James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Might map of knowledge prove useful for journalists, politicians?

Posted by James McPherson on March 16, 2009

Research scientists have developed a visual “map of knowledge” (shown below) that apparently shows how researchers consider the findings of others as they do their own work. I’m not actually sure that it has much practical value, but then the same could be said of much of scientific research that provided unforeseen benefits. In this case, in the words of the researchers:

Maps constructed from clickstream data can serve numerous functions. Like citation maps they provide a means to visually assess the relationships between various domains and journals. However, clickstream maps of science can offer an immediate perspective on what is taking place in science and can thus aid the detection of emerging trends, inform funding agencies, and aid researchers in exploring the interdisciplinary relationships between various scientific disciplines. Clickstream maps can furthermore be used as the basis for exploration and recommendation services that rank journals according to the various parameters of network topology, so that researchers can identify influential journals in any particular domain of interest.

Those may seem like a dull sentences to those of us who tend to be a bit science-phobic. But politicians and  journalists–who tend to be as wary of science and math as astronauts are of space junk–might want to investigate the issue further, especially now that we have a presidential administration that seems determined to use science in making decisions.

Science is expensive, and sometimes controversial. And though my brother is the scientist in the family while I lean toward the humanities (we do agree that social science is neither social nor science) it seems to me that anything we can use to help determine where limited funds might be of the most use might be potentially useful.

map-of-science

Posted in Education, Journalism, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Post #200 of a stupid, outdated idea

Posted by James McPherson on December 18, 2008

Blogging apparently is stupid, at least for amateurs like myself (for whom this is my 200th post since I began April 22). We should be wasting our time and distributing our tidbits of wit or wisdom in other ways.

“It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter,”  Paul Bouten writes for Wired. Frankly, I get very few hecklers, and when I do I politely point out the error of their ways and they don’t write back. Of course, I also get relatively few readers (more on the numbers below).

Boutin points out that professionals such as the Huffington Post have taken over the blogging universe, and that “a stand-alone commentator can’t keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.” Incidentally, I got this bit of news via stand-alone commentator Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

I’d also argue that some of the professional blogs are doing so well because they provide more meaningful news and commentary than mainstream news sites.

Well, I’m on Facebook, but mostly to keep track of colleagues and former students. I rarely write anything there, or read much of what anyone else has written. My page has a link to my blog–if anyone cares what I think, they can jump over here.

I refuse to Twitter, at least for now (keeping in mind that less than a year ago I said I’d never be a blogger). Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it rips the soul from wisdom.

Few things worth saying or knowing can adequately be expressed in 140 characters, and most of those brief bits should be said more personally: “I love you.” “Drop dead.” “I’m sorry.” “Dear Mom and Dad: Send money.” “You’re fired.” “We’re having a baby.” “It’s time for Fluffy to be put down.” “Would you like fries with that?” “Look at all the freakin’ snow.” (Despite shoveling last night before I went to bed, I woke up to a two-foot snowdrift ON MY PORCH this morning.)

Maybe it’s a result of my experience as an academic, but I disagree with the premise that blogging is primarily a tool for self-promotion. That obviously is the case for some bloggers, but most probably feel they have something meaningful to share. Many of those are correct, and it’s not up to me–or, thank God, the corporate media–to decide which, for all readers.

Though I do get an ego boost on days when readership is up, I certainly don’t write for the attention or the money. If I did, I’d be trying to pen crime novels instead of well-researched books about journalism history and politics.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m doing this primarily for the same reason I do most things outside of my home: my students. And the number of “my students” has expanded as a result I now have regular student readers who have never taken a class from me. Responses from those students and former students are the ones I value most.

This experiment has taught me some interesting things, some more surprising than others. Not surprising is that my most popular post (approximately 1,700 views so far) was a misleadingly titled sociological experiment, sought out by people using terms that have nothing to do with media or politics.

More surprising is that the second-most popular post (about 1,300), and the one still getting a few views pretty much every day is one about the U.S. Flag Code that I wrote back in July, based on one of my favorite classroom lectures about symbols.

Also still among the top eight are my August prediction that Barack Obama would handily win the presidential election and my back-to-back June posts suggesting that the vice presidential nominees should be Joe Biden and Sarah Palin–though because a link to to it appears at the bottom of a popular CNN story, yesterday’s post (about to pass 500) about the Bush administration, science and endangered species may blow past those two. Maybe it’s because of the YouTube clip from “Them.”

Aside from the flag post, generally speaking the two best topics for generating traffic have been Palin and sex. On a typical day I get between 100 and 200 page views. The most for a single day was 876, coming mostly from one of those Palin stories (also with help from CNN).

Not surprisingly, that same Palin story generated the most comments. Many posts draw no response. Others get an occasional comment even weeks later, which strikes me as a bit odd.

