Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Sarah Palin Knows

It's easy to poke fun of Sarah Palin, especially when it comes to political knowledge.  To balance the score, I point out this Wall Street Journal column and its eloquent defense of Palin.  It ends by paraphrasing an infamous quote by William F. Buckley, saying: the spirit of which I hereby declare that I would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party, and I would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama.
Not saying I necessarily agree, but the author, Norman Podhoretz, offers a spirited comparison between Palin and a conservative's most favored prez, Ronald Reagan.  And it's a point well worth considering. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

CNN's Crumbling Audience

The New York Times article today details the further decline of CNN's audience and the continued rise of Fox News.

I would have guessed an uptick after the Haiti earthquake, but instead CNN dropped.  Typically people turn to CNN on big stories, but Fox News doing very little Haitian coverage was not only ideologically suspect, but apparently a good "tv" move as well. 

The shrinking television news audience continues to migrate away from hard news and toward opinion.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Newspaper Measures
A Methodological Moment

I blogged a day or so ago about an interesting study that looks at local versus national political knowledge, the role media play, and the important socio-demographic differences that emerge depending on which kind of knowledge you examine.  Now I'd like to spend a few words discussing a key, yet odd, variable in that study -- newspaper delivery.

Permit me a methodological moment.

In studies such as this we typically see newspaper exposure, traditionally measured on that old, tired, yet sturdy 0-to-7 days a week a respondent says he or she reads the newspaper.  An improvement on this exposure measure is attention.  That is, for those who report at least some exposure, how much do you attend to it.  This is particularly helpful in studying television news, less so for print.  And yet the study I linked to above uses, instead, newspaper delivery.

What are the advantages or disadvantages?
  • Advantage I -- a respondent is less likely to exaggerate.  In other words, we often say we do some socially-acceptable task, like reading the paper or watching PBS, when perhaps we don't, or at least we don't do it as many days as we brag.  So this "delivery" measure helps.
  • Disadvantage I -- but, we end up with a dichotomous variable versus a continuous one.  A 0-to-7 scale is richer than a 0,1 scale in so many ways.
  • Disadvantage II -- and, many people read a newspaper at work, at the office.  The pass-along number boasted by the newspaper industry is about 2.3, as high as 2.5, meaning two or three people read a single issue of the paper.  The "delivery" item misses at least some of those folks.
  • Advantage II -- but, there's less error (statistically speaking) in that 0,1 measure.  Cleaner results, I suspect.  No weird distributions.
  • Disadvantage III -- and yet, and yet ... no one uses "delivery" so it's difficult to say how the results here fit with previous studies.  And use of key secondary data sets, such as Pew or ANES, will not give you a similar measure; those folks use some version of exposure and/or attention.  Hard to reproduce.
In all, I'm not enamored of the "deliver" item, and it loses above in a close game, 3-2. 

The "delivery" item has SES issues, I believe.  It also misses a lot of folks who may read the paper elsewhere.  But it does reduce some of the error from people overinflating their reading of the newspaper.  So you win something, you lose something.  But I believe, overall, you lose a bit too much to make it a viable replacement for exposure (even with all its flaws).

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann died last week at the age of 93.  She was a remarkable public opinion scholar, perhaps best known for her spiral of silence, which described why some in the minority on some issue might be unwilling to speak out, and as fewer in the minority speak out, a spiral occurs, and minority viewpoints disappear.  Fear of isolation was a driving motivation for some to not speak out, and she also posited a "quasi-statistical organ" that suggested people are constantly monitoring the opinion climate.  The theory had a significant impact on political communication research.

Local vs. National Political Knowledge

What people know about local politics is apparently different than what people know about national politics, according to a really good study published this week.  And asking about one versus the other can have interesting methodological and theoretical ramifications.

In the new Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly is a study by Lee Shaker that I wish I had done.  There's enough material here for two or three posts, but for today I'll focus on the difference between local and national political knowledge and some key findings.

In the analysis of national knowledge, the usual suspects appear. Greater national knowledge, even in a model in which factors statistically control for one another, is associated with being white, male, older, of higher income, or greater education, and having an interest in national (but not local) politics.  No surprise.  BUT, for local political knowledge, race and sex disappear.  In other words, when it gets closer to home, those don't seem to matter all that much, and whites or men don't outperform those who are not white or male.  And, hardly surprising but worth mentioning, local political interest predicts local knowledge, but national political interest is not related to local knowledge.  This suggests separate interest groups that we often miss in broad studies of what people know.

