#WDBJShooting and Trust Communities

by Kathryn Marguy

As a publicist, my days are consumed by social media. I post to our JHU Press Twitter and Facebook accounts, solicit content for our blog, and communicate with the media to schedule events and interviews. This position has allowed me the opportunity to connect with authors, reporters, corporate organizations, and fellow book lovers from around the world. There is a sort of safety that comes from this comradery. The WDBJ shooting on Wednesday seriously violated that level of trust.

LedeA real-time communication tool like Twitter allows each user to create his or her own social circles. JHU Press author Irene Wu calls these groups “trust communities.” The idea of trust communities, Dr. Wu writes in her book Forging Trust Communities: How Technology Changes Politics, “joins the ideas of network and community as a social group with the capacity to take collective action but without the rules and enforcement usually associated with institutions.” Sometimes that collective action takes root in social activism; in other cases, these networks provide support to a community physically separated by continents. Whatever your aims, twenty-first century media has allowed us the opportunity to open wide that circle of trust on a global scale.

In her book, Dr. Wu identifies three facets of trust communities (pp. 12-14):

  1. Identity is a person’s sense of self and may motivate a person’s actions. In his work on why people cooperate, Tom Tyler shows that there are two aspects of identity—social and emotional—that explain why an individual may cooperate in the interest of the community rather than acting selfishly. Both of these aspects of identity rest on a fundamental need of people to maintain a favorable and positive sense of self. Social identity is how people define their status through their membership in a group. The more strongly a person identifi es with the group, the more completely he or she merges individual goals with the group’s goals. Group membership also gives individuals a sense of pride and an expectation of respect from other members, both of which motivate people to cooperate. Seen from a different angle, people will avoid adopting signs that they belong to groups that are not respected—such as carrying a book by opposition politicians that are vilified by society—until a time comes when that opposition group gain respect. Emotional identity is another important aspect that explains people’s willingness to cooperate. Psychologists show that people have a fundamental need to have attachments to others and will act to maintain positive, significant personal relationships.
  2. Trust has many facets; the aspect most relevant to this study is trust that enables cooperation. Why is it that people trust each other enough to cooperate, when acting individually might be in their self-interest? Behavioral social scientists like Elinor Ostrom have conducted experiments that show trust can be the result of repeated interaction. For example, a series of communications can lead one partner to believe the other partner can be relied on to reciprocate. When such series multiply, people in a network begin to form expectations about others’ behavior. They trust each other, and then it is easier for them to cooperate.
  3. Social capital makes it easier for members of a community to take action together. It includes trust, norms, and networks, as Robert Putnam puts it in his works on collective action. Trust is the expectation that others will reciprocate. Norms identify when that reciprocity can be expected. Networks of civic engagement are those intense interactions across society in groups like neighborhood associations, sports leagues, and political parties. The boundaries of these networks define the scope of possible action. In Putnam’s analysis there are two kinds of social capital—bonding social capital among people who are similar, and bridging social capital among people who are not similar. It is bridging social capital that is the hardest to create and the most valuable when it comes to cooperation.

The perversion of these three elements formed Vester Lee Flanagan’s social media plan. Flanagan’s own identity as a victim within the WDBJ organization lay at the center of his campaign. As a journalist, he was familiar with the trust factor within social media groups and understood how to curate his content in order to build an audience. Finally, the concept of social capital gained legs as the story broke on larger news venues. People in search of answers flocked to Flanagan’s Facebook page to better understand this tragedy. As Farhad Manjoo wrote in the New York Times, “[Flanagan] had been counting on the mechanics of these services and on our inability to resist passing on what he had posted. For many, that realization came too late. On these services, the killer knew, you often hit retweet, like or share before you realize just quite what you have done.” Flanagan’s run ultimately ended with his own suicide, and we are left with a shooting gone viral, the videos and posts of which will circle the Internet indefinitely.

