No Satisfaction

November 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross-posted at Sociological Images

Liberal women want more sex. 

Mark Regnerus has been fooling around with the New Family Structures Survey. (His blog post is here.)  Back in June, Regnerus used the NFSS data to conclude that gay parents are bad for children.  Now, he runs the regressions and finds that liberalism leaves women sexually dissatisfied.
Question:“Are you content with the amount of sex you’re having?”
The possible answers:
  • Yes
  • No, I’d prefer more
  • No, I’d prefer less
The differences were clear.

Those liberal women, they try and they try and they try; they can’t get no . . . satisfaction. Hey, hey, hey – that’s what they say

The differences held even with controls for how much sex the woman had had recently.  Nor did adding other possible explanatory variables dampen the effect
the measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use.
Regnerus says he was puzzled and asked an economist friend for her explanation.  She, like Regnerus, is a serious Christian, and saw it as a matter of seeking “transcendence.”  Liberal women want to have more sex because they feel the lack of sufficient transcendence in life and seek it in sex.  Conservative women find transcendence in the seemingly mundane – “sanctifying daily life” – so they do not need sex for transcendence.  Or as Regnerus puts it, “Basically, liberal women substitute sex for religion.”

To test this idea, Regnerus controlled for religious attendance.  When he did,  “political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor.”  Churchgoing liberals were no more insatiable than were their sexually content, politically conservative co-worshipers.

So here’s the scenario.  All women want transcendence.  Since liberal women are not religious, they seek transcendence in sex and don’t find it. They’re dissatisfied, but they cling to the idea that sex will bring them transcendence if only they have more of it. So they keep looking for transcendence in all the wrong places. Conservative women seek transcendence in religion and in everyday activities.  And that works. 

Conclusion: Religion is deeply satisfying; sex, not so much.

This explanation, with its attribution of psychological-spiritual longing, makes some huge assumptions about what’s going on inside women’s heads.   

The sociological explanation is much simpler. It looks not to deep inner longings for transcendence but to social norms, beliefs, and values.  It rests on the assumption that people’s desires are shaped by external forces, especially the culture of the social world they live in. In some social worlds, sex for women is good, so it’s OK for them to want more sex.  In others, sex for women has a lower place on the scale of values.  It is less of a “focal concern.”

These differences make for differences in who is content with what – a liberal, East Coast man and a WASP woman from the Midwest, for example.

On one side, three times a week is “constantly.” On the other, three times a week is “hardly ever.” Can we really say that the difference here is about spiritual transcendence?

In some social worlds, a woman can never be too thin or too rich. In those worlds, women diet and exercise in a way we might find obsessive. But that’s what their culture rewards. They want more thinness, more money. Some cultures hold that sex is a good thing – certainly more pleasurable than dieting and exercising – therefore,  more is better.  In some social worlds, that’s the way some people feel about money (never too rich). Are these desires really about seeking transcendence, or they about cultural values?

And there’s one other explanation that may not have occurred to Regnerus: maybe conservative men are better lovers; they satisfy their conservative bedmates in ways liberals can only dream of. 

(UPDATE).  Lisa Wade of Sociological Images has suggested a much better explanation:  Liberal men are such good lovers that when you ask their liberal partners if they want more sex, the answer is, “Do I ever. Wouldn’t you?” But conservative men are so incompetent in bed that when you ask their partners if they want more, the answer is, “No thanks.”

Facts and Faith

November 27, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Marco Rubio was asked in a GQ interview, “How old do you think the earth is?”  Rubio, who came to national prominence at the GOP convention, didn’t answer the question. 
I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow.
Rubio seems to think that if you admit that you’re not a scientist, then science doesn’t matter and that the age of the earth is not a matter of scientific fact.  Instead, it is “a dispute among theologians.”  The fallacy of that position – faith determining facts – should be obvious.*  But what about his second point - that believing in a geological falsehood is irrelevant to having an effective economic policy? 

