The College of Arts and Sciences' communications office works closely with Cornell's Media Relations Office. As the College's representatives to media, we connect faculty experts and thought leaders to local, regional, national and international media organizations.
Linda Glaser, News & Media Relations Manager
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Current press statements from Arts & Sciences faculty:
US paints China as bogeyman, closes Houston consulate
On Wednesday, the U.S. government ordered China to close its consulate in Houston saying the decision was made “to protect American intellectual property.” The State Department gave its Chinese counterpart three days to suspend its operation, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson who added that China vowed to retaliate.
Jessica Chen Weiss, associate professor of government at Cornell University and an expert on Chinese politics, says the Trump administration seems to be pushing the narrative of China as the bogeyman as a distraction from its disastrous response to the pandemic.
“Unless more evidence is forthcoming, the U.S. decision to close the Chinese consulate in Houston looks like a stepped-up effort to use China as the bogeyman and distract U.S. voters from the Trump administration's disastrous response to the pandemic. If the consulate has been engaged in ‘massive illegal spying and influence operations,’ why was the announcement so thin on detail? Why did we not learn that the consulate had been warned previously to stop, and when they did not, this was the punishment meted out?
“[Top U.S. diplomat for East Asia David] Stillwell's suggestion that the consulate has been helping students steal from U.S. universities and other ‘subversive behavior’ is patchy. How will the Chinese government react to what it has already called an unprecedented political provocation? So far, China has responded in kind to each of the Trump administration's actions with a tit-for-tat response, so we are likely to see a continued race to the bottom. Because the United States has less access in China than China has to the United States, reciprocity can hurt the United States more than China. Now, more than ever, U.S. policymakers and voters must be wary of a Pyrrhic victory.
“The last thing we need as our country struggles with a once-in-a-century pandemic is an all-out confrontation with China.”
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TikTok ban reasonable given threat of Chinese surveillance
The House of Representatives voted this week to ban TikTok from government-issued devices amid concerns that the Chinese-owned social media company’s access to U.S. data poses a national security threat.
Sarah Kreps, professor of government at Cornell University, studies misinformation and is the author of the recently published book, “Social Media and International Relations.” She says that U.S. concern over use of TikTok by federal employees is reasonable, given recent security breaches at other social media companies.
“TikTok's decisions on content moderation do not appear to be the most pressing motivation for the U.S. government, rather it is a question of national security. Twitter's security breach last week and Facebook compromising user data in the Cambridge Analytica scandal show that data security concerns are not the sole province of Chinese-based social media companies. But the U.S. government is more concerned about the Chinese government accessing huge troves of user data versus a U.S. company. China could conduct surveillance on specific users, collect compromising, blackmail-worthy information, or analyze the data to understand key demographics in the U.S. and Europe, informing its strategic information campaigns online.
“I would distinguish between use of TikTok by U.S. federal employees and use by U.S. citizens in general. It's reasonable, given the uncertainties about whether the Chinese government could ultimately access user data and the attendant national security risks, to take a precautionary approach and limit the use of TikTok on official government devices. It should resist categorically banning TikTok, however, and instead continue to promote both the flow of content and enterprising ideas. TikTok's success has already spawned U.S.-based alternatives. Next month, Instagram is launching Reels, which might provide a compelling, less fraught platform to its one billion users.”
Drew Margolin, professor of communication at Cornell University, studies the way people communicate online and the role of accountability, credibility and legitimacy within social networks. He says that the interests of tech company owners are increasingly driving regulatory response, evident in the U.S. government’s approach to TikTok.
“The public and government are slowly recognizing that when it comes to technology, particularly social media platforms, the interests of ownership shape the technology. So the relevant question when thinking about regulations for a particular technology is: what are the owner's interests, what harms could be perpetrated to serve these interests, and are there any non-government powers that could restrain them?
“In the case of Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok, many figure the interests of the Chinese Communist Party are served, since the party has a role within its corporate structure. The party has an interest in state secrets, hence the rule proposed to Congress disqualifying even downloading it on government computers.
“In other words, the reason Facebook isn't banned from government computers is not that Mark Zuckerberg is trusted, it's just not perceived that obtaining sensitive U.S. government data is in his interest. My question is, what happens when these companies consider merging?”
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Portland, Oregon protests
Portland protestor used ‘insurrectionary nakedness’ to manage conflict
Protests continue this week in Portland, Oregon in the wake of federal law enforcement being deployed to the city. On Saturday, the protest included the participation of a nude woman who confronted officers wearing nothing but a mask and hat.
Naminata Diabate, professor of comparative literature at Cornell University, is an expert on sexuality and resistance and is the author of “Naked Agency: Genital Cursing and Biopolitics in Africa.” She says that “insurrectionary nakedness” can be an effective form of conflict management.
“The power of naked protest lies in its paradoxes: It is one of the most universal and yet the most context-specific forms of resistance. Although the gesture is the same almost everywhere, its reception and interpretations depend on a host of meanings attached to the body, sexuality, privacy, moral injury and other factors.
“The person who performed naked agency in Portland spoke without saying anything. Paradoxically, not supplementing the language of her nakedness with that of words invited a host of contradictory interpretations. Some suggest the protester was vulnerable, others consider her brave. I call her brave in vulnerability, vulnerable as brave.
“Contrary to popular understandings, insurrectionary nakedness is a form of conflict management at the same time that it disrupts business as usual. The path towards conflict resolution often passes through that of discontinuity.”
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Mars Perseverance to deliver ‘first zoom cameras’ to another world
NASA is planning to launch its latest rover destined for Mars on July 30, with an anticipated arrival date on the red planet in February 2021. The rover, named Perseverance, will look for evidence of ancient life and collect soil and rock samples at a part of Mars just north of its equator known as Jezero Crater — the site of an ancient river.
As part of the mission, Cornell University scientists are working on a number of aspects critical to its success, from stereo cameras, to weather instrumentation, to ground penetrating radar.
Alex Hayes is a professor of astronomy at Cornell University and a co-investigator for Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z — a set of stereo cameras that will be the “eyes of the rover.” Hayes says one of his team’s goals is to learn about the material around Jezero Crater to piece together a geological history of the area.
“The Mastcam-Z are the stereo cameras that are the eyes of the rover, and those cameras are the first zoom cameras that will ever be sent to another world. They are stereo, zoom capable, focusable, multi-spectral cameras with filter wheels — and their primary objective is to obtain images of the landing site, create 3D models of the landing site and do so in multiple wavelength spans to tell us something about the composition of the material around Jezero Crater.
“My role on the Mastcam-Z team as a scientist is to look at the geomorphology of the surrounding terrain, looking at how the rocks and sedimentary layers are interacting with each other and what their compositions are to try and discern what the environment was like when those materials were deposited.”
Don Banfield is a research scientist at Cornell and part of Perseverance’s atmospheric science team. Banfield is also science lead for the meteorological sensors on InSight — a lander currently on Mars. He says Perseverance’s ability to measure Martian weather will add important data and create a suite of weather stations on the red planet.
"We’ll actually have InSight, Perseverance and Curiosity operating at the same time on Mars. While they are all quite distant from one another on Mars, comparing the 'weather' results from all of them will likely prove interesting, similar to how one can learn from looking at the weather in Miami, New York, and Tokyo at the same time on Earth."
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