Thursday, September 30, 2010

Like the rest of the planet, I blogged earlier this week about the major Pew study on religious knowledge.  I'm filling in the gaps over the next couple of days, working my way through a rather long pdf to get to the news lede -- it isn't so much your religious affiliation, it's your education that matters.

On page 37, we discover:
The survey results are clear: People with higher levels of education tend to be more knowledgeable about religion.
Which makes perfectly good sense.  Education tends to drive most tests of knowledge, from politics to science to health.  Having taken a specific college-level religion course also leads to greater knowledge, at least on the items asked here -- which, by the way, strike me as both comprehensive and fair when it comes to measuring something as difficult as "knowledge" of religion.

There are some fascinating demographic breakdowns deep in the study, though few of them truly surprising.  Indeed, they look a lot like the results you'd get studying political knowledge.  For those who care about such things, Republicans outscored Democrats on religious knowledge, but self-described conservatives and liberals were a statistical tie.  Go figure.

At the end, the fine folks at Pew crank the data through a regression analysis to see what really matters when it comes to what people know about religion.  The results? 
  • Education matters.  It dominates the model.
  • But religious affiliation still explains some of the variance, which is a fancy way of saying even if you control for education, atheists/agnostics, Mormons, and Jews still outperform everyone else.
  • Controlling for all this, having a high religious commitment also adds a bit in performance.
So what can we say?  Well, for one, I can say that in six months I'll be downloading these data and playing with them like a kid at Christmas.  Unfortunately there aren't a lot of other variables to work with here, and no serious media variables.  Too bad.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

News Media Distrust Nears Record High

A new gallup survey finds distrust in the news media is nearing a record high. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Who Knows More About Religion?
Atheists and Agnostics

A new survey by the fine folks at Pew finds all kinds of interesting things about what people know and what people think they know about religion.  I can mine this thing for days and I'd love to dig more into it now but I have class soon, so let me just pop out one of the more interesting finds (see below).  On a religious knowledge survey, the least religious do the best, followed by Jews and Mormons. 

Of course it's not this simple.  The table below doesn't include controls for education, and we've not even gotten into how you actually measure religious knowledge (it's broad-based, evangelicals and Mormons, for example, do best on Christian-based knowledge).  I'll write more later, when time allows.  Fascinating stuff.

Take the 15-item quiz yourself, if you dare.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When it Comes to Politics, Cable News Rules

A new poll is out that defines how America gets its political news (cable) and who they like best (Fox News) and which TV personalities have the most influence (Bill O'Reilly, then Glenn Beck, then Rush Limbaugh).  But not all is good news for the Rushmeister:

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was the third-most-positively ranked, with 36 percent saying he has a positive impact on the discourse, but his negatives far outweighed his positives, with 52 percent saying he has a negative impact. 
"To some extent, Limbaugh has become almost a caricature in a way, so I don’t know how much influence he has beyond entertainment value,” Arteron said. “Whereas, in some way, the other people on Fox are seen as more legitimate news operations.”

Okay, so cable TV rules, but 72 percent of folks say they read newspapers or their web sites for political news, which is higher than broadcast television news.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Science Knowledge

Like a lot of topics -- politics, health, adult beverages -- it's easy to make an argument on why it's important people know something about it.  The same goes for what people know about science.

There's plenty of evidence out there on how little Americans know.  Just look at the proportion of people who believe in Creationism, or doubt global climate change.  But this study (abstract here, pdf of full study here), published in Advances in Health Science Education, reviews previous work on the long-term retention of science information.  Here's a bit from the abstract:
The results of the review, in the general educational domain as well as in medical education, suggest that approximately two-third to three-fourth of knowledge will be retained after one year, with a further decrease to slightly below fifty percent in the next year.

In other words, knowledge decays.  Rapidly.  Unless, of course, you use it, but that wasn't really an aim of the studies reviewed here.

A number of the studies reviewed are more educational than aimed at the general public, such as how well students in medical school retain scientific information.  Still, there's something to be learned for the rest of us who happen not to be in med school. 

The authors do provide near the end some ways in which to enhance science knowledge, or at least its retention, mostly aimed at how to construct a course and curriculum. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Twitter Navel Gazing

What was the top topic on Twitter last week?


Narcissistic, much?

See graph below, or read the report here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's Up with Texas?

Twenty-nine percent of Texans think Barack Obama is a Muslim, according to this survey.

This is a tired subject.  And yet fascinating.  And sad.  And I'm not going to talk about this any more because, c'mon people, how dumb can you be?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Brits vs. the Finns

A study published in Journalism (abstract here, a full pdf of the study here) argues that Finns are better informed than Brits because the Finnish news media focuses more on hard news, at least compared to the British news media. 

