Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Trump Administration and Data

This podcast is a few weeks old now, but the information is still very relevant: Politics Podcast: Data Under Trump. Trump doesn't have a particularly good record with data thus far, but all we know is from Trump as a candidate and then president-elect, not as president. As we keep slouching towards Bethlehem moving closer to the inauguration, these are some important things to keep in mind. 

A few important issues they touch on:
  • A lot of the important economic data used by both policy-makers and politics journalists are generated from survey data - for example, how we get data on inflation
  • Though a lot of the economic data isn't shown to the administration prior to release (preventing any cooking of the data), they can have an impact by starving these groups of funding
  • Making the Census or the American Community Survey, which are both government-run, voluntary will lead to increased costs (and there's a really good reason why)
Great quote from the podcast: "If he really is going to make good on being a law-and-order president, we need to track crimes better [than we currently do]."

Snapshot of the Nation: Pre-Inauguration

Yesterday, Gallup released the results of their Mood of the Nation survey, which assesses satisfaction with a variety of policy and life issues. This survey, conducted between January 4th and 8th assessed satisfaction with 28 items, ranging from policies (on guns, energy, and abortion, to name a few) to the environment to business and industry.

At the top of the list with 80% is overall quality of life. At the bottom? Race relations at 22% and the nation's efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness a close second at 23%:

As Trump prepares to take the presidential oath on Jan. 20, 80% of Americans are satisfied with the overall quality of life, making it the top area of satisfaction. Quality of life has ranked as the top item each year, tying with military strength and preparedness in 2013 and 2014. Since 2001, about eight in 10 Americans -- with a high of 89% in 2001 and 2002 -- have been satisfied with the overall quality of life in the U.S.

This year, just 22% say they are satisfied with the state of race relations, putting it at the bottom of the list along with the nation's efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness (23%). Anti-poverty efforts have always ranked near the bottom of the list. Race relations had ranked higher in the past, including a tie for fourth place in 2014, before a series of deadly incidents between police and young black men changed perceptions.
Analysis by political ideology found that Democrats were overall more satisfied than Republicans, though Republicans were more satisfied on certain issues, such as gun laws, the influence of organized religion, and the distribution of income/wealth. It will be interesting to see how these data change post-inauguration.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My Dystopian Nightmare

Via The Daily Parker, and as a follow-up to my 1984-themed post, The New Republic discusses the similarities and dissimilarities of Trump's presidency and the Hunger Games books series:
No one thinks the Trump administration will transform the U.S. into Panem, Suzanne Collins’s post-apocalyptic North America where a totalitarian government forces children to fight to the death on national television. Still, a number of Trump’s critics have noted some legitimate parallels between him and The Hunger Games since he launched his campaign.

Vox explained “How The Hunger Games anticipated Donald Trump’s rise,” the commonality being that “in our culture, a really strong, compelling narrative trumps everything, every time, no matter what side you’re on.” Jezebel declared that Trump’s victory tour was “Literally a Plotline From The Hunger Games.” And New York Times columnist Ross Douthat floated Sean Hannity as Trump’s own Caesar Flickerman, the flamboyant state television broadcaster played by Stanley Tucci.
The main message of the piece is that literary and film portrayals of totalitarianism are much more bold than actual authoritarianism, which is subtle, sometimes so subtle people don't even realize they're living under control. (I touched on this in my previous post, in which information control results in have nots who have no idea they're have nots.) In this scenario, people may notice problems but when they make comparisons to what they think totalitarianism looks like from media portrayals, they decide to just deal with it because things could be worse.

I'm getting a lot of messages from friends to just "wait and see" - friends, I might add who weren't nearly so reasonable after Obama won - and that Trump won't be able to make sweeping changes until later in his presidency. (At which time, it might be too late, but I digress.) Of course, a lot can (and does) happen in the president's first 100 days.

Are We Birds or Opposites?

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people tell me that psychological research findings are merely "common sense," which they tend to demonstrate with popular expressions. I usually resist the urge to school them on confirmation bias, though that's one of the cognitive biases they're exhibiting in such utterances. And instead point out times when common sense might tell us two contradictory things. For instance, a popular expression I hear a lot, with regard to research on similarity between friends and romantic partners is "Birds of a feather flock together." However, if I were to cite research showing that friends and romantic partners often differ in terms of personality, I would hear "Opposites attract." So, which is right?

A new article in Psychological Science sought to answer this question while counteracting biases in previous research. The problem is that in this area of research, we tend to rely on self-report and peer-report personality measures. And if people go into the study with expectations about what they think is true (i.e., are we birds or opposites?), that might bias how they respond. Instead, these researchers used behavioral measures of personality:
The first approach measured personality using a common type of digital footprint: Facebook Likes. Facebook users generate Likes by clicking a Like button on Facebook Pages related to products, famous people, books, etc. This feature allows users to express their preferences for a variety of content. It has been shown that Likes can be used to accurately assess people’s personality (Kosinski, Stillwell, & Graepel, 2013; Youyou, Kosinski, & Stillwell, 2015). For example, people who score high on Extraversion tend to Like “partying,” “dancing,” and celebrities.

