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Study: Generational changes cause drop in school-prayer support

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

There’s a saying that goes, “as long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools.” At one time, that likely reflected a fairly uniform view about school prayer: that despite what federal law said about the practice, religious Americans by and large approved of it.

A new study, however, paints a more complicated picture of attitudes toward school prayer over the last four decades, finding sharp differences in school-prayer support between different generations and their religious denominations.

Forthcoming in the journal Sociological Forum, the study maps a general decline in advocacy for school prayer starting in the mid-1970s and accelerating as skeptical Baby Boomers became ascendant through the 1980s. According to the study’s findings, school-prayer support remains markedly lower today among Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants yet unwaveringly high among their evangelical counterparts.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist Philip Schwadel modeled data from the General Social Survey from 1974-2010 and created a measure for Americans’ support for prayer and reading of religious scripture in public schools over the decades. The results tracked the impact of religious affiliation and generational differences on the role of religion in public education, he said.

“Social and cultural changes have led to greater opposition to state-sanctioned prayer and reading religious materials in public schools among some segments of the population,” Schwadel said. “Specifically, there’s growing opposition among non-evangelicals but not evangelicals, and these changes manifest across generations.”

While these generational shifts have spurred changes among some denominations, evangelical Protestants have remained staunchly pro-school-prayer over the years, Schwadel said. As other religious denominations faced generationally influenced fluctuations on the topic, evangelicals persisted – more than 70 percent of evangelicals expressed support for school prayer, regardless of what generation they came from.

“What we see in these results is that there’s a very clear, unwavering perspective in the evangelical community on the role of prayer in public life,” he said. “While younger evangelicals seem to be more open to some issues, such as environmentalism, when it comes to key issues, they simply do not change across generations. There seem to be some bedrock issues they won’t budge on.”

There once was very little difference between Catholics and evangelical Protestants on the topic, particularly among those born in the early 1930s, Schwadel said. The findings also showed a relatively small difference in opinion between evangelicals and mainline Protestants for those born during that same time period.

But differences grew tremendously across generations – so that by the time those born in the 1960s and 1970s came of age, a large gap had emerged between evangelical Protestants and both mainline Protestants and Catholics.

Why? According to Schwadel’s findings, the drop was related to both “period effects” and “cohort effects” – the events of the times, highlighted by several high-profile court cases on the subject, likely began to affect opinions among people of a certain age; at the same time, the general disposition of the generation going through those times was playing a major factor.

The start of the time frame in the study – the mid-1970s – were a time of high levels of support for prayer in schools compared with the following three decades, Schwadel said; at the same time, Baby Boomers began to make up more of the population. Known for their skepticism for organized religion, the Boomers likely contributed to a consistent, decade-long drop in support of school prayer to a lower overall level that remains today.

Schwadel said he had anticipated the decline among mainline Protestants; however, he was surprised to see a parallel slide in support for school prayer among Catholics, who began the 1970s virtually tied in their level of approval with evangelicals.

One possible explanation, Schwadel said, is that over time, Catholics have become more “mainstreamed” than they were in the first half of the 20th century, when they either attended parochial schools or public schools that were predominantly Catholic. Their integration into public schools may have cut into their support for school prayer because that prayer was not exclusively Catholic, Schwadel said.

The study also found:

– Highly educated and younger respondents in the study were relatively unlikely to support prayer and reading scripture in public schools.

– African Americans and Southerners registered the highest levels of approval.

– Jewish respondents indicated the lowest levels of support, at 24 percent. Those who said they are unaffiliated with an organized religion were at 37 percent.

“These results are relevant to debates regarding the social impact of religious affiliation, generational differences and Americans’ views of the role of religion in the public sphere,” he said.

Contact: Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology, 402-472-6008, pschwadel2@unl.edu

UNL nets 300+ positive national news appearances in 2012

Friday, December 21st, 2012

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln made its way into national news headlines regularly in 2012. National media outlets, often working with the Office of University Communications, featured and cited UNL research and programming and sought out UNL faculty expertise on a wide range of topics.

