Saturday, December 25, 2010

What the World Thinks about Global Climate Change

Yeah, it's Christmas.  What better time, with ice and maybe snow on the way to sunny Georgia, to briefly discuss global climate change?  As in, how concerned are people in various countries about how the climate is changing and the potential consequences of those changes?  The graphic below says it all.  Folks in certain countries are seriously worried.  The U.S.?  Nah, but at least we're more worried than those in Poland and Pakistan.  Makes me feel so much better.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bulldogs vs Gators

In my final Google Ngram contest, at least for 2010, we pit Bulldog against Gator to see which hallowed word received the most book mentions from 1800 to 2000.  The winner?  See below.  Blue is Bulldog, red is Gator.

Yeah, fine, Bulldog kicks Gator butt (do gators have butts?) What if we use the plural?  Ya know, Bulldogs vs. Gators? That hits a little closer to the mark, at least in nickname comparisons between UGA and UF.  See below.

Much closer and, indeed, Gators begin to pass the Bulldogs for a while in book mentions, though of late they are quite close.  The funny thing is, if you look specifically at the two terms, on Gators the top Google hits are about the football team while the top Google hits for Bulldogs is, um, the dog, as in Bulldogs for DummiesSigh.

What does this have to do with the media and political knowledge?  Absolutely nothing.  Merely entertaining myself -- and probably only myself.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Four Kinds of Knowledge?

The latest issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly includes a meta-analysis of the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis, which is a concept I've always liked, particularly when compared to the crud that is called agenda-setting research.  Rather than dig into the study findings, I want to focus deep in the article and its measurement section.  Relying heavily on a previous study, the author argues for four overlapping types of knowledge.  They are:
  • Factual Knowledge -- which is exactly what it sounds like.
  • Awareness Knowledge -- which is a softer version of above, though the article isn't exactly clear.
  • Belief Knowledge -- Even more confusing, but apparently having to do methodologically with how many responses someone gives, and theoretically with how much information someone holds, regardless of its accuracy.
  • And a combination category, for no good reason.
Most studies use the first two.  Factual is easy to measure.  Ask respondents to name the Vice President or Speaker of the House.  Awareness is more like asking people what they think they know or, a bit better, asking them how aware they are of something. In general, it's a sucky measure.  Belief has been used in political science for years -- often badly -- by merely counting how many likes and dislikes someone can generate about a political actor or party.

What's interesting, from the study, is the notion that belief is less correlated with education than the other kinds of knowledge.  This is viewed as a positive.  I'd argue it's evidence that how much information we hold, regardless of its accuracy, makes that conceptually distinct from actual knowledge -- the holding of correct information.  As a respondent or crazy uncle I may rattle off lots of information, none of it accurate, probably full of conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's religion or being the anti-Christ.  But is that knowledge?  Or a sort, certainly, and belief knowledge is probably as good a term as any, but I wouldn't treat that as political knowledge in the strictest sense.

And yeah, that image I put in there makes me want to have a seizure as well.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Knowledge vs. Wisdom

In yet another epic showdown, below we use Google's new ngram viewer to discover which gets the most mention in books from 1800 to 2000 -- knowledge, or wisdom?

And the winner is ... knowledge. No surprise, really, and it appears to be widening its lead in the last 80 years.  Let's face it, knowledge is less mushy, less subjective, and it appears in so many more domains than wisdom.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

European Integration, and the Media

Given the present economic situations in Ireland, Greece, and a handful of other European countries, the idea of an integrated Europe is under some stress.  In that vein, here's a study (abstract only, sorry) that examines the role of media use and integration.  Or, as the abstract puts it: "The comparatively low level of Europeanization in the news media is said to promote euroscepticism or at least hinder further integration."

Using data from several countries and the smoke-and-mirrors of structural equation modeling (no, I'm not a fan), "we can demonstrate that domestic media use has a positive but small effect on knowledge, attachment to Europe and support for the European Union."  In other words, media use increases -- not decreases -- support for an integrated Europe.

While we're stuck with only the abstract, apparently cognitive mobilization plays a part in the study. I mention this for a couple of reasons.  First, it's one of the more popular search terms that allows people to find this blog.  Second, it's one of my first ever areas of research interest.  And third, I just like the way it sounds, as if a bunch of smart people are getting mobilized

So to keep with the cognitive mobilization theme, I point to this study which takes that concept to examine why informed citizens may be skeptical of referenda.  Political knowledge -- the measure of being "informed" -- plays an obvious role in the research.  Five factual questions about Canadian politics (yes, it's a study from Canada) are used as a measure of political knowledge and they seem straightforward. 

