Friday, March 3, 2017

WHO NEEDS PROFESSIONAL RESEARCH, EDUCATED EXPERTS?


The Guardian article, (see below: Universities Australia chairman warns of public hostility to 'evidence and expertise'), raises the matter of university research and professional expertise that seems to be challenged by irrational hearsay and matey commonsense with a degree of hostility, indeed, a belligerent, blind, self-assured hatred. Why are universities, their staff and their research, being ignored; mocked? It is a serious question that needs looking into, as the world is being hammered by the quirky self-promotional Norman Vincent Peale ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ ideas: see - https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/27/not-lies-donald-trump-truth-norman-vincent-peale



In Australia, skeptics not only pride themselves on their brazen ignorance, but also actively promote this in the N V Peale rawly ‘positive’ way that allows one to declare the day beautiful, blue and sunny when it is gray, bleak and pouring rain, with the simple technique: “prayerise, visualise, actualise.” We have seen One Nation, (a right-wing political party in Australia), ‘climate-skeptic’ politicians travel to the southern limits of the Great Barrier Reef, don diving equipment and perform for cameras beside the lush colours of this healthy portion of the reef, all to ‘prove’ that the scientific reports telling of the serious bleaching of large portions of the northern realms of this wonder of the world are all ‘fake news’: that they, the extremists and polemicists, are right – yet again! “Where’s the empirical evidence?” is the refrain that seems pleased with itself to have used such an impressive, ‘scientific’ word as ‘empirical’ - meaning based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic: as if the huge percentage of bleached reef meant nothing, or was merely a natural phenomena, nothing to do with man-made climate change. The chorus is that the ‘experts’ are lying to us; deceiving us with ‘alternative facts’ that suit their own skewed agenda.



The world gets interpreted and promoted in a particular manner that dismisses quality research, factual evidence and scholarly learning. Cynical populism reigns with its own indulgent certainty, egged on by catchy crowd enthusiasms, Mad Max manias, maintained by the Australian love of the amateur folk hero who overcomes everything with simple commonsense, or so the story goes. John Williamson’s song, True Blue, (see below), embodies much of the blokey characteristics of this folk tale: ‘Will you tie it up with wire/Just to keep the show on the road.’ Here the common man has commonsense that outshines the prestigious gleam of the learned specialist involved in his effete, ‘other-worldly’ research: the academic in the cliché arrogant isolation of the ivory tower. There is a certain blasé, self-satisfied enjoyment in this attitude that loves the mockery that its rude ignorance promotes. The skeptics appear to know that words like ‘empirical’ can always win the debate, in a way similar to those who argue against evolution seem to maintain their position with selective words and sealed ideas.
How often are architects ignored as fools, self-centred artistes, genius asthetes? - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/seeing-architects-as-what_3.html Here a colleague’s experience with uninvited door-knocking inquisitors is told; how the question is always about the builder: no one has ever asked about the architect. The man in the street knows that builders design and build and that architects are an irrelevance. I have had a similar experience where I was driving around with three brothers, wealthy country boys, who were ‘looking for ideas for a home.’ Two had built themselves the homes of their own design; the third had prepared the plan and was now looking for clues to finish off the elevations. It is difficult to gauge the impact of brotherly competition here, but in the whole of the drive that meandered randomly around in the region for about half an hour looking at all of the newer houses, a tour during which the brothers quizzed one another on ideas and opinions, not one ever asked me what I thought or might do, or directed any comment to me. I was just an architect, a phantom raised in a university, a waste of space; the ‘void’ discussed in http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/seeing-architects-as-what_3.html If I had been a plumber, or even a builder, I would have been made more welcome in this debate. The ordinary Australian loves commonsense outcomes and despises learning and scholarship, dismisses it with ‘alternative’ options that are always superior and carry the silent subtext - ‘idiot.’


Why? Why does one complain about being ignored? The Guardian article notes the rise of ‘the wisdom of the layperson’ with some dismay. What can one do about the momentum of ignorance that so freely labels matters as ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ with a brash smugness and an irrational NVP certainty, now seemingly endorsed and practised by the President of the USA?



How can this stupidity be remedied, overcome? Given our new ‘Trump’ world, and an emboldened ‘One Nation’ populism that whips up the hopes of those wanting to hear this hyped blurb with a self-fulfilling hysteria, it will be difficult. Sadly the institutions and professions do little other than encourage this dismissive attitude that labels factual understanding as being pretentious and elitist, and learning as upper-crust arrogance, both of which are seen to get in the way of ordinary ‘honest’ commonsense. There is something morally challenging, doubtful, in scholarship that eludes the straightforward ‘genuine’ approach of the ordinary man/woman: baffles it. It is as if there is a perceived otherness, something lesser, inferior, that is being given power and momentum by a perceived ‘moral’ challenge to become this assured, brash, blind expression; the demanding classic put down of knowledge and understanding.