Alex Knapp at Forbes disagrees. 
Large parts of the economy absolutely depend on scientists being right about either the age of the Universe or the laws of the Universe that allow scientists to determine its age.
The age of the earth is important.  If the earth is only 9,000 years old, you couldn’t be reading this right now. Knapp explains why, starting with a galaxy 13 billion light years away.  Light from that galaxy took 13 billion years to reach Earth.
Marco Rubio’s Republican colleague Representative Paul Broun, who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology, recently stated that it was his belief that the Universe is only 9,000 years old. Well, if Broun is right and physicists are wrong, then we have a real problem. Virtually all modern technology relies on optics in some way, shape or form. And in the science of optics, the fact that the speed of light is constant in a vacuum is taken for granted. But the speed of light must not be constant if the universe is only 9,000 years old. It must be capable of being much, much faster. That means that the fundamental physics underlying the Internet, DVDs, laser surgery, and many many more critical parts of the economy are based on bad science. The consequences of that could be drastic, given our dependence on optics for our economic growth.
This sounds convincing at first.  But I think I agree with Rubio.  You can be ignorant or even deliberately wrong about earth science and still make good economic policy.  Alexander Hamilton didn’t know how old the earth was, and he probably didn’t believe in evolution either.  In fact, even today, most of us, most of the time, could get by thinking the earth was flat.  For the daily commute and even a long drive to Thanksgiving with relatives, we don’t really need to consider the curvature of the earth. 

The real trouble comes when policy-makers base policy on what they would like the facts to be rather than what they are.
* I hope it’s obvious.  If not, try this analogy:
   “Do you think texting while driving is dangerous?”  “I’m not a highway engineer, man.  That’s a dispute among drivers.”   or
  “Do you think that smoking causes cancer?”  “I’m not a physician, man. I think that’s a dispute among tobacco users and corporations.”

The GQ interview has gotten a fair amount of attention.  The right-wing blogger response (see for an example) is to ignore Rubio’s evasive answer and instead to focus on the question.  Their response is to ask, "How dare the liberal leftist media ask a Republican this question?"  Presumably, these Rubio defenders would have the same reaction to the texting and smoking questions.

Thanksgiving Repost

November 22, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sociological Images (here) put up my Thanksgiving post from six years ago.   Unfortunately, they had to leave out the opening, which was about the new Energizer Bunny balloon. Sociological Images is much more scrupulous about copyright, and the picture was something I'd grabbed from Google Images.  Beside, a year later, that balloon is no longer news. 

The post was a Durkheimian look at the Macy’s parade as totemistic ritual – one that unifies and energizes the social group.  So the new Energizer Bunny balloon had a double meaning for sociologists.

The original 2006 post is here.

Now You See It . . .

November 18, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

At the curtain calls for War Horse last night, the loudest applause was for the three people who operate the title character.  I suspect that the true object of the audience's admiration was The Handspring Puppet Company that created the fantastic creatures we saw on stage. 

The show makes an unusual choice.  The puppeteers have no real part in the play; they are not characters.  But the puppeteer who operates the horse's head is dressed like one of the Devon farmers.  So it's almost impossible for the illusion to take full effect. 

Seeing is believing.  An, as much social and cognitive psychology has shown, believing is seeing.  Or more importantly, not seeing.  The wonder of the illusion on stage comes when we see a horse and not merely a horse-shaped lattice of cane.  But if we continue to see the puppeteer, if we cannot unsee the puppeteer, we don't quite know what to believe. 

When the horse first eats oats from a bucket, you wonder: is the horse doing this, overcoming his reluctance to get near a human (as the story has it) or is the silent farmer leading the animal to lower his head to the oats? (A bit of that scene comes at about this 0:15 mark in this montage.)

In bunraku, by contrast, each puppet is operated by three people, but they are covered head to toe in black, though sometimes the head puppeteer wears a black kimono and no hood.  They are supposed be invisible, and soon they are.

At first when you see bunraku, it seems odd.  The three guys in black operating a puppet one-third their size are a distraction.  But after a while, you stop seeing them.  The stage usually has a dark background, but even when the scene is more brightly lit, you see only the characters in the play, not the puppeteers who operating them. 

Here's a bit of classical bunraku.  You don’t need to watch the whole two minutes to get the idea of seeing the operators.  But that’s much too short a time for you to literally lose sight of the puppeteers.  Believe me, in the real theater, you do.

And here's a more modern example.

