Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Persistent Misperceptions:
The Death Panels

When you mess with people's health care, there's always going to be trouble.  And misperceptions.  Take, for example, the death panel myth, the notion pushed by Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and others that death panels would decide the fate of older folks if the Obama health care proposal made it through Congress.  A new paper published in The Forum gets at this health care myth.

There is an excellent Table 1 on page 9 that attempts to trace the history of the death panel myth.

If you don't want to follow the link, it begins with Betsy McCaughey on Fred Thompson's radio show (is there a Republican without a show?) on July 16, 2009, followed by a column by McCaughey in The New York Post a day later.  Sean Hannity picks up on it that same day, as does Laura Ingraham on her radio show.  Limbaugh arrives a few days later, and so on, including our future Speaker of the House on July 23 in a press release.  Palin is often credited for the myth, you betcha, but she doesn't repeat the myth until the following month, as does U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (my own congressional representative, and a bit of a fruitcake).  But Palin really ran with this one, despite two fact-checking web sites that point out she was wrong.  Never let pesky facts get in the way of a good narrative, I always say.

But there is no excuse for outright lying in an important debate, at least not in a perfect political world.  Or, as the paper's author argues:

As a result, until the media stops giving so much attention to misinformers, elites on both sides will often succeed in creating misperceptions, especially among sympathetic partisans. And once such beliefs take hold, few good options exist to counter them—correcting misperceptions is simply too difficult.

Recent research, for example, found that even when a news organization corrects a misperception, the result is to push some folks, based on their partisan predispositions, even further in the wrong direction and acceptance of an outright myth.  In other words, fixing it doesn't work, so partisans and journalists alike need to keep debate to the facts, not the myths.  And yeah, that's not gonna happen, especially from partisans who have air time to fill and are more than accepting of a certain moral flexibility when it comes to facts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Obama is the Anti-Christ

Remember the poll that found 14 percent of Americans think Obama is the anti-Christ?  People freaked out.  I happened to be reading something else today and was reminded of that early 2010 poll.  After a quick search I stumbled across this very nice rebuttal of why 14 percent really don't think such nonsense.  Basically, when you see an online poll, especially a Harris online poll, take a hard look at how they draw their sample and how they ask their questions.

But -- very good polls continue to find that as many as one-in-five Americans think Obama is Muslim, so don't for a minute believe the wingnuts have gone bye-bye.


Political and Non-Political Civic Engagement

When we speak about civic engagement, we're usually talking political civic engagement.  But not so fast, argues this paper.  What about non-political civic engagement?  They are conceptually distinct, the authors argue. 

Okay, before you give a huge duh, let's consider this for a moment.  According to the abstract:
Both TV news and newspaper use contribute to an increase in political and nonpolitical engagement, but fail to affect trust building in politics and among people in general.
Unfortunately I can't call up the entire article, at least not easily, but they rely on American National Elections Study data, a source I often use as well, so I'm assuming the quote above includes the traditional newspaper and television news exposure items.  It's hardly surprising that media consumption is associated with, or contributes to, increases in both political and non-political engagement. 

But you may be surprised that these media exposure items are unrelated to trust.  It's not surprising.  Greater media use tends to be found among those with greater motivation to keep up with, or be involved in, public affairs.  These folks are often quoted, or know others who are quoted, by the news.  Or they're deeply involved in topics that the news media cover, so they see all the nuances and therefore see how the news, especially TV news, often tosses out nuance in order to explain what's happening to a general audience.  The result?  Less trust, or enough so that an expected positive association becomes no association between consumption of the news and trust.

Friday, November 26, 2010

It's Not Just Colons?

I've blogged at length about titular colonicity, most recently here.  The idea is simple: as an academic discipline "matures" you find more and more journal article titles with a colon.  Yeah, people study this stuff.  And now I've stumbled across a similar study, this one about question marks.  The article title? 

