Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wrestling with Wikipedia

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have created a wikipedia account and will now attempt to write an entry for political knowledge.  Do a search for that phrase now and you're sent to political philosophy, which strikes me as unfair.

So the question is, how to begin?

One easy approach is to break the phrase to its two component words, link to wikipedia entries on that.  Political actually takes you to politicsKnowledge has an entry, as I mentioned previously.  But this is a clunky way to do it and to be honest it doesn't tell us very much.

Another approach is to focus on the conceptual and operational, going all PhDweeb on the issue.  I think this is the way to go, but it's going to mean a lot of stuff in my head I take for granted (like which single malt Scotch is best) needs to be pulled out and actually used.  There are good books or seminal studies on the topic and I could build the article around them.  Obviously I'll mention this blog because hell, shameless self promotion is all the rage today and I'm not about to miss an opportunity to join the fun.

Finally, I should think about what someone is likely to need if they're searching for political knowledge, because there's a damn good chance a Google search will hit the wikipedia page fairly early on.  Why would someone search for this?  Research?  Wacky fun?

So I think I'll start by building a list of great books, articles, and cites.  Then I'll pick a few, use this as my skeleton or outline.  And it'll get messy as I get into misperception, such as WMDs or whether Obama is Muslim.  Those may bring out the crazies, but there's not much I can do about that.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Media and Knowledge

Since this blog is all about media and knowledge, it seems only fair we examine that source of all information -- wikipedia -- to see what it has to say on the subject.
  • Media: This wikipedia article is a big category and, as such, has a lot of subcategories. Indeed, there isn't a basic definition offered.  Think about it.  There's everything from advertising media to social media and several others that fall between A and S.  Nothing beyond this, no Yak Media or Zebra Media.  So I followed Mass Media and learned it's media designed to reach a large audience.  Fair enough.
  • Knowledge -- Interesting, but the wikipedia article about knowledge begins with an old media technology, the Oxford Dictionary, to define it.  Basically, knowledge is expertise and skills learned through experience and education, especially facts and information.
I'm a big fan of Wikipedia.  After all, I'm even mentioned (here, but scroll down a bit to the Political Polls section).  From above, we can't take a lot from media and knowledge.  If you try to search for "political knowledge" you get bounced to "political philosophy."  Read that and you pick up bits and pieces of how knowledge fits into various political philosophies.  For example:
For Locke, knowledge is neither innate, revealed nor based on authority but subject to uncertainty tempered by reason, tolerance and moderation. According to Locke, an absolute ruler as proposed by Hobbes is unnecessary, for natural law is based on reason and equality, seeking peace and survival for man.
Reason, tolerance, and moderation are concepts rarely demonstrated in today's media environment, especially on cable TV.  Philosophers have long wrestled with how knowledge and a just society fit together, but again we don't see a lot of that today outside of philosophy classes.  I'm sure Glenn Beck will get to it soon.

Other than an exercise in filling blogspace, there's not a lot we can learn from wikipedia's offering.  Which means someone needs to get cracking.  Maybe I'll create an entry there on political philosophy and blog about it here.  Might be an interesting experience.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chronic Know-Nothings

From ages back, the idea of chronic know-nothings has re-emerged thanks to misperceptions that Barack Obama is Muslim (or wasn't born in the U.S., or perhaps isn't actually an Earthling at all).  This NYTimes opinion piece does a nice job of summing up the topic about how we're building a nation of know-nothings.

Of course this is a topic near and dear to my heart, given I published an academic piece earlier this year attempting to explain who were the folks who, during the 2008 election, continued to doubt Obama's religious affiliation despite all information to the contrary.  I love it when I'm far ahead of the curve.  Happens, oh, once in a lifetime.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kicking Journalism's Ass

I love Ira Glass and This American Life.  In a talk this week, he offered: "Opinion in all its forms is kicking the ass of journalism."


He especially blasted TV news, and he especially praised Jon Stewart (and, in an offhanded way, Glenn Beck, who he called "fascinating" without further elaboration).  A story about the talk is here.

He's on to something, of course.  Opinion is kicking journalism's ass, at least when it comes to ratings and attention.  That is, if you don't consider "opinion" as "journalism," which gets a bit confusing.  Is an editorial opinion?  Yes.  Is it journalism?  Kinda yes.  But what he's really doing is comparing the delivery of standard television news with the delivery of the host of TV talkmeisters, from Maddow to O'Reilly to Colbert to, well, all the people doing pretty damn well in the ratings.

Oh, and he praises NPR too.

Take a Hike

This NYTimes piece does a nice job of summing up research on multitasking (it doesn't work) and learning (it does, if you reduce stimuli for a period so your brain can engage in long-term learning).  My favorite part?  "At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment, suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued."  Neato.  So go take a hike!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anchors Away!!!

