Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dilbert on the media

This pretty much summarizes my attitude toward many media stories involving social science:

"Reporters are faced with the daily choice of painstakingly researching stories or writing whatever people tell them. Both approaches pay the same." Scott Adams (from a Dilbert cartoon)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dog vs. cat people

Last year we bought a dog--an adorable miniature poodle named "Attila." She's smart, personable, and just a lot of fun. So, it did not surprise me when I read about this study regarding the difference between dog and cat people. It did an on-line survey using standard psychological personality measures, and it concluded that dog and cat people are indeed different. From the article:

"In a paper to be published later this year in the journal Anthrozoƶs, Sam Gosling finds that those who define themselves as "dog people" are more extraverted, more agreeable and more conscientious than self-described "cat people."

Fans of felines, on the other hand, are more neurotic but also more open than their canine-loving counterparts."

This doesn't surprise me at all, but then again I like dogs a lot more than cats. (T-shirt: "I like cats, I just can't eat one all by myself.")

There is the issue of causation vs. selection here. Does having a cat make you neurotic or do neurotic people buy cats? Also, what happens to people who have both a cat and a dog. Do they get the best of both? The worst of both?

For me being around cats predicts being very anti-social, but that's just because I'm in the bathroom blowing my nose and washing my face trying to undo an allergic reaction.

BTW, as I write this, Attila is jumping on me, loving on me--giving evidence for causation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Um, not sure this is why I blog

Google analytics and other services tell you how people find your blog. Many of the people who read the blog come across it using a Google or other search. The other day, I happened to notice that someone found my blog with the following search: "How to kill someone and get away with it."

Okay, why is this person searching for this information, and how did they end up on my blog?

(Actually, it was in reference to this previous post).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hey, I wrote a book!

In December, 2008, I was contacted by Bethany House Publishing (an imprint of Baker Publishing) and asked if I was interested in writing about book about Christianity and statistics. I said yes, and after a gazillion hours of researching, writing, and editing, my book is coming out on July 1st.

Here's the Amazon page for it, and it's entitled: "Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media."
I'm not sure that I would have chosen that title myself, especially the first part of it, for it has a more harsh tone than the book itself... but one of the things that I learned in the process is that authors don't get much say over titles.

The biggest surprise for me was how much I enjoyed the whole book-writing process as opposed to writing articles. There is something about having someone already agreeing to publish the book that makes it possible to sink a lot of time into it with a good attitude. The ambiguity of publishing an article--basically writing it on spec--has a very difficult feel.

Also, it was fun writing with a much more informal tone.

Given how much I enjoyed it, I'm very glad that I have a contract for a second book from Bethany House. This one is tentatively entitled: "Leadership Lessons from Pirates."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

ee cummings quotation

To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.

- ee cummings

Friday, January 22, 2010

Religious and spiritual experiences

Here's a table from a Pew Foundation report that suggests that Americans are more frequently having religious and spiritual experiences.

Any thoughts as to why?

(thanks David)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Curing Christians' Stats Abuse by Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, of Lifeway Research, has just published a great article in Christianity Today about Christianity and statistics. It's entitled "Curing Christians' Stats Abuse" but it subtitle is even more telling: "The statistics we most love to repeat may be leading us to make bad choices about the church."

Some of the best-known, most frequently-repeated stats about U.S. Christianity also happen to be factually incorrect. Stetzer focuses on those involving church growth, but there are numerous other examples.

His article is definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

UConn Women's Basketball

USA Today had a fun article about the UConn woman's basketball team. This is how good they are:

* They have won the last 57 games in a row, and it has won every game by 10 points or more.
* They led one game this season by 72 points
* They hasn't allowed an opponent to shoot above 50% in a game since 2004
* They have not lost two games in a row since... 1993
* They average 47 points in the first half... and give up an average of 45 points for the whole game

Also, the coach is hilariously sarcastic.

Ah yes, memberships has its benefits

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to grade papers more efficiently

Grading papers can be rather boring; in fact, take away grading and committee meetings, and being a professor might be the perfect job.

Here's an approach to grading that is both scientific and really quick. You can read about it here, but I'll post one photo that demonstrates the method.

I may have to try it.

Any other grade-quick schemes?

(Thanks Jeff!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The practice of Christianity as a beautiful mess

Various stereotypes and images exist of Christians and their practice of faith. The image I have of Christians who take their faith deeply serious is one of a beautiful mess.... They do great things with great passion and sometimes suffer great setbacks.