But what I really like is the measure of public incompetence -- essentially tapping into the belief that people suck when it comes to politics.  Below are their two questions:
  • “The problem with democracy is that most people don't really know what's best for them.”
  • “Most people have enough sense to tell whether the government is doing a good job.”

This is a neat idea, a global measure not of internal efficacy, which is whether or not you are capable of participating or understanding politics, but rather a measure of public competence.  I like it.  A lot.  There are some interesting theoretical possibilities here and it smacks of the third-person effect.  Note that I'm not getting into the guts of what they found in this study because, frankly, I'm less interested in that than this concept.  I will point out that political knowledge is negatively associated with support for referenda, which probably has to do with really smart people not trusting other people to vote on stuff.  But ... hold on, say the authors.
Building from this initial statement, the central objective of the paper has been to uncover explanations for this information effect in support for the use of referenda. To do so we identified three possible explanations with firm grounding in the literature: 1) the incompetent public explanation, 2) the confidence in government explanation, and 3) the support for minority rights explanation. Our analyses provide support for the last two explanations, but not the first.
So much for the incompetent public concept, I suppose.  And I had such high hopes for it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Newspapers vs Television
Journalism vs Public Relations

Okay, this chart below says it all.  I trended newspapers and television in books scoured by Google's new ngram viewer.  It's not a great reproduction, this image, but as you can see the red (television) intersects with newspapers (blue) in the late 1960s, at least in mentions in books scanned by Google. 

Okay, that was fun.  What else can we do?  My colleagues down the hall will love this one.  Below I look at journalism (blue) versus public relations (red).  I find it fascinating that PR cranked it up in the 1950s and 1960s, in book mentions, and then slipped back again.  Why?  Some smart PR professor will no doubt let us know, or maybe do some research to explain this odd burst of attention that later slips back.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Faux News

I hate to pick on Fox News again this week, but this memo deserves notice as yet another example of the cable news network blatantly attempting to skew the news.  C'mon guys.  Be professional.  Or at least try.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sometimes you read a journal article and think, "Dammit, I should've done this study."  Such is the case in the latest issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, fresh in my mailbox today.  Even worse, the first two two authors are doctoral students.  Humbling.

What's it about?  To simplify, the dependent variables are political knowledge and political participation.  No big deal there.  These concepts have launched a million scholarly studies.  But what they did is so obvious, and the results so interesting, that it kinda ruins my day.  The study examines the difference between exposure to citizen journalism and professional journalism -- again, no biggie there -- but also trust in those media.  Best of all is a two-way interaction I'll discuss in a minute.

The basic result is this: after statistically controlling for other factors, exposure to traditional news was positively associated with political knowledge while citizen journalism exposure was negatively associated with knowledge. Knowledge in this case was an index of four standard political actor recognition items.  The results for offline and online participation are a little messier, so let's set them aside and focus just on knowledge. 

Here's the interesting bit.  While the exposure items line up pretty much like I'd expect them to (pro news positive, citizen news negative, in their association with knowledge), the authors also included trust in pro and amateur news.  The citizen news media trust measure was unrelated with knowledge, but trust in professional news media was negatively associated with knowledge. 

Let me say this again.  Exposure to pro news is a positive predictor of political knowledge, but trust in such media is a negative predictor.  This isn't terribly surprising, given that those who have the most to do with the news media tend to trust it less, largely because they are stakeholders or have been misquoted or know a lot about stories that journalists are forced to simplify, thus losing some of the nuances that come with any issue.

To clear this up, the authors examine a two-way interaction between the trust and exposure measures to find that among those high in trust of professional news media, exposure has no real effect on knowledge.  But, among those low in trust, as exposure increases, so does knowledge. In other words, exposure to news increases knowledge, but only for those who don't trust the news.  I'm not sure the discussion quite clears this up, and to be frank I need to think on it more myself before reaching some kind of conclusion as to what it all means.  But it is fascinating stuff.

Cuba Launches its own Wikipedia

According to various sites, Cuba is launching an online encyclopedia, dubbed EcuRed. You can check it out, although I couldn't get it to load this morning, no doubt too busy after the news broke.  According to the BBC:

... it was developed "to create and disseminate the knowledge of all and for all, from Cuba and with the world".

