Friday, October 30, 2009

Conversion Zeal

Here's a Pew Center report on something I actually did a research paper on years ago but -- true story -- accidentally deleted after months of work.  I focused more on whether a sudden versus gradual experience led to more extreme views, both religious and political.  But the basic idea is the same.  See the table below:

I argued that a sudden conversion led to more extreme political views.  The data only barely supported my thesis and then, like an idiot, I accidentally deleted all my work.  Given the weak support, I didn't try to recreate the manuscript.  No great loss.

The Pew results are better, but then again they're linking conversion to religious behaviors and attitudes.  That's a much easier direction to go.  Obvious, yes, but important.  As a practicing cradle Catholic I've seen this myself in converted Catholics who tend to freek the rest of us out with their enthusiasm.

What's it all mean?  Converts are more energetic, more enthusiastic.  More narrow minded?  Dunno, but that would kinda follow, I guess, as they develop a religiously-focused tunnel vision based in their faith.  But maybe it depends on the particular faith they have converted to.  Luckily, Pew breaks it down by faith/affiliation and the same religious measures and this conversion zeal effect seems to hold across most faith traditions.  Go here for the table with that breakdown.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Phrases and Words in the News
That I Hate!

I blogged a few weeks back about being sick and tired of the word sustainable.  While reading the news this morning I came across another phrase that I'm truly sick of finding in stories:  not so much.

A Google News search found 8,481 uses of it in news stories and blogs. Do I like this phrase?  Not so much.

Often it is used correctly as part of a sentence.  For example, from a Boston Globe story: Hence, the tendency among not a small number of Bostonians and Philadelphians to define themselves not so much by what they are as what they're proudly not ...  That's okay.  It's when it pops up as a sentence by itself that the once-clever phrase gets old and tired.  Here's a headline from the Daily Kos blog: Coburn is Concerned about Garage Doors -- Rape, Not So Much.


Does this affect what people know?

Not so much.


Credibility of Web Sites

There is a fairly long, over-jargoned study that is also damned interesting as it attempts to explain why people find some web sites as credible and why some as not credible. 

I'd love to sum up the results if I could figure out a way to do it.  Don't expect the conclusions section to help.  Lemme give it a shot, at least of the stuff that matters to me.

Subjects in the study were very confident in their ability to judge a site's credibility.  The two groups of students (which, as we all know, are not real people) were in either computer science or education.  The author predicted computer science students would score higher in confidence in judging web sites since they work more often with technology, but no differences emerge.  In other words, confidence or perceptions of knowledge are fairly consistent regardless of major.  Either confidence is independent of expertise, or there are no expertise differences between computer science and education majors when it comes to judging a web site's credibility.  I suspect both are right in this case.

Commercial sites, at least in a second experiment, seem to generate lower credibility rating than education and other sites, at least I think so.  Aspects of the study are a bit unclear and let's just say the writing is not as crisp and clear as one might wish.

But this bit, near the end, is interesting:
In particular, university students and others may rely more heavily on self-confidence and competence determinations in credibility judgments about Web resources, especially in areas where they are just becoming acclimated into a discipline or attaining competence (initial stages in developing expertise, according to Alexander’s 2003 model).
In other words, confidence (or perceived knowledge) seem to play a huge role in evaluations of web sites.   I think I'm right, seems the logic, therefore I am right -- at least in judging credibility.  I've always been interested in efficacy and perceived knowledge and the role the media either plays in supporting that confidence or in how those feelings of confidence or efficacy influence the kinds of media we consume.  But if confidence is a consistent trait independent of manipulation, then that raises a completely different set of questions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Knowing When It's Warm, or Not

The Pew Center tries to tease out why there has been a significant drop in the sense of danger people feel about climate change.  In the report, one graph stands out:
Why do fewer Americans believe the earth is warming? No single factor emerges from Pew Research Center surveys, but rather a range of possible explanations, including a sour economy and, perhaps, a cooler than normal summer in parts of the United States.
Makes sense.  People know based in a large part on personal experience, so a cooler-than-normal summer means you'd have more doubts about global warming, at least enough of a doubt to say so in a survey.

And people engage in interesting mental calculus.  If the economy sucks, and global warming is going to cost us more to fix, then we can put off global warming until the economy improves.  Do the math and you're less concerned about global warming.  Bingo!

