Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Admission Follow-Up

I had a few minutes to update my earlier post on SEC school admission criteria.  I strongly recommend you skim that one before reading this one, otherwise it won't make a lot of sense.

If we add up all admissions criteria deemed "very important," we get the following in terms of SEC rank, the school, and how many that school lists as so very important:

1. Florida and Vanderbilt (tie) with 7 "very important" criteria
3. Texas A&M with 6

Interesting to note that these three are, arguably, the best academic schools in the conference

4. Arkansas with 4
5. Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky (tie) with 3
11. Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Mississippi State (tie) with 2.

For you UGA fans (and hopeful students) out there, it lists only two "very important" (rigor of high school and academic GPA) and only one "important" (standardized test score).  Everything else falls into "considered" or "not considered."  In other words, not all that big a deal.

Indeed, UGA along with a couple of other schools lists the fewest "very important" or "important" criteria (3).  Vanderbilt can't make up its mind, listing 14, followed by Texas A&M (12) and UF (11).  Everyone else lists 4.  I have no idea what that means other than it leaves you lots of ways to fit good students into your admission pool who may not fit the traditional high grades/SAT standard.

What's high school academic rigor?  AP and IB classes, obviously.  That students challenged themselves and, in terms of GPA, also did well when challenged.  A lot of UGA freshmen took 5, often as many as 10 AP classes.

It's Admissions Time

It's the time of year when high school seniors are either hearing from or waiting to hear from universities about whether or not they were admitted.  For fun, because this is what I do for fun, I looked at the SEC schools and how they ordered the reasons they used in deciding admissions.

There are six "academic" categories asked of all schools, as well as 13 "non-academic" categories. Universities can score these as Very Important, Important, Considered, or Not Considered.  This is a lot of data, so I have to simplify things a little, but some fascinating differences emerge.

Let's look at the academic categories first.
  • Rigor of high school work:  Eleven of 14 SEC schools say this is "very important."  Those who don't are South Carolina, Auburn, and Missouri (all score it as "important").
  • Class rank:  A real mish-mash here.  Missouri, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt all consider this "very important."  No one else does.  UGA, where I teach, says it's "not considered."
  • Academic GPA: All schools consider this "very important."  Keep your grades up out there, kiddies.
  • Standardized Test Scores:  The dreaded SAT/ACT.  Surprise surprise, not everyone agrees these should be "very important."  Ten consider it as such.  The four who consider it "important" are Florida, UGA, Mississippi, and Mississippi State.  That's interesting. You have two of the academically better schools and two without anywhere near the same academic standards for admission.
  • Application essay:  Florida, Auburn, and Vandy consider this "very important."  Most only consider this, or not at all (Texas A&M lists it as "important.").
  • Recommendation: Nearly universal here, either just "considered" or "not considered."  The exception is Vanderbilt, a private university with a smaller student base, which labels it "important."
Those are the "academic" categories.  A few words of methodological warning.  This is only what the schools say they do, but we'll take them at their word.  Also, what qualifies as "rigor" at some schools is not the same as what qualifies as "rigor" (or even an acceptable SAT score) at other schools.  You're really competing in a different pool for admission to Florida than you are for admission to Mississippi State.

Okay, how about those "non-academic" categories?  There are a lot of them, so I'm going to just mention a few that stand out.  Florida is the only school that calls volunteer work" "very important."  Most other SEC schools only consider it, or don't consider it at all.  Indeed, where UGA and Florida differ most is UF deems extracurricular activities, talent/ability, and character as "very important," while UGA calls them as "considered."  Indeed, for UGA the non-academic stuff is either "not considered" or "considered."  Texas A&M perhaps puts more emphasis on these categories than any other school other than Florida.  It's interesting that both are also among the top academic schools in the conference.

One more interesting point.  Under the category of how you consider alumni or family relations/links to the school, most put at best "considered."  But Texas A&M has this little notation: "per instructions of OAR -- Leave Blank."  Not sure what that means, but I smell a story.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Demise of Middle-Length News?

