Author Archives: enteringthewhirlpool

Love on the tracks

Train by enteringthewhirlpool

The juxtaposition of rail and romance is quite an old phenomenon, manifesting itself in films such as Brief Encounter and in popular songs such as “The Enchanted Train”, P.G.Wodehouse’s tribute to the Long Island Rail Road on which, apparently, he had courted his wife. Now it transpires that falling for people on trains has become rather popular on London’s public transport network and numerous websites and newspaper columns have come into existence with the goal of helping couples find each other so that two too tongue tied travellers can meet again.

I have no data on the success of such matchings but if the work of Frost et. al is anything to go by, we might expect it to be minimal. Frost et. al suggest that people are experience goods: that is to say it is difficult to know how much you like them until you have tried them. Their paper on improving online dating suggests that existing online dating schemes often lead to failure because the attributes which are searchable such as income or religion are not the attributes which lead to good long term matches such as sense of humour, frisson, smell, je ne sais quoi….

Of course, the very act of meeting someone on public transport could be seen as an experience good in itself, the unorthodoxy of the act adding some value to the relationship in question. It would seem to become a focal point of the relationship for some such as the couple mentioned in the article linked to above who return to the bus stop where they met on every anniversary. Still, you cannot enjoy the experience every day although I do seem to remember an anecdote in which Charlie Chaplin sometimes told his wife he was going to be meeting a beautiful lady at a certain place and when he turned up his wife was always there waiting for him. Then again, he did have four wives.

A striking fact about people advertising in one London newspaper to meet people who they have seen on public transport is that there are on average twelve respondents for every advert posted. This seems to suggest that there are a large pool of people who think, truly or otherwise, that lots of other people are looking at them and they like this very much indeed. Strategically, we might think about how to maximize the number of responses to a given advert. I would suspect that “I was the dark guy you saw on the Piccadilly line” would bring in more responses than “I was the mousy brown haired man you saw wearing a red jacket between Holborn and King’s Cross stations”.

Incidentally, last time I was on the Long Island Rail Road I shared a carriage with John Nash. I wonder what he would make of all this.

Square-eye Read More: People are experience goods: Improving online dating with virtual dates by Jeana H. Frost, Zoë Chance, Michael I. Norton, Dan Ariely

To the left, to the left; everything you know in a box to the left… Bias in the media?

Shaken - the lights flickerby enteringthewhirlpool

The tendency of people to perceive media sources as biased against their own viewpoints has been well documented. The bias can take the form of omission, where relevant facts, perspectives and arguments are not conveyed to the viewer. An example of this would be the Daily Show. A typical reaction of a social democrat (I refuse to use the word ‘liberal’ in this context, as it has a perfectly good alternative, distinct and historical meaning) to the show would be to laugh at the fact that the conservative arguments mentioned on the show are so bad. The typical reaction of a conservative would be annoyance that stronger conservative arguments are not presented on the show.

Perhaps a more serious type of media distortion is when news stories are consciously manipulated to fit an agenda. Recent examples include MSNBC doctoring a video so that what would otherwise contradict the hypothesis mooted on the show in question, that to oppose Obama’s healthcare reform bill you must be white and bigoted, becomes instead evidence shown to support the hypothesis. On the other side of the ideological divide, Fox News is often accused of having a conservative bias.

Anand, Tella & Galetovic (2007) argue that media bias should be perceived where the information concerned is non-verifiable. The information in the example above was verifiable, but verification required effort that not all viewers would have been willing to take. Gunther & Schmitt (2006) propose that perceptions of media bias are more likely to exist when the observer of the bias thinks that the information in question will be widely disseminated. This ties in with the third-person effect whereby people perceive others to be more influenced by biased information than they themselves are (Davison, 1983).

In which direction (on a simple left-right scale) would we expect the most media bias? Well, firstly we might expect more bias overall as news provision has become more disaggregated with the rise of cable TV and the internet. Secondly, the graph shown here by Charles Murray would imply that we might expect mainstream media outlets to promote views to the left of the population as a whole.

Square-eyeRead More: The Impact of Individual and Interpersonal Factors on Perceived News Media Bias

Square-eyeRead More: Mapping Boundaries of the Hostile Media Effect

Square-eyeRead More: Information or Opinion? Media Bias as Product Differentiation

Racism, the Holy Ghost and 12-stepping

Crosses on three crosses hill, Lake Como

by enteringthewhirlpool

1.) There is a conjecture that the decline of organized religion in Western societies has not led to more rational modes of thought, but rather to a disaggregation of magical thinking as people find other ways to express the innately human religious impulse. This may manifest itself, for example, through belief in horoscopes. In fact, according to a recent survey in the UK, belief in ghosts is now much higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

2.) The recent incident in the U.S. involving the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University led to discussion of whether race was a motivating factor in the arrest. In the absence of any direct evidence of racism it was assumed by many that race must be a factor in any interaction between men of different races.

What links the paragraphs above? Well, some sociologists claim that racism, like the God of the Christian faith, is inside you whether you know it or not. In this spirit, Eileen O’Brien distinguishes two types of people who are opposed to racism: the selectively race cognizant, who oppose overt racism which they perceive outside of themselves; and the reflexively race cognizant, who “spend a great deal of energy analyzing their personal relationships and how they can reduce the racism they may unintentionally perpetuate in those relationships, both intraracial and interracial”.

Considering such a categorization, it may be of value to consider some forms of racial awareness as sharing some characteristics of religious movements: there are initiates who engage in self-contemplation and so find “the truth”, and there are outsiders who are unaware of the racism within themselves and “may resort to defensiveness” when asked to look for it.

Furthermore, according to O’Brien, some antiracist organizations hold discussion groups with “white participants emerging referring to themselves as ‘recovering racists’, borrowing from the Alcoholics Anonymous idea that one can transition into a process of unlearning racism, but that people cannot be suddenly ‘cured’ of the racism in one short period that they have socialized into for their entire lifetimes.” There are strong elements of spirituality in Alcoholics
Anonymous programmes, with several of the “12 steps” referring to the powerlessness of the agent concerned and his acknowledgement of his dependence on God, as he understands Him. The link between antiracism/racial awareness and religious thinking may well warrant further exploration.

square-eyeRead More: Henry Louis Gates arrest.

square-eyeRead More: BBC News – survey of beliefs in the supernatural.

square-eyeFrom Antiracism to Antiracisms by Eileen O’Brien