Thursday, August 28, 2014

Scientific Literacy

Canadians do well, insists Canadian study, in scientific literacy.

The study itself didn't do so well, at least in methodological literacy. Here's the telling graf from the story linked to above:
The data was not all conducted at the same time. The data on Japan was collected in 2001, the European data in 2005, and as science literacy has been increasing generally all over the world in the past decade, these rankings may not be perfect, said Arthur Carty, chair of an expert panel involved in the report and executive director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology.
To really do this kind of study you need the same kinds of questions asked of people across countries at the same time.  To compare results from 2014 to 2001 is unfair and, to be honest, the kind of thing that would get a study rejected by even a low-tier academic journal.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Congress -- Best Forgotten?

Who's never heard of the U.S. Congress? Apparently, 1.2 percent of Iowans. Lucky bastards.

No, really. The topline for this Iowa poll presents a list of political actors and institutions for the traditional "favorability" ranking and, as an option, you could be undecided or "never heard of" the person or institution. Look at #19b. Yup, 1.2 percent, or 6 out 500 likely voters, said they'd never heard of the U.S. Congress.

If only we could all plead such ignorance. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I wrote yesterday about the military equipment sent to Georgia counties for law enforcement, including some oddities in the data. Go back and see that one if you missed it. Some funny stuff.

Let's continue. To start, I rank below the Top 5 Georgia counties in terms of how much military gear they received for law enforcement and, in parentheses, include the rank of each county by the number of crimes per 100,000 people. In other words, are more crime-ridden counties asking and getting more surplus military gear for their cops? Check it out.
  1. Fulton (6th)
  2. Carroll (42nd)
  3. Lee (81st)
  4. Walton (79th)
  5. Meriwether (50th)
Fulton County makes sense. It's Atlanta, it's huge. But look at the others. Carroll County not only received four grenade launchers, it's 2nd in terms of stuff received but ranked only 42nd in terms of number of crimes per 100,000 people.

Of course it may not be the amount of crime that drives this, but the poverty of the counties and how badly they need the gear. That's a reasonable hypothesis. Let's check it out.

Take Lee County -- 3rd on the military gear list, but 152nd in terms of poverty among Georgia's 159 counties. Carroll is 104th in poverty, Walton 139th. Meriwether County is 80th. As there are a number of counties with much higher poverty rates but lower on the military gear list, that's not a particularly compelling hypothesis. So what explains it? I dunno. It may be something as simple and non-linear as some counties have a person who realizes there's free stuff and knows how to get it. It makes as much sense as any other explanation, at least so far. I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Georgia's Favorite Military Surplus

The NYTimes did an excellent piece and map of all the counties in the U.S. that received military hardware for law enforcement. Now the raw data is available and I thought, for fun, I'd see what's the most popular military hardware in Georgia where I live. The top 10 below (raw number distributed in parentheses):
  1. 5.56 millimeter rifle: (2,797)
  2. .62 millimeter rifle: (1,096)
  3. .45 caliber pistol: (502)
  4. sight, reflex (367)
  5. truck, utility (346)
  6. shotgun, 12 gauge, riot type (190)
  7. illuminator, infrared (147)
  8. night vision sight (114)
  9. boots, combat (84)
  10. night vision googles (65)
Don't you feel safer now? Other fun factoids. Thirty-nine refrigerators were distributed (military fridges?), 16 microwaves, and 12 pressure washers. Meaning that's business lost to Lowe's and Home Depot. Other fun items: lubricating oil, "chute, ejection," a gimbal, a chock, "chalk, marking," an electric guitar (Meriwether County) and possibly my favorite -- one leg iron that went to Bibb County. A leg iron? Really?

And the most frightening of all? Twenty-one "No name provided" were distributed. Could be anything. Phasers, maybe.

Fulton County received the most items (1,599), no big surprise given how big it is. The next ones, though, are surprising -- Carroll County (1,277), Lee County (817), Walton County (665), and Meriwether County (664). See graphic below.

There's tons more I could have fun with, even invent cool graphics or perhaps a map, but that'd take too much time. If you're deeply interested, I can carve out the Georgia data into an Excel file and send it your way. Just Georgia alone is not all that big.


I'm adding local counties and what they received, which isn't all that much.
  • Clarke - 2 rifles
  • Jackson - 22 rifles, 8 pistols. Sheesh
  • Oconee - 2 rifles
  • Oglethorpe -- zilch, nada

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Curricular Snags

We've hit a snag, maybe more than one, in trying to revise and update the Grady College journalism curriculum.

A brief history: We've combined journalism and broadcast journalism and this past summer a Committee of the Sane met to try and come up with a fresh, innovative curriculum. Lots of other schools have combined the two but left more or less separate tracks. In other words, not much change. What we've got so far looks like this. We unveiled it last week to the full department faculty. The response? Underwhelming, and in a couple of cases, critical.

