From the monthly archives:

February 2009

Do Churchgoers and Republicans Consume More Porn?

by Henry Farrell on February 28, 2009

Andrew Sullivan “links to”: a “New Scientist”: story suggesting that they do.

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds. … Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year’s presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.

But if you look at the “actual study”: (PDF), not so much.

bq. The fourth column reports that in regions where more people report regularly attending religious services (per National Election Studies 2004), overall subscription rates are not statistically significantly different from subscriptions elsewhere (p 0.848).

bq. … Furthermore, I found no significant relationship between subscriptions to this adult entertainment service and presidential voting in 2004, based on poll data by congressional district. However, using individual-level data from a Hitwise sample of ten million anonymized U.S. Internet users, Tancer (2008), finds that adult escort sites are more popular in blue states that voted for Gore in 2004, while visitors from the red states that voted for Bush in 2004 are more likely to visit wife-swapping sites, adult webcams, and sites about voyeurism.

What evidence there is in the paper of a relationship between religious faith and porn consumption seems, as best as I can interpret the relevant table, to be based on a simple OLS regression with no reported control variables. Nor does there seem to be _any_ discussion in the piece of correlations between porn consumption and voting patterns in the most recent presidential election.

I’m not sure whether to blame the New Scientist or the paper’s author, who perhaps seems (if quoted fairly and accurately, which is of course by no means certain – he could have made a few vague handwaves that were taken completely out of context) to have hammed up his results a bit in the interview. But even if there _were_ strong results, they wouldn’t necessarily tell us much. The data is all aggregated at the state or zipcode level, but the decision to purchase or not purchase porn online is obviously an individual one. There are _all sorts_ of obvious ecological problems in drawing inferences about religious people’s individual propensities from aggregate data. This is directly analogous to “Heritage horseflop”: claiming that because rich states tend to support Democrats, therefore the Democrats are the party of the rich. As Gelman, Park et al. showed, that inference was directly misleading. Similarly, even if people in more religious or Republican states _were_ more inclined to purchase porn online, this doesn’t imply that religious _people_ or _individual_ Republicans were more inclined to purchase porn online, and I can think of at least two or three plausible alternative causal mechanisms that would explain the observed correlation.

Political geology

by Henry Farrell on February 27, 2009

I liked this piece of writing from Arthur Goldhammer’s “consistently excellent”: blog on French politics.

It’s always interesting to watch the fissures develop in the Socialist Party. It’s almost a geological process. Each aspirant is a tectonic plate moved by the immense pressure of his or her ambitions. For a time a couple of these plates may move in tandem, but then an opposing force impinges from some odd angle, subduction occurs, and one begins to witness surface changes: a ridge or wrinkle developing here, a fissure there.

No sooner did Martine Aubry open the party leadership to a dozen or so Royalistes than we witness[ed] the emergence of a first fissure …

Fun Old Stuff

by John Holbo on February 27, 2009

I’m back from a week on Bali, where we felt as relaxed and removed from the cares of life as a Japanese Batman. [click to continue…]

Netroots lefties

by Henry Farrell on February 26, 2009

The “New York Times”: has an article today talking about a new alliance between netroots-type left bloggers, MoveOn and SEIU to start challenging conservative Democrats in primaries. The fact of this alliance plausibly doesn’t fit well with “arguments”: that I and others have made to the effect that netroots types are not especially left-leaning. And the reason that it doesn’t sit well is that I and the others were wrong. Netroots blog readers may _identify themselves_ as being a mixed bag of ideologies. But in fact, they’re very strongly and coherently to the left.

These graphs, taken from Eric Lawrence, John Sides’ and my “paper”: on blog readers and polarization, illustrate this pretty well. Start by looking at a graph showing how readers of leftwing blogs, rightwing blogs, and people who read both identify themselves when they are asked where they fit on the liberal-conservative spectrum.


There are a fair number of left-leaning blog readers who identify themselves as strongly liberal. But there are less of them then there are of readers who identify themselves as only somewhat liberal, or as centrists. But self-identification here is misleading, as we can see if we look at a scale measuring blogreaders’ attitudes to a number of hot-button political issues such as abortion and the Iraq war, where left and right disagreed strongly at the time the data was gathered (nb that this scale has more points at which readers’ ideologies may be located than the first one).


Here, we don’t see anything like an even spread between those who are strongly liberal (i.e. inclined to take the ‘liberal’ position on all of these issues), and those who are moderate liberals or centrists. Instead, left blog readers tend to clump heavily at the strongly liberal end of the spectrum, with pretty well no centrists worth talking about. If we look specifically at readers of netroots blogs, such as Daily Kos and Crooks and Liars (rather than readers of leftwing blogs as a whole), we see roughly the same pattern.

What this suggests is that readers of left wing blogs are much more liberal (when you look at their attitudes to hot-button political issues) than they identify themselves as being. Hence, a claim that I thought was true – that netroots types didn’t have a coherent ideology – is in fact false (or at the least, somewhat misleading). Hence too the plausible viability of coalitions between netroots types and others to try to move the Democratic party to the left.

Recycling in the digital era

by John Q on February 26, 2009

The observation that most of the falsehoods in George Will’s notorious Washington Post column on global warming have appeared in many previous columns, some going back as far as 1992, raises some interesting questions. The obvious ones like “How does this guy justify getting paid” and “Why is this paper still being published” have already been asked, so I thought I’d look a bit more at the question of recycling.
[click to continue…]

The Miner and the Copper

by Harry on February 25, 2009


A few summers ago we were having our house appraised. I opened the door to the appraiser who took a step back, blinked, and then stared rudely at me for about 30 seconds. Then “Oh, you’re English”, he says. (The tip-off being the large picture on my T-Shirt of Zebedee saying “Time for Bed”). He was from a Yorkshire mining community; his father and brothers had both been miners but he was too young himself; his brother (somehow) came to the US to become a hairdresser, and my appraiser followed a few years later.

There’s probably a dissertation to be written about the migration of participants in the Miner’s Strike to the US. A BBC exec chased down the two protagonists in this wonderful Don McPhee photo, and although the miner in the picture (George Brealey) died in Edington some years ago, the copper who you can see trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile now lives in Tennessee. Full story here. And, if it works, a gallery of McPhee’s pictures (they’re all great, but #4 of the kids being evacuated, and #6 of Wilson lighting his pipe, are fantastic). (Hat-tip, Chris, who thought this was more down my alley than his).

Am I blocked or not?

by Eszter Hargittai on February 25, 2009

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society just launched Herdict Web, “a tool that employs the distributed power of the Internet community to provide insight into what users around the world are experiencing in terms of web accessibility.”

Depending on where you access the Internet, the frequency with which you run into inaccessible Web sites varies. The OpenNet Initiative has been documenting cases of Internet filtering for years (see resulting Access Denied book). Herdict Web’s ultimate goal is similar, but the methodological approach is different: it relies on users’ reports from across the world to display a real-time picture of user experiences with Web site accessibility. Read more about it.

And be sure to join the herd! (Rest assured that everyone on the project realizes that a group of sheep tends to be referred to as a flock.) Congrats to Jonathan Zittrain and the entire Herdict Team on a great site and service!

The Otterbury Incident

by Harry on February 24, 2009

Rereading a much-loved book from childhood is a bit like meeting an old childhood friend. There’s doubt, until you finally meet, whether the magic of friendship will still be there and I imagine that it can be quite a disaster (though this has never been my own experience, in fact I’ve found that the people I liked as a kid and have encountered since have turned into quite delightful adults). So it was with some trepidation that I read The Otterbury Incident (out of print, but available from US amazon here and UK amazon here) to my oldest girl a few years ago, especially because the edition that was in print then lacks the lovely Ardizzone cover from the Puffin edition otterbury-incident (the original Ardizzone illustrations are all inside though and here are some more). My dad read it to me when I was 8 (it was published when he was 8) and I loved it so much that I reread it several times, the last well into my teens. But, who knows, perhaps the magical world of bomb sites, spivs, boys brutalized by their guardians, and one kindly teacher, would no longer have any hold on me, let alone her.

