For my other job, our team is working on a site called Comforting Content for COVID Coping, where we just post nice things that might bring people some brief peace and happiness in the midst of all of this stress and anxiety.
There’s a couple posts from me so far, but most of it is my boss posting pictures of his cats and other animals. Pretty cute.
Most probably one of the worst things the person can do right now is to be selfish and made the world problem about himself. However, this is exactly what I am going to do in this paper.
2019 was a tough year for me. It is started with my legalization process in this country. It started with a different choice I had to make – I needed to refuse my citizenship and apply for asylum here in the United States, which meant I could never go back to my country. I could never walk around the streets I grew up in. Most probably I will never see most of my friends ever again. I will never enter the house I grew up in. Unfortunately, as sad as it is but going back isn’t an option. Despite my family, my friends and some nice childhood memories my country can’t offer me anything else. Especially, it can’t guaranty the most essential thing for a human being – safety. Not only authorities deny protection for people like me, but they also initiate persecution and spread hate among citizens.
So, as hard as it was – I started my asylum application, which surprisingly didn’t last long. In the middle of March, I already got approval and now was the time to make my American dream come true.
I don’t want to go deep into the details since it should be about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected me, but I want the reader to understand my position better.
After eight months of changing different minimal wage jobs, several panic attacks and taking control over my PTSD, I finally have been accepted to college! One step closer to my goal. In the last weeks of 2019, I made a list – well, not even a list more of a guideline – what I am going to do in 2020 and the upcoming decade in general. I promised myself to enjoy life, take as many opportunities as I can, be social, take care of my health – both physical and mental, take care of my look, start to dress stylish and many other things that I didn’t do in 2019. And, well, generally before.
And the first three months of 2020 I truly did my best to follow this guideline.
But the universe had a different plan for us all. The year started with a rumor about World War Three. And then not long after we heard about the novel coronavirus spreading around chine and slowly going out of it to other countries. We all remember the bird flu, swine flu, Ebola outbreaks so at that time no one expected what is going to happen. And while the novel virus was spreading around the Old World, we didn’t pay attention to that. We were going to school, work, events, parties, etc.
I remember the virus got my attention in mid- February when it started to spread over Iran. Since my country located in the North-Western border of Iran – I realized it is a matter of time when the virus is going to knock on the doors of people I care about. However, following the news about the spread of the virus in Europe and Asia didn’t give me any closure to see what is about to happen.
I remember receiving an email on Tuesday around 11 PM that classes on Wednesday are canceled. Then on Wednesday governor gave the order to switch into distance learning mode till the rest of the semester. Less than a week later – I received an email from my boxing gym that they are going to be closed. And in one day all the bars, cafes and restaurants have closed their doors. Some of them still deliver food, some of them won’t open ever again.
I was afraid that staying locked at home with this uncertainty of the future may trigger my PTSD. Thankfully it didn’t. At least for now. But I live in constant fear of the returning of my nightmares and painful flashbacks.
Despite all that mess in the world and my head, I am still focused on my long-term goal. I am being on top of my classes. Doing as much of my assignments as I possibly can. I even registered for summer courses in order to graduate faster. My short yet full of different events life had taught me – while our body has physical limitations, our mind doesn’t. So, the virus might be aggressive, dangerous and deadly but I won’t give up on life. I won’t let fear, anxiety, and uncertainty take over my life ever again.
For those of you playing Animal Crossing…
This morning, the Guardian posted an article explaining the long line of bad science and misinformation that has led tens of thousands of people– including Donald Trump and Elon Musk– to believe that Hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria, is 100% effective against COVID-19. (Spoiler: there is currently no scientific evidence that it is effective against COVID-19, although there are many ongoing studies on its effectiveness)
I think this situation is highly instructive about ethos and the many ways academic credibility can be faked/manipulated. As we begin our own research and are going to be discussing APA formatting in detail next week, I think this is very relevant to our coursework.
Essentially, some French researchers published a poorly-designed study (will explain in a footnote later)**, then a lawyer named Gregory Rigano did a lot of things to publicize the drug in the U.S. by misrepresenting both himself and the information. Then, several high-profile people got this information, including Trump and Musk, and they further spread it around.