As to media factors, only Internet access was a predictor of national political knowledge but newspaper delivery (an odd way to measure this, but that's for another post) is the only media factor that predicts local political knowledge.  In other words, access to the Internet contributes unique variance to the model on national political knowledge.  No doubt newspaper "delivery" (a stand in for exposure, I suppose) is explained by all those other factors -- income, education, etc.  On local political knowledge, however, access to a daily newspaper still explains something unique above and beyond all those socio-demographic factors.  In other words, reading the newspaper still matters despite income, education, and all the rest, at least when it comes to local knowledge of public affairs.  Not surprising, but important to establish.

More on this study another day.  Worth the read.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Media Coverage of HIV/AIDS

There is a strong relationship between HIV/AIDS prevalence in a country and coverage of the disease in its media, according to this recent study (abstract only, sorry).

It's interesting.  The researchers used Google News archives to find news articles in 168 countries.  What makes this interesting is a bit of methodological geekiness -- it's unclear how well, or complete, or   comprehensive, Google News truly is as a way to find articles for content analysis.  There's a study for someone right there -- probably in information science -- whether web-based aggregators make for methodologically sound samplers of news content.  I suspect yes, given how Google scours the world of the web, but it's one that still needs to be done.  Be interesting to compare Google News with Nexis or others to see what gets missed, if anything.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What Republicans Know

I blogged the other day, as did many, about a new Harris poll of Republicans that found many hold to some, ahem, interesting beliefs -- 57 percent think he's Muslim and 24 percent say he may be the antiChrist (hopefully not the same people, because that raises all kinds of fascinating theological inconsistencies).

Many have written about this survey, folks much smarter than me when it comes to polling.  Below I shamelessly swipe from a posting on AAPORnet.
  • Info on the poll itself, the pr release
  • A take by ABC News director of polling
  • And a Time take on the poll as well.
In all, significant doubts about the kind of poll conducted (online, it seems), the kinds of questions asked, the results themselves.  In other words, Republicans are not this dumb -- but the poll may be.  There's much comfort in that thought.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Misperceptions and Partisanship

An excellent column in today's New York Times about misperceptions and how difficult it is to change people's minds, even when it's obvious they're wrong.  Here's a telling graph from the column:
Our results indicate that this sort of journalistic fact-checking often fails to reduce misperceptions among ideological or partisan voters. In some cases, we found that corrections can even make misperceptions worse. For example, in one experiment we found that the proportion of conservatives who believed that President George W. Bush’s tax cuts actually increased federal revenue grew from 36 percent to 67 percent when they were provided with evidence against this claim. People seem to argue so vehemently against the corrective information that they end up strengthening the misperception in their own minds.
A pdf of the actual research is here, if you'd like to read the set of experiments that explored this partisan insistence toward non-knowledge (for lack of a better term). 

I roam the same theoretical turf.  The Journal of Media and Religion will publish soon my study on who the people were who insisted at multiple times during the 2008 election that Obama was Muslim.  While the journal article isn't published yet, you can beat the rush and read about it here in my local daily or by the NYTimes here

The point is, partisanship drives not only selective attention, exposure, and retention of information, but counterarguing even a fact-check that corrects the misperception can lead to even more incorrect knowledge.  It's a fascinating area, sort of reverse political knowledge, and the ultimate lesson from my study -- and others -- seems to be that nothing journalists or fact-checking web sites can do will correct people's misperceptions, especially when they're wingnuts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What People Know ... about Obama

I'm not sure I believe this poll, but here's one lede:
On the heels of health care, a new Harris poll reveals Republican attitudes about Obama: Two-thirds think he's a socialist, 57 percent a Muslim—and 24 percent say "he may be the Antichrist."
I can't find many methodological details of this poll, nor can I find it (yet) picked up by any serious news organizations.  According to the story linked above, 2,230 people participated in the Louis Harris survey conducted during the heat of the health care debate.  The full results are supposedly going to be released tomorrow (Wednesday).

The socialist thing, yeah, I kinda buy that number among Republicans.  The Muslim thing?  About 20 percent of Americans believe that nonsense (while, curiously, also criticizing him for belonging to that Chicago church with the kooky -- yet Christian -- pastor).  But a quarter of GOPers think he's the Antichrist?  Based on what? Everyone knows the Antichrist's name is Damien and he has Gregory Peck as a father.

If ever a nation needs to take a deep breath, we are the one . . . and now is the time.