The table below includes the "intriguing finding" that maybe weather played a factor.  Decide for yourself, but there seems to be some small association here.  You'd have to track this over time to really tap into it.  An interesting idea.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What Kids Know? TV

Kids watch more than a day of TV per week, says this article.  The latest Nielsen figures have children at an eight-year high in boob tube viewing.  At one point it says:
The findings alarmed children's health advocates, who warned that increased television watching is linked to delayed language skills and obesity. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Washington found that babies who watched videos geared to them learned fewer vocabulary words than infants who never watched the videos. 
What do kids know?  TV, apparently.  And the Net.  And their cell phones.

Original Nielsen report here.  Depressing.

Knowing the Parties

It's tough to be a Democrat right now.

The CNN poll that asks people to rate the parties has the Dems right now at 53 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable.  Not great numbers.  Truly, a bit ugly.

But what's uglier? 

The Republicans.

Same poll, worse numbers -- 36 percent favorable and 54 percent unfavorable.

The Dems were at 60 percent favorable in December and have been slipping, which must make GOPers happy.  Too bad the Republicans have been slipping in the minds of folks as well, down from 48 percent favorable a year or so ago.  A pox on both houses, it seems.

Do these impressions matter?

Not so much right now, unless you consider them political capital to be spent on the hot policy issue of the day (health care comes to mind), or if you see them as some guidance on the two big upcoming elections thought to be barometers of the political winds (New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races).  Otherwise they're mere numbers to watch, info to fill a blog with, or something for political junkies to argue about.

But they do get, at least a little, at what people know or think about the two major parties.  It will be bad if both parties suffer from equally dismal numbers.  Why?  Effective governing relies on a reservoir of good will, something a party (or politician) can draw down on as needed to get policies approved.  Given the fragmented nature of the news audience, especially the cult of cable television, I suspect both parties are in for a tough 2010.  We need one party to be waxing if the other is waning, if for no other reason than someone has to have the political capital to get necessary things accomplished. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Inventor -- Dead Last

CNN, creator of the cable news format, finished dead last among four outlets in October numbers (Fox, Headline News, and MSNBC), according to a NYTimes story.

According to the article:
The results demonstrate once more the apparent preference of viewers for opinion-oriented shows from the news networks in prime time.
Yup. Cable news has become, if nothing else, a branded bunch of personality cults.  Follow that approach and you'll have some success in the emerging cultish cableverse.  Otherwise, get used to last place.  Hell, Anderson Cooper couldn't even beat repeats of Nancy Grace or Keith Olbermann.  Man, that's cold.

Cognitive Mobilization

My first ever academic publication (accepted while still a grad student) was on cognitive mobilization.  I've also blogged about recent research on the topic.  Now there's a review of the literature, which I'm happy to see.  Like visiting an old friend, the idea of partisan dealignment in advanced democracies.

As the authors note:
The theory of a cognitively mobilized electorate argues that citizens are likely to abandon habitual voting for a single party as they become better informed about politics and gain exposure to mass media. The data examined in this paper, however, are not consistent with the theory's predictions.
As much as I like the concept, I'm not terribly surprised by the finding above.  The thesis apparently unravels at individual level analysis, according to the authors.  They present three questions cognitive mobilization advocates must answer in order to salvage the hypothesis. 

Oh, and one major problem with this review -- it fails to cite my work in an obscure (but at the time to me, important) academic journal.  Damn them!!!

Cite of my original paper: Hollander, B. A. (1993). Mass communication and cognitive mobilization: Changes in the U.S. from 1952-1984. Mass Comm Review, 19, 29-33, 48. Complete list of published stuff here if you're truly bored.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Knowledge about Global Warming

Rather than measure and examine plain old knowledge, some scholars take that extra step.  This study published this year in Science Communication of what people know about global warming is one example, where the authors constructed a "knowledge complexity" dependent variable as well as that old standard -- accuracy -- and then, and this is kinda neat, an interaction term of the two (complexity x accuracy).

Okay, so what's knowledge complexity?   Here's a bit from the methods section:
That is, a schema may be considered complex if it contains a variety of domain-specific elements that share conceptual linkages; thus, a measurement of cognitive complexity should seek to measure the number of elements and the degree to which they are associated.
 There are a lot of results.  Go through them yourself if you want specifics, but a bunch of variables in the multiple regression significantly predict knowledge complexity.  Education, obviously.  A variable called Understanding (how much you understood info about it).  Information seeking styles, yes, the effort one puts into it, no surprise, and a variable called media sources (the number of sources used).  All those, significant.  Not significant?  Individual media exposure items like newspapers, TV, and the web.  Not sure why they are significant but not the overall measure of number of sources, except perhaps for some multicollinearity issues.

