How Do Professors Vote?

They vote Democrat. No one saw that coming…

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At least those in economics, history, journalism, law, and psychology, according to a 2016 study. The abstract reads,

We investigate the voter registration of faculty at 40 leading U.S. universities in the fields of Economics, History, Journalism/Communications, Law, and Psychology. We looked up 7,243 professors and found 3,623 to be registered Democratic and 314 Republican, for an overall D:R ratio of 11.5:1. The D:R ratios for the five fields were: Economics 4.5:1, History 33.5:1, Journalism/Communications 20.0:1, Law 8.6:1, and Psychology 17.4:1. The results indicate that D:R ratios have increased since 2004, and the age profile suggests that in the future they will be even higher. We provide a breakdown by department at each university. The data support the established finding that D:R ratios are highest at the apex of disciplinary pyramids, that is, at the most prestigious departments. We also examine how D:R ratios vary by gender and by region. People interested in ideological diversity or concerned about the errors of leftist outlooks—including students, parents, donors, and taxpayers—might find our results deeply troubling.

Langbert, Quain, Klein, 2016, pg. 425.

Of course, this is nothing new. For example, Jonathan Haidt and colleagues recently highlighted the lack of political diversity in academic psychology. What’s particularly interesting to me, however, is the D:R ratio in economics. I recall a Facebook discussion toward the end of last year in which this bias was downplayed and economic departments were more-or-less given as examples of conservative (read Republican) hubs on campus. I already knew this wasn’t true and said as much, but my comment was pretty much ignored. This exchange made me realize that many outsiders likely think mainstream economics is tainted by an American brand of conservatism. But more important, it made me realize that some (many?) on the left reject the findings of mainstream economics because they think it’s politically biased.

So, to those who think economic departments are full of conservatives: yes, these departments are more conservative than others. But the only way they could be labeled “conservative” is due to other departments being so far to the left. Basically, econ departments are more politically diverse. Nonetheless, they are still dominated by Democrats. While this may not instill confidence in my Republican friends, perhaps it will convert some of my Democrat ones.

From Gregory Mankiw’s Principles of Economics, 7th ed. (pg. 32).

The Hope of Broken Men

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

Some thoughts from the Priesthood session of the April 1975 General Conference. Elder Romney spoke of courage, saying, “We all have a conscience, and a conscience is the root of moral courage. A truly brave person will always obey his conscience. To know what is right and not do it is cowardice.”

This is true. And it is true—to a greater or lesser degree at different times and in different ways—for all of us. That reality makes this story—which I’m going to reproduce in full—from President Kimball’s talk all the more meaningful:

There is the story told of Lord George Hall of an earlier time. It is a mythical story. Believe it or not, but at least take the lesson if you find one there. “Lord George had led an evil life. He had been a drunkard, a gambler, and a cheat in business, and his face reflected the life he had led. It was a very evil face.

“One day he fell in love with a simple country girl to whom he proposed marriage. Jenny Mere told him that she could never marry a man whose face was so repulsive and so evil-looking; and also that when she did marry, she wanted a man with a saintlike face, which was the mirror of true love.

“Following a custom of the day, Lord George went down to Mr. Aeneas in Bond Street, London. Aeneas made waxen masks for people, and his skill was so art-perfect that the person’s identity was completely hidden. As proof of his skill, it is said that many spendthrift debtors, equipped with his masks, could pass among their creditors unrecognized. Aeneas went to his storeroom, selected a mask, heated it over a lamp, fixed it to Lord George’s face; and when Lord George looked in the glass, he had the face of a saint who loved dearly. So altered was his appearance that Jenny Mere was soon wooed and won.

“He bought a little cottage in the country, almost hidden in an arbor of roses, with a tiny garden spot. From then on his entire life changed. He became interested in nature; he found ‘sermons in stones, books in brooks, and good in everything.’ Formerly he was blasé and life had no interest for him; now, he was engrossed in kindliness, and the world around him.

“He was not content with starting life anew, but tried to make amends for the past. Through a confidential solicitor he restored his ill-gotten gains to those whom he had cheated. Each day brought new refinements to his character, more beautiful thoughts to his soul.

“By accident, his former companions discovered his identity. They visited him in his garden, and urged him to return to his old evil life. When he refused, he was attacked, and the mask was torn from his face.

“He hung his head. Here was the end of all; here was the end of his newfound life and his love dream. As he stood with bowed head, with the mask at his feet on the grass, his wife rushed across the garden and threw herself on her knees in front of him. When she looked up at him, what do you suppose she found? Lo! Line for line, feature for feature, the face was the same as that of the mask. Lines of beauty—regular features.”

