Thursday, December 31, 2009

Most Admired Men and Women

Hillary Clinton edges out Sarah Palin as the most admired women in America, according to a Gallup poll.  Can I get a big duh?  Barack Obama easily won most admired man -- again, no real surprise -- but what's scary and fascinating is Glenn Beck being tied at third.  Glenn Beck?  I guess tearing up on air works better for guys whose name is not Tim Tebow.  Beck had a helluva year, also finishing second place finish in biggest political lie of 2009.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Best Lies of 2009

Politifact is an excellent nonpartisan site for debunking political myths, much like what Snopes does for urban myths.  And so it's fun to read the site's Lie of the Year (and runnerups).

Top lie?  The idea of "death panels" in the health care debate, bullshit started on Sarah Palin's Facebook page.  That's a first too, I suppose, Facebook making the big time.

Second best lie of the year?  Check out the runners up.  They are:
  • Glenn Beck on some nonsense about Obama's science adviser.  Hang in there, Beck.  Second place ain't half bad.
  • A nutcase who claimed Obama's birth certificate showed he was born in Kenya.  Which, I suppose, is kinda close to Hawii, if by close you mean on the same planet.
  • Obama himself gets third on a claim about preventative health care saves money.
And so it goes.  What people know, sometimes, is completely made up by these folks on the left, and on the right.  

Friday, December 18, 2009

Killing the Messenger

At least 68 journalists have died this year trying to tell people what's happening in a dangerous world, according to this new report.  Hopefully the number won't climb any higher by the end of the year.  This beats the previous record of 67, recorded a couple of years ago.  Sad news, especially the single instance from the Philippines when 29 journalists were among a large group of people murdered, which happened in a part of the Philippines I didn't visit when there several years ago.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

CNN ... 4th Place?

According to this NYTimes article:
CNN will finish 2009 behind MSNBC in prime-time ratings, the first time CNN has ever trailed a competitor other than the Fox News Channel over a full calendar year.

You create a whole market niche -- the 24-hour cable news channel -- only to watch all these upstart partisan guys come in and clean your clock.  What's it all mean?  Partisan sells, and partisan hackery sells best (how else to explain Glenn Beck?).  The fragmentation of the news audience is in some ways good -- more competition should theoretically result in better news production -- but mostly bad, because in the race to the lowest common denominator, television news has never gone out of business by being bad.  Just look at local television news, which is basically tabloid journalism.  A fragmented audience means, to borrow a title from a very good book, a lack of common knowledge, a lack of shared experience, a lack of basic understanding of the events of the day not colored by partisan hackery.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wireless Only

Doesn't really fit what I typically blog about, but this topic comes up quite often when I teach public opinion. The proportion of folks in the U.S. who are "wireless only" without a landline phone continues to rise, as can be seen by the accompanying graphic.

For an excellent report, go to this article in pollster. The federal report is here.

And yes, there is a what people know angle.  Much of our knowledge about people's opinions derive from good public opinion surveys, but they're becoming more challenging to conduct as folks shift away from landline phones to cell phones or other mobile devices.  Many worry that our understanding of what people think about key issues will suffer as a result, though so far that doesn't seem to be the case, at least according to some recent work by Pew.

I Never Listen to Celine

This New York Times story gets to the heart of methodology.
American men have a naughty little secret. Sometimes, they like to relax with a little CĂ©line Dion. Professed classical music fans have one, too: as it turns out, they don’t tune into classical radio nearly as much as they claim.
Turns out, new measures of listening -- away from surveys and more to boxes that measure actual audience behavior -- finds out something we've always known.

People lie.

Okay, not so much lie as fib.  My dad always told me people lie about three things: did you go to church, did you vote, and what gas mileage does your car get.  My corollary on gas mileage is, the higher the cost of gas, the more SUV owners lie about their mileage.  When gas was $4 a gallon in the U.S., people with fat rolling boxes lied through their teeth about their mileage.

Back to radio listening, or to be honest, any media consumption habits.