Admittedly, there may be a bit of egotistical lunacy behind generating an average of about 25 posts per month in addition to teaching four classes, advising a student newspaper, remodeling my kitchen (yes, I did it myself–some academics can use a hammer and saw), helping organize and host a national journalism history convention in October, and organizing a Jan Term study trip to two dozen sites in New York and Washington, D.C.

Insomnia helps. And besides, writing is one of the fun parts of my job, and a big part of why I became a reporter and then an editor. In addition, writing these things here may keep me from verbally torturing my wife and others with my reactions to the news items that intrigue me.

Another obvious reason that I would engage in such an archaic form of communication as blogging is that I’m a media historian. I live for soon-to-be-extinct technologies. I don’t own an ipod or a Kindle, but my office holds a 1953 television set; probably a hundred pounds of newspapers, magazines and photos; hundreds of books; phonograph “records” of various sizes; a VCR and dozens of videotapes; some old film cameras; a cassette tape deck and dozens of cassette tapes; numerous CD’s, a couple of reel-to-reel tapes; and even an 8-track tape or two.

Also related to history: The American flag on my office wall, a flag that was in use when I was born, has 48 stars. At that time there was no state of Alaska for the future Sarah Palin to govern. Perhaps you think of that time as “the good ol’ days.”

Dec. 28 update: CNN names “the ascendance of Twitter” its top tech trend of 2008. Sigh. The story concludes, “One thing Twitter is lacking, though, is a profitable business plan.” In that respect, it’s like the newspapers I love so much.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

As Bush people approach endangered species status, scientists find other rats, vipers and creepie crawlers

Posted by James McPherson on December 17, 2008

Now here’s an intriguing lead:  “A rat believed to be extinct for 11 million years, a spider with a foot-long legspan, and a hot pink cyanide-producing ‘dragon millipede’ are among the thousand newly discovered species in the largely unexplored Mekong Delta region.”

That’s the first sentence of a CNN story today. Apparently Agent Orange, war-ravaged and starving natives and other Vietnam War-associated horrors failed to kill off the rat. Come to think of it, judging by 1950s films such as “Tarantula,” “Earth vs. the Spider,” The Deadly Mantis,” “The Black Scorpion,” “Them” (giant ants), and “Beginning of the End” (giant grasshoppers), Agent Orange may even have created the spider and the millipede.

Based on a World Wildlife Fund report, the  story later states: “Perhaps a more startling discovery than the rat was a bright green pit viper scientists spotted slithering through the rafters of a restaurant in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.” Maybe it was searching for an 11-million-year-old rat. Regardless, Southeast Asia just slipped a notch or two on my list of desired travel locations.

The WWF offers a list of endangered species to watch, and uses government science to point out the increased danger to species from global warming. Unfortunately, as with other areas of public policy, when it comes to global warming and endangered species the Bush administration has a perhaps-criminal disregard for science.

In a typical Friday move, at the end of last week the administration announced a plan that will let bureaucrats instead of scientists determine the fate of some endangered species. Three days later, in what has become a regular occurrence, a government report revealed wrongdoing on the part of Bush officials involved with at least 15 endangered species cases.

And no, those aren’t cases regarding retirement funds, the Big Three auto makers, or the endangered folks who were tortured by the Bush war team captained by Dick Cheney or and its allies.

Though it’s probably coincidental, perhaps the latest actions by the outgoing Liar in Chief explain why Barack Obama introduced key members of his own “environmental team,” including Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, this week.

On the other hand, to be fair, maybe Bush has a good reason for ignoring scientists: Maybe he saw those same 1950s horror movies. For something considerably less scary than the Bush administration, see almost eight minutes of “Them” below:

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics, Science, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

The science of cross burning for Christ

Posted by James McPherson on June 28, 2008

An Ohio “science teacher” has been fired for promoting his Christian faith by, among other things, telling students that the theory of evolution is wrong because the Bible does not support it (something I suspect the science teachers at the Christian university where I teach would dispute), and by using an electronic device to burn crosses into the arms of students. The teacher claimed that the mark was an “X”: I’ve included a photo below so you can judge for yourself.

In my favorite quote from the original story, a friend (who brings to mind the phrase, “With friends like these…”) apparently told the Columbus Dispatch: “With the exception of the cross-burning episode. … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district.” Might that be termed the Ku Klux Klan defense?

After the firing, the Dispatch noted that Freshwater “had declared himself a free-speech martyr.” Funny, I thought the Christian martyr was the man who died on the cross, not the guy who physically abused kids that he was supposed to be teaching about how God’s world really works.

Now I’m taking off to camp, fish and commune with nature–three of the best reasons to live in the Pacific Northwest in the summer. Assuming I can find and afford gas to get back home, I’ll pick up the blogging again in a few days. If you’re new to the site, perhaps you’d like to catch up with what I’ve written previously. Regardless, there are some great resources linked at your right for news, opinion and education about media and politics.  And if I’m not back before then, Happy Fourth!

Posted in Education, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »