Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Wrap-Up

It's Friday, time to wrap-up some knowledge-based stories and studies that caught my eye but I haven't the time or inclination to expand on because either they're not worth it or I'm too lazy (bet on the latter).  I open with three traditional news stories, finish with three pieces of traditional research.
  • Less than half of Americans correctly recognize blood cancers are among the three leading causes of death from cancer, according to a survey. Lemme be honest, I would have gotten this one wrong too. I'd have guessed specific ones like breast, lung, and of course the ever-popular (for me) thyroid.
  • No surprise. A survey suggests lots of Americans lack knowledge about Obamacare. Face it, the guys and gals who voted for the thing didn't fully understand it, so how should us mere mortals know any better?
  • We all love small businesses, but this story suggests most people who run them lack basic financial knowledge. Warning, need a subscription to go any further.
  • What the hell is a lacuna? Had to look it up. It's a gap, an unfilled space, and it's both our word for the day and is used in this abstract on research about what voters know about that most esoteric of political issues -- ballot initiatives.
  • In the "these kids today" category I provide you with research from Serbia. No surprise, knowledge among kids is low but on the good side it is positively associated with tolerance, activism, and system support.
  • Let's keep with the international theme, this time a study out of Nigeria finds that use of TV, radio, and the Internet are better predictors of political knowledge than consumption of newspapers and print media. Why? These media lower the costs (i.e., ability to read) in getting information.
And that's my wrap-up. Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Scholarship In a Hurry

Here's an excellent essay calling for more public scholarship, the kind produced in a (relative) hurry to demonstrate (in part) the importance of such work given budget realities and (in part) to engage new audiences. You can read it yourself rather than have me regurgitate it for you. Plus there are fewer parentheses.

I strongly support this approach, of course, as I've been scribbling this blog for years. It's a modest effort, I admit. I'm no Nate Silver. This is no Monkeycage. My analytics, well, let's not go there.

But I do believe we're seeing a potential Golden Age of the blurring of journalism and academe, or at least of social science. Silver's 538 blog is one example, but all the computer-assisted reporting and data-driven journalism out there supports this thesis. Scholars must make their work more accessible and relevant. It cuts against the grain of many because, frankly, they can't write their way out of a grease-soaked paper bag. As a researcher myself I understand how easy it is to get bogged down in nuance and detail because good, carefully constructed studies are just that, nuance and detail.

Just rmember, methodological rigor in your research does not mean you can't explain it to the guy next door. It's not easy, but given the times it's damned necessary.

Monday, August 26, 2013


So as of today, I'm radioactive.

Took a pill Monday morning, I-131, designed to kill off any remaining thyroid cells and the cancer that may be associated with them. It's all part of an evil process called ablation that starts with you having your thyroid removed, going off the replacement meds, dropping iodine from your diet, and the result being the few remaining cells are so starved for iodine that the radioactive version of the stuff quickly rushes there and kills off the cells and -- one hopes -- the cancer.

Whew, I'm tired just typing that because one problem with going off all thryoid replacement hormones is you feel sluggish, unable to concentrate, and have a lovely lack of motivation -- even more than is normal for me.

Oh, and for a week or so I have to sleep alone, eat off paper plates and stuff and get rid of them myself, use a bathroom alone, flush that toilet a lot because there really is three ways the radioactivity goes away ... to the thryoid cells or out your urine and sweat. Basically I'm quarantined, in my case a week of sleeping in one of my kids' bedrooms, using their bathroom (both are off to college), and not touching any food my wife may want to eat. Also I get to ignore the cat.

Oh, and I have to drink lots and lots of water to flush out the stuff that isn't sucked up by those starving thyroid cells because the last thing you want is for the stuff to stick around and maybe give you cancer somewhere else.

Yeah, that can happen.

A word on a non-iodine diet. It's not that tough if you buy non-iodized salt and hate all dairy or eggs or seafood or any pre-prepared soups or foods of any kind, at all, by anyone other than yourself. So we've been eating fresh, a lot of fresh, but I can't have milk or cheese or shrimp or fish, all favorites. Thankfully, coffee and tea and booze are allowed, though the latter I've gone easy on, maybe a bit of wine at night, because I'm always on the edge of a good nap.