As someone who got tenure thanks to research on talk radio, I found the next part interesting.
Talk radio, a largely conservative format, turns out to have fewer fans than previously thought. Talk radio’s market share declined 2.6 percent in the study of areas where the meters were used.
There's a lot more here to examine, but the basic methodological point is simple: self-reported behaviors in surveys are often the best measure we have, but they're blunt instruments at best, with lots of random (and non-random) error.  We often answer in ways that make us feel good about ourselves, which has classical music fans a bit worried since the new numbers show fewer listeners to this genre of music than we thought.

There's even a race card.  You knew there had to be.
The makeup and size of Arbitron’s sample is an issue for some Hispanic and urban broadcasters, who say metered readings undercount minority audiences and hurt their stations disproportionately. Mr. Adams of Arbitron said the company was responding to concerns by adding more panelists who had cellphones rather than landlines, and investing in in-person coaching to make sure all panel members use the devices correctly.
In other words, the new (better) system finds fewer viewers and listeners of "ethnic" programming, which includes everything from AM radio to BET programs.  It's fascinating stuff, proof that methodology can have real-world implications.

Oh, and I never listen to Celine. Ever. Measure it any way ya want, buckos, and it ain't gonna happen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Late-Night Comedies and Political Knowledge

Late-night comedy programs do lead to greater knowledge, according to a fascinating study published in Communication Research, but the analysis finds this knowledge comes from easy questions with few response alternatives and mostly among inattentive viewers.


This may be one of the better stabs at understanding how late-night comedy programs affect learning that I've seen, and its discussion of political knowledge research is excellent.  Now that I'm done gushing, let's get to the details.  Using item response theory and some slick computational tricks to analyze 2004 election data, they looked at exposure to a general measure that includes most all late-night shows (Letterman, Stewart, et al., see below).  Table 1 breaks down the item-by-item results, which for the statistically challenged will be something of, um, a challenge. 

If you work carefully through the results, and read the conclusions, you get to a few main points:
  • Fewer response alternatives (meaning fewer choices among possible answers) often equals an easier question, or at least less item difficulty.
  • Watching late-night comedies does lead to slightly more knowledge.
  • But -- on the point above -- this is mostly on easy questions.  This is perhaps more of a TV effect than anything else, some incidental learning. 
  • And "this increase is especially pronounced among the viewers who do not pay close attention to public affairs."  That's important too, because it fits some of what we are beginning to understand about television news, which seems to inform only the less informed.
A must-read for anyone interested in the effects of late-night programming.

Weaknesses?  Every study has them.  The biggest for me?  It's easy to quibble with their catch-all independent variable.  Letterman ain't Leno ain't Stewart ain't Colbert, so a single item probably fails to capture significant differences.  This is a secondary analysis, so the authors worked with what they had available, but it's certainly a question that deserves further study.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Science Writing

Newspaper science writing is "going out of existence," according to one report, and that's bad news because soon what people know about science will come from such brainiac experts as Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.  If you haven't felt fear before, you should now.
Several mainstream news organizations in recent years have let go of their science reporters and done away with their science sections altogether. The science section of The New York Times, which is one of the few left in the country, features more health-related stories and fewer hard-science stories than it used to, said [Natalie] Angier, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

In a nation that struggles with basic science knowledge, that means what people know about science will only get worse. For those who drank the Kool-Aid and think the new world of blogs and various online sources will make things better -- pfffft.  It won't.  Not for most everyday people.  Instead we'll have pseudo-science ruling the day, and we'll all be worse off for it.

Yeah, the public likes science, but affect (emotion) and knowledge are very different bowls of red syrupy sugary drink.  After all, only 47 percent of Americans know electrons are smaller than atoms.  Yup, I'm reeeaaal optimistic, as science writing disappears.

What People Want for the Holidays -- Sleep

Okay, this falls in that fuzzy category of surveys conducted by groups who want the results to prompt you to buy stuff.  That said, let's go with the release anyway.  Warning: bad PR writing alert:
The kids may be sleeping soundly this season with “visions of sugar plums in their heads,” but almost half of the nation’s moms and dads (44%) say they are worried about being able to afford the holidays this year, with one in six Americans (17%) expecting to lose sleep due to holiday-induced stress.