In a final table the authors break down the complexity variable into parts (elements and connections). You don't learn an awful lot from this, but helpful nonetheless if one wants to explore this approach to knowledge. 

It is interesting to see media sources is a positive predictor of the "elements" dependent variable but not the "connections" dv.  In other words, the more sources you use, the more "things" you remember about global warming but you don't see any more connections than someone with fewer sources.  That's interesting and deserves deeper thought.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fourth and Fifth Estates

Fascinating column at Poynter about the Fourth Estate and an emerging Fifth Estate.  This has everything to do with how people consume news and information today -- for good, or for ill -- since the Fifth Estate does commit occasional acts of journalism, just not necessarily in the traditional manner.

According to the column (which I encourage you to read):
The Fifth Estate includes specialized Web sites, online news providers, bloggers, aggregators, commentators and much more, a virtual buffet for consumers hungry for news and information. But for all its innovation, the Fifth Estate is still heavily dependent on content generated by the Fourth Estate.
 There's a lot more, but I hate to cut-and-paste when you can just check it out yourself.  The point is, this new, emerging, dynamic, ethically-challenged Fifth Estate may very well revolutionize how the Fourth Estate operates.  And, obviously, this will affect what people know.  And how people come to know it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The W.H. vs Fox

I don't want to get too involved in this much-covered topic of the White House vs. Fox News other than to touch on it from a what people know perspective.

First, the Obama people lose in this fight, at least when it comes to directly hurting Fox.  Cutting off access to their reporters won't work because Fox doesn't really rely on news to the degree it relies on opinion.  How dare I say this?  When a major story breaks, something stupendous, the CNN numbers quickly eclipse the Fox numbers.  People know where to go for "news" versus "opinion journalism."  I'm not saying this is bad -- indeed it's brilliant -- but the W.H. folks, while they have a point, lose here.

Second, in terms of learning, the Obama folks kinda win.  They raise a few doubts about Fox, though probably not with its loyal audience but they're not going to change anyway.  Negative info is remembered better than positive info.  They're doing to Fox what Fox and talk radio hosts and the like have been doing for years -- pounding away at journalism (and science, for that matter).  In terms of doubt and impression formation/maintenance, not a bad strategy on the Obama administration's part.  Fox needs to stop whining, otherwise they fall into the "dish it out but can't take it" category.

In all, I think the Obama handlers ran the numbers and are taking a calculated, yet minor, risk.  In all, I suspect they kinda win, but only by a field goal, because it raises a point in the minds of many "independents" about whether Fox qualifies as news.

Third, we learn the Obama folks are Nixing it:

It looks
more and more

like 1974. 

What Global Warming?

Fewer people see "global warming" as a serious problem, according to a new Pew study, down from 44 percent last year to 35 percent this year.

To me, part of the problem is the lousy label "global warming" versus "climate change."  Come winter you get all these comedians who, on a cold day, wonder "where's all the global warming, yuk yuk," misunderstanding that it's more about how warming in some parts of the world screw up the climates elsewhere. 

Plus given the economy, I suspect what qualifies as a "serious problem" has changed in the minds of many.

And it's not so much a partisan thing when tapping what people know about science.  The graph to the right shows that regardless of partisan attachment, seeing "global warming" as a serious problem has decreased.  Heck, even those tree-hugging Dems have gone down from 2006 to 2009.  Do they lose their membership card to the Democratic Party?

I always look to the Independents.  They don't see it as important either.  That suggests the trend is less political and more (1) a response to real-world problems of war and economic disaster or (2) a complete misunderstanding of the science.

Down on Main Street

Wall Street is much happier, but down on Main Street things remain ugly.