A few years ago an article (which I can't find now) bemoaned the coming demise of middlebrow news.  The thesis was simple -- the highbrow stuff like The Atlantic will do just fine, thank you very much, as will the lowbrow stuff from People or even your local weekly paper.  It was the middlebrow stuff, largely from those great but declining news magazines and major metro papers, that was suffering.

I have a new thesis.  We're seeing the decline of middle-length news.

Of course we can point at Twitter and it's recent addition of Vine -- the 6-second video thingie -- suggests a growing preference for brief to the point of near non-existence.    Mobile plays a major role here too because the last thing you want to do is read a long news story on a friggin smartphone. But longform news remains popular.  A lot of it is found on highbrow places mentioned above, but there is a segment of society that (thankfully) enjoys a long take on a complex topic.

Perhaps length and, er, brow-ness, are intertwined.  Smarter people than me can tease that out.  What's scary is now TV news, bad as it is, seems almost comprehensive by comparison to a 140-character tweet and a 6-second Vine video.

Lack of Transparency

Not only is UGA searching for a new president, but the Grady College where I work is also seeking a new dean.

Interesting stuff.  I'm gonna talk about the latter.

Grady is a college of journalism and mass communication, a place where transparency -- at least theoretically -- should be the standard, the default, the go-to position.  The reality has always been, at best, disappointing.  But in the search for our new dean, thanks to the fuzziness of Georgia's okay-but-not-great sunshine law, the present search manages to be as non-transparent as possible.  They're following the letter, but not the spirit, of the law.

Let me explain.  Georgia law allows searches for the "executive head of an agency" in Georgia, including "units" of the University of Georgia, to operate pretty much in the black.  In other words, the public's business is not exactly conducted in the public eye (the spirit of the law).  As O.C.G.A. 50-18-72(a)(7) outlines, a search can choose to keep secret who applies for a wide assortment of jobs in local and state government, including UGA, until such time the search chooses to name the finalists.

The theory is that by having a search open to the public, good people won't apply.  Never mind how bullshit that argument really is.  Show me the evidence this is true, not just that you think it is.  If you're applying to a journalism and mass comm school and you're afraid of transparency, don't apply to a journalism and mass comm program.  Try the business school.

The news hook?  Last Thursday and Friday a group of candidates for the Grady deanship, somewhere between seven and 10 folks, went through "Skype interviews."  From that pool the search committee will probably recommend three or four to publicly visit and pitch their wares to Grady and the UGA administration.  We may know the "finalists" in the next few days. Stay tuned.

A word about "finalists" and Georgia law.  Often, searches for a school superintendent will name only one "finalist" for consideration, keeping all the other names secret.  In other words, violating not just the spirit of the law but taking behind the schoolhouse and beating the ever-living crap out of it.   

They'd never get away with this kind of bullshit in a UGA dean or president search, or at least you'd like to think so.  And there's no reason why a dean search cannot be transparent.  The law allows you to be completely open if you choose to be.  The recent search for the dean of the University of Florida's journalism school was completely open, as required by state law, including details on every person who applied and complete transparency along the way.  Whether or not you're happy with the outcome (full disclosure: Diane McFarlin, a former boss of mine a million years ago, got the job), is another matter.  Let's give her the benefit of the doubt.  She needs it.  The point is just down south at a similar program they conducted a completely open search and, best I can tell, it suffered not at all in its pool of applicants.

It's a friggin journalism and mass comm program.  We can do better, especially when our motto has to do with something about training democracy's next generation.

Or perhaps democracy should be in quotation marks.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The More You Know, the More You Don't Know?

The more Republicans know about the politics, the more likely they believe in political conspiracy theories.This conclusion comes from an article in Mother Jones and relies on a survey conducted last month.  More on that survey in a moment.

Here's the crux of the article:
Among Democrats and independents, having a higher level of political knowledge was correlated with decreased belief in conspiracies. But precisely the opposite was the case for Republicans, where knowledge actually made the problem worse. For each political knowledge question that they answered correctly, Republicans' belief in at least one conspiracy theory tended to increase by 2 percentage points.
The article's author, Chris Mooney, knows his stuff.  He suggests the reason may in part have to do with a conservative's greater need for "cognitive closure" and a need for certainty. A reasonable hypothesis, but I'd counter it has more to do with the nature of the conspiracies examined in the survey.  The two "conservative" conspiracies are about Obama specifically, the two "liberal" conspiracies have to do with Bush stealing the 2000 election and "The Truther" movement about 9/11.

