I apologize for not posting over the past couple of weeks. I have just moved from Austin, TX to Huntington, NY in order to go to graduate school. I am working on a masters in political science at Stony Brook University. I have just completed my first week of classes and I am very excited about the rest of the semester.
This semester I am taking courses in the dynamics of public opinion, passionate politics, research methods and time series statistics. Dynamics of public opinion will be very interesting as it will go over both general public opinion but also individual psychological influences on opinion. During the semester we will investigate the effects of personality, knowledge and social groups on opinions about political issues. In passionate politics we will examine political involvement especially in protests, social movements and special interest groups. We will go over the role of emotions and group identity in political involvement. Furthermore we will look at electoral politics and the role of the internet / social media in politics. My research methods course will likely be very easy for me since I have already taken research methods, advanced research methods, epistemology and philosophy of social sciences. Though I look forward to learning more about qualitative approaches to research since ASU is a very quantitatively focused psychology department. Finally I am excited about time series statistics, yes I am a complete dork at times. But I have been working with time series for 6 1/2 years and I think the course will help me solidify the knowledge I gain at work into a cohesive whole.
Through out the semester I plan to post any relevant papers that I write. I believe that many will be of interest to my readers. I will also post some of the things that I read since y’all may enjoy them too.
The scientific method is a mystery to many people. They may hear about scientific discoveries in the news but they don’t understand how an experiment is conducted. So I wrote this for those who are curious about the scientific method.
A scientific experiment requires four basic components; a researcher controlled independent variable, a dependent variable, a random sample and random assignment. First I will define each then I will put them together.
Say you want to find out if fertilizer X is better than fertilizer Y for growing tomatoes. What would you do? Well first you would get a bunch of tomatoes of the same variety and both types of fertilizers. You would plant a third of the tomatoes with fertilizer X and a third with fertilizer Y and a third with no fertilizer. Every plant would have equal chance of getting fertilizer X, Y or no fertilizer. You would plant them all the same day. They all would be planted in a place where all plants get equal sunshine. Every plant would receive equal water and fertilizer.
The independent variable (IV) is what you think will have an effect. In this case it is the fertilizer. Take note that one group has no fertilizer. That is the control group, it tells us what would happen without intervention. That gives us a baseline to compare the effects of the fertilizers. Without a control group you don’t know what effect any fertilizer has on tomatoes. Another critical feature of the IV is that the researcher controls it. Since the researcher can control the IV you can make an attribution of causation. That is you can say IF I do X then A occurs, if I do Y then B occurs, if I do nothing then C occurs. If you are slightly confused don’t worry, we will come back to this after explaining the rest of the experiment.
The dependent variable is what you expect the independent variable to cause. In our experiment we could use a number of dependent variables. Maybe you think a better fertilizer leads to larger plants. Maybe you think it leads to more tomatoes. Maybe you think it leads to more nutritious tomatoes. An experiment requires a minimum of one dependent variable but can more than one. Since this is set up as a basic experiment that anybody could do in their backyard it makes sense to select plant size and amount of tomatoes as the dependent variable. Very few have access or the knowledge to test the nutrition of tomatoes. So now that we have selected the dependent variable we have to decide how to measure those variables. For plant size we could measure height or we could measure mass. In order to measure mass we could have to pull the plant out of the ground to weigh it and few people would want to kill their plants for that. Whereas measuring height is simple and easy which makes it a great measure for this experiment. When it comes to measuring the amount of tomatoes we could opt to count the number of tomatoes produced or measure the mass of tomatoes produced. Because it is easy enough to weigh the tomatoes I would chose to measure the mass of tomatoes produced. That allows me to tell if one plant is producing larger tomatoes even if it is producing the same number as another plant. Now one key to the dependent variable is that you must specifically define how it is measured and then apply it consistently. The definition should be clear enough that another person could duplicate your experiment on their own. For example when measuring the mass of tomatoes produced do you ensure that the stem is completely removed or can you leave some of the stem attached? I would remove the stem entirely so I am only measuring the tomatoes but I have to ensure that I include such specifics in my definition of my dependent variable.