Before I get into the snags, a word of our approach. We wanted to frontload law and ethics as a framework for all the journalism classes that follow. We wanted lots of multimedia experience for all students. We wanted an experiential class, anchored by Newsource. And we wanted lots of skills classes.

And now, the snags. I'll focus on two of them today because, well, I've got other things to do:
  •  Law & Ethics: Most programs offer the traditional Law of Mass Comm class that, as in our case, is taken near the end of a student's coursework. Some programs offer one that, instead, combines ethics and law, the tension between what as a journalist you legally can do versus what you should do. Again, we saw this as the guiding framework for all classes to follow. As you might guess, the faculty who teach mass comm law are all for innovation -- except in the case of mass comm law. Their arguments are, in part, excellent case studies in tautology. There really isn't room in the curriculum for a required ethics and law class. How will it all fall out? Stay tuned. I feel fairly strongly we need an ethics/law class and, if it gets ugly, I'm more than willing to use the nuclear option. No, not gonna reveal what that is.
  • Skills Heavy: Our curriculum, as drawn, runs heavy on the skills classes and light on the "conceptual" classes (such as ethics, credibility, etc.). One senior faculty member told the room that we needed more classes with critical thinking. I asked him: "Are you saying skills classes don't include critical thinking?" He said that's not what he meant, despite it being what he said, but then again no one really listens to him anyway. The point, though, remains. With so many skills classes we're pushing the faculty to the edge to cover them and, if my math is right, we simply don't have the classroom lab space to teach them. That first semester writing class alone will eat up most of our labs for the week. It also doesn't help that for some faculty the list of classes they can't teach is far longer than the list of classes they can teach.
Oddly no one really mentioned the "teaching hospital" approach built (ever so lightly) into the curriculum. Newsource would become the anchor experience, for most students serving the online platform while for others serving the broadcast platform -- with of course a mix across both when the story deserves it. 

And we're bouncing around some interesting ways to handle some of the problems, such as online classes, such as flipped classrooms. After all, I'm paid too damn much to stand in a room watching students type. Stories should be written out of class and that time spent discussing their stuff, the problems that emerged, and what's next. Ya know ... critical thinking. (what a doofus)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Curriculum Quiet

I kinda expected fireworks as the full department got its first look today at a potential curriculum revision (see here for details of the "proposal").

No fireworks. Indeed, mostly I heard a consensus that the committee is on the right track.

About the only direct criticism came from the idea of combining law and ethics into a single class. The notion of front-loading ethics and law, that was fine, but combining the two into a single class was questioned by -- not coincidentally -- the two faculty who teach our mass comm law class. I don't want to spend a lot of time on this because, frankly, I'm not convinced it deserves a lot of time. The committee will no doubt weigh the comments and either shift back to the status quo approach (something it's tried hard to avoid) or insist on the ethics-law combo. I have no idea which way it may go. The arguments against the combo were not particularly compelling, but it may not be worth the fight.

Otherwise faculty poked and prodded but offered no deep analysis because, as a "working" document, there's not a lot to poke and prod. There was a certain level of bullshit, but nothing so deep as to wash over the top of your boots and wet your feet. All in all, a good meeting.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Building a Journalism Curriculum

On Monday, the newly combined faculty of UGA's Department of Journalism meets for the first time to see how far a committee has gotten in revising the curriculum. Keep in mind we've combined the digital and broadcast folks with the journalism folks, so this first stab at revising the curriculum is designed to fit both sets of students.

Showtime is Monday afternoon. Yes, the faculty have already received it, so I can freely blog about it.

This is merely a proposal, a "working document." The summer committee designed an initial try at combining our programs. Yes, we talked about core competencies and what peer institutions are up to, and yes we did all the homework you normally do before getting into the nitty gritty. Here's what the committee came up with the the core, what all students must take. The underlying assumption was all students need multimedia experience.

Semester 1
  • Combined law and ethics class. The idea here is to expose students right off the bat to the tension between what journalists legally can do and what they ethically should do. Many programs hold this off until the end. That's a mistake.
  • Reporting. A big lecture on all aspects of reporting, from interviewing to fact-finding to documents and the rest.
  • Writing. Small classes, 16 or 18 or so, focused on writing across platforms.
Semester 2
  • Skill building, in which students pick from a set of 1-hour or 2-hour specific classes on video, photo, graphics, and coding. Perhaps others.
Semester 3
  • Multiplatform story production. The guts of the curriculum, in many ways, with work possibly finding its way online at Newsource.
Semester 4
  • Capstone experience in Newsource, our newsroom. Two sections will specifically be tied to the television news show, four sections to special projects that appear either online or on the broadcast.
Beyond the CORE there are specialties. Right now, the list is:
  • Photojournalism
  • Management, innovation, and entrepreneurship
  • Investigative Reporting
  • Feature Writing (magazine students, for example, may go here)
So, what's different? Multimedia, for one. A somewhat bigger core for journalism, but roughly similar to what digital and broadcast journalism is used to. More skills classes. Less flexibility. Less nimble. A lot of time feeding the beast of core skills classes, leaving faculty fewer opportunities to experiment with new stuff. No drone class. No bourbon class.  An attempt to remove the names of media from classes and majors, that's happened. Good.