Equivalent?  I'm not convinced.  But let's turn to the survey itself, a national poll of 814 registered voters conducted in December 2012.  First, despite the claim, it's really a survey of people who say they're registered voters, but that's a methodological quibble.  Political scientist Dan Cassino, who runs the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, says "birther" conspiracy theory is likely to believed more than others because "it's been discussed so often." 

Yup.  Two myths are anchored on Obama, are more recent, and received lots of mainstream media play -- mostly attempts to debunk them.  I'd add here that there's a growing body of research that suggests attempts to debunk myths actually adds to their believability for some people, so I'd be damned cautious about arguing politically knowledgeable Republicans are more likely to believe "their" favorite myths compared to politically knowledgeable Democrats and "their" favorite myths.

And here's a point from Cassino's press release that doesn't comfortably fit the Republicans-are-evil-and-dumb narrative -- young African-Americans are more likely than whites to believe in conspiracy theories.  Not sure how the hell you explain that one.  Would you even want to try?  Not me.

If we buy this set of conspiracy theories are equivalent (debatable) and if we buy into how the survey measures political knowledge (can't tell from the release), then the results raise a number of questions. 

Allow me to get a bit PhDweebish below. 

Greater political knowledge should result in less belief in conspiracies, but hold on.  The theory of motivated reasoning suggests partisans, even knowledgeable ones, will be more likely to believe such myths.  That's all partisans, not just one side of the divideEssentially, people believe what they want to believe, especially when it's negative about someone they disagree with or dislike.  So I maintain the Obama-anchored questions are not equivalent to the "truther" and "stolen election" questions.  The latter are from several years ago, myths that received less mainstream news play by comparison -- and certainly damn little near the time the survey was conducted. This can skew your results.

Perhaps, and only perhaps, the Mother Jones article is a textbook instance of motivated reasoning, of seeing and believing what you want to believe -- in this case, about Republicans.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thank You, Canada

We often see studies pointing out how lousy the knowledge is of American students -- how much kids know about health, science, history, or in this case geography.  Well, thanks to Canada, we don't have to feel too bad.  This article outlines what Canadian kids don't know about geography and while sad, it's also somewhat comforting.  My favorite?  The kid who'd been to Spain but couldn't point to it on a map.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Roe vs Who?

Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but people don't know all that much about the landmark decision, at least according to a new Pew survey (more in-depth version here).

Here's the good news:  6-in-10 know Roe v. Wade is about abortion.

Here's the bad news: 1-in-5 are clueless, say they don't know at all.  The rest guess it has something to do with school desegregation (7 percent), the death penalty (5 percent), or environmental protection (5 percent).  Below is the age breakdown.  Simply put, the younger you are, the less you know.  Surprised?  Kinda makes sense, especially that 50-64 age group's superior knowledge, given that's about the right age for the decision to have happened and mattered.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Political Intolerance Goes Both Ways

Historically, research tends to find more political intolerance from conservatives than liberals.  You can trace this back to the early studies of authoritarianism, which has its roots in the rise of fascism.

A new study, published in Political Psychology, challenges this view.

The authors found "that both political liberalism and conservatism predict intolerance of politically opposing targets" and the reason for this is "perceived threat."  Both liberals and conservatives were biased in the expected direction (conservatives intolerance of liberal positions and vice versa).  The authors note their findings are consistent with theories of motivated reasoning (a favorite research area of mine). 

Basically, both liberals and conservatives are motivated to "afford more rights to groups and individuals they agree with than those they do not."

As a journalism guy I'm more of a radical moderate, meaning while the folks on the far right and far left make for great news stories, I don't think much of their politics.  This study really says something we all know, even if the research hadn't supported it, that when you find yourself way out on an ideological limb, you're a helluva lot more likely to be intolerant of the other end of the limb.

