Maybe not an Oligarchy after all?

So, the Gilens and Page study a few years ago that found that the US Government is pretty much only responsive to the richest Americans, rightly, got a lot of coverage.  I strongly suspect the latest research, largely rebutting Gilens and Page, will not receive the same level of attention.

Now, as this is not my direct area of research I’m not going to take the time to read the original research to draw truly firm conclusions.  That said, as summarized by the smart and reliable Dylan Matthews in Vox, I think the tenative conclusion really has to be… “hey, not so much of an oligarchy after all.”  Matthews:

There’s only one problem: Research published since then has raised serious questions about this paper, both its finding and its analysis. This is, of course, how normal science works; some academics put a finding out there, and their peers pick it apart.

But the study has become a frequently invoked piece of evidence in debates about money in politics, and the public and political debate has not kept up with the scholarly one. And the latest scholarly critiques suggest that while the rich certainly have more political influence than the middle class, ordinary Americans still win a substantial share of the time, even when the affluent oppose them.

America is an imperfect democracy, in other words — but it’s hardly an oligarchy…

Since its initial release, the Gilens/Page paper’s findings have been targeted in three separate debunkings. Cornell professor Peter Enns, recent Princeton PhD graduateOmar Bashir, and a team of three researchers — UT Austin grad student J. Alexander Branham, University of Michigan professor Stuart Soroka, and UT professor Christopher Wlezien — have all taken a look at Gilens and Page’s underlying data and found that their analysis doesn’t hold up.

Gilens and Page used a database of 1,779 policy issues — which included data on the opinions of median-income Americans, the rich, business interests, and non-business interest groups like unions or the National Rifle Association — to determine whose opinions correlated most closely with actual government policy.

But the researchers critiquing the paper found that middle-income Americans and rich Americans actually agree on an overwhelming majority of topics. Out of the 1,779 bills in the Gilens/Page data set, majorities of the rich and middle class agree on 1,594; there are 616 bills both groups oppose and 978 bills both groups favor. That means the groups agree on 89.6 percent of bills.

That leaves only 185 bills on which the rich and the middle class disagree, and even there the disagreements are small. On average, the groups’ opinion gaps on the 185 bills is 10.9 percentage points; so, say, 45 percent of the middle class might support a bill while 55.9 percent of the rich support it.

Matthews is right, this is how science is supposed to work.  Gilens and Page publish something and are clear about their methods.  Others take an even closer look, consider some things differently, and come to different conclusions.  It’s pretty clear that rich people have too much influence in American politics, but the latest research, at least, suggests the problem is, hopefully, not quite as bad as we fear.

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Equality vs. Equity

So, a couple friends posted this on FB and I did a google image search for a better link to it here.  Interesting, I couldn’t find anything.  Pretty much all the searches turned up the first two panels.  The very cool contribution here is the third panel:

(Also, I love all the complaints about this in the FB comments)

Quick hits (part I)

1) Tom Edsall takes a thorough look (it’s always thorough with Edsall) on a wide range of recent polling data about Trump, noting especially the possible social desirability bias to lead Trump to do much better in polls without a human interviewer.  Here’s his conclusions:

There are a few conclusions to be drawn.

First, the way Trump has positioned himself outside of the traditional boundaries of politics will make it unusually difficult to gauge public support for him and for many of his positions.

Second, the allegiance of many white Democrats and independents is difficult to predict — cross-pressured as they are by the conflict between unsavory Trump positions they are drawn to and conscience or compunction. The ambivalence of many Republicans toward Trump as their party’s brazenly defiant nominee will further compound the volatility of the electorate.

Finally, the simple fact that Trump has beaten the odds so far means that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he could beat them again. If he does take the White House, much, if not all, of his margin of victory will come from voters too ashamed to acknowledge publicly how they intend to cast their vote.

2) Are universities too corporatized?  Yes!  But I think this “Slow Professor” take oversells the problem.

3) Why there is still a black market for marijuana even where it is legal.

4) An interesting contrary take on Grit.  I actually have Duckworth’s new book sitting on my shelf (and am cautiously optimistic it might help with my decidedly-lacking-in-grit teenager).

5) No, science isn’t broken.

6a) Oh man did this interview with liberal Sanders supporter, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas, Thomas Frank come in for sharp criticism from many PS friends on FB.

6b) As did this:

You wrote a piece a little while ago about data journalism and technocracy and the so-called expert consensus. You attacked people like Ezra Klein and the focus on political science in journalism. Can you explain how that critique connects with your broader thinking about the Democratic Party?