More than 310 positive national media appearances, which translated into thousands of news headlines and articles in media outlets across the nation and globe, were registered last year. In 2011, UNL had just over 200 appearances; in 2010 it logged roughly 155.

The following highlights of national news placements and appearances for UNL in the past year. This collection is maintained by University Communications and includes print, broadcast and online media. It was assembled throughout the year with the assistance of multiple information sources, including Universal Information Services.

To look back on complete lists of media appearances for each month of 2012, click on the links at the end of this post.

Innovation, discovery, impact and reputation

Innovation Campus continued to create headlines in 2012. The university’s January announcement on saving the Industrial Arts Building resulted in Associated Press coverage that appeared in dozens of media outlets around the nation; in February, director Dan Duncan was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article that examined how universities and developers find common ground on campus building projects; and a November announcement of a new collaboration between NIC and ConAgra Foods received wide coverage, including from The Associated Press.

A UNL archaeological team led by professor of art and art history Michael Hoff unearthed a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey in summer 2012. In September, the work was featured in dozens of national media outlets including The History Channel, Der Spiegel (Germany), The New York Times, The Associated Press, United Press International, The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Mail (UK), The Register (UK) and NBC News.

In late February, Ross Secord, assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, had his research into how prehistoric global warming affected the evolution of equine ancestor sifrhippus covered by scores of media around the world. Highlights included articles in The New York Times, TIME, Scientific American, Science Magazine, Popular Science, US News & World Report, Reuters and Bloomberg News. The article was translated into dozens of languages and appeared in media outlets across the globe.

Susan Swearer, professor of school psychology, helped launch Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation in February – which led to coverage from The Associated Press, Slate and Yahoo! News, The San Jose Mercury News, The Huffington Post and many others. In March, she appeared on “Anderson,” a daytime syndicated talk show hosted by Anderson Cooper, to discuss anti-bullying efforts. The Associated Press also featured her in October after she was named chairwoman of the Born This Way Foundation’s new Research and Advisory Board.

In April, the latest addition to UNL’s digital Civil War Washington project – hundreds of newly digitized compensation petitions submitted by District of Columbia slave owners after the city declared slaves free in early 1862 – was featured by several media outlets including The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post. The stories coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Washington, D.C., Compensated Emancipation Act. The project was headed by Kenneth Winkle, professor of history; Kenneth Price, professor of English; Susan Lawrence, associate professor of history; and Elizabeth Lorang, research assistant professor of English.

The New York Daily News featured Kwame Dawes, professor of English and editor of Prairie Schooner, in July in a story about the newly formed African Poetry Book Series. Dawes also was a daily contributor to The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy weblog during the 2012 Olympic Games, posting daily poems about each day’s developments in London.

UNL’s High-Energy Physics Team – including Ken Bloom, Dan Claes, Aaron Dominguez, Ilya Kravchenko, Greg Snow and others – received recognition from a number of media outlets in July as scientists around the world hailed the “discovery” of the long-sought Higgs Boson particle. Bloom, who live-blogged the event for the weblog Quantum Diaries, also was mentioned a column in The Courier and Mail of Brisbane, Australia.

The University of Nebraska Press was featured in an April story in The New York Times about its well-earned national reputation for publishing high-quality baseball books.

Reliable expert sources for national media

As an historic, fast-moving drought took hold across the United States in 2012, climatologists Mark Svoboda, Brian Fuchs and Michael Hayes of UNL’s National Drought Mitigation Center regularly lended their expertise to print, online and broadcast journalists from around the world. Highlights included regular appearances in USA TODAY, the New York Times, BBC News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, MSNBC, PBS NewsHour, US News & World Report, NPR, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press.

Wheeler Winston Dixon, professor of film studies, was often cited by national media on issues surrounding the motion picture industry, both past and present. He was interviewed for NPR’s All Things Considered about the art of the modern movie trailer, was cited by Slate about advance advertising in Hollywood, by E! Online about Hollywood’s recent fascination with fairy tales, by the Boston Globe on celebrities facing public-relations crises and by Gannett News Service on the hallmarks of Quentin Tarantino’s films, among other appearances.