Let's do the numbers.
  • The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index sits at -50 (that's minus 50) in the most recent measurement.  This scale goes from -100 (low) to +100 (high).  It's hung around there the whole of 2009.  Stocks moving up on Wall Street, comfort unchanged on Main Street.
  •  The RBC CASH Index gets at attitudes about the local economy, personal finances, plans to buy big ticket items, etc.  It seems to be up, over 50 for the first time since September of 2008 (when things went kaboom).
  • Investor's Business Daily TIPP Poll.  They do three measures.  Looking only at "economic optimism" the numbers suggest a slight tick upward in terms of confidence.  Not a lot, but there's life.
  • The Consumer Confidence Index by the Conference Board is slowly improving through 2009, but it's still mired in the 50s as compared to once being at 130 or so.
In all, while Wall Street rebounds, not much happening among real-world folks and businesses.  I'd expect some growth in confidence as stocks do better, if for no other reason than a spillover effect.  And indeed that may explain some of the positive signs we're seeing in these indices.  In terms of what people know, they're more likely to know about their own situations, that of their families and friends, and the businesses they see around them. Jobs are a lagging indicator, so until we see fewer people out of work, these confidence measures will be slow to respond.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What People ... Spit?

According to this study:
"The results show that male Barack Obama voters (winners) had stable post-outcome testosterone levels, whereas testosterone levels dropped in male John McCain and Robert Barr voters (losers). There were no significant effects in female voters."

Provided, without comment, because I honestly don't know what to say.

Talk Radio: Welcome Back

A piece by me here about the return of talk radio to the national political limelight.  Woo hoo!

Trust: Social Network Sites vs. Local Newspapers

You don't often find survey questions like the one below:
How would you compare news on social-networking sites to news on Web sites operated by your local newspaper – do you trust news on social-networking sites more, less or about the same?
It's an interesting question (entire questionnaire here), an apples and oranges comparison.  A foregone conclusion, you'd think; one is about trivia or people's lives, a bit about news but often about what they had for lunch, the other full of serious news but also horoscopes and sports and stuff like that.  The results?

Trust Social Networking Sites
  • More:  4 percent
  • Less:   38 percent
  • Same:  36 percent
  • Dunno: 22 percent
So I take some solace in the notion that only 4 percent trust social networking sites more.  I wonder about the 36 percent who see them as equal (and I pray they don't actually vote).  And I love the 22 percent who either don't know, don't care, or who find the comparison so deeply flawed as not worthy of their valuable time to answer.

Source of survey: First Amendment Center

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Recall and Recognition

I've blogged often (and published academic research) on the differences between the recall and the recognition of political information. These two forms of what people know differ not only methodologically but theoretically as well.  To put it simply -- and less PhDweebishly -- recall is one's ability to pull information out of memory with no help, a cognitively difficult task.  Recognition is like a multiple-choice test in which you're given a number of answers to choose from, a cognitively easier task.

Recall Example:  Who is Nancy Pelosi?
Recognition Example: Who is Nancy Pelosi?  Is she (a) Senate Majority Leader, (b) Speaker of the House, (c) a brand of underarm deoderant, (d) Secretary of State?

The first question, the recall example, is harder.  It would be even harder if you asked Who is the Speaker of the House? versus giving respondents a name to work with, but that's a different theoretical and methodological issue for another day (yeah, I did a paper on this, but it never got accepted ... damn those reviewers).

So why go on about recall vs. recognition?  There is a study in a 2009 issue of Political Behavior that examines knowledge about congressional candidates.  It's not actually a test of recall and recognition, but it includes both approaches and so I'm riffing off of it since it serves my purpose.  Full cite at bottom.

Here's a part I found kinda interesting.  The study includes a variable called media market concentration.  What's that?  When media markets straddle or bleed across congressional districts, you expect less knowledge about candidates since the coverage of any particular race is diluted.  When districts are better aligned with media markets, knowledge should improve (journalists are covering just one race).  That's the guts of this concept, though the method to create it is more complicated.  See the study for details.  

Their result?
When media market boundaries are well aligned with the boundaries of congressional districts, incumbents receive no particular benefit, but recognition of challengers is disadvantaged

Other than the awful, jargon-drunk use of disadvantaged here, people in districts where you'd expect higher knowledge because of alignment actually do a lousy job of recognizing challengers.  There's no relationship in recognition of incumbents (probably a ceiling effect).

In recall, they do not break it down by incumbents and challengers (not sure why), and in this case there is a negative relationship between accurate recall of all candidates and media concentration.  This is similar to above, where you have a non-significant relationship and a negative one, so it's no surprise -- I guess -- that an overall recall measure is negative.  This also points out the difficulty in improving recall versus recognition, especially in "media markets" defined by television, which is thought to improve recognition but not recall.

