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Politics and the apparent irrelevance of truth

by Shari Graydon

Watching one of the current crop of Conservative TV commercials last night, I was reminded of an observation once made by political scientist and former campaign manager to Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan. Writing in Academic Matters a few years ago, Professor Flanagan reflected on how politics and academia differed:

The intellectual tools at work in academic disciplines are rational analysis and empirical investigation. Terms must be clearly defined and then linked together in logically consistent propositions in order to derive predictions that can be tested against data from the external world.

Politics is an entirely different enterprise. It consists of building coalitions to take power and manage the apparatus of government. To paraphrase Tina Turner’s question, “What’s truth got to do with it?” Very little, is the answer…”

(Inspiring legions of voters across the country to cry, “Small wonder that so many of us are disenchanted!” )

The Informed Opinions project takes as a given that in an increasingly complex world, we all have a vested interest in ensuring that the kind of knowledge being generated by university research is more broadly accessible. A lively and engaged relationship between journalists and scholars enhances our collective understanding of contemporary challenges, and news and analysis informed by hard evidence is likely to lead to better public policy decision-making and outcomes. So here’s some good news on that front, at least:

In June of this year, OCUFA, the publisher of Academic Matters, is teaming up with a number of international partners “to explore how media moulds public perceptions of higher education and drives public policy, as well as how higher education engages with the media to shape public perceptions of its role and importance.” OCUFA’s Worldviews conference will take place at a number of Toronto venues from June 16 – 18 and boasts an impressive line up of events. Details can be found on the conference website.

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