"Its philosophy is the accumulation and development of knowledge, with a democratising, not profitable, objective, from a decolonizer point of view."
I wonder if this will be a growing trend, of creating own own wikipedias out there to come from a certain perspective -- not unlike web sites, blogs, and certain cable television news operations.  Perhaps so.  And if so, this will lead to an even greater fragmentation of audience and sources and less shared or common knowledge.  Then again, it's Cuba.  How good can the site be?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Googling the Potential Candidates

A simple Google exercise for this chilly Monday morning, but one I think you'll find interesting if you follow me to the end.  Who gets the most hits, among likely 2012 presidential candidates, if you Google both their name (i.e., "Sarah Palin") and "political knowledge"?  Using just the Google Blog Search function, survey says:
  • Sarah Palin, 508 hits
  • Mitt Romney, 96 hits
  • Newt Gingrich, 60 hits
  • Tim Pawlenty, 18 hits
Oh, and Barack Obama?  If you're curious, 1,224 hits.

So what?  If you read the blog posts you find Palin's name typically associated with a perceived lack of political knowledge, although often you'll come across a spirited defense of what Mama Grizzly knows.  The others?  They tend to be associated with having significant knowledge.

The more numeric among you might argue that the differences above merely represent the varying popularity of the potential candidates.  That's a good point.  If we resort to searching blogs just for the names, the results are similar: Palin (3.8 million), Romney (783,000), Gingrich (500,000), and Pawlenty (177,000).  But if you sketch it out, you'll see Palin's advantage in sheer mentions is not quite as large, proportionally, as is her advantage in being tied to "political knowledge" (or lack thereof, depending on your partisan predisposition). 

It's a slim difference, sure, but I think enough of one to matter -- and to mean troubling news for Palin should she seek the Republican nomination.  On the flip side, if I could've done this in 1978 and searched for Ronald Reagan, I might have found similar results with "political knowledge."  And it all turned out pretty well for him, come 1980, and again in 1984.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

That's Hollander, Barry A.

So I'm reviewing a manuscript for an academic journal slightly outside my field but on a topic I'm more than familiar with.  Otherwise I wouldn't be reviewing it, right? 

As I read the literature review and theory section it comes to me.  Hey, I published something on this only a couple of years ago, and in a pretty damn good journal, yet I don't seem to be cited.  And get this, the author brags that this study the first to examine this subject.  Which is fine -- if you happen to exclude my article.

Okay, how do I handle this?  Vaguely suggest the author look further in the literature?  Suggest specifically he or she read the journal in which I published?  Or come right out and say, Yo Skippy, try this: Hollander, Barry A. (2008). Tuning out or tuning elsewhere? Partisanship, polarization, and media migration from 1998 to 2006. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 85, 23-40.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Studying the Disconnected

It's an old question -- is the public as politically inept as it seems, based on decades of research, or do we ask of them the wrong sorts of questions, in the wrong sorts of ways?

I don't have the answer.

But we are seeing a growing trend, that of studying the disaffected and disconnected, the tuned out and the apathetic, a stream of scholarly inquiry that flows from the work of Marcus Prior and others who point out that, thanks to the digital revolution, we have a million more entertaining ways to avoid the news.  And in that vein, this study examines citizens in 33 European countries to attempt to understand who are the disconnected.  They find both a micro and macro explanation works best.  Or as they put it:
The probability of tuning out is a function both of the individual traits of the citizen, but also a function of the supply of news in particular media systems. We find that there are large differences between the European countries when it comes to the degree of disconnected citizens, and that different national media systems can explain some of the differences between the European countries.
Without delving too much into the nitty gritty here, it has do with with significant differences across parts of Europe in social and political capital found in nations, the way the media operate there, and a host of other "macro" factors.  Micro factors matter too, of course, and the study provides insight on both.

Losing Weight for the Holidays
The Power of Projection

I often blog about the role projection plays in public opinion.  For the budding media scholars out there, this can range from the third-person effect to false consensus to pluralistic ignorance to, well, a bunch of others.  In other words, as the character Prince Lucifer said in a play: "Public opinion is no more than this, what people think other people think."  And we often project our own opinions on what other people think.

Yeah, fine Hollander, but what's this about losing weight?

