EPISODE 1 - COVID-19 CONSPIRACY THEORIES
COVID-19 has been a breeding ground for conspiracy theories since it began in spring 2020. Each day, newsfeeds are filled with information about the virus and media consumers are left to separate fact from fiction. Jim Tabery, associate professor of philosophy, discusses some of these conspiracy theories, why people believe them, how they get started and more.
EPISODE 2 - THE IMPACT OF COVID ON ASIA
Kim Korinek, professor of sociology and director of the Asia Center housed in the College of Humanities, discusses how Asian nations have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of anti-Chinese rhetoric in the U.S. and the role of the Asia Center in building knowledge about the region.
EPISODE 3 - Cybersecurity And The 2020 Election
Sean Lawson, associate professor of communication and author of “Cybersecurity Discourse in the United States,” discusses potential cybersecurity threats to the 2020 presidential election, who is behind them, how they are being addressed and what citizens can do about them (spoiler alert: get out and VOTE).
EPISODE 6 - THE ORIGINS OF BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Each February, the United States celebrates Black History month to celebrate the achievements of African Americans and honor their central role in history. Eric Herschthal, assistant professor of history explains its origin, its essential purpose and why Black history is American history.
Season 3, Episode 8 - Dr. Sophia Kleegman
In celebration of Women’s History Month, Robin Jensen, professor of communication, discusses her research on Sophia Kleegman. Relatively unknown, Kleegman was the first woman appointed to the New York University College of Medicine faculty of obstetrics and gynecology in 1929 and was a pioneer in fertility medicine. Her patient-centric approach and controversial views helped change the way the medical community approached reproductive health.
Season 3, Episode 9 - Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy
Colleen McDannell, professor of history and the Sterling M. McMurrin Professor of Religious studies, discusses her book “Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy.” Her book offers a history of modern Latter-day Saint women and the often-neglected stories of their experiences from the late 19th century to the present day.
Jana Cunningham: What prompted you to write “Sister Saints?”
Colleen McDannell: Well, as you mentioned, I'm a professor of religious studies here at the university. And within that broad field, I study American religions and I've written a whole bunch of books on American religious history, books that focus on Catholics, books that focus on photography. I even wrote a book about Heaven. And the book that I wrote before “Sister Saints” focused on a Catholic woman and looked at Catholic reform. And since I had been living in Utah for 30 years, I thought it was about time that I looked at my own neighbors and take my expertise in American religious history and try to make sense of Mormon women.
Jana Cunningham: What are some of the stereotypes about Latter-day Saint women that your book challenges?
Colleen McDannell: Well, I think there are two major stereotypes that I try to overturn in my book and the first of those stereotypes is that Mormon women are conservative. And I try to show in my book how in the 19th century, Mormon women followed progressive causes and not simply liberal causes, but actually radical causes. And their most radical cause of the day was women's rights and women's right to vote. And so, in the book, I show how Latter-day Saint women, especially through connections with the Relief Society, participated in the international movement to give women the right to vote.
Colleen McDannell: And the second stereotype that I try to challenge in the book is that Mormonism is a male-dominated religion. And throughout the book, I try to show how women have their own agency and their own activities. And especially up until the 1970s in the Relief Society, women raised their own money, they made decisions about how they would spend that money, they were even involved in politics, and they ran their own very influential magazine. And so these were various activities that try to show that at least up until the end of the 20th century, women were very involved in public activities, as well as doing things in the home.
Jana Cunningham: So, I'm really interested in learning more about these progressive movements and what their lives were like throughout these different movements in history. But first, I want to talk about what was life like for the women just as polygamy ended because that's kind of where we're starting, correct?
Colleen McDannell: Right. So, the second chapter of my book looks a little bit at polygamy and the stresses that polygamy placed on Mormon women. And one of the interesting resources that I used were a series of interviews done of the children of polygamists. And when you read the stories of the children, you get a very different perspective on polygamy. Women who became polygamists, most of them were quite enthusiastic about living a polygamous lifestyle because they were committed to LDS principles and polygamy was a part of the religion. So when they converted to the religion, they also converted to a new way of having a family.
Colleen McDannell: The children, on the other hand, they hadn't converted. They hadn't had a religious experience. And so, they saw polygamy in a very different light than their mothers and fathers did. And for the most part, they were not terribly enthusiastic about polygamy. Many of them were one of many children. It wouldn't be unusual to have 20 brothers and sisters. And the men who were supposed to care for these families oftentimes had a rough job of it, even though they wanted to take care of their families, just financially, it was difficult.
