Sunday, April 27, 2008

How Words Really Can Hurt

"The power communication has over how meaning is created and transmitted in society is indisputable—language contributes to decisions we make, opinions we form, stories we believe, attributions we assign, and perceptions we internalize. Because of the substantial influence that language has on these areas of social life, it is essential to critically examine how language functions in the mass media in order to discuss possible implications communication has on audiences and the perceptions, opinions, and attributions they form about gender violence in our society. From a linguistic perspective, the Sapir- Whorf hypothesis illustrates that “human beings do not live in the objective world alone, [and] are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society….We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation” (Sapir, 1929). Here, Sapir defines language as a social medium of expression that influences our choices and interpretations of reality within given contexts. Whorf (1940) further describes our world as “a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds.” Both of these conceptions relate to the influence language has in our given social structure to mold and shape the version of reality we perceive, illustrating the powerful impact language has on constructing individual ideas of social reality" Source: UCLA Center for the Study of Women. Paper Apr08_Schwartz.

Download to full pdf report | Link to online abstract

Household Economic Studies: Net Worth and the Assets of Households

Two of the most important defining factors of economic well-being in the United States are income and net worth. When considered alone, income - the resources a person or household receives from a job, transfer program, or other source - provides an incomplete picture of economic well-being. A person's or a household's wealth or net worth - the difference between assets and liabilities - considered in conjunction with income, provides a better understanding of economic health and well-being.

This report compares the levels of wealth and asset ownership, such as home equity, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks and mutual funds, and vehicle ownership, by various socioeconomic factors, including monthly household income, in late 1999/early 2000 and late 2002." Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival

"Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival uses existing data to measure coverage of key interventions and approaches proven to reduce maternal and child mortality. The 2008 report highlights the rapid progress that many of the 68 countries are making in providing vaccinations, vitamin A supplementation coverage and insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent major killers such as measles and malaria.

Nonetheless, treatment for potentially fatal illnesses and other vital health services still fail to reach the majority of women and children according to the findings. These services are dependent on strong health systems that can provide 24-hour care within the community, at health clinics, and through a functioning referral system when more serious intervention is necessary. Access to these services is most critical at the time of birth and during the first two weeks of life which are riskiest for mother and infant." Source: Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, The World Health Organization

Download pdf report | Download pdf executive summary | Link to Countdown to 2015, Maternal, newborn & child survival

Children's Perspectives on Economic Adversity: A Review of the Literature

"This paper, authored by Gerry Redmond, reviews some of the recent qualitative literature on children's perspectives on economic disadvantage. The idea of asking people who experience disadvantage about their own situations is still a relatively new one in the social sciences, and the idea of asking children about their own perceptions of economic and social disadvantage is even more recent. Nine analyses, all published since 1998, and all of them involving in-depth interviews or group work with children aged between 5 and 17, are examined in detail. Most of these studies develop frameworks based on the 'new sociology of childhood', which emphasises the social construction of childhood and children's agency in the context of child-adult relations. The nine studies cover a number of issues related to economic disadvantage, including exclusion from activities and peer groups at school and in the community; perceptions of 'poor' and 'affluent' children; participation in organized activities outside of school hours; methods of coping with financial hardship; support for parents in coping and in seeking and keeping employment, and aspirations for future careers and lives. " Source: UNICEF: Inocenti Research Centre [via UN Pulse Blog]

Download full pdf report | Link to online summary

Implications of higher global food prices for poverty in low-income countries

In many poor countries, the recent increases in prices of staple foods raise the real incomes of those selling food, many of whom are relatively poor, while hurting net food consumers, many of whom are also relatively poor. The impacts on poverty will certainly be very diverse, but the average impact on poverty depends upon the balance between these two effects, and can only be determined by looking at real-world data. Results using household data for ten observations on nine low-income countries show that the short-run impacts of higher staple food prices on poverty differ considerably by commodity and by country, but, that poverty increases are much more frequent, and larger, than poverty reductions. The recent large increases in food prices appear likely to raise overall poverty in low income countries substantially. Source: World Bank [via UN Pulse blog]