Next is random sampling, that requires that every member of a population has the same chance of being part of the study. That means when you go to buy all the tomato plants every one of them should have an equal chance of being picked. We don’t want to go and just pick the healthiest looking ones or the largest. That would skew the results. There are number of ways to accomplish this. You could decide before going to the store that you would buy every 5th tomato plant you see. This type of sampling is done in survey research when dealing with a crowd like a event, rally or demonstration. Or you could decide that you will roll a 6 sided dice for each plant and take any that you roll a 6 for. The key is that all have equal chance. That allows you to generalize your results to the population as a whole because you pulled out a random group from the population so theoretically it should represent the whole group. Whereas if you picked only the healthiest plants then you could only generalize your results to the healthiest population of plants. Whatever group you sample for the study is what group you can generalize your results to.
The final requirement is random assignment. Every member of the sample should be randomly assigned to the different conditions of the IV. In our experiment all tomato plants should have an equal chance of getting fertilizer X as getting fertilizer Y as getting no fertilizer. This is done because there will always be individual differences in a population. There will be genetic and environmental factors in the past that influence the individuals whether those individuals are plants or humans or whatever they are. By randomly assigning individuals to groups then those differences are distributed between the groups. In theory the differences should be equally distributed. In our experiment say that some of the plants we bought were less healthy than others. Well if we randomly assign each plant to the three groups then it is likely that each group would end up with about the same number of unhealthy plants. That equalizes the effects of those unhealthy plants on the final results since they are distributed between all the groups.
Now it is time to put this all together. We have an independent variable (IV) which is the type of fertilizer (X or Y or None). We have two dependent variables (DV); the height of the plants and the mass of the tomatoes. We believe that the type of fertilizer (IV) will have an effect on the tomato plants which is measured as our DVs. In addition we randomly sampled the tomato plants from the store by ensuring each plant had an equal chance of being included in the study. Finally we randomly assigned all of the plants to one of the conditions of the IV. Otherwise every plant should be as equal as possible in treatment. They are planted in a place where all can get equal sunshine. They all receive the same amount of water. The groups that get fertilizer get equal amounts of fertilizer each.
This set up will allow us to determine what effects the fertilizers (or no fertilizer) causes to occur with the tomato plants. So how do we know that? Well we held all conditions we could control equal (water, sun, etc). The conditions we could not hold equal like the individual variations in genetics or past environment we distributed randomly among the conditions of the IV so as to equalize the impact on each group. The only change between groups was the IV which we controlled. So we can say with confidence that changing the IV is what caused the difference in the plants because it was the only feature being changed. Furthermore since we randomly sampled plants from the population we can generalize the results we see to that population. By randomly picking individuals from the population we are able to assume that the sample we tested would be equivalent to any other random sample pulled from the same population because the individual differences should be equally represented in our sample as they are in the population as a whole.
Well there you have it, we have set up an experimental design. This is the same basic design of just about any experiment. It could be applied to tomatoes or psychology or biology or just about anything. At a later point I will go over correlational designs which are used heavily in medicine, economics and sociology.
DISCLAIMER: The only piece that I did not and will not go over in this post is the statistical testing to determine if there really is an effect of fertilizer. Just because one group has slight taller plants or slightly more tomatoes does not mean that we can definitively say the IV caused that effect. That is because there are individual differences in plants and that must be accounted for when determining if there was an effect. We have to statistically test before making that declaration. Unfortunately explaining even a simple T test or F test is quite a lengthy process and beyond the scope here. Though if the differences are large then it is very very likely that the IV caused the differences because it is very likely the statistics would turn out that way. But I am warning against saying the IV caused a difference if the differences are minimal.
I heard a piece on NPR this morning about re-educating Taliban Jihadis in Pakistan. What really caught my attention was that they were using education and opportunity to combat terrorism. Here are two excerpts from the article.
Even today, for the young men of Swat there is the constant fear of Taliban fighters, who press whomever they want into service.
“The Taliban just grab these kids and take them into the hills,” says Hussain Nadim, a professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad. He is part of an effort to re-educate these young men at a number of jihadi rehab centers in the valley.
“These kids have no exposure, they have no education, there is no media to speak of, and the lack of these types of things in Swat breeds ignorance … and fear,” Nadim adds. “It makes it easy for the Taliban to recruit them and radicalize them.”
Vocational School For Jihadis
That explains why the Pakistani army decided to make Swat ground zero for a quiet experiment: a little-known program aimed at re-educating thousands of young men who were taken in by the Taliban.
Using international funds and a contingent of army officers, Pakistan has tried its hand at turning would-be terrorists into law-abiding citizens. It has opened two jihadi rehabilitation centers — one called Mishal, for teenage militants, and another called Sabaoon, for younger ones — to see if they can return the young men of Swat back to their families.
The two campuses are like vocational schools for jihadis — only with high walls, barbed wire and armed guards.
Zeshan takes me into an electronics class — it looks like a high school science lab, all electrical meters and alligator clips. A computer lab has rows of flat-screen PCs.
“We teach them very basic things, like how to use MS-Word and things like that,” Zeshan says. I ask if they go on the Internet, and Zeshan looks surprised, saying, “Yes, of course.”
Before coming to the army centers, very few of the young men even knew what the Internet was. Parts of the Swat Valley are that cut off from the rest of the world. And that isolation, rehabilitation center officials say, is one of the reasons the Taliban prey on young men from this area.
“We bring them here to make them productive members of society,” says Zeshan. “The Taliban has put ideas in their heads, and we work to undo that and set them right.”
There are different theories on how to re-educate violent jihadis and an even greater number of doubts about whether reverse indoctrination actually works. In Saudi Arabia, a 12-step program includes art therapy and helping young men find a job and a wife. In Singapore, jihadis are taught less violent interpretations of the Quran.
But in Swat, the approach is different — and simpler.
The focus at the centers is not specifically about jihad. Instead, it is more about skills.
“We tell them, you need to get your life back in order. We tell them that their mothers or their sisters are at home waiting for them … waiting for them to take care of them,” Nadim says. “We don’t confuse them with ideas of what is a good jihad or a bad jihad. We tell them their focus should be on their families.”
Since 2010, several thousand young men — and a handful of women — have graduated from the program. The funding for Mishal, Sabaoon and a couple of other rehab centers in Swat comes from the Pakistani army and from international aid groups. Zeshan says the recidivism rate is near zero.
“When they are provided an opportunity to come back to the society where they have a livelihood and a family, what’s the point in going back to those people?” says Zeshan, referring to the Taliban.
I have said in the past and I will say it again; the lack of opportunities breed extremism. When there are little or no opportunities for people then any option looks good compared to no options. This creates fertile grounds for recruiting people into extremist causes. Groups like the Taliban are able to offer direction, work, a livelihood and meaning which in some cases is more than the recruit sees available to them in society in general. When you have nothing then you also have nothing to loose, so why not take a chance on the only opportunity you see available?
Yet when people can make a life for themselves in society then the idea of joining an extremist group is far less appealing. Why would they want they want to risk their livelihood and family for a cause unless they already are true believers in that cause?
This is why we see extremism breed in countries that have weak economies and weak governments. Recruits tend to come from the poor and uneducated populations. That is why I think this program is great, it engages the root causes rather than the symptom. If people have opportunities in life then they are far less likely to become an extremist. With programs like this we could defuse terrorism rather than fighting a war against terrorism. In order to stop terrorism we do not need everybody to like us, rather we need people to not hate us so much that they are willing to die to hurt us. There are two sides to this equation. First terrorism can be reduced by reducing animosity towards the US. Second terrorism can be reduced by giving people something to live for so they don’t want to risk dying.
No amount of killing will stop terrorism, in fact it will make terrorism worse. War destroys economies and governments, it takes away the opportunity to live a normal life and have a family which makes people easy targets for extremist recruiters. Also war creates animosity towards the US. So the war on terror fuels both sides of the equation that drive people to extremism.
I hope that in the future we focus more on creating opportunities for people in order to combat terrorism rather than killing terrorists.
Since Sandy Hook there has been talk about arming teachers. Well I live in TX so we are moving forward with this plan in some school districts. But I don’t think it is good idea the fundamental premise is flawed and the execution is flawed.