Okay, so what's the response likely to be on Monday? Well, anyone who feels "their" class isn't the most important, or is being watered down, they'll damn sure speak up. It's all about us, after all.

Do I like it?

Not so much, and I was on the committee that created the damn thing. I think it's a good first shot, and I'm sorta kinda with the whole teaching hospital approach of using Newsource as our anchor experience.  But I dislike big cores. I dislike cookie-cutter approaches to education. So really it comes down to some interesting philosophical differences. Do you want all students to have a lot of the same experiences, or do you want students to pick from a buffet of classes that fit their particular interests? Importantly -- which would you hire? A specialist? Or a generalist?

Tomorrow is gonna be fun.

Demographically Similar?

A local, infamous murder trial is working its way through motions and such, including a story today about the defendant unhappy not that the trial will be in Athens but with the jury pool being drawn from out of town (Elbert County) instead of one of the Atlanta counties (Fulton or DeKalb). The defendant, an admitted cop killer, is worried some in Elbert County consume Athens-Clarke media and therefore will be less likely to render a fair verdict. Given the limited reach and readership of Athens media to Elbert County, there's really no basis for this argument. More interesting, though, is whether Elbert County is a fair surrogate for Clarke County.

Here's a key part from the story:
Hood [the defendant] requested that jurors be chosen from Fulton or DeKalb counties, but Haggard [the judge] ruled that the demographic make-up of those counties are so different from Athens-Clarke County that Hood “would likely” be denied his constitutional right to be tried by jurors “selected from a fair cross section of the community.”

The judge ruled that jurors would be selected from Elbert County.

Is Elbert County similar to Clarke? Let's do the numbers, based of course on Census data. Athens-Clarke is more populous than Elbert, but what matters is the demographics. Below are categories with each county, percentages in parentheses.
  • Percent White: Clarke (66.0) Elbert (68.1)
  • Percent Black: Clarke (27.3) Elbert (29.7)
  • Percent Hispanic: Clarke (10.7) Elbert (5.3)
  • Percent Asian: Clarke (4.3) Elbert (0.9)

At first glance, at least in terms of race and ethnicity, the two counties look awfully close to one another. Yes, Athens-Clarke is more diverse, no doubt a function of UGA being located there, as well as students appearing in some of the Census data. Let's look at a few more numbers:
  • Median Household Income: Clarke ($33,846) Elbert ($35,053)
  • Percent Below Poverty Level: Clarke (34.9) Elbert (20.0)
  • Percent Bachelor's Degree or Higher: Clarke (40.8) Elbert (11.2)
Okay, from above we can tell that the income is more or less the same, but Clarke County is both significantly poorer and better educated than is Elbert County. A word here -- this is clearly a function of the Census scooping up UGA students. A second word here -- these are Census numbers, not demographics of the jury pool. I have a hunch the pools look more similar than is reflected here. 

So, is Hood right? Is, say, Fulton County a better fit?


Fulton is 44.4 percent black, for example. Compare that to above. In terms of race, Elbert is clearly a better fit. However, Fulton County has 48.4 percent with a bachelor's degree or better, far closer to Athens-Clarke. The median income of Fulton is much higher than both Clarke and Elbert ($57,664), again the Clarke numbers largely a function of college kids in the Census pool skewing the numbers down, at least in terms of income. Similarly, Fulton is only 16.8 percent below the poverty level, further away from Athens-Clarke than is Elbert County.

All in all, here's my summary. A change of venue is necessary in a trial like this after so much local publicity. If you want a conviction to stick, you have to support a change in venue. One way to do that is to move a trial, the other is to bring in an outside jury. The only real question is whether, when it comes to appeal, an Elbert County jury is the right fit. I might have considered Hall County (more diverse, larger pool, etc.), but perhaps the judge found it too close to Athens to comfortably fit. That's a reasonable argument. All in all, the Elbert County demographics, at least as measured by the Census, seem to work. What really matters, though, is the jury pool. How well does it reflect the demographic breakdowns above? Yes, I can see this being the basis of an appeal once Hood is (one hopes) convicted.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Who Goes to UGA?

