Welcome to Science Court!
Science Court is a project designed to combat polarization in American society and strengthen democracy. It is run as an interdisciplinary course in the University of Minnesota Honors Program involving students from across the university. The students select a controversial issue and spend an entire semester studying it in depth to determine the facts (based on sound scientific research) and then argue it in a mock trial in front of a jury of citizens with a mix of views and backgrounds. The public is engaged through compelling audio, video and online content generated by the students about the preparations, trial and verdict. The trial is free and open to the public.
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The University of Minnesota Science Court students are researching and debating whether mandatory service programs could work to create more political and racial harmony in the United States.
In this second episode of Depolarizing America, hosted by Matt Simonson, SciCourt examines the public health and psychology of volunteer and mandatory service programs. Matt Simonson and Hannah Ihekoronye interview members of the science team. Philip Dowdell discusses the impact of mandatory service programs on public health. Manix White talks about the role psychology plays in the effectiveness of service programs.
Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash
The Science Court legal team separated this week into a pro and con team. The pro team will move forward with constructing a plan for mandatory service, while the con team will develop a plan for a national voluntary service program.
Science Court legal advisor and judge Bill McGinnis pressed students in class on Tuesday to consider administrative and organizational aspects of a national voluntary service program. "We have to have a personnel administrative structure that protects the people in the program," he said. This could include details like how to prevent sexual harassment and keep volunteers safe while they're in the field.
Aside from program organization, the con team needs to consider how to build interest in a service program that is highly recommended, but not mandatory. One option, legal con team member Madeleine Stankiewicz said, is offering student loan forgiveness to volunteers. These loans could apply to undergraduate, graduate, and returning students, making the voluntary program more appealing to a wider segment of the population.
Photo Illustration by C.J. Robinson
In this week’s class, Professor Ellad Tadmor discussed with SciCourt notes from his conversation with Jim Hartung, a systems engineer and political reform advocate. Hartung provided ideas on how to organize national service programs and approaches to decreasing polarization in the United States. The science team will consider Hartung’s insights to craft effective pro and con proposals that fight polarization.
Bill McGinnis, the legal team advisor and judge for the case, thinks that misinformation is one of the leading causes of polarization in the U.S. To combat this issue, McGinnis said he believes we must improve how Americans exchange and interpret information. With the absence of misinformation, he speculated biases would turn to a minimum and citizens would better understand the arguments from both sides.