A Houston television station is dropping its news anchors for something entirely new, and just a little bit scary.  As this story briefly describes it, Channel 39 "will have more storytelling by those who “are” the story and an emphasis on video and audio."

PR folks in Houston, get a drool bucket.  You're salivating.

Not that I'm a big fan of local television news or TV talking heads (see delusions of adequacy), but this seems a bad idea hatched by bean counters and marketing schmucks.  Then again, maybe the audience won't even notice the difference. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Learning in a Crisis

Here's a study, abstract below, that looks really interesting.  Unfortunately I can't access the full text and it's a journal, Electronic News, that I've honestly never seen before (it may have lasted only one year, it's not clear on the web page).  Still, here's the abstract:
This study builds on previous examinations of social and mediated learning, expanding the scope to the context of crises. We argue that mediated learning might be particularly important during crisis both to ameliorate the negative emotional consequences of such events as well as to prompt the learning of information that might be important in future emergencies. Using data collected from Minneapolis, Minn., residents after the collapse of the I-35W Mississippi River bridge, we demonstrate that individuals might have the capacity to learn from the media in the midst of a crisis and that women report learning more than men from crisis media coverage. Finally, we discuss implications for future crisis learning research and recommendations for the media. 
 A couple of things stick out in this abstract.
  •  Women "report learning more than men" from crisis coverage.  For a variety of reasons, men tend to score higher on tests of political knowledge than women.  The reasons are complex, but this "report learning" is, to me, troubling since it's unclear if it's actual learning or the perception of learning.  Those are very different.
  • The article suggests the awful emotions from such a tragedy may be moderated by news coverage.  This makes good sense, when coverage is reasoned and factual, which in this case I believe it largely was.  In political coverage, I'm not sure this finding would hold up, but it does raise some interesting questions about learning and emotion
I'd love to write more but I can't access the full article.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Are Poll Details a Good Thing in a Story?

More information is better, or so goes the standard rule of thumb, especially when reporting the results of a public opinion poll.  AAPOR (full disclosure, I'm a member) and other organizations often suggest technical poll details a journalist should include in a story, such as margin of error, number of people polled, etc. 

And then comes along my latest copy of Newspaper Research Journal with two studies about polls.  Here are the titles of each:
  • Regular Readers Expect More Polling Details
  • Too Many Technical Details Hinder Recall of Poll Results
So with the first study, we learn from an experiment that regular readers expect details in a poll story and miss them when they're included.  But in the second study, also an experiment, we learn that lots details hinder how much people recall of a poll story.

How do we explain the differing results?

The first study examines perceptions, plus the results really work only for regular readers of a newspaper, not everyone in the experimental study.  The second study looks at recognition.  The more details, lower the knowledge.  Fascinating.

Both studies look at a species very much like human beings -- college students.  So the generalizability of the results can certainly be questioned, but I suspect the latter finding on learning has more to do with information overload, especially for this group, then anything else.  The journalism guy in me, despite these results, still favors putting as much technical information as is reasonable in a story about a poll -- particularly if the poll is about something important. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Obama Apparently Still a Muslim
Except, of course, he's not

A new Pew survey shows that a core group of uninformed Americans believe President Obama is Muslim.

I've written at length on this topic.  An example blog post is here, I've also published research from a panel of folks during the 2008 campaign, work that appeared recently in the Journal of Media and Religion.  Hell, I've even been quoted in The New York Times about my research.  So yeah, I'm interested and somewhat knowledgeable on the topic.  See the graphic from Pew on the left.

Why is the misperception that Obama is Muslim apparently growing?  Andy Kohut of the Pew Center gave a clear explanation this morning on NPR.  In part, the "don't knows" continue to grow, perhaps because Obama does not make a big deal about his Christian beliefs, particularly compared to George W. Bush who did.  I'd also add that politics, wanting to believe "the worst" about a politician you already don't like, also play a part.  Yeah, GOPers are a lot more likely to think he's Muslim, so that suggests a political explanation.  My own research also found conservative Christians (who also happen to be Republicans) are a major factor here.

All in all, a depressing and interesting survey result.  I'd write more but I have class soon, but perhaps I'll do a follow-up posting later today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Learning from Faux News

How people learn from comedy or faux news programs has been a research topic of mine for quite some time, a rich vein now being mined by a whole new group of people smarter and faster than I am.  It's also an area that draws interesting comment, such as this piece out of New Zealand.  A lot of this, while fascinating, is not on point to my discussion here, so let me help you find the pertinent section by repeating some of it:
Audience effects: While there is some quantitative evidence that the politically uninterested can indeed obtain useful political knowledge as a by-product of watching infotainment shows, the measures of political learning used (for example, self-reported learning, name recognition rather than recall, and issue attention) are weak indicators of political knowledge, and any modest gains tend to be offset by countervailing negatives (Baum 2007; Baumgartner and Morris 2006; Cooper and Bailey 2008). 
Other than failing to cite the work of Hollander (yes, a significant flaw), this makes the traditional point that recall and attention are often lousy measures of what people know.  I won't repeat my many postings on the topic.  But this is the best measure we tend to have, the most workable surrogate, of something as complex as political knowledge.