In the rest of this post, I’m going to summarize the events and then analyze the different ways Rigano used academic writing styles, academic formatting, and academic language to portray himself as a credible source on COVID-19 even though he is not.
The lesson I want you to take away from this is: Just because something looks fancy and academic, and just because someone has a PhD or the name of a fancy university next to their name, doesn’t mean the source is reliable. But on the flip side, getting good at academic formatting and academic language can help you seem authoritative in your own situations. Please use that power ethically and wisely.
Rigano did several interviews on TV and radio stations, but most importantly, he co-wrote a Google Doc formatted like a scientific paper and released online. Google has taken down the file because it violates their Terms of Service (probably the part saying public documents can’t falsely represent another organization), but you can see an archived version here. I will embed a screenshot of the beginning of the file– red lines are added by me.
This is not a scholarly source. However, it is designed to LOOK like one.
While it doesn’t have a separate title page like papers in APA and Chicago Style do, the way the title and authors are formatted mimic what a title page looks like. It includes acknowledgements and an abstract (the Summary), as well as a scientific diagram and subheadings.
Other than the fact that both scientists and many news sources have since discredited the paper, its authors, and the claims it makes, here are some clues to how it’s bogus, going in order of my red highlights:
- It’s published/distributed on Google Docs. Google Docs is great for writing, but scientific studies get published in scientific journals or released on university websites.
- Thomas R. Broker is a real biochemist affiliated with UAB (I looked him up), but when academics list their university affiliations on a publication, they just say where they currently work (or study, in the case of students)– you don’t include where you got your PhD. So the “Stanford PhD” part here is weird.
- Rigano’s title, “Esq,” means esquire, used to designate lawyers. He seems to really be a lawyer, but what are his qualifications for writing a biochemical study about viruses? His listed email address is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, but he is not employed there–he’s a student. His LinkedIn profile says he is currently pursuing a master’s degree there but is “on leave.”
- “In consultation with” is so vague it could mean just about anything. In fact, Stanford, UAB, and Thomas Broker (the “first author” listed) have all said since this doc was released that they had nothing to do with it and want their names to be removed.
- The credits for the translation are also strange– I’ve never heard of an undergraduate student being referred to as a “candidate” before (usually that’s just PhD candidates), and this person is slated to graduate in 2021– they’re a junior in college. So probably they did do the translation, and for all I know they did a good job, but the formatting is designed to lend more ethos to the paper.
- The scientific diagram of the molecule is not actually linked to anything in the text– it’s just a decorative image that looks sciencey.
If you continue to read through the archive of the file, there’s lots more reasons to be suspicious– the actual content doesn’t make sense. At the bottom, you’ll also see there are no sources actually cited. The two sections of sources say “More Sources” and “For Informational Purposes Only.” So– the information discussed in the article itself is not actually cited at all. We just get links to related materials.
We also can see that they didn’t follow any sort of normal academic citing protocols. They say, “Due to urgency, certain parts of this publication are taken directly from their attributed source. Cite them accordingly.” But they don’t say which parts! This is in a gray area of plagiarism. They did acknowledge that some parts of some sections were copy/pasted, but we don’t actually know which parts.
The lawyer, Rigano, has also gone to some additional lengths to boost his apparent ethos. He is legally the CEO of a “research” company called “Jonas Research,” which was founded in either January or February (unclear) and is filed as an LLC in Albany, NY. There is no information to be found about this company beyond his affiliation with it. They are brand new, and do not appear to be doing research. Yet, he can now truthfully say he’s the CEO of a drug research company.
Fox News falsely credited him as a medical advisor and medical doctor affiliated with Stanford, and he did not correct this characterization. So, he did not claim it directly, but he is now presented that way online.
Furthermore, take a look at the Education section of his LinkedIn profile. His original college degree is in finance, then you see his law degree, and you see his master’s degree-in-progress, but you also see a nonspecific note for “Biochemistry” with the “State University of New York.”
As CUNY students, all of you should know that the CUNY and SUNY systems are just that– systems, not universities themselves. The notes say he has 32 credits in biochemistry classes split across 3 different schools. He says this is a “minor” in parentheses, but it’s impossible to get only a minor– a minor must be connected to a major. So, he’s really saying he has the equivalent coursework of a minor in biochemistry, even though he does not actually have that minor.
