Friday, July 25, 2014

Data (the word, not the Star Trek guy)

It's the era of Big Data. So, in honor of that on a Friday, here's the trend in the use of the word "data" via the magic of Google's Ngram viewer, which searches books through 2000. We can only assume since 2000 it's dramatically increased.

And Let the Polling Insanity Begin ...

The Political Insider page at the AJC reports two new polls out about Georgia's U.S. Senate race. Dueling polls, really.
  • A Rasmussen poll has the Republican, David Perdue, over the Democrat, Michelle Nunn, 46-40.
  • Yes, but a Landmark poll has it 47-43 -- for Nunn.
Of course, Landmark had Kingston beating Perdue for the GOP nomination, 48-41. Perdue won by a couple of percentage points. But the real issue here is, of course, which one is right?

Answer: neither

First, both results are within the margins of error, so "leading" here means damn little. Second, both appear to be robo-polls, which are often flawed, or a bit biased, or just plain suck. Take your pick, but just look at how poorly these polls just performed only a week ago. There's a good argument to be made, journalistically, for not even reporting on these polls. Not that that's gonna happen, sad to say. And that's odd. Imagine you're a reporter (I know, but stay with me) and there's a source who pretty much blows bullshit at you day after day. You check the stuff out, it's never right.

Do you keep going back for quotes? Of course not.And yet, and yet. Yes, we're the enablers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On My Research ...

UGA pushed out a press release today on my most recent published research. Read it. Over and over again. Make it part of your life.

Talk Radio ... and Concussions?

I have a long history of research into talk radio. Hell, it got me tenure in the 1990s, I published so much while the topic was hot stuff and I was arguably the leader in the field. So I keep up with what's happening in research. I stumbled across this study today on, of all things, recovery from concussions. Here's the key part for me:

While many activities were associated with longer average recovery times, only reading (p=0.024) and listening to audio books, talk radio, or podcasts (0=0.0003) were statistically significant. 

Wow. Talk radio, still evil.

Of course it's more about audio, something about listening, that leads to longer recovery times. I wish we knew what kind of talk radio -- Car Talk? NPR stuff? Rush Limbaugh? Okay, the latter might lead not only to a slower recovery but suicide, but you get my point. And clearly the audio books, talk radio, and podcasts are a combined category. In other words, we can't really blame talk radio. Not completely.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In Georgia ... Pick a Poll at your Own Risk

We just had our party nomination runoff elections and we have two really interesting general elections in Georgia to look forward to -- Governor, and U.S. Senate.

Let's look at the polling.

Right now, according to this nifty Wikipedia page (scroll down a bit to the table labeled General Election) the polls between Republican and incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger Jason Carter are all over the place. We've got carter up 49-41. No, wait. It's a tie. No, wait again, Deal is up 47-40.

Here's the lesson for the day. Look hard at how the polls were conducted. If it's a robo-poll, ignore it. Take, for example, the recent GOP runoff for U.S. Senate. InsiderAdvantage had Kingston ahead by 5 percentage points. Perdue won by a couple. Yes, it was a robo-poll, meaning landline only, or some odd way of contacting people online in combination with landline phones, which skew older, more conservative. Or, as this story points out, should simply be ignored by journalists. Landmark also has Kingston winning by 7 percentage points. Indeed, every poll but one favored Kingston.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Political Knowledge and False Projection

Among my favorite (how nerdy is this?) research areas is the false consensus effect. A study just out looks at an aspect of this combined with news media exposure and political knowledge.

Simply put, people tend to think others think the way they do. The study finds that, as you'd expect (but not always find) news exposure and political knowledge result in greater accuracy about the true distribution of opinions.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Curriculum Update

As I've written about before, we're merging the broadcast news with the journalism folks at Grady College and, as part of this, rewriting the journalism curriculum. A committee of the unwilling has been meeting all summer, drinking beer and discussing curriculum and drinking beer and discussing curriculum. We meet again tomorrow (Monday) for the last time. Whatever product that emerges will go to the full department faculty on August 11 (the dreaded R-word, as in Retreat).

What happens then? The full faculty will congratulate us on our unpaid summer labor and adopt the new curriculum as recommended, standing to applaud us again and again, showering us with praise and flowers and cute little bunnies.

Except, that's not gonna happen.

We have a number of, ahem, interesting faculty. Indeed, none of the insane folks served on this committee. Which means a lot of work got done, which means August 11 may turn butt ugly -- with frothing at the mouth. Finger wagging. More froth. Spittle. Posturing. Stamping of feet. Tantrums. I fully expect tantrums.

God, I hope so. More blogging material. Hell, I may live tweet the retreat.

Clearly I'm not going to provide a lot of details here before the actual faculty get to see them. We don't want any pre-frothing. But there are some interesting philosophical differences that will likely arise, once you scrape the flying froth off your face. Among them is Big Core versus Buffet. That is, do you want a huge chunk of the curriculum eaten up by classes every student has to take (think multimedia stuff). If so, you leave yourself with little flexibility, both for the students and for the curriculum. That said, aren't there bunches of stuff all journalism students need to know? Reporting and writing, multimedia, experience in a newsroom, etc.? In a buffet approach, students have a smaller core and can then pick and choose according to their interests. Do we trust students to make the right choices? Do we then have students sporting the Grady brand but with no, say, video skills? Shouldn't we really blow it all up and create something cutting edge and not so 1970s?

Remember -- the bigger the core, the less the specialization. And don't even get me started on data journalism.

Another likely question is whether we want to fully embrace the teaching hospital approach, an online newsroom (and some broadcast) built around our existing Newsource. I think most folks will say yes, but ya never know.  Are we simply preparing students for jobs that are disappearing? I think we have a reasonable way to work around that. We'll see.

The fun thing about having been on the faculty here for 23 years is I can almost predict what certain faculty will say on August 11. I may write it down on envelopes with their names and open them as people say it. Yeah, I'm that petty.

In all, I expect on August 11 the department faculty to say "Hey, good try. We appreciate all the hard work. Now, go back and do it this way instead." And that's okay. Boring, but okay. It's called faculty governance, and when it comes to curriculum (and honestly, only curriculum) the faculty, not administrators, have the final say.