David Kirkpatrick

August 31, 2010

Why is the “Obama is a Muslim” meme persistent?

Here comes the science …

The release:

Why Americans believe Obama is a Muslim

Published: Aug. 31, 2010

EAST LANSING, Mich. — There’s something beyond plain old ignorance that motivates Americans to believe President Obama is a Muslim, according to a first-of-its-kind study of smear campaigns led by a Michigan State University psychologist.

The research by Spee Kosloff and colleagues suggests people are most likely to accept such falsehoods, both consciously and unconsciously, when subtle clues remind them of ways in which Obama is different from them, whether because of race, social class or other ideological differences.

These judgments, Kosloff argues, are irrational. He also suggests they are fueled by an “irresponsible” media culture that allows political pundits and “talking heads” to perpetuate the lies.

“Careless or biased media outlets are largely responsible for the propagation of these falsehoods, which catch on like wildfire,” said Kosloff, visiting assistant professor of psychology. “And then social differences can motivate acceptance of these lies.”

A Pew Research Center poll in August 2010 found that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim – up from 11 percent in March 2009 – even though he’s a practicing Christian. Kosloff noted that the poll was conducted before Obama’s recent comments supporting the right for Muslims to build a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero.

Kosloff and colleagues launched their study prior to the 2008 U.S. presidential election, as the candidates were being bombarded with smear campaigns. It’s the first comprehensive experimental study of the psychological factors that motivate Americans to believe the lies. The findings are published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

In four separate experiments (three before the election and one after), the researchers looked at both conscious and unconscious acceptance of political smears by mostly white, non-Muslim college students. For the conscious trials, the participants were shown false blog reports arguing that Obama is a Muslim or a socialist or that John McCain is senile. The unconscious trials involved gauging how rapidly subjects could identify smear-relevant words such as “Muslim” or “turban” after Obama’s name was presented subliminally.

Among the results:

• On average, participants who supported McCain said there is a 56 percent likelihood Obama is a Muslim. But when they were asked to fill out a demographic card asking for their own race, the likelihood jumped to 77 percent. Kosloff said this shows that simply thinking about a social category that differentiated participants from Obama was enough to get them to believe the smear.

• Participants undecided about the candidates said there is a 43 percent chance McCain is senile – a number that increased to 73 percent when they simply listed their own age on a card.

• Undecided participants said there is a 25 percent chance Obama is a socialist – a number that jumped to 62 percent when they considered race. “Even though being a socialist has nothing to do with race,” Kosloff said, “irrationally they tied the two together.”

Kosloff said the increase in belief that Obama is Muslim likely reflects a growing disenchantment with his presidency – a sense that people feel Obama is not on their side.

“When people are unsatisfied with the president – whether it’s the way he’s handling the economy, health care or Afghanistan – our research suggests that this only fuels their readiness to accept untrue rumors,” Kosloff said.

“As his job rating goes down, suggesting that people feel like he’s not ideologically on their side, we see an increase in this irrational belief that he’s a Muslim,” he added. “Unfortunately, in America, many people dislike Muslims so they’ll label Obama as Muslim when they feel different from him.”

The study was done with researchers from the University of Arizona, the University of British Columbia and Leiden University in the Netherlands.

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Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

January 23, 2010

Beautiful space image — a rare double-tailed gas cloud

Here you go:

MSU’s Megan Donahue was part of an international team of astronomers that viewed this rare double-tailed gas cloud. Their paper on the subject is in the publication Astrophysical Journal. Photo courtesy of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory

Head below the fold for the release accompanying the image. (more…)

February 15, 2009

The internet and social research

I’ve blogged on this topic in the past, and I find the idea and practice of using the World Wide Web for research purposes very interesting. It seems there would be some significant hurdles in terms of scientific rigorousness, but it’s still pretty cool and very possibly a very powerful tool in the social research toolbox.