Colleen McDannell: What happened when polygamy ended was there was no clear instructions given about how families should exist. Some men actually decided to continue polygamy and they took their wives either to Canada or to Mexico. And sometimes, they even left wives in Utah and took their favorite wives or the ones that they got along with. They took those to places like Mexico. And sometimes it was the youngest wife, not just because she might've been the prettiest one, but also because she would have been the one to care for the men as they aged. And that meant that other wives were left in Utah caring for their children. And so the children found this life to be a difficult one.
Jana Cunningham: So from the end of polygamy until now, Mormon women, their lives and experiences have gone through a spectrum of changes. So what were kind of the significant movements that you were talking about earlier or moments in history that changed these roles and experiences?
Colleen McDannell: Well, if we go back to the women's rights movement at the turn of the century, as you know, since last year, we celebrated the 100th year of women having the federal right to vote in 2020. They got the vote in 1920. After women got to vote, it was a big question about how would they behave? Would they be a force in politics, with all of these women now voting?
Colleen McDannell: And what happened was the women voted just like the men did. Some voted for Democrats, and some voted for Republicans, and some didn't vote at all. And some voted the way their husband wanted them to vote. And some of them had their own ideas about how politics should be performed. And so actually, what you see is great diversity in the 1920s, once women get to vote. They didn't vote as a block. And so what that meant was that politicians, male politicians, could basically just ignore the women because they weren't a force in politics because they were very diffuse.
Colleen McDannell: So beginning around that time, the 1920s, right after World War I, there was a conservative movement across the nation in politics. A lot of it was a response towards the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and so there was a great fear that something like this, like socialism, might come to the United States. So historians call this the antiradical movement. And many Latter-day Saint male leaders became involved in this more conservative outlook towards society. Whereas the women in the Relief Society continued their more progressive orientation because they had been hanging out with basically progressive non-Mormon women because they were a part of the suffrage movement.
Colleen McDannell: So by the time you get then into the 1930s, the male leaders begin to slowly restrict the public activities of the Relief Society. And perhaps the most important thing was that during the depression era, the church decided to take over the welfare system from the women and to focus it on the priesthood and to have all of the welfare activities organized by men. So, although women still produced much of the labor, they did the canning, they made the clothes, they distributed food to needy people. It was the male church leaders who decided how the church welfare system would be set up and this made a big change. It took one of the very important elements of women's leadership away from the Relief Society, and it began to really the shift of power from the women to the men.
Jana Cunningham: And can you talk a little bit about some of the women we'll meet in this book or who readers will meet in this book and their contribution to the church?
Colleen McDannell: Well, I think what I'd like to do is just talk about one woman. And I want to talk about her because she is one of the unsung heroes in the book. She's not the famous woman like Emmeline Wells, but she is really famous in her own right and she also points to a really important change that has occurred in the church. And her name is Ayanda Sidzatane and she is from South Africa. And I was very lucky, thanks to support from the University of Utah, to be able to travel to South Africa and to live there for a while and interview LDS women about their lives and their history. And Ayanda was one of these really special women that I met there. Like many black, South African women, her family had experienced apartheid, which is a form of really severe racial segregatio, and because of that, she had had a very difficult time growing up.
Colleen McDannell: Her father deserted the family. Her mother had to support many children. Her sisters oftentimes married quite young and then had families of their own without the support of men. But she had converted and had found, within the LDS community a really supportive organization. She went on a mission to Botswana. She had American missionary companions and she came back to Johannesburg. She worked at the missionary training center. She eventually married a foreign missionary and she became a really strong leader within her church. And I want to point her out as a major figure because she indicates a shift in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the 1960s and '70s into the present.
Colleen McDannell: So as you know, there was a change in the policy towards the priesthood in the late 1970s, where men of African descent could become a priest within the church and that expanded the missionary activities. And so, when missionary activities began to expand, you get diverse responses to the LDS message. And those diverse responses begin to weaken the sharp polarization between the conservatives and the liberals that you had in Utah, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. And so this international church is a very different kind of church, and women's positions in it are very different than they were in Utah.
Jana Cunningham: That was Colleen McDannell, professor of history and the Sterling M. McMurrin Professor of Religious Studies. “Sister Saints” can be found on Amazon. For more information about the University of Utah College of Humanities, please visit humanities.utah.edu.
Season 3, Episode 10 - Humor and Science
In celebration of National Humor Month, Sara Yeo, associate professor of communication, discusses her research about using humor to communicate science -why scientists use humor, how they use it and how it affects people’s attitudes.
Hello, thank you for joining me on Humanities Radio. I'm Jana Cunningham with the University of Utah College of Humanities, and today in celebration of National Humor Month, I'm speaking with Sara Yeo, associate professor of communication about her research using humor to communicate science. In 2019, Professor Yeo was awarded a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how humor affects people's attitudes towards science, specifically on social media.
So, let's start from the beginning. Why did you decide to focus your research in this area on using humor to communicate science?
Yeah, so that's a great question, and I started focusing on humor because I had noticed on Twitter that there were a lot of hashtags that scientists use. There are a lot of scientists on Twitter, and there was this particular one, the hashtag #OverlyHonestMethods that scientists use to just talk about the realities of doing science, right, the everyday things that might come up. So, a really good example that I like is, my samples were crushed because the UPS Sky didn't read the fragile labels, right.
And they would tag tweets like this with “OverlyHonestMethods. And so, I started thinking based on the research and political communication on satire and sarcasm, some of that research shows that this type of humor can undermine our trust in political actors, it can undermine our trust in political institutions. And so, I was really curious about how this might work for science, right, especially as it relates to satire and sarcasm. And so, I decided I was going to study humor and that's how I got to writing that grant and fortunately it was awarded by the NSF.
So through your research, have you found that it's important to use humor when communicating science?
So through my research, I have found that humor can be a really good way to communicate about science because in some cases, it, the sort of experience of that humor encourages people to engage with more scientific information by something that presumably we want. And so, by all accounts so far anyway, using humor has been shown to be a positive thing for science communication, and it's long been recommended for practitioners of science communication, but now we have empirical evidence that this is a positive thing.
And so why is it, I mean, is that why it's recommended because it creates more engagement with science?
So, I think a lot of the recommendations came prior to having some of this empirical evidence. I think intuitively we think that humor is a good thing, right? It sort of can break down barriers, it can make people more personable, it can humanize some scientists. And so, we sort of intuitively think of it as a good way to communicate, and you can see this, right? There's some of this work in advertising literature, for example, when you look at the likeability of a communicator and people's intentions to purchase something after, right. Using humor in advertising and commercials, this is something that has been researched, and so if we extend that logic to communicating science, right, then intuitively we think, well, yes, if people like our communicator more, right, maybe then it helps them engage with that or it encourages them to engage with science content further down the line.
How have scientists responded to this recommendation in this way of communicating? Are they hesitant to use humor or are they on board or are the scientists who are on Twitter more likely to use humor? How have, what is their reaction to this recommendation?
Yes, those are really great questions. And actually one that we're setting out to answer right now, what we're currently working on is a survey of scientists and their sort of perceptions around using humor as a means of communicating their research, as a means of communicating their science. So not only how scientists think about, whether they think it is appropriate, for example, to use humor, but also whether they think it might be effective, whether they think others might see this as an appropriate way, right. And so, these are actually questions that we're hoping to answer. And so, in the process of creating that survey that will help us answer that.
And so, how have you found that scientists are using humor to communicate science? Could you maybe give us, I know it's probably hard to give us some examples because I imagine some are using some visuals to use humor, but can you maybe give us some examples or how scientists are using humor?
Yeah. So, those overly honest methods are an example. If you look at the hashtag #OverlyHonestMethods on Twitter, you'll find some very humorous tweets. If you also look up the hashtag #fieldworkfail, there are some very humorous ones there too, but in my sort of going through and looking on Twitter, what we found is that a lot of the science humor uses puns or some sort of word place. So a really good example that I think is easy for us to visualize is a little cell, any type of cell, with a cell phone taking a selfie.
So, we talked about, we've kind of hit this a little bit earlier on how it kind of affects people's attitudes towards science, but can you dive into that a little bit more and talk about how this has impacted followers on Twitter and just the community in general and Twitter, how has it affected the way they perceive science and their attitudes?
Yeah. So as I mentioned, I think there are competing hypotheses on how humor might affect how we engage with science and we haven't had a chance to explore all of these yet. And so, one hypothesis is that if you expect a joke to keep you in kind of a lighthearted or a good mood, you may not marshal cognitive resources to processing maybe the scientific information that underlies that joke, because maybe it doesn't kind of coincide with what you already believe, right, your predispositions, or maybe some of the values that you hold. So that's kind of one hypothesis.
