Scott Plous, professor of psychology
Professor of Psychology Scott Plous spoke to the Associated Press about the tendency of observers to see the Michael Brown shooting as black and white. Those who support Officer Darren Wilson, and those who are convinced he unjustifiably shot and killed an unarmed man, look at the same facts and see no gray area largely due to “confirmation bias,” said Plous.
“It’s the tendency to seek out and give greater weight to information that confirms what we think rather than contradicts it,” he explained.
In this particular case, with little unambiguous evidence, “people are actually acting very reasonably,” said Plous.
“There is a void, and into that void, people will bring whatever they regard as the most reasonable evidence,” he said. “People are trying to make sense of this tragedy using the most compelling evidence they have available.”
This includes their own perspectives and experiences.
“We’re forced to reconstruct, to remember, to imagine what could have taken place,” Plous said, “and those are precisely the conditions when we’re likely to see bias.”
On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, Rob Rosenthal, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology, and Lois Brown, the Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor, write in The Huffington Post about student activism today compared to the 1960s.
Though Millennials have gotten a reputation as being disengaged with the world, Rosenthal and Brown write, “Numerous events suggest that students today are not abandoning activism but using new forms of activism: replacing confrontation with dialogue, lobbying, and direct service provision and ‘organizing’ locally and globally without ever joining hands. This virtual quality of modern activism may require less commitment and seem less real, less immediate, and more situational. Some even suggest that this contemporary activism diminishes significant personal risk and thus becomes less heroic. One does not have to leave ‘home’ and put it all on the line like the Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer activists did in volatile and unpredictable places.”
In September, Wesleyan will mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer with a series of programs.
Rosenthal is also director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life. Brown is also professor and chair of African American Studies, director of the Center for African American Studies, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.
Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem investigated the story of a celebrated German General during World War II, uncovering new evidence that he cooperated in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In response to research by Associate Professor of History Erik Grimmer-Solem, the German air forces have decided to rename a base currently named after a celebrated general known as an “anti-Nazi” in the years following World War II. The base is currently called after Gen. Hans von Sponeck, who was court-martialed and imprisoned for refusing to follow Hitler’s orders during a major Soviet counteroffensive on the Crimean Peninsula in 1941.
Recently, the German government announced in the Bundestag that the air forces had formally approved the name change in June, based in part on Grimmer-Solem’s work, published early this year in the journal Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift, and national media reports about that work. A final agreement on renaming the base is pending between the Luftwaffe and the nearby city of Germersheim, and local citizens have protested the name change.
“I knew that my research had the potential to stir up some controversy, but the speed with which a national debate and parliamentary discussion formed around the issue really caught me by surprise,” said Grimmer-Solem. “My findings hit a nerve. An official effort is now underway to assure that other military installations don’t mistakenly honor compromised officers. Still, the fact that there’s a sizable citizen initiative underway to keep the old name of the military base reveals just how divisive this topic still is in Germany.”
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Whistler’s sketch showing how his Venice works should be exhibited in 1880
Two drawings by James McNeill Whistler, part of the Davison Art Center’s collection of more than 100 Whistler works, will be shown in a new documentary on the life of the painter.
The sketches, one in pencil and one in pen and ink, will be seen in “James McNeill Whistler & The Case for Beauty,” premiering September 12 on PBS.
They represent just a small part of Wesleyan’s extensive holdings of works on paper by Whistler, one of the most important American artists of the 19th century.
“Whistler was crucial in making the connection between the Impressionists and British art, and … American art,” said Clare Rogan, curator of the Davison Art Center and adjunct assistant professor of art history. “While he worked mostly in Europe, he was incredibly important in creating that link.”
Neither sketch is large – unlike finished prints or paintings, both were for Whistler’s personal use and not intended to be seen by a larger audience. They are, however, interesting glimpses of an artist at work. The pencil sketch, measuring at just 4.4 by 6.9 inches, represents his ideas about displaying his famous landscape prints of Venice at an 1880 exhibit by the Fine Arts Society in London.
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A selfie taken by an endangered crested black macaque.
“If monkeys can own selfies, what other rights should they have?” asks Lori Gruen, professor and chair of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, writing in Wired.
Gruen is referring to arresting self-portrait photographs taken by an endangered crested black macaque, which are now at the center of a copyright dispute. As Gruen explains: “At issue is whether the human primate, David Slater, who owned the camera the monkey used, has a legal claim on the image. He wants Wikimedia to take the photograph down on the grounds that it is ‘his,’ but Wikimedia has countered that because the non-human primate took the photo and not Slater, it is in the public domain.”
For Gruen, this matter raises serious questions about the rights of non-human animals. Read the full article here.
Wesleyan’s Economics Department hosted the 2014 Workshop in Macroeconomics Research in Liberal Arts Colleges on August 5-6.
The conference brought together about 40 macroeconomists from liberal arts colleges around the country to present and discuss research, and exchange ideas about research and teaching. It aimed to increase productivity of macroeconomists at liberal arts colleges. It was organized by Wesleyan’s Bill Craighead, assistant professor of economics; Pao-Lin Tien, assistant professor of economics; Masami Imai, professor of economics, professor of East Asian studies; and Richard Grossman, professor of economics. The Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life also provided support.
Past years’ conferences have been held at colleges including Claremont McKenna, Lafayette, Vassar, Colgate and Hamilton.
More information and the conference schedule is available on this website.
See pictures from the conference below:
Joyce Jacobsen, dean of the social sciences and director of global initiatives, Andrews Professor of Economics, delivered welcoming remarks at the conference.