Download full report in pdf | Link to online Summary

The Talent Hunt: Getting the People You Need, When You Need Them

"Ask any CEO or senior level executive what his or her biggest challenge is, and the answer is almost always finding and keeping good people. Yet most executives fail to manage their company's needs in a way that recognizes the unpredictability of the global marketplace. In a book titled, Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty, Peter Cappelli, director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, proposes a new approach to this issue based on applying the principles of supply chain management to people. He and Joyce Bradley -- senior vice president and general manager, Delaware Valley region, of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global human capital consulting firm headquartered in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. -- spoke with Knowledge@Wharton about talent management, including the challenges of managing employees in a recessionary economy" Source: knowledge@Wharton

Link to pdf of edited transcript | Link to online version of edited transcript

Writing, Technology and Teens

"While the debate about the relationship between e-communication and formal writing is on-going, few have systematically talked to teens to see what they have to say about the state of writing in their lives. Responding to this information gap, the Pew Internet & American Life Project, together with the National Commission on Writing, an initiative of the College Board, conducted a national telephone survey and focus groups to see what teens and their parents say about the role and impact of technological writing on both in-school and out-of-school writing.2 The report that follows looks at teens' basic definition of writing, explores the various kinds of writing they do, seeks their assessment about what impact e-communication has on their writing, and probes for their guidance about how writing instruction might be improved." Source: Pew internet and American life project

Link to online report

Food Price Inflation: Causes and Impact

"U.S. food prices rose 4% in 2007 and are expected to gain 3.5% to 4.5% in 2008. Higher farm commodity prices and energy costs are the leading factors behind higher food prices. Farm commodity prices have surged because (1) demand for corn for ethanol is competing with food and feed for acreage; (2) global food grain and oilseed supplies are low due to poor harvests; (3) the weak dollar has increased U.S. exports; (4) rising incomes in large, rapidly emerging economies have changed eating habits; and (5) input costs have increased. Higher energy costs increase transportation, processing, and retail costs. Although the cost of commodities such as corn or wheat are a small part of the final retail price of most food products, they have risen enough to have an impact on retail prices. Generally, price changes at the farm level have a diminished impact on retail prices, especially for highly processed products. The impact of higher food prices on U.S. households varies according to income. Lower-income households spend a greater portion of their income on food and feel price hikes more acutely than high-income families. Higher food costs impact domestic food assistance efforts in numerous ways depending on whether benefits are indexed, enrollments are limited, or additional funds are made available. Higher food and transportation costs also reduce the impact of U.S. contributions of food aid under current budget constraints." Source: Congressional Research Service

Download full pdf report | Link to online abstract

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stereotype Threat: a Case of Overclaim Syndrome?

"The theory of Stereotype Threat (ST) predicts that, when widely accepted stereotypes allege a group’s intellectual inferiority, fears of confirming these stereotypes cause individuals in the group to underperform relative to their true ability and knowledge. There are now hundreds of published studies purporting to document an impact for ST on the performance of women and racial minorities in a range of situations.

This article reviews the literature on stereotype threat, focusing especially on studies investigating the influence of ST in the context of gender. It concludes that there is currently no justification for concluding that ST explains women’s underperformance compared to men on standardized tests of mathematics ability, or in scientific fields more generally. The current experimental literature provides no information about the magnitude of ST’s influence relative to other possible causes of gender or race disparities in academic performance generally, or in women’s underperformance in math more specifically. Existing studies are fully consistent with a minimal role for ST in accounting for observed patterns. In addition, there are unexplained inconsistencies and puzzles in the ST literature that further undercut the possibility of drawing firm conclusions about the magnitude of ST effects or the importance of ST to observed group disparities. The article concludes by proposing new ST research methodology that would help to address unanswered questions about the significance of ST as compared to other possible causes of observed gaps. These modifications would allow researchers more precisely to measure the magnitude of ST effects, and thus to determine whether ST accounts for all, most, some, or only a little of observed racial and gender performance differences on standardized tests of verbal and mathematical ability." Source: "University of Pennsylvania Law School"