Matt Waite, professor of practice of journalism, appeared regularly in the news as the rise of drone journalism spurred questions about journalistic ethics and privacy. Appearances included the NPR program On The Media, The Associated Press, The Australian Broacasting Corporation, the Kojo Nnamdi Show (Washington DC), The Washington Times, American Public Media’s Marketplace, The Times of London (UK), the Daily Mail (UK), The Globalist (Italy), The Guardian (UK), and NBC News.

Christal Sheppard, assistant professor of law, was often quoted this year on issues of patent law, highlighted by interviews in The Wall Street Journal about Apple Inc.’s legal victory over Samsung in a much-watched patent case and by The Dow Jones Newswire about the International Trade Commission’s finding that Apple did not violate Google’s patents. The Journal also tapped her for comment in December after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a preliminary ruling against Apple’s “pinch-to-zoom” patent.

The so-called “fiscal cliff” discussions in Washington prompted journalists to seek out Seth Giertz, assistant professor of economics, for insight. In late November, Giertz penned an op-ed on the fiscal cliff, policy uncertainty and tax reform for The Hill; a week later, he appeared in an ABC News story about the notion of eliminating the charitable deduction and what it might mean to universities.

Ari Kohen, associate professor of political science, appeared often in news outlets in 2012, often cited by prominent political bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast for his commentary at his popular weblog, Running Chicken. He was quoted in March by The Christian Science Monitor about why a good public apology is so difficult to find; in December, he was quoted in a Los Angeles Times column on the same topic.

Timothy Wei, dean of the College of Engineering, appeared in a video produced by NBC News and the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the 2012 Summer Olympics about fluid dynamics and the sport of swimming. The segment ran on dozens of NBC affiliate stations around the country. In July, he appeared in a Fox News story on the same topic.

William G. Thomas, professor of history, wrote a February New York Times opinion piece on the role of African-Americans in building railroads in the Civil War era. In October, he co-authored a column on humanities in the digital age for Inside Higher Ed. And in December, he and associate professor of history Patrick Jones appeared in a Chronicle of Higher Education feature article about the “History Harvest” digital history project they oversee at UNL.

Research and scholarly activity

Mike Dodd, assistant professor of psychology; and Kevin Smith and John Hibbing, professors of political science, had their research into the physiological and cognitive differences between the political left and the political right featured widely in January and February. Appearances included Discovery News, Wired, The Economist, Huffington Post, The Guardian (UK), the Telegraph (UK), and BBC News, CNN, The Daily, ABC News and the Huffington Post.

Matthew Jockers, assistant professor of English, had his unique text-mining method that plotted the hidden relationships between more than 3,500 18th- and 19th century novels featured by several media outlets in mid-August, including New Scientist, WIRED, NBC News and Smithsonian Magazine. He also co-authored an October opinion piece in Nature explaining why humanities scholars have pitched in to the Authors Guild vs. Google lawsuit.

UNL’s Bureau of Business Research, directed by assistant professor of economics Eric Thompson, appeared regularly in the national news in 2012. Its twice-annual economic forecasts for the region were the subject of stories by The Associated Press, and its annual State Entrepreneurship Index was featured in several media outlets, including The Boston Herald, Business News Daily (NY), The Oregonian, Mashable, Bloomberg Businessweek, CNBC, CNN, the Bismarck (ND) Tribune and the Union Leader (NH).

Ann Mari May, professor of economics, had her research on the gender gap in policy views among economists that she co-authored with Mary McGarvey featured in a number of national media outlets, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal and USA TODAY.

J. Allen Williams Jr., professor emeritus of sociology, had his research analyzing the decline of the natural world and wild animals in children’s illustrated books featured in a number of outlets in February, including USA TODAY, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! News, the Globe & Mail (Canada), GOOD Magazine and The Associated Press.

Michael Fromm, professor of agronomy and horticulture and Director of UNL’s Center for Biotechnology, had his and colleagues’ research into plants’ ability to remember drought featured by The Associated Press and United Press International. The work appeared in dozens of media outlets around the country.

Sarah Gervais, assistant professor of psychology, had her research into the differing cognitive processes our brains use to perceive men and women covered by several dozens of media outlets around the world in July and August, including NBC News, CBS News, Scientific American, the CBC (Canada), Forbes, The Daily Mail (UK), United Press International, Huffington Post and Jezebel.

Jason Head, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences, was featured in an April 1 special on the Smithsonian Channel, “Titanoboa: Monster Snake.” Associated coverage appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, The International Business Times, USA TODAY and The Associated Press, among others.

Peter Harms, assistant professor of management, had his research into how narcissists tend to thrive in the context of job interviews widely covered by the media in April. Coverage included articles in Forbes, MSNBC, Nature, The Huffington Post and dozens of media outlets around the country.

Karl Reinhard, professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences, had his research into the link between ancient Natives’ diets and their modern susceptibility to diabetes featured by a number of national outlets in late July, including NBC News, The Huffington Post, Discovery News and The International Business Times.

Athletics, academics and the Big Ten

Chancellor Harvey Perlman appeared regularly in coverage this year on topics ranging from compensation for head football coaches, reform of the NCAA rulebook, the process to determine a new college football playoff, the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten and the growing gap between the top five major football-playing conferences and other schools. His comments appeared in USA TODAY, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, ESPN.com, The Washington Post and The New York Times, among other national outlets.

Josephine Potuto, professor of law, appeared in a July story by Yahoo! Sports about potential NCAA punishment at Penn State. She also penned an op-ed for The Chronicle of Higher Education in reaction to the severe penalties handed down on Penn State by the NCAA.

Dennis Molfese, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, appeared in numerous media outlets in June when the The Big Ten Conference and the Ivy League, in conjunction with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, announced it would engage in a cross-institutional research collaboration to study the effects of head injuries in sports.

Faculty, administration, student and staff appearances in the national media dating back to 2009 are logged at http://newsroom.unl.edu/inthenews/. Ideas for potential national news stories can be sent to National News Editor Steve Smith at ssmith13@unl.edu or (402) 472-4226.

UNL’s national media appearances as they appeared by month, and links to associated stories, can be found at the following links:

January: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/981/5766

February: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1079/6435

March: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1172/7036

April: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1268/7622

May: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1339/7849

June: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1417/8056

July: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1462/8245

August: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1568/8812

September: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1676/9443

October: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1783/10020

November: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/todayatunl/1876/10507

2012’s historic ‘flash drought’ will continue into 2013

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

The drought that swept across wide areas of the United States in the past year was historically unusual in its speed, its intensity and its size, climatologists at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said this week.

And, they said, those dry conditions are expected to last at least through winter: Forecasts show little hope of quick improvement, deepening the negative effects on agriculture, water supplies, food prices and wildlife.

“We usually tell people that drought is a slow-moving natural disaster, but this year was more of a flash drought,” said Mark Svoboda, a center climatologist and an author of the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor. “With the sustained, widespread heat waves during the spring and early summer coupled with the lack of rains, the impacts came on in a matter of weeks instead of over several months.”

The result, according to year-end Drought Monitor data: More than 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states and 50 percent of the entire country was in severe to extreme drought for significant portions of 2012, Svoboda said. This year marked the first occurrence in the 13-year history of the monitor that all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico experienced drought. In the past few months, it has receded slightly in the Midwest but remains entrenched in the Great Plains.

‘Almost the perfect storm’

While the current drought has been brutal, it has been short from a historical perspective, said Brian Fuchs, also a monitor author and center climatologist. But unique conditions earlier in the year set the stage for the unusually intense and widespread drought.

“It was almost the perfect storm this year, a mild winter without much precipitation and with early green-up, so plants were using moisture a month or more earlier than usual,” Fuchs said. “Then we had the heat of the summer, plus the fact that it was dry from mid-May onward.”

Earlier this year, forecasters expected an El Nino weather pattern would be in place, bringing rain to the southern United States. But the pattern fizzled, leaving North America with neutral — neither El Nino nor La Nina — conditions, making it difficult to anticipate a single large-scale weather pattern for this winter.

Neutral conditions indicate a lack of an established weather pattern, likely meaning big swings in temperature and precipitation across the country through the winter, Fuchs said. Many parts of the country would need a tremendous amount of snow and a very long winter to start putting a dent in this year’s moisture deficits. The odds for that type of winter to occur are roughly two in 10 at best, according to Al Dutcher, Nebraska state climatologist. (For more on how the drought is affecting Nebraska, click here).

Effects of this year’s — and next year’s — drought

The first wave of drought impacts has been agricultural: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency said Dec. 10 indemnity payments for 2012 were at nearly $8 billion. The winter wheat crop outlook across the Great Plains has been reduced, and ranchers are scrambling to find feed for cattle. Hay prices have risen, likely meaning bigger grocery bills as meat and dairy prices climb in response.

The second wave of impacts is often hydrological: Lack of water flowing down the Missouri River is prompting states along the lower Mississippi to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ river management, anticipating hardships for the river navigation industry and all who depend on it to deliver commodities to markets, and some of the Great Lakes are at or near record lows. Fuchs said it is likely those basins are going to be fairly dry through winter and into next year.

As of late December, 82 percent of the Missouri River basin and the upper Mississippi basin and a third of the lower Mississippi basin were in moderate drought or worse, drought center data showed.

Fuchs said that while severe hydrologic drought hasn’t yet hit the majority of the country, those who depend on older or single wells should check reliability now, before hot weather and the growing season increase water use. Farmers and ranchers may also consider potential savings from using better irrigation technology and no-till practices.

“In the Southeast and southern Plains, multiple years of drought have resulted in widespread hydrological drought issues with water supply and water quality as well as with declining storage and water tables,” he said. “In areas where the drought has been shorter, such as in the Midwest and Plains, there are some water systems that are already under stress and more impacts related to hydrologic drought will develop as the drought continues.”

UNL Expert Alert: Chuck Hagel to lead the Department of Defense?

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel has met with both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, as the president considers tapping him to replace Leon Panetta as defense secretary, and several media outlets are reporting that Hagel appears to have the inside track on the job.

Who is Chuck Hagel and why has he become a frontrunner for one of the most influential cabinet positions in the administration? Charlyne Berens, associate dean of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, is the author of Hagel’s biography, titled “Chuck Hagel: Moving Forward” (University of Nebraska Press, 2006). The edition examines Hagel’s upbringing in Nebraska, his survival of a tour of duty in Vietnam, his rise to political office and the background that has led Hagel to an outspoken internationalism that often put him at odds with his own party. A paperback edition of the biography will be published in July 2013.

Berens offered these thoughts to the news of Hagel’s potential appointment:

“As I got to know Chuck Hagel for his biography, it seemed to me that he is what one would call a true public servant. His work with the USO, turning it around and making it a viable operation, is a prime example – there’s not a lot of glory in that, but he saw it as important and did it with no desire for political gain. He has a desire to contribute, whether it is in elected office or in a high-level post such as Secretary of Defense — or a presidential advisory group, or the Atlantic Council. He’s committed to public affairs and doing what he can to contribute to solving the issues of the day.

“Helping him in this case is the fact that he was in the Senate, and during his time there he was noted for his bipartisan – not nonpartisan, but bipartisan — tendencies. As we know, (Hagel) sometimes would take positions that were more popular at the time with Democrats than with his fellow Republicans. His criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War (and the administration’s subsequent ‘surge’ strategy) is the most obvious example of that.

“Chuck Hagel is a principled man but also a practical one. His bipartisanship grew during his time in the Senate, and came partly from his frustration that Congress was becoming more and more partisan, and it was becoming more and more difficult to get things done. He entered the Senate with what could be considered staunch Republican credentials but left the Senate as more bipartisan. He’s plain-spoken, which can be rare in Washington. Of course, he’s a political enough person that he knows what he’s walking into when he opens his mouth, but I’ve never gotten the sense that he’s routinely spinning things.