Careers Night 2012

November 16, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Wednesday night, the Sociology department had its annual* career night. The featured speakers were four of our graduates from the last few years:
  • Alis Drumgo
  • Anna Lee Kelly
  • Rebekah Rhodes
  • Michelle Newton
Only Anna Lee has a job doing what is immediately recognizable as sociology.  She works at Mathematica organizing various research projects.  Alis studied regional planning and now works with a group trying to revitalize downtown Newark.  Rebekah is a teacher for autistic pre-schoolers.  And Michelle is clerking for a family court judge.  But they all credited their undergraduate training in sociology.  It gave them a respect for data.  As Alis said, “If you’re trying to get someone to open a business in Newark, you’ve got to know that the vacancy rate is 20%.”  Sociology also provided a valuable perspective for thinking about the lives of others – to see how their problems and reactions are part of social world they inhabit.

For the students who attended, I think the evening gave them a sense that world held more possibilities than they had imagined.  Our students didn’t have many questions during the official Q and A, but afterwards several stayed to talk with the speakers.  What I found impressive and encouraging was that our graduates were doing work that they truly liked and found rewarding.

 Rebekah talking about her career path that led her to pre-school teaching.
Anna Lee with Ian, who recently declared as a Sociology major.

Michelle explaining how family court combines law and sociology.

Alis and Victoria, who will be graduating all too soon.

* Our previous careers night was in 2009, but in principle it’s an annual event even if the reality does not always conform to that principle.

Prophecy Fails Again

November 13, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

When the flying saucer didn’t come, when first one clock and then another ticked past midnight of Dec. 20th, when the world was not destroyed, the believers in Mrs. Keech’s living room were desperate for an explanation.  They had met and talked and planned.  They had listened to Mrs. Keech reading and interpreting the messages from Sananda of the planet Clarion, messages she transcribed in a trance. 

They had prepared themselves.  But nothing happened. 

For hours, the believers sat there, unable to produce a satisfactory account that would make sense of what had happened but that would not undermine their world view.  Their confusion was finally resolved  by a message from Clarion that Mrs. Keech received at nearly 5 a.m.
Not since the beginning of time upon this Earth has there been such a force of Good and light as now floods this room and that which has been loosed within this room now floods the entire Earth.
The strong faith of that small group had saved Earth from the final cataclysm.

Most people who have taken a sociology course will recognize this 1954 scenario.  It’s the central moment in When Prophecy Fails, by Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter, published a year later. 

A similar failed prediction and self-serving explanation happened after Tuesday’s election – not on the right, but on the left.  Since 2008, Mark Crispin Miller has been warning that the Republicans would manipulate voting-machine technology to steal the election. The title of his book says it all: Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them).

Miller had been predicting a Romney win – a fraudulent win, but a win nevertheless.  As we know, Obama won.  He won the popular vote, the electoral vote, and every battleground state.

Miller’s first explanation, like those of Mrs. Keech’s group, did not quite hit the mark.  And, as if following the same script, hours later he came up with an account that echoed the “you saved the world” message from the planet Clarion.   (From the New York Times):
Having braced himself for a very different outcome, Professor Miller wrote an e-mail that sounded almost like a concession: “It simply is no longer possible to stage the sort of ‘upset victory’ that we’ve seen before, without inviting serious investigation.”

By the next morning, however, his pronouncement had shifted to one of victory.

“Score one (at last) for the Election Integrity movement!” he declared, back on message.
Miller and his group of followers, the Election Integrity Movement, had loosed such a flood of good and light upon the election that the Republicans could not steal it, and Obama was re-elected.

UPDATE: Robert Frank (here) suggests that there was in fact a plot to steal Ohio.  He bases his speculation on two observations.
  1.     Karl Rove, as seen on Fox News, was genuinely surprised when Ohio was called for Obama.
  2.     The Obama margin in Ohio was smaller than what the polls predicted.  In all other swing states, the Obama margin was similar to or greater than what was shown by pre-election polls.
    Either [Rove] is much less competent than anyone has reason to believe; or else he knew of some secret advantage that would tip the vote count in Romney’s favor by several points.
Here too, when the prophecy fails, a dissonance-reducing explanation preserves the belief.  In this case, the explanation is less self-serving – not the Good and Light of the believers but the incompetence of the vote-riggers.