There is no doubt that the life one leads, and the thoughts one thinks are registered plainly in his face.

This story embodies the hope of all who wish to be good.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

Rising Strong: Interview with Brené Brown

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

Image result for rising strongBrené Brown’s Daring Greatly made my top 5 list in 2015. I wrote,

Brown’s approach to shame and vulnerability has had a significant impact on my worldview, including how I interpret my religion…The book is a fantastic mix of research, anecdotes, and application. The insights within it are themselves therapeutic, providing a language capable of capturing many of the turbulent emotions we experience. The result is better self-understanding and increased self-awareness. A paradigm shifting book.

I also devoured her The Gifts of Imperfection after finishing Daring Greatly. But when Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. was released, I asked my therapist if she had read it and if it was anything new compared to her previous work. My therapist said that it was largely more stories expanding on her previous themes. Being one who is largely interested in hard data, the idea of additional anecdotes with few new insights didn’t appeal me. However, when I came across it on Audible and remembered that Brown was the narrator, I decided to give it a listen. My interest was further peaked by some brief research I was doing on boundaries and relationships.

Rising Strong was well worth the read. While my therapist’s description was accurate, my disinterested reaction was due to my failure to remember how much I enjoyed Brown’s anecdotes and how well she weaved them together with her professional research. It’s actually one of the major strengths of her books. In Rising Strong, she puts this strength toward describing a framework of

  1. Accepting failure and becoming curious about the emotions that come with it (the Reckoning).
  2. Honestly engaging the stories we tell about ourselves (the Rumble).
  3. Turning the process of reckoning and rumbling into a practice that leads to transformation (the Revolution).

One of my favorite insights, however, was about boundaries. According to Brown,

[T]he most compassionate people I interviewed also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries…They assume that other people are doing the best they can, but they also ask for what they need and they don’t put up with a lot of crap…Boundaries are hard when you want to be liked and when you are a pleaser hell-bent on being easy, fun, and flexible. Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment (pgs. 114-115).

Boundaries are an important part of generosity and integrity. “Generosity,” she says, “is not a free pass for people to take advantage of us, treat us unfairly, or be purposefully disrespectful and mean…[A] generous assumption without boundaries is another recipe for resentment, misunderstanding, and judgment. We could all stand to be more generous, but we also need to maintain our integrity and our boundaries” (pgs. 122-123).

These kinds of insights can help us all be our better selves. You can see a brief interview with Brown below.

Can Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Drug Overdoses?

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According to a 2015 study,

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death from injuries in the United States today, exceeding deaths from suicide, gunshots and motor vehicle accidents (Murphy et al., 2013). They are also a prime contributor to the recent rise in mortality among middle-aged white Americans (Case and Deaton 2015). In 2010, 16,651 deaths were caused by a prescription opioid overdose, representing nearly 60% of all drug overdose deaths, and exceeding overdose deaths from heroin and cocaine combined (Jones, Mack and Paulozzi, 2013). While a modest decline in opioid overdose deaths has occurred since 2012, more than 16,000 lives are lost annually to prescription opioids (NCHS, 2014).

These numbers are the result of a dramatic rise in morbidity and mortality associated with prescription opioid abuse over the past two decades. The number of fatal poisonings due to prescription pain medications quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Over the same period, the distribution of opioid pain medications also quadrupled, demonstrating a parallel rise between the distribution of opioid pain medication and its abuse nationally (CDC, 2011). Treatment admissions grew at an even faster rate, increasing nearly six-fold between 1999 and 2009 (CDC, 2011b). Opioid-related emergency department (ED) visits more than doubled from 21.6 per 100,000 in 2004 to 54.9 per 100,000 in 2011, for a total of 1.24 million ED visits involving nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals and pain relievers in 2011 (SAMHSA, 2013a). It is these trends that led the Centers for Disease Control to deem the misuse of prescription opioids in the United States an “epidemic” (pg. 2).

The researchers conclude,

Considerable attention has been paid in the literature to the potential unintended consequences of medical marijuana laws, with people examining impacts of these policies on youth initiation, recreational marijuana use and abuse as well as drunk driving (Wen et al., 2015; Choi, 2014; Lynne-Landsman et al., 2013; Anderson, Hanson and Rees, 2012 & 2013; Pacula et al., 2013). In this paper we consider a potential unintended benefit of these laws: a reduction in the misuse of prescription opiates.