Yeah, I really want a burger, but while most restaurants do not use iodized salt, you can't risk it.

So this week I'm sleeping and eating while keeping a distance from people until, I suppose, Friday when I get scanned. That scan, maybe I'll write about another day.

Oh, and there's the potential for a superpower should, say, a spider come by and bite me while I'm radioactive. Of that I can't speak because it would break the first rule of superpowerdom -- protect your secret identity. Lemme just say that if a super hero suddenly appears next week, I don't know anything about it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I'm Disappointed in The Atlantic

I love The Atlantic, am a loyal reader of the hardcopy magazine and its various net channels -- especially Atlantic Wire. But earlier today they let me down.

Here's the story and the lede:
Why Do Liberals Hate Cory Booker?

Cory Booker is not yet a senator, but many on the left have already made up their minds that the onetime Democratic wunderkind is a sellout.
Now, lemme make it clear that I'm not from New Jersey, don't live there, don't care about Booker one way or the other. I have no dog in this fight, as the saying goes. But that big headline suggests all liberals hate him, or most do, though the lede softens a bit to be "many on the left." The story cites a handful (at best) of sources, media types at Salon, etc.

So let's try some objective information, shall we. Say, perhaps, a poll?

This Monmouth University poll is cited, so let's peek at it. Unfortunately it isn't broken down by ideology -- liberal to conservative -- so we'll make due with party identification. If liberals dislike this guy so much, we should see some interesting Party ID results.

Among self-described Democrats, 92 percent say they'll vote for Booker.

Lemme say this again -- 92 percent.

Huh? If that's dislike, and I'm a politician, sign me the hell up. Even better, he has an 88 percent favorability rating among Dems. I'm disappointed in The Atlantic in the way this is worded, both on Twitter and the headline.

Scammers Turn to Twitter

Briefly, the most interesting study for me today is this one that finds scammers, frustrated with our overflowing email in-boxes, are turning to Twitter to get our hard-earned (or in my case, as a journalism professor, less so) money.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Religious Guidance in Daily Life

There's this standard survey question that asks folks how much religion guides their day-to-day lives. I came across it looking for something else one one number is striking in that it's not changed since 1980. You can see the graph here or just take my word for it, the percentage of people who say "a great deal" sticks quite close to 35 percent of U.S. adults from 1980 to 2008 (they haven't entered the 2012 survey data into these graphs yet but I've looked at the numbers and they're basically unchanged). A similar measure is the question asking how important a part of your life religion is. That, too, remains largely unchanged. The resilience of these numbers is fascinating.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Makes PhDweebs Happy?

Happiness is a revised and (I think) finished manuscript -- minus I'm sure some typographical stuff right before publication.  Woot.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Salad Dressing Explains ... Everything

The Washington Post's wonkblog uses salad dressing sales today as a clever way to understand the economy.

I think it also explains the news business.

Essentially, people are migrating to either the cheapest store-brand salad dressings or the high-end stuff, leaving the middlebrow brands suffering. Now think news -- as in the demise of middlebrow news. Some brands are doing nicely (think The Economist, The Atlantic, the TMZs of the world, or BuzzFeed or HuffPo).  Some brands are struggling, as in most major metro papers, the very essence, if not definition, of middlebrow news.

News as salad dressing.  Major metros are Kraft, but folks are buying either the Kroger/Publix brand, or the high-end yuppie stuff (whatever the hell that is).

Twitter and Predicting Elections

Twitter can replace polls in accurately predicting elections, or so says a study getting lots of attention online today.  Why will this excite political campaigners and candidates?
"The point is, it's cheap," [Fabio Rojas] said. "Once you start up software for collecting tweets, it's very cheap. It took one of my Ph.D. students a couple of weeks to set it up."
And thus we set ourselves up for a Literary Digest moment, the infamous 1936 poll of over a million folks that called the election for Alf Landon and proved that size, at least in a sample, doesn't always matter.