It's an interesting piece of work -- online survey of a thousand folks in two countries, but what's really interesting is the detail they go into to measure political knowledge.  Here's a bit of the methodology below:
Questions were asked in relation to hard and soft news areas reported by the media of the two countries during the period of our content analysis. In particular, 14 common questions were asked in relation to international news, two common questions in relation to domestic crime, and 14 separate questions about the domestic news of each country. We balanced easy and difficult questions, with the degree of ‘easiness’ being established on the basis of the number of reports registered in the Lexis-nexis and Finnish equivalent data sets in a sub sample of newspapers during one month and six months prior to the survey. Questions designed to measure recognition of specific individuals were administered in two different versions. Using random assignment, one half of the national samples was presented with the individual’s name, and the other half with a photograph of the target person. In 28 instances, respondents were presented with five possible answers to multiple choice questions, one of which was correct. A time limit was imposed, through computer software, to prevent respondents from looking up the right answer.
That's a helluva lot of detail, and an interesting way to go about tapping what people know.  Impressive, especially the random rotation of kinds of questions, either presenting respondents with a name of a public figure,k or a photograph.  Fascinating stuff.  And being an online survey, I really like how they used software to time the study so people didn't have an opportunity to quickly look up the answer.  Very clever.

Finns did better than Brits on domestic questions, whether hard news or soft news.  But this is neat.  On international news, Finns and Brits were pretty close on the hard news questions and the Brits outscored the Finns on soft news questions.

There's a lot more to this study.  For example, media exposure predicted hard and soft news knowledge about domestic affairs, but only hard news knowledge about international affairs.  In other words, media consumption was unrelated to what people knew about international stories of a soft news orientation.  Interesting.  In conclusion the authors point to differences in the media systems (Britain classified as liberal, Finland as democratic corporatist.) as a good reason for their results.

For those who love comparative studies, there is this conclusion:
The implication of this study is that media systems sustained by public service regulation and a professional culture brief their electorates better, and sustain a higher level of public affairs knowledge, than media systems more strongly influenced by market values.  In this sense, they better serve the public good.

Oh, and one major flaw.  It doesn't cite me.  Not that it needed to, but I always consider that a major flaw and, curiously, years ago I did an analysis of six nations and political knowledge, so they could've dug up that old Gazette study.  Ah well.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Banned Phrase

Hijacking to Vent

Please oh please, someone ban the phrase "excellent adventure" from headlines, from stories, from anywhere in the textual world except when talking about a movie involving two guys named Bill and Ted (which, it seems, may be revisited).  My Google News search found 89 uses of the phrase "excellent adventure" in the last month.  And even my college had to do oneSigh.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Rise of Grazing

The news grazers are growing, according to a new Pew report.  In 2006, 48 percent of Americans said they got their news "from time to time" rather than at "regular times."  Today, it's up to 57 percent.

An increase in mobile media is largely driving this grazing habit.  It's so easy to check your iPhone or digital device, to make yourself feel informed, in a hurry, on the go, staring at that itty bitty screen.  How informed one actually is from such grazing is hard to predict, but hopefully some aggressive scholar out there will attack this question.  My guess is, grazing leads to superficial current events knowledge but not deep understanding of the issues.  But that's just a guess.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Flash -- Americans Love the News

A new Pew Center study finds Americans spend about as much time with news today than they did in the heyday of traditional mainstream media.

Obviously, looking at the graph to the left, there are winners and losers over time.  The results are hardly surprising.  What's good to know, though, is the total amount of time spent with the news, on average.

This bodes well now only for political knowledge but the health of organizations that provide the news -- assuming they can figure out a way to successfully monetize the online access.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Political Knowledge ... in the news

How often does the phrase political knowledge turn up in the news?  A lot.  A few examples I present below, all worth a quick read.  I'm pulling sections where the phrase turns up.
  • "The dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and a political scientist, Delli Carpini has spent a career marking what he says is the "decline in professional journalism and the sorry state of the public's political knowledge." Nothing in his research suggests to him that the traditional press will be able to recapture its role as the central provider of public information."  Full story here.
  • "The difference is that the Times only thinks that examples of Republican ignorance are newsworthy and relevant to our civic enterprise, even though Republicans consistently outscore Democrats in polls testing political knowledge." Full piece here
  • "When our political knowledge is tested, most of us tend to flunk."Full column here.
These are only in the last few days.  The first bullet item above has to do with decreasing coverage of statehouses by news organizations.  The second one is more interesting, in part a discussion of the myth of Obama's Muslim religious identification, in part a defense of Republicans who outscore Dems on other knowledge questions, just not the Muslim one.  The final one is a good column by Clarence Page.

You'd be surprised the odd places the phrase political knowledge turns up.  The ones above, they all fit -- more or less -- the mission of this blog.  Many others.  Not even close.  One recent example is an article about religious beliefs by a Notre Dame sophomore which happens to mention political knowledge. "God will transform the knowledge we learn from literature about people and turn it into true love for our neighbors," he writes.  "He will use our historical and political knowledge to bring truth to our entire society."

Can't argue with that.  Dunno what it means, exactly, so I can't argue with it.

The phrase is used like a blunt instrument sometimes, designed to pound the "other side" into submission.  At other times, it's a passive-aggressive tool, as in someone whining about their lack of political knowledge and then offering, yes, an opinion on some issue.



I've surrendered. I created a wiki account and was going to put in an entry about political knowledge, but my teaching and other responsibilities this semester are weighing me down, so if I do it at all it'll be during a holiday break.  Sorry, wikifans.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

At Least People Agree on Something

Democrats vs Republicans disagree on just about everything -- except when it comes to congressional term limits, according to this new Fox poll.

Seventy-eight percent want term limits.  Full details on this pdf.

The results are not quite the same, depending on party.  For Dems, 74 percent favor term limits.  For GOPers, it's 84 percent.  Independents are at 74 percent.