty years. I am NOT an expert. I am a participant who knows how I do things and what works for me. But if you want to know the best results for various pedagogical methods, talk to an educational specialist whose research tracks such things.

To that point, to teach at a university you must have a terminal degree in the field you teach. My brother-in-law, for instance, Dr. Gregory J.W. Urwin, is a well accomplished, tenured historian at Temple University and author of multiple definitive volumes in history. He is one of the most respected people in his field. But he can’t teach chemistry. No one questions this. And education is not the only occupation which requires employees be learned in the areas they work. To be more specific, Dr. Urwin even specializes in particular areas of history, and while he is extremely learned in just about any subject in the field, he will be the first one to pass along a question about medieval history, for example, to someone whose expertise lies there. Experts are generally pretty specific. One way to tell a fraud is that person’s vagueness.

Imagine an entire staff at any business or office where none of the employees has expertise in the field. Inconceivable. Just as flawed would be an office filled with participants with various experiences all disagreeing with each other. Someone with a broad view of context is necessary to steer. That there’d be the expert.

Now try and imagine what would happen if the people consulted for the most important decisions facing our nation were not experts in research and investigation or economics or foreign relations or military strategy, but instead radio personalities. That’s how I’m reading your papers. That’s how professors will scrutinize your works cited pages. This isn’t a reality show. This is reality; there’s a difference.

Let’s be clear about how research works. You follow the ideas of multiple experts to wherever that conclusive evidence leads. “Fair and Balanced” is an amateur attempt at a quick brand. It makes no sense. Real research is often not fair. Real research covers the facts, the verifiable facts, the indisputable facts no matter where they lead, and if they only lead in one direction then we all head that way. Balance has nothing to do with results.

We will discuss the best sources and how to eliminate the false ones, how to validate the authority of the source, and how to ensure a phony source isn’t presenting itself as an authority. This is a challenge in a world where verification before publication is nearly non-existent. It helps to know what to pay attention to when pundits pontificate about what’s best for our country, our families, and our children. I don’t want advice from my neighbor who “also had that condition” on what medicines to give a family member. I prefer a doctor; more specifically, a doctor in the correct discipline.

Yet you’re attempting to do research in a time when most people are taking advice from people who are more qualified to grow vegetables than they are to suggest who should run our country..

So how do we understand the dangerous trend in recent years to ignore an individual’s outstanding qualifications for something in favor of someone more appealing to the eye and ear, for someone who makes up facts to suit the listeners’ desires, which leads to higher ratings, which leads to twisting rationalization beyond recognition? Everyone must understand the difference between a fact and an opinion, between an opinion and a belief, between a belief and a prejudice.

Well, the fact is facts never used to be so pliable; truth came after excruciating research and triple-checked sources. Informed individuals stood down when that research showed them wrong. Trust was a given. This much is reality: the criteria used by many people in this country to choose a president would not get them a passing grade on a research paper in this freshman composition course. Misinformation is childish. Incomplete information is embarrassing.

And inexperienced, uneducated, unqualified commentators are not sources, they’re not advisers and they’re not providing any valuable information at all. They are simply dangerous wannabees who didn’t have the wherewithal to do the time to earn the respect experts receive. Cite anyone who fits such a description and you’ll fail.

Let’s get some pizza.

Media Bias Ratings AllSides

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