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| Link to online abstract

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Parent Expectations and Planning for College: Statistical Analysis Report

This report uses data from the 2003 National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) Parent and Family Involvement Survey (PFI) to examine the characteristics associated with the educational expectations parents had for their children and the postsecondary education planning practices families and schools engaged in. The results presented in this report are based on a sample of students in grades 6 through 12 who represented the 28,182,000 students in grades 6 through 12 in the United States in early 2003. The data revealed that roughly nine out of every 10 students (91 percent) in grades 6 through 12 had parents who expected them to continue their education beyond high school, with about two-thirds (65 percent) having had parents who expected them to finish college. Other findings presented in this report show that about one-third (32 percent) of students had parents who perceived that their child's school did very well at providing information to help their child plan for postsecondary education. Finally, among students whose parents expected them to continue their education after high school, 82 percent had parents who reported that the family was planning on helping to pay for their child's postsecondary education costs, and among those whose parents reported that the family was planning on helping to pay the costs, 66 percent had parents who reported that they had enough information about postsecondary education costs to begin planning. Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Download full pdf report | Link to NCES Summary site

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Partial peace rebel groups inside and outside civil war settlements

Summary: Previous research proposes that peace is more likely to become durable if all rebel groups are included in the settlement reached. The argument implies that if actors are excluded and continue to pursue the military course, this could have a destabilizing effect on the actors that have signed an agreement. This article argues that all-inclusive peace deals - signed by the government and all rebel groups - are not the panacea for peace that many seem to believe. Given that the parties are strategic actors who are forward-looking when making their decisions, the signatories should anticipate that the excluded parties may continue to fight. Therefore, the risk of violent challenges from outside actors is likely to already be factored into the decision-making calculus when the signatories decide to reach a deal, and so does not affect their commitment to peace. Implications from this theoretical argument are tested using unique data on the conflict behavior of the government and each of the rebel groups in internal armed conflicts during the post-Cold War period. The results are well in line with the theoretical expectations and show that whether an agreement leaves out some actor does not affect whether the signatories stick to peace. The results demonstrate that even when excluded rebel groups engage in conflict, this does not affect the signatories' commitment to peace. Hence, the findings suggest that partial peace is possible. Source: World Bank Policy Research Working Papers

Download full pdf report
| Link to World Bank

Every Student Counts: The Case for Graduation Rate Accountability

"Graduation rate calculations vary widely from state to state, resulting in measurements that are not comparable and not always reliable. Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act has not addressed these discrepancies and the U.S. Department of Education has not required schools to appreciably increase the numbers of students they are graduating over time—undermining graduation rates as a tool for genuine reform. For example, schools are allowed to set low graduation rate expectations to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals; meet AYP by demonstrating statistically insignificant progress; and report overall graduation rates as opposed to rates within sub-groups, which tell a more complete story." Source: Alliance for Excellent Education

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| Link to Alliance for Excellent Education

Complaint Communication: How Complaint Severity and Service Recovery Influence Guests’ Preferences and Attitudes

Executive Summary : "A survey of 802 travelers found a connection between the mechanism that restaurant guests use to voice complaints and the nature and severity of the problems that motivate those complaints. Guests bring the most severe problems to management’s attention in one of two ways. As one might expect, most complaints about severe problems are made face-to-face, but contrary to expectations, some guests are just as likely to write a letter. The respondents viewed food issues and failures in food and service combined as the worst failures, but these also gave restaurateurs the best chance to cure the situation, earn the guest’s satisfaction, and improve the prospects for a repeat purchase. The guests tended to raise issues relating just to service directly with the server, again giving the restaurant the chance for a rapid recovery. Most puzzling were complaints relating to other factors, such as atmosphere, that are not related to food or to service. Although the respondents generally considered failures in those issues to be the least severe, these were also the complaints that were most likely to cause the guest to decide never to return to the restaurant, even when the problem had been addressed to the customer’s satisfaction." Source: Cornell School of Hotel Administration, Center for Hospitality Research

Download full pdf report | Link to Executive Summary

With Age Comes Happiness, Sociological Study

from press release: "Americans become happier as they age, according to a new University of Chicago sociological study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review, the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association.