Just after this:
Even optimists concede that the quality and diversity of information filtered through 'the relatively narrow lens of the entertainment-oriented soft news media' might not lead to better citizens, or better policies (Baum 2002, p. 106; 2007, p. 115). 
Obviously this goes beyond mere knowledge to the consequences of that knowledge, and it has that softening "might not" that is integral not only to academicspeak, but is also accurate.

Then he quickly shifts to the persuasive power, or lack thereof, of these programs.  All good points.  It's an interesting piece, certainly worth a read if you're interested in how comedy shows and The Daily Show in particular, may influence an audience.

Monday, August 16, 2010

WSJ and Pew, um, and TARP

I love the Pew Center's political knowledge index and I wrote about the latest version the other day, the one that found more Americans could correctly identify Twitter than TARP.  A Wall Street Journal article examines what people know and this question in particular.  Worth the read.

Trusting The News

A quarter of Americans say they trust newspapers "a great deal" and only about 22 percent say they trust television news, according to a new Gallup poll.  But here's the interesting part.  Among 18-29 year olds, 49 percent say they trust newspapers.  Confidence drops as respondent age increases, which is weird.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Is Obama to Blame?

Spend a moment with the chart above, brought to us by the good people at the Pew Center.  We all know people are dissatisfied of late.  Pissed is probably a better word.  And if you listen to the TV and radio talkmeisters, particularly the conservative ones, you'd blame it all on Obama.  While I sympathize with that sentiment, the data suggest otherwise.

Look at 2003.  The red (pissed) and blue (not so pissed) lines are at about the same point, a statistical tie.  But then we begin to see the dissatisfaction begin to rise.  Keep in mind George W. Bush was the president through this period, until really the beginning of 2009, so when it comes to people being pissed, it's hard to easily point to Obama as the reason.  Okay, it's not hard to do it, but the data tell a more complex story.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Kinds of Political Knowledge -- A Finnish Study

There's this interesting study out of Finland that examines an age-old question -- do the media matter when it comes to what people know?  And on top of that, the authors argue the kind of knowledge you measure can make a difference in media effects.

This study looks specifically at newspapers.  Exposure (or attention) to newspapers is generally associated with political knowledge.  The more you read, the more you know, or at least the better you do on tests scholars come up with to measure political knowledge.  The authors look at something they call overall knowledge and something they call structural knowledge.  The former is exactly what it sounds like, a lot of different questions used to create an overall index.  The latter is based on questions about the structure of government, in this case such questions as the task of the prime minister and some of the principles of the parliamentarian system.

What did they find?  Newspaper reading largely disappears as a predictor of political knowledge once you enter a bunch of other socio-demographic-political factors into the model.  The authors appear more surprised by this than I am, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt.  This lack of an effect really shows up in their structural knowledge dependent variable. 

Why?  Because they're misthinking this thing.  Structural knowledge is best thought of not as a dependent variable, at least not in a news media sense, but as an independent control variable.  It would be a great dependent variable if you were studying civics classes, but here it's best thought of as a control factor to see what people know about current events or that sort of thing.  Still, it's another piece of the puzzle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Health Magazine, and Health Knowledge

Unfortunately I can't access the full article, but this abstract briefly describes a study to test whether a health promotion magazine would make people provided the magazine more health conscious.

Can I get a "duh" from the audience?

They got a company to allow them to provide the magazine to its employees.  An initial questionnaire measured pre-existing health knowledge.  Following the distribution of the mags, there was an increase in employee knowledge about sugars in "fat free" foods, the benefits of fish oil, and other health nutrition stuff. 

There's good news here.  Knowledge in the pre-test was already high, and it improved.  What's missing, of course, is a control group, but I think we can safely say that when the boss says here's a magazine we're gonna put in front of you, employees will learn something from it.

Eighty-seven percent said they read the mag and "showed enthusiasm for continued delivery."  Yup, but ask 'em if they'd actually pay for it and watch 87 become 7.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Knowing the Court

Here's an interesting article that relies on the Pew News IQ quiz I wrote about a few weeks ago to make, I think, a very good point.  The lede:
Now that Elena Kagan has been confirmed as Justice of the Supreme Court following several weeks of highly publicized hearings, the public remains poorly informed about the Court’s role. And even what is supposedly known is contradictory. Pew Research Center’s latest New IQ Quiz, which was conducted in early July, revealed that “an overwhelming proportion of Americans are familiar with Twitter ... yet the public continues to struggle in identifying political figures, foreign leaders and even knowing facts about key government policies.”
I should point out that the public's knowledge of the Court is somewhat controversial due to some mismeasurement issues in the American National Election Studies, discovered by some scholars researching what people know about the court.  It all has to do with coding of incorrect responses, something ANES quickly addressed.  I have no idea how the Pew data stacks up on this issue, but it comes down to partial answers that, honestly, are close enough and yet are scores as incorrect.  Here's a nice discussion for the methodologically oriented.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sean Hannity and Google Earth

I love listening to Sean Hannity's radio program.  You learn so much.  This past week, for instance, Mr. Specificity told us about a city was using Google Earth to find swimming pools built in backyards without a permit. 