My take?  In reading the methods, the tables, and the study, at least when talking about media concentration, it seems to me the results support the idea that news media coverage helps a little on recognition but not at all with recall -- again supporting my discussion in the previous graph.

Full cite
Wolak, Jennifer (2009).  The consequences of concurrent campaigns for citizen knowledge of Congressional candidates.  Political Behavior, 31, 211-229.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Twitter and the News -- Not

Half of Americans dunno what Twitter is.  The other half don't think much of it as a source of news.

A new report by the First Amendment Center includes some questions about social networking, including Twitter (scroll to the bottom for these questions).

Three percent see Twitter as "very reliable" and 14 percent as "somewhat reliable" as news source.  Thirty-four percent see is as unreliable (49 percent have no opinion, meaning to them Twitter is something birds do, not people).

Interesting factoid: African-Americans (11 percent) and Hispanics (10 percent) are more likely than whites (1 percent) to say Twitter is a very reliable news source.  This might impress you if it wasn't for the small number of these folks in the overall sample (10 percent of the sample black, 5 percent Hispanic).  The margins of error here are big enough to drive a truck through, making any interpretation of these numbers tricky.  But it is suggestive.  A racial/ethnic oversample might uncover some interesting trends, though off the top of my head I can't see any reason why one group would trust or distrust Twitter more.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Smart Kid Video

After I posted one of these a week or so ago, I went looking and there are lots of these videos of politically smart kids -- or at least kids who've been trained (beaten?) until they can recite these names. Watch below.

Constitutional Knowledge

Asked what rights are mentioned in the First Amendment and, over the years, people have been okay at naming them.  Not great, but okay.  The First Amendment Center does this survey (full report here).

If you look at the table you'll see few dramatic changes from 1997 to 2009:
  •  The ability to identify Freedom of the Press as a right has slightly increased from 11% to 16%.
  • Freedom of Speech rose from 49% to 63%, then in 2009 hit 55%.
  • Freedom of Religion has hovered around the 20% mark over time, with a few blips up and down.
  • Right of Assembly/Association inched up from 10% to 14%.
  • Right to Petition Doubled!!!  Okay, to be fair, only from 2% to 4%.
It's hardly surprising that Freedom of Speech gets nailed most often.  We almost treat the First Amendment and the right to piss and moan and speak out as one in the same.  "It's my First Amendment right," you'll often hear someone say.  It's a bit disappointing that so few people recognize the freedoms of religion and the press as being in an amendment that reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
 I'll discuss more of the trends found in these surveys as the week progresses.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Classrooms and Political Engagement

An "open classroom environment" can have positive effects on adolescent "civic knowledge and appreciation of political conflict," according to this study in the academic journal Political Behavior.

Okay, the first question from you budding methodologists is -- what's an open classroom environment? 

Table 1 of the study (page 443) outlines what is basically a classroom environment where kids feel comfortable asking questions, expressing opinions, and where teachers respect student opinion (or at least, I suppose, don't beat the crap out of the brats for mouthing off).  But yeah, I can buy this.  So does it make a difference?

Table 2 includes a monumentally long regression analysis to support the argument.  Classroom environment, even after all these statistical controls, does explain some unique variance -- PhDweebspeak for it is still a significant factor despite controlling for lots of other explanations (beta a mere .06, but significant despite all the other controls).  So what predicted civic knowledge among kids?  Classroom environment, obviously, but also significant factors were: expected education (how far you think you're going to go on in school), race, reading of books, discussing politics at home, and perception of the classroom environment, which is apparently different from actual environment.

