The secret to my high course evaluations

Apparently, it’s my gender.  This is a very small study (done right here at NCSU!), but the results are nonetheless quite disturbing:

But North Carolina researcher Lillian MacNell, along with co-authors Dr. Adam Driscoll and Dr. Andrea Hunt, found a way to blind students to the actual gender of instructors by focusing on online course studies. The researchers took two online course instructors, one male and one female, and gave them two classes to teach. Each professor presented as his or her own gender to one class and the opposite to the other.

The results were astonishing. Students gave professors they thought were male much higher evaluations across the board than they did professors they thought were female, regardless of what gender the professors actually were. When they told students they were men, both the male and female professors got a bump in ratings. When they told the students they were women, they took a hit in ratings. Because everything else was the same about them, this difference has to be the result of gender bias.

“The difference in the promptness rating is a good example for discussion,” MacNell explains in the press release for the study. “Classwork was graded and returned to students at the same time by both instructors. But the instructor students thought was male was given a 4.35 rating out of 5. The instructor students thought was female got a 3.55 rating.” Considering that professors were rated on a five-point scale, losing an entire point on the “promptness” question just because students think you’re female is a major hit.

This particular study is small, so we shouldn’t get carried away about its results. But it certainly suggests an important avenue for future research. Students penalized the perceived female professor in all 12 categories, including in qualities that women are usually assumed to excel at, such as being caring and respectful. This comports with other studies that show that while female professors are judged somewhat less harshly if they conform more to female stereotypes, men still get bonus points for showing up male.

And, yes, one small study, but the fact that the results are statistically significant with such a low N makes them all the more compelling.  We definitely need to see more research on these lines and especially research which looks for ways to eliminate/reduce what appears to be a particularly insidious gender gap.


Dick Cheney is a deeply, deeply immoral and evil man.  It is amazing and disturbing to think how close this man was to the presidency.  In his latest attempts to justify the Bush administration on torture, he readily shows just how morally depraved he is.  Conor Friedersdorf takes him to task (I’ve cut the long excerpts from Cheney’s interview with Chuck Todd, which Friedersdorf includes):

That exchange leaves no room for mistaking former vice-president Cheney’s position: better to chain a man to the wall of a cell, douse him in cold water, and leave him there to freeze to death, even if he later turns out to be innocent, than to release that same man and risk not that he detonates a nuclear bomb in Manhattan, but that he ends up “on the battlefield,” where there’s a chance he could harm Americans. What if fully one-in-four prisoners tortured by the CIA were innocent?

Cheney is still unmoved:


Is that too high? You’re okay with that margin for error?


I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.

The ends justify the means.

There is no clearer illustration of the morally corrosive nature of torture than the once unthinkable position that Dick Cheney is unashamedly espousing on television. The position is even less defensible than the conceit that the Office of Legal Counsel defines what torture is. It is so indefensible that Cheney himself can scarcely maintain it…

Mere seconds after confronting the fact that numerous prisoners subject to the CIA interrogation program were innocent, Cheney defends it by saying, “they are terrorists.”

He has no defense for the actual facts of the situation…

His attempt to redefine torture as “what the 9/11 hijackers did” is no more coherent. The point came up repeatedly and seemed to be something that Cheney prepared.


Well, let me start with quoting you. You said earlier this week, “Torture was something that was very carefully avoided.” It implies that you have a definition of what torture is. What is it?


Well, torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do.

And that’s absolutely not true.

This is unusually naked nonsense.

Cheney is dodging questions by invoking the 9/11 dead. It would be as if O.J. Simpson said, “You think I murdered my wife and her friend? Murder is what al-Qaeda did to 3,000 New Yorkers on 9/11. The notion that there’s a moral equivalence between my actions and what al-Qaeda did is an insult to the American people.” …

The logic is absurd.

Torture is what al-Qaeda did to America on 9/11. CIA interrogators did not fly planes into buildings with prisoners inside. Therefore, the CIA did not torture prisoners. [emphasis in original]…

If it cannot be compared with 9/11, if it is not morally equivalent, then it should not be verboten.

That is the moral standard Cheney is unabashedly invoking on national television. He doesn’t want the United States to honor norms against torture. He doesn’t want us to abide by the Ten Commandments, or to live up to the values in the Declaration of Independence, or to be restrained by the text of the Constitution. Instead, Cheney would have us take al-Qaeda as our moral and legal measuring stick. Did America torture dozens of innocents? So what. 9/11 was worse.