Less Is More

November 11, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross posted at Sociological Images

[Note, Nov. 13:  Thanks to the comment from “maxliving” directing me to the Chen-Rodden paper, I have substantially revised this post.  Hat tip to Max.] 

In a democracy, all votes are created equal - one person, one vote – but apparently some votes are more equal than others.  Obama won the electoral college vote 62% - 38%, though his margin in the popular vote was much smaller: 51% - 48%.

A similar discrepancy happened in the vote for Congressional representatives.  The Republicans control the House of Representatives, where they have 54% of the seats. But if you add up all the votes for those seats, the Democrats come out slightly ahead (by about 500,000 votes).  More votes but fewer seats. 

That discrepancy arises from the distribution of Democrats and Republicans in a state’s Congressional districts.  Take a hypothetical state with four districts, each with 200 people.  The popular vote splits evenly – 400 Democrats, 400 Republicans. Here are the election results:

District Dem. Rep. Total
1 180 20 200
2 70 130 200
3 70 130 200
4 80 120 200
Total 400 400

The Republicans have 50% of the popular vote but get 75% of the seats. 

Less hypothetically, in North Carolina, Democratic candidates outpolled Republicans 2.22 million to 2.14 million.  But Republicans won 10 of the 14 seats.  The Democratic votes were crowded into four districts.  In three of those four districts, the Democrats won big – by an average of 133,000 votes.  (If the 7th district, where Democrats now have a slim lead, goes Republican, that average margin will be 177,000.)  Had some of the Democrats from one of those districts been mapped into the neighboring district, they might have won both, though by smaller margins.  The Republican districts had secure but smaller majorities.  Republican winning margins averaged 50,000 votes, less than half the margin where Democrats won.

My first thought was that this was pure Gerrymandering.  State legislatures get to draw the maps of their Congressional districts.  And many more state legislatures are controlled by Republicans.  In fact, some of the North Carolina districts have unusual shapes.  The NC-12, the thin blue line along Interstate 85 stretching nearly to the border, was created as a “majority-minority” district so that Black votes would not be diluted.  The downside for Democrats is that it packs those votes into that narrow corridor.  So the Democrats take that district by over 180,000 votes.  The Republicans win the neighboring districts but by much smaller margins - 23,000, 25,000, and 53,000.  In those four districts, the Democrats got 53% of the vote, but Republicans took three of the four seats.

The Democratic district snaking down through the middle of the state is the 4th, which contains “the Triangle” to the north, but now has that tail stretching down.  Democrats carried the district  by 170,000 votes.  Surrounding it is the 2nd (in pink), which Republicans carried by only 45,000 votes. 

Similar differences crop up in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The popular vote is close, and in two of these states it goes to the Democrats.  But Republicans get most of the seats.  Republicans win their seats by less than half the margin of Democratic winners.  Here is a graph of the actual returns from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. (The Ohio total does not include the vote from the two uncontested districts, one Democrat, one Republican.  For the maps and election results, check out Politico.)

The Republican share of Congressional seats is far out of proportion to its share of the vote.  In Ohio and North Carolina, Democrats received more votes, but Republicans got 70-75% of the House seats.  It certainly is possible that Republican-dominated state legislatures drew the districts so as to cram Democratic voters into electoral ghettos.

I don’t know enough about the demography and geography of these states, but I do wonder why the districts are drawn this way.  A paper by Chen and Rodd (here) that uses 2000 election data argues that what looks like gerrymandering is in fact the result of “human geography.”  It’s not the legislatures that pack Democrats together, it’s the Democrats themselves.  They cluster in cities.  As for Democrats outside of cities,
many rural, small-town, and suburban precincts that lean Democratic are often subsumed into moderately Republican districts. . . . There are isolated pockets of support for Democrats in African-American enclaves in the suburbs of big cities and in smaller towns with a history of railroad industrialization or universities. However, these Democratic pockets are generally surrounded by Republican majorities, thus wasting these Democratic votes. As a result, the Democrats are poorly situated to win districts outside of the urban core.
Regardless of intent, the effect is to keep Democratic votes concentrated in the 4th.  If that blue tail of the NC-04 were subsumed into the pink NC-02, both districts might be blue.