What drops out as predictors of civic knowledge?
  • Sex.  That's interesting given sex becomes a predictor for adults, with men scoring higher than women on tests of political knowledge (I've blogged on this research here and here).  But at this early age, no gender effect.  So the differences may emerge later.  Worthy of further investigation.
  • News Media use.  At this age, less surprising.  Kids, even older ones, don't consume all that much news.  More meaningful would be the media habits of parents or guardians, but the data probed student use of media.
  • Income and Free Lunch.  These essentially measure the same thing, which makes me worry about multicollinearity.  You can't get a free lunch at public schools unless your family is under the federal poverty level, so these two variables measure basically the same thing.  I would have taken out one from the model, gone with just the other. Or perhaps combine them in some way.
  • Social studiesGasp!  Taking social studies has no effect?  Bad news for those who hope classes like these, which have largely disappeared due to No Child Left Untested, will save the day. 
In all, an interesting peek at kids versus the jillion of studies that examine U.S. adults.  I think there is some stuff above that make for interesting follow-up studies, in particular a further investigation of the sex differences in political knowledge scales.  Some good alternative explanations for that one have emerged of late (the kinds of questions asked, social learning, etc.).  More needs to be done.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Polls and Policy

An excellent piece by Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, about the role of polls in making policy.  Strongly recommended for those interested in public opinion, what people think, and whether it matters. Shamelessly hotlinked to the right, one of the graphics from the article that shows the growth of mentions of polls in news stories.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Colbert: Conservative, or Not?

Stephen Colbert "defends" Glenn Beck.  Kinda, sorta.

In the bit linked above, reader Nick Browning points out that Colbert appears somewhat more transparent.   Colbert is "effectively disguised" as a conservative, some charge.  Studies suggest Colbert nudges people to the right as he -- a liberal -- plays a conservative TV blowhard (last two words, a redundancy, I admit).  Or maybe Colbert is a conservative playing a liberal who plays a conservative.  Yes, you can go crazy this way.

No, the "defense" of Beck above makes it clear where Colbert stands -- for those who were confused.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Offshore Tax Day!

As my fellow insanely rich friends know, this Thursday (Oct. 15) is Tax Day for those with offshore accounts.  Read about the pain many of us feel here.

I speak, of course, of my Adsense dollars piling up in my Caymans account thanks to the tens of readers worldwide who visit this blog. Cha-ching, cha-ching.  Oh, and there's the Swiss bank account.  And another one is located in a sunny spot so secret even I can't remember. 

I like to spread the money around.

Most of you can't imagine the difficulties of such squalid abundance, of accounts with long numbers and digits and secret codes cleverly hidden in a microchip and inserted under my flesh and -- oh, wait, that's a scene from one of the Bourne movies, not actually me.  Never mind.

In the world of what people know, this is something I didn't know ... that there even was a tax day other than the usual one in April.  I guess the feds like one so much, they had to have another.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Limbaugh Knows the Game

I love Rush Limbaugh, and in an interview he explains how he knows his audience, knows how to keep 'em, and best of all knows how to feed the media to keep his name in front of Americans who don't actually listen to his three-hour radio program. Talk radio -- its explosion in the early 1990s fed my research and went a long way toward helping me get tenure. So yeah, I probably owe Limbaugh a beer, or at least a good cigar.

Civic Engagement and Ideology

Everyone agrees civic engagement is important, and that young people need to be encouraged to participate.  After that, it gets kinda political.

Here's an Inside Higher Ed article that outlines the basic idea here, that colleges need to do more.  The lede:
There is strong support among students and faculty members for the idea that colleges have a role to play in encouraging civic engagement and promoting good citizenship. But there are real doubts about whether colleges are actually carrying out that role.

No argument here, and the article pumps a lot of tables at you to make the point.  A similar article can be found here at the Chronicle of Higher Education.   The lede:
Colleges are not promoting civic engagement nearly as strongly as their students, faculty members, and administrators believe they should be, says a report released today by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a group that promotes liberal education.

To be journalistically picky, the "who said" should never be as long as the "what said" in a lede.  But that's the journalism prof in me rearing my ugly head.

Again, no big deal.  But you do get organizations with a somewhat political/partisan/ideological bent in this debate.  Go here and scroll down, you'll find a link to their guide to what colleges don't tell you.  Some of this is the old preserve western civilization argument (one I'm supportive of, but one that is nonetheless ripe with ideological overtones). 

Click on a state, see how the universities score.  My school -- UGA -- got a B.  UF only got a C, meaning we finally beat 'em at something.  Rice, a great school in Texas, got an F.  That alone makes you wonder about the scoring system.

So sometimes what people know, or what is taught, is full of political undertones.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hijacking da Blog

I'm hijacking my blog today to say, "WTF?"

Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize?  I'm no Obama basher, no wingnut conservative (or loony leftist, more of a radical moderate) but I simply don't get it.  And I'm not alone, according to this AP story.  The Nobel folks seriously water down the importance of the prize when they go over the top politically like this.  There's no Camp David, no closing yet of Gitmo, no -- well -- nothing.  He's had no defining moment.  There is a long list of brave folks who are more deserving.