The second approach measured personality using digital records of language use: Facebook status updates. Facebook users write status updates to share their thoughts, feelings, and life events with friends. Previous research has consistently found links between personality and language use (Hirsh & Peterson, 2009; Mehl, Gosling, & Pennebaker, 2006; Tausczik & Pennebaker, 2010). Extraverts, for example, tend to use more words describing positive emotions (e.g., “great,” “happy,” or “amazing”; H. A. Schwartz et al., 2013) than introverts do. Several studies have demonstrated accurate personality assessment based on people’s language use in social media (Farnadi et al., 2014; Sumner, Byers, Boochever, & Park, 2012), including Facebook status updates (Park et al., 2014; H. A. Schwartz et al., 2013).
Using data from the myPersonality Facebook application, which allows users to take various personality measures (so all participants had at least some self-report personality results), they built models using like data and status update language data. These models were then applied to a sample of dyads (pairs of friends or romantic partners). They found that dyads tend to be similar, and this is especially true for members of a romantic couple:
Our findings provide evidence that romantic partners as well as friends are characterized by similar personalities. We measured personality traits relying on three different sources of data: traditional self-report questionnaires, digital records of behaviors and preferences, and language use. Relatively strong similarity was detected between romantic partners and between friends when we used Likes-based and language-based measures. By contrast, self-reports yielded only weak to negligible similarity. Across all three methods, stronger personality similarity was found for romantic couples than for friends.
So based on this research, it seems we're birds.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Too Darn Hot

Yesterday afternoon, I finally got to see "Too Hot the Handel," a jazz-gospel version of Messiah that has been performed in Chicago for the last 12 years. It was unbelievably fun and well-executed, seamlessly blending the original Messiah music with gospel, big band, and improvisational jazz styles, and featured some fantastic soloists. The tenor, Rodrick Dixon, probably stood out as the best voice, but the alto, Karen Marie Richardson, was amazing to listen to and watch. My belly dance teacher has been asking us to exude sass during our dance routine that we'll be doing in March, and I've struggled with exactly how that should look. The alto had it: she stood up and looked at the crowd with a little smile and a stance that said, "I guess I'll do you mere mortals a favor and sing for you."

This is my first time seeing Karen Marie Richardson performing in person, but I've been a fan of hers for a while - every since I heard her sing this song with Postmodern Jukebox:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

NFL Ref Bias

Friday, FiveThirtyEight explored some explanations for sideline bias among NFL refs, resulting in the conclusion that coaches yell at refs because it works:
But as it turns out, a sideline bias in the NFL is real, and it’s spectacular. To prove it, we looked at the rates at which refs call the NFL’s most severe penalties, including defensive pass interference, aggressive infractions like personal fouls and unnecessary roughness, and offensive holding calls, based on where the offensive team ran its play.

For three common penalties, the direction of the play — that is, whether it’s run toward the offensive or defensive team’s sideline — makes a significant difference. In other words, refs make more defensive pass interference calls on the offensive team’s sideline but more offensive holding calls on the defensive team’s sideline. What’s more, these differences aren’t uniform across the field — the effect only shows up on plays run, roughly, between the 32-yard lines, the same space where coaches and players are allowed to stand during play.
Read the full examination at the link above, but the article touches on some psychological concepts, particularly cue learning, in which our reaction is affected by the reactions of others. For instance, it's why watching a comedian live with others seems funnier than watching the same special at home alone; you laugh harder in the presence of other people. They use this to explain why factors like crowd noise have been shown to affect ref behavior in past research.

Of course, another important psychological factor is contingencies of reinforcement and vicarious learning. If screaming at the ref does have an impact, the coach or player who does it will be more likely to do it again. Other coaches and players watching that behavior be reinforced will also be likely to do the same thing. We may complain about or make fun of coaches that scream at the ref, but if it works, it's going to keep happening, and it's going to encourage other coaches to do the same thing, even if screaming at someone is not really their thing.

Speaking of making fun of screaming coaches, here's one of my favorite Bad Lip Reading videos:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

On Reading and Writing

I just finished reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.


They might be the quickest 200-some pages I've ever read. The book is filled with lots of great advice for writers, that I'll definitely be taking to heart. I did notice that her writing style is different from mine - she seems to be a discovery writer, whereas I'm more of an outline writer (see a previous post on these topics). But much of her advice is useful regardless of whether you outline first or just start writing. For instance, when you're having trouble getting started with writing something, just focus on one element, as though you're viewing a 1-inch picture of the scene, and describe that. She's very much about writing as a regular activity.

There are many places throughout the book where she said things that really struck me, like "You wouldn't be a writer if reading hadn't enriched your soul more than other pursuits." Or this paragraph, that really addresses the current mood in our society:
The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but clearly the dark side is rising. Things could not have been more odd and frightening in the Middle Ages. But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes. And this is another reason to write: people need us, to mirror for them and for each other without distortion - not to look around and say, "Look at yourselves, you idiots!" but to say, "This is who we are."
And now, after finishing this great book on writing, I've been asked by a friend from National Novel Writing Month to be a beta-reader of her book. I think having Anne Lamott's advice fresh on my mind will help me offer my friend constructive advice. I read the first page yesterday after I received the file, and was in awe of the gorgeous prose. I still don't know anything about the story and, interestingly, she can't think of a good title for her book yet. So I'm about to read a book where I have absolutely no expectations going in. In between reading, I also need to finish my own book - still have a couple chapters to write, though I figured out last night how to get through the part that was holding me up.