Of course this is a PR release, not a news lede, otherwise it would never be written in quite this way.  So folks are losing sleep?  What can they do?  According to the Holiday Slumber Index (I'm not making this up), parents are the most susceptible to sleep changes.

Ya think?

Okay, gotta stop picking on this PR release, because it's not that terrible.  When it comes to survey results, it's often wise to look at not only the methodology but also who sponsored it, and this group on its site gives you hints on sleeping, does a quiz so you can learn your sleep style, and wants to sell ya stuff to make you sleep better.  That's okay.  They're up front with it on their web site and their name makes it obvious what they're about.

By the way, it's the holidays but I'm sleeping fine.  That's thanks to a little friend named Knob Creek.  A little bourbon and I can sleep on a rock.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shopping Season

Did some Christmas shopping this weekend.  Since I'm in shopping mode, let's use Google Shopping and see what's available for blog lovers.

Search for "political knowledge" and you get mostly books, starting with Public Journalism and Political Knowledge.  Heck, I went through window after window and they're all books.  Aren't there any political knowledge toys?  Same is true for "what people know."  Books, books, and more books.  Boooring.  I did find an album by Poco called Legacy with a song -- yes, kinda close -- What Do People Know.  Listened to a bit on iTunes.  So-so. 

The phrase does show up off and on in descriptions of completely unrelated products, from wine to a button about that evil coach, Nick Saban.  Go figure.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Americans Tinker Less

Less an issue of what people do rather than what people know, but according to this story on a survey Americans are less likely to tinker with fairly common projects, from making toys to basic household projects.
Many Americans simply do not work with their hands anymore, whether it's to tackle a hobby for pleasure or to handle a necessary household repair. Young people essentially have no role models when it comes to fixing things or taking pride in building something," said Gerald Shankel, Fabricators and Manufacturers Association president.
Obviously these guys have a dog in this hunt, so take this with a grain of salt, but according to the survey 60 percent of Americans avoid doing household repairs themselves.  Okay, I've been doing more of them, but only because I'm cheap.  We're nearly done painting the outside of our house, a year-long job since we have to clear out a day or weekend when the weather cooperates and we're not driving kids from one obligation to another. 

On a related note in the same story, a survey of teenagers found 73 percent have no interest in blue-collor work, hands-on kind of jobs.  Are we becoming a nation of people who can't do the most basic of chores or tasks?  Probably not, because at least people can work their own cell phones -- and we know that's all that really matters in the world. Oh, that and work Facebook. Such vital skills.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bleeding Jobs

I teach computer-assisted reporting and love how maps can be used to help people visualize the story.  One of the best places that gets into this is a blog called Flowing Data and this map of unemployment around the U.S.

Even better, check this one out so you can pan from 2004 to the most recent data.  In terms of what people know, everyone knows someone out of work or threatened with joblessness, but these maps give us a broader, and more depressing, portrait.

H1N1 and New Media

Remember the old days when we got most of our health information from a brief television news story or newspaper article or from a friend or even from a doctor?  Buzz back then was people talking in line at the grocery store or at work.

H1N1, the swine flu?  It's all-a-Twitter.

Here's a story out of Boston on swine flue videos posted by the CDC and the impact they are having on viewers.  As the article notes, while these aren't Susan Boyle Youtube numbers, the videos are being seen.  Health officials can't wait for the old, traditional methods, according to one specialist:
“The traditional model of one-way communication, with knowledge developed on high, has been overthrown by new media,’’ said Jay Winsten, a Harvard School of Public Health professor. “We have to be part of the conversation, or it’s going to go on without us.’’
So videos and social networking can find people where they are.  This is an improvement over shotgunning commercials and news stories.  That makes sense, and I assume we're seeing more public knowledge -- and misinformation from the crazy folks on the Internet as well.  That's the good news-bad news scenario here.  A channel so useful to professionals to get out serious information will also be misused by the crazies who see conspiracy in every story.  Health information is a perfect place to study not only what people know but also what people know that's right, or wrong. 

