Tag Archives | Sociology

Does ‘Public Opinion’ Really Exist?

100602601_348e347e48_oFlip on cable news, and within twenty minutes the host will cite the latest survey as proof of which candidates should run for office and which foreign enemy we must now smite. Writing for New Left Media, John Brissenden tears apart the idea of opinion polls as a gauge for determining what anyone truly wants. The public may respond to opinion polls, but it’s the media, business, and political elite who compose the questions:

From its inception a century ago, and in its current construction, the terrain of ‘public opinion’ is far from being a neutral space where a representative democracy deliberates and resolves issues. At best, ‘public opinion’, as represented in opinion polls, is a deeply flawed mechanism for gauging the extent of wider support for a particular cause. At worst, it is hostile territory, constructed and owned by the ruling class.

In the 1920s, polling pioneers such as James Gallup advocated polls as a means of capturing and expressing the public will, in a more scientific – and therefore representative – way than, for example, pressure groups.

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Nudists Seek Out The Young And The Naked

Nudism is back — sort of. Douglas Belkin reports for the Wall Street Journal:

OXAHATCHEE GROVES, Fla.—On a recent Friday morning, Jessi Bartoletti arrived at the Sunsport Gardens Nudist Resort here in a T-shirt and shorts.

By evening, the 19-year-old had stripped down to a string of purple Mardi Gras beads and was dancing around a bonfire with about 200 young nudists, many of them first-timers.

File-Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1984-0828-411A, Wismarer Bucht, FKK-Strand crop

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt this free,” Ms. Bartoletti yelled over pounding drums.

That’s good news to the nudist resort industry, which is desperate for young nudists like Ms. Bartoletti to augment its clientele of graying baby boomers.

Membership in the two big nudist umbrella groups has been flat or declining for years, prompting a youth-recruitment effort that includes reverse-strip-poker nights, volleyball tournaments, naked 5K road races and music festivals like Nudepalooza and Nudestock.

One new group, Young Nudists and Naturists of America, this month is having a naked dinner party in a loft in New York’s financial district to recruit members.

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Who Is Non-Religious In America?

Sociological Images reports on a fascinating study that you may have missed the first time around — the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey, which reveals much about the U.S. atheist/agnostic/”spiritual-but-non-religious” population (referred to as Nones). Perhaps what stands out most is just how “normal” the average American non-religious person is. Demographically, Nones look just like broader populace — being non-religious cuts almost uniformly across income and education levels and racial groups (disproving stereotypes of, for instance, African Americans as being more religious than other groups).

So what is notable about the non-religious? The None population skews male, skews young, has shifted leftwards politically over the last two decades, and, for some reason, is extremely Irish. People of Irish decent comprise a third of U.S. non-religious despite being only 12 percent of the general population. Click the above links for more data.

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Are Women Developing Immunity to the Sexual Harassment ‘Virus’?

TaxiScienceDaily reports:

Sexual harassment may have become so commonplace for women that they have built up resistance to harassing behavior they consider merely “bothersome,” suggests a provocative new study by Michigan State University researchers.This effect, said lead investigator Isis Settles, may be similar to the way people build up immunity to infection following exposure to a virus.

“When women view sexual harassment as bothersome, it doesn’t seem to be associated with distress,” said Settles, associate professor of psychology. “In some ways this suggests that sexual harassment is such a widespread problem that women have figured out ways to deal with it so it doesn’t interfere with their psychological well-being.”

For the study, which appears in the research journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the researchers examined surveys of more than 6,000 women and men serving in all five branches of the U.S. military.

Sexual harassment was a problem for both sexes, the study found.

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More Black Men Now In Prison System Than Were Enslaved Before the Civil War Began

LA Progressive reports on law professor Michelle Alexander’s stunning claims:

“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library this past Wednesday, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation…

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Experimental Philosophy And The Problem of Free Will

Plato & Aristotle (Portait by Raffaello Sanzio)

Plato & Aristotle (Portait by Raffaello Sanzio)

ScienceDaily reports:

Philosophers have argued for centuries, millennia actually, about whether our lives are guided by our own free will or are predetermined as the result of a continuous chain of events over which we have no control.On the one hand, it seems like everything that happens has come kind of causal explanation; on the other hand, when we make decisions, it seems to us like we have the free will to make different decisions.

Most people seem to favor free will, and while many, across a range of cultures, reject what is referred to as determinism, they remain conflicted over the role of personal responsibility in situations that require moral judgements, said Shaun Nichols, a professor of philosophy and cognitive science at the University of Arizona.

Nichols is part of a growing number of researchers who are gaining insights into this philosophical dilemma by applying experimental methods commonly used by developmental psychologists and other social scientists.

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Brain Science: Filling The Hole Left By The Atrophy Of Theology And Philosophy

Vladimir Putin, seen in the company of the Composure Class.

Vladimir Putin, member of the Composure Class?

An essay written by David Brooks in the New Yorker earlier this year has become required reading among those he terms as the “Composure Class,” privileged members of an elite who “live in a society that prizes the development of career skills but is inarticulate when it comes to the things that matter most.” Fortunately, the new sciences of human nature can help these poor creatures make sense of their lives:

After the boom and bust, the mania and the meltdown, the Composure Class rose once again. Its members didn’t make their money through hedge-fund wizardry or by some big financial score. Theirs was a statelier ascent. They got good grades in school, established solid social connections, joined fine companies, medical practices, and law firms. Wealth settled down upon them gradually, like a gentle snow.

You can see a paragon of the Composure Class having an al-fresco lunch at some bistro in Aspen or Jackson Hole.

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Study Claims Ogling Women Makes Them Worse at Math

Simpsons CuriesI wonder what the first person to win two Nobel prizes, Madame Curie, would make of this study. Oh, I know the answer from a classic Simpsons episode … Stephanie Pappas writes on LiveScience:

Getting the once-over from a man causes women to score lower on a math test, a new study finds.

Despite this drop in performance, women were more motivated to interact with men who ogled them, perhaps because they were trying to boost their sense of belonging, psychologists report in the February issue of the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly.

“It creates this vicious cycle for women in which they’re underperforming in math or work domains, but they’re continuing to want to interact with the person who is making them underperform in the first place,” study researcher Sarah Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, told LiveScience.

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Why Rich Parents Don’t Matter

Annie& Daddy WarbucksInteresting article from Jonah Lehrer in the Wall Street Journal:

How much do the decisions of parents matter? Most parents believe that even the most mundane acts of parenting — from their choice of day care to their policy on videogames — can profoundly influence the success of their children. Kids are like wet clay, in this view, and we are the sculptors.

Yet in tests measuring many traits, from intelligence to self-control, the power of the home environment pales in comparison to the power of genes and peer groups. We may think we’re sculptors, but the clay is mostly set.

A new paper suggests that both metaphors can be true. Which one is relevant depends, it turns out, on the economic status of families.

For a paper in Psychological Science, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia looked at 750 pairs of American twins who were given a test of mental ability at the age of 10 months and then again at the age of 2.

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