Friday, February 25, 2011

It Helps to Set the Bar Low

I'm violating my Palin-free February rule to point at this recently published study that finds that not only did people not expect much out of Sarah Palin in the 2008 vice presidential debate, but by setting the bar so low it apparently helped when people evaluated how well she did. 

And you gotta love the title: Who Framed Sarah Palin

I'd discuss more about the study but, at least from my house, I cannot access the entire study, only the abstract.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Below you'll find a graph or two on some of the stuff I'm reading this week, none of it (unfortunately) directly tied to what people know, but all of it kinda interesting.

A Theory of Public Attention

While I've not read this as deeply as I should, at first glance this discussion of a theory of public attention is ripe with potential for those interested in our wild new media marketplace and the competition for public attention.  The more I think about this, the more important it seems, though the piece here doesn't really help me in terms of theoretical predictions.  I probably need to read it again.

 The Jena Six

Many of us remember this Louisiana case, and this study attempts to gauge the roles of race and ideology in how people responded to protests about the case.  News coverage plays a significant role as well.  It's hardly surprising, as the paper notes, that politics and race are vital to how people structured their responses.

Social Networking and Cross-Cutting Information

Cross-cutting information is academicspeak for exposure to information that disagrees with your particular point of view.  This study looks at SNS (social networking sites) and finds they lead to more exposure to "challenging viewpoints."  That's a good thing, particularly in a fragmenting media that often leads to people attending to news that confirms their own predispositions.  Strongly encouraged for those with an interest in either cross-cutting info or SNS.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Should 16 and 17 year olds vote?

The title above says it all.  Should they be able to vote?  This piece by Daniel Hart and Robert Atkins argues that these teenagers below 18 are capable of voting.  From the abstract:
Analyses of national survey data demonstrate that by 16 years of age—but not before— American adolescents manifest levels of development in each quality of citizenship that are approximately the same as those apparent in young American adults who are allowed to vote. 
As the father of two bright and annoying teens, a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old, I can buy into this. Unfortunately, I can't access the full article and judge the reasoning as well as I'd like, such as comparisons of political sophistication by age.  Then again, given the infamous lack of political knowledge found in general among the electorate, my hunch is dropping the age of voting could only improve matters.  Or at least not hurt.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Political Efficacy and Journalism

I have of late read a lot about how readers and viewers of the news will either seek out confirming information or, through motivated reasoning, see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear in a news story to fit their political predispositions.  The evidence is compelling, especially when you consider how people cling to misperceptions (Obama is a Muslim, etc.), but even corrections by the media of an incorrect fact leads some -- due to partisanship -- to move even further in their misperception.  People believe, it seems, what they prefer to believe.
And now along comes this study in the February 2011 Journal of Communication that sorta kinds follows along the same lines.

The study looks at neutral reporting of contradictory factual claims, the basic stuff of everyday journalism, and finds experimentally that exposure to such content influences what they call epistemic political efficacy, defined here as "confidence in one's own ability to determine the truth about factual political disputes."  Very interesting concept, one I wish I'd invented, particularly in these times of "death panels" and other invented political factoids.  They also consider adjudication, the notion of coming in a news story to some kind of conclusion about the truth or falsity of a disputed fact.

As the article states:
...the two experiments conducted thus far are consistent in finding that at least for readers who are high in prior interest in an issue, encountering even a single news story about that issue that contains adjudication significantly increases their epistemic political efficacy. This suggests that journalistic adjudication may be a point of leverage for increasing the quantity and quality of citizen engagement: goals that may seem unattainable when one assumes that their only important antecedents are motivational constructs such as political interest.

Some interesting ideas here that deserve more time than I can afford to give them, at least at the moment.  If I'm lucky I may revisit this study on another day and delve into the whole concept of EPE and how it relates to more traditional approaches to political efficacy.  But I do think they're on to something in these hyper-partisan times.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Egypt -- Not that Interesting?

The Pew folks have an interesting report about the journalistic and public interest.  The Egypt mess have you mesmerized?  You're more alone than you realized.  See below:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Okay, in terms of what people know, there are the big questions (political knowledge, do the media inform, why the hell does anyone watch American Idol?) and the small questions.  Here, we address one of the smallest of questions in terms of  what people know -- or rather, what I know -- about pepperoni.

An article in today's New York Times tells me that favorite of pizza toppings, the ever-popular pepperoni, isn't even Italian.

"Purely an Italian-American creation, like chicken Parmesan," says a food historian.


I admit I always thought it was Italian, but apparently the word peperoni is Italian for large peppers, as in bell peppers.  Not an Italian salami.  I can't help but feel cheated by all those pizza joints, bad Italian eateries, and Hormel, which it seems is the nation's greatest producer of the tasty little red circles.