In other words, there will be a growth industry in those who want to study misinformation.  Fact-checking web sites prove this.  It's time now to explore not only who believes obviously incorrect info, but where they got it and how they go about reinforcing those beliefs.  Scholars into selective exposure, attention, and retention can have a field day here, from whether Obama is a secret Muslim to death panels to all the rest.  We know people believe what they want to believe and will alter a news account or other info to fit their predispositions, but never has it been so easy to feed those inaccurate beliefs, or more likely holders of those beliefs will ignore accurate messages.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Changing My Religion

I'm allowed to riff off an R.E.M. song given I live in Athens, home of the band and where you occasionally see the guys downtown, but the point is a new Pew Center study that outlines how religious beliefs in the U.S. are changing.  Becoming less "dogmatic," according to the report, with people mixing a little of this, a little of that, not unlike a Youtube mashup. 

According to the report:
Many also blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs such as reincarnation, astrology and the presence of spiritual energy in physical objects. And sizeable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups say they have experienced supernatural phenomena, such as being in touch with the dead or with ghosts.

Ever had a mystic experience?  If so, you're not alone.  Can some of this be blamed on the lousy economy?  Probably not.  The trend line is fairly consistent prior to our latest economic meltdown.  The full report is available here.  My favorite question is belief in the "evil eye," which my grandmother can still do.  The older you are, the less likely you believe in it.  No explanation on that one.  Whites believe in it significantly less than Hispanics and blacks. 

The full study is full of cool stuff on what people think or believe or know about religion and mysticism, material I can mine for the next few days if I'm careful and can avoid being too caught up in the library stacks.

Changing Journalism -- and Knowledge

Leonard Witt, who does cool stuff down the road from me on sustainable journalism, is conducting a series of interviews about the future of journalism.  So there's this interview with Jay Rosen, esteemed NYU j-prof and Master of the Universe when it comes to changing media.  The text is here or you can listen to the interview here.

Below, the part that touches on this blog's theme:
Witt:  So do you think the people will be better informed than they are now? The public and the public’s fear,  or less informed or you just don’t have a clue?
I think it’s going to be better.
Why is that?
Because we don’t have to depend on  a single elite for our information.
So do you think that’s already happening? Or do you think….
Yeah it is already happening.
My gut reaction?  This is absolute crap, the idea that people will be better informed because they no longer "depend on a single elite" for information.  But it's possible my gut reaction comes from bad sushi or my previous life as a journalist or my years of studying and doing research on how people learn from the media.

In fairness, the bulk of this interview is not about how and what people learn from the news.  Neither guy is an expert on the topic.  It's more about where journalism is going and what it all means, and neither dislike the old mainstream media, they're just pointing out the obvious changes driven in a large part by technology.  So let's give 'em both some leeway here.

And then again, let's not, otherwise I'd have nothing to write about.

First, there is some evidence that political knowledge has been decreasing, not increasing, as all these new media non-elite sources come to fruition. Cause-and-effect?  Too early to say.  A lot of political knowledge comes from incidental learning, the inadvertent exposure to information, mostly from TV for people with little interest in public affairs.  In this brave new world, with so many choices, these are folks most likely to go elsewhere for entertainment rather than consume -- even if half-heartedly and accidentally -- the news.

So our brave new media world in which a million information sources bloom, for a large chunk of society that might as well be happening on the Moon.

Now, if we're talking about the chattering class, the political junky, that sliver of Americana who find politics not only interesting but as necessary as oxygen, yeah I think you've got something here.  But this is a mistake these folks often make, of generalizing from their own interests or those they hang out with over lattes.  A metro-centric viewpoint.  My own reading of the vast literature of how people learn from the media and what they do with that knowledge suggests the more you fragment the media world, the less learning that will occur, and an awful lot of that learning will be dysfunctional and misinformed.

People will feel they are informed, even when they are not -- the empty-calorie hypothesis.  

So I'm not sure exactly where Rosen comes up with the idea that people are, or will be, better informed in this new media landscape.  You could fashion an argument that younger people might be more drawn into this fragmented news environment.  Given they tend to be the least informed, we might see some improvement there, and any improvement among young citizens will help.  But I'll be honest, other than a blip in the 2008 election, the data don't really support this conclusion.  Yet.