“He would not take the responsibility of being Secretary of Defense lightly. I remember him saying once that before you’re going to decide to send someone’s kid to die, you better be very sure you’re making the right decision. If he were to become Secretary of Defense, he would not be eager to involve the United States militarily. On the other hand, he fully understands the importance of a strong military and its role around the globe. He’s certainly no isolationist – he’s not going to say we’re not going to pay attention to what’s happening in the world; there would be no point in making him Secretary of Defense if he were of that mindset.

“But it’s my impression of Chuck Hagel that he would be very analytical and careful in the decisions he’d put forth in the use of troops. After all, he was there. His experiences in Vietnam, as well as his time working for the USO and the Veterans’ Administration have given him a real sense, and a very realistic sense, of what truly happens in war, and what its costs are. It’s not theoretical to him.

“This fits into the kind of thinking that President Obama seems to like in his advisers. He appears to be more concerned with peoples’ way of thinking and the way they approach problems than what party they are or whether they would agree with him on everything. Obama seems to put value not just in what you think but how you think, and I think he would appreciate Chuck Hagel’s approach.”

Contact: Charlyne Berens, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 402-472-8241 or cberens@unl.edu.

Coverage: NPR’s All Things Considered | CNN.com | The Atlantic | Foreign Policy | TIME | Christian Science Monitor | Baltimore Sun |

Wheeler Winston Dixon on the Golden Globes

Thursday, December 13th, 2012



Wheeler Winston Dixon, author, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at UNL and the curator of the Frame By Frame blog on film history, chimes in from California with a few quick thoughts on today’s Golden Globe nominations.

Dixon writes:

The Golden Globes were both predictable and surprising. “Lincoln” was the big winner with seven nominations, but in the end, the only major award that I feel it will get in the Oscars is for Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role; “The Dark Knight Rises” struck out, perhaps as fallout from the movie theater massacre, but also because it wasn’t as good as “The Dark Knight.”

Ben Affleck is a surprise dark horse for “Argo” for Best Director — who would have imagined this even a few years ago? Affleck as Best Director, but he has a real shot here, and at the Oscars — and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” also did well at the nominations, though in the end I don’t think it will win Best Film, which will go to either “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Argo,” and to either Allfeck or Kathryn Bigelow when the Academy Awards are handed out.

Best Actress: Naomi Watts has a shot for “The Impossible,” but I rather favor Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty.” For Best Actor in A Musical or Comedy, Bill Murray should have won the Oscar for Best Actor for “Lost In Translation” but didn’t, so he’ll get a Globe for “Hyde Park on the Hudson” as a consolation prize, but no Oscar; Philip Seymour Hoffman looks good in “The Master” for Best Supporting Actor, “Brave” for Best Animated Feature, “Amour” for Best Foregn Film, John Williams will probably get Best Original Score for “Lincoln,” and “Girls” for Best Television Comedy Series.

Breaking Bad” may well win for Best Drama, though it has stiff competition from “Boardwalk Empire.” “The Girl” for Best Television Movie; Steve Buscemi or Bryan Cranston for Best Actor in a Television Drama; it would be nice to see Louis CK finally win for his groundbreaking comedy series “Louie” and ditto Nicole Kidman for “Hemingway and Gellhorn.”

The Globes also bode well for “Moonrise Kingdom” at the Oscars, and “Homeland” also seems to be picking up steam, while “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead” seem to have run their course.

All of this is merely preamble for the Academy Awards, of course, so let me go with just a few predictions here; Day-Lewis for Best Actor; “Argo” or “Zero Dark Thirty” for Best Picture; Bigelow or Affleck for Best Director; “Brave” for Best Animated Film; and that’s where I’ll stop.

All of this also is subject to change without notice, and I’m really talking about my favorites here, rather than what might actually win. But then again, those two things may coincide, so here’s hoping.

Contact: Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies, UNL, wheelerdixon@windstream.net. To see Dixon’s Frame By Frame video series, click here.

New UNL study examines diversity of gays and lesbians in rural areas

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

At a time of dramatic change in attitudes towards gays and lesbians in the United States, a new study released this month in Gender & Society highlights the diversity of gay and lesbian experiences in America.