Social Media and Learning in Europe

Here's an interesting paper (warning, pdf) on the role of social media in Europe in terms of learning.  Lots of useful stats, neato maps, and fascinating factoids about the Internet in general and social media in particular (scroll down to page 6 for social media stuff, if that's your thing).  The focus is mostly on formal education and the role the Net will play.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Social Media -- from Adoption to Addiction?

Good, brief piece here that asks some serious questions about social media.  Includes links to interesting studies and commentary.

Twitter Research

I enjoy finding research on new or emerging media.  Here's a study (abstract here, full pdf here) about the use of Twitter during the 2009 Red River floods in the U.S. and Canada.  The authors find an interesting "bottom-up" organization of information.  Here's one section:
In another notable part of the information production cycle, Twitterers use personal skills and expertise to contribute to the information space through innovation.

Five of the eight Flood Specific Service accounts sent precise flood stage measurements at regular intervals. The regularity of tweet posting intervals and text for these streams indicated that they were auto-generated “bots.” Their tweets were often retweeted and re-sourced. Within days of account creation and leading up to the Fargo crest, flood information from their tweets was spreading throughout the broad Twitter network, allowing users to follow water level changes in almost real-time.
Social media are more than a toy, they're a way for communication not just among real people, but a way for government agencies to reach out to real people, who in turn can spread the word.  The news media also play a role here, both as message senders but also message readers, listening to the conversation for story ideas, breaking news, etc.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Biggest Beer Drinking States

Based on per-capital consumption, below are the top 15 beer drinking states, according to a CNBC analysis.
  1. Montana (I mean, c'mon, what else are ya gonna do?)
  2. New Hampshire (ditto)
  3. Nevada (I suppose after all those gambling losses?)
  4. North Dakota (what's up with the M and N states?)
  5. Wyoming (notice a trend here? middle of nowhere = beer?)
  6. South Dakota (is it being near Canada that does this?)
  7. Louisiana (the only state where it's against the law to drive and not drink)
  8. Wisconsin (I'd drink too, especially after That 70s Show)
  9. Nebraska (they have beer?)
  10.  Texas (actually it's tied for 9th, but can't make it work here)
  11. New Mexico (okay, being near Canada or Mexico has an effect)
  12. Mississippi (I've lived there.  I drank too.  A lot.)
  13. South Carolina (haven't lived there, but I'd drink too.  A lot)
  14. Delaware (I doubt its existence)
  15. Iowa (corn beer?)
Why is this on a blog about how people learn from the media?  No good reason.  I just like lists.  And beer.  And snarky comments about states.  And beer.  Plus it's St. Patrick's Day.  Somehow seems appropriate.

TV News ... well, not so much news as TV

A study reported by the LATimes says L.A. TV "news" broadcasts devote only 22 seconds per 30 minutes to local government coverage.  That's sad.  Especially since many people say they rely on local TV for news.

The math is depressing.  In 30 minutes, here's what they found:
  • 8 minutes goes to advertising.  Okay, that makes sense.  Ya gotta pay the bills.
  • 7 1/2 minutes are devoted to stories outside the local area.  Why?  That's why God made CNN, or the Internet.
  • Six minutes go to fluff -- sports, weather, teasers.
  • About 8 minutes go to worthwhile news, but a lot of that is soft features, crime, cats in trouble, etc.  Damn little policy or government coverage.
In terms of what people know, local TV news fails miserably to play its part.  That's why in a political scientist's breakdown of the news media: traditional, tabloid, advocacy, and entertainment news, he plops local TV news in the "tabloid" category.  Profit overwhelms coverage, therefore it fails to qualify under the criteria of "traditional" news.  Maybe I'll break this down more later, in a later blog, but local TV news long ago surrendered any claim to traditional journalism and, often, any claim to journalism period.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Innappropriate Optimism

A study published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that media coverage of cancer can mislead people.
The tendency of the news to report on aggressive cancer treatments and survival but not on alternatives is also noteworthy given that unrealistic information may mislead the public about the trade-offs between attempts at heroic cures and hospice care. Several studies have suggested that end-of-life information may help patients with cancer develop realistic expectations for end-of-life medical care and improve outcomes.

Sustainable Journalism

Journalism will be "more distributed" and "citizen produced" and some news orgs will survive, some will not, says Lee Raine of the Pew Center for the Internet and American Life.  "There's every reason to think high quality journalism will be alive and well long after our grandchildren are dead."  He was interviewed as part of the Sustainable Journalism project.

A portion of the population will always be interested enough in serious public life, he says.  Various revenue streams will be necessary to pay for good journalism.  Journalism skills "have never been more precious."

Follow the link above, or watch the entire video below.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wishful Thinking

I've been wrestling with a wishful thinking manuscript, and of course -- as always seem to be the case -- the data are getting in the way of a good theory.  Wishful thinking is when preference leads to expectation.  In other words, if I'm for Candidate X, I'm probably also likely to predict Candidate X will win the election.  How often does it happen?  See below. This graphic I created from the ANES cumulative data file and goes only to 2004, but I'll tell ya now the wishful thinking in 2008 was just as high. The predictive accuracy is just that, what percentage accurately predicted the election. As can be seen, in close elections the accuracy tends to be low, in runaway elections, it tends to be higher.

I may write up a version for Like the Dew or one of my other favorite places. The paper I'm working on takes a simple idea -- that those who expect to win, but don't, are likely to have lower scores in government trust or satisfaction with democracy. And, from the media angle, exposure to the news should moderate this effect.

But do the data show that? Not as well as I'd like, so I may push this idea aside.

Seven Important Stats

The incredible annual look at the media is out, but if you don't want to wade through it all, here's a nice summation of the seven important takeaway statistics from the report in a CJR column.  Worth the read.  The entire report is worth the read if the news media are your gig, but for real live people, the summary will do nicely.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What People Think They Know

As interesting as actual knowledge can be as a topic of research (or a blog), even more interesting are perceptions of knowledge -- not only what people know, but what people think they know.  In this case, let's talk global warming/climate change.

The fine folks at Gallup have asked: "Next, thinking about the issue of global warming, how well do you feel you understand this issue -- would you say very well, fairly well, not very well, or not at all?"  The bold face emphasis is mine.  How much do they think they know.  The results?

From 2006 to 2010, the numbers remain largely unchanged, but there is a tick upward in 2010 compared to previous years in what people think they know. See below:

              Very Well

2006            21%
2007            22%
2008            21%
2010            26%

Now you might find this bump heartening, but I suggest it's actually a bad thing.  Let me explain.  We've seen a drop in the proportion of people with a clue about science and who doubt global climate change -- sometimes for good reasons, sometimes because for silly partisan ones.  But I suspect this has bumped up the perception that people are knowledgeable when, more likely, they confuse strong feelings about a topic with knowledge about that topic.

I know of what I speak. I've done many studies looking at actual knowledge and how it compares with perceived knowledge.  The two are correlated, but imperfectly.  And often emotion gets in the way and makes people feel informed when, instead, they only think of themselves as informed.  While I don't have data here to explore this further, my educated hunch is this bump in 2010 of perceived knowledge about global climate change masks the role of ideological silliness, partisan pettiness, and a sense of being informed through emotion than really being informed. 

It'd be a fascinating topic.  Hmmmm.  Maybe time to go there.  Off to search for good, solid data.

Friday, March 12, 2010

No Autism-Vaccine Connection

A story widely available today -- a special federal court ruled today what is obvious to most people who can read a scientific article, that there was no connection between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.  The court ruling, while sympathetic to parents of kids with autism, was clear and to the point.  Science is not on their side, the court ruled.  Not even close.

And yet, in terms of what people know, there will remain a certain percentage of people who believe a connection exists.  If thimerosal caused autism (and there's no evidence it does), then after it was removed from vaccines the number of autism cases should then decline.  They did not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Young Adults Worry About College

Given the economy, can young people afford to stay in college?  A report that summarizes a survey of 3,000 young adults suggests this is a serious concern.

Said the report:
"Millions of young people are losing faith in government, politics and in many cases--the American dream."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's Your Congressional IQ?

Here's a good test of your Congressional IQ.  It's from some folks at an online learning site called Online Colleges.  Some good, tough questions here, especially since they are not multiple choice.  What the folks who set this up need to do is spend a moment creating a better format so you aren't tempted to scroll down a bit to find the answer.  Yeah, I cheated.  It'd be better if multiple choice with some kind of rollover to find the answer, or better yet, fill out the answers and push a button to see how you did -- and compare it to how others did, because people love that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Do Ya Trust?

There's an interesting story here about who youth trust when it comes to science and climate change.  There's good news, there's bad news, and there's scary news.