It is difficult to talk about universities as a whole; but as an architect, one can relate to the Schools of Architecture within the regional universities, in this case those in southeast Queensland. How do these relate to the crowd manners that see them brushed aside as an irrelevance? What happens in these schools at: the University of Queensland; the Queensland University of Technology; Griffith University; and Bond University? Does a small State like Queensland need such a concentration of schools of architecture? This is another question for another time. It has been said that programmes like Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs (see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/is-architecture-just-grand.html ) have made architecture a very popular course for tertiary students. No doubt the business models of these schools are encouraging the numbers to grow too, irrespective of the actual demands for such expertise.


Who knows what goes on at these institutions that train architects? It is a reasonable question, but the answer is a challenge: it is all a silent mystery. Unless one is intimately involved in any of these schools on a regular basis, to be ‘one of them’ as it were, the goings on in these places is a total unknown. The situation, even for one in the profession, is such that as a visitor to any of these locations, one is left feeling lost, literally in the dark: outcast as a stranger bamboozled by the prestige and status, the special difference that these places adopt and thrive on. They exist as the proverbial ‘ivory towers’ with some degree of happy, protected isolation, well beyond the ordinary everyday experience, and the challenges it brings. This characteristic becomes the core quality of a university, its inherent prestige, its standing, and is possibly the rationale behind the various colleges and institutes being renamed as ‘universities.’ The new name ‘lifts’ the image even if everything else stays the same.
Academia - arches and sandstone: a cloistered environment
If one in the profession is made to feel like this, imagine how the ordinary ‘man-in-the-street’ feels. Is there any wonder that the pubic response to learning is blatant mockery; dismissiveness? Learning, scholarship will never gain any respect until it begins to encompass and embody things ordinary. All schools of architecture in Queensland other than that at the private Bond University Abedian School of Architecture, are publicly funded; but all have constructed a wall to keep the public well outside, while the intimate games of self-promotion and self-protection are played out, unsupervised, to the in-house rules. Challenges of ‘open’ universities seem to be boxed out in favour of things concealed, safe and sound – pushing a public silence, a difference that fails to get involved even in local architectural and planning issues. Why is all the apparent expertise of research and scholarship so isolated from any public involvement where it might be useful? When the occasion does arise, and a professor is asked by the media to comment on an issue, the response is usually so convoluted and esoteric that the vision of the ordinary man is not only confirmed, but also further confounded. Little wonder that commentators are rarely drawn from academia: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/why-we-need-universities.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/universities.html


But things do not have to be this way. Schools can play a significant public role, and they should: indeed, they must if they are going to gain the respect of the many. A good example of universities getting involved with the public is the ‘MY HORSE(DOG) GOES TO UNIVERSITY’ stickers seen cars. This refers to the veterinary school that opens up clinics for animals, both large and small, that the public might choose to bring in for diagnosis and treatment. It is a good example of how a university can gain respect from the ordinary person.



Something has to happen if we are to overcome the horrendous circumstance that sees power, authority and respect ripped away from those who know, and placed into the hands of those who appear to promote their foolishness with just too much blind and misguided, smug glee. That universities are now seen as, and are being run as businesses, does not help anything. Here the ideals of learning are themselves perverted by numbers and dollars, placing students in the role of consumers who have ‘rights’ to achieve, and creating 'attractive' courses to increase enrolments. Universities need to look very carefully at the critique given to them by the masses. Calling out for the education of the crowds is a self-defeating strategy that just will not work. It only reinforces the very issues that are causing the problems.


The Guardian report notes the role that universities have in ‘fostering economic opportunity and social inclusion.’ If places of learning and scholarship are not able to resolve these problems, then one has to be concerned about their ability to train anyone at all. There appears to be a certain irony in the circumstance, but it is not one that can be pushed aside with a mirrored mockery of the ignorant critics. This will only continue the reciprocal, stubborn abuse. Rigour, commitment and openness are required; a care for detail, research, place and people that shatters the image of ‘ivory’ remoteness and encourages those now feeling ostracised to understand how relevant universities can be; how essential they truly are, by involving these mad, misguided, manipulated crowds participating in the everyday without the pomp or glory that is so easily adopted from the historical sites of learning throughout the world: Oxford; Harvard – echoes of elitism that only stimulate things manic and raucous in the outsiders who know nothing but the positive power of mayhem and noise.
Co-producing cannot mean a lack of commitment and rigour