The study, one of the most thorough examinations of happiness in America, also found that baby boomers are not as content as other generations, blacks are less happy than whites, women are happier than men, happiness can rise and fall between eras, and that, as people age, their happiness increases while the differences between genders and ethnic groups narrow." Source: American Sociological Association

Download full pdf report | Link to Press Release

Cyberethics: The Emerging Codes of Online Conduct

Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, describing the progression of science not as gradual accumulation of knowledge but as serial equilibrium punctuated by revolutionary changes—paradigm shifts that rapidly transform all subsequent inquiry.

The Internet presents such a shift in the domain of human communication, with special consequences for media and publishing. Last week, a Carnegie Council Workshop for Ethics in Business explored the codes of online conduct that are emerging as new media gain more influence in political and business affairs. Source: Carnegie Council.

Link to online summary of workshop
Link to all video of Cyberethics workshop
Link to all audio of Cyberethics workshop

Lessons for Business Schools

"New books and revisited history illuminate the irrelevance of today’s MBA — and ways to make it compelling again.

Are MBA programs out of sync with the needs of business in the 21st cen­tury? Have they failed to keep pace with global and technological change? Are they too theoretical and removed from the day-to-day challenges faced by managers and entrepreneurs? And do they encourage the silo-ing of such functions as finance and marketing rather than instilling in their students a multidisciplinary view? These questions are taking on greater importance as the business environment be­comes ever more globalized and competitive. 'This is one of those punctuated-equilibrium moments,' says Joel Podolny, dean of Yale’s School of Management. 'There’s lots of experimentation, and we have to adopt new models to meet 21st-century challenges.'" Source: Strategy + Business : Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.

Download full article in pdf format
| Read article online

UK Social Trends

Figures on health, wealth and life satisfaction are published... in
Social Trends, the ‘state of the nation’ statistical report from the
Office for National Statistics, which this year takes the theme of
societal well-being. Source: UK office of National Statistics.

Download full pdf report | Link to UK Statistics Authority

Residential Relocation and Commuting Behavior in Shanghai, China: The Case for Transit Oriented Development

"This paper examines the effects of residential relocation to Shanghai’s suburbs on job accessibility and commuting, focusing on the influences of proximity to metrorail services and neighborhood environments on commute behavior and choices. The policy implications of the research findings on the planning and design of suburban communities in large cities like Shanghai are addressed in the conclusion. Our research suggests that TOD has a potentially important role to play in placing China’s large, rail-served cities on a more sustainable pathway." Source: UC Berkeley Center for Future Urban Transport

Download full pdf publication | Link to online abstract

Survivals of Pharaonic Religious Practices in Contemporary Coptic Christianity.

"The concept of “survivals” has provoked heated discussions among scholars of various disciplines within the humanities and the social sciences. In the case of Egypt the polemics have been most vehement between those who trace contemporary popular beliefs and practices back to Pharaonic times and others who reject the idea altogether. The perspectives of “analogy,” “continuity and change,” and “living traditions” have opened the way to alternative approaches to the subject. Urbanization and globalization have profoundly changed Egyptian culture and prompted the abandonment of most religious practices belonging to the Egyptian lore. However, some aspects of Pharaonic religious practices can still be observed in Coptic Christianity. These practices are tied to the Coptic calendar, funerary rituals, visits to the dead, and mulids." Source: Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA

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| Link to eScholarship Repository

Monday, April 14, 2008

An International Rule of Law?

