Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Finally the evolution debate arrives at UNCP

... in form of a three-hour video that a creationist student (I presume) group wants to show next Tuesday in the UC. If I was a creationist, I could come up with a less boring way to indoctrinate people, but since I am not one, I'll use something that is *more* boring: giving you reading material. So get ready for an exciting debate:

Since we're basically revisiting a debate that has been going on for about 150 years, first some historic documents: The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law provides the goodies (and a concise explanation of the different variants of Creationism and Intelligent Design).

Natural History Magazine presents a debate between the two sides of the Intelligent Design-Evolution debate.

The New York Times has a couple of lesson plans on evolution (and some on the debate on Intelligent Design).

Christianity Today has a number of articles sympathetic to Intelligent Design, among them interviews with Rob Moll (a journalist who makes the case for ID) and William Dembsky (one of its main proponents among scientists).

For a different perspective, read Judge Jones's decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the recent Pennsylvania court case on whether Intelligent Design may be taught in public schools.

Last November, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a widely regarded Washington Post column arguing that faith and science are not in conflict.

And in TCS Daily, Uriah Kriegel argues that Intelligent Design is not a falsifiable theory and therefore not scientific.

And finally (for now), there is an interesting NY Review of Books article by Richard Lewontin on the evolution debates.

Still awake?

More on Project Implicit

(the research project that produced the bias/partisanship study mentioned below) can be found here. You can also request a number of reprints and unpublished papers. And here is an article in the APA's Monitor on Psychology on implicit association tests. And here is a transcript of a Scientific American Frontiers program on unconscious choices that discusses such tests. And the BBC asks, catchily, Are you a racist? ...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Have Republicans "implicit biases against blacks"?

Today's Washington Post reports on a study that claims to show that Republicans are more biased against blacks than Democrats are. Created quite a discussion at Ann Althouse's.

I haven't read the study and I am not a specialist in Political Psychology, so I cannot tell you how reliable those results are. However, three points:

First, the study talks about cognitive bias; that's conceptually different from stereotypes (generalizations about a group of people), prejudice (a pre-judgment of somebody, usually due to stereotyping), and discrimination (differential treatment of different groups of people). What is racism -- bias, stereotype, prejudice, or discrimination? There is no obvious definition.

Second, the main measure used by the study, it seems, is based on word-image association: Racial bias is determined by the type of words respondents associate with black or white faces, and by the speed with which the word associations are given. Biased people associate more negative terms with black faces, and they do this more quickly than others. The test is computerized (of course) and available online. You can try the test yourself at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/. The benefit of the test is that it uses automated coding procedures and thereby reduces the impact of the political biases that researchers may have. However, at first sight I find it quite a leap of faith to accept that unthinking responses to faces capture stereotypes or even prejudice. But take a look at the online test and decide for yourself.

Third, the study is based on a quantitative comparison of Republicans and Democrats. Obviously, not all Republicans in the study were more biased than Democrats, and vice versa. So, being a Republican does not automatically mean that one is biased, and being a Democrat doesn't mean that one doesn't have any biases. And maybe the relationship between bias and party is due to some third factor -- region, for example, level of education, and so on.

If I find an online copy of the paper or more information on it, I'll post it.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Pretty good food

Generally speaking, Bob Schieffer's interview with President Bush (on CBS's Face the Nation) was not remarkable (NSA wiretapping was absolutely necessary but could not be discussed in public because terrorists would otherwise guess that there was wiretapping, and similar really new arguments). But specifically speaking, there were some remarkable personal remarks about old foes and new friends: Hillary is "formidable" and Bill is his "new brother." And then there was the following explanation why being president is a good thing (about 18 minutes into the interview; the transcript is here):

Pres. BUSH: (...) I would highly recommend this job for

SCHIEFFER: Mm-hmm. You don't see this as the great white presidency, as
Harry Truman said.

Pres. BUSH: No. It's an inconvenience.


Pres. BUSH: But I'm a volunteer.


Pres. BUSH: Nobody made me run for president. Probably me of anybody else
in the modern history knows what I was getting into.


Pres. BUSH: Because I saw a good man here and watched him carefully.


Pres. BUSH: But now I--nobody should feel sorry for me. And I certainly
don't feel sorry for myself. You know, it's an inconvenience that you can't
go to the Wal-Mart or something like that.


Pres. BUSH: On the other hand, the honor and the--is fantastic and the
food's pretty good.

Happy New Year

of the dog!

