Welcome to Rresearch methods 3rd edesearch Demystified where the mysteries of social science research will be explored in the context of politics, policy, public administration, program evaluation, measuring for results and advocacy.

This site will provide some “how to do it” guidance as well as focus on how to assess the credibility of research results.

I have set up this blog to look at current issues in the news from a research perspective. The basic question is always: are these research results–the statistics and the conclusions–credible? I invite you to join the conversation and share what makes sense to you, what does not, and why.

I will be posting material that professors can use in classes as well as material for the general public who want to enhance their skills in critiquing research results.

The third edition of my textbook is distributed by Routledge: Click Here
To View Inside: Click here


Comparing the Cost of Living

ADT created a resource and tool comparing the cost of living across the U.S. The interactive is fun to use. It can be found at:  https://www.adt.com/where-our-money-goes

The key is the methodology and they provide a general description, a link to the primary source material, and links to other sources.


Many thanks to The Council for Community and Economic Research for letting us explore their data set: the 2018 Cost of Living Index (http://www.coli.org). The Cost of Living Index is designed to measure “relative differences among urban areas in the cost of consumer goods and services appropriate for professional and managerial households in the top income quintile.” For this analysis, we used their data set from Q3 2018.

We analyzed several sections of their data, including the cost of living indexes for transportation, utilities, and groceries in 263 major U.S. metropolitan areas. We also made use of their average price data for coffee, fried chicken (two pieces), pizza, yoga, and movie tickets. Our visualizations only include the highest- and lowest-priced areas for each purchase category. Continue reading »

Data: Mass Shootings

As people march against access to military-style assault weapons and begin to organize a voting campaign, it helps to see the data. While mass shootings, such as the one in the Parkland, Florida school, are a small slice of all gun deaths, it appears to be a tipping point for public policy. “Never again,” as the students say. There seems to be something wrong with having a generation of children growing up in fear that they or their friends might be killed while at school, a mall, a concert or  in a movie theater.

The data varies depending on how mass shooting is defined; the definition changed from at least 4 people killed to 3 people killed in 2013. It includes school shootings, as well as work shootings and other public settings (malls, nightclub, movie theater, churches, etc), but not killings associated with other crimes, domestic violence, or gang violence.  It may or may not include a killing spree. The dates included also can vary. One report begins counting from 1966 and another from 1982; the earlier start date reports more shootings and fatalities.

None of the data sources listed below provide information about the total number of school shootings. Nor does the data account for the full impact on those wounded and those who survived with trauma, nor does the data account for the impact on friends, families, and neighbors.

The Washington Post published data after the Parkland Florida school shooting in February 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/national/mass-shootings-in-america/?utm_term=.22bde03099b3

“In the 50 years before the Texas tower shooting (August 1, 1966), there were just 25 public mass shootings in which four or more people were killed, according to author and criminologist Grant Duwe.”

They summarize the data since 1966:

  • 1,077 people have been killed in mass shootings
  • 153 shooters, almost all men
  • most between the ages of 20-49
  • 292 guns were used, most were obtained legally.
  • The use of semi-automatic, military style weapons increased dramatically once the ban on those weapons expired in 2004.

Continue reading »

Tax Expenditures

A tax expenditure program is government spending through the tax code. Tax expenditures allow exemptions, deductions, or credits to select groups or specific activities. Some might call them tax loopholes or tax write-offs.

Or, as the Treasury states:  :Tax expenditures are revenue losses due to preferential provisions of the Federal tax laws, such as special exclusions, exemptions, deductions, credits, deferrals, or tax rates.”

One of the problems with funding things by tax code write-offs is that these are similar to entitlements (see prior post), meaning that everyone who is eligible receives the tax write-offs .  As such, they are no limits to the total amount of taxes that are written off. The other problem is that there is no debate or discussion about whether these write-offs are appropriate expenses of government or whether they are effective in accomplishing any policy objectives or goals. Another problem is that we don’t see these tax write-offs in context with other government spending. For example, are tax write-offs for business meals more worthwhile for our society than money spent to feed poor children?

Tax expenditures are essentially hidden government expenditures that do not show up in the budget documents. The lack of transparency creates the sense that the top political donors receive benefits that are denied to lower-income families.

For more information, see report by Tax Policy Center:Click Here

Continue reading »

Trump’s Budget Proposal

The New York Times printed this opinion piece yesterday by Thomas Edsall yesterday: “When The President is Ignorant of His Own Ignorance.” To read article:  Click here

The article catalogs a list of concerns about both Trump and his Cabinet appointees. Not the least of these a concern about Trump’s ability to tell the truth. He notes: “During his first 63 days in office, Trump made 317 “false or misleading claims,” according to The Washington Post. It would be worth learning how they came to that figure.