Our results are intriguing in that we find fairly strong and consistent evidence using difference-in-differences, event study, and synthetic control group methods that states providing legal access to marijuana through dispensaries experience lower treatment admissions for addiction to pain medications. We provide complementary evidence that dispensary provisions also reduce deaths due to opioid overdoses. We estimate even larger effects in states that have both legally protected and active dispensaries.

…The fact that opioid harms decline in response to medical marijuana dispensaries raises some interesting questions as to whether marijuana liberalization may be beneficial for public health. Marijuana is a far less addictive substance than opioids and the potential for overdosing is nearly zero (Hall and Pacula, 2003). However, it remains unclear from our current analysis whether the findings we observe are short term or persist. In addition, we ultimately need to weigh any potential indirect benefits from medical marijuana dispensary provisions in terms of its implied reductions in opiate misuse (or other positive outcomes) against any potential negative impacts of these provisions on other factors, such as tobacco use and drugged driving. At a minimum, however, our results suggest a potential overlooked positive effect of dispensary enabling medical marijuana laws (pgs. 21-22).

Some data on liberal media bias.

Recently I was talking with friends about whether “mainstream media” (the TV, radio, and print media most commonly consumed by people) has an overall bias for leftist viewpoints. One of my friends countered that everyone is more likely to notice bias against their own viewpoints than against the other side’s, and that he has often felt the media was too favorable to the right-wing point of view. Since we were simply swapping anecdotes and personal perceptions, I offered three pieces of information to suggest the media is in fact left-biased:

  1. Conservatives are much more likely than liberals to view the media as biased. – Pew Research Center
  2. Liberals are more trusting of mainstream news sources than moderates or conservatives. – Pew Research Center
  3. People who work in newspapers and print media are almost exclusively liberal. – Business Insider

Some of my friends countered that (1) conservative media strongly pushes the narrative that all others (“mainstream media”) are liberal biased, so that could influence conservatives to be more skeptical, and (2) just because reporters are liberal doesn’t mean they will report with bias. One friend linked me to a study by the progressive, left-leaning policy group FAIR which found that major newspapers, TV, and radio tend to cite centrist think tanks most often, followed by right-leaning think tanks, with left-leaning think tanks coming in last. The idea is that if the media were biased for liberal viewpoints, left-leaning think tanks ought to be cited more often than others, and apparently that’s not the case.

However, the FAIR study relies on FAIR’s evaluation of how left- or right-leaning a think tank is. Given FAIR is a progressive, left-leaning organization, this methodology gave me pause.

Here is a study of media citations of think tanks done slightly differently: the authors did not themselves evaluate whether a think tank was left- or right-leaning. As they describe it:

A feature of our method is that it does not require us to make a subjective assessment of how liberal or conservative a think tank is. That is, for instance, we do not need to read policy reports of the think tank or analyze its position on various issues to determine its ideology. Instead, we simply observe the ADA scores [based on voting records] of the members of Congress who cite it. This feature is important, since an active controversy exists whether, e.g., the Brookings Institution or the RAND corporation is moderate, left-wing, or right-wing.

Under this method, the researchers found a “strong liberal bias” in think tank citation for all outlets they examined except (surprise to no one) Fox News and Washington Times.

But even considering that, I’m not sure how much insight we get from looking at think tank citations. It’s better than no information, but what proportion of news stories even involve citing think tanks?

Instead, here’s a piece from Public Opinion Quarterly that looks at a lot of aspects of media beyond policy groups. The authors conclude that, with the exception of coverage of Republican and Democrat scandals, outlets don’t have a huge divide on how they cover descriptive news (as distinct from opinion pieces).

But notice in particular Figures 2 and 4. In Figure 2 you can see that all the news outlets except Fox produce more left-leaning articles than right-leaning articles (I’m not counting Daily Kos or Breitbart because I don’t think, and neither did these authors, that those are “mainstream” news sources).

Figure 2


In Figure 4 you can see that, over all the outlets, a lot more topics fall below zero (have a left-leaning slant) than fall above zero (have a right-leaning slant). (I tried to count the points myself and I got 75 below zero, 36 above zero, and then a few that looked right on the line.)

Figure 4

The authors rightly point out that there aren’t huge divides on either of these metrics, but on the aggregate it still means nearly all outlets produce net-left-biased content, and I think it has a pretty pervasive additive effect.

And this research was only looking at ideological slant in terms of whether articles were positive or negative toward members of the Democratic or Republican parties. That is valuable information, but I also think that tends to be more obvious bias. I think the aggregate industry-level bias includes obvious bias, sure, but I think it’s more common that bias is more subtle. I would particularly be interested in exploring (1) which stories an outlet chooses to focus on versus others and (2) how they choose to frame issues (as opposed to how they talk about Republicans vs Democrats).