All shootings like this breed unease, but I can’t help but feel personally violated by Flanagan’s social media efforts. A system I have placed trust in has been used for a tool to broadcast a murderer’s agenda. That hits far too close to home, and makes me examine the trust community I’ve built on social media and the faith I place in its players.

So, how to do we move forward? Conversations about the treatment of mental health and gun control policies are vital for change, and should continue until Washington takes action accordingly. Similar incidents have become disturbingly common in recent years, and it is obvious that action on these matters needs to be taken. But I think this is also a time to reflect on social media’s capacity both for good and for serious harm. Should we pause before sharing inflammatory content? Modern social media can be a source of encouragement and activism, and I think the wide-open nature of sites like Facebook and Twitter contribute to that positive force. But there are sharks in the water, and I think we need to be wary.

wuKathryn Marguy (@pubkat) is a publicist at Johns Hopkins University Press. Irene S. Wu is a senior analyst at the US Federal Communications Commission. The author of Forging Trust Communities: How Technology Changes Politics and From Iron Fist to Invisible Hand: The Uneven Path of Telecommunications Reform in China, she teaches in the Communications, Culture & Technology Program at Georgetown University.

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“Learn from these remarkable leaders”

Guest post by Abraham F. Lowenthal and Sergio Bitar

bitarDemocratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, to be published next month by Johns Hopkins University Press, began as an initiative by Vidar Helgesen, then Secretary-General of International IDEA—an intergovernmental organization of 28 member countries, based in Stockholm, that promotes sustainable democracy worldwide. Mr. Helgesen observed that International IDEA’s work had focused sharply on strengthening the procedures and techniques of democratic governance: the preparation, conduct, counting and monitoring of elections; the selection of candidates; the oversight of campaign finance and media access; and expanding the rights and participation of women in politics. But International IDEA had not provided insights into how authoritarian rule is brought to an end and transitions toward democracy achieved, though these are prerequisites to the democracy promotion work that IDEA carries out.

At a time when the Arab Spring was underway and other transitions to democracy were contemplated or foreseeable elsewhere, Helgesen suggested that it would be useful to learn how prior transitions from authoritarian rule were achieved. He suggested that this could be done by interviewing actors who had been at the apex of successful democratic transitions in several countries that moved from authoritarian rule of diverse types toward democracy. He invited us to undertake this project jointly, with international IDEA’s support. We are long-term friends with complementary experiences in the worlds of politics and policy, as well as academic analysis. We also share a commitment to the construction of sustainable democracy.

Political actors who are now seeking to help their countries move from autocracy toward democracy—whether in Egypt, Tunisia, Myanmar, Cuba, Venezuela or elsewhere—could learn a great deal from prior experiences, especially from “success stories.” But to suggest that they simply consult the established political science texts on democratic transitions, including some Johns Hopkins University Press classics, would not be useful. Those volumes were written by academic political scientists for other scholars, not for busy practitioners in search of practical insights. Current political actors would likely not take the time to read volumes that are often presented in academic jargon and that emphasize disciplinary techniques rather than tough political choices.

If it were somehow possible to bring experienced political leaders who have managed democratic transitions to visit those nations that are now near such transitions, current politicians would no doubt want to learn from such peers. They would enjoy talking with practitioners about what strategies and tactics they developed, what unexpected obstacles arose, how they confronted these, what dilemmas they found most difficult, and how these were resolved.

Bringing wise but aging transition leaders of the last generation to visit Cairo, Tunis, Havana, Caracas or Naypyidaw (in Myanmar) would not be practical, however. We aimed to provide a second-best approach, by undertaking well-prepared and probing interviews with important transition leaders: Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Patricio Aylwin and Ricardo Lagos of Chile, John Kufuor and Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, B. J. Habibie of Indonesia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Fidel Ramos of the Philippines, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Poland, F. W. deKlerk and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, and Felipe González of Spain.