"The rule of law is almost universally supported at the national and international level. The extraordinary support for the rule of law in theory, however, is possible only because of widely divergent views of what it means in practice. Disparate national traditions posed few problems while operating in parallel, but efforts to promote the rule of law through international organizations have necessitated a reassessment of this pluralism. This article proposes a core definition of the rule of law as a political ideal and argues that its applicability to the international level will depend on that ideal being seen as a means rather than an end, as serving a function rather than defining a status. Such a vision of the rule of law more accurately reflects the development of the rule of law in national jurisdictions and appropriately highlights the political work that must be done if power is to be channeled through law." Source: New York University School of Law

Download pdf publication | Link to online abstract

Engines of Inequality: Class, Race, and Family Structure

"The past 30 years has witnessed a dramatic divergence in family structure by social class, income, education, and race. This article reviews the data on these trends, explores their significance, and assesses social scientists’ recent attempts to explain them. The article concludes that society-wide changes in economic conditions or social expectations cannot account for these patterns. Rather, for reasons that are poorly understood, cultural disparities have emerged by class and race in attitudes and behaviors surrounding family, sexuality, and reproduction. These disparities will likely fuel social and economic inequality and contribute to disparities in children’s life prospects for decades to come." Source: University of Pennsylvania Law School

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| Link to online abstract

UNICEF Report: Children and AIDS

"Children and AIDS: Second stocktaking report is a review of progress on how AIDS affects children and young people. Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS, which was launched in October 2005 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNICEF and other partners, was a call to action around the impact of HIV and AIDS on children." Source: UNICEF

Download full pdf report
| Link to online press release

Report on Iraq to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Source: U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Chairman Howard L. Berman’s opening remarks
for hearing

Testimony of Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq, General David H. Petraeus (PDF)

Satisfaction with Presidential Primary Process Dropping Among Both Parties, Annenberg Data Show

"Fewer than one in three Democrats (30.9%) is satisfied with the presidential primary process this election season. That level has dropped significantly since the beginning of the year. Although satisfaction rates with the primary process are significantly higher among Republicans, those rates also have declined substantially since the first of the year.

Source: National Annenberg Election Survey of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Download full release

Income Inequality, Income Mobility, and Economic Policy

"Income inequality has been increasing in the United States over the past 25 years. Several factors have been identified as possibly contributing to increasing income inequality. Some researchers have suggested the decline in unionization and a falling real minimum wage as the primary causes. Others have argued that rising returns to education and skill-biased technological change are the important factors explaining rising inequality. Most analysts agree that the likely explanation for rising income inequality is due to skill-biased technological changes combined with a change in institutions and norms, of which a falling minimum wage and declining unionization are a part. Since most people are concerned with upward mobility, and given the central importance of income mobility to the debate over income inequality, this report examines the relation between income mobility and inequality." Congressional Research Service

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| Link to online summary

Oil Industry Profit Review 2007

"Increases in the price of crude oil that began in 2004 pushed the spot price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), a key oil in determining market prices, to nearly $100 per barrel in the third quarter of 2007. Tight market conditions persisted through the remainder of 2007, with demand growth in China, India, and other parts of the developing world continuing. Uncertain supply related to political unrest in Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, and other places continued to threaten the market and contribute to a psychology that pushed up prices. The decline of the value of the U.S. dollar on world currency markets, as well as the investment strategies of financial firms on the oil futures markets, has also been identified by some as factors in the high price of oil. The profits of the five major integrated oil companies remained high in 2007, as they generally accounted for approximately 75% of both revenues and net incomes. For this group of firms, oil production led the way as the most profitable segment of the market, even though oil and gas production growth was not strong. The refining segment of the market performed relatively poorly. Independent oil and natural gas producers are small relative to the integrated oil companies, and their financial performance was weaker, with more than half of the firms reporting declines in net income. Independent refiners and marketers also experienced a difficult year that was reflected in profits in 2007. The combination of high crude oil prices that raised their costs and the inability to quickly pass cost increases on to consumers lowered refining margins, resulting in generally declining profits. The potential volatility of the world oil and financial markets, coupled with the weakness of the U.S. and other economies, makes any profit forecast for 2008 highly speculative. While continued high oil prices are likely -- the price of oil reached $110 per barrel in the first quarter of 2008 -- the ability of the industry to pass those prices on to consumers of gasoline and other products during 2008 is uncertain due to possibly weakening demand." Source: Congressional Research Service

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| Link to online Summary

Inside the Middle Class: Bad Times Hit the Good Life

"This report on the attitudes and lives of the American middle class combines results of a new Pew Research Center national public opinion survey with the center's analysis of relevant economic and demographic trend data from the Census Bureau." Source: Pew Research Center.