A competing hypothesis is that the cognitive resources that you kind of put into action to getting the joke, right, might then also sort of spill over into understanding that scientific information contained within that joke. And so, these are kind of competing hypotheses about how people might process that information, which affects their attitudes, can downstream of that. In our research, we've measured sort of intentions to behave and the particular ways, since I should be social media, a lot of these intentions have to do with, like you've mentioned gaining more followers or engaging with more content online, liking it, retweeting it, these kinds of things.
So we kind of talked about how humor affects people's attitudes, and we kind of touched on this, but have you measured yet or do you know, does it make the message seem less reliable, more reliable, more accessible? Have you gauged that yet?
Yeah. So this is a really, really great question because you can see how humor might have the potential of trivializing information in some way. And so, in some of my other work on humor, we've looked at actually whether a scientist who is also a standup comedian, and there are videos of these scientists on YouTube, and it's certainly a trend that is increasing, that scientists are doing standup comedy in some way, talking about their research, telling their stories. And what we see is that people perceive the scientists as more likeable when they use humor, but also they, it doesn't undermine their credibility, it doesn't undermine expertise that the audience perceives. And so, they still see this person as a reliable source of scientific information, which is great news, right? If you were a scientist looking to communicate your work and you enjoy humor or you're enjoying improv comedy of some sort and all of these humor in some way. And on a daily basis, it's kind of one of those communication strategies and tactics that are very ubiquitous and we sort of do it very naturally.
So all of these, so far, all of the research that I've conducted has found pretty positive effects of using humor. That said, there are some issues for which humor doesn't necessarily encourage greater sort of intentions to engage with content. And I think my sort of hypothesis, the working hypothesis on this is that it depends on the issue, right? Not all issues in science are the same consider for example, how we think about astrophysics, right? And space exploration versus climate change. People have very different views on that. And kind of these issues are also on the public's agenda to different extents, right? Or consider artificial intelligence versus climate change or global warming. And so, we started to do experiments using different issues instead of just kind of wordplay puns, like that selfie example that I used earlier. But we started to do experiments on using topics that we are discussing ,right, in media about science right now-
Things like AI, things like climate change and for some issues. So in particular, the climate change issue, people found the joke funny, the visual that we presented them with, they got it's funny, but it sort of didn't encourage them to engage with more content, right, in the future, it sort of didn't have that same positive effect, it didn't have a negative effect, but it didn't have that same positive effect. And so, and my hypothesis is that it's because climate change and global warming are so different, right. Our sort of a politicized issues –they're in a different space on the public's agenda at this point from other issues. And so, I think that matters as well.
Absolutely. So what's next with your research? I mean, you've had this huge NSF grant and now what are you going on to next?
Well, like every other, like many researchers at the U, I'm still working on writing more grants to fund by research, and some of it is on humor, and the ones on humor are starting to move into kind of the differences and how people perceive those who use humor, right, who we are, and our identities as people are going to change how people perceive how funny we are. And so, in a collaboration that hopefully will get funded, we're starting to look at kind of creating videos on how science shows the hosts of science shows, who they are, right. Might increase representation in science, but also how they use humor and how people perceive them, how this sort of intersection of who they are, right, their race, their gender, as well as how they used humor and people's perceptions of those things. So that's one thing that I'm working on right now.
I also have a follow-up study with a science writer who works for NASA and some of my collaborators around the country and we're looking and she, the science writer at NASA is also an improv. She's a stand-up comic. And so, she does science jokes. And so, we're recording a couple of videos with her and some of her colleagues and testing kind of people's perceptions. And again, it has to do with race. She is Indian American. And so, we're looking at sort of the differences, right, in gender and race and when scientists are also sort of stand-up comics, right? Thinking about, again, credibility, likeability, how funny people think they are. So kind of, those are the things in the works at the moment with the humor project.
I more broadly have studied emotions, so I've looked at emotions of disgust for example, I'm starting to look at emotions of hope as well, right, something that we kind of overlook when it comes to scientific issues. I think science can give us a lot of hope for the future. And this in particular, this project is a collaboration with another project on campus, the Utah FORGE Project. And they look at enhanced geothermal systems. They have a field station in Southern Utah. But, so we're using that geothermal energy and EGS as a context for this kind of examination of what is known as emotional flow, right? This idea that technologies like this renewable energy technologies, which has these can give people hope, but it can also be kind of fearful in some ways. And so, do those kind of the emotions that people go through influence what they think about the technologies, how they support them, right, their attitudes toward them and so on.
That was Sarah Yeo, associate professor of communication. For more information about the University of Utah College of Humanities, please visit humanities.utah.edu.