You might also argue that people will be become better informed about what they're truly interested in, which is a riff on the V.O. Key/Doris Graber/etc. argument about the public's knowledge being greater than what we give it credit for, if we only asked the right questions.  But such balkanized knowledge and issue publics (which may or may not exist) do not serve a democracy well, so maybe new media will increase some knowledge for some people about some things, but the outcome isn't pretty, at least according to most political thinkers.

Of course, it may mean no change at all.  The public's knowledge about public affairs remained largely unchanged for decades.  And while it seems to be inching down a bit of late, that may merely be a statistical blip and nothing to do with the changing news landscape.  But it most certainly does not mean that people will be better informed, not from what we're seeing so far.

2009 in Review
blogwise, that is

Yesterday I blogged about keywords that led people here in 2009 to my humble little scribblings about what people know.  Today, it's geography day.

And the #1 country is ... see the list below.  No real surprises.

Visits to What People Know
  1. U.S.
  2. Canada
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Australia
  5. India
  6. Singapore
  7. Malaysia
  8. Germany
  9. Netherlands
  10. Spain
Damn, and I thought I was like Jerry Lewis, crazy popular in France.  But of 77 countries from which people visited my humble blog, France comes in #54.  Well, that's kinda misleading since Google Analytics doesn't account for ties, it just ranks them first by number of visits and then alphabetically.  In other words, while I wonder whether there really is an Internet in France, it's higher than #54.

Of the U.S. visits, most obviously came from Georgia.  Probably by me.  California, Florida, and New York follow -- no doubt due to large populations and not because of some deep interest in what I have to say.  All states were represented, even obscure ones that I doubt really exist, like Delaware.

I had 22 visits in 2009 from my home state of Tennessee but not a one from my hometown of Lawrenceburg (better info here).  And I think there's Internet in L'burg.  But I could be wrong.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Data for the Year

I know it's not the end of 2009 yet, but I thought I'd look at the data for the year -- at least for this blog.  Below are the top ten search engine entries that resulted in folks ending up here.
  1. knowledge and emotion
  2. recall vs. recognition
  3. cognitive mobilization
  4. titular colonicity
  5. emotion and knowledge
  6. what people know
  7. recall vs. recognition (again, dunno why)
  8. chronic know-nothings
  9. political knowledge
  10. knowledge emotion
You can see an obvious trend.  I write a lot about many of these topics, thus Google (and a handful of other search engines) point my way.  And of course titular colonicity is a particular favorite of mine. Writing about that alone could be a full-time job -- plus I've always wanted to do a serious analysis of mass comm journals to see if it holds up as true.  I did a quick-and-dirty one of JQ once and it seemed true, that our use of colons has grown over the years.

The top search, knowledge and emotion, makes up 8 percent of all searches that found this blog.  I don't write a lot about this topic, so clearly I need to get more into it.  There is a lot of social psychology on the topic, but rarely does it get beyond the abstract, and it's even more rare that it is mass comm related or even  politically relevant.

There were 568 different search terms that led people here in 2009, most of them a single time.  Weirdest ones?
  • are we awash in sensitivity: I did write about this one once, but odd someone would be searching for it.  And I'm certainly not awash with sensitivity.
  • paul broun: He's my crazy congressman and I did mention him once, so kinda makes sense.
  • the immensely inflated news audience:  No clue about this one.  Weird.  And stupid.
  • athens awful:  Clearly not a fan of my town.  No idea why a search engine pointed 'em here.
  • dilbert:  I did blog once about this great cartoon, so understandable.
  • dr. barry hollander 3410: A student, no doubt, who really could have just gone to my web site, creatively named
  • kaye sweetser and mark johnson: what are these people doing here?
  • uga barry hollander salary:  Oh please.  There's a site for this.  Why use Google?
  • what percent of people know calculus:  No clue.  Nor have I written on this.  Ever.
There were other odd ones, but these are my favorites.  Oh the joy of playing with Google Analytics.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Coffee Saves Lives!

Study finds that drinking lots of coffee keeps away prostate cancer.
"Coffee has effects on insulin and glucose metabolism as well as sex hormone levels, all of which play a role in prostate cancer. It was plausible that there may be an association between coffee and prostate cancer," said Kathryn M. Wilson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Channing Laboratory, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Now it's off for another cup of Jitter Joe's.  For medicinal purposes.