A night watching MSNBC and Fox News will convince you of this.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fun Cites

Sometimes it's fun to see where you're research is being cited.  Yes, it shows up in the usual traditional journals of my field.  that's boring.  A quick couple of minutes today found these places where my work was mentioned:
  • Journal of Pragmatics (journal)
  • New Political Science (journal)
  • Information Technology & People (journal)
  • New Directions in Media and Politics (book)
  • The Oxford Handbook of American Elections and Political Behavior (book)
  • Journal of Radio and Audio Media (journal)
  • Parliamentary Affairs (journal)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Congress vs Cockroaches

This PPP poll is getting lots of attention online, so it seems only fair I join in. Congress, it don't compare all that well with lots of stuff.  With almost anything, actually.  Even cockroaches.

You can read the results here.  Lemme also just copy the two main graphs:
When asked if they have a higher opinion of either Congress or a series of unpleasant or disliked things, voters said they had a higher opinion of root canals (32 for Congress and 56 for the dental procedure), NFL replacement refs (29-56), head lice (19-67), the rock band Nickelback (32-39), colonoscopies (31-58), Washington DC political pundits (34-37), carnies (31-39), traffic jams (34-56), cockroaches (43-45), Donald Trump (42-44), France (37-46), Genghis Khan (37-41), used-car salesmen (32-57), and Brussels sprouts (23-69) than Congress.

Congress did manage to beat out telemarketers (45-35), John Edwards (45-29), the Kardashians (49-36), lobbyists (48-30), North Korea (61-26), the ebola virus (53-25), Lindsay Lohan (45-41), Fidel Castro (54-32), playground bullies (43-38), meth labs (60-21), communism (57-23), and gonorrhea (53-28).  
In fairness, if you take into account the survey's margin of error (3.4 percent), then Congress actually is in a statistical tie with cockroaches.

I suppose that's something.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Online Comments Matter

I hate anonymous online comments.  As a guy who's used the Net since 1987, anonymity seemed at first a good idea, a way of leveling the playing field.  Over the years, though, as more and more people found their way to the Internet in the mid-1990s, I've changed my mind.

People suck.

Okay, not everyone sucks, but a lot of them suck.  Nutjobs, wingnuts, partisan hacks, they've filled the Net with vitriol, idiotic commentary, and just plain nastiness.

They also apparently affect how we read a news story.

Take, for example, this story about a soon-to-be-published study that finds people "may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself." 

The study is based on a story about nanotechnology.  People were randomly assigned to either a story with civil comments or one, ahem, without much civility.  In other words, the usual crap you see on most news sites.  The tone of the comments, the authors found, can influence people's attitudes about the science.  And how much subjects knew in advance about science, often considered a mediating factor, did little to offset this unfortunately effect.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Religiosity and Knowledge about Religion

People who are the most religious also are the most knowledgeable about religion.

I know, it's a "duh" statement.  Lemme explain.

There are two sources of data I'm using here.  One is the infamous Pew religious knowledge survey, the other is a recent Gallup poll that asked respondents how important religion is in their daily life and how often they attend services.  Two different surveys, two different methodologies, but still it's fun to compare them.  Each breaks down respondents into their religious affiliation (scroll down a bit to find this).

The winner in both knowledge and religiosity?  Mormons.  They finish a close third on knowledge to atheists (yes, irony alert, and I've written about this before) and Jews.  Mormons easily win the importance/attendance contest.

Some of the categories don't easily compare.  The Pew study, for example, breaks Protestants down into various categories.  Gallup does not.  If we collapse these into simpler categories for an equal comparison, though, you get the following:

  1. Jews
  2. Mormons
  3. Unaffiliated
  4. Protestants
  5. Catholics
Religiosity (importance)
  1. Mormons
  2. Protestants
  3. Muslims
  4. Catholics
  5. Jews
You may notice something odd in the lists above -- how Muslims did.  They appear high on religiosity by Gallup but don't appear at all on the knowledge list by Pew.  Why?  The Gallup survey is a rolling sample with a total of 326,271 respondents.  The Pew survey is only 3,214.  That's an impressive number, but still it's hard to generate enough Muslims to be statistically measurable.

