Sunday, August 31, 2014

Evasiveness in the White House Press Room

John Templon reports at Buzzfeed:
Since 1993, 12 brave souls have accepted the challenge of briefing the White House press corps on a daily basis. As the chief communicators of White House goings-on, press secretaries (official and de facto) must walk a fine line between answering important questions and…not answering them at all. 
BuzzFeed analyzed more than 5,000 press briefings since the beginning of the Clinton administration in 1993, looking for “weasel phrases” such as “I can’t comment on,” “I’m not aware [of/that/etc.],” and “I don’t know.” (For more details, see the methodology at the bottom of this post. Counting weasel phrases is, of course, an imperfect measure of evasiveness. It does not, for example, capture idiosyncratic methods of misdirection.) Here’s what we found:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Diversity, Deliberation, and Social Science

At Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Jonathan Haidt and colleagues have a forthcoming article titled "Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science."  The abstract:
Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity—particularly diversity of viewpoints—for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: 1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years; 2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike; 3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking; and 4) The underrepresentation of nonliberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology. 

Elite Campuses Reinforce Advantage

Previous posts have described higher education's persistent inability to reduce inequality.  The New York Times reports:
As the shaded quadrangles of the nation’s elite campuses stir to life for the start of the academic year, they remain bastions of privilege. Amid promises to admit more poor students, top colleges educate roughly the same percentage of them as they did a generation ago. This is despite the fact that there are many high school seniors from low-income homes with top grades and scores: twice the percentage in the general population as at elite colleges.

A series of federal surveys of selective colleges found virtually no change from the 1990s to 2012 in enrollment of students who are less well off — less than 15 percent by some measures — even though there was a huge increase over that time in the number of such students going to college. Similar studies looking at a narrower range of top wealthy universities back those findings. With race-based affirmative action losing both judicial and public support, many have urged selective colleges to shift more focus to economic diversity.
This is partly because students are more likely to graduate and become leaders in their fields if they attend competitive colleges. Getting low-income students onto elite campuses is seen as a vital engine of social mobility.
Yet as Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, put it, “Higher education has become a powerful force for reinforcing advantage and passing it on through generations.”

Friday, August 29, 2014

Volunteer Firefighters

Our textbook discusses volunteering as an example of civic virtue. At The New York Times, Andrew Brown and Ian Urbina write:
IN most places in America, when a fire breaks out, a volunteer shows up to put it out.
But the ranks of volunteers are dwindling. What was once an iconic part of American life is losing its allure, in part because the work — some would say the calling — is a lot less fun than it used to be.
There are still more than twice as many volunteers as career firefighters. But the number of volunteers has dropped by around 11 percent since the mid-1980s, while the number of career firefighters has grown more than 50 percent, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The allure has diminished because fund-raising now takes up roughly half the time most volunteers spend on duty. It’s also harder to fit in volunteer work. The rise in two-income households often means that there is no stay-at-home parent to run things so the other can dash off for an an emergency. Urbanization and the aging of the rural population are taking their toll as fewer young people are available to replace firefighters who retire.
Federal, state and local officials would like to attract new volunteer recruits. The stakes are particularly high because volunteers save not only lives but money — more than $139.8 billion annually for local governments, according to the fire protection association. The time and training needed to become a certified firefighter have also increased. Federal standards enacted to save firefighters’ lives have unintentionally created a barrier for volunteer service: It now takes hundreds of hours to be certified, and new firefighters often must cover the cost of training.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Red and Blue Conspiracy Theory

At The Washington Post,  Alfred Moore, Joseph Parent and Joseph Uscinski write:
So are all Americans created equal when it comes to fearing collusion and conspiracies? Our recent research suggests that they are. As part of a 2012 national survey, we asked respondents about the likelihood of voter fraud as an explanation if their preferred presidential candidate did not win. Fifty percent of Republicans said it would be very or somewhat likely, compared to 44 percent of Democrats. This contradicts claims by Jonathan Chait that Republicans believe in electoral conspiracy theories far more than Democrats do.
Another 2012 national poll asked about fraud in specific presidential elections. Thirty-seven percent of Democrats believed that “President Bush’s supporters committed significant voter fraud in order to win Ohio in 2004,” compared to 36 percent of Republicans who believe that “President Obama’s supporters committed significant voter fraud in the 2012 presidential election.” Again, not much difference. This dovetails with Brendan Nyhan’s findings about “birther” and “truther” conspiracy theories. He found that Republicans were just as likely to believe that President Obama was born abroad as Democrats were likely to believe that 9/11 was an inside job.
If Republicans and Democrats are equally prone to believing in conspiracy theories, where then is the liberal equivalent of climate change denial? An obvious possibility is the belief that Big Oil conspires to marginalize unfavorable findings or block alternative energies. Our survey, for example, shows that 52 percent of Democrats believe corporations are conspiring against us.
And just as climate science is unpalatable for conservatives, there are many lines of scientific inquiry uncomfortable to liberals, such as genetic modification or nuclear power. Research into risks and benefits of these technologies has been met with more suspicion by the left.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Juking the Nursing Home Stats

Previous posts have described "juking the stats" in public policy issues.  The New York Times reports on the five-star Medicare rating system for nursing homes:
[An] examination of the rating system by The New York Times has found that Rosewood and many other top-ranked nursing homes have been given a seal of approval that is based on incomplete information and that can seriously mislead consumers, investors and others about conditions at the homes.
The Medicare ratings, which have become the gold standard across the industry, are based in large part on self-reported data by the nursing homes that the government does not verify. Only one of the three criteria used to determine the star ratings — the results of annual health inspections — relies on assessments from independent reviewers. The other measures — staff levels and quality statistics — are reported by the nursing homes and accepted by Medicare, with limited exceptions, at face value.
The ratings also do not take into account entire sets of potentially negative information, including fines and other enforcement actions by state, rather than federal, authorities, as well as complaints filed by consumers with state agencies. Last year, the State of California, for example, fined Rosewood $100,000 — the highest penalty possible — for causing the 2006 death of a woman who was given an overdose of a powerful blood thinner.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Defense in Decline

At Politico, Austin Wright and Leigh Munsil report on a big drop in defense jobs.
The number of employees at the five largest U.S. defense firms has dropped 14 percent from a peak in 2008 — and 10 percent over the past decade, according to a POLITICO analysis of employment figures filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense company, has shed close to a quarter of its employees since 2008. Raytheon, Boeing’s defense unit and Northrop Grumman have also shed thousands of workers over the past five years, seeking to maintain profits even as defense spending contracts.

The job losses make clear just how rapidly the defense industry has seen its fortunes change. After years of growth starting with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and continuing with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, companies have been making massive cuts to adjust to the budget declines they’ve seen so far — and further anticipated reductions.
“A great deal of the profitability that you see among some companies in our industry was unfortunately delivered on the backs of thousands of workers who lost their jobs,” said Chip Sheller, a spokesman for the trade group Aerospace Industries Association.
But some analysts say this strategy will eventually have consequences. Roman Schweizer, an aerospace and defense policy analyst at the investment firm Guggenheim Securities, said the cuts mean losing skilled workers and risking deterioration of engineering and research capabilities.
“One of the things that people appreciate is they’re maintaining their profitability, but that is at the expense of not only employees but also infrastructure,” he said. “There’s always a question of how much you can do without having a negative impact.”