Remember President Landon?

Of course not. 

Twitter is used by relatively few people and even fewer actual voters, so how can it work so well?  Sheer numbers, of course.  Brute empiricism.

But what it won't tell you that a poll can, is why someone is voting for a candidate, how soft or strong that commitment is, and what issues appear to be driving that level of commitment.  In other words, Twitter may be good for predictive purposes -- and I'm not convinced yet -- but it doesn't help much in either planning a successful campaign or understanding why a campaign appears to be working, or not.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Research Sabbatical

Normally I'd be scrambling to prep for Fall classes, but this semester I have a research sabbatical. All those journalism students, they're the real winners.  I'm not teaching.  It takes a village to replace me, especially for jour3410.

So how will I spend Fall?

Drinking coffee, of course, but in part recovering from the joy that is thyroid cancer surgery -- more or less done except for something called I-131 treatment later this month in which I'll glow in the dark for a week.  Lemme walk you through research topic:
  1. My underlying assumption is a successful democracy relies on the consent of the losers in an election.  I'm not breaking dramatic new ground here.  There's a great book on the topic written from a comparative political science perspective, with no media role examined.  Losers matter.  If losers fight an electoral outcome, goes the argument, it can affect "the legitimacy and viability of democratic institutions."
  2. What are these viability factors?  Likely criterion (dependent) variables include trust in elections and government and belief in democracy.  All kinda important.
  3. Elections of late have become closer, more contested, and a partisan divide in the political elite appears to now exist among the public.  The 2000 election is a famous example of this, of an election never quite over.  Remember Fox News on 2012 election night, as Karl Rove refused to believe it was over?  Yeah, he's my lede. 
  4. People usually expect their preferred candidate will win an election, something in the literature called wishful thinking, a form of projection explained by a host of theoretical factors, from self-esteem maintenance to selective exposure to motivated reasoning.  We expect our own candidate will win in part because we want that candidate to win, and in part because we hang out with, or consume media, that supports our position.
  5. But ... not everyone is a winner.  Someone's gotta lose, even those who expected otherwise.
  6. So ... is it possible those who expected to win, but did not, are less likely to support democracy and elections and government itself?  
  7. And what's the role of news media here?  Theoretically, the more we consume news media, the more exposed we are to "cross-cutting information" and poll results that tell us our preferred candidate is not going to win even though we generally think so due to wishful thinking.  But the media is more fragmented now.  Is consuming Fox or MSNBC likely to add to the wishful thinking effect?
  8. And finally ... has this changed over time?  See the graf below.
To do this, I'm knitting together data from the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections. It's a time-consuming process: identify data and likely variables, code them all in similar fashion, come up with a plan to merge it all together, and do analyses and writing.  Right now I'm going through hundreds of pages of codebooks before the real SPSS work begins.  Some days will be data crunching days, others will be lit review and writing days.  Other days I'll drink.

What I like about this study is its real-world implications while still being theoretical, using national survey data to be generalizable, and being fun as well.  I suspect this will turn out longer than a traditional journal article but probably not long enough to support a book.  I'll know more as I dip into it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Future of Journalism Education

There's yet another honking fat study out today by Poynter about the future of journalism -- this one specifically about journalism education.  Read it. 

The lede for many is the difference between educators and professionals on how important they think a journalism degree is when it comes "understanding the values of journalism."  While 75.41 percent of educators said it's "extremely important," only 27.90 percent of professionals said so.  First, Poynter dudes ... you do not report numbers at the hundredth of a percentage point.  That's called false precision.  Second, what did you expect?  It's news that people who teach in a field are more likely to think their work is important to understanding the values of that field, perhaps more so than professionals?  And the underlying assumption here is that it's the educators who are wrong.  Finally, this would be more meaningful if put in comparison to some other professional field such as Pharmacy.  Are there "values" in Pharmacy?  Pretty sure there are, but I wonder if the softness of the word "values" would pop up differences as well.