Blogging and the Knowledge Gap

Not all bloggers are created equal, according to a new study in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.  As the author concludes:
Consistent with knowledge gap hypothesis, bloggers with higher SES tend to produce more political knowledge and have more social power than lower-SES segments. Moreover, even among filter bloggers who produce more political knowledge, SES, gender, and print media use are associated with their social influences. This structural inequity within the virtual political space mirrors existing material and legitimized reality in U.S. politics.

The author breaks bloggers into two groups -- filter bloggers and personal journals -- and examine a knowledge production gap.  So, in reality, this is a knowledge gap study. 

Most "political" or "news" bloggers are reactive; that is, they offer mediated content, the stuff they've taken from news sites and added "value" or opinion or spin or whatever you choose to call it, depending I suppose on whether you agree or disagree with their partisan point of view.  But sometimes they offer unique or original knowledge, the most famous being Rathergate.

This study notes that personal journals far outnumber "filter blogs," and the author notes lots of other blogs exist.  What's interesting for me are the tables where the author shows what factors predict engaging in one kind of blog versus the other.  Read 'em yourself for details, but the results show knowledge being produced on the Internet by pretty much demographically speaking the same folks who generate knowledge in the MSM: older, better educated folks.  TV watching is positively associated with "personal" blogging but not "filter" blogging, which is kinda interesting.  Gotta watch TV to fill in that personal blog, I guess.

And for those of you with a partisan bent, I end with the following, which I find fascinating:
Overall, liberal bloggers have more incoming links while Republican bloggers have more daily hits. This finding looks odd at a first glance. However, it indicates a subtle difference between incoming links and hits. Whereas incoming links from other bloggers represent the popularity of a blog in the blogosphere, daily hits demonstrate the actual number of visits a blog has and its reach in the general cyberspace. The hits a blog receives come not only from other bloggers or other content producers, but from other Internet users who may or may not engage in online authoring. This suggests that liberal bloggers are more powerful in the blogosphere while Republican bloggers have more power throughout the Internet.

Full cite: Lu Wei, Filter blogs versus personal journals:
Understanding the Knowledge Production Gap on the
Internet.  Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication
14 (2009) 532–558.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tea Anyone?

Running as a Tea Party candidate is better in congressional races than running as a Republican, according to this poll.  As the report says:
In a three-way Generic Ballot test, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds Democrats attracting 36% of the vote. The Tea Party candidate picks up 23%, and Republicans finish third at 18%. Another 22% are undecided. 
As the survey report adds near the bottom, this is fairly meaningless given how the rules of elections are structured and the likelihood of a serious party challenge from the Tea Baggers.  Still, kinda interesting.

Evaluations of U.S. and China

The fine folks at Pew surveyed the public and members of the Council on Foreign Relations to compare the two across a wide range of topics, from troop surges to national prominence.

The public and council members are fairly close on attitudes about troops in Afghanistan.    But the U.S. public is more concerned about China as a threat than council members.  Indeed, the council members have decreased over time in their perception of a China threat, while the public remains fairly stable over time.

The graph to the right (here for a bigger image) shows the American public's view of the U.S. role as a world leader.  What people perceive is headed south compared to the previous survey, the lowest point Pew has found since 1974 (though probably within the margin of error, so don't go too far on that last datum).

In a way, you can argue what people know about international affairs is reflecting a bit more of reality.  We can argue that point to death, and conservatives would love to argue that Obama is the cause.  My own sense is it's a combination of the recession and job losses, a lengthy war without resolution, and finding nearly everything in the Wal-Mart has been made by China.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blog Locked Down a Bit

I've locked down commenting a bit.  Was getting spammed in the comments, so I'll keep it to a required Google ID for a couple of weeks till the spammers find someone else to annoy.  Still will post, but to comment you'll need a Google ID.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Where's the 2008 ANES?

We had full versions of the ANES data from the 2000 and 2004 elections by April of the next calendar year (April 2001 for the 2000 data, April 2005 for the 2004 data). 