Now that Cheney is stating all this explicitly it must be rejected as moral madness. Torture was the ticking time bomb. It exploded. And a city on a hill was destroyed. I hope it is rebuilt in time for my unborn children to grow up in a place that abhors torture, regarding it as a dark curiosity perpetrated by history’s villains.

And as to those villains, that sounds about right (though insufficiently harsh) for the moral midget that is Dick Cheney.  At least Voldemort was honest about his evil.

Photo of the day

Very cool Yahoo Tech gallery of best drone photos of the year:

Bali Barat National Park, Indonesia

Daniel Bean

Bali Barat National Park, Indonesia

Capturing an eagle soaring.

Understanding your cheap gas

Really liked this Economist post that quite succintly explains the current low oil prices and the potential geopolitical implications:

Four things are now affecting the picture. Demand is low because of weak economic activity, increased efficiency, and a growing switch away from oil to other fuels. Second, turmoil in Iraq and Libya—two big oil producers with nearly 4m barrels a day combined—has not affected their output. The market is more sanguine about geopolitical risk. Thirdly, America has become the world’s largest oil producer. Though it does not export crude oil, it now imports much less, creating a lot of spare supply. Finally, the Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price. They could curb production sharply, but the main benefits would go to countries they detest such as Iran and Russia. Saudi Arabia can tolerate lower oil prices quite easily. It has $900 billion in reserves. Its own oil costs very little (around $5-6 per barrel) to get out of the ground.

The main effect of this is on the riskiest and most vulnerable bits of the oil industry. These include American frackers who have borrowed heavily on the expectation of continuing high prices. They also include Western oil companies with high-cost projects involving drilling in deep water or in the Arctic, or dealing with maturing and increasingly expensive fields such as the North Sea. But the greatest pain is in countries where the regimes are dependent on a high oil price to pay for costly foreign adventures and expensive social programmes. These include Russia (which is already hit by Western sanctions following its meddling in Ukraine) and Iran (which is paying to keep the Assad regime afloat in Syria). Optimists think economic pain may make these countries more amenable to international pressure. Pessimists fear that when cornered, they may lash out in desperation.

I’m with the optimists.  A collapsing Russian economy sounds good to me.  Also, Kevin Drum has a nice chart on how supply is currently outstripping demand by a good amount.

This is good news, too:

There’s very little excess capacity these days, so if oil supply drops due to war or natural disaster, it can result in a very sudden spike in prices. And that can lead to economic chaos. But if demand has fallen significantly below supply, it means we now have excess capacity again. And if we have excess capacity, it means that the price of oil can be managed. It will still go up and down, but it’s less likely to unexpectedly spike upward. And this in turn means that, at least in the near future, oil is unlikely to derail the economic recovery. It’s a small but meaningful piece of good news.

Hooray.  Time to go buy a Suburban (kidding!)

Should Democrats forget the South?

Michael Tomasky kicked off an interesting debate last week in arguing that Democrats just need to dump the South.  I think the answer is, well no, mostly not, but it certainly makes for an edifying rant:

And that is what Louisiana, and almost the entire South, has become. The victims of the particular form of euthanasia it enforces with such glee are tolerance, compassion, civic decency, trans-racial community, the crucial secular values on which this country was founded… I could keep this list going. But I think you get the idea. Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, andextremely racialized, resentment. A fact made even sadder because on the whole they’re such nice people! (I truly mean that.)…

But it’s not just a question of numbers. The main point is this: Trying to win Southern seats is not worth the ideological cost for Democrats. As Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen recently told my colleague Ben Jacobs, the Democratic Party cannot (and I’d say should not) try to calibrate its positions to placate Southern mores: “It’s come to pass, and really a lot of white Southerners vote on gays and guns and God, and we’re not going to ever be too good on gays and guns and God.”

Not so fast, says Yglesias:

Tomasky’s argument begins to fall apart almost as soon as he states it. He acknowledges that the former Confederate states of Virginia and Florida are important to the party’s presidential prospects. Then he says “maybe you can throw in North Carolina under the right circumstances.” And also that “at some point in the near future, you’ll be able to talk about Georgia as a state a Democrat can capture.” But then he waves it away with the thought that “that’s presidential politics.”

