Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Grazing gets a bad rap. Let's face it, we all graze certain content: the TV news, dull conversations with family, memos from our boss. A couple of scholars looked specifically at news grazers, who they defined as people who watch the TV news with a remote in hand, ready to switch around when a story of little interest appears on the screen.

Yeah -- been there, changed that channel.

(btw: I didn't know the first remote, from Zenith, was called Lazy Bones. That's funny.)

Men graze more than women. Grazers are less likely to read the newspaper and, indeed, they are more likely to avoid any hard news of any type: local, national, international. As is now kinda obvious, grazers tend to know less about public affairs, at least as measured in the study. This makes sense. Inadvertent, haphazard exposure to news is simply not enough to be informed. What is not measured here is the difference between recall and recognition. Theoretically (yeah, I used the T-word), we would expect grazers to do better at recognition questions because they would have the answer on the tip of their tongue. Reading or carefully attending to the news would lead to higher recall scores (as is the case here).

The so what? Seventy percent of young people are grazers. They may feel informed through picking up bits and pieces here and there, from TV news or Jon Stewart or the web, but grazing doesn't lead to actually being informed. Grazing works well only for cows.

Monday, September 17, 2007


In presidential politics we always watch the swing votes, the "unsure" voters, those wacky undecided folks who, despite a billion ads and debates and stories, can't make up their minds.1

Well, it's too early to have a favorite, at least not for any rational person, but let's look at those "unsure" party nomination numbers just for fun.

On the Democratic side, the "unsure" vote was at 13% in March and has steadily dropped to 7% in September (CBS/NYT poll). On the Republican side, "unsure" was at 10% in June, jumped up to 18% in August, but by September settled back to 10%. There is a lot more churn on the GOP side, what with Fred Thompson (from my hometown of L'burg, Tenn.!!!) entering the race, the troubles with Bush's own numbers, and the war.

1 As a methodological aside, we often use the inability to generate an attitude about a political actor as a negative in computing political knowledge. You'll especially find this in anlysis of ANES data. No opinion counts a "0" and some opinion as a "1" in creating an index of knowledge (along with other, more obvious, items like who is chief justice of the supreme court or which party controls congress).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Memory and Mismemory

Okay, as I move into my, um, later years, this story hits a little too close to home.

The Washington Post reported on how when the CDC gave a list of truths and myths about flu, older people who read the flier -- in just 30 minutes! -- misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true.

In other words, it took only a half hour to get a quarter of the stuff wrong. Myth becomes truth! And in three days, 40 percent made the dramatic change from myth to fact.


Now I am starting to remember back to all those myths I learned when I was a kid in school and, even worse, I wonder if I am misremembering some stuff as being fact. Did Mary Beth Lumpkins mean it when she said she liked me in the fifth grade? Or am I misremembering that so that myth became fact. Beth, if you're out there, lemme know. I'm really confused.

Anyway, back to the question at hand -- what people know. Or maybe I should call this blog, what people think they know.

Younger people didn't ace this test either (yes, you hear me sighing in relief). They did better early on, but within three days young people did as poorly as older folk. So what's all this mean? "This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi," says the article. "Similarly, many in the Arab world are convinced that the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 was not the work of Arab terrorists but was a controlled demolition; that 4,000 Jews working there had been warned to stay home that day; and that the Pentagon was struck by a missile rather than a plane."

In other words, myth becomes reality.

What do people know? Whatever their minds create as fact, apparently. I'd love to know if certain kinds of people are more likely to do this than others. Perhaps some other time I'll explore possible personality or individual differences.

The media role? Reminding people what is fact, what is myth, and why it matters that people keep the differences straight in their heads.

Beth? Fact or myth?