“Midwest or Lesbian? Gender, Rurality, and Sexuality,” by UNL sociologist Emily Kazyak, puts the lives of rural gays and lesbians under the microscope. Almost 10 percent of gays and more than 15 percent of lesbians in the United States live in rural areas — and while 25 percent of same-sex couples are raising children, same-sex couples in rural areas are even more likely than their urban counterparts to have children.

As University of Massachusetts sociologist Joya Misra, editor of Gender & Society, puts it: “The rapidity of changes in attitudes toward gays and lesbians has been stunning. Kazyak’s article helps bring into focus how greater acceptance of gays and lesbians is not simply a phenomenon of big cities but reflects changes and opportunities in rural communities as well.”

How much change? Researchers at Sociologists for Women in Society and the Council on Contemporary Families recently surveyed how much and how rapidly gays and lesbians have been integrated into mainstream life. Consider these changes in the past year alone:

– In November, for the first time, three U.S. states approved same-sex marriage by popular vote. Just three years ago, Maine voters defeated same-sex marriage by a margin of 53 to 47 percent. This year they reversed themselves, approving it by 53 to 47 percent. Maine joins a growing list of rural states including Iowa and Vermont that recognize same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, Minnesota defeated the same kind of anti same-sex marriage measure that had passed everywhere it was introduced in the previous 15 years.

– While California defeated same-sex marriage in 2008, a February poll indicated that if the measure were submitted again, it would win. Today a record 59 percent of registered voters in California approve same-sex marriage.

– In numerous public opinion surveys, including one from November 2012, the past decade’s rise in approval for same-sex marriage in all regions of the country is evident: Even the Midwest and the South, where gay and lesbian rights are less popular, have seen a 14 percent increase in approval for same-sex marriage.

– In 2009 Hispanics opposed same-sex marriage by a large margin. In 2012 exit polls, 59 percent of Hispanics supported it. In just the four months between July and October 2012, the number of African Americans opposing same-sex marriage fell from 51 percent to just 39 percent.

– On Dec. 6, a new poll by USA TODAY found that almost three-quarters of Americans 18 to 29 years old support same-sex marriage, while more than a third of Americans say their views about same-sex marriage have changed significantly over the last several years, with approval rising in every age group.

Are these changes significant for gays and lesbians living in rural areas? Kazyak’s study offers answers based on her examination of the experiences of gays and lesbians who live in rural areas (with populations as small as 2,500 people).

Kazyak, focusing on rural areas in the Midwest, found that rural gays and lesbians enjoy more acceptance than stereotypes about rural life would suggest, and that lesbians in rural areas can pick and choose from a wider range of gender behaviors than their urban counterparts.

Largely because of the tradition of shared labor in farm families, behaviors and activities that would be considered unfeminine among urban women are more widespread and meet greater approval in rural areas, the study suggests. This flexibility allows lesbians who are drawn to masculine activities or who dress in masculine ways to find more acceptance than they might in an urban or suburban setting.

On the other hand, Kazyak found that gay men felt required to appear more masculine than their urban counterparts. One man she interviewed commented on how few rural gay men display the mannerisms that are sometimes associated with gay life in metropolitan areas.

He noted how surprised he initially was by “getting flirted with what I thought were straight men….they weren’t straight men, they were gay men, but they looked very straight, they acted very masculine…. It was, like, this wasn’t what I thought of as a gay man. So being in this town really changed how I thought of myself and the gay community.”

Both rural gays and lesbians thought their lives and identities were much different than their urban counterparts, the study found.

“My research on rural gays and lesbians shows us that the lives, behaviors and self-presentations of gays and lesbians are more varied and complex than portrayed on TV, even in shows such as ‘Modern Family,’ where one of the gay characters grew up on a farm,” Kazyak said.

“The rural Midwest is not a place we typically associate with gay and lesbian life, but my research shows us how gays and lesbians are increasingly out and accepted in small towns across the country.”

