Article 43


Republican Redux 5


Modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society weve had for the past three generations - that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the common hazards of life through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
- Paul Krugman

Its Official: Watching Fox Makes You Stupider

By Ben Adler
The Nation
May 21, 2012

People who work at Fox News might like to think that they are despised by real journalists only because they are conservative and most journalists are liberal. Anyone who read the admiring obituaries of William F. Buckley Jr. in mainstream and liberal outlets would know that is nonsense. Journalists, both liberals and ones with no ideology in particular, are quite capable of respecting conservative pundits and reporters who deserve their respect.

But Fox does not. The reason is not because it holds a SET OF VALUES that others may not share. And that is only partially because it claims to be “Fair and Balanced” when it is neither.

Rather, it is because it fails the fundamental test of journalism: are you informing your audience? According to a new study by Farleigh Dickinson University, Fox viewers are the least knowledgeable audience of any outlet, and they know even less about politics and current events than people who watch no news at all.

Respondents to the survey were able to answer correctly an average of 1.8 of 4 questions about international news and 1.6 out of 5 questions about domestic affairs. “Based on these results, people who dont watch any news at all are expected to answer correctly on average 1.22 of the questions about domestic politics, just by guessing or relying on existing basic knowledge,” said Dan Cassino, the polls analyst.

“The study concludes that media sources have a significant impact on the number of questions that people were able to answer correctly,” wrote Cassino and his colleagues. “The largest effect is that of Fox News: all else being equal, someone who watched only Fox News would be expected to answer just 1.04 domestic questions correctlya figure which is significantly worse than if they had reported watching no media at all. On the other hand, if they listened only to NPR, they would be expected to answer 1.51 questions correctly.”

This should come as no surprise if you follow Fox. Consider some recent history. Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy invented a quotation from President Obama completely out of thin air. He falsely claimed that Obama had said he and Michelle were not born with silver spoons in their mouths “unlike some people,” in reference to Mitt Romneys privileged upbringing. In fact, Obama did not say “unlike some people” and he has been using the silver spoon line for years. Several other news outlets repeated Doocy’s assertion as fact and Doocy initially avoided correcting the record after it was revealed he was wrong. Eventually he admitted that he seemed to misquoteӔ Obama, instead of stating that he did, in fact, misquote him. And he did not apologize for the error.

When Fox isnt inventing smears against Obama, it uncritically regurgitates corporate-funded lies about him. Consider a segment of Sean Hannity’s show from last week. He showed a TV commercial by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded and funded by the Koch brothers, that attacks President Obamas record on investing in renewable energy. Hannity and Frank Luntz praised its effectiveness, with Luntz saying, “It was fact-based,” not assertions. You see the facts come up on the screen. There’s specific numbers.

The only problem is that the factual assertions are incorrect. The ad says that “80 percent” of taxpayer dollars spent on green energy went to jobs in foreign countries. But the article it cites as a source clearly states only that the money went to foreign firms. The bulk of American tax dollars spent on the subsidies, according to Politifact, went to American subsidiaries of the firms.

The ad goes on to offer specific examples: “$1.2 billion to a solar company thats building a plant in Mexico. Half a billion to a car company that moved American jobs to Finland. And $39 million to build traffic lights in China. President Obama wasted $16 billion on risky investments.” I wont bore you with all the details of how each of these claims is untrue; each has been labeled false or mostly false by Politifact or and you can go to Media Matters for the full rundown.

Hannity routinely takes Republican misinformation as the gospel truth. To choose just one particularly embarrassing example, he let Herman Cain’s spokesman Mark Block declare, absurdly, that a woman named Karen Kraushaar who accused Cain of sexual harassment was the mother of a Politico reporter named Josh Kraushaar. Hannity did not challenge either the veracity of this claim nor question why this fact would cast doubt on Politico’s thoroughly reported revelation that Cain has been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment. In fact, Josh Kraushaar had left Politico for National Journal over a year before the story even ran, and he is not related to Karen Kraushaar. It would have been easy for Hannity to check on these facts and correct Block’s assertion, but he did not. Here is what Josh wrote about it the next day:

Anybody with Internet access would, at the very least, been able to figure out that I haven’t worked for Politico since June 2010 and have been working at National Journal since then. I even Tweeted the fact that I wasn’t related to Karen Kraushaar earlier that evening before Hannity’s show to clear up any potential confusion.

That didn’t stop Block. When I heard what Block had said on Hannity’s show, I immediately e-mailed him informing him of his mistake. I still haven’t heard back.