Scholarly communication in transition: The use of question marks in the titles of scientific articles in medicine, life sciences and physics 1966–2005

Which is odd, because the title has a colon, not a question mark.  I'm very confused.  As the abstract explains:
We examined nearly 20 million scientific articles and recorded the development of articles with a question mark at the end of their titles over the last 40 years. Our study was confined to the disciplines of physics, life sciences and medicine, where we found a significant increase from 50% to more than 200% in the number of articles with question-mark titles.
A couple of points.  First, I'd kill myself before I every conducted a content analysis of a bejillion articles in a search for question marks.  Second, I'd kill myself again, just to be sure I did it right.  And third -- this kinda matters.  Not me killing myself, though some might cheer the notion, but rather it's interesting how academic fields ripen and mature and seek out ways to make themselves seem more -- er -- academic. 
I should point out that one of the most popular terms people search for, and end up here, is titular colonicity.  The other popular one is cognitive mobilization. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

European Knowledge

I just finished reading -- after much Thanksgiving turkey -- this story about how much Irish high school students know, or don't know, about their country compared to similar students in 36 countries.  The story isn't as clear as I'd like, but as best I can tell, Finland teens had the highest scores, followed by, well, you can follow the link and see for yourself.

Here's what the story doesn't tell us:
  • Who did the survey
  • Exactly what did they ask
  • When was the survey conducted
  • And by what method (phone, etc.)
  • Or a host of other niggling details I'd like to know.
Because, dammit, there's no link or even a mention of the source of the survey.  It covers the world, which immediately made me think of Pew's international surveys, but I don't think there's been one recently.  All in all, a poor story, but think of it as a holiday special as I engage in serious digestion.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010


The graphic below says it all.  From a good story by the Sacramento Bee.

Playing with Google

According to Google Update, the phrase "what people know" is fairly steady over 2010, with blips up in April, August, and October.  See here.  If you search "political knowledge" then there's an obvious blip in October-November, right in primetime election season.  Makes sense.

Unfortunately, a search for "Barry Hollander" turns up damn little, and not all of it about me.  I suffer from a distinct lack of brand awareness out there.  And so it goes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Driven to Digital Distraction

The New York Times has an excellent article (as a single page, here) today on young people and digital distraction, a piece that ranges from high school kids who can't focus to experiments on rats (and yes, as the parent of two teenagers, I'd argue the similarities are striking). 

The story uses one kid as a thread throughout, but it also touches on recent cognitive studies to draw a very simple conclusion -- we're creating kids who can't focus, who can't stay on task, who are drawn to new stimuli without adequately processing the previous stimuli.  The consequences on learning are significant.  Says one researcher:
“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.” 
Young brains have become habituated to distraction.  Can't live without it.

Oh, and I mentioned rats.  If you lead with something, I always tell my journalism students, don't forget the payoff.  So here it is:
At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory. 
Downtime, boring time, is vital.  A lack of stimulation.  This works for rats and, cognitive scientists say, people -- especially young people whose minds are still developing.  By learning to always be stimulated, by searching out the next media thing to do, young people in particular do not take the time to allow new experiences or information to soak into long-term memory.  And that matters.

So there: rats and teenagers, in a single Sunday post.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What the Pope Knows

According to various news sources:

After decades of fierce opposition to the use of all contraception, the pontiff will end the Catholic Church's absolute ban on the use of condoms. 


Key in on the word absolute, which I underlined and boldfaced.  As quoted in a different story:

"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," he said.  The Pope gives the example of the use of condoms by prostitutes as "a first step towards moralisation", even though condoms are "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection".

We've all known for ages that condoms are useful, particularly in struggling nations, to fight HIV/AIDS.  It just took a while for the Church to realize this, and do something about it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Trusting Health Information

We get our health information from lots of sources: family and friends, of course, and the ever-present Internet, but also the news, those annoying pharmaceutical TV ads, maybe even from an actual doctor. 

An experiment published last month in Communication Research takes an interesting approach and a huge N (555) to find people "were more likely to take action based on the information sourced from a Web site than from a blog or a personal home page." 

I'd hope so. 

