Posted in Political Power, Popular Press, tagged Constructing the Political Spectacle, Deadspin, Election 2012, FiveThirtyEight, Memoirs of a SLACer, Murray Edelman, Nate Silver, Political Pundits on November 2, 2012 |
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In his 1988 book Constructing the Political Spectacle, political scientist Murray Edelman argues that, because nonvoters are a larger political grouping in the US than any single political party, the media needs to use “much coercion, propaganda, and the portrayal of issues in terms that entertain, distort, and shock to extract a public response of any kind” (Edelman 1988:7). Further, he says that the media isn’t concerned with facts, but with perpetuating competing ideologies. If the media was worried about facts, he says, “false meanings would be discredited in time and a consensus upon valid ones would emerge” (Edelman 1988:3).
I was reminded of Edelman’s work while reading a Deadspin post about critics of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog. Discussing this criticism, David Roher states:
Scarborough’s comments illustrate the central and most pernicious bias in political media: not toward one candidate or another, but toward a toss-up. Forecasters like Silver and Wang strive for precision in addition to accuracy. If accuracy is how close the average dart is to the bullseye, precision is how close each dart was to the others. We don’t yet know whether they’ve been accurate, but we can already safely say that they’ve been precise, as their predictions heading into November are essentially the same as they were months ago.
The political media hate precision: No one tunes in to a boring horse race. The volatility of day-to-day polling allows them to explain how the contest (in which, till recently, no actual votes had yet been cast) has been lost and won and lost again with each news cycle—an endless series of decisive revelations and foundational truths about the candidates or the public. If the narrative had followed Silver’s and Wang’s graphs, there would have been little to no hubbub over Bain’s outsourcing, “You didn’t build that,” the 47 percent, or the first debate. And what fun would that be? Both the Romney and Obama camps are happy to play into the toss-up narrative, as Obama needs his presumed majority to actually go to the polls on election day, and Romney wants to give his base confidence and hope. It’s the rare thing that everyone can agree on this year.
In five days the election will be over but the debates over the same old political issues – tax cuts, abortion, military spending, health care, etc. – will undoubtedly continue, thanks in part to the political spectacle.
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There is some academically-oriented work that examines whether standardized tests measure intelligence, with test scores increasing with age, or knowledge, with test scores falling as one is further removed from high school or college. Most of that work isn’t funny, though. Drew Magary recently remedied that problem by taking an SAT practice test in test-like conditions and writing about the experience for Deadspin. A few highlights:
Shockingly, little about the SAT has changed since I set foot in that classroom. Most students still have to take the test using bubble sheets and a No. 2 pencil, which is insane to me. They’ve managed to digitize VOTING, for shit’s sake. And yet here’s the SAT, still feeding test sheets into the Scantron machine like it’s 1982. Maybe the only differences with today’s SAT are the essay question (barf), the higher maximum score (2400), and the hugely metastasized frenzy over the test. Wired reports that as recently as 2009, the test-preparation industry had earnings of over $4 billion. Private tutoring from a Kaplan expert to study for the test can cost you close to $5,000, an expense plenty of nutjob helicopter parents are happy to throw down.
Because I work on a computer like normal human beings, I’d forgotten how painful it can be to write in longhand for long stretches of time. I know it’s not as bad as digging trenches in the Amazon, but still—it’s AGONY. Your neck gets sore from staring down. You get that weird dent in your middle finger and thumb from pressing the pencil too hard. Everything around you starts to smell like old pencil shavings. This is why I fucking hated blue-book exams in high school and college. It wasn’t that I had to study, or that I had to think on the fly. It was the hard LABOR of it all. Every time I finished a blue-book exam in school, I felt as if I had just moved a cord of firewood. Many times, I would hurry up and try and finish the essay early, just so that I could stop writing and rest. It’s amazing, when you think about it. You spend a whole semester studying for some test, and then you rush it because you just want five extra minutes to relax. That’s how my brain works. It’s not a perfect organ.
I took my final score on this practice test and did a proportion (one more goddamn math problem) to see if my score was better than it was 19 years ago. And it was, by roughly 190 points. (I got 2140 this time. You do the math yourself.) I’m smarter than I was when I was 17, and that’s a relief, because I was a fucking MORON at 17. If you’re 35 years old and you’re thinking about retaking the SAT as a kind of blog stunt, I would highly recommend you avoid it. In fact, I would recommend that no one take the SAT ever. It’s a sternly worded dinosaur of a test, graded in an arbitrary manner with outdated equipment, and it blows. The only reason people take it is because they have to. It exists only so that preppy dipshits can brag about their scores well into adulthood if they did well. I hate it. I hope the Princeton Review gets fucked by a cattle prod.
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