This story by NPR explores the power of imagination and projection in reducing how many M&Ms are eaten.  It's a neat experiment.  Read about it, or listen to the audio, yourself.  Good stuff.

The lesson?  Imagine all those Christmas cookies -- before you actually bake 'em.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fox Shock. Or Not.

I am shocked, shocked, to learn about a Fox News memo that sought to have its talking heads spin and frame a story in a certain way, just to influence its audience.

According to Howard Kurtz, the best news critic in the biz, a memo shows Fox asked its folks to portray the summer health care debate in words more likely to make the proposal look bad. According to the memo, pollster Frank Luntz suggested:
“If you call it a public option, the American people are split,” he explained. “If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it.” 

“A great point,” (Sean) Hannity declared. “And from now on, I'm going to call it the government option, because that's what it is.” 

Or as the memo added:
“Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance,’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible.”
As readers here know, how a story is framed may influence what and how people think about proposals, policies, or current issues.  This is an instance of Fox News attempting to consistently frame a story in such a way as to influence opinion -- a major no-no in journalism.  But Fox is more about talking about the news than reporting on the news, and this memo merely adds more evidence to that belief.  And this is too bad.  It's one thing to opinionate against it, but it's another to skew your language in such a way -- consistently across a network -- in order to subtly influence opinion. 

That's not journalism.  Hell, that's not even being fair with your audience.

Never mind that Luntz, who often appears on Fox, is one of the few pollsters once found to be in violation of the AAPOR ethics codes for opinion researchers.  Fox keeps using him because, let's face it, he's both kinda good at the political game, and he'll always come through for one particular political party.  Why Fox "News" can't find a more "fair and balanced" polling guy, that one I'll never understand.  Unless, of course, they don't really want one.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for UGA's research magazine (magazine here, an easier version of my article here) about a pet theory of mine about the difference between what people know and what people think they know.  It's really about easy news and how it can fool you into thinking you're informed when, in fact, you're not.  In the article, I note listening to talk radio has this effect, as does watching Jon Stewart.

Out came the kooks.

Keep in mind the kooks missed my Stewart reference (he's liberal) and focused instead on talk radio (it's conservative). I got some nutty emails, and some nice ones.  This week I received an envelope.  It has kook written all over it.  See below.

In a moment of daring, I open the thing.  Sure enough, inside I find this yellow sheet of paper, a blue-ink hand-scrawled message that reminds me of the Unabomber, except it opens with:

Professor Holland

Already a bad start, eh?  This fan can't even get my friggin name right, losing him or her the chance to serve as president of the Arizona chapter of the Barry Hollander Fan Club.  Maybe this explains why this former UGA person has a degree in business administration, not journalism.

Other than being name-challenged, my new fan apparently hates the MSNBC talking heads.  "Rubber face Rachel Maddow," is one description.  As readers here know, I'm no fan of talking heads on any TV network, but "rubber face?" I don't even know what the hell that means. 

Oh, and my new fan recommends journalism students should read two books by Rush Limbaugh and two books by Ann Coulter.  Never mind neither are journalists (they'd have to take pay cuts), and neither can say much about journalism itself since they've never done any, or really have anything sensible to offer on the subject (I know, I listen to Limbaugh all the time, and hear Coulter on Sean Hannity's radio show).  Here's another gem: "Obama is Muslim." Of course he is.  That explains his controversial Chicago Christian preacher from the 2008 election.  And another: all journalism departments are "left wing."  I like to think of myself as a radical moderate.  I hate everyone, equally.  Well, except my fans.  They're special.

Oh, finally, my favorite is, in discussing one of my published studies about talk radio and how some people learn from such programs while others only think they learn:
"Was that a survey?  When I was at Georgia, we were not allowed to do surveys."

WTF?  Maybe in the 1700s surveys weren't allowed at Georgia -- probably because they didn't exist.  Or perhaps they didn't allow you to do surveys.  Or maybe it's a business administration thing.  I'll have to call the Terry College and ask.

And finally, I leave you with this line:  "Jon Stewart and Barack Obama hate America." 

What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in poor penmanship.

I love my fans.  Even the kooky ones.

What Babies Know

In the last couple of weeks there has been attention paid to prepping babies for sports.  Yeah, dumb, but people do it.