The Public Opinion Quarterly research tried to address #1 by looking at how often different outlets covered different broad categories of topics (and they didn’t find large differences across outlets), but I don’t think that addresses the concern. For example, I have not seen people accuse one outlet or another of just not talking about abortion. It’s about which abortion-related stories they cover and how they talk about the issue. The great reluctance of most outlets to talk about the Kermit Gosnell scandal is a prime example of this. It’s my impression that a whole lot more people have heard of Dr. Tiller, the abortion provider who was murdered by a gun man, than have heard of Dr. Gosnell, the abortion provider who snipped the spinal cords of newborns and was found guilty of murder.

And that doesn’t even get into more subtle language differences, like “pro-choice” versus “anti-abortion” or, worse, “anti-choice,” or like describing a pro-life walk that draws hundreds of thousands of people as being comprised of “thousands,” a downplay of two orders of magnitude. Those are very small details, right? But they add up, and I don’t know of any research that measures this or even how it could–although I think Gallup kind of touched on it when they found that almost everyone, including pro-lifers, underestimated how many Americans are pro-life.

I don’t think the topic of abortion is the exception here. And I think the aggregate bias is pretty clear to, well, most people who aren’t Democrats/leftists. Perhaps you can dismiss the frequent conservative suspicion of the mainstream media as conservatives all being duped by conservative media, but that doesn’t explain why independents have shown similar levels of distrust, or why more than six-in-ten Democratic and independent voters believed most journalists were “pulling for Obama” in 2008.

Fighting Poverty with the EITC

“The Earned Income Tax Credit isn’t super well-known,” writes Vox,

but it’s one of the best tools the federal government has for fighting poverty. It functions as a wage subsidy for the working poor, providing an average of $2,982 a year to families with children come tax season. The results are impressive. According to the Census Bureau, refundable tax credits like the EITC and the similarly structured Child Tax Credit cut the poverty rate (correctly measured) by 3 percentage points in 2013 — that’s 9.4 million people kept out of poverty.

But a [2015] study suggests that even that is an underestimate. UC Berkeley economist Hilary Hoynes and the Treasury Department’s Ankur Patel find that the EITC might be twice as effective at fighting poverty as the census estimate suggests.

How so?:

Hoynes and Patel focus on the credit’s effect on single women with children, the single biggest group of recipients. It’s well-known that the EITC encourages nonworking single moms and dads to enter the workforce; an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that EITC brought more single mothers into the workforce in the 1990s than welfare reform did. That means that it boosts income not just by giving people money, but by getting people to work more and bring in more in wages. These increased wages can reduce income in other ways, such as by making people ineligible for programs like food stamps, but on the whole it boosts pay.

Hoynes and Patel find that bringing this effect into the analysis doubles the number of people lifted out of poverty by the EITC. The expansion of the EITC included in Bill Clinton’s 1993 budget reduced the share of people under the poverty line by 7.9 percent. That’s much more than you’d find in an analysis that doesn’t take the EITC’s effect on employment into account.


Hoynes nicely summarizes these findings in a 2016 policy brief. In short,

  • “The EITC is the cornerstone of U.S. anti-poverty policy. It is the largest anti-poverty program for children in the US. Together with the Child Tax Credit (CTC), the EITC removed 4.8 million children from poverty in 2015. It is also the second largest anti-poverty program for the population as a whole. Together with the CTC, the EITC lifted a total of 9.2 million people out of poverty in 2015. Only Social Security removes more people from poverty” (pgs. 2-3).
  • The EITC “lowered mother’s risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorder and inflammations, and improved their mental health. The expansion also led to a reduction in smoking among single mothers with children” (pg. 4).
  • The EITC also “reduced the incidence of low birth weight…and increased mean birth weight” (pg. 4).
  • “The EITC raises both math and reading test scores in elementary and secondary schooling” (pg. 5).
  • “The EITC is associated with higher rates of high school completion (or GED) and also higher college attendance rates. This in turn translates into better employment outcomes and higher earnings” (pg. 5).

Worth looking at.