Download full pdf report | Link to executive summary

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gender Differentials in Judicial Proceedings: field evidence from housing related cases in Uruguay

"Using micro data on judicial proceedings in Uruguay we present evidence that female defendants receive a more favorably treatment in courts than male defendants. This is due to longer foreclosure proceedings and higher probabilities of being granted extensions in evictions and dispossessions for female defendants." Source: U.C. Berkeley Program in Law & Economics.

Download full pdf publication
| Link to online abstract

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Findings from the Pilot Teacher Compensation Survey

"This brief publication contains summary data from the research and development effort to collect individual salary and demographic data on public school teachers. Seven states participated in this effort: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Data from full-time public school teachers who teach at only one school were included in the analysis. Median salaries and counts for different groupings by experience, age, race, and gender are presented." Source: National Center for Education Statistics

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| Link to online summary

Sunday, April 06, 2008

2008 Economic Report on Africa

The 2008 Economic Report on Africa has been launched. The report, the annual flagship publication of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), has the theme “Africa and the Monterrey Consensus: Tracking Performance and Progress.” Source: United Nations

Download full pdf report
| Link to download site (report download available in sections)

Financial Turmoil: Federal Reserve Policy Responses

The Federal Reserve (Fed) has been intimately involved in the current financial turmoil since it began in August 2007. It has sharply increased reserves to the banking system through open market operations and lowered the federal funds rate and discount rate on several occasions. As the turmoil has progressed without signs of subsiding, the Fed has introduced new policy tools to try to restore calm. In December 2007, it began to auction off reserves to member banks through the newly created Term Auction Facility (TAF). Equivalent in economic effect to the discount window, the TAF allows the Fed to control how much direct lending was undertaken and removes the stigma attached to the discount window that may have made member banks reluctant to access it. In March 2008, it created the Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF) to expand its Treasury securities lending program. Under the new program, it allowed the primary dealers (financial institutions who are counterparties to the Fed in its open market operations) to temporarily swap their less liquid assets for Treasury securities. Source: Congressional Research Service

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| Link to online summary

Most Americans Unfamiliar with Petraeus, Rice Remains Popular

"Gen. David Petraeus has played a pivotal role in crafting the U.S. military strategy in Iraq, but he is an unfamiliar figure to most Americans. On the eve of Petraeus' congressional testimony on the situation in Iraq, a solid majority (55%) says they do not know enough about the top U.S. commander in Iraq to offer an opinion of him."

"Although the Bush administration gets low ratings for its handling of foreign policy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continues to be viewed positively by a majority of Americans (56%). The percentage saying they have a favorable opinion of Rice has remained largely unchanged since March 2005." Source: Pew Research Center for People and the Press

Download full pdf report
| Download topline quesionnaire (pdf) | link to online article

The Use -- and Misuse -- of Statistics: How and Why Numbers Are So Easily Manipulated

"Today, consumers of information are drowning in data," says Justin Wolfers, Wharton professor of business and public policy. "Terabytes of data are being generated from the constant measurement of businesses, workers, government and other activity, and there are many ways to draw inferences from the raw data. Unfortunately, many of them lead in the wrong direction." Source: Knowledge @ Wharton

Download pdf article | Link to online article

Experimental Use of Blog-Based Peer Review Gives Mixed Results

"An experiment in using an academic blog to peer-review a scholarly book showed promise, but the approach is time-consuming, and it will not replace traditional blind peer review anytime soon.

That was the assessment of those involved in an effort to post an academic book online, piece by piece over a number of weeks, and let anyone critique it" Source: Chronicle of Higher Education

Link to online article

Transcript: Torture and Democracy

Professor Darius Rejali gives a comprehensive view of the issue of tourture, as he discusses latest book Torture and Democracy.