But a minor in biochemistry doesn’t really mean you’re qualified to offer definitive proof about cutting edge coronavirus treatments.
Here’s some more thoughts/explanations/examples on ethos, which I wrote after my students last semester asked for more resources.
Ethos is the credibility/reliability/trustworthiness (or PERCEIVED credibility/reliability/trustworthiness) of the speaker.
The story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a fable about ethos. Because the boy cries “Wolf!” even when there is no wolf so many times, the villagers don’t believe him when there actually is a wolf. He ruined his ethos by lying and pranking them.
In professional settings, I often don’t have a lot of ethos, because I’m young and don’t have my PhD (yet!!). So in order to convince people that I know what I’m talking about, I may choose to dress extra professionally, talk extra formally, or make a point of mentioning the experience and qualifications that I do have. Think about a resume– that’s a genre that basically only uses ethos. It’s just a list of all the things you’ve done that make you good for a job.
Trump and Ethos
Trump is an interesting person to analyze when we think about ethos. During the 2016 election, and again now, many people who supported Trump said they liked him because he was a successful businessman, so he knows how to run things. Trump’s reputation as a rich person (and owner of a business) made some people trust/believe that he would be a good president.
People who didn’t like Trump would say, “But he has no experience in politics” or “Running a business is different from running a government, so that doesn’t matter.” They did not feel like he had a lot of ethos.
Now, people who don’t like Trump will say, “He lies all the time about everything” — he has no ethos! If he lies, why would you trust him about any given piece of information? Trump supporters say that Trump has a lot of ethos, but the media is not reliable– they say the media has no ethos because they are out to get Trump even if it means lying.
Some Other Examples of Ethos
Ethos is often the source of tension in horror movies. For example, in The Invisible Man, a woman’s abusive ex is stalking and continuing to abuse her, but he’s invisible, so nobody believes her.
(Note: Discussion of assault and racism below)
Ethos is also SUPER important in sexual assault cases. Many times, people try to discredit the victim’s ethos– they were drunk, they’re exaggerating, they just want attention or money or to punish the perpetrator, etc. That’s about whether the accuser is trustworthy. But ethos isn’t just about trust– it’s about ethics, or goodness. We see that on the flip side. Often, when people talk about the perpetrator, they portray the perpetrator as wholesome (“just a kid, has his whole life ahead of him”) or normal (“Brock Turner, a star swimmer at Stanford University”), etc. This builds up the perpetrator’s ethos so people are more likely to believe them, or more likely to be lenient.
Racial profiling is also an example of an ethos problem. Because of racism, anyone who isn’t white is often viewed as less trustworthy– having less ethos– than a white person. They didn’t do anything to earn that lack of ethos– it’s just assigned to them by other people. A given action (walking down the street, holding a toy gun, wearing a turban, etc.) that is interpreted as non-threatening when a white person does it becomes rhetorically threatening when a not-white person does it– because the “speaker” (do-er of the action) lacks ethos. In this case, because of racism, not because of anything they did.
Ethos is not about whether or not someone is ACTUALLY saying true information/doing a particular thing. It’s about whether or not their audience PERCEIVES them to be telling the truth/doing a particular thing.
Ethos and Research/Your Writing
Let’s pretend I want to write a scholarly paper about Black Panther and its significance to African American readers. I’ve only seen the movie once, I haven’t read any of the comics, I’m not part of the fandom, I don’t really know much about comics in general or about African American literature in general, and I’m not African American myself. So I have basically no ethos! I can tell you my opinion about Black Panther, but you have no reason to trust my opinion more than anybody else’s.
In contrast, Professor Jonathan Gray (here at John Jay and at the Graduate Center) could just say his opinion about Black Panther and it would mean a lot, because he has a lot of ethos. He is a professor with a PhD whose specialities are African American literature, pop culture, and comics. He has written books and articles about these topics. He has a lot of knowledge, not only about Black Panther specifically but about related topics in history and culture. He is also personally African American and a comics fan himself, so he can speak from his own personal experience and feelings about Black Panther too.