It's November 2009 and we're still waiting for the full version of the 2008 ANES.  Hell, we may be in the next election cycle before the data appear.

On a related note, a few months ago the ANES folks presented an update at a major conference.  I couldn't attend (who the hell has travel money other than overindulged senior faculty?), but staff told me the presentation materials would be put online by the next week.  I assumed these would be powerpoint slides or stuff like that.  That was three or four ago, still no presentation materials that I can see.

I'm assuming something in that presentation would explain the delay, such as issues with open-ended coding or other quality-control matters.

Consider this my whine for the day. 

I know staff are not just sitting on the data, but as a user I'd like a little more information on what's going on, why the delay, and what it may mean for those of us who love to sit around and push SPSS buttons to analyze data.  And, oh, publish research.

Losing the News

Finishing a depressing book, Losing the News, that discusses the erosion of "accountability news." I'll post more about it when finished.  But early on, author Alex Jones discusses political scientist Robert Entman's typology of media content: traditional journalism, tabloid journalism, advocacy journalism, and entertainment. Funny part is local TV news is categorized as tabloid journalism, which will surprise few who actually watch it since it fails to meet all the criteria set forth to be traditional journalism.  The book is really about the "iron core" of news and how that is suffering, either from parasites who suck off the work of journalists or an audience that has migrated to softer, more partisan fare.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Don't Know Much ...

Remember the lyrics to that great old Sam Cooke song?

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the french I took

According to this survey, Sam's not alone.  The high (or low) points:
  • Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
  • Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
  • Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water (65-75 was considered correct).
  • Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.
Yup, sad.  I admit the study is a bit old, from February of this year, but I'm kinda slow in finding stuff. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Republicans, Democrats ... and Religion

Republicans are perceived by the public as being more friendly toward religion than Democrats, according to this Pew report.

Can I get a Duh! from the congregation?

 The report says:
More Americans continue to view the Republican Party as friendly toward religion (48%) than rate the Democratic Party that way (29%). President Barack Obama's administration, however, is seen as friendly toward religion by more people (37%) than is the Democratic Party as a whole. And all three get higher ratings for friendliness toward religion than the news media (14%), scientists (12%) or Hollywood (11%).
Evil bad news media.  And scientists.  And Hollywood.

The public's perception of Democratic friendliness to "religion" peaked in mid-2008 as Obama was on a roll, but since then it's inched downward -- even among (get this) people who seldom or never attend religious services.  That's saying something, when even the godless heathens see you as unfriendly to "religion."

Why do I keep putting "religion" in quotation marks?  Because they don't really define what they mean by religion.  Here's the survey question:  As I name some groups, please tell me whether you feel each one is generally FRIENDLY toward religion, NEUTRAL toward religion, or UNFRIENDLY toward religion?

The all-caps are to remind the reader to be clear on the labels and to match them up with the response alternatives on the CATI system where the survey worker enters data.  The interesting part is every respondent can interpret "religion" as he or she wants.  I'm not saying I have a better solution, but it does raise some fascinating methodological issues.  The Pew folks -- who are very good at this sort of thing -- were smart in asking this question before asking respondents about their specific religious affiliations (Catholic, Prod, etc.) or how often they attend religious services.  If you asked about religious beliefs and practices first, you'd get some kind of confounding priming effect.  But that's an issue for another day.

What Will Save Newspapers? A Musical Explains

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

So I started The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson last night, my reading group's latest selection, and I come across on page 13 reference to what people know (or rather, what they don't know) about economics and finance.  Below are some quick survey factoids he uncovered:
  • One in five Brits didn't know what effect on purchasing power would result from an inflation rate of 5 percent and an interest rate on their money of 3 percent.
  • Nearly a third do not know what the interest rate on their credit card was.
  • Almost a third claimed it was below 10 percent at a time when almost no card offered that low a rate.
  • Two thirds of Americans did not understand how compound interest worked.
  • A typical high school group scored a 52 on a test of basic personal finance questions.
I'm just getting into the book (17 pages in) and I've already found blogging material.  Can't argue with that. By the way, first chapter -- excellent.  Have high hopes for the rest of the book.