And now, this report about baby media and whether they work.  The actual study is here.  Basically, babies don't really learn all that much but parents -- who spent money and time and effort trying to give their little darling a head start -- overestimate how useful the baby media were for their child.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Latest Pew Quiz of What People Know

As always, the fine folks at Pew come through with a news quiz report that saves the day, blog-wise, when it's time for me to post something.  See the graphic below, and discussion that follows.

I often find it more interesting and illuminating to look at what people don't know.  Take the final question.  Only 14 percent could correctly identify the inflation rate.  The choices were 1, 5, 10, or 20 percent, which makes it rather obvious.  Either people don't understand inflation, or they overestimate it in difficult economic times.
Also interesting is less than half of respondents knew what party would be in control of the House of Representatives -- despite a million stories both predicting this and detailing what it all means after the election.  This tells us a large chunk of American is tuned out of the partisan politics of our time.  Which also explains why Republicans tend to do better in low-turnout elections and Democrats tend to do better in high-turnout elections.

The age breakdown is fun.  Young people do lousy when it comes to questions about politics, but by god they know Android is Google's operating system.  The other demographic breakdowns look a lot like many others we've seen.  Men score higher than women, whites scores higher than blacks, older respondents score higher than younger respondents, better educated outperform the less educated, and Republicans slightly outscore Democrats -- though on the last one, if you control for education, that difference would probably disappear.  In other words, no real surprises here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Auburn, Cam Newton, and Churlish Fans

-- hijacking my own blog --

So the NCAA says there is not "sufficient evidence" that Cam Newton broke any rules, which is bureacrease for, "we know it happened but we can't prove it."  But it's clear his dad shopped the quarterback around the SEC, the NCAA says.  When this was first reported, Auburn fans went nuts, blaming evil conspiratorial journalists for making it all up.  I'm an Auburn fan (after Georgia), but I was deeply disappointed in the childish and churlish nature of AU fans in this episode since -- HELLO!!! -- the journalists were right.  It actually happened, says the NCAA. 

And so, below, the email from the sports journalists to Auburn fans:

Dear Auburn:
    Apology accepted.  And good luck on Saturday.



-- end blog hijack --

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Conspiracy Mode

The phrase political knowledge gets a lot of love these days, and not just when describing Sarah Palin (i.e., lack thereof).

Politico, that Bible of those who toil in D.C. politics, uses it often, most recently on a story based on Pew data about how Dems are enjoying the news less these days:
While more than two thirds of liberal Democrats surveyed said they enjoyed news in June of 2008 – as the country was about to sweep in its first Democratic president in eight years – only 45% felt the same this past June. The thrill is gone for moderate Democrats too, though to a lesser degree: their rates of news enjoyment slumped from 58% to 46% in the past two years. 
My googling of finds 939 uses of political knowledge. Fox News?  Only 15 uses of the phrase, most of them old.  Is there a partisan or ideological issue at play here?  Or merely the difference between a cable tv news site and the NYTimes and its deep, broad coverage?  Let's be fair, try a different cable TV channel.  A search of turns up 352 instances of political knowledge being used, including this recent one about -- yes -- Palin. 

Perhaps Fox has a problem with discussing what people know. Or maybe the network simply doesn't want to raise the issue too loudly -- thus Political Knowledge and Palin be stuck in people's minds at the same time.

Nah, that can't be it.  I must be in conspiracy mode.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fox vs MSNBC

It's not often I mention or link to Media Matters, but this piece is kinda interesting, if a bit self-serving for lefties, about whether Fox and MSNBC are truly opposites on the partisan/ideological spectrum. 

The column's point appears to be that MSNBC is nowhere near as overt in its partisan leanings as Fox.  As a long-time viewer, journalism professor, and media scholar, I'd have to agree -- but nowhere do I see a careful, systematic content analysis of both cable networks to truly settle the issue. That said, I have noticed more and more of an anti-Obama, anti-Democrat theme appearing in Fox's "straight news." I expect that from Hannity, Beck, etc., but the straight news, such as it is on Fox, always struck me as just that.  But of late, I've detected more and more hints of partisanship even there.  For MSNBC, less so.  Again, none of this is systematic, none of this sound methodologically, just my impressions from a lot of television news viewing with a trained journalistic, and researcher, eye.

Beck, Stewart, Colbert, et al

A different take by Jon Bershad, from a week or so ago, on the continuing saga of TV talkmeisters Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert.  Beck kinda has a point, only kinda and only barely, about jokes being a "drug" in a news context.  Anyway, think of this as a quick fyi as I run out to give an exam.