Thursday, January 26, 2012

In a story sure to not surprise many women:
Men are more likely than women to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI), with and without memory problems, researchers found.

Women have a higher rate of dementia but men, it seems, cannot "tolerate deficits as well as women," says the study.  I suppose we have less cognitive capacity to draw on.  The deficits for men, the story goes on to point out somewhat painfully, "are fatal."

Sheesh.  Women go nuts at a greater rate then men, but if we go -- we go fast. 

I'm doomed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bonus Post -- Women Better Than Men, in Buying Cars

Just stumbled across this Time story that says women are better than men when it comes to major purchases, particularly cars.  Had to pass it along.

Catch-All Wednesday

Rather than dip deep into some scholarly research, instead today I'll throw at you a mix of stories out there in the Interwebs that touch in some way on what people know (er, or don't know) about various topics.
  • Gen Xers know the flu, or so says this story.  This is part of the Study of American Youth, a gigantic set of data collected annually.
  • A bit of a stretch, but a survey about commercial kitchens and how little they know about first aid.
  • An even greater stretch, but perhaps my first time to write about Romania, people there don't really understand the term "lobbying," which I find to be an advantage for them.
And there ya go.  And here I go, off to grade a million papers instead of messing with a blog.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Watch Colbert & Stewart. Learn Science Stuff

I had a bit of fun with the headline, but this study essentially finds that attention to The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, those two Comedy Central programs, goes "hand-in-hand" with knowledge about science and the environment.

That's the lede.  Now let's get into specifics.

The theoretical argument is the two programs are "gateway drugs" to other kinds of knowledge.  Comedy programs reduce the "entry costs" to understanding complex topics like science and the environment, thus lead to greater exposure to such topics in other media.  Unfortunately, the study is a single cross-sectional survey, so arguing causality here is impossible, a problem the authors readily note.  But they do attempt to statistically control for other explanatory factors.  How well this works (are science folks more likely to watch such programs in the first place?) is a matter of some debate, though the authors say they are reasonably confident that, for less educated respondents, "the causal arrow runs from satirical news exposure to science and environmental awareness."

It's a compelling argument, one of many emerging in this kind of research.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What People Know ... About Germs?

According to this press release, moms and moms-to-be don't know as much as they should about germs.

No, not politicians.  Germs.  While similar, germs tend to not be bipedal and smile quite so much.  The press release discusses a survey about what people know about germs and why it matters.  The majority of moms got a "D" for their knowledge, which if they're like me they follow the three-second rule -- if you scoop something off the floor in three seconds or less, no germs got on it.  They're slow, those germs.

According to the survey:
According to the survey, only about half of those surveyed (49% of new moms and 51% of expectant moms) correctly answered that germ hot spots should be disinfected at least once daily. And only about a third (32% of new moms and 35% of expectant moms) was aware that the changing table is the nursery's number one germ hotspot. 
How someone could not know a changing table is germ central is beyond me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mormonism is the new Catholicism

Instead of reading here, see my column at Like The Dew.

Monday, January 16, 2012


It's Martin Luther King Day, a holiday, and I thought I'd invest a minute or two exploring what people know about MLK.  Here's my favorite from 2007:

In a recent survey of college students on U.S. civic literacy, more than 81 percent knew that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was expressing hope for "racial justice and brotherhood" in his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

That's the good news.

Most of the rest surveyed thought King was advocating the abolition of slavery.

Oops.  Not that he wouldn't have advocated the abolition of slavery, if it still existed at that time in the U.S., but still, ya gotta wonder.

Beyond knowledge, we can also look at what people think about King.  One good source is this 1999 poll that asked about the greatest people this past century.  King finishes just behind Mother Teresa in the "admire most" score.  As an aside, Bill Clinton wins in the "do not admire" contest -- in a landslide.  A distant second is, um, Billy Graham? 

Of course King's name comes up in a host of other ways, from the controversy over having a holiday in his honor to standard survey questions asking whether King's dream is alive today.  There are too many of those to touch on here, especially when I should be prepping for tomorrow's classes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What People Know About ... Tim Tebow?

Yes, you read the headline above correctly -- I'm devoting precious blogging space to a quiz on what people know about the former Gator and now Denver Broncos QB.  You can take the quiz, I'll skip it.  But apparently, at least according to an ESPN survey, Tim Tebow is now the most popular athlete in America.

There are 17 questions.  I can't imagine there being 17 facts worth knowing, but then again I'm biased.  I'm at Georgia.

No doubt my colleague Kaye Sweetser can ace it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lying About Voting Intent

When people say they're going to vote, do they really vote?  Not according to this study (warning, not yet peer reviewed).  Even worse, from a research standpoint, they find many who say they're not going to vote actually voted.

The study gets at the question a number of ways.  One is simple.  Look at who said they're gonna vote in a survey and then go to the courthouse and see if they actually voted (it's a public record whether or not you voted, but not who you voted for).  They also used an experiment and some other approaches. 