But in mass comm, we often dare to research the obvious.  I'm being a bit snarky because what seems obvious still requires verifying and validating.  Plus, from the abstract, there's more to the study; unfortunately I can view only the abstract.  There's a 3-way interaction but trying to understand one is hard enough without relying on a single sentence from an abstract, so I won't even try.

The authors do write, in discussing the main effect above: "The effect was mediated by perceived level of gatekeeping and perceived information completeness."  This suggests to me somehow perceptions of gatekeeping and completeness may reduce the differences found between a web site and blog/personal pages.  I suspect it has a great deal to do with increasing the perception of source credibility, which often plays a role in persuasion.

Latest Pew News IQ Quiz

The fine folks at Pew have released their latest News IQ quiz.  Give it a try, if you dare.  I finished in the top 4 percent of the public, missing two of the questions.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Force

When I say The Force above, I mean not Star Wars but U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's admonishment of the news media for "surrendering to the forces of entertainment."

As reported in The Hill (actual link to story above):
"Instead of a watchdog that is a check on the excesses of government and business, we have the endless barking of a 24-hour news cycle," Rockefeller said in his prepared remarks. "We have journalism that is always ravenous for the next rumor, but insufficiently hungry for the facts that can nourish our democracy. As citizens, we are paying a price."
It's the nourishment of democracy aspect that catches my eye, especially since I write here often about the role the news must play in a healthy democracy.  To be fair, Rockefeller also goes after our two favorite cable TV networks -- Fox and MSNBC -- for spending too much time on the right and left and not enough on quality news.

I'm shocked, shocked, to think anyone finds either network lacking in actual news coverage.  Let's face it, Fox spends more time talking about the news than actually covering it.  MSNBC, more reporting thanks to the resources of NBC News, but still an awful lot of chatter in prime time.  But that's what people apparently want, so in a sense Rockefeller is asking the new orgs to go not where the audience is or wants to be, but rather what's best for our nation and our democracy.  What's up with that?  Capitalism comes first, senator.  The media, unfortunately but logically, go where the audience takes it.  Yes, it sucks, but that's what's happening.

In terms of what people know, as I've discussed many times here, this shift to entertainment-style news is leaving us with, instead, what people feel.  Or to put it in social science terms, affect is winning out over cognition.

On a positive note, this leaves lots of room for scholarly research not only on how the news is changing, but the effects these changes have on the audience -- cognitive, and affective.

Biggest News in Political Knowledge

According to various reports, Sarah Palin is in discussions about possibly running for the presidency in 2012.  From our perspective, this means:
  • Political knowledge, or lack thereof, finds its way back into the spotlight
  • Tina Fey continues to get work
  • Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have even more material
  • Barack Obama can expect a second term
  • I have something to blog about on days when I don't have something to blog about
Run, Sarah, run.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Can We Do Away with Media Exposure Questions

I blogged earlier about the difficulties of getting a proposal approved because I relied on exposure to the news, a concept some find problematic due to perceived (though to me, unconvincing) measurement issues.

This raises at least a couple of questions:
  • Can we do away with media exposure questions?
  • And, if so, what the hell do we use as an alternative?
Exposure versus attention has received its fair share of attention, but we can't really measure attention without first establishing exposure.  The two are intertwined.  The real problem, to me, is the broad nature of the questions often found in large surveys such as ANES.  These items are historical.  They've been asked more or less the same way for decades, and by continuing to do so, we have some ability to look at changes over time.  For an example, see this table.

But to ask broadly about television news exposure, with no difference drawn between Fox News or PBS, raises all kinds of concerns. 

The issue for me is, do we now combine ideology or partisanship with media exposure ... that is, if we're not going to get specific about where people get their news?  We know from recent research, my own and that of others, that there is a partisan migration going on, especially in cable news, as conservatives shift to Fox and liberals to MSNBC and those somewhere in the middle still watching CNN.  The same is probably true, to a lesser degree, across the news spectrum, particularly on the Internet.

So if we not going to get specific in our news questions, and that's what I tried to do in my modest proposal, then perhaps it's time to combine ideology and news exposure and basically assume likeminded folks seek out likeminded news. 

