Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Good Titles

Some people have a flair for titles of their work published in academic journal articles. You can't go wrong with one like this, the stuff after the colon (The Ignorant Public Reassessed). Even better, this study attempts to challenge the conventional wisdom. From the abstract:
Challenging some established findings, the study shows that people in rural communities know more about local politics than urban counterparts, that women know more about local politics than men and that young people are equally knowledgeable about the EU as older people. The results thus indicate that people are to varying extents knowledgeable about varying aspects of politics.
It's a Finnish study, so it's difficult to know whether it's culture-bound. Still, quite interesting.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Data (the word, not the Star Trek guy)

It's the era of Big Data. So, in honor of that on a Friday, here's the trend in the use of the word "data" via the magic of Google's Ngram viewer, which searches books through 2000. We can only assume since 2000 it's dramatically increased.

And Let the Polling Insanity Begin ...

The Political Insider page at the AJC reports two new polls out about Georgia's U.S. Senate race. Dueling polls, really.
  • A Rasmussen poll has the Republican, David Perdue, over the Democrat, Michelle Nunn, 46-40.
  • Yes, but a Landmark poll has it 47-43 -- for Nunn.
Of course, Landmark had Kingston beating Perdue for the GOP nomination, 48-41. Perdue won by a couple of percentage points. But the real issue here is, of course, which one is right?

Answer: neither

First, both results are within the margins of error, so "leading" here means damn little. Second, both appear to be robo-polls, which are often flawed, or a bit biased, or just plain suck. Take your pick, but just look at how poorly these polls just performed only a week ago. There's a good argument to be made, journalistically, for not even reporting on these polls. Not that that's gonna happen, sad to say. And that's odd. Imagine you're a reporter (I know, but stay with me) and there's a source who pretty much blows bullshit at you day after day. You check the stuff out, it's never right.

Do you keep going back for quotes? Of course not.And yet, and yet. Yes, we're the enablers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On My Research ...

UGA pushed out a press release today on my most recent published research. Read it. Over and over again. Make it part of your life.

Talk Radio ... and Concussions?

I have a long history of research into talk radio. Hell, it got me tenure in the 1990s, I published so much while the topic was hot stuff and I was arguably the leader in the field. So I keep up with what's happening in research. I stumbled across this study today on, of all things, recovery from concussions. Here's the key part for me:

While many activities were associated with longer average recovery times, only reading (p=0.024) and listening to audio books, talk radio, or podcasts (0=0.0003) were statistically significant. 

Wow. Talk radio, still evil.

Of course it's more about audio, something about listening, that leads to longer recovery times. I wish we knew what kind of talk radio -- Car Talk? NPR stuff? Rush Limbaugh? Okay, the latter might lead not only to a slower recovery but suicide, but you get my point. And clearly the audio books, talk radio, and podcasts are a combined category. In other words, we can't really blame talk radio. Not completely.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In Georgia ... Pick a Poll at your Own Risk

We just had our party nomination runoff elections and we have two really interesting general elections in Georgia to look forward to -- Governor, and U.S. Senate.

Let's look at the polling.

Right now, according to this nifty Wikipedia page (scroll down a bit to the table labeled General Election) the polls between Republican and incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger Jason Carter are all over the place. We've got carter up 49-41. No, wait. It's a tie. No, wait again, Deal is up 47-40.

Here's the lesson for the day. Look hard at how the polls were conducted. If it's a robo-poll, ignore it. Take, for example, the recent GOP runoff for U.S. Senate. InsiderAdvantage had Kingston ahead by 5 percentage points. Perdue won by a couple. Yes, it was a robo-poll, meaning landline only, or some odd way of contacting people online in combination with landline phones, which skew older, more conservative. Or, as this story points out, should simply be ignored by journalists. Landmark also has Kingston winning by 7 percentage points. Indeed, every poll but one favored Kingston.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Political Knowledge and False Projection

Among my favorite (how nerdy is this?) research areas is the false consensus effect. A study just out looks at an aspect of this combined with news media exposure and political knowledge.

