Wake up

The safe for work version (though I am posting this Friday night) of the fabulous Samuel L. Jackson video telling you to get to work for Obama.  Love the Seussian rhyme scheme:

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day.  Just wow:

Picture of an aurora borealis above the Arctic Circle

Aurora Borealis, Svalbard

Photograph by Max Edin, Your Shot

Laptops and multi-tasking

In a college committee meeting this week, we discussed best practices for how to deal with laptops in the classroom.  One suggestion, was to make clear to students the myth of multi-tasking and just how much this could negatively affect classroom performance.  Well, lo and behold, just a few days later I come across this wonderfully handy summary via a professor friend on FB:

The question is, how do we get students to stop? We can tell them they shouldn’t. We can include policies that aim to prevent it and devote time and energy trying to implement them. I wonder if it isn’t smarter to confront students with the facts. Not admonitions, but concrete evidence that multitasking compromises their efforts to learn. The specifics are persuasive and here are some examples to share with students.

  • In an experiment involving 62 undergraduate students taking a principles of accounting course, half of the cohort was allowed to text during a lecture and half had their phones turned off. After the lecture both groups took the same quiz and the students who did not text scored significantly higher on the quiz…
  • This research focused on the use of laptops in a 15-week management information systems class enrolling 97 upper division students. With student consent, researchers used a spyware program that tracked the windows and page names for each software application run during class time. Students were encouraged to run “productive windows”—those that related to course content. Spyware also tracked the number of “distractive windows” students ran, including games, pictures, email, instant messaging and web surfing. Students had these distractive windows open 42% of the class time. Students who tried to listen to the lecture while using these distractive windows had significantly lower scores on homework, projects, quizzes, final exams and final course averages than students who looked at mostly productive windows. Researchers also found that this population under reported the extent of their multitasking.
  • Students in a general psychology course completed weekly surveys on various aspects of the class. They reported their attendance, and if they used laptops during class for things other than note taking (like checking email, instant messaging, surfing the Web, playing games). They also rated how closely they paid attention to the lectures, how clear they found the lectures and how confident they were they understood the lecture material. The level of laptop use negatively correlated with how much attention students paid to the lectures, the clarity of the lectures and how well they understood the lecture material. “The level of laptop use was significantly and negatively related to student learning. The more students used their laptops in class, the lower their class performance.” (p. 910)

And several more.  My question: what exactly does the social psychology have to say about telling people information like this having an impact on their behavior.  I’d imagine you’d get a lot of “well, not for me” response.  Still, you better believe this information will make it’s way into my first-day-of-class lecture from now on.

But, but, but… it’s the skewed polls!

I think Kevin Drum’s comments about the latest conservative denialism over polls they don’t like is spot on:

 A couple of years after the 2004 election, a guy named Nate Silver started deconstructing polls in minute detail and explaining exactly what made some polls good and others bad. His approach was unsparingly rigorous and his overarching message was: don’t kid yourself. The numbers are what the numbers are, and they don’t care if you’re a liberal or a conservative. Week after week, Silver dug deep into the minutiae of how polls are put together and how they’re conducted, writing lengthy, table-laden posts that often meandered through several thousand words. Liberals loved it. Before long he was, for all practical purposes, the liberal patron saint of polling…

So far at least, the conservative approach has been….different. Their patron saint going into the last few weeks of the 2012 campaign is Dean Chambers, a blogger who runs a site called UnSkewed Polls. Chambers does not dig deep into the numbers. He doesn’t explain sample sizes and cell phone biases. He does just one thing: he reweights all the polls so they have the same proportion of Democrats and Republicans estimated by Rasmussen Reports, a pollster with a longstanding Republican house effect. Then he announces what the numbers are after his reweighting is done. Romney is a big winner every time.

Chambers doesn’t even pretend that his approach has any rigor…

And it suggests a fundamental difference between left and right, one that Chris Mooney wrote about earlier this year in The Republican Brain. Neither side has a monopoly on sloppy number crunching or wishful thinking, but liberals, faced with a reality they didn’t like, ended up accepting reality and deciding to learn more about it. That’s the Nate Silver approach. Conservatives, faced with a reality they didn’t like, invented a conspiracy theory to explain it and then produced an alternate reality more to their liking. It’s a crude and transparently glib reality, but that’s apparently what the true believers want.

Sad, but true.  Of course there are reality-based thinkers on the right, but like David Frum, they end up getting ignored and marginalized whereas unskewed polls becomes the darling of conservatives.

Obama’s bump = Paul Ryan?

There’s quite the interesting debate going on among political scientists on twitter, FB, and the blogs about just how damaging the 47% was to Romney.   John Sides concludes that he’s 30% certain it’s responsible for a 1% swing to Obama.  Personally, I’m 60% certain it’s responsible for more than that.   Leaving all that aside, Noam Scheiber makes a pretty compelling case– by looking at internals of various polls now and before the Ryan selection– that Ryan has done serious damage to Romney:

Back in late August, Obama led Romney on the question of who would handle Medicare better by 8 points in Florida and 10 points in Ohio; now he’s up 15 in Florida and 16 in Ohio. And the problems are especially acute among senior citizens, a group Obama has traditionally struggled with. A month ago, Obama as down 13 points in Florida among people 65 and older; today he’s up 4. On the specific question of Medicare, Obama was down 4 points among Florida seniors in August; today he’s up 5 points…

The numbers for Ohio are similar: In August, Obama was down 8 among seniors in the state; today he’s up 1. A month ago Obama was down 6 points among Ohio seniors on the Medicare issue; today he’s up 6. The turnaround here is simply breathtaking…

Interestingly, the early post-Ryan polling actually showed the GOP ticket gaining groundon Medicare, if only by disingenuously accusing Obama of cutting $716 billion from the program to pay for healthcare reform. (Ryan had proposed identical cuts, except in his case they would have been refunded to the wealthy as tax cuts.) But that that was before the Democrats joined the fight. Since then, the Dems have relentlessly attacked the Ryan plan, both at their convention and on the campaign trail, and the numbers have followed suit. It’s hard to believe Obama would have had the success he’s had here without Ryan himself on the ticket.

So, yes, the “47 percent” is a big deal. But the likely upshot is to prevent Romney from getting up off the mat, not to knock him down in the first place. It’s Ryan who deserves credit for that.

I must say, those numbers do make a pretty good case.  I’d actually be even more persuaded if we could see a consistently larger movement on the Medicare issue in swing states vs. uncontested states.  Of course, there’s not exactly a lot of polling in uncontested states.

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