In any case, Democrats have not always been on the wrong side of the seat/vote discrepancy.  John Sides at The Monkey Cage posted this graph showing the ratio for the last twenty-six elections. 

Sides quotes Matthew Green on the general trends:
  • the winning party usually gets a “boost” in the number of seats
  • that boost used to be much larger
That trend might fit with the deliberate-gerrymander explanation, provided that in the earlier decades more state legislatures were controlled by Democrats.  But I’m not sure how it fits with Chen and Rodden’s human geography idea of “unintentional gerrymandering.”

UPDATE (Nov. 15):  John Sides at The Monkey Cage has more data on the vote/seat discrepancy.  He calculates seats expected given the popular vote and compares that to the actual outcome.  Even in states where districts were drawn by a bi-partisan agency or the courts, the Democrats fell 7% below the expected number of seats.  In states where legislatures did the redistricting the differences were starker.
Republicans gained benefits across the board from controlling the redistricting process.  By contrast, Democrats exceeded their expected seat share only slightly in the three states where they controlled the process

Post Parade

November 10, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The front page of the New York Post is frequently a moral struggle.  Well, not much of a struggle.  The newspaper stands some obvious sinner in the pillory for Post readers to pelt with rotten vegetables.  The parade includes the criminal thug, the celebrity or sports star, the politician (foreign leaders make especially good targets provided they’re someone Post readers might have heard of), and others.

But some days, the Post goes for the puerile pun, as though the headline-writing room had been staffed with boys from a middle-school playground. 

And when the stars are properly aligned, you get both.

Then there’s the Daily News version.  Remember the moral outrage at for using “Gen. Betray Us” epithet? From Wikipedia:
Fellow Max Boot* accused of “desperate attempts to besmirch one of the most admired soldiers in the entire American armed forces” and argued that the ad will “backfire.”
That was five years ago, and now the Daily News (hardly a left-wing rag) uses the same shameful name pun on page one.  Some backfire.

(Previous Post posts are here, here, and here.)

* If you were trying to think up names for a right wing hawk, could you come up with anything better than “Max Boot”?

“I Cannot Tell a Lie”

November 9, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The father of our country may have been scrupulously truthful, but at least one of his namesakes has been fudging the data.

From Inside Higher Ed
George Washington University on Thursday became the third private university this year to admit that it has been reporting incorrect information about its new students -- both on the university's website and in information provided to U.S. News & World Report for rankings.

In the case of GW, the university -- for at least a decade -- has been submitting incorrect data on the class rank of new students. For the most recent class of new students, George Washington reported that 78 percent of new students were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The actual proportion of such students is 58 percent.
The irony goes beyond the name.  Universities all have rules about plagiarism and cheating on exams, and in the Student Handbook, accompanying the penalties and procedures section, schools sometimes add a righteous explanation: going out in the world disguised with a phony GPA is not only morally wrong, it is ultimately self-defeating. 

As if.

Cheating is rational, and the conditions that make it rational are the same ones that make it rational for George Washington to tell a lie. To judge the quality of a student or school in some meaningful way would be just too cumbersome.  You would have to get to know the person or school in some deeper way.  But when you have many students to grade and many schools to rate, it’s just so much more convenient to reduce all that information to a couple of numbers.  And it’s much easier to manipulate the numbers than it is to change what those numbers supposedly represent.

Predictions and Results

November 7, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Well, Howard, my predictin’ days is over,” said Muhammed Ali, even though the champ had been fairly accurate at predicting how many rounds an opponent would last. 

My post yesterday quoted Peggy Noonan predicting a Romney win.  On Fox last night, when one of the anchors asked Noonan if she were “surprised” by the results, she dodged the question and said only that she was disappointed.  Are her predicting days over?  Unlikely.

I contrasted Noonan’s “all the vibrations are right” methodology with Nate Silver’s thorough and complicated Bayesian model.  Conservatives accused Silver of liberal bias (and effeminacy), and they offered their own unbiased, clear-eyed  predictions. 