Also, some of the differences above are modest.  For example, on knowledge, the difference between Jews and Mormons is not statistically significant, so take the rankings with a grain of salt.

But the results do suggest the obvious -- that for people who see religion as important in their daily lives, they tend to do better on questions about religion.  Yes, a "duh" moment, but it tells us something about the nature of knowledge and how there are pools of people out there who are knowledgeable about the stuff that matters to them rather than what matters to political scientists.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Power of Math

A column in today's The Wall Street Journal demonstrates the power of math.  Or, to put it bluntly, how to baffle people with mathematical bullshit.

Carl Bialik recounts a study in which people with graduate degrees were randomly assigned to read versions of a scientific abstract in which one version ended with an irrelevant mathematical formula. Read the column.  Very interesting.

As you might expect, folks who got the "mathy abstract" judged it to be of higher quality.

The biggest suckers? Those with degrees in "Other," which included education.  The next biggest suckers were those from the humanities (who probably don't know math) and social scientists (who often think they know math).  The least impressed came out of the math, science, and technology fields.

We've known this for some time, the importance of baffling people with bullshit.  Math, strong visuals, vivid anecdotes, all of these act as heuristics or mental shortcuts to help us make a quick -- though not necessarily accurate -- judgments. Politcians, talking TV heads, salesmen, pretty much everyone knows this.  You'd be hard pressed to find a professional communicator who is not only aware of this shared perceptual bias but who also takes advantage of it.

For myself, from now on I will insert irrelevant mathematical formulas in all my conversations and writings because, dammit, I need all the help I can get.

Oh, by the way:  Tpp = To-fTod2-fTpdf.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Blog Stats for 2012

Normally by now I would have published the blog's stats for the year (number of pageviews, number of countries represented, etc.).  For some reason, Google Analytics has crapped out on me and the usual Google Stats that come with the blog will not break it down by specific dates, such as Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.  In other words, I'm screwed.

But, it was a busy year.  How can I tell?  Because if I look at the blog's stats since it begain in May 2008, the top five posts of all time were in 2012, at least in terms of pageviews.  They were:
  1. 8/16 post about The Red & Black protest by student editors, 4,456 pageviews.
  2. 8/17 post about The Red & Black, 2,640 pageviews.
  3. 8/17 yet another post about, yes, the R&B, with 1,557 pageviews.
  4. Getting a trend here?  Next is an 8/18 post about, yes, that topic, with 657 pageviews.
  5. And finally, on 8/21, a wrap-up about the R&B with 616 pageviews.
Too bad I don't make money off my blog.  Woulda been a good year.  

Journalism is Not Narcissism

I old school.  To me, journalism is about others, not about yourself.  Plus I'm just not that damn interesting.

So this Gawker piece caught my eye.  The headline?  Journalism is Not Narcissism (in full disclosure, I got there via this blog, also worth a read).

I'm not going to repeat the arguments above.  Read the Gawker piece and some of the comments.  As a journalism professor who faces yet another semester come Monday, I've long seen this desire among students to write about themselves or significant others.  There's nothing wrong with that, and indeed a lot of great long-form narrative writing weaves the self throughout the story in a magical fashion.    New and emerging writers, unfortunately, tend to not have the skills to pull off the "I" story, to make it something other people want to read.

In part, many journalism students seem to fear putting themselves in challenging situations.  Understandable, but journalism is all about putting yourself in challenging situations and coming away with meaningful stories that not only are true, but also ring true to the reader (or viewer).

The personal essay can be damned revealing, and it's a vital part of most magazine writing classes. 

It's also a crutch. 

The challenge with journalism students?  Convincing them that other people are a hell of a lot more interesting than they are, and then getting them out the door to find those people and to tell those stories.

(fyi, I've been sick for a couple of weeks, still sick, so all typos above I blame on some crud that has invaded my system and refuses, despite all antibiotics and pills and potions and home remedies, to go the hell elsewhere)