The premise of arming schools seems good on the surface, the idea is to provide protection to children. But the issue is that arming teachers in schools will not prevent mass shootings. It might deter a potential mass shooter from targeting a school. Though it isn’t like schools are the only place that can be targeted, if a person wants to start killing people there are plenty of places they can do that. In fact the Aurora shooting was at a theater so does that mean we need to armed guards at theaters too? What about malls? What about city streets? Are we going to put armed security on every corner and in every building to deter mass shootings? If we want to deal with the problem of mass shootings then armed guards are not a solution. Guards only address the symptom not the cause. Deterring a shooter from one location does not prevent targeting a different location. We simply can’t protect all locations all the time.
On top of basing this plan off a flawed premise those moving forward are flawed in their execution of the plan. The districts that will allow armed teachers only want them to have a concealed weapons license in order to do so. But a concealed weapons license does not mean you are prepared to use a gun in a real combat situation. Think about what the situation would look like if a teacher was forced to defend students from an attacker. There would be screaming and chaos, people running every which way trying to get away. There would be pushing and shoving as people are fleeing for their lives. It would be chaos and confusion. In that chaos the defending teacher would have to identify the enemy target and shoot the enemy target accurately without hitting innocent bystanders. I have done a concealed weapons course and I am sorry but the short time at the firing range is not enough for a person to even be able to accurately shoot a stationary piece of paper. Yeah you learn to shoot but it takes practice to be accurate. So a concealed weapons license is not adequate training for a teacher to defend students.
Instead I think that if teachers want to be armed in order to protect students they should at minimum have to take all of the firearms handling training that police are required to take. Police are trained to identify enemy targets when innocent bystanders are around. They are trained to shoot the enemy while not hitting bystanders. In addition armed teachers should have to maintain the same level of continuing firearms training that the police are required. They should be required to show that they put in the same amount of time practicing as police and they should be re-evaluated every year at minimum (preferable twice a year). This is what I think is a minimum absolute requirement.
Though to be truly safe I think teachers that want to be armed should actually do all the firearms training done by SWAT. SWAT are the specialists in going into hostile situations and eliminating enemies while protecting innocents. Their training is focused for situations like mass shootings. So if a teacher wants to carry a gun to protect their students they should maintain a skill level with their gun that is up to par with SWAT.
Requiring armed teachers only to have concealed weapons license is asking for trouble. Putting guns in the hands of those inadequately trained and expecting good results in an emergency is foolish. If people are insistent on arming teachers then teachers should be properly trained for the situation they are intended for.
Start spreading the news
I am leaving today
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New York New York
I spent an inordinate amount of time pouring over the University of Kent Masters in Political Sociology and Stony Brook University Masters in Political Psychology. In the end I decided that my decision needed to be purely based on the program itself, I needed to decide which was best for me. Stony Brook is a better fit; it plays to my strengths. The program is heavily focused in psychology and statistics. I have a good background in psych. I have a BS in psych and I spent 3 years working in behavioral health direct care. I also have a good background in stats considering I have spent the last 6 years at work doing time series statistics, error analysis, data modeling, regressions and more.
I am so excited to start graduate school that I am already picking out courses I hope to take. I am required to take one semester of methods and two semesters of statistics. Those will be a cakewalk, the stats start with descriptive and inferential stats the first semester then move on to regression the second semester all of which I know rather well. The methods will be a good review for me but I enjoy analyzing methodology to figure out what you can really truly say from a study so that will go well. Then I get 2 elective the first semester and 3 the second. Then I hope to take “Dynamics of Public Opinion”, Passionate Politics: Mobilization, Interest Groups, and Social Movements”, “Thinking and Emotion in Public Opinion”, “Time Series Analysis” and “The Psychology of Voting”. If I can’t get those I would love to take “Persuasion and Propaganda” and “Social Influences” but both of those have equivalent courses for the PhD and I plan to get into the PhD program next year. So right now I want to build my micro-foundations of political psychology by looking a voting, opinion holding, emotional decision making and all of those low level effects on individuals. Then once I am in the PhD I will build up the larger social and group dynamics which will build off the individual level knowledge from my masters.
African-American Parent Involvement Conference The Austin Independent School District
• Learn about how parent involvement
enhances student education
• Fun and informative
• Family-friendly event
• Lunch and breakfast served
• Free transportation
(contact your school’s PSS)
Here in Austin, TX the local school district Austin ISD is hosting a parental involvement conference. That in itself is a good thing, it is very important that parents be involved in their children’s education. That fosters better learning and understanding for children. It also teaches them that education is important because their parents take the time to get involved.