Simply put, people tend to think others think the way they do. The study finds that, as you'd expect (but not always find) news exposure and political knowledge result in greater accuracy about the true distribution of opinions.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Curriculum Update

As I've written about before, we're merging the broadcast news with the journalism folks at Grady College and, as part of this, rewriting the journalism curriculum. A committee of the unwilling has been meeting all summer, drinking beer and discussing curriculum and drinking beer and discussing curriculum. We meet again tomorrow (Monday) for the last time. Whatever product that emerges will go to the full department faculty on August 11 (the dreaded R-word, as in Retreat).

What happens then? The full faculty will congratulate us on our unpaid summer labor and adopt the new curriculum as recommended, standing to applaud us again and again, showering us with praise and flowers and cute little bunnies.

Except, that's not gonna happen.

We have a number of, ahem, interesting faculty. Indeed, none of the insane folks served on this committee. Which means a lot of work got done, which means August 11 may turn butt ugly -- with frothing at the mouth. Finger wagging. More froth. Spittle. Posturing. Stamping of feet. Tantrums. I fully expect tantrums.

God, I hope so. More blogging material. Hell, I may live tweet the retreat.

Clearly I'm not going to provide a lot of details here before the actual faculty get to see them. We don't want any pre-frothing. But there are some interesting philosophical differences that will likely arise, once you scrape the flying froth off your face. Among them is Big Core versus Buffet. That is, do you want a huge chunk of the curriculum eaten up by classes every student has to take (think multimedia stuff). If so, you leave yourself with little flexibility, both for the students and for the curriculum. That said, aren't there bunches of stuff all journalism students need to know? Reporting and writing, multimedia, experience in a newsroom, etc.? In a buffet approach, students have a smaller core and can then pick and choose according to their interests. Do we trust students to make the right choices? Do we then have students sporting the Grady brand but with no, say, video skills? Shouldn't we really blow it all up and create something cutting edge and not so 1970s?

Remember -- the bigger the core, the less the specialization. And don't even get me started on data journalism.

Another likely question is whether we want to fully embrace the teaching hospital approach, an online newsroom (and some broadcast) built around our existing Newsource. I think most folks will say yes, but ya never know.  Are we simply preparing students for jobs that are disappearing? I think we have a reasonable way to work around that. We'll see.

The fun thing about having been on the faculty here for 23 years is I can almost predict what certain faculty will say on August 11. I may write it down on envelopes with their names and open them as people say it. Yeah, I'm that petty.

In all, I expect on August 11 the department faculty to say "Hey, good try. We appreciate all the hard work. Now, go back and do it this way instead." And that's okay. Boring, but okay. It's called faculty governance, and when it comes to curriculum (and honestly, only curriculum) the faculty, not administrators, have the final say.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Talk Radio -- The Academic Gift That Keeps on Giving

I was lucky enough in the 1990s to stumble onto talk radio as a research area, making me among the first to publish extensively on who listened to such programs and with what consequences. Hell, Rush Limbaugh helped me get tenure.Talk radio is the academic gift that keeps on giving. At least in terms of citations. I did a search today of recent studies on talk radio that also cite me. Some of my favorites:
  • Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies. I don't know this journal, but this article includes cites of my stuff.
  • A book, The Talking Cure: TV Talk Shows and Women, apparently cites me, and I'm fairly certain I'm not the cure.
  • A couple of different Mass Comm & Society articles, a major journal in our field, cite my stuff. Always nice, especially as I've never actually been able to get published there myself.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Deep Academic Trivia

So I'm skimming the AEJMC News, just barely paying attention, and I see a new editor will head our flagship journal: Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. Fine. She's been an associate editor for years. All well and good. But ... at the end, I find some great academic trivia:
The Publications Committee has recommended the journal move to APA style for references as well as create theme issues.
You don't care, do you? Well, dammit, I do. I'm giddy. Downright giddy. I told you this was academically trivial, the kind of stuff only PhDweebs care about, and one thing a bunch of academics will argue over is the best style for references.

