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Friday, May 22, 2015


Nick Gass reports at Politico:
One of the authors of a recent study that claimed that short conversations with gay people could change minds on same-sex marriage has retracted it.
Columbia University political science professor Donald Green’s retraction this week of a popular article published in the December issue of the academic journal Science follows revelations that his co-author allegedly faked data for the study, “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support of gay marriage.”
According to the academic watchdog blog Retraction Watch, Green published a retraction of the paper Tuesday after confronting co-author Michael LaCour, a graduate assistant at UCLA.
The study received widespread coverage from The New York Times, Vox, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others when it was released in December.
“I am deeply embarrassed by this turn of events and apologize to the editors, reviewers, and readers of Science,” Green told the blog.
In an email to POLITICO, Green said he spoke with LaCour by phone on Tuesday and that he “maintained that he did not fabricate the data but told me that he could not locate the Qualtrics source files for the surveys on the Qualtrics interface or on any of his drives.”
Qualtrics was the survey platform that was purportedly used, though a company spokesman clarified to POLITICO that it did not collaborate with LaCour or anyone else on the study.
The problem came to light when researchers sought to replicate the study.  But such efforts at replication happen less often than one would hope, which raises the possibility that a lot of bad work has gone undetected. Monya Baker reported at Nature last month:
An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week — and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced.
But the situation is more nuanced than the top-line numbers suggest (See graphic, 'Reliability test'). Of the 61 non-replicated studies, scientists classed 24 as producing findings at least “moderately similar” to those of the original experiments, even though they did not meet pre-established criteria, such as statistical significance, that would count as a successful replication.
 The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated.  “A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,” he says. “This makes it hard to dismiss that there are still a lot of false positives in the literature.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Public Estimates of the Gay Population

Gallup reports:
The American public estimates on average that 23% of Americans are gay or lesbian, little changed from Americans' 25% estimate in 2011, and only slightly higher than separate 2002 estimates of the gay and lesbian population. These estimates are many times higher than the 3.8% of the adult population who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in Gallup Daily tracking in the first four months of this year.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Following Pols on Social Media

Monica Anderson writes at Pew:
Overall, 16% of registered voters follow candidates for office, political parties, or elected officials on a social networking site, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted during the lead-up to the 2014 midterm election. That is a 10 percentage point increase from the 2010 midterms, when only 6% of registered voters did so.
It’s not just the youngest voters getting in on the act. The increase is even more substantial among registered voters ages 30 to 49, more than tripling from 6% to 21% during this time period.
Voters increasingly cite breaking news as a major reason why they follow political figures on social media. Among registered voters who follow political figures on social media, 41% say that finding out political news before others is a “major reason” why they do so. In 2010, just 22% cited this as a key reason.
Some voters who connect with political figures on social media say they do so to bypass traditional journalism — 26% say that the information they get via a politician’s social networking site is more reliable than what they get from traditional news organizations. These figures are mostly unchanged since 2010.
Another 35% of registered voters who use social media to follow a political candidate say a major reason is that it makes them feel more personally connected to politician or group.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Investing in the Poor

Although the president has claimed that the United States has not been making "investments" in poor kids, the data suggest otherwise. At AEI, Angela Rachidi writes:
A 2014 report by the Cato Institute analyzed education spending trends by state and found that spending per student for K-12 education increased almost 200% from 1970-2010, in constant dollars.
Spending on poor families has also increased dramatically over the past few decades. The figure above shows spending in constant dollars on the four largest means-tested programs (excluding public health insurance programs). Food and nutrition assistance alone increased 78% since FY2005. And Medicaid spending far overshadows other means-tested programs at $276 billion in FY2014, an increase of 40% since FY2005. As a percent of GDP, federal spending on means-tested programs was 3.5% in FY 2014. It was 2.7% in FY2005 and 2.4% in FY2001, the last recession.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Free Trade? Meh!

A number of posts have explained that there's not much there there when it comes to public opinion on most issues. Patrick J. Egan writes at The Washington Post:
But the TPP is a controversy on which Obama may be unusually free to ignore the demands of his core supporters. That’s because these days most Democrats — and, as it turns out, most Americans — have remarkably vague views on the question of free trade. This is shown by a cleverly worded question on the American National Election Study survey conducted just after the 2012 presidential election. Respondents were presented with the standard arguments for and against limiting foreign imports to the United States: “Some people have suggested placing new limits on foreign imports in order to protect American jobs. Others say that such limits would raise consumer prices and hurt American exports.” They were then asked if they favored or opposed limits on imports, and the question was appended with an option that we probably see too infrequently in political surveys: “…or haven’t you thought much about this?”
Americans venturing an opinion were staunchly anti-free trade, with those favoring import limits outnumbering those opposed by about 2 to 1. But adding “haven’t thought much” as a possible response had huge implications for expressed public opinion: it was the most preferred option overall (at 47 percent), and the plurality choice among every partisan group except strong Republicans. The lack of conviction is all the more noteworthy given that Americans were asked this survey question just after a presidential campaign centering on jobs and the economy that was fought in manufacturing-heavy battleground states like Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
So what do Americans think about free trade? The best answer to this question is probably “not much.” As he pursues fast-track authority for the TPP, expect to hear that President Obama is ignoring the opinion of his liberal base. But the truth is that on this issue, there’s simply not much opinion to ignore.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Marriage, Geography, and Equality

A number of posts have discussed inequality and marriage. David Leonhardt and David Quealy write at The New York Times:
The place where you grow up doesn’t affect only your future income, as we wrote about last week. It also affects your odds of marrying, a large new data set shows.
The most striking geographical pattern on marriage, as with so many other issues today, is the partisan divide. Spending childhood nearly anywhere in blue America — especially liberal bastions like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington — makes people about 10 percentage points less likely to marry relative to the rest of the country. And no place encourages marriage quite like the conservative Mountain West, especially the heavily Mormon areas of Utah, southern Idaho and parts of Colorado.
These conclusions — based on an Upshot analysis of data compiled by a team of Harvard economists studying upward mobility, housing and tax policy — are not simply observations about correlation. The economists instead believe that they have identified a causal role that geography plays in people’s lives. The data, which covers more than five million people who moved as children in the 1980s and 1990s, suggests that children who move from, say, Idaho to Chicago really do become less likely to marry, even if the numbers can’t explain exactly why these patterns exist.
How can the researchers think they’re capturing a causal effect here — in which a child who moves to New York actually becomes less likely to marry? Because they have studied more than five million people who moved as children during the 1980s and 1990s. Those who moved to New York, among other places, were indeed less likely to marry than otherwise similar people who grew up elsewhere. And the younger that children were when they moved to New York, the less likely they were to marry.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Web Surveys

Many posts have discussed problems of public opinion research. Pew reports:
Using its nationally representative American Trends Panel, Pew Research Center conducted a large-scale experiment that tested the effects of the mode of survey interview – in this case, a telephone survey with an interviewer vs. a self-administered survey on the Web – on results from a set of 60 questions like those commonly asked by the center’s research programs. This report describes the effort to catalog and evaluate mode effects in public opinion surveys.
The study finds that differences in responses by survey mode are fairly common, but typically not large, with a mean difference of 5.5 percentage points and a median difference of five points across the 60 questions. The differences range in size from 0 to 18 percentage points. The results are based on 3,003 respondents who were randomly assigned to either the phone or Web mode and interviewed July 7-Aug. 4, 2014 for this study.
Where differences occurred, they were especially large on three broad types of questions: Items that asked the respondent to assess the quality of their family and social life produced differences of 18 and 14 percentage points, respectively, with those interviewed on the phone reporting higher levels of satisfaction than those who completed the survey on the Web.
Questions about societal discrimination against several different groups also produced large differences, with telephone respondents more apt than Web respondents to say that gays and lesbians, Hispanics and blacks face a lot of discrimination. However, there was no significant mode difference in responses to the question of whether women face a lot of discrimination.
Web respondents were far more likely than those interviewed on the phone to give various political figures a “very unfavorable” rating, a tendency that was concentrated among members of the opposite party of each figure rate