We sought the advice of leading academic authorities on each case to help us understand the history and context of each transition and identify the principal issues that arose. We did not administer a questionnaire but rather engaged the leaders in dynamic conversations about their experiences, how they worked, what their toughest choices were, how and why they made them, and how they learned. The resulting interviews do not present rigorous comparative political science, but they illuminate agency and decision-making in ways that are often obscured by other methods of analysis. Most comparative politics texts downplay the role of political leadership; this book emphasizes and illustrates it.

We know of no comparable source of practical insights and considered judgments on the challenges democratic transitions pose and how these have been successfully confronted. The seniority of most of the leaders we interviewed makes it unlikely that others will have this opportunity to learn from so many successful transition-makers.

We hope our book will be valuable for politicians and political parties; officials of governments, non-governmental organizations, social movements and international institutions; journalists; scholars and students; and all who want to understand, conduct or support successful transitions to democracy. We are grateful to International IDEA’s current Secretary-General Yves Leterme for helping to ensure that the book will be widely available, published in Arabic, French, Spanish, Dutch and possibly in Burmese and other languages. We invite readers to follow in our footsteps and learn from these remarkable leaders.

Sergio Bitar is a Chilean political leader and public intellectual. He served as minister in the governments of Salvador Allende, Ricardo Lagos, and Michelle Bachelet. He was also a senator and served as the president of the Party for Democracy. He is the president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy and the director of the Project on Global Trends and Latin America’s Future at the Inter-American Dialogue.  Abraham F. Lowenthal, a widely-published scholar, is professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Southern California, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and an adjunct professor at Brown University’s Watson Institute. He was the founding director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program, the Inter-American Dialogue, and the Pacific Council on International Policy.

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Measles is serious (a history lesson from my Grandmother)

Guest post by Alice Callahan

Today’s post is an excerpt from a longer piece that first appeared on the author’s blog, Science of Mom: The Heart and Science of Parenting.  The blog was the inspiration for her new JHU Press book, Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year.

Measles is back. The outbreak of this highly contagious viral illness that started at Disneyland in December has spread across the country and shows no signs of slowing. As of February 6, the CDC reported 121 cases in 17 states in this year alone, most linked to Disneyland. In 2014, we had 644 cases of measles in the U.S. This is a striking increase compared to the last 15 years, when we usually saw less than 100 cases in an entire year.

I’m sorry that so many people have been sickened in this outbreak and hope that it is reined in soon. This is no easy task given our mobile society and the fact that we like to congregate in places like theme parks, schools, doctors’ offices, hospitals, airplanes, and shopping malls. Add to that the pockets of unvaccinated people where measles can easily spread, and we have a recipe for still more outbreaks until we can improve vaccination rates. In this situation, I particularly feel for those who can’t be vaccinated. Babies under 12 months of age and people who are too immunocompromised to get the MMR vaccine, like cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, are counting on the rest of us to get vaccinated and reduce the spread of this disease. Right now, we’re letting them down.

callahanOne positive outcome to this outbreak is that it has sparked lots more conversation about vaccines. It inspired me to be more public about proudly stating that our family is fully vaccinated. And I wrote an op-ed piece for my local paper, the Register-Guard, about the risk of measles in our community, given the low vaccination rates in our schools.

(Our baby, of course, has so far only received the newborn Hepatitis B dose. He won’t receive the MMR shot, which includes the measles vaccine, until 12 months of age.)

I spent a lot of time researching vaccines last year for my book. The result is an in-depth look at vaccine development, risks and benefits, and safety testing and monitoring. I also cover some specific vaccine concerns, like whether or not we give too many too soon (we don’t) and if we should be worried about aluminum in vaccines (we shouldn’t). (I don’t just tell you these things, though; I break down the science for you.) I read hundreds of papers about childhood vaccines, talked with researchers, and felt more confident than ever about vaccinating my kids on the recommended schedule.