Edsall provides this summary of the proposed cuts to Discretionary spending:

Discretionary spending, in billions

Agency 2017 baseline 2018 proposal Change Pct. change
Environmental Protection Agency $8.2 $5.7 $2.6 –31%
State and other development programs 38.0 27.1 –10.9 –29%
Agriculture 22.6 17.9 –4.7 –21%
Labor 12.2 9.6 –2.5 –21%
Justice 20.3 16.2 –4.0 –20%
Health and Human Services 77.7 65.1 –12.6 –16%
Commerce 9.2 7.8 –1.5 –16%
Education 68.2 59.0 –9.2 –14%
Transportation 18.6 16.2 –2.4 –13%
Housing and Urban Development 36.0 31.7 –4.3 –12%
Interior 13.2 11.6 –1.5 –12%
Energy 29.7 28.0 –1.7 –6%
Treasury 11.7 11.2 –0.5 –4%
NASA 19.2 19.1 –0.2 –1%
Veterans Affairs 74.5 78.9 +4.4 +6%
Homeland Security 41.3 44.1 +2.8 +7%
Defense 521.7 574.0 +52.3 +10%
Note: Numbers may not add due to rounding. Totals are shown for fiscal years, which begin in October. They reflect base budget levels for each department, which do not include supplemental money for disaster relief, emergencies or additional war spending. They do include offsetting receipts and proposed changes in mandatory programs (CHIMPS) that are used to offset discretionary spending.

Federal Budget: Entitlements

While I’m talking about the federal budget, I need to talk about the words that are often used. One that particularly gets the veins popping is “entitlements.” In popular usage, it is a judgment–that people have a sense of their right to special treatment or privileges, as if they were a King or Queen.  It is not uncommon to hear people dismiss a whole generation of young people by saying, “they think they are entitled to everything.” It is a criticism of what is seen as a personal arrogance.

But the word entitlement means something different in world of the federal budget. The term “entitlement” has nothing to do with deserving, privilege, a subjective belief, or personal arrogance. It simply means that a government program–such as Social Security, Medicare, or Food Stamps–provides benefits to any individual meeting certain eligibility requirements. If you are 65 or older, you are eligible to receive Medicare.  If your income falls close to the poverty line or under the poverty line, you and your family will be eligible for food stamps.

An entitlement  program is a promise made by the federal government: if you meet the eligibility requirements, you will be able to participate in the program. Continue reading »

The Federal Budget as a Moral Document

Jim Wallis joined other Christian leaders yesterday to point out that the federal budget is a moral document. He stated:

“Any budget is a moral statement of priorities, whether it’s a budget created by an individual, a family, a school, a city, or a nation. It tells us, mathematically, what areas, issues, things, or people are most important to the creators of that budget, and which are least important.”

“The new budget blueprints from the Trump administration ultimately propose $54 billion in increased military spending (for FY18) along with massive tax cuts for the richest Americans. Trump’s team plans to pay for those choices by cutting a wide array of anti-poverty programs— including nutrition programs for low-income families with children along with their housing, heating, and after-school programs, and a whole range of community development and educational programs — and by attacking Medicaid again, saving money by endangering the health of the poorest among us.” Continue reading »

Was Slavery the Reason for the Civil War?

I like to paint a picture by numbers because it seems more objective to me at capturing the truth of what is real. Yes, I know that people can lie using numbers as much as they can by words. Still my preference is for numbers and evidence.

That said, there are times when numbers do not work so other methods for ascertaining the true story are needed. For example, what was the civil war about? Some believe it was clearly a fight over slavery and white supremacy. Others say it was about state’s rights. Still others say it was all about economics.

In this situation, it helps to go back to the documents—speeches and the Constitution drawn up by the Confederate States of America (CSA)–and see what clues they provide. Historical research of documents.

Background: In February of 1861 six states seceded from the United States of America and formed a new nation—the Confederate States of America (CSA). In the months that followed, seven more American states followed suit.  The Confederate Constitution was approved on March 11, 1861. It was almost exactly like the U.S. Constitution. Continue reading »

Congress: Does it Look like America?

PEW just posted a quick look at the 115th Congress that began in 2017.  See Report: Click Here   They looked at 5 demographic factors.

  • How ethnically diverse? PEW reports: “The current Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse ever. Nonwhites – including blacks, Hispanics, Asians/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans – now account for 19% of Congress.”   How does it compare to the past? In 1945, just 1% were non-whites. So better than the past. Yes.  But how does it compare to the nation as a whole? 38% of the nation is nonwhite. So, there is still progress to be made here.  Note: the chart they use is not helpful.  It shows the breakdown by ethnicity but does not include whites, so the reader has not sense of the percentages of the whole.
  • How are women doing? It is slow. “Women now hold 104 seats, or about one-in-five overall (19%), tying the record set by the 114th Congress.” Their chart shows the percent of women in the senate and the house separately, over time, but do not show the overall percent over time. .  However, they do acknowledge that women comprise 51% of the population, so they are still under-represented.  Center for American Women and Politics puts it in a bigger picture: For More info From CAWP Click Here



Continue reading »

Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data

“Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

Carl T. Bergstrom and Jevin West
Seattle, WA.

I just stumbled on this course they are teaching at the University of Washington.  Yay!  This is the course I would love to teach and it seems more necessary than ever.

They explain on their website: “The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought…..

We’re sick of it. It’s time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people. So, the aim of this course is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument.

What do we mean, exactly, by the term bullshit? As a first approximation, bullshit is language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.”

Their website has all kinds of useful tools to help us cut through the false narratives and data that look real but are just lies. Check it Out: Click Here


Election Audit: What Can Be Concluded?

recountHeadline in the Guardian: “US recounts find no evidence of hacking in Trump win but reveal vulnerabilities” Click Here

The article points to conclusions given by J Alex Halderman and Matt Bernhard, both of the University of Michigan.  “After the talk, Bernhard clarified that no evidence of hacking is not the same as evidence of no hacking. “We didn’t conclude that hacking didn’t happen,” he told the Guardian, but “based on the little evidence we have, it is less likely that hacking influenced the outcome of the election.”

Got that? Continue reading »