We are obligated, then, to create interaction terms -- to put it in a regression frame -- for all media and partisanship/ideology measures.  The short answer to this is, ugh, ugly, and a pain when it comes to creating all these dummy terms.  But in the long term, save more specificity in our news media questions, this may be the only logical answer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Frustration with Media and ANES

The ANES is putting together a study called the 2010-2010 Evaluations of Government and Society Study.  It should be great.

While you can read about it here, "The overarching theme of the surveys," according to the page, "is citizen attitudes about government and society."  Given the tea party atmosphere and distrust of government, it struck me that certain media content -- particularly watching Beck or Hannity or perhaps Fox News in general -- might be good concepts to explore in relation to people's attitudes about government in this Tea Party atmosphere.

Guess not.

My proposal got shot down, in part because I didn't do enough work at getting it through the process, in part because they mistakenly don't buy media exposure as a viable concept.  This is, in part, due to a devastating research paper from 1993 by Larry Bartels that I never found particularly convincing, but really got the attention of a political science community that runs the ANES but, let's face it, while very smart, are far from being media scholars.  Plus, Bartels was looking at the broad exposure items (TV news, newspapers, etc.) on the old 0-to-7 days scale, while I was focused on particular programs and networks, something that would significantly reduce measurement error and also provide meaningful insight into particular programs and hosts who tend to criticize government and who also tend to have significant influence on those in the public who tend to criticize government.

In other words, they screwed up.  Or at least I'd like to think they did for my own self-esteem, but it would be helpful -- theoretically and normatively -- to know if watching or listening to Beck and Hannity and their friends plays a significant role in how people respond to government or spark their protests against government, or more important, influences the way they perceive government's role in society.  We're left with damn little else in this study, at least when it comes to the role the news media may play, at least at this time.  Or we'll get the same tired media items they always use in ANES because, let's face it, political scientists are convinced the media don't matter (er, except when they get the chance to go on TV, then suddenly it does).

Do I sound bitter?  I'm not, really.  There's enough on my plate, thank you very much.  I just find it unfortunate that the quality of media items never seems to change in the national elections studies, that Pew has moved so far ahead of them.  But we do have a million ways to ask questions that date back to the 1940s, most of which are never used in anyone's analyses. 


Monday, November 15, 2010

What Men Think Women Know

I've written extensively about the relationship between what people know and what people think they know -- that is, actual knowledge versus perceived knowledge.  And, fascinated as I am with research methodology, I've also blogged about studies that consistently find men do better on tests of political knowledge than women (lots of reasons for this, some methodological, some cultural).

And now, a new study comes along that kinda combines the two.

Published in a recent Political Research Quarterly, the study finds that both men and women perceive women to be less knowledgeable about politics -- regardless of the actual knowledge each person has.

Here's an interesting bit, written in socialsciencespeak:
Though Huckfeldt (2001) asserts people can judge the expertise level of those with whom they discuss politics accurately, the perception effects we find here suggest otherwise; there is distortion within the judgment of expertise according to one’s gender. We suspect that even though discussion continues to take place at comparable levels between men and women main respondents and men or women discussants, the assessment that women know less about politics, even if that is not truly the case, may affect the dynamics of discussion within the dyad.

In other words, men assume women are not knowledgeable about politics without actually assessing what they know about politics.  The study goes on to discuss a number of potential consequences, all of them important.  A useful study if you're interested not only in political knowledge, but perceptions of knowledge and gender differences.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Inferring Cause -- the Case of Social Media

TV execs are budding research methodologists.

They wonder about inferring cause, such as whether social media actually add anything to their programming.  As all you research methodologists know, three factors must be present to infer cause (cause -> effect).  There must be time order (one precedes the other), they must covary (as one goes up or down, the other goes up or down), and that bug bear of all research bug bears, there must be no third variables that explain the effect.  That one always gets me.