A release from yesterday:

Internet emerges as social research tool

Panel discusses use of the Web in social science study

IMAGE: This is Thomas Dietz, Director, Environmental Science and Policy Program and Assistant Vice President for Environmental Research, Michigan State University.
Click here for more information. 

CHICAGO — For the past two decades, the Internet has been used by many as an easy-to-use tool that enables the spread of information globally. Increasingly, the Web is moving beyond its use as an electronic “Yellow Pages” and online messaging platform to a virtual world where social interaction and communities can inform social science and its applications in the real world.

“Although social scientists, engineers and physical scientists have studied the World Wide Web as an entity in and of itself for some time, there is now a growing group of social scientists who are learning how to use the World Wide Web as a tool for research rather than as a subject of research,” said Thomas Dietz, Michigan State University researcher and director of the university’s Environmental Science and Policy Program.

Today, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago, a panel of scientists organized by Dietz planned to examine various aspects of using the World Wide Web as a tool for research.

University of Michigan political science professor Arthur Lupia was to kick off the session by discussing how new virtual communities are improving surveys and transforming social science.

“Lupia is one of the world’s leaders related to survey research on the Web,” Dietz said. “His focus is on learning to use the Web as a way of soliciting people’s opinions and getting factual information from them via online surveys.”

Adam Henry, a doctoral fellow in the Sustainability Science Program at Harvard University’s Center for International Development, was scheduled next to discuss measuring social networks using the World Wide Web.

“Henry is developing very innovative ways to identify networks that are actual face-to-face relationships by tracking evidence streams on the Web,” Dietz said. “In other words, it’s not simply about who’s connected to whom on Facebook or Twitter, but who’s doing research with whom in the real world. It’s using the virtual world to identify things that are going on in the real world rather than using the virtual world simply to look at the virtual world.”

William Bainbridge, program director for the National Science Foundation’s Human-Centered Computing Cluster, was to rounded out the presentation with a discussion on the role of social science in creating virtual worlds.

“Bainbridge is studying group formation and social change over time in virtual worlds such as ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Second Life’ to inform and build on what sociologists have studied for 150 years,”

Dietz said. “He contends that virtual worlds are excellent laboratories for observing and prototyping new social forms that can later be applied to the outside world.”

Following the presentations, National Science Foundation sociology director Patricia White was to discuss implications of this research related to the future of social science.

 

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— by Val Osowski

Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.

For MSU news on the Web, go to news.msu.edu.

August 1, 2008

Nanotech creates better plastic

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:19 pm

From KurzweilAI.net:

New nanomaterial that makes plastic stiffer, lighter and stronger
Nanowerk News, July 31, 2008

Michigan State University researchers have developed a graphene-based nanomaterial, xGnP Exfoliated Graphite NanoPlatelets, that makes plastic stiffer, lighter and stronger and could result in more fuel-efficient airplanes and cars as well as more durable medical and sports equipment.

 
Read Original Article>>

June 23, 2008

A couple of solar breaktroughs

From KurzweilAI.net — MIT students create a low-cost, low-tech solar dish, and carbon nanotubes may lower the cost and improve the performance of solar cells.

MIT team plays with fire to create cheap energy
Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 2008

A simple new low-cost solar dish developed by MIT students produces steam heat for less than the cost of heat from oil or natural gas, according to the MIT team.

The steam heat can be used cost effectively for manufacturing, food pasteurization, and heating buildings.
 
Read Original Article>>

 

Perfecting a solar cell by adding imperfections
PhysOrg.com, June 16, 2008

New research at Santa Fe Institute, Michigan State University, and Columbia University shows that a film of carbon nanotubes may be able to replace two of the layers normally used in a solar cell, with improved performance at lower cost.

Exposing the carbon nanotubes to ozone made the carbon nanotubes better catalysts, with more than a ten-fold improvement, and replaced expensive platinum. And making them longer improved both conductivity and transparency.

The carbonnanotube films might also be used in fuel cells and batteries.

 
Read Original Article>>

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