There was one other bit of vaccine research that may have been the most meaningful to me: I flew to Florida to interview my grandmother, now 90 years old. She raised seven children before most of today’s vaccines existed. She was a mother during the 1952 polio epidemic that killed 3,145 and paralyzed more than 21,000 people in the U.S. She was having her babies before a vaccine for rubella was available. That disease caused 11,250 miscarriages, 2,100 stillbirths, and 20,000 children to be born with birth defects in a 1964–1965 outbreak in the U.S.

Three brothers (from left to right): Richard (the author's father), Frankie, and Larry Green, circa 1953, in Princeton, New Jersey. Frankie died in 1956, at age 6, of encephalitis caused by measles. Photo by Margaret Green, used with permission.

Three brothers (from left to right): Richard (the author’s father), Frankie, and Larry Green, circa 1953, in Princeton, New Jersey. Frankie died in 1956, at age 6, of encephalitis caused by measles. Photo by Margaret Green, used with permission.

My grandmother also nursed her children through the measles. Before the vaccine, nearly every child suffered through a case of measles at some point in childhood. During the current measles outbreak, I’ve seen some comments downplaying the seriousness of this disease. After all, most kids did survive measles without long-term consequences. However, many didn’t. Among those who didn’t survive was my grandparents’ second child, Frankie. In 1956, at the age of 6, he died of encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, a complication of measles.

* * * * * *

We live in a privileged time. Just a few generations ago, our grandparents had no choice but to nurse their children through painful diseases, knowing there was a chance of serious complication and even death. Worldwide, measles still killed 122,00 people in 2012, mostly in parts of the world with limited access to the vaccine.

But here in the U.S., our generation of parents has a choice. We get to choose whether or not to vaccinate our children. And oh, how we treasure that choice. The trouble is that we’re so far removed from the pre-vaccine era that we can make the mistake of ignoring the stories of our grandparents and great-grandparents, stories of kids like Frankie. And we can make the mistake of believing that we make our choices in a vacuum. When we’re talking about infectious diseases, nothing can be further from the truth. Sure, a few can choose not to vaccinate, in addition to those who have a medical reason not to, so long as the rest of us do our part to maintain herd immunity. However, when too many make that choice, the disease regains its strength, and its first victims are often the most vulnerable.

I wrote most of this post while holding my 7-week-old baby boy. He is fighting his first cold right now. It’s just your run-of-the-mill cold virus, but his nose is filled with snot, and he has a sad little cough. I know he’ll be better soon, but I hate to watch him suffer. Mothers and fathers will always be nursing their babies through illness, but I’m glad to be a parent in the vaccine era, when herd immunity and my baby’s own immunizations can protect him from the worst of the world’s infectious diseases. Let’s hope we can keep it that way.

Alice Callahan holds a PhD in nutritional biology from the University of California, Davis, and is the author of Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year. She spent two years investigating fetal physiology as a postdoctoral scholar, and, after giving birth to her first child in 2010, she put her scientific training to work answering the big questions about caring for a baby. The creator of the blog Science of Mom: The Heart and Science of Parenting, she writes and teaches in Eugene, Oregon.




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William Jay Smith, 1918–2015

William Jay SmithJHU Press was proud to publish two collections of William Jay Smith’s poetry, The World below the Window: Poems 1937–1997 (1998) and Words by the Water (2008). Both books appeared in our series John Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction, edited by JHU’s John T. Irwin. Two poems from The World below the Window were featured in Smith’s recent obituary in the New York Times. We are pleased to reprint one of them here, the title poem from his first collection with Johns Hopkins.


The World below the Window

The geraniums I left last night on the windowsill,

To the best of my knowledge now, are out there still,

And will be there as long as I think they will.

And will be there as long as I think that I

Can throw the window open on the sky,

A touch of geranium pink in the tail of my eye;

As long as I think I see, past leaves green-growing,

Barges moving down a river, water flowing,

Fulfillment in the thought of thought outgoing,

Fulfillment in the sight of sight replying,

Of sound in the sound of small birds southward flying,

In life life-giving, and in death undying.