Anyway, according to this story, TV execs wonder about whether social media matters, or at least whether the effects are more anecdotal than significant.  Or, as one exec says:
"If we can't actually create a direct correlation between social TV and ratings, we see what it is doing in a lot of other ways,"said Gayle Weiswasser, vice president of social media for the Discovery Channel. "Time will tell what the statistical impact is, but anecdotally it's pretty strong." 
Listening to the social buzz can even be harmful, another exec pointed out. 
He pointed to how CBS brought back a show it had formerly cancelled, called "Jericho," based on the fervent response to its cancellation on the message boards, only to have the show not do well on its second outing.

"That was a case of them listening a little too hard to a rabid minority," he said.

Never saw the show, but there's a good point buried in all the notion you do not want to rely too heavily on the anecdotal nature of social media.  On the flip side, there can be a wisdom of the crowd.  It's a tough business, a tougher research question, on when social media matter or when social media don't matter, or at least can mislead you into thinking tweets equals generalizable public opinion.

If rabid minorities had true influence, Firefly would have stayed on the air.  Unfortunately, it didn't, and it was a damn fine show.

Know Your Media Tech?

The fine folks at Pew love to set up these IQ tests (religion, politics, and ... yes ... tech).  Try it yourself

A warning -- it's humbling, or at least it was for me.  I got only 4 of 10 correct, and the questions are about media coverage of technology, so I should have done better.

I couldn't find a national breakdown of others who also took the quiz, which is too bad.  I would have felt better about myself if others sucked as much as I did on this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cam Newton, and What People Know

I live and work in the football-crazed SEC, so it's fascinating to watch a case study as it develops -- in this case, the wacky coverage of Auburn QB Cameron Newton.

As you may or may not know, Newton is a Heisman favorite, is a helluva QB, and scares the crap out of me because this Saturday he'll make life miserable for my Dawgs.  That aside, he's also caught up in a scandal of sorts, in part because of stories about his time at the University of Florida (yeah, another SEC school) and in part because of a rumored payoff offered to him to attend Mississippi State (which he didn't, but you guessed it, yet another SEC school).

Today, a fake tweet got the Internet into a wad as it suggested Newton may be suspended by the NCAA before Saturday's game.  You can read one version of the story here.  Either someone misunderstood a radio report, or a fan can't hear very well, or someone just decided to make things interesting.  You pick.

Why blog about sports in a spot devoted to how people learn from the media?  Good question.  My answer is twofold.  First, I can do whatever the heck I wanna do on my own blog, but more important, it's fun to watch what people know about something other than politics.  Not only is Twitter ablaze about this, but so is Facebook and, no doubt, other social media I don't even use or know about.  Auburn fans are angry about these stories flying about -- and let's face it, only because it's their guy and their team, which may end up in the national title game (please, yes).  If it was a Bama QB, they'd think it was all damn funny and no doubt Pulitzer Prize winning journalism.  But here, because it's their guy, selective exposure and memory and attention and all the rest are kicking in as they, surprise surprise, attack the messenger.

We see the same thing in politics, just without so many goofy fans yelling at a reporter as he tries to do his job.  If I hadn't known better, I would've thought it was a bunch of Tea Party folks.

When emotions run high, people lose all ability to calmly consider a story, whether it be politics ... or sports. What they feel, then, outweighs what they know.  Emotion always seems to trump cognition.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What We Know vs What We Feel

Psychologists and other scholars have long labored to understand the relationship between cognition (thinking) and affect (emotion). Which comes first? How does one influence the other? Can messages be tailored to appeal to one more than the other, thus making them more persuasive?

It's a messy business and I'm certainly not going to settle the debate in a simple blog posting. Indeed, I'm not even going to try. Consider this more of me thinking out loud (yeah, scary), positing some potential questions in today's current political climate, and wondering if our news media now appeals more to what people feel than what people know.

Assuming there's a difference between the two.

The growing partisan nature of news and its audience makes emotion so very much a part of our new information climate.  First, many anchors or hosts appeal largely to emotion.  Usually anger, sometimes disgust, no doubt distrust, and often at least unease with the "other side" of the political divide.  This colors thinking by kicking in various filters, usually partisan or ideological filters, that influence how we process new information.  Hate the Dems?  Nothing Nancy Pelosi says is going to get through to you, thus emotion colors cognition.  In various models of persuasion, we assume that a balanced, reasonable argument will have some chance of getting through, but I think all those assumptions are largely out the window.