For example, here are some biographical details about Christian author Brennan Manning:
- Catholic priest
- spiritual director
- campus minister
- graduate student in creative writing
- member of an order that lived an "uncloistered, contemplative life among the poor." Manual labor by day, silence and prayer at night
- water carrier to rural villages
- voluntary prisoner in a Swiss jail
- six months of contemplative seclusion in a desert cave
- founder of an intentional community in Alabama, based on the primitive life of the Franciscans
- collapse into alcoholism followed by six months of treatment
- husband (after he left the priesthood)
- speaker, writer

Wow! So much good, some real bad. This fits with my own experiences that when my faith is going well, it's two steps forward and one step back. (Reverse this for when things are going badly)

(Description taken from his book Abba's child)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Horsebarn Hill barn (pic)

Jacobsen Barn, at the entrance of UConn

Friday, January 15, 2010

A really bad measure

People do funny things with measurement. Here's a measure described in a recent New York Times article:

"The “happy planet index,” [is] devised by the New Economics Foundation, a liberal think tank. This combines happiness and longevity but adjusts for environmental impact — such as the carbon that countries spew."

That's right.. how happy you are, how long you'll live, and how much carbon-based pollution is produced by your country.

What's the overriding them here? Things I like? Life, happiness, and clean air. I say they add a fourth variable for quality of college basketball.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Consumer spending over last century

Here's a fascinating graphic of how consumer spending has changed over the past century. We spend less on food (as a percentage) and much more on transportation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blaise Pascal quotation

God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment.

- Blaise Pascal

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Punked by my son

On Wednesday I wrote that I was worried about being punked by the paint store... Well, I was, but not by them, but by Floyd--my nine-year-old. I was priming a room, and he wanted to help, so I gave him a brush and showed him how to cover up spots and stains.

After awhile I went to wash my brush, and when I got back, he showed me what a good job he had done--both in the room I am painting and the next room over--one that needs painting but I wasn't going to do right away. So, I guess that I'll do that now as well.

My wife's response: Offering to pay Floyd for getting me to do extra painting.

Friday, January 08, 2010

How religious is your state? Pew's rankings

The Pew Foundation, which churns out many interesting statistics about religion, came out with this ranking of all 50 states (actually 46--the had to combine a few of the smaller ones) in terms of religiosity using several different measures.

No big surprises... the South is the most religious region, with Mississippi scoring highest on all four measures. New England and Alaska are the least religious areas.

While the rank ordering was expected, I was surprised by how much variation there is across the range of states. Given how many people live in each state, I figured that while within-state variation would be high, between state variation wouldn't be. But... there's a lot of difference between the top and the bottom of the list.

82% of Mississippi residents say that religion is very important to them, 36% of NH/Vermont residents.

60% of Mississippi residents attend religious services weekly, only 23% of NH/VT residents do.

Where does your state rank?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Surprising data: What makes a good NFL coach

Over the years, I've been surprised by data so often that I've almost stopped guessing what I'll find with any given analysis. I suppose that's why people analyze data, because conventional wisdom is so frequently wrong.

I'm also frequently surprised by the many questions that can be informed by data analysis.

I was reminded of both of these with an article in ESPN magazine. Several studies have looked at the characteristics of NFL coaches who are most successful, and they suggest the following criteria (quoted from the article):

1. They were between ages 41 and 49.
2. They had at least 11 years of NFL coaching experience.
3. They were assistants on teams that won at least 50 games over a five-year span.
4. They had only one previous NFL head-coaching gig.

Also, the best offense or defense coordinators don't necessarily make the best coaches.

Now, I would imagine that the study is bumping up against problems of statistical power, and there are certainly exceptions to these characteristics, but who knows, maybe the logic of Moneyball might be applied to coaches as well as players.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Purple paint

I am celebrating the holidays by painting our upstairs hallway, and so I went to buy some ceiling paint. I came back with a gallon of bright white paint that is purple until it dries. Apparently the purple lets you see where you've painted.

I'm mostly sure this is a cool technological innovation, but part of me thinks I might have just been punked by the guys at the paint store.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Is the world getting better or worse?

I am a sucker for cool graphical display of data, and so I was impressed with this graphic. (It's hard to read here, so you'll want to check out the original website.)

Lots of things are getting better, including health, income, life expectancy, and education.

Going down? War and environmental matters.