Good guy or bad guy?

Nice short Daily Show clip on the gun nuts.  Stewart makes a great point– somebody shows up with a gun in public and you really have no way of knowing if it’s a good guy or bad guy.  And the safest assumption is bad guy. And these guys who get off by scaring people by walking into a restaurant to “exercise the Constitutional rights”?  So, so pathetic.


Photo of the day

From the National Geographic tumblr:

Men inspect a British airplane with folding wings, 1918.No Credit Given

Men inspect a British airplane with folding wings, 1918.

The abortion mirror

Latest Gallup poll on abortion.  Nothing particularly new here, but still interesting to see how closely the American public is split on their basic approach to the issue:

U.S. Adults' Position on Abortion

Also, the under-appreciated fact in how the parties are really a mirror image of each other:

Americans' Position on Abortion

Those 27-28% of persons in the minority position of the political party are sure not getting much, if any, actual representation in their parties, though.  Also, interesting to note the great divergence between the two dominant “social issues” of recent decades in which public opinion on gay marriage has changed dramatically while the issue of abortion has been quite stable.

On expertise in climate and politics

I enjoyed this post from a climate scientist who regularly meets with climate skeptics who think they can have informed discussions with him because they watch the weather channel:

I can be in the grocery store and if someone finds out that I am a meteorologist-climatologist type, they often feel comfortable telling me “the climate changes naturally” or launching into some zombie theory (i.e. a theory that I have heard a million times and has been disproven by the science). I am usually cordial, but in the back of my mind, I am thinking: “Really? You think the director of a major university’s atmospheric sciences program (Go Dawgs) with a BS, MS, and PhD in meteorology from a top program (Go Noles) doesn’t know that the climate changes naturally?”

I often wonder if nuclear engineers experience people walking up to them in the mall suggesting new reactor cooling techniques. But I digress.

Meteorology is rooted in fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and other complex mathematics-physics principles. It has been rated, many times, as one of the most difficult majors on a college campus. I often have students coming to my program wanting to study weather or climate because they “love clouds or tornadoes,” yet when I lay out the math, physics, and other requirements, they have a “deer-in-headlights” look. (Click here for more information on the credentials required to be a meteorologist.) I think even this curriculum could be augmented, because many programs are very limited in coursework related to climate modeling, paleoclimate studies, advanced time series analysis, and advanced statistical methods.

The lesson here is that you must consume information from credible or expert sources. Ask yourself if the author of that blog or Op-Ed has a background in the science, has published in peer-reviewed journals, or at least put forth their position in a forum that can be evaluated, tested, or scrutinized.  Additionally, it is important to remember that just because people have “equal access” to experts in formats like Twitter, it doesn’t mean “equal expertise.” My 7 year old could tweet his view on the onset of El Niño, but it doesn’t mean it is credible.

Awesome.  Now, Political Science is not one of the hardest majors on campus.  There’s not a lot of physics, fluid dynamics, etc., but damn it, I learned a hell of a lot earning a PhD and continue to learn a hell of a lot keeping up with the discipline, but because it’s politics, anybody thinks that because they ocassionally watch Fox News or pick up a Time in the dentist’s office, our opinions are equally valid.  You know what, sometimes they actually are.  Some things really are just a matter of opinion, i.e., is Obama doing a “good job” should we make it easier or harder for persons to immigrate to the US.  But, most of my opinions are very much informed by years of training and specialized knowledge.  Even though I’m probably no more likely to pick the winner of the next presidential election than you are, my prediction is based upon volumes of past research applied to the current context.   Plenty of times I’ll do interviews and say I was basically just a “political pundit.”  And that’s fine.  I know a lot about politics and I certainly have opinions.  But more often than not, I am speaking as a political scientist, and when I am doing so I am bringing a specific body of knowledge to bear.

Anyway, I actually love it that I can have an at least somewhat meaningful discussion with most anybody who follows politics a reasonable amount (I suppose that climate discussion is much harder for the climate scientist to have with the average Joe), but I do think there is very real value (often overlooked, but appreciated by the Ezra Klein’s and Jon Chait’s of this world) in what Political Scientists have to offer.


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