No, we're into building up and knocking down our ideological straw men.

So news is now almost completely invaded by the emotional.  In some cases that's not a bad thing.  Sympathy or empathy, those are good emotions.  And anger too, has it's purpose.  Fear is good.  At our most basic level, fight or flight is a very human response to some stimuli, so fear can save your life.  But does it belong in our political discourse?  No, probably not, but I challenge you to spend three hours with TV talking heads and not hear appeals to just those negative emotions.

And best, or worst, of all -- it sells.

Emotion draws an audience.  It sells books.  It brings in advertising.

It's the future of news.

So as I wind down this spew of disgust with the future of news, I also argue that emotion makes learning even more difficult, thus people will get less and less real information -- versus misinformation -- from our brave new world of what sadly passes today as journalism, at least at the cable TV level.  Is it only a matter of time before this dribbles its way into other media?  Yup.  And that's a bad thing.

Juan Williams and Keith Olbermann

What did we learn from the Juan Williams (fired by NPR) and Keith Olbermann (suspended by MSNBC) controversies?

Other, that is, than both were gross overreactions?  Let me toss out a few lessons.

  1. Partisanship and ideology have become fully integrated into news.  For those who thought it was always this way (it wasn't), you'll be happy to know there's no way around it now.  Congrats.  It's the New World Journalism Order, and it ain't pretty.
  2. Research has long suggested that conservatives are less open to hearing an opposing viewpoint than are liberals.  I wonder whether that still holds.
  3. Journalism is now being held up to even more ridicule.  Thanks NPR and MSNBC.  Good job.
  4. The First Amendment is used today like a blunt instrument, even when it doesn't really apply, not unlike a surgeon choosing the wrong tool to open up a chest. 
  5. Straight news is dead.  Not because it doesn't exist, not because it isn't done.  For most people, Straight News is like the Tooth Fairy.  Nice to believe in, but that's about it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

All Political Knowledge is in the U.K.

Why do I think all (or nearly all) political knowledge is in the U.K.?  Would Google ever lie.  I did a search of Google Maps for "political knowledge" and most of the spots show up there, not in the U.S. or anywhere else.  See here for my search.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Comfort with Technology

Playing with technological toys to learn stuff apparently helps people become more engaged in public life, according to a new study, but one's comfort with technology makes all the difference.  Or as the report states:
Notably, individuals who report higher levels of comfort with mobile telephony and use it for information exchange tend to be more civically and politically engaged than those who report less comfort with the technology. 

Never mind the creative spelling of "civically" above (I can't think of another way to spell it, so I'd do what I always do when challenged like this -- write around the problem).  The point is, competence matters.  As the Journal of Communication research article uses a multiple regression to control for factors often associated with civic engagement.  The ultimate point?  Mobile media matter, but those mostly for those comfortable with the technology, which raises the question of a competence-based digital divide.

abstract | full study

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Global Warming? Settled.

What people don't know about science would fill even the unfillable Internet.  For those global climate change skeptics out there, a simple video below explains how some wingnuts manage to get it all so wrong.  Be helpful if this ran on Fox News.

North Carolina and Political Knowledge

A study is out this week, reported here, press release here, about what people know in North Carolina and, namely, who knows the most.  The lede:
Here’s what you need to know about an Elon University Poll designed to test North Carolinians’ political knowledge — older over younger, men over women, and Republicans over Democrats or registered independents.
The survey of 515 adults used 10 questions to measure political knowledge.  The news story doesn't tell us what those questions are, but you can find them in a methodological report.  It's an odd group of questions.  Some of them are obvious (who is the VP? who is the speaker of the house?), but the rest are so North Carolina specific, and probably so under the radar for most regular folks, that the demographic relationships mentioned the lede are less than surprising.