Australian Islamic Centre, Newport

How? One is left pondering the Murcutt solution to mystery and difference. In his new Newport mosque – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/01/murcutts-mosque-meanings-sources.html he has opened up the prayer space of the mosque with a glass wall facing the street. A ‘shop front’ glass wall to the school of architecture is really no solution. It will only turn participants into actors in a display from both points of view. As with the mosque, the glass wall is more a simplistic factual pun, a play on the word ‘openness’ rather than a considered intellectual response to the problem: it ignores symbolism and experience to naively suggest that real physical transparency will be the solution. Universities need to have a more creative approach than this rude, rudimentary reaction. Can they be better? They have to be: the well-being of the world and Everyman might depend on it.
SEE: Universities Australia chairman warns of public hostility to 'evidence and expertise'
ttps://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/mar/01/universities-australia-chairman
-warns-of-public-hostility-to-evidence-and-expertise?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Email


THE REPORT
Universities Australia chairman warns of public hostility to 'evidence and expertise'
Barney Glover says public debate overrun by ‘extremists and polemicists’ and expertise needed to solve world’s problems

Universities Australia chairman Barney Glover will tell the National Press Club expertise is needed to cure diseases, navigate technological disruption and prevent catastrophic climate change. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Paul Karp
Wednesday 1 March 2017 06.04 AEDTLast modified on Wednesday 1 March 2017 06.05 AEDT

Debate needs to put a premium on the value of expertise because the public square has been overrun by “extremists and polemicists” in the post-truth era, the chairman of Universities Australia will say.
In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, seen by Guardian Australia, Barney Glover will warn of a “creeping cynicism – even outright hostility – towards evidence and expertise”.
Glover cites the example of the British Conservative MP Michael Gove declaring after the Brexit vote that “the people of this country have had enough of experts”.
What does the future hold for students starting university today?
Glover will say that expertise is needed to solve problems as broad as curing cancer and preventable disease, navigating technological disruption, lifting living standards, overcoming prejudice and preventing catastrophic climate change.
Glover laments that phrases like “post-truth” politics and “alternative facts” – the latter coined by Donald Trump’s lieutenant Kellyanne Conway - have entered common usage and “agendas have displaced analysis in much of our public debate”.
Glover will say an emphasis on expertise “doesn’t discount the wisdom of the layperson”.
“And it doesn’t mean universities have all the answers,” he said. “Far from it.”
But universities are “unequivocally the best places to posit the questions” and perform an “essential function” standing up for evidence, facts and truth.
Universities also have a role fostering economic opportunity and social inclusion, Glover will say, in the face of growing alienation and disruption in the economy.
“Universities help us make the very best of disruption, ensuring we are able to ‘ride the wave’.”
This was particularly important in regions that have relied on blue-collar industries including Geelong, Mackay in central Queensland, Wollongong and Newcastle in New South Wales, the northern suburbs of Adelaide and Launceston.
“These communities have been wrenched economically, socially and at the personal level by automation, offshoring and rationalisation,” he will say. “For places like these, universities can be a lifeline.”
Glover praises the role of universities in fostering start-ups, citing a Universities Australia commissioned survey that found that four out of five start-up founders in Australia are university graduates.
“Many start-ups, too, have been nurtured into existence by a university incubator, accelerator, mentoring scheme or entrepreneurship course,” he will say. “There are more than 100 of these programs dispersed widely across the country, with many on regional campuses.”
He says the start-up sector raised $568m in 2016, up 73% on the previous year, and will have created more than 500,000 new jobs by the time today’s kindergarten students finish high school.
Glover will also discuss Universities Australia’s Indigenous strategy, which will be launched on Wednesday evening.
Glover notes Malcolm Turnbull’s comments while delivering the Closing the Gap report that there “is no gap” between tertiary-educated Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
“This statistic affirms something that most of us know instinctively,” he will say. “Education transforms lives. Australian universities now have 74% more Indigenous undergraduate students than in 2008.
“And yet while Indigenous people make up 2.7% of Australia’s working-age population, they account for only 1.6% of university students.”
The Universities Australia Indigenous strategy will set targets to maintain an Indigenous student growth rate that is at least 50% above the growth rate of non-Indigenous enrolments and ideally 100 % above.
Universities Australia will implement measures to ensure that, by 2025, Indigenous students achieve the same retention rates by field as domestic non-Indigenous students and achieve equal completion rates by 2028.
“These are ambitious targets and they may not be easy to achieve. But lack of ambition on this front is not an option.”
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True Blue
John Williamson
Hey True Blue, don't say you've gone
Say you've knocked off for a smoko
And you'll be back la-ater on
Hey True Blue, Hey True Blue

Give it to me straight, face to face
Are you really disappearing
Just another dying race
Hey True Blue

True Blue, is it me and you
Is it Mum and Dad, is it a cockatoo
Is it standin' by your mate when he's in a fight
Or just Vegemi-ite
True Blue, I'm a-asking you

Hey True Blue, can you bear the load
Will you tie it up with wire
Just to keep the show on the road
Hey True Blue
Hey True Blue, now be Fair Dinkum

Is your heart still there
If they sell us out like sponge cake
Do you really care
Hey True Blue
[Chorus: x2]



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