Still Think There’s a Threat?: Immigrant-Linked Terrorism

I’ve written before about the (un)likelihood of dying at the hands of a foreign terrorist here on American soil. But for kicks, let’s drive the point home a little more. As Vox reports,

To put [the Cato Institute’s numbers] in perspective, I’ve produced the following chart, which compares the average annual likelihood of American pedestrians being hit by a railway vehicle, dying due to their own clothes melting or lighting on fire, and being killed in a terrorist attack perpetrated by an immigrant. It’s quite revealing:

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Even better, you have a higher chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning than being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack:

Here’s hoping we can all get a grip.

The Return of the Anti-War Left?: The Carnage of Drone Warfare

As a friend of mine said in response to this Tweet, “The left is anti-drone bombing once again. Welcome home after 8 years.” Now, if you think his quip is unfair, it should be noted that it’s based on sound social science: the majority of anti-war Democrats of the Bush years weren’t really all that anti-war as much as they were anti-Bush. As soon as Obama took office, the opposition dropped considerably.

But to wake people up to the reality of the continued violence, here are the estimates of total bombs dropped by the U.S. in 2016:

In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,172 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,028 more bombs—and in one more country, Libya—than in 2015.

Most (24,287) were dropped in Iraq and Syria. This number is based on the percentage of total coalition airstrikes carried out in 2016 by the United States in Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the counter-Islamic State campaign. The Pentagon publishes a running count of bombs dropped by the United States and its partners, and we found data for 2016 using OIR public strike releases and this handy tool.* Using this data, we found that in 2016, the United States conducted about 79 percent (5,904) of the coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, which together total 7,473. Of the total 30,743 bombs that the coalition dropped, then, the United States dropped 24,287 (79 percent of 30,743).

Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations points out,

As Donald Trump assumes office today, he inherits a targeted killing program that has been the cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy over the past eight years. On January 23, 2009, just three days into his presidency, President Obama authorized his first kinetic military action: two drone strikes, three hours apart, in Waziristan, Pakistan, that killed as many as twenty civilians. Two terms and 540 strikes later, Obama leaves the White House after having vastly expanding and normalizing the use of armed drones for counterterrorism and close air support operations in non-battlefield settings—namely Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.

…Less than two weeks ago, the United States conducted a drone strike over central Yemen, killing one al-Qaeda operative. The strike was the last under Obama (that we know of). The 542 drone strikes that Obama authorized killed an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians. As he reportedly told senior aides in 2011: “Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

This is what leads Nathan Robinson at Current Affairs to chastise his fellow leftists:

The newspaper headlines today all blare shocking reports about Trump’s continued bigotry. But further down the page, a different story about Muslim lives is receiving far less attention: the U.S. bombing of Syria, and its increasing numbers of civilian casualties. While Trump says racist things about Muslims, U.S. warplanes are actually killing them, something far less discussed even though (or perhaps because) it morally implicates Democrats.

The U.S. has also been accused of concealing the true death toll…[But i]t’s also important to remember that death tolls themselves only begin to capture the scale of a bombing’s impact. The numbers of injuries are often far higher (and frequently unreported). “Injuries” can mean lost limbs, blindness, and paralysis. They can mean permanent disfigurement. They can mean that a person will never work again, and will suffer from depression and PTSD, or will require medical care for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, even those who are not “injured” can experience deep and lasting trauma, after seeing loved ones or even strangers torn to shreds before their eyes. The actual pain of a mother realizing her child has been blinded, or a brother watching his sister die, is absent from death toll statistics.

The complaint of human rights advocates has centered around the fact that the United States is downplaying and concealing casualties, and that the deaths are growing in frequency without any justification…All of this occurred under a Democratic president. So while the organizers of the Democratic National Convention where proudly presenting the Khan family as evidence of their superior devotion to Muslim lives (and while DNC attendees were chanting “USA, USA, USA” as if they were frenzied 2004-era Bush Republicans), the Obama administration was directly responsible for killing scores of living, breathing Muslim civilians. While Democrats were voicing their outrage that Donald Trump had said yet another despicable racist thing, the party was speaking up in defense of a candidate who had decimated a Muslim country, and who had actually voted for the senseless war that killed Cap. Kahn in the first place.

Rhetorical attacks on Muslims are indefensible. But physical attacks on Muslims, using tanks and gunships, are even more horrific. Democrats might not want to be so certain that they have the moral high ground when it comes to valuing Muslim lives.

Of course, this by no means lets Republicans off the hook. Nor does it equate Obama and Trump (or the GOP) or fail to recognize the nuances of war. It shouldn’t dampen our optimism about the decline of war and violence in the modern era either. But it does call for some consistency; to minimize selective outrage. If we treated all administrations like public servants accountable to us instead of celebrities on our favorite football team, some of this might have been avoided.

By Riley Yates