Looking at respondents under the age of 35:
  • Only about a third trust the news media when it comes to information about climate change.  That's the bad news from a journalism standpoint.
  • But -- here's the good news -- fewer (about 27 percent) -- trust Sarah Palin on this issue.  So that's something.
  • Eight out of ten in this age group trust scientists.  If there is an important number in this survey, this be the one.  Heartening, especially since this 82 percent is higher than any other age group.
  • But there is scary bad news.  Among Evangelicals under 35, religious leaders are the most trusted source of information about climate change.  Huh?  Are these also the guys you go to for surgery?  For a wisdom tooth?  
A pdf of the entire report is here.  I may mine it for more blogs later, but as I'm on spring break, motivation is not high.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Even the Brits

Nice to know someone's bitching about what kids do or do not learn -- in some other country, in this case a story about the U.K.

According to the story:
Research shows the majority of trainee teachers have no idea what they are supposed to be teaching in the unpopular classes.
The findings signal the latest nail in the coffin for the Government’s ­disastrous education policy. Critics have dismissed the citizenship lessons as “politically correct nonsense”.
 And my favorite part:
The survey revealed 15 per cent of trainee teachers believed there were no specifically British values. Another 42 per cent were not sure what they were. Some identified them as tolerance, respect, fair play, politeness, sense of humour, stoicism and being reserved. Negative responses included snobbery and xenophobia.

Friday, March 5, 2010

News People Want More Of

A new Pew analysis finds five areas in which the American public says it would like more coverage.  The list below is drawn directly from the study:
  • Science news and discoveries: 44% of Americans say there is not enough coverage of science-related news. Younger adults are more likely than senior citizens to express interest in increased coverage. Some 52% of those ages 18-29 would like more coverage of this news, compared with 41% of 50-64 year-olds and 34% of those age 65 and older. Those who use the most news platforms (between four and six on a typical day) are among the most interested in getting more science news: 48% of them say so.
  • Religion and spirituality: 41% of Americans say there is not enough coverage of religious and spiritual issues. Women (44%) are more likely than men (37%) to seek more coverage of this area; young adults ages 18-29 (49%) are more likely than those over age 50 (35%) to say this; and bloggers (50%) are more likely than non-bloggers (40%) to say this.  Race/ethnicity is also a factor, with African-Americans (57%) significantly more likely than both whites (38%) and Hispanics (43%) to say they would like to see more coverage of religion and spirituality. 
  • Health and medicine: 39% of Americans say there is not enough coverage of health and medical news. African-Americans (50%) are more likely than whites (36%) to say there is not enough coverage; non-internet users (43%) are more likely than internet users (37%) to say this. 
  • Your state government: 39% of Americans say there is not enough coverage of news about their state government.  There are no significant demographic variations where this topic is concerned.
  • Your neighborhood or local community: 38% of Americans say there is not enough coverage of their neighborhood and local affairs. Young adults (41%) are more likely than senior citizens (31%) to believe this; those who get news on the internet (44%) are more likely than others (36%) to express this view.
Now, keep in mind this is what they say they'd like more of, not necessarily what they would actually consume (or, even more important, pay for).  I'm not convinced, for example, that people really want more state news or are willing to pay for it.  Local news?  I can buy that, and I just sent off a paper to an academic journal that looks at the appetite for local news from 1998 to 2008 and how that fits with newspaper reading, so this topic is near and ear to my heart.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Take a Nap

An article in the recent The Economist discusses research on how siestas, that little nap, helps kick the brain into learning mode.

We already know that an afternoon nap reduces the likelihood of heart disease.  This experiment gave people a memory test, randomly assigned them to nap or not nap, and then tested them again.  It all has to do with episodic and procedural memory and the length of the nap.  As you reach a certain deep sleep, the brain works to make all kinds of useful connections between new memories and existing ones.  In other words, you learn, or are prepared to learn.

So pull up a pillow, get comfy, and get your brain in learning mode.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Autism and Vaccinations

In an article in the NYTimes:
One in four U.S. parents believes some vaccines cause autism in healthy children, but even many of those worried about vaccine risks think their children should be vaccinated.
So one-in-four believe this, despite studies finding no connection between the two.  In terms of what people know, science always seems to be the weakest link.  Then again, one-in-four also probably believe man and dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time.  But that's a harmless -- if stupid -- belief.  Not getting shots for your kid, or trying to convince others not to do it, that risks the nation's public health.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Business Use of Social Media

Nearly eight out of ten Global 100 companies are using some kind of social media, according to a new study (which I'm afraid is in annoying pdf format and not an easy read).  For the companies that actually use Twitter -- and it's the most popular social networking site for businesses -- they're very active.  Facebook is second, followed by YouTube and blogs. 

In terms of what people know, the corporate shift to social networking means they're reaching out directly to people with their message.  Whether this outreach matters is, to me, unclear.  Not much data out there to answer that one.