Yes, population growth matters. Below, me playing with a scatterplot with population growth of each Georgia county on the x-axis (bottom) and the percentage growth in the number of students sent to UGA on the y-axis. As you'd expect, the more the population growth of a county, the higher it is on the growth of students from that county who enrolled at UGA.

Yeah, this is me prepping for classes, re-learning Tableau. Roll your mouse over, or click, on a blue dot to see which county it is. Remember that percentages lie here. A tiny county may have sent 1 kid in 2003, for example, and two kids in 2013 -- meaning a 100 percent change.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Crazy Kiddies

UGA shrubbery turns yellow in late August, and it's not because of the heat. 

In a week or so UGA students return. That means lots of underage possession charges. That means lots of public urination charges. Looking through the UGA police daily logs, we're already warming up for the Fall onslaught.

Here's a good one from a couple of days ago:
Underage possession, 3:22 a.m., East Campus Road. "Charges resulted from officer’s interaction with individual observed dancing in the roadway."
I almost want to go find the full police report. Was there music? Singing? Takes dancing in the street to a whole new level.

Sometimes it's just sad, like this one:
Warrant issued 07/25/14, charges resulted from complaint by Housing personnel of unconscious individual laying in vomit on bathroom floor, victim transported by EMS for apparent extreme intoxication at time of incident
Classes start August 18, but students will be showing up next week in dribs and drabs, moving into dorms and doing sorority rush and doing whatever the hell it is they do before classes begin. Get ready.

Impeachment -- the Polls

Democrats love the word impeachment right now, and rightfully so. It helps the party raise money and paint Republicans as do-nothing partisan loons. Dems talk about it more than Republicans, and Republicans whine that Democrats are talking about it so much, so Democrats whine that Republicans are talking about them talking about it.

Politics. Sheesh.

Only about a third of Americans want Obama impeached, but more than half of Republicans think it's a terrific idea. 

In honor of this, let's take a quick trip down memory lane. Remember President George W. Bush? Impeachment came up during his time in office, and support for impeachment ranged from 26 to 36 percent, depending on the poll and when it was conducted. Nearly half of Democrats liked the idea.

Remember President Bill Clinton? He actually was impeached (though not convicted in his Senate trial). But it was a famously bad idea politically. Rarely did people think much of the idea, with approval ranging in one poll from 29 to 33 percent, and in another it hit 40 percent.

Remember President Richard Nixon? In 1973, only 19 percent thought he should be forced out of office. As news of his dirty tricks accumulated, that rose to 53 percent by 1974. Still, a lot of people classified what his administrative cronies did as "just politics," often as much as one-third of the population.

If you look carefully at polls conducted through these three previous instances, you'll see a number of consistencies. First, it takes a lot to get a majority of Americans to favor impeachment. Second, partisan politics plays a big part in what people think. Third, public opinion doesn't appear to change all that much except in the case of Nixon, and let's face it, for those of us who remember those times, Nixon is a special case.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Question Format and Political Knowledge

How you measure political knowledge matters.

This new study reinforces that point, looking at question format and how people answer political knowledge questions. Published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, the author -- Joshua Robison -- uses the ANES EGSS3 data to get at a lot of different aspects and effects of question format. Important point -- using these same data, I published a similar study, one not cited here, likely because mine came out while his was in press (or he looked at mine and said, "you're kidding, right?"). His is also much broader than mine.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Such a Fun, Undone Story

Here's a little story I've never had much luck getting a UGA journalism student interested enough to do. There's this Provost policy. Best I can tell, it's still in place, though it dates back to 1994.
4.07-5 Faculty Authorized Texts

Textbooks authored by the course instructor may be ordered with the approval of the department head. Prior to approving such orders, the department head should be satisfied that the work is equivalent in quality to other texts available for that course. Textbooks should not be ordered from companies in which the course instructor or a family member owns a substantial interest.
Students often complain (quietly, among themselves) about spending a coupla hundred bucks on a textbook that -- coincidentally, I'm sure -- was written by the instructor. Look at the policy above. I'm betting if you ask a department head (without warning him or her) about such approval it's never been requested, never been given. Is there a record of such requests? A record of approvals? The guidelines don't say it needs to be written. I could be done in the hallway, but a department head "should be satisfied that the work is equivalent in quality to other texts" out there in the wide world. Which means you gotta at least skim the list of texts.

Now you'd want to not lazy your way out and just do Grady (hint hint, budding The Red & Black investigative journalists). But you'd definitely want to do Grady, because you don't want it to appear you're giving special treatment. You'd want to perhaps ask the bookstore to run the list of texts for Fall and try and match instructor with author. There's a data way to do this, I'm sure, other than just walking up and down the aisles of the bookstore and doing it by hand.

Sad thing is, coming up with good story ideas is not hard. All it takes is curiosity, and time away from checking your Facebook feed, to poke around the administrative underbelly of the university.