Chuck Hagel on ABC

Talking about the Republican campaign: ABC's This Week show today (you can download the audio here or subscribe to their podcasts here) had an interesting interview with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska, who was not at all eager to take the administration's side. Much of this is due to the conflict between Congress and president over the NSA-wiretapping affair; Hagel is probably in part defending institutional interests. But it shows that the administration has an uphill battle ahead (sorry for the pun), and it'll be "interesting" to see if they can pull it off. (The way the Democrats dealt with the Alito nomination, chances are that the Bushies have luck on their side...)

State of the Union Address

Tuesday's State of the Union Address is so totally recommended viewing for political science students. The poll numbers are down for the president (here is a summary) *and* it's an election year, so the president will want to get control of the debate, decide which issues will be debated until November, and frame them in a way that is useful for the Republicans (which means lots of national security and War-on-Terror arguments). This is basically the start of the 2006 campaign (OK, that's a silly thing to say if we already have a permanent campaign).

While we're at it...

(Fairly) new blogs, that is: There is a new one that combines law and lit crit, with high-profile contributors. Worth a look: LawCulture.

Interesting blog from Saudi Arabia

It's called Saudi Jeans and is written by a Riyadh student.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Voting students out of group projects?

An interesting debate on fair grading practices at the meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. One of the panelists suggested the following for group projects in which some students free-ride on their mates' hard work: Let the group vote out members who don't participate. Sounds like a sure recipe to get the instructor involved in personal vendettas between students...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why it's useful to take conlaw... further proof

During the Alito hearings in the Senate, Dick Durbin (Democrat from Illinois) said the following when Alito refused to state explicitly that Roe was "settled law":
"Many people will leave this hearing with a question as to whether or not you could be the deciding vote that would eliminate the legality of abortion."

Problem is: we *know* that Alito could not eliminate the legality of abortion because it is not conceivably a question that the the Supreme Court will decide. The question in Roe and other abortion cases has been whether state governments violate the Constitution when they restrict abortion, not whether abortion itself violates the Constitution.

Now the puzzling thing is: Durbin has a JD from Georgetown, so he should know better. Did he forget? Did he mislead? Did he simply want to dramatize the exchange? Did he mis-speak?

For what it's worth, the New York Times notes the error, NPR does not. I haven't checked others.

The Washington Post has the transcripts of the hearings on its website.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Interestingly, when I summarized the hot political topics of the day a week ago, I did not think of the Abramoff capaign donation and bribery affair. Since I'm a courts guy and it was already late, this was not too surprising. OK, now the Alito hearings are over, the Democrats made their point, and Alito seems to be destined for confirmation. So bad for the Democrats, who haven't been able to score major points. What to do? Change the topic of the day to something more favorable -- the Washington Post has more. All students of American politics should be drooling over such developments.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Welcome back...

The new term has started, and it is already quite busy, with student advising and prepping a new constitutional law class. But it is fun.

Politically, it's pretty exciting these days, so it is worth taking political science classes. In the Supreme Court, cases dealing with the treatment of enemy combatants are pending: In the Padilla case, the Court still has to decide if it wants to grant cert. Padilla has been transferred to Florida, where he will stand trial in a civilian court; the Justice Department now wants the Supreme Court to drop Padilla's case against his military detention, as he is now released from that type of detention. Padilla's lawyers want the Supremes to hear the case nevertheless, to resolve the legal issues involved. In the Hamdan case, dealing with the constitutionality of military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees, the oral argument will take place during the next months. The newest New York Times Magazine has a lengthyish background article on Hamdan.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee hearings on Supreme Court appointee Samuel Alito have started today and are worth following. Sunday's Meet the Press on NBC provided a good primer on the issues that will be discussed (or postured on): You can watch the show or read the transcript here. C-SPAN's America and the Courts program also has a number of interesting programs on the Alito nomination; particularly the November 27 program with Arlen Specter is interesting -- also for its inside look into the Senate. (The Senate hearings are also available at the C-SPAN site.)

And, of course, there is the NSA wiretapping story: more here and
here and in lots of articles in newspapers and blogs -- didn't have time yet to compile those. On Balkinization, University of Texas law professor Sandy Levinson connects the wiretapping debate with the Alito nomination.

On the bright side of things, Underneath Their Robes is back. David Lat, a federal prosecutor, had published this anonymous, mildly amusing, and gender-bending gossip column until his identity was revealed in a New Yorker article. After this unrobing (sorry, couldn't resist), the blog vanished, but now he has quit his government job and is again her old Article III Groupie self.