Yet the problem I have here is the focus on race. There are uninvolved parents of all colors and creeds. No single group has a monopoly on uninvolved parents. I see absolutely no reason what so ever to specify this conference is for African-Americans. To me that focus is negative for a couple reasons. First it is like saying that African-American parents are uninvolved with their children’s education while making no mention of other races or groups. That is unfair because there are uninvolved parents in all races. It supports a racial stereotype. Second by stating the conference is for African-Americans it excludes all other groups from the conference. Now I am sure they wouldn’t turn away Caucasian families that want to attend. But few Caucasian if any will see this and decide that they should go, especially if they are uninvolved parents. Instead if race was excluded from the conference it would be more inviting to all parents regardless of race so they might actually get more people at the conference and have a greater impact from it.
Race is not needed here and should have never been included.
PS Thanks Bill for bringing this to my attention.
I, _________, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; So help me God.
A bill introduced into the AZ state legislature by Representative Bob Thorpe would require all students graduating from public schools in AZ to swear an oath of loyalty to the Constitution. I have several problems with this bill. First and foremost not all high school students believe in God. There are atheists and they would have to swear on God. Also there are individuals of different faiths that may have problems with this such as Muslims, Jehova Witnesses or Quakers that may take issue with a loyalty oath (Phoenix Business Journal). Being forced to swear on God is the biggest issue and most likely one to bring a legal challenge if HB2467 is made law.
But there are other issues. For one AZ ranked 44th in the nation for education according to Quality Counts report by Education Week. Yet legislators are spending time worrying about oaths for graduating seniors. Maybe they should spend a bit more time worry about getting kids to the point of graduating. Or maybe they should ensure students are prepared when they leave high school. I know being a product of AZ public schools that I was not prepared for college after graduating high school.
Next is the issue of forcing students to take an oath of loyalty at all. AZ state Representative Thorpe said “”Constitutional oaths are common for elected officials and government employees, including the governor, the Legislature and members of our law enforcement and our military,”
(The Arizona Republic). Well high school is not elected office, military or law enforcement. All of those positions are voluntary choices on the part of the individual whereas high school is not. Furthermore, each of those positions depend heavily on the constitution. Law enforcement, military and the governor enforce the Constitution and laws being part of the executive branch. The legislature writes the laws which must conform to the constitution. Graduating high school students do not do this. Thorpe is relying on a false equivocation.
Beyond that the bill would face legal challenges if it became law.
“Both bills are clearly unconstitutional, ironically enough,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona Public Policy Director Anjali Abraham. “You can’t require students to attend school … and then require them to either pledge allegiance to the flag or swear this loyalty oath in order to graduate. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.”
That means if HB2467 became law the state would be wasting money in legal battles over oaths rather than investing that money into education. What is the point in that? Why waste tax payer money writing a bill, discussing the bill and potentially passing it only to face legal challenges once it is passed? What could it gain for AZ?
“It is my hope that if Arizona students are given the opportunity to also take a simple, Constitutional oath, that this will inspire them to learn more about our Constitutional form of government and the rich history of our nation and founding.”
Well I guess that is what it is supposed to accomplish. That seems a bit bass ackwards. He hopes that an oath taken on graduation day will ‘inspire’ kids to learn more about the Constitution and history. Huh? I thought you were supposed to learn that in school not after you graduate. If he wants that then maybe he should be focused on history and government curriculum not an oath of loyalty. You know maybe actually teach that stuff instead of just trying to inspire student to learn it on their own.
Overall this proposed bill is pointless, unconstitutional and a waste of tax payer dollars to even write.
Most people would agree that the educational system of the US is in need of serious work. Students are unprepared either for the work place or for college. Science and math education are in need of drastic improvement. Under performing schools are told to improve yet they don’t and nothing more happens. Something needs done about education in the US, we need a school voucher system.
