Income inequality in 11 easy charts

Don’t even remember where I came across this (when in doubt, FB link, I suppose), but it’s pretty cool.   It’s a series of 11 charts on income equality from a powerpoint presentation from Alan Krueger-– chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.  Some good stuff.  I couldn’t resist this one in particular due to the awesome name:

Income inequality on its own would not be so bad, but it’s not on its own.  Whether it’s exactly causal or not, it is related to a shrinking middle class and less intergenerational mobility.  And both of those things are bad.  That is unless you are nice and rich and want your kids to stay that way with no concern for hard-working persons from lower income strata.

Gay marriage and the Catholic Church in Washington

Now this sounds like my kind of Catholic Church:

At least six Catholic parishes in Washington state have ignored the Seattle Archbishop’s call to gather signatures for a referendum repealing the state’s recently-enacted marriage equality law, calling the effort “hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.” “Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church gave the Rev. Tim Clark a standing ovation Sunday” when he announced that the parish would not be participating in the anti-equality effort:

“I am happy to report that Our Lady of the Lake parish-oners have been overwhelmingly and, thus far, unanimously supportive of the decision I made NOT to gather signatures in support of this Referendum,” Clark wrote in response to an e-mail.

The standing ovation experienced during one of the Masses says less about me and much more about the health of this parish. I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the ‘sensus fidelium’ — of the people. He needs to listen to this ‘voice.’ That is my prayer.” [emphasis in original]

Now, if only there were a way to tele-Mass with church in Seattle.

Photo of the day


Moscow appears at the center of this nighttime image photographed by the Expedition 30 crew aboard the International Space Station, flying at an altitude of approximately 240 miles on March 28, 2012. A solar array panel for the space station is on the left side of the frame. The view is to the north-northwest from a nadir of approximately 49.4 degrees north latitude and 42.1 degrees east longitude, about 100 miles west-northwest of Volgograd. The Aurora Borealis, airglow and daybreak frame the horizon.

Image Credit: NASA

Partisanship in two charts

Alright, though I do agree that there are certain psychological traits that make Republicans genuinely different from Democrats, the truth is that the basic way partisanship works is pretty universal.  And it hugely biases how most all of us see the world (though I would argue that the more we are aware of these non-conscious partisan biases the more we can counter-act them with effortful cognitive processes– or at least that’s my goal):

Anyway, opinions about gas prices under President Bush by PID:

Okay, now the same question with PID breakdown under President Obama:

Almost a mirror image.  It is amusing and amazing to see how much one’s partisan filter can change views on something where there is a pretty clear objective reality (i.e., presidents cannot do much about gas prices).

PSA for political junkies

If you are the type of person who obsessively follows the presidential election then you’ve probably already read Nate Silver’s great piece on how to be appropriately careful and thoughtful in approaching the soon-to-be firehose worth of general election polling data.  But, in case you haven’t, it’s a list of really useful things to keep in mind and you should read it.  A sampling:

2. Take the poll average. This ought to be obvious, but you should generally be looking for a trend to show up in several different polls from several different polling firms before you start to view it as newsworthy. Again, this differs a little bit from the primaries because there is less of a premium on recency in the general election; you’re usually better off waiting for another (or better yet two or three more) data points…

6. Keep paying attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings. In the early stages of general election campaigns, a president’s approval ratings have often been at least as accurate a guide to his eventual performance as the head-to-head numbers. Thus, for at least the next couple of months, I would pay as much attention to Mr. Obama’s approval ratings as his head-to-head polls against Mr. Romney…

8. Be careful with economic forecasts. Past economic performance should theoretically be incorporated fairly quickly into a president’s approval ratings and his head-to-head polls. But future shifts in economic performance could potentially send the numbers in another direction.

Unfortunately, these shifts are hard to anticipate, and the track record of macroeconomic forecasts is quite bad. Historically, the forecasts issued by economists have had essentially no ability to predict a recession more than six months in advance, and have large margins of error even a month or two out…

And plenty more good stuff.

What makes an effective teacher

Last semester while participating in a faculty book club on Academically Adrift, I had a bit of an epiphany.  I realized that I was doing an excellent job of entertaining my students and keeping them engaged, but not necessarily an excellent job of teaching them the lasting critical thinking skills that would help make them successes after NCSU.  I get very good teaching evaluations, but my intuition has been that the high numbers are largely the result of being funny, engaging, and approachable.  Now, I do think all those thinks make it easier for my students to learn from me, but when they are rating me on a 5 point scale, I don’t really think it is much about either the content or skills they are learning.  How interesting then, to come across this study on the very matter via the Tomorrow’s Professor blog (which I strongly recommend for all faculty and grad students, by the way):

The research design for this project was cross-sectional, with surveys administered to 265 faculty and students at a private liberal arts college. ..This opportunity for definition was afforded by providing a list of thirty options to the respondents and asking them to rank from 1 to 4 (with 1 being their best choice) their response to the question: How do you define an effective teacher? For clarity, options for the answers to the question included statements such as: motivates students to do well in the course, uses a variety of teaching methods, makes the grading requirements clear, and so on…


As displayed in Table 1, some of the more common definitions of an effective teacher by students were: a sense of humor (15%), someone who is able to relate to students’ lives (13%), someone with patience and flexibility (21%) [emphasis mine], someone who is able to keep students’ interest (44%), and someone who clearly indicates materials to be tested (16%). As displayed in Table 2, some of the more common definitions of an effective teacher by faculty members were: the love of the subject (50%), an instructor who outlines the course expectations (22%), someone who utilizes a variety of teaching methods (24%), someone who is organized (44%), and someone who encourages student questions (22%).

A-ha!  Small study, but pretty much right along the lines I had been thinking.  Now, don’t get me wrong, being funny, relatable, and patient are all very good things to have in a professor (and my ratings suggest that I do, in fact, possess these things), but I think it is pretty clear that these are not necessarily the hallmarks of effective teaching.  My question to me is: will by evaluations go down as I place more emphasis on critical thinking?  Hopefully not, as I still plan on being funny, relatable, etc.  But even if they do, that’s okay– that’s what tenure is for.

[Of course, whenever I say good things about my teaching, I always do like to link to my (still) worst evaluation ever.]

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