So one way I could boost my own ethos is by citing Professor Gray. My opinion might not mean much by itself, but if someone with a lot of ethos on this topic like him agrees with me, you might trust my analysis more!
For your research projects, you all will have at least a little knowledge about your topics, but probably not a lot. You are not experts. So you find information written by experts instead. You boost your own ethos by showing that you are filling in the gaps in your knowledge by seeking out reliable information. As a writer, you’re saying, “You can trust me, because I worked really hard to find true information from reliable sources.”
I’m doing some exploring on targeted advertising articles beyond our reading for today to figure out how I think we should go about discussing the topic together this afternoon. These spreadsheets are too enormous to print out and work with in class, but I wanted to share them with you in case you wanted to look on your own.
Download the datasets for free here: https://www.propublica.org/datastore/thanks?id=096b3c2eff44d226At9l
I used the Sort feature in Excel to order the items in ways that made sense to me (like alphabetical by Type of Category)– it’s a lot to even quickly scroll through!
The download link gives you two spreadsheets. One is a list of advertising categories based on data gathered from other sources about YOU (public records, credit card transactions, etc.). The other is a list of algorithmically-created and algorithmically-assigned categories based on your Facebook activity. It looks at what things you like and do on Facebook, and what some common patterns are for other people who like and do those same things, and then gives you ads based on what those similar people purchased or already own.
Since we’ve been looking at some dating app ads and also talking about secret algorithms, I thought I would share with you this article about how Tinder does and used to calculate matches.
The Elo Score is sometimes referred to as a “hottness score” because it matches people it thinks are attractive with other attractive people, but what it really does is match people who get a lot of swipe rights with other people who get a lot of swipe rights, and vice versa. It’s just that on Tinder, there usually isn’t a lot of information to judge someone on besides their looks.
Now, however, it looks like Tinder has stopped using this model. What model they DO use to match people, however, is still unclear…
I’m watching the news coverage of the New Hampshire Democratic primary results, partially to pay attention to politics and partially to look for interesting examples to talk about with all of you. (One thing that’s very interesting is how different the coverage is across different newspapers/channels! Fox News is known for being particularly conservative and MSNBC is known for being particularly liberal, but I feel like most other channels don’t have as much of a reputation toward one political direction, so noticing differences in coverage of one event can be a useful way of trying to figure out political bias. But that’s not what I wanted to share in this post.)
One news site I’m watching (The Guardian) just shared a screenshot of one of Trump’s tweets about the primaries, embedded below:
Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, is having a really bad night. I think she is sending signals that she wants out. Calling for unity is her way of getting there, going home, and having a “nice cold beer” with her husband!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2020
Whatever your opinion on the content is, let’s look at some of the phrasing choices he made, and see some rhetorical grammar in action!
The first thing I noticed is the use of passive voice:
“sometimes referred to as Pocahontas.”
Even though we know that Trump is the one who regularly refers to Elizabeth Warren that way, the passive voice hides the “do-er” of the verb. It doesn’t make a particular claim about who refers to her that way. The implied “do-er,” because it is unspecified, becomes “some people” instead of “Trump.” (Of course, Trump is not the only one who does it, but he is the one who started it/who others picked it up from.) This makes the Namecalling (also rhetorical!) seem more widespread and accepted/agreed with.
I think this is effective for his rhetorical goals: to be popular as a president and have people agree with, or at least accept, him, and reject his political rivals.
The other thing I noticed is the quotation marks:
“Calling for unity is her way of getting there, going home, and having a “nice cold beer” with her husband!”
Normally, quotation marks used in this way would make me think he is using this phrase as a euphemism, maybe referring to something offensive. But in this case, I can’t figure out what it is. “Nice cold beer” is not a known sexual innuendo as far as I know, and I don’t think it stands for anything else? My other thought is that maybe she has used the phrase “nice cold beer” in her campaigning or interviews before, so the quotation marks show he is referring back to her own words. But I have no idea if that’s true– I’m just guessing.
So, I do not think these quotation marks are rhetorically effective, because even if they are grammatically correct (and whether or not they are would depend on what he is intending to say), the intended meaning is not clear.