There are several reasons we should move to a voucher system. First off the competition can help promote better education outcomes and greater innovation in education. Schools will have a great freedom to try new means of improving education without state and federal regulations guiding dictating the methods to be used. So they can try to fix our educational system in the manner that seems best to them. While at the same time the competition allows parents to pick and choose the best school to fit their children. That way parents have a greater choice over school since they can select which of many schools they send their children thus allowing them to tailor their children’s education to fit their values as a parent.
Next the ideas and methods developed from competition of schools will be adopted by other schools. That is schools which perform extremely well will be emulated by other schools trying to improve their performance. While schools which perform poorly will not be emulated.
Also vouchers will hold schools more accountable than they are currently. Parents will have the choice of whether or not to attend a schools. So if a school is performing poorly then parents don’t have to send their children there the next year. They can find another option. When children are assign to school regardless of school performance and parents don’t have any other options then the school has little incentive to improve. The district may tell them to improve, but they will still have about as many students next year as last year which means they will have about the same funding. The school doesn’t deal with any feel any consequences of poor performance, rather it is the children that suffer from it. So they school doesn’t have to really worry about improving performance.
Now the two problems with vouchers have to do with the allocation of funding. First in our current system in many places school funding is tied to property tax. That creates massive disparities between schools in rich and poor neighborhood. Back in Phoenix (my home town), I use to work at a school for developmentally disabled children that the local districts couldn’t handle. We got a child one day from a North Scottsdale school which is an affluent suburb of Phoenix. Well the school didn’t have an extra bus to send the child to us. So they hired a limo company to take him back and forth until they could buy a van and hire somebody to drive it. This kid was showing up in a limo for several weeks. It was ridiculous. How can they justify spending that kind of money? They clearly had more dollars than sense. They had so much extra because they got more from property taxes all the while other students barely have the basics.
For this reason I think that education funding needs to be separated from property taxes. All children deserve to be invested in equally. Affluent children do not need to have greater public funding than poor children. Yet at the same time we can’t ignore the simple fact that the cost of operating a schools does depend in some ways on the area it is located. The overhead for school property is going to be more expensive in urban areas than rural and the overhead for schools within urban areas will vary depending on the neighborhoods. Though at the same time it should not be highly connected to the neighborhood so as not to create vast disparities in the education between the poor and rich. That is way the value of the voucher should depend in part on the location of the individual but only in part. It should have a base value that is adjusted based on the cost of living in the area surrounding the individual. The area should be sufficiently large so that poor neighborhood include rich ones in their cost of living and rich neighborhoods include poor. It could be something like the cost of living for the 50 mile area surrounding the individual compared to the cost of living for the state as a whole. That factor would be applied to the base value which would be the average per student cost of education for the state. So say the average cost per student in your state is $7,000 and your area cost of living is 120% of the average statewide cost of living then your voucher would be worth $19,000 * 1.2 = $12,000. The whole point to this is to help combat the disparities in education based on family socioeconomic status.
The next issue is the question of how much tuition will cost. If everybody got a school voucher worth $10,000 in tuition, you would quickly find that most schools happen to cost $10,000 in tuition or more. No school would opt to charge less than the voucher is worth. But that would encourage waste. Also that would mitigate some of the pressures of competition since there would be no pressure on the price of education only on the results of education. In order to deal with this vouchers need to be connect to individual accounts. Any unspent money from your voucher rolls over to the next year. If any is left unspent after graduation then it can be used to attend college. So if your voucher is worth $10,000 and you pick a school that only charges $8,000 tuition then you would have $2,000 rollover in your account for next year. Then next year you would have a $12,000 voucher. That gives parents and schools a reason to focus both on educational outcomes but also the cost of education. Then parents could decide how best to spend their child’s education money, maybe they will send them somewhere that is good but not the best for grade school so that they can afford the top end high school. Maybe they will find a good value for their dollar and save extra for college. Or maybe they will put some of their own money on top of the voucher and send them somewhere more expensive every year. The parents will have a choice over it. At the same time it creates competition between schools on price. They will have to offer a reasonable price for the education so as to entice parent into sending their children to that school.
This plan will provide competition among schools for both educational performance and cost of tuition. It will allow greater freedom to innovate while allowing schools to emulate top performers. Finally it will put parents back in the driver’s seat of education and allow them to make meaningful choices about their children’s future.