This laziness, partisan hackery and lack of regard for basic accuracy is what separates Fox News from outlets that merely have opinions. And it is doing their audience a disservice. This Fairleigh Dickinson study is not the first to find that Fox News viewers are the most ill-informed of any news consumers. As of November 22, 2011, Think Progress had found seven studies showing Fox Newsגs viewers to be the worst informed of all news consumers. In a post about a report that had just come out in the International Journal of Press/Politics, by communication scholar Lauren Feldman of American University and colleagues which found that Fox News viewing manifests a significant, negative association with “global warming acceptance,” Chris Mooney cited six previous studies with similar findings.

I identified 6 separate studies showing Fox News viewers to be the most misinformed, and in a right wing directionstudies on global warming, health care, health care a second time, the Ground Zero mosque, the Iraq war, and the 2010 election.
I also asked if anyone was aware of any counterevidence, and none was forthcoming. There might very well be a survey out there showing that Fox viewers arenגt [emphasis in original] the most misinformed cable news consumers on some topic (presumably it would be a topic where Democrats have some sort of ideological blind spot), but I havent seen it. And I have looked.

In the last year, since Fox News fired Glenn Beck and has sought to line up behind more establishment Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney, the new conventional wisdom has been that Fox is tacking back to the center. As a purely strategic move within the Republican party, that may be true. But, unfortunately, this has not been correlated with any improvement in the quality or independence of its journalism.



When Stupid People dont Know that They are Stupid
Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

By Chauncey DeVega
September 2, 2010

The masses are asses. We know this. But the level of IGNORANCE displayed by the attendees at the “Restoring Honor” rally is shocking even by contemporary standards.

It is quite clear that Glenn Beck is a MASTER PROPAGANIST with a chilling and Svengali-like power over the lemmings of the New Right. Beck-watching is COMPELLING (to me at least) because his popularity is a barometer of the toxins in our political atmosphere. Moreover, I wonder if Becks followers would be so slavish as to follow him off a cliff, and to what extremes would the tea party brigands go in their devotion to his cult of personality.

To point, here is a little armchair sociology to help put Beck and the New Right’s devotees into a broader context.

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

The DunningKruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence: because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. ֓Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.

The Dunning-Kruger effect was put forward by Justin Kruger and David Dunning. Similar notions have been expressedalbeit less scientifically - for some time. Dunning and Kruger themselves quote Charles Darwin (Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge) and Bertrand Russell (One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.)

The DunningKruger effect is not, however, concerned narrowly with high-order cognitive skills (much less their application in the political realm during a particular era, which is what Russell was talking about.Nor is it specifically limited to the observation that ignorance of a topic is conducive to overconfident assertions about it, which is what Darwin was saying. Indeed, Dunning et al. cite a study saying that 94% of college professors rank their work as “above average” (relative to their peers), to underscore that the highly intelligent and informed are hardly exempt. Rather, the effect is about paradoxical defects in perception of skill, in oneself and others, regardless of the particular skill and its intellectual demands, whether it is chess, playing golf or driving a car.

The hypothesized phenomenon was tested in a series of experiments performed by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, then both of Cornell University. Kruger and Dunning noted earlier studies suggesting that ignorance of standards of performance is behind a great deal of incompetence. This pattern was seen in studies of skills as diverse as reading comprehension, operating a motor vehicle, and playing chess or tennis.

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.



Fox News Does Not Make You Dumb: Researchers Respond to Critics

By Peter J. Woolley and Dan Cassino
Huffington Post
May 15, 2012

Does Fox News make you dumb? No, but that was the headline generated by news aggregators re-reporting research by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind.

The initial study found that the least informative media were two partisan cable news channels, Fox and MSNBC, which came out at the bottom of twelve sources tested. NPR and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show came out on top as the most informative, making the schadenfreude all the more delicious for Fox-haters, and the twisting of the liberal knife-in-the-back all the more painful for Fox fans. But how did it come to that?

Respondents were asked to identify which, if any, news sources they had used in the past week. The same respondents were questioned about current political and economic events. Some questions were deliberately easy; others were hard. The study then looked at the relation between which news sources people used, and how well they could answer the questions. In modified geek-speak, the idea was to isolate the effects of individual news sources on the ability to answer questions about current events, controlling for all of the other news sources, as well as things that tend to predict political knowledge, such as partisanship, age and education.

