Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Kids Know

Good piece in Higher Ed on teaching kids to be good citizens. Check it out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Unfair Attacks about Dumb Americans

Americans Ignorant and Illiterate

That's the headline for this piece published at something called Quoting another study (more on that later), the author notes
Global political knowledge was miniscule, with just three percent of women
and 14 percent of men saying they are extremely knowledgeable on world politics.

There is a huge difference between what people really know and what they say they know. To be fair, people tend to overestimate their public affairs knowledge, so you might be inclined to buy into the idea that most Americans are morons when it comes to world affairs. I'm not buying it. Hell, I'm a PhDweeb, a news junkie, and I would not call myself "extremely knowledgeable" about world politics.

Later the short piece jumps to reading of books, which may or may not be associated with what you know about world affairs, politics, or anything else other than whether Snape was truly bad and whether Harry dies or not.

The original story comes from something called, essentially writing about a Harris Poll. Okay, now we're backtracking to the original source. More to the point, this is an interactive poll conducted online, not via the traditional random sample procedure. That doesn't mean it's crap, it just means you have to look at it a little more closely and make judgments based on methodology.

The reason for this lack of knowledge? Lack of interest. No surprise there. Indeed, I would be keenly worried about any person who is disinterested in a topic but considers themselves "extremely knowledgeable." That's one scary person.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Question Order Effects

The order you ask questions can influence how people answer survey questions. That's why you often see the general all-purpose "how would you evaluate the president's job" first, not after a long series of questions that ask about all the stuff that is wrong with the country.

Order matters.

One of my earliest academic efforts was a question-order paper. Hell, it even won first place in the theory and methodology division at AEJMC (must have been a weak year because I didn't even mention agenda setting, and I don't think T&M allows a paper that doesn't mention agenda setting. It's a law).

So how about political knowledge? Well, according to one study, asking difficult political knowledge questions early in a survey will dampen how much respondents say they pay attention to the media and are interested in politics. That's kinda interesting. Maybe they get these tough questions and become more self aware of their actual knowledge or interest or media use, or perhaps it artificially dampens their true sense of how much they care and keep up with public affairs. Give people a "buffer" item that allows them to think it's okay to not know so much and the effect is less.

The upshot is such questions, like sensitive items people hate to answer, should go later in the survey. We often preface questions today to make it okay for people to say they don't vote (always inflated) and now you will see respondents told that some people don't keep up with the news, then they are asked "how about you?" This makes good sense. We want accurate measures, not socially desirable ones.