William Jay Smith (1918–2015) was the author of more than fifty books of poetry, children’s verse, literary criticism, translation, and memoirs. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position now called Poet Laureate) from 1968 to 1970. 


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Gene Taft is JHUP’s new publicity manager in our books division

Johns Hopkins University Press is pleased to announce the appointment of Gene Taft as publicity manager for the Books Division, effective September 1. He will succeed Kathy Alexander, who will retire October 2.

GeneGene comes to the Press with more than twenty years of book publicity experience: at PublicAffairs (where he was vice president and assistant publisher), Viking/Penguin, The Free Press, Overlook Press, Columbia University Press, and Northeastern University Press. His work has helped catapult more than 15 titles into bestseller status, and he has worked with numerous high-profile authors, including Rahm Emanuel, Sarah Brady, General Wesley Clark, Richard Gephardt, Brian Lamb, Katherine Graham, George Soros, Vernon Jordan, Andy Rooney, Ray Davies, Newt Gingrich, Richard Lewis, and Sid Caesar. Over the past nine years Gene has run a successful Washington-based freelance enterprise, GTPR, through which he has handled numerous projects (including three bestsellers) for trade and university press publishers and authors.

“I began my career in the university press community and I’m excited to be returning to that community and helping JHUP publish and promote an incredible list of books,” said Taft.


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Book trailer: Ronald P. Formisano on Plutocracy in America

Author Ronald P. Formisano argues that the growing gap between the most affluent Americans and the rest of society is changing the country into one defined—more than almost any other developed nation—by exceptional inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity. In our latest book trailer, Ron discusses his timely book on the topic, Plutocracy in America: How Increasing Inequality Destroys the Middle Class and Exploits the PoorUse promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy on the JHUP website or by calling 800-537-5487.


Ronald P. Formisano is the William T. Bryan Chair of American History and professor emeritus of history at the University of Kentucky. In addition to Plutocracy in America, he is the author of The Tea Party: A Brief History and For the People: American Populist Movements from the Revolution to the 1850s.

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Reflections on a great group project with the Modern Greek Studies Association

By Janet Gilbert, JHUP Staff

Journal MGSA_Double_Postcard_SPR15-3I learned to work in groups in Mr. Stephens’s fourth-grade class in public elementary school, where such projects were often assigned by a random call-out from the classroom seating chart. I’ll admit that often, my first reaction to learning my group assignment was to cringe, because doing things with others meant, well, not doing them entirely “my” way. I was shocked and keenly disappointed early—at age nine or ten—to discover that not everyone wants to do a good job on an assigned task. Sometimes people don’t even show up. And frequently, two or three individuals end up shouldering the work of five or six. How discouraging!

But every once in a while I’d experience a stellar group—one that’s organized, creative, responsive, and dedicated. A group wherein everyone improves everyone else’s work, and I gladly say bye-bye to “my way” because I know the end result will be far superior to anything I could imagine on my own. Today, I seek out these groups socially, and can’t help but be thrilled when they occur serendipitously in the workplace. That just happened with the Modern Greek Studies Association—an organization we serve in the journals publishing division.

Journal MGS_33 1_rgbA team from the journal and its association collaborated with a team here in journals marketing to create a communication timed with the association’s upcoming symposium registration. We put our heads together and brainstormed an amazing group of Greek contacts across academia and art, economics and government. We even decided on a “bridge” theme together after considering several visual options—the metaphor articulated the association’s and the journal’s mission so beautifully, and the inside photo reinforced the past-present connection with a striking urban scene wherein the classic and contemporary collide. In the end, the multifarious objectives of the association and its journal were neatly packaged into a direct response piece, below, and landing web page, here.

Groups that work create great work. I’m grateful to the MGSA, and, of course, to Mr. Stephens, who knew this all along.

Janet Gilbert is a writer and senior coordinator for direct mail and renewals in the Journals Division at Johns Hopkins University Press.

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