I would say that it reflects the culture of liberalism in the same way that there is a lot of scientific sounding stuff that liberals really eat up. They love it when something is explained to them by someone who appears to be a great authority figure. This is the culture of liberalism. A great example is to look at the New York Times op-ed page and how many of the contributors are academics. This is also a problem with journalism, generally.

OK, but is your problem that the people who are consulted as being experts are not actually experts, or that the idea of going to experts is itself problematic?

Both of those are true to some degree. It’s not, obviously, that experts are wrong across the board, but that it’s easy to conceal an agenda by covering it with expertise. It’s really easy. It’s easy to do it with numbers. There are all sorts of ways to do things like that.

I think the latter is true as well. The way I try to get at truth is more through cultural history. That’s what I sort of naturally gravitate back to all the time. I think when you try to understand everything with numbers it is obviously going to leave a lot of things unspoken and unanalyzed.

Suffice it to say that anyone who attacks Ezra Klein, using data, and using political science research to inform journalism is not going to win me over to his position.

7) Creative ways to fight Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

8) Could Macy’s troubles threaten a third of American malls?  My very own, now Macy’s-less mall is surely in trouble.

9) Is a sub two hour marathon humanly possible?  One exercise scientist thinks so and is working to make it a reality.

10) The link probably won’t work for most of you, sorry, but I was very intrigued by this article on the “Tedification” of the large lecture and the study of “proxemics.”  I used to teach my large lecture (150 students) in a surprisingly intimate room where I felt like I could truly connect with the students at the back of the room.  That building has been demolished and in the new room I have, I literally cannot see the students at the back of the room, 20 feet higher than me.  I cannot help bu think that has to be worse for learning.

Michael Tingley and Amy Donohue, both principals at Bora, say the new rooms were designed using studies of proxemics, which show that students learn better when they are closer to the professor.

“There is an evolution in technology that is changing how institutions interact with their students,” Mr. Tingley says, adding that their aim was to make large lectures have a “campfire feel.”

Lynne L. Hindman, research coordinator at Oregon State, is conducting research of her own to analyze the effectiveness of teaching and learning in the new rooms. Ms. Hindman has gathered data from lectures taught in the LInC100 arena and plans to use heat-sensing cameras to identify movement patterns of the professors who teach in them. She hopes to map students’ grade-point averages to individual seats in the classroom, to see if placement correlates to grades.

11) Dahlia Lithwick on the difficulty of covering Merrick Garland.

12) Being a truck driver used to be a great job.  Not anymore.

13) Daily diet soda in pregnancy is linked to greater likelihood of an overweight 1-year old.  And with all the expected controls.  I gotta admit… hmmmm.

14) Back when I just had two kids, we were great with getting them to bed by 7:30 every night.  I hate that my 16-year old was in bed before 8:00 every night until 2nd grade, yet my current 5-year old is rarely in bed before 8:30.  A downside of four.  Really good article on bedtimes.

And well-rested kids behave quite differently than sleep-deprived kids. In that same interventional study I mentioned earlier, the 7- to 11-year-olds who were put to bed an hour earlier for five nights were rated by their teachers (who didn’t know that they’d gotten more sleep) as being less irritable and impulsive than usual. A similar studyfound that four nights of going to sleep an hour earlier made 8- to 12-year-olds more even-keeled and boosted their short-term memory, working memory, and attention skills compared with kids who had their bedtimes shifted later by an hour. Anotherstudy found that 2-year-olds who had early bedtimes were, at age 8, 62 percent less likely than those with later or inconsistent bedtimes to have attention problems and 81 percent less likely to have aggression issues.

15) The neuroscience of why you cannot lose weigh on a diet.

16) All those “pro-business” reforms Republicans are always talking about that will increase economic growth?  Based on cross-national comparisons, not so much.  Drum:

More than likely, pro-business reforms in the US would have little to no effect on economic growth. Here’s Soltas:

Maybe the lesson here is to beware the TED-talk version of development economics. Shortening the time it takes to incorporate a small business is not a substitute for deeper institutional reforms, such as those that support investment in human and physical capital, remove economic barriers that hold back women and ethnic or religious minorities, or improve transportation, power, and sanitation infrastructure.

17) Max Boot has had enough of Trump’s Republican Party.

18) Jon Cohn explains that, yes, Hillary Clinton is a progressive.

19) Finally got around to reading Emily Bazelon’s excellent NYT Magazine piece “Should prostitution be a crime?”  In short: it depends. It is fascinating how completely divided both the feminist and human rights movements are over what the approach should be.  It also seems very clear that what policy makes sense surely very much depends on the unique history, culture, and socio-demographics of the country involved.

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