Overall, Fox viewers were not better or worse than the average respondent at answering the questions. That said, and all salient variables being geekily controlled for, there was not merely a zero effect but a negative effect of Fox News on viewers’ ability to answer the questions; meaning that Fox viewers would have done better had they been using almost any other news source, or no news source at all. Results for the similarly partisan MSNBC were… well, similar.

The big surprise was that news reports focused almost exclusively on Fox’s last place showing, and that the reports went viral. Then the unexpected bonus was the number of Fox-defenders who sent emails and snail mails, left voice messages, and blogged intensely, making every sort of criticism, especially argumentum ad hominem. As a matter of course, the investigators had a variety of mental, moral, and physical deformities. The most predictable of these was that the researchers, being college professors, were by definition mindless, meming, bed-wetting liberals, who drew their conclusions first, and arranged the data accordingly, or gleefully over-interpreted the results to gratify their prejudices.

The most substantive critique was that some questions were ambiguous, and therefore skewed the results. Critics pointed to one question in particular which asked whether the Egyptian people had been successful in “bringing down their regime.” Alertreaders suggested that while Egyptians were successful in forcing President Mubarak from power, one could not definitively say that they had overthrown the regime, since the same military which secured Mubarak for many decades continued to run the country, and the same protesters who were fed up with Mubarak’s rule continued to agitate for the military to relinquish its control.

The perspicacity of this observation was matched only by the peculiar number of people who made the argument, frequently in identical language. Still, the answer is that an ambiguous question answer should have an equivalent effect on many different kinds of media consumers. Bias arising from poor question construction should not be systematic, but random. Fox-defenders were unintentionally positing that the effects of ambiguous language, or an arbitrary correct answer category, would affect Fox viewers disproportionately to all other media consumers.

One can suppose that this is within the realm of possibility if Fox viewers were systematically being presented with, and paying attention to, more news about the Egyptian Spring than other citizens, and were more thoughtful about it, and thus more likely than others to all draw similar conclusions. As one enthusiast put it, “Fox viewers got it right, and you got it wrong. My advice is to leave international affairs to someone else, or start watching Fox.”

But were this alternative hypothesis true, it should have applied uniquely to scores for the poorly constructed question. In fact, a “wrong” answer to the Egyptian question correlated strongly to “wrong” answers on the all the other questions.

Critics also made points about the size and scope of the sampled population; some suggested that because it was done in New Jersey the results could not be imputed to other states, much less to the entire nation. New Jersey is, after all, demographically different from many other states. It leans to the Democratic Party. More than one in four speak a language other than English at home. And it has an elevated percentage of people with graduate education.

Other critics suggested too few people were included in the study and too few questions employed. The study used five questions, primarily because space on the omnibus questionnaire was limited. The same poll included voter assessments of the president and of New Jersey’s governor, as well as a series supported by the New Jersey Farm Bureau, an annual sponsor of the poll.

The answer to all these criticisms was to run the experiment again, this time using a national sample, increasing the number of questions, and doubling the number of interviews. A new, national study thus included eight questions; four domestic and four international. The N increased from 612 to 1185, though it must be said that this was not at all a matter, as some critics thought, of having enough cases in certain cells to compare them using conventional tests to pronounce their differences significant. It was never a matter of examining crosstabs.

What the researchers searched for were the marginal effects of exposure to one news medium compared to any other. Their figures represented expected, not observed, values and all were relative to a hypothetical construct of someone who had no recent news exposure. Of course, most people get news from multiple sources, but the effect of each source, or of no source, can be calculated using multinomial logistic regression. All results controlled for partisanship, age, education, and gender, so that conclusions were presented ceteris paribus.

The re-study produced the same result as the original, but attracted few headlines. The news aggregators had already had their fun.

Fox came out on the bottom, even below “no news exposure.” NPR came out on top, along with The Daily Show. Responses to the question about Egypt, now rephrased to specifically name Mubarak, were no different. We concluded again that NPR is one of the “most informative news outlets,” while “exposure to partisan sources, such as Fox and MSNBC, has a negative impact.” But perhaps that latter phase was misleading.

We never said, nor meant to say, that Fox viewers are dumb—or MSNBC viewers for that matter. They’re no better or worse than the average respondents. Clearly, anyone who is dumb and watching TV was dumb when he or she sat down in front of the tube. Some news sources just don’t help matters any.

Dan Cassino and Peter J. Woolley are professors of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey. Cassino is Director of Experimental Research for the University’s research group, PublicMind: Woolley is its founding Executive Director.


Republican Redux
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Posted by Elvis on 05/23/12 •
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