Honestly, when I first saw it online, thought it was a joke.

end hijack

When Talkmeisters Feud

Radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh and MSNBCguy Joe Scarborough had a bit of a spat the last few days.  Details here. What do people know?  That, sometimes, politics is like a schoolyard.  Scarborough had this one right, though, about Limbaugh's joy at Chicago losing the Olympics.

Other Stuff

Sorry, I have no other stuff today.  It's a busy Friday for some reason.  I may add material later.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where Muslims Are

There is a very nice interactive map up at the Pew Center to quickly show where Muslims can be found worldwide.  To the right of the map, you can click and burrow down to specific regions of the world.

There is also info on the methodology.

Of Cottage Academic Industries

Some television programs create a cottage industry of academic research.  Sesame Street is one clear example.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- believe it or not -- is another. 

And if you study political communication, a couple of guys are cottage industries of a sort for academics.  I speak in praise, obviously, of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Here's the abstract and full pdf of yet another study, this time on The Colbert Report.  As a PhDweeb who did some of the earliest research on "new news" and faux news programs, I'm allowed to take the high road, to sniff at these latecomers, and pretend superiority.  But in truth the stuff coming out now is quite good, better than the early studies, including mine.  This one looks at the ideology of experimental subjects and how they respond to Colbert's partisan humor.  It gets into how people negotiate "ambiguous political messages from ambiguous sources," which is a neat angle to take given Colbert's approach.  You can read it yourself.

Think of this as another brick in the wall of showing how Colbert and Stewart have very different effects, given their approaches.  The conclusion is a bit obvious, that we need to consider predispositions in understanding how people view such programs, but the work here is excellent, especially the discussion of what it all may mean.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

AAPOR vs Bad Polling

Great column today at the Wall Street Journal about the ongoing battle between the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and a polling firm, Strategic Vision LLC, which some charge has funky, fuzzy, numbers.  Full disclosure: I'm a member of AAPOR.

How People Get Here

Some factoids about the What People Know blog:
  • It's a duh moment to say most readers come from the U.S.  Second place goes to Australia, which kinda surprises me, followed by Canada and the U.K.  Lots and lots of countries after that -- 87, if I'm reading my stats correctly.  Cool.
  • In the U.S., obviously Georgia dominates.  Other places are, in order, California, Florida, New York, and Washington D.C.  It's the last one I find interesting.  The others are explained by sheer population size, but I suppose in D.C. some of my polcom stuff pops up.
  • I get more referrals from Google searches than any other place.  Again, obvious.
  • The top search term?  "Knowledge and emotion."  This is followed by some form of "recall and recognition" and then "what people know."  I'm happy to report "titular colonicity" is next.  Also high: "chronic know-nothings" and "cognitive mobilization" and "political knowledge."
  • My biggest days were during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, especially in September and October.
Yeah, it's kinda clear I don't have a hot topic today, so messing with my Google Analytics data.  And so it goes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

True Political Knowledge -- From a Kid

This kid below scores higher in political knowledge than most of my university students.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Polls that aren't Polls

Answered the telephone Monday afternoon and a woman identifies herself as doing a poll for the National Rifle Association would I like to participate in a one-question poll about the "outrageous" UN plan to ban guns worldwide.

Oh yeah.  You bet.

Then listen to a message from Wayne LaPierre.

Oh yeah. You bet.

He tells me about this great plot by the UN and "elite gun-hating media" to take our guns away.  Oh my god!

And then the woman returns with her one question.  Wish I had it word for word, but mostly she asked:  Do you think third world dictators and Hillary Clinton should dictate guns in America?

"Oh," I say.  "Yeah."

"Thank you."


If I'd have said "no" then I no doubt would have heard a pitch for money.  So basically it's a lie, it's not a poll, it's a pretend pseudo-poll not aimed at measuring opinion but rather at (1) influencing opinion or (2) making money.

Whether you like the NRA or not (and I own a handgun, a really big handgun), this still qualifies as one simple word.  Sleeze.