[click to continue…]

The News Quiz

by Harry on February 24, 2009

Some years ago a considerably younger friend tried to explain the (to me, and, I’m glad to say, to CB, elusive) appeal of Friends: “Look, its seeing people having the kind of life you’d like yourself — a group of nice, attractive friends, witty, never really stressed, who care for each other and seem to enjoy their relationships. Its like you and The News Quiz: you wish that you were surrounded by a bunch of unattractive middle-aged people who still belong in the world as it was before the Miners’ Strike was lost, and make old-people jokes. You’d like that life, with an old Tory who doesn’t fit in (AC was still alive), the odd young person to make you glad you’re not young, and a occasional cricket-loving Trotskyist ex-punk to make you feel like you belong” (actually, I made up the bit in italics). The analysis was plausible enough that I refrained from pointing out the disanalogies — like that the News Quiz team is composed of real people, who are genuinely witty, genuinely friends, and do it all for a transport allowance and the price of the cup of tea and the slice of genoa cake I’ve no doubt they have on the train. I also refrained from pointing out that its a good job we’ve known each other since she was 8, or I’d be unnerved by her insight into my character.

Anyway I was reminded of this by hearing The News Quiz, which was bloody brilliant this week. I was thrilled that Shappi Khorsandi was on because, contrary to my friend’s comment, I like young people (though I am glad I’m not one) and Khorsandi seems like a rising star; but right at the beginning the cricket-loving Trotskyist ex-punk stole the show. Listen here.

Promoting Creative Commons through a tweaked Facebook meme

by Eszter Hargittai on February 24, 2009

Facebook Album Cover meme resultIf you’re on Facebook then it’s unlikely that you haven’t been sucked into the meme phenomenon. It tends to involve writing something, mainly about yourself, and then tagging other people with a request to do the same. Most recently it got very popular with the “25 random things” meme (yeah, yeah, I don’t think you need to be a certified sociologist to know that those things are never truly random), that first circulated as 7 things then 16 things, but not surprisingly really went viral when it involved tagging 20+ people.

The most recent one I noticed concerns something much more random as you’re requested to create an album cover based on randomly-generated phrases for the band name and album title, and a randomly displayed “interesting” image from the photo-sharing site Flickr (details below the fold). That last bit about the image bothered me a bit though, because the photos people were grabbing and editing were not necessarily posted under a Creative Commons license. I didn’t like the idea of people grabbing images that their creators didn’t necessarily want reused by others thus my interest in finding those shared under a CC license.

I went searching for a way to browse CC-licensed photos from Flickr’s Explore pool (photos deemed especially “interesting” by the system), but found no such option on the site (the closest to it I saw was to browse popular tags of photos shared under CC). I posted a note on Twitter about this, but the best people could do was point me to the CC option on Flickr’s advanced search page, which doesn’t address this issue since you can’t restrict a search to photos in Explore nor is searching for something specific the same as random browsing. Finally, I posted a comment on a Facebook friend’s photo lamenting the fact that I had not managed to find such an option when one of his friend’s replied with a link to a page that Mike Lietz kindly put together to generate CC-licensed Flickr photos from Explore randomly! A note to Flickr though: I think this is an option they should offer on the site.