But presidential politics doesn’t exist in some hermetically sealed box. Not only did Obama carry North Carolina in 2008, Kay Hagan won an open Senate seat there. And while Hagan lost in 2014, she ran well ahead of Obama’s approval rating. If North Carolina and maybe-someday-soon-Georgia are going to be competitive in presidential races, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t have competitive Senate and gubernatorial races. Indeed, quite the opposite, since a statewide candidate in those states could easily be less liberal than Obama and still far more liberal than a southern Republican.

John Cassidy similarly pushes back on complete abandonment:

For a number of reasons, I think that would be going much too far. If the Democratic Party wants to be a national party of government, it needs to retain and expand its presence in the South, rather than neglecting it. And if it’s serious about offering hope and encouragement to Americans of all classes and ethnic groups, it can’t seriously consider giving up on what is still the most deprived region of the country. Even if the Democrats don’t need the South—and I think they do—the South needs the Democratic Party.

Harry Enten brings the numbers at 538:

1. What do you mean by the South? Democrats are arguably doing their best in at least 20 years in three of the five most populous southern states. President Obama won Florida two consecutive times. In 2008, Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win in North Carolina since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Even as Obama lost the Tar Heel State in 2012, Democratic House candidates there won a majority of the vote. Not only was Obama the first Democrat to win Virginia since 1964, but the state has two Democratic senators for the first time since 1973, and Terry McAuliffe was the first gubernatorial candidate of either party to win the governorship when his party held the presidency since 1973.

So maybe people really mean Democrats are hopeless in the Deep South? That’s a bit harder to rebut. Then again, you’re also talking about just a handful of states…

3. We’ve been here before. On the presidential level, the South isn’t all that much more Republican-leaning than it was 14 years ago. President Obama did 17.7 percentage points worse in the 11 former Confederate states in 2012 than he did in the rest of the nation. John Kerry did 16.7 points worse in 2004. Al Gore did 15.6 percentage points worse in 2000.

I’ll give the last word to Chait, as he takes a really interesting, long historical look at the matter:

One tradition bore intense suspicion of centralized government, venerated farmers and rural life, believed the Constitution forbade Congress from all but a handful of specifically enumerated fields of activity, felt comfortable with aggression and violence in both domestic life and foreign affairs, and defended existing social institutions against racial minorities and their allies. This political coalition has always had its strongest base in the Deep South. It is right-wing.

The other tradition advocated a stronger federal government (and deemed this expanded role Constitutional), considered public investment and education the best method of securing prosperity, was more averse to territorial conflict with neighbors, and was more solicitous of racial minorities. This coalition has always had its strongest base in New England. It is left-wing.

Throughout the 19th century, American politics were groping toward a system that reflected this ideological division. The birth of the Republican Party borrowed elements of these ideas from the dying Whigs and fused them into a coherent pro-government, socially liberal (by the standards of the day) party. The conservative Democrats held the South. The country’s divisions in 1860 looked almost identical to today’s, only with the party labels reversed:

Photo: 270 to Win

It has taken 150 years for the reversal of the parties to work itself out completely. The Republican Party abandoned Reconstruction in 1876. Teddy Roosevelt led the progressive wing out of the Party in 1912. The progressive tradition grew among the northern wing of the Democratic Party, and figures like Woodrow Wilson and then Franklin Roosevelt eventually developed liberalism into a partisan creed. Yet they were still attached by deep social habit to the conservative southern wing…

If the mid-20th century forms your frame of reference, the Obama years represent a regrettable turn away from normality. But an even longer view of history leads to the conclusion that the trends of the Obama years have simply brought the two parties back into their natural resting position. The amazing thing about southern Democrats is not the scale of their fall, but the heights they were able to sustain in the face of all logic.

Yep.  It’s hard to understate the lasting influence of the Slavery and the Civil War on American politics.  It took till almost the end of the 20th century to work itself out.

Anyway, as for me, I’m mostly with Yglesias.  There’s real advantages to maintaining a two party presence even when things aren’t going well for you so you’ll be ready for opportunity.  And heck, presidential election years are every four years.  And I’m prepared to write off Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, but that’s hardly the whole South.  It is an interesting and provocative idea, though, that makes us thing about where we have been as a nation and where we want to go.

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