Who is the North Carolina Attorney General?  Does anyone care?  Only 19 percent got that one right.  You can argue it's a question that provides good discrimination, separating the men from the boys, so to speak, in what people know.  I dunno that an item so difficult adds much.  And you'll be happy to learn 97 percent correctly identified North Carolina's capital city (isn't it Mayberry?).

So yes, I have a few quibbles with the questions.  Two ask about federal offices, one asks about the role of federal government (who interprets the constitutionality of a law), all good and fine.  The rest either ask about North Carolina officeholders (some vague, some less so), a bit of geography (state capital), and one asking folks to identify the initials SBI (it's the State Bureau of Investigation, no doubt improving the number of correct responses among felons included in the sample). 

I understand the N.C. questions.  After all, it's a N.C. poll.  But the analysis, basically crosstabs in the pdf file above, breaks voters down by party identification, by gender, by age ... but not by the single factor nearly every study in the history of the planet finds is the most powerful predictor of political knowledge -- education.  Maybe I missed it.  But if not, it's a curious omission given the power of education to explain what people know.  Often, when you break people down by education level, all those other factors mentioned above disappear.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Should Academic Journals Charge to Review an Article?

The answer to the question above is: No.  No.  Hell no.

And yet, and yet.  Here I was checking out a potential journal for a manuscript I'm working on -- a damn good journal, it turns out -- and it says you must either be a member of the host organization or pay a $25 "processing fee" for your work to be reviewed.  WTF?  This ranks up there, sleaze-wise, with literary journals who charge authors a "reading fee" to review their fiction for possible publication.  The rule in fiction writing is simple: money flows to the author, not the other way around.  Otherwise it's just a vanity press and not worth reading, and sure as hell not worth publishing in.

Again, this is a damn fine academic journal and, ironically, I used to belong to the group that sponsors it (I gave up membership a few years ago as I cut back expenses, dropping a couple of groups). It's an understandable rule from a financial standpoint, I get that, but in my mind it raises serious questions about the quality of the research when only members -- or those willing to pay for the privilege of consideration -- get published there.  Too damn insular for my taste.  In defense of the journal, it's apparently had this rule for some time.

Maybe it's like this in a number of academic fields outside my own and I just didn't realize it.

So off I go looking for another home...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Newspapers in U.S. -- Gone in 7 Years?

A "futurist" is predicting that print newspapers in the U.S. will disappear within seven years.  He says by 2019, they'll be gone in Britain and Iceland, and a year later, Canada and Norway.  A few years later, some other places.

Why do I doubt his predictions?
  1. Have you ever known a "futurist" to be right?
  2. His name, Ross Dawson, sounds like a TV actor.
  3. He has a timeline, always a sign of being wrong.
  4. He's based in Sydney and San Francisco.  Can't make up his mind.
  5. He posted this on Halloween.  
But if nothing else, a nice near number like "seven years" is sure to up his exposure, draw hits to his web page, and keep him going as a "futurist."  I agree print is in trouble, and for a lot of reasons so is our political learning as print is the more demanding form of news, but I don't see paper going away quite that soon.  I suppose that makes me the opposite of a "futurist."  A historicist?

Below, his timeline.  Go to his site for more details, linked above.  Click on the image to see a better version.

Pre-Election: What People Click

An interesting box in today's NYTimes shows which U.S. Senate candidate web sites are the most popular.  It's hardly surprising that Tea Party favorites lead the list:
  1. Rand Paul (Aqua Buddha got him to #1)
  2. Christine O'Donnell (needs a more powerful spell to move up)
  3. Joe Miller (Alaska?  Really?)
  4. Charlie Crist (Fla. candidate, first non-tea party person)
  5. Marco Rubio (another Fla. candidate)
  6. Dino Rossi (no Martini?)
  7. Carly Fiorina (California dreaming...)
  8. Kendrick Meek (Third Fla. candidate)
  9. Rob Johnson (not from Florida)
  10. Pat Toomey (yet another tea favorite.  I like coffee.)
So in terms of what people click, there's your list.   It's overloaded with tea party favorites, Republicans, people from Florida, one guy who worshiped made-up gods, and a dabbler in witchcraft.  I get so confused.