JMCQ has a version of, I suppose, Chicago Style. Endnotes in text, references at the end of the article. A reference would then look like this:

Barry A. Hollander, "Tuning out or tuning elsewhere? Partisanship, polarization, and media migration from 1998 to 2006," Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 85 (March 2008): 23-40.

While in APA style, instead of an endnote, there'd be (Hollander, 2008) in the text and the following reference:

Hollander, B.A. (2008). Tuning out or tuning elsewhere? Partisanship, polarization, and media migration from 1998 to 2006. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 85, 23-40. 

I prefer APA style. I prefer seeing there in the text what cites were used rather than having to go back into the endnotes at the end to find out who the author was citing and judging whether it was the right cite. Also I hate having to find out the friggin season (March in the example above) of a citation. I mean, season? Really? Of what possible use is that?

Now I'm from the dominant paradigm, better known as a quantitative researcher. Those from history, law, and, to a lesser degree, critical/cultural backgrounds prefer an endnote style.Does this mean JQ (sorry, JMCQ) will suddenly change its style? Probably not. It's a recommendation. To be honest, I have no idea who has the final say on this kind of thing.

Told you. Trivia. But for some of us, important trivia.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Is Obama the Worst Prez since WWII?

There's a new survey out today in which respondents -- apparently not all presidential scholars -- ranked the presidents since World War II (scroll down a bit to see the actual table) Barack Obama, he doesn't do very well. Dead last. If you ask, who is the worst.If you have following links, the top finishers (Q35, with percentages who voted for them) were:
  1. Reagan (35)
  2. Clinton (18)
  3. Kennedy (15)
  4. Obama (8)
  5. Eisenhower (5)
Yes, but if asked who "you would consider the worst president" you get obviously a different list, but one that deserves a closer look.
  1. Obama (33)
  2. George W. Bush (28)
  3. Nixon (13)
  4. Carter (8)
  5. Clinton, Johnson, Reagan (tie at 3 each)
In other words, Obama is the worst president since World War II. Or he's the fourth best president since World War II.

Let that sink in for a moment. Obama is fourth best, or 12th, depending on how you ask the question. In other words, when you ask a random sample of U.S. adults, you get a huge partisan effect. Sixty-three percent of Republicans rated Obama the worst, while 33 percent of Dems did. George W. Bush? Fifty-four percent of Dems rated him the worst ever, only 5 percent of Republicans did.

So what do we make of this survey? Not a hell of a lot. Maybe Obama is the worst president since World War II. It's too soon to say, and to be honest I'd prefer to hear what presidential historians have to say about this than a random sample of people swaying in the partisan wind. But the key to me is how the two questions above differ so wildly in the same survey.

Also, Reagan does well in other surveys. A Gallup 2011 survey had him on top as "the greatest U.S. president." Higher than Lincoln. I'm a Reagan fan, but he's no Abraham Lincoln, so that result alone should demonstrate just how much a survey of the American public on this kind of issue can be skewed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What People Know ... Visually

I've watched this paper go from, well, being a paper until finally an academic journal article. The argument is simple: we can lose a lot by measuring just verbal political knowledge, that some people are better suited at storing and recalling visual knowledge.

Let me pull a quote from the discussion section that sums things up nicely:
Visual political knowledge is different from verbal political knowledge and represents a previously un-measured element of political involvement. This study has shown that adding visuals to otherwise identical all-verbal knowledge questions significantly increases correct responses. This finding strongly suggests that some people with substantive knowledge of political figures respond incorrectly to knowledge questions about them just because they lack a phonological representation of the person (the politician’s name). Allowed to draw on a visual representation (the politician’s face), they are able to report accurate conceptual knowledge about the politician. 
For the entire population, the effect is relatively small. For some groups, though, it's larger. Women, for example, are superior to men at facial recognition. Perhaps verbal tests of political knowledge, which often place women lower than men in scores, are masking true knowledge differences because they do not include visual knowledge.