What We Know ... About the Economy

If news stories are any guide, what we know -- or what we hear and read -- about the economy is more about the big boy corporations and banks than about the struggles of everyday people, according to a story in the NYTimes about a study coming out today.  The Times uses Pew data to find:
Reviewing almost 10,000 reports from Feb. 1 to Aug. 31 in newspapers, on news Web sites, on the radio and on network broadcast and cable television, Pew found that almost 40 percent of economic news reports dealt with the trials of the banking and auto industries, and the federal stimulus bill passed in February.

Unemployment and the housing crisis accounted for 12 percent. And, the study said, “stories that tried to explicitly examine the broader impact of the economic downturn on the lives of ordinary Americans filled 5 percent of the economic coverage.”
Now, you can argue that covering the banking and auto industries either directly affects us all (if you work in those areas) or indirectly affects us (if we feed those industries by, say, making windshields for Ford) or interests us all (because we see industry as vital to a thriving economy).  So I take the veiled criticism here with a grain of salt. 

You can only do so many poor little person stories before they wear thin, both with the journalists but also with the audience. And -- this is important -- there is ample evidence that focusing on the troubles and struggles of people actually leads the audience to blame them, not the economy, for their problems.  When it happens to us, external factors played a role.  When it happens to someone else, we blame some failure on their part.

So is 5 percent the right amount?  I'm not sure, but 5-15 percent is about what I'd hope for with that kind of coverage.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Even Docs Don't Know

Here's some confidence-building news.  Not only are we confused about the health cares system.  So are our future doctors.  This story (scroll down a bit on the link page) gives details of a study that finds, well, below you can read for yourself:
A study published in the September issue of Academic Medicine found that nearly half of all medical students believe they have been inadequately educated about the "practice of medicine" -- especially related to medical economics.

Feel sicker?  Try this:
But fewer than 50 percent of medical students said they believed they had received appropriate training in areas related to the profession they are prepping to enter.
Feeling worse?  I know I am.

I suppose it's possible lots of other professional schools face the same problem.  Wouldn't it be good to know pharmacists are baffled while spooning out your pills?  And engineers?  And journalists?  Okay, the latter is less likely to kill ya, but I expect this is why doctors have office managers, to understand all the health care stuff they don't understand.

Friday, October 2, 2009


A new Pew study suggests support for abortion has decreased.  The graphic to the right sums up their numbers.  According to the report:
The shift in opinion is broad-based, appearing in most demographic groups in the population. One of the largest shifts (10 points) has occurred among white, non-Hispanic Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly. Substantial change has also occurred among Democratic men (with support for abortion down nine points), but not among Democratic women.
What people thought about abortion has been largely unchanged for a very long time.  Look here and you'll see some movement but largely steady aggregate opinion about abortion.  This table breaks it down for you in more detail.  Unfortunately the ANES data is only up to 2004 -- they haven't added 2008 yet to the cumulative graphs available online.

Texting and Driving: Surveys and PR

The hot topic of late has been distracted driving, a catch-all phrase that aims mostly at driving while texting.  Like smoking, people know it's bad but do it anyway.

Now we're starting to see surveys asking people about their attitudes and behaviors.  And bad press releases.

Here one example by AAA.  Someone needs to tell the PR people to not write a release in a word processor and then paste into the site without previewing it and produce all these weird characters.  I'm sure our Grady PR kids, the collegiate best, know not to do this, or at least to see the mistake and fix it before it goes live.

There's a good NYTimes story here on their survey results, which found overwhelming support for a ban on texting while driving.  The story also mentions a similar survey by the AAA. You can find the pdf of it here, which is one of the few reports like this I've seen that uses logistic regression.  My inner-PhDweeb is satisfied.

This is going to turn out to be one of those feel-good pieces of state and federal legislation.  Will it actually stop texting?  There is some support for fewer cases of texting when a state law goes into effect, so maybe it can be both feel-good and good.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Census Bureau Suspends Embargoes

A press release here and text below:
In recent days, the Census Bureau has experienced two major breaches of its embargo news release policy. Therefore, effective Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009, the bureau will temporarily suspend prerelease access to data products while an assessment of the embargo policy and a thorough review of the breach incidents can be conducted. 
Given how important Census info is for journalists and what people know about social and demographic changes, this is kinda important.  I don't know who has been breaking the embargo but I suspect it'll come out soon.

Thursday's Tidbits

A few tidbits, the odds and ends off the net, of stuff vaguely related to how people use the media or learn from it.