How did the prognosticators do?  Well, if somebody had bet on the Bayes, they would have cleaned up.  Here’s a scorecard.  I filled in some of the blanks in the grid that Neil Sihnababu posted at VoteSeeing .  Right now, the electoral vote stands at 303-206, with Florida not yet called, though most experts have put it in the Obama column.  Assuming that Florida is blue, Silver’s electoral prediction is perfect.  As for the battleground states, they all went for Obama (again, assuming Florida).  So did Nevada, adding one extra wrong prediction to Steve Forbes’s clear-eyed predictions.

(Click on the table for a larger view.)

You’d think that Karl Rove, George Will, and the others who did about as well as P’lod would follow Ali’s example.  Or at least, they would adjust their models, if they had any.  Or they would stop scoffing at science when it doesn’t tell them what they want to hear.  But don’t bet on it.

UPDATE:  Gabriel Rossman dresses up in his St. Paul costume (left over from Halloween, presumably) to deliver the same message. [Note for non-stats people who click on the link to Gabriel’s blog:  CLT = Central Limit Theorem.]

One More Prediction

November 6, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I foolishly looked only at representatives from the New York Times (Nate Silver) and The Wall Street Journal (Peggy Noonan).  I overlooked a third important publication, The Weekly World News.*

The full story is here

But seriously folks, Neil Sihnababu at VoteSeeing, besides providing the link to unerring P’lod, has a nice table for scoring the predictionistas on the swing states as well as on the overall vote.

*  For an earlier post on the WWW and similar tabloids, go here.

Prediction Methodology - Not Too Swift

November 6, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

One of the first things I try to get students to understand is the difference between systematic evidence and anecdotal and impressionistic evidence.  Or no evidence, which usually takes the form of “We don’t need studies to know that . . . .” or “Common sense tells us . . . .”

So in one corner we have Nate Silver (known in some circles as Nate the Great at Five Three Eight), systematically weighing the data from polls and other sources.  He sees Obama as the likely winner.

And then there’s Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal.
Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us?
In front of her eyes is victory for Romney.  Here are some more excerpts that show the evidence she uses as the basis for her prediction.
Among the wisest words spoken this cycle were by John Dickerson of CBS News and Slate, who said, in a conversation the night before the last presidential debate, that he thought maybe the American people were quietly cooking something up, something we don’t know about.

I think they are and I think it’s this: a Romney win.

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm.
it feels like a lot of Republicans have gone from anti-Obama to pro-Romney.
And there is Obama, out there seeming tired and wan, showing up through sheer self discipline.

All the vibrations are right. A person who is helping him who is not a longtime Romneyite told me, yesterday: “I joined because I was anti Obama—I’m a patriot, I’ll join up But now I am pro-Romney.”

And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.
I imagine going to the World Series.  The guy at the hot dog stand says he thinks the Tigers are about to make a move.  I see Detroit players’ faces, full of passion and enthusiasm; the Giants look tired and wan. The Tigers are getting hits.  They even had a home run.  Their pitchers are tall and strong.  And then there’s the thing about caps – all those Detroit caps with the old English D.  I see them everywhere.

It all points to a big win by the Tigers. Clearly, the Giants are toast.

And then some nerd – “a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice, a poster child for the New Castrati”* – taps me on the arm and points to the scoreboard which posts the number of runs that each team has actually scored and the number of games that they have won.

Yes, Romney could win.  But remember Damon Runyon’s riff on Ecclesiastes: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets.”

And they’re betting Obama.  At In-trade, a $100 bet would bring Ms. Noonan $300, and somewhat more if she bet in the UK.  My own hunch is that betting a bundle on Romney right now is not too swift.

UPDATE:  Another Republican speechwriter-turned-columnist, Michael Gerson, is yapping at Nate Silver.  John Sides at The Monkey Cage offers an excellent critique of Gerson and a defense of data- based social science.  (It is kind of depressing – Gerson and Noonan and the rest are intelligent people, and yet they force you to defend the radical idea of using systematic evidence.  But then again, their party is the standard-bearer for people who think that global warming is a myth and that earth is only 7000 years old.)

 * Yes, this is what someone at the right-wing actually wrote about Nate Silver.  I am not making this up.

Climate Denial and American Voluntarism

November 4, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross posted at Sociological Images

At the GOP convention in August, Mitt Romney’s cavalier dismissal of global warming got the intended laughs. Today, it seems less funny.