"For a very long time, Western democracies have upheld the international ban on torture and have publicly criticized governments that violate it. Although many choose to believe that torture was only a tool of dictatorships, you may be surprised to learn that as the 20th century progressed, many democracies became quite adept in engaging in the systematic infliction of physical torment on detained individuals. In fact, according to our speaker, many common torture techniques in use today either originated in democracies or reached their most characteristic form in that context."

Link to online transcript

Friday, April 04, 2008

Childhood Obesity Among Children of Mexican Descent: A Binational Approach

Abstract: The prevalence of childhood obesity has increased dramatically in the United States over the past 30 years, especially among children of Mexican origin. Children of Mexican origin are an especially high-risk group because of their increased risk for morbidities associated with obesity in adulthood, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and uncontrolled hypertension compared to other racial and ethnic groups. This study takes a binational approach to understanding the health disparity in obesity among children of Mexican descent by examining the acculturation hypothesis as well as the factors associated with children’s weight status in Mexico. Two cross-sectional samples of 5-year-old children from California and Mexico were designed to compare predictors of obesity. The California sample included 287 children from a longitudinal birth cohort. Mexican children were 316 participants in a study designed to capture a sample similar to the California sample. Equivalent recruitment and data collection methodologies were used in both sites. I found significant differences between samples; California mothers reported that their children played outside fewer hours per day, drank more sweetened beverages per day, consumed fast food more frequently but ate more fresh fruits and vegetables than mothers in Mexico reported (p-value<0.05 for each). Using Center for Disease Control growth charts, I found that 53% of California children and 15% of Mexican children were classified as at-risk for overweight or overweight with an age- and sex-specific body mass index greater than the 85th percentile. I found no significant differences in children’s weight status according to acculturation level of the mother. I used logistic regression models to determine predictors of being at-risk for overweight or overweight in each sample. Maternal obesity was the only significant predictor in California (OR 2.5 95% CI 1.2, 5.3). The odds of being classified as at risk of overweight or overweight in Mexico were significantly positively associated with having an obese mother versus a normal-weight or overweight mother (OR 2.4, 95% CI: 1.3, 4.6), living in households in the upper socioeconomic status level compared to the lowest SES level (OR 2.9, 95% CI: 1.2, 6.8) and experiencing food insecurity with hunger in the last 12 months compared to food-secure children (OR 3.7, 95% CI: 1.4, 9.9). In the absence of support for the acculturation hypothesis, alternative hypotheses to explain the high prevalence of overweight among children of Mexican descent in the US may come from understanding the predictors of children’s weight status in sending communities in Mexico. Source: U.C. Berkeley Institute for the Study of Social Change. ISSC Fellows Working Papers.

Download full pdf report | Link to online abstract

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Nation's Report Card: Writing 2007

"About 140,000 8th-grade students and about 28,000 12th graders participated in the assessment. The 8th-grade sample is much larger because it provides results for the nation, for most states, and for 10 urban school districts. At the 12th-grade, we have national results only. There was no 4th-grade assessment.

We assessed student writing for three different purposes—narrative, informative, and persuasive. In the scoring of student answers, we recognized that these were essentially first drafts, not polished pieces of writing. Student responses could receive any of six ratings—from "Excellent" to "Unsatisfactory." But even an "Excellent" response could contain errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, as long as they were few in number and did not interfere with a reader’s ability to understand the response. More errors were acceptable for ratings of "Skillful" and "Sufficient," again as long as they did not interfere with understanding. Examples of NAEP writing questions and student responses, along with scoring guides and performance data, are available on the NAEP web site" Source: National Center for education Statistics

Download Complete Report (pdf) | Link to NCES "Nation's Report Card" web site

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How to Channel the Data Deluge in Academic Research

"What are the best ways to organize the mass quantities of data that researchers generate, and to share those data to engender new research? Scott Carlson, a senior reporter at The Chronicle, asked Michael C. Witt, an assistant professor of library science and an interdisciplinary research librarian at Purdue University Libraries and its Distributed Data Curation Center, and Sayeed Choudhury, associate dean of university libraries and director of the Digital Knowledge Center at the Sheridan Libraries of the Johns Hopkins University, for their views." Source: Chronicle of Higher Education.

Link to online article