To summarize, these "surprisingly inaccurate self-predictions" are full of measurement error, which can lead to all kinds of problems when you rely on them to, oh, decide on "likely voters" in a horserace poll (this is "grossly inadequate," the authors say) or even as a measure of political interest, motivation, or intent in academic studies.  The authors argue self-prediction is "far inferior to past vote history as a predictor of actual turnout."

Again, the caveat -- this manuscript is under review somewhere and has not as yet undergone a complete peer review.  As such, take the results with a grain of salt until it's been vetted by folks who are serious about this stuff.

But, there's some fascinating discussion at the end of the paper about the psychological underpinnings of saying you're gonna vote and you don't, or to me even more fascinating, saying you're not gonna vote and you do it anyway.  That latter, they argue, may in part be a function of frustration with the political process but among regular voters, the pull of Election Day is simply to much.  So pollsters in particular may be losing important data with their traditional screening questions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who Knows More About Politics? Dems vs Republicans

Every election cycle, or maybe every time a new poll comes out, someone asks who knows more about politics -- Democrats, or Republicans?  A glance at the surveys produced by such excellent polling outfits as the Pew Center would lead you to believe Republicans know more than Democrats, at least by a little.  For example, see the table below:

As the accompanying report tells us, GOPers did better than Dems on just three of the 11 questions asked, at least beyond the margin of error.  Dems didn't outscore Republicans on any question beyond the margin of error, though it got a bit close on the obesity question.

So our conclusion is that Republicans are politically smarter than Democrats, at least a little?  Maybe. 

To test this conclusion, I plucked the three questions out of the data that demonstrated a Republican advantage (Republicans control House, source of electricity, reason for Wisconsin protests) and subjected them to a quick-and-dirty analysis that controlled for one obvious factor -- education.

It's an accepted truism in hundreds of academic studies that education remains the most persistent and significant predictor of what people know.  The greater the formal education, the greater the political knowledge, at least in how it's measured in most polls.

So how'd it come out?  Through the magic of multivariate analysis we find that if we enter education first in a logistic regression model, being a Republican (versus Democrat) still predicts greater knowledge in all three questions. 
  • What part of Congress do Republicans control?  In this question, even controlling for education, being a Republican makes you twice as likely to answer the question correctly.
  • What's the cause of the Wisconsin protests?  Same analysis as above, being Republican makes you 1.5 times more likely to answer correctly.
  • On the primary source of electricity, same as the Wisconsin results, with GOPers 1.5 times more likely to be right.
Our takeaway?  On certain questions, being Republican matters.  Now on the control of the House, it's rather obvious why GOPers would do better -- the question asks what do Republicans control.  Let's toss that one out.  But the Wisconsin protests?  You might argue Republicans did better there too given the nature of the controversy and how important it was to partisans, especially a Republican governor.  Let it go too.  But on energy and electricity?  I can't think of any reasonable excuse for Republicans to outscore Democrats, at least in the nature of the question.

Our final takeaway?  Republicans do a wee bit better on a few questions, most of them explained by the nature of the questions themselves, but controlling for education doesn't make these differences go away.

If I were scoring this, I'd call it mostly a tie, but with the slightest of nods toward the Republicans.

Post 1,000

This is the 1,000th post to What People Know, which began over four years ago as an excuse to blog about stuff. 

Sorry, I have nothing special planned.  In fact, I'm simply going to treat this post like any other and point to some research I just found about the television drama The West Wing (that's The Left Wing for you conservative cynics) and its usefulness in teaching young people about civics. 

Yes, the program has been off the air for quite some time.  There's no telling exactly how long this manuscript bounced around various journals before finding a home.  Indeed, I'm fairly positive I saw a version of this at some journal in the past given how many I read for.

As the authors note:  "Even though the liberal argument tends to win out in the end, the show generally represents both sides of an issue, as evidenced in the “Take this Sabbath Day” episode."  That's fine, and it was a helluva show whether you agreed with its politics or not, and the authors do make note of the limitations of such programming in teaching kids about government and politics.  Still, they are optimistic about such programs as a way to engage students.  As they say in their last graph:
We believe creative civics and government teachers can find a multitude of uses for The West Wing if they are willing take a risk and use film or television shows in a proactive way in their classrooms.  At the very least, The West Wing presents students with a portrayal of politics that is more compelling and, in many ways, more authentic than what they see on television or uncover through traditional political instruction.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jersey Shore Gals and, um, Political Knowledge

I have never ever watched Jersey Shore, but here's Ellen putting them to the test.

My favorite.  "What is a caucus?"

"You mean a part of the body?"


Friday, January 6, 2012

All We Get is 20 Good Years?

A new British study finds "The brain's ability to function can start to deteriorate as early as 45." 

BBC version of story here.

As the father of two teenagers, I can definitely say the brain's ability to function at all probably doesn't begin until age 25.  In other words, we've got about 20 good years of cognitive capabilities.  Jeez.

Previous studies found the decline to begin at age 60.  I'm okay with that.  But being on the downside of 45, this new finding is damned depressing. 

Then again, it explains, um, it explains something.  What was I writing about?  Ah hell...