New faculty member Karl Boulware, assistant professor of economics, spoke.
New faculty member David Kuenzel, assistant professor of economics, spoke.
Lori Gruen is chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.
Lori Gruen, chair and professor of philosophy, professor of environmental studies, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, has been elected a fellow of the prestigious Hastings Center.
The 45-year-old center, an independent bioethics research institute, addresses ethics in the areas of health, medicine and the environment.
“I’m delighted to be elected a fellow of the Hastings Center,” Gruen said. “The research publications (from Hastings) are cutting edge, and have been an integral part of my teaching.”
Gruen is coordinator of Wesleyan Animal Studies and director of the university’s Ethics in Society project, which aims to develop and foster teaching, scholarship, and institutional reflection on the ethical challenges facing individuals and society. Her work lies at the intersection of ethical theory and ethical practice, with a particular focus on ethical issues that impact those often overlooked in traditional ethical investigations, including women, people of color, and non-human animals.
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The Wesleyan Media Project, which for the past two federal election cycles has tracked and analyzed campaign television ad spending, is expanding into the realm of health policy analysis with a new study examining media coverage accompanying the Fall 2013 rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.
The question of inquiry: How did media coverage of the ACA (commonly called “Obamacare”) differ state to state—or even within states—and what impact might this have on new health insurance enrollments? Findings were published July 18 in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law from Duke University Press.
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“Isn’t it against the rules of religion to pray against another person?” Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion, professor of American studies, professor of African American studies, asks in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times. The answer: “Hardly.”
Imprecatory prayer–or praying for harm to befall another–is more common than many know, McAlister writes. She points to a Ghanaian traditional priest who is claiming credit for causing an injury to Portugal’s soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, whose absence, the priest hopes, may improve Ghana’s chances against Portugal in the World Cup this week. Closer to home, the American evangelical community for the last five years has led a chilling campaign praying for President Barack Obama’s death.
The Secret Service has taken note of the threat inherent in the prayer campaign. But without direct evidence that people were actually advocating acts of violence, the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League have concluded that the campaign to “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109.8” is a legal form of political speech.
In a way, though, that conclusion relies on secular logic. The ACLU and the ADL assume prayer to be ineffectual in causing harm. But many evangelicals believe negative forms of prayer can actually be efficacious weapons. This is why they use the term “spiritual warfare,” and why they think it is best left to the experienced “prayer warrior.”
Peter Rutland, the Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor in Global Issues and Democratic Thought, was interviewed on Russia Today television. The discussion ranged from the recent deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations under President Obama to possible U.S.-Russian cooperation in fighting terrorism to the implications of the crisis on Ukraine, and other foreign policy issues, for American politics.
“For all of the ups and downs in the 1990s and 2000s, there was a kind of continuity in the parameters of the [U.S.-Russian] relationship,” said Rutland, who is also professor of government, professor of Russian and Eastern European Studies. “That really has fallen apart since 2008. Yes, there were some changes in Putin’s policy, but Putin had been around since 2000, so the main responsibility for the collapse in the relationship must like on the American side, unfortunately. There was a mindset of the Obama Administration coming in that thought that Putin was a man of the past…They put all their chips on the idea that Russia would return to democratization under President Medvedev, and that proved unfortunately to be a losing bet.”
In response to the interviewer’s assertion that Russia has continued down a road of democratization, Rutland said, “There are different types of democracy. Putin is certainly a popular leader and he’s certainly stayed within the loose parameters of democratic politics understood in the Russian context, but what the Obama administration had in mind was real, competitive Western-style democracy with parties competing for the presidency, competing for seats in the parliament, and also much more interaction of civil society organizations in Russia with Western organizations.”
Watch the entire interview here.
Writing in The Hartford Courant, Matthew Kurtz, associate professor of psychology, chair and associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, rails against plans to close the 20-year-old Schizophrenia Rehabilitation Program at the Institute of Living in Hartford. Individuals with schizophrenia suffer from impairments that can make daily life a Herculean struggle for the entire family,” writes Kurtz. Moreover, people with schizophrenia represent a substantial proportion of the homeless population; have extremely have levels of unemployment; and, in the absence of treatment, all too often end up in prisons, which are ill-equipped to treat them and where they are highly vulnerable targets of other prisoners.
Kurtz writes: “The Schizophrenia Rehabilitation Program, internationally recognized for its treatments, is one of the very few treatment centers in Connecticut that can address the needs of this patient population and the only program, to my knowledge, to offer such a rich array of integrated services with such proven results. Indeed, despite the dire statistics, we know that evidence-based treatments can improve outcomes in schizophrenia and that many people with the disorder can live rich and fulfilling lives, even with residual symptoms.”
Read more here.
On the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which Chinese government troops killed and arrested thousands of civilian pro-democracy protestors, Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, writes in the Jewish Ledger about the importance of remembering these events. Even today, she writes, the government is arresting those who attempt to discuss the history behind the events on June 4, 1989, leading to an entire generation who is unaware of the massacre.
Schwarcz writes: “The Jewish prayer of Kaddish does not mention the dead. Instead it praises the Creator whose name is synonymous with truth. The mothers who lost sons and daughters in Tiananmen Square cannot say words of Kaddish. Not simply because the words of the ancient prayer are unfamiliar to them. Also because the government forbids any mention of those who died in the dark night when tanks plowed into the ranks of unarmed protesters weakened by a hunger strike and waning hopes for the reform of the regime.”