Sorry, those of who do research for a living, we get kinda snippy about research.

All of us in j-education know about these struggles, and we're all trying to shape our curriculum in ways that'll be relevant.  I don't know of any program not doing that.

The second big difference I see is on whether a journalism degree is important in "abilities in news gathering," with 80.9 percent of educators saying it's "extremely important" and 25.0 percent of pros saying so.  I dunno about this one.  I've taught a lot of non-journalism students some of the basics of journalism and believe me, they know nothing about the values of the field or how to gather news.

If there's a j-bubble, I'm wondering if the authors here are identifying the correct location of the bubble.

Lemme stop here because this is an extensive paper with lots of good stuff and points to make about the academy keeping up with industry changes.  Ironically, the academy has been using the Internet a long time before the pros knew what the hell the Internet was, but that's beside the point (I went online for the first time in 1987, you newbs, and there's damn little -- legal or otherwise -- I haven't done there).

I do survey research.  Hell, I specialize in survey research, and often on this blog I take apart studies to point out theoretical or methodological flaws.  This is an online survey, best I can tell.  That alone comes with lots of problems -- far too many to recount here.  You can see the first screening question that categorizes your responses and, I suspect, assigns some specific questions.  I did find this:
With more than 1,800 responses, equally divided between professionals and academics, there is still a wide gap — more than 40 points — between the two groups of survey respondents.
And that's about it on methodology ... so far.  I don't know about the makeup of the pros and educators.  Are they representative?  Is it possible to repeat participation in the survey?  Still, it's a nice N, with about 900 on each side.  But in surveys, children, size does not matter.  It's the quality of the sample that matters, and here we can't judge much at all.  Could be only pissed off pros participated, or whiny academics, or Chinese hackers.  I'll look harder for more info like this, because it's kinda important.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Christie the Hottest? No.

Here's the hed and lede from a recent Politico story:
Poll: Chris Christie the 'hottest' 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the “hottest” political figure in the country, according to a new temperature poll.
I know your first thought.  Christie?  Hot?  On what planet?  Let me explain.  A "temperature poll" asks respondents to rate a person or group on a 0-to-100 degree scale, with high (warmer) scores meaning you like that person or group more.  To say in the hed that Christie is the "hottest" suggests something far different than what the poll asks, which is warmer equals more favorable.

So on a 0-to-100 scale, I'm not all that "hot" about the hed and lede.  But wait.  It gets better.

Christie topped the "heap" at 53.1.  Hillary Clinton came in second at 52.1.  One "degree" difference.  But Christie is hotter, the story breathlessly reports, despite the poll's 2.6 percent margin of error -- a fact conveniently buried in the last graf.

The lesson?  Beware poll stories, and watch for statistical ties, and ask yourself whether the difference, even if statistically significant, is substantive.

See the actual poll results here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Is Political Knowledge Research in a Crisis?

"Political knowledge research faces a problem, perhaps even a crisis."

Dire words.  Scary, if like me you make your bit of bread and meat by doing political knowledge research.  But is it so?

This study points out the well-documented problems with how scholars measure political knowledge, in particular the problems found in ANES measures -- a topic I've discussed at length and others have examined for years and years.  You may not have access to the complete article.  If not, I can send you a pdf.

What's the problem?  Deciding on whether an answer is correct, in the ballpark, or incorrect.  If I ask you "Who is Barry Hollander" the correct answer is "journalism professor."  But "he teaches journalism" is damn close, in the ballpark, but sometimes answers like that were judged as incorrect.  The difficulties here were famously discovered in questions about the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in which a lot of answers, perfectly reasonable answers, were coded as incorrect.

The authors devised an approach, time consuming, that resulted in high reliability.  The try at a machine method, an automated approach, was less successful but still shows promise. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What People Think ... About Abortion

Pew has an excellent graphical display on opinions about abortion.  If you're into the topic, or public opinion in general, worth a look.  If you work through the brief slideshow there is some fascinating stuff -- such as how men and women don't really differ all that much in their opinions about abortion.