Somehow Hannity found this illegal building of pools perfectly legitimate.  It's okay to break the law, he reasoned, but not okay for Big Brother to be peeking into your backyard from an Internet site that -- c'mon -- anyone can use.  But the best part?  People can also use Google Earth to see you sunbathing at the pool.  Yup, that's what he said.

I dunno about you, but my Google Earth is nowhere near that clear.  I can see my roof, a bit of my yard, but after that everything is pixilated beyond repair.  If you could see girls sunbathing behind their house, don't you think I would have already discovered it?

Hannity, Mr. Internet.  If what people know about the Internet comes from this guy, we're in big trouble.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Redistricting -- And What People Know

I've never thought to approach what people know in quite this way, but a press release sums up research that finds, well, here's the first four graphs if you don't want to follow my link:

The age-old practice of dividing congressional districts evenly by population speaks to such American ideals as fairness and equality. But when a county's residents are carved into separate districts simply to maintain that numerical parity, many end up struggling at the ballot box, a new study finds.

In a first-of-its-kind national analysis of voting behavior, political scientists Michael Wagner and Jonathan Winburn examined the electoral consequences of redistricting on natural "communities of interest." Most notably, they found that voters who had been carved into new districts that mainly covered areas outside their home counties knew far less about their new House candidates than voters who weren't redistricted.

In fact, the redistricted voters with low levels of political knowledge were only half as likely than voters in their former home district to even be able to name their congressperson or their congressperson's challenger in an upcoming election. Redistricted voters with high political knowledge were only two-thirds as likely as voters in their former district to name their representative.

That's a huge informational disadvantage, the study asserts, and can lead to big problems in the voting booth.
Interesting stuff.  Throwing people out of their comfort zone, or district, either makes them face all new names or perhaps lowers their motivation to find out who the new key political actors are.  Whatever the mechanism, it's an interesting result and I love finding a study that explores political knowledge from a new perspective. 

Oh, if you want the study, read the graph below for details:
The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Political Research Quarterly, combined Geographic Information System technology with American National Election Studies survey responses from 1994-2002. This unique method allowed researchers to visualize data in maps and charts that revealed relationships, patterns and trends.
I'll try tonight or tomorrow to dig up the actual study, because I'm very curious about this methodology and, in particular, what knowledge items they may have used from the 1994-2002 studies.  I think I know, but I wanna be sure.  Then I may have additional comments.

Shocker -- Survey Finds Journalism Jobs Hard to Come By

The famous annual survey of the journalism job market -- conducted by colleagues in my college -- finds that it's been a tough year for journalism jobs.  Press release here

The lede:  

Graduates of the nation's journalism and mass communication programs in the spring of 2009 confronted a job market unlike any that graduates have encountered in the nearly 25 years for which comparable data are available.

And yet, there are jobs out there for young journalists, especially in smaller markets but even in some big markets where newspapers especially have shed more expensive and more experienced reporters and editors.  But it is tough.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Obama and the "Birthers"

Some myths are damnably persistent, including the one suggesting Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.  That's the belief of 1 of every 4 American adults, according to a new survey.  To be more precise, 11 percent believe he was "definitely" born elsewhere and 16 percent believe he "probably" was.

Scary factoid: 41 percent of Republicans doubt the president being born in the U.S., never mind all the evidence to the contrary.  But don't let the facts get in the way of a good negative misperception.  Still, here is a good objective collection of Obama myths, most debunked.

Sometimes, what people know is ... um ... not a lot.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Men and Woman

I've written a number of times about the persistent difference found in studies of political knowledge when comparing the scores of men and women.  Guys, it seems, always seem to beat the gals.  And I've also written about some interesting approaches to explain (away) this difference.  One is in the kinds of questions asked.  When female politicians are used in knowledge questions, for example, the gap lessens. Also, men guess more and, given how knowledge surveys are often scored, that helps men.

Here I report on a study that shows it's not just a U.S. thing.  A survey in China, summarized here, finds the same difference between the sexes. 

Me, I avoid this argument, in part because my major professor from grad school, Mary Ann Ferguson, always told me to avoid attempting to explain sex differences in social science research.  She also hated content analysis, calling it the great intellectual cul-de-sac.