So now I present to you the updated meme (italics are my additions) promoting Creative Commons as well as free photo-editing software. If you’re going to participate in this meme, I invite you to do so using the tweaked instructions below so as to help spread CC love.
[click to continue…]

You know about Inside Higher Ed, right?

by Eszter Hargittai on February 23, 2009

One of the most consistent email/news habits of my everydays is that I go through the Daily Update message from Inside Higher Ed, the free Web publication about higher education. I have been doing this for a few years now so I tend to assume that even if not everyone in academia reads IHE as religiously as I do, certainly everybody knows about it. Not true though, it turns out, based on several experiences, and thus this blog post. I’m well aware that Henry posted about it here four years ago (in fact, that may well be how I learned about it back then) and I know that we make references to articles in it regularly. Nonetheless, since they just did a major redesign of the site with some added features, I thought it was a good time to mention it again.
[click to continue…]

(Reposted from my blog, so the examples are Australian, but readers from other countries can easily substitute)

In one sense, the blogosphere has reached a near-universal consensus on climate change. Everyone who follows the issue at all closely agrees that there is no real debate. Instead, it’s generally agreed, we have a situation where (1) a large body of people devoted to serious scientific research is confronted by (2) pushers of silly Internet talking points who are ideologically motivated, financially driven or just plain delusional . The only disagreement is which group is which. Is group (1):

* The Australian Academy of Science, all other similar organisations and the vast majority of active climate scientists;

or is it

* The 650 “sceptical scientists” identified by Marc Morano (aide to US Senator Inhofe) including such Australian luminaries as David Evans, Louis Hissink, Warwick Hughes and Jennifer Marohasy (Morano’s list includes numerous genuine scientists whose views he has misrepresented but he’s right to include all those I’ve mentioned )

Broadly speaking, for anyone from politically left or centrist blogs the first answer is correct, and for anyone from the political right, the second answer is correct. As far as the mainstream media is concerned, Fox News, the Australian and some other outlets know where they stand.

But for establishment outlets like the Washington Post, the idea that either (nearly) all scientists or (nearly) all right-of-centre politicans and commentators are liars/hacks/self-deluded is rather hard to accept. So we get episodes like this one. (via Tim Lambert)

Our comments are down

by Henry Farrell on February 22, 2009

We’re trying to figure out what is wrong …

Update: fixed, by Kieran, with database CLI-fu

The cute-hoor party

by Henry Farrell on February 21, 2009

Americans who think that their economy in bad shape should be glad that they don’t live in Ireland, where the economy seems to be completely melting down. “Matthew Engel”: has a grimly entertaining article on the collapse of the housing market, which has a bit too much stage-Irishry for my liking, but gets at the underlying political economy of the final years of Ireland’s economic boom.

the desperate developers of one estate, Athlumney Wood, did what practically every retailer in Ireland is doing: they held a sale and slashed prices by half. Last week they got rid of 25 properties. Semi-detached houses that once touched €330,000 ($416,000, £291,000) sold for €175,000. … Unlike anyone else’s, the Irish boom was essentially construction-led, and places like Athlumney Wood are the new Ireland. …

Indeed, it’s easy to believe that the cute-hoor party, covering politicians, builders, financiers, bankers, senior civil servants and every chancer in Christendom, has been running the place for their own benefit for years. Here, everyone who matters knows everyone else. But careful observers are more specific in their analysis. “There was an alliance between Fianna Fáil and the property developers,” says Jane Suiter, who teaches politics at Trinity College, Dublin. “The government saw light-touch regulation as giving Ireland competitive advantage. And as far as Ahern was concerned, the biggest multiplier for votes was construction jobs.”

[click to continue…]

Framing nationalization

by John Q on February 19, 2009

With even Alan Greenspan and Lindsey Graham now in support, and the alternatives canvassed in the Geithner “plan” thoroughly discredited (even Wall Street hated it), large-scale nationalization of US banks now looks inevitable. But, as Obama has observed, this kind of thing seems alien to US culture.

This looks like a classic Lakoff framing problem. How can the obviously necessary, also be made to seem natural? There have been a couple of approaches so far.

The first is to emphasise that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation routinely takes over failed banks. So, as Paul Krugman puts it “nationalization is as American as apple pie“.

The second is to focus on the ultimate goal which is to return the banks to solvency and private ownership. Hence the lovely euphemism coined (I think) by Calculated Risk “preprivatisation

[click to continue…]