Friday, January 29, 2016

When a Journal Says "No Thanks"

Nothing like a Friday afternoon email from an academic journal saying "no thanks" to your submission. Sets you up for a helluva weekend. This is work tied to my concept of the "surprised loser" in U.S. elections. Simply put:
1. We know that "losers" in an election are more negative about democracy and the electoral process than are "winners."
2. We don't know much about what makes losers tick and why they're so negative (other than being on the losing side, of course). 
3. In an unrelated research stream, we know people tend to predict their preferred candidate, prior to an election, will win. For example, three-fourths of Mitt Romney supporters prior to the election predicted he would win. He didn't. 
4. So I tie these together to argue "surprised losers" are more likely than "expected losers" to be negative about the electoral process and democracy. I've published one piece in a major journal on this already, one that generated a lot of interest in the press as well. 
5. The new piece extended the work to multiple elections.
But, in skimming the reviewer comments, no one really liked it all that much. And I admit one reviewer is right in I struggled to tie this to news media, as the results there are slim. My argument is exposure to the news media may either (1) increase your surprise because you selective exposure yourself to likeminded sources or (2) decrease your surprise as the news media provide poll information that shows your candidate is behind. I posed this as a research question and to let the data decide, as theoretically you can argue it either way.

One reviewer hit me on a lack theory despite the fact the paper is full of friggin theory. Brimming with theory. Sick with theory. Indeed, the surprised loser concept rests on the theory of motivated reasoning and consistency theories. Ah well, you cannot argue with reviewers. I know, I review for this very same journal. Often (though maybe, in a pique, I may not do it quite so much ... that'll show them, dammit). I think I may even be on the editorial board of this journal. I'm on a lot, so I forget.

And back to the drawing board.  I'm actually writing a "surprised loser" piece at this very moment on the role religion may play -- my theory being religiosity should interact with media use to affect such perceptions. Now I'm not sure whether to revisit the previous piece or finish this one.


Thursday, January 28, 2016


We all think we can multitask. Others can't, of course, but we can.

So here's a study that ties multitasking to political knowledge. Not only does multitasking make people less knowledgeable, it makes them more likely to think they're knowledgeable -- when they're not.

Good stuff.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hoverboards. Banned?

There was a report a couple of weeks ago on WSB-TV's site (with absolutely no attribution or official sources) that says UGA has banned hoverboards in the dorms for safety reasons. Don't get me wrong. I have no love for the things, but whenever I see no attribution I begin to wonder. On Thursday The Red & Black repeated the WSB story with again no attempt to independently verify the info. It simply named the WSB story (with no damn link to it. I had to find it myself). Yes, it's there. My computer doesn't run such links without me agreeing, so I missed it.

So I, ya know, called Housing. Many students don't realize their smart phone has this capability. The person I needed was out for a while and I needed to call back, but I got busy and emailed. They nicely sent me wording of the new policy and I pasted it at the bottom. Makes perfectly good sense to me, a reasonable response.

About ban as a description. It's as good a word as any. Below, it tells residents that UGA is still looking into the hazards of the hoverboards and in the meantime "do not ride it inside residence halls." So ban? Yeah, though somehow it seems softer than that. A directive?

So why did no one bother to call Housing or, if they did call, use actual attribution in the story? No idea. Perhaps the R&B is suffering from a pixel limitation on stories. Here's what Housing sent me (much appreciated, by the way): I have highlighted what strikes me as key phrases.

Dear Resident,
Welcome (back) to University Housing and best wishes on a new year and new semester.
In light of some recent news reports across the nation regarding fire-safety issues with self-balancing scooters (more popularly known as hoverboards), many colleges and universities have banned the use and storage of these devices in their campus facilities. University Housing staff members are concerned for the safety and well-being of our residents. Therefore, we are currently gathering and reviewing data regarding this potential fire hazard and will be consulting with several university partners in order to determine an appropriate action or policy for our campus and residence halls.
In the meantime, if you have a hoverboard, do not ride it inside the residence halls. We encourage you to follow the National Fire Protection Associations’ and the National Association of State Fire Marshals’ recommendations for the safe use of these devices, including:
• Take the time to look at and research the product you buy.. If it is compliant with federal standards, inspections and certifications, it will have a mark on it or indicate such on its packaging, on the device itself, or on its charging equipment. Devices not bearing a mark indicating compliance likely have not been tested to meet minimum safety standards.
• Do not overcharge the device; follow manufacturer’s recommended charging times and do not leave device plugged into an outlet overnight.
• Do not leave the device unattended while it is charging. Someone should be able to observe the device during its recharging time.
• If you notice the device is very hot, stop using it and check with your manufacturer or retailer. This could suggest a faulty battery that needs replacing.
• After it has been used, give the device time to cool off prior to charging.
Should you have any questions regarding this email, please contact 706-542-1421.
Gerard J. Kowalski, Ph.D.
Executive Director for University Housing
University of Georgia

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Compulsory Voting and Political Knowledge

A bit rushed today, so I'll just point to this interesting piece in which the author argues for greater compulsory voting in Europe to improve, or more evenly distribute, political knowledge.

Friday, January 15, 2016

That "Birther" Thing

It's so nice to write about a birther issue that doesn't involve Barack Obama. I published a couple of research articles on that topic, so I'm more or less read into the extant literature. In other words, I know what I'm talking about. But of course now we have Ted Cruz, that Canadian-Texan-American candidate for the GOP nomination and the "birther" questions about him, fueled mostly by Donald Trump.

The law stuff doesn't interest me. I'm not a lawyer, so I leave the constitutional questions to folks who understand this stuff. Instead, let's look at ... the polling.

Here's a new poll out about Cruz, and I've pasted the news lede below for your enjoyment:
A quarter of Republicans think White House hopeful Ted Cruz is disqualified to serve as U.S. president because he was born in Canada to an American mother, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
A quarter is a decent number, given it's fellow Republicans. Yeah yeah, but what kind of poll is this? You can't tell from this version, so let's dig a little deeper. Except I'm having no luck finding the poll's methodology. Type "birther" into the Reuters poll search bar and you get zilch. It's a Friday afternoon. I give up. Nevertheless, I suspect it's a robo-poll or perhaps an Internet opt-in panel poll, neither of which qualifies as the gold standard of polling (live humans, dialing live humans, on landline and cell phones).

In the debate last night Cruz admirably shrugged off Trump's attacks, or at least it seemed to me. That said, how many undecided folks actually watched the debate? On my cable TV it played out on Channel 77. I didn't even know I had a Channel 77. This is the kind of niggling doubt that can affect a candidate like Cruz, who isn't all that likable in the first place, and especially when Iowa appears (at least according to the polls) to be a tight race. A lot of political observers believe the tightness of the polls mask the actual turnout Cruz will see, as compared to Trump, when it's time to caucus. I agree, and yet Trump continues to surprise us. The man is amazing.

OK, a thing about belief in conspiracy theories, or at least stuff like birtherism that comes close enough to that category to warrant a look. Here's what the research tells us -- there are a lot of folks who believe in this kind of stuff for ideological or partisan reasons, but there are lots of folks who believe in conspiracies or misperceptions that cross ideological boundaries. In other words, some folks are born conspiracists. At a gut level they believe the system is rigged against them and tend to believe in any theory that supports that gut feeling.

My hunch? That quarter of Republicans is made up mostly of Trumpsters, but also there's a chunk of folks in there who believe anything if it somehow fits a conspiracy theory model -- that powerful outside forces conspire to work against average people.

Enough theorizing. Have a helluva weekend.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Fifteen years ago, UGA student Tara Baker was murdered in her home. The murder remains unsolved.

So does the 1992 murder of Jennifer Stone, another UGA student.

I put this here so they won't be forgotten.