Here’s the transcript:
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the
oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.
In two short sentences, Romney gives us the broader context for the denial of global warming: the denial of society itself.  He echoes Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum
There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.
This doesn’t mean that there are no groups beyond the family.  But those larger groups are valid only because individuals, consciously and voluntarily, chose to create them. This way of thinking about the relation between individuals and groups has long been an underlying principle of American thought. Claude Fischer, in Made in America calls it “voluntarism” – the idea that the only legitimate groups are the ones that people voluntarily form or join.*  The individual has a strong obligation to those groups and their members, but he has little or no obligation towards groups and people he did not choose. 

That is a moral position. It tells us what is morally O.K., and what is not.  If I did not choose to join a group, I make no claims on the people in that group, and it is wrong for them – whether as individuals or as an organized group, even a government – to make any claim upon me.

That moral position also shapes the conservative view of reality, particularly about our connectedness to other people and to the environment. Ideas about what is right determine ideas about what is true.  The conservative rejects non-voluntary connections as illegitimate, but he also denies that these connections exist. If what I do affects someone else, that person has some claim upon me; but unless I voluntarily enter into that relationship, that claim is morally wrong. So in order to remain free of that claim, I must believe that what I do does not affect others, at least not in any harmful way.

It’s easy to maintain that belief when the thing being affected is not an individual or family but a large and vague entity like “society” or “the environment.” My single action could not possibly make a difference to something so large. To make a difference, I must willingly join with many other people. Then I will acknowledge how our small individual acts – one vote, one small donation, one act of charity, etc. – add up to a large effect. That effect is what we intended. But if we separately, individually, drive a lot in our SUVs, use mega-amounts of electricity, and so on, we deny that these acts can add up to any unintended effect on the planet. 

As Fischer says, voluntarism is characteristically American. So is the denial of global warming.  The incident at a recent Romney rally illustrates both (a video is here). 

When a protester yells out the question, “What about climate?” Romney stands there, grinning but silent, and the crowd starts chanting, “USA, USA.” The message is clear: we don’t talk about climate change; we’re Americans.

*Two earlier Socioblog posts on voluntarism are here and here.

Brooklyn – Gas and Hoodies

November 3, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

This was the page one photo in the Times yesterday.

(Click on the picture for a larger view.)

I love the “only in New York” aspect.  A gas station in Williamsburg.* An orthodox Jew arguing with a White dude, each with a backup guy.  A Hasid taking a cell-phone photo of a cop.   Black guys in hoodies, beefy White guys in hoodies, Jews in hoodies. Cars jammed in at every angle. And the cops patiently trying to cool things down.** (It’s Williamsburg, but there are no hipsters.  They don’t own cars.)

* The $4.19.9 a gallon is not price gouging.  That’s what gas costs in Brooklyn even when there’s no hurricane.  In New Jersey, it’s fifty cents cheaper, but they don’t have any right now.)

** That’s probably a large part of what cops do.  Maybe Peter Moskos will comment.

Halloween Follow-up

November 1, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

(This is an update to yesterday’s post about Halloween greed.) 

It turns out, there’s a nice Halloween field experiment I was unaware of (Diener, et. al, JPSP, 1976).  Here’s the setup.  On Halloween, a woman answers the door and invites the trick-or-treaters in.  She tells them to “take one,” and then leaves the room leaving the bowl of candy and a bowl of nickels and pennies.*  Overall (27 houses, 1300 kids) most kids (69%) took one.   But conditions mattered.

In one experimental manipulation, the woman either asked the kids who they were and where they lived or she allowed them to be anonymous.  Experimenters also noted whether the kids were trick-or-treating alone or in groups.  For some groups, the woman designated the smallest kid in the group as being in charge of making sure that kids took only one.   All these variables made a difference.  

The greatest rate of cheating (80%) occurred when the smallest child was designated as responsible but everyone was anonymous.  Diener reasoned that with responsibility shifted to the smallest link, the other kids would feel freer to break the rule. 

Those who did cheat usually took only an additional one to three candies.  But of those who did grab more than what was offered, 20% took both candy and coins.   Unfortunately, the Snickers study is not like the marshmallow study, so we don’t know where those greediest kids are now.
* Adjusting for inflation that would be closer to dimes and quarters, maybe even half-dollars.

HT: PsyBlog