– by Virginia Rutter, Gender & Society

Contact: Emily Kazyak, assistant professor of sociology, 402-937-9057 or ekazyak2@unl.edu

How devout are we? Study shows evangelicals surge, Catholics wane

Monday, November 19th, 2012

The percentage of Americans who say they are strong in their religious faith has been steady for the last four decades, a new study finds. But in that same time, the intensity of some religious groups has surged while others – notably Roman Catholics – has faded.

Among the risers: Evangelicals, who have become more staunchly devout since the early 1990s. Meanwhile, Catholics now report the lowest proportion of strongly affiliated followers among major American religious traditions.

The drop in intensity could present challenges for the Roman Catholic Church, the study suggests, both in terms of church participation and in Catholics’ support for the Church’s social and theological positions.

“On the whole, the results show that Americans’ strength of religious affiliation was stable from the 1970s to 2010,” said Philip Schwadel, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist who authored the study, which is to be published in the journal Sociology of Religion. “But upon closer examination, there is considerable divergence between evangelical Protestants on the one hand and Catholics and mainline Protestants on the other.”

Schwadel modeled data from nearly 40,000 respondents to the General Social Survey from 1974-2010 and created a measure for Americans’ strength of religious affiliation over time.

Overall, the proportion of Americans who said they were “strongly affiliated” with their religion increased from 38 percent in the 1970s to a high of more than 43 percent in the mid-1980s. That number slid to 37 percent by the end of the ‘80s and has remained stable ever since, the study showed.

The big changes, however, came within the nation’s various denominations and religious traditions – most noticeably between Catholics and evangelicals. Since the 1980s, an intensity gap emerged between the groups, the study found. By 2010, about 56 percent of evangelicals said they considered themselves strong adherents to their faith. For Catholics, it was just 35 percent, four percentage points lower than mainline Protestants.

“Sociologists have been writing about declines in mainline Protestantism for the last few decades,” Schwadel said. “The tremendous decline in Catholics’ strength of affiliation, though, was somewhat surprising.”

Schwadel’s analysis suggests the changes are related to “period-based” effects – the popular discourse, political events or other occurrences that can lead to changes among certain groups of people during a specific time period.

In Catholics’ case, the study shows an abrupt decline in strength of affiliation starting in 1984 and ending in 1989. The findings suggest this could be in reaction to publicity around sex abuse scandals involving priests at that time, as well as the growing number of Latino Catholics responding to the survey. Prior research has shown Latino Catholics to be unlikely to report a strong religious affiliation compared with other Catholics.

Meanwhile, evangelicals’ strength of affiliation began to swell in the early 1990s, following the growth of their presence in the public sphere during the prior decade, the study shows.

“Social change of this sort often occurs across generations, in response to generation-specific socialization processes,” Schwadel said. “Still, the analysis shows that changes in strength of religious affiliation occur largely across time periods, suggesting more rapid, and potentially more ephemeral, forms of social change.”

The study also found that though there has been a steady deterioration in strength of religious affiliation over time among Catholics, strength of affiliation was less strongly associated with church attendance among younger generations. This means that declines in Catholics’ strength of affiliation do not necessarily lead to equivalent declines in their church attendance.

“That could be seen as good news and bad news for the Catholic Church,” Schwadel said. “Younger Catholics are not being driven away from going to church, but they do still feel less strongly committed to their religion than they did a few decades ago.”

The study also found:

– Similar to evangelicals, African American Protestants report a high proportion of strongly affiliated members – about 57 percent in 2010.

– Mainline Protestants’ devoutness fell to lows of roughly 30 percent in the late 1970s and late 1980s before gradually climbing to 39 percent in 2010.

– The proportion of Americans who say they adhere to no religion climbed from about 6 percent in the 1970s and 1980s to 16 percent in 2010. The increase is roughly equivalent in the decline of people who say they were “somewhat” or “not very strongly” affiliated with their religion over the same time period.

Contact: Philip Schwadel, associate professor of sociology, 402-472-6008 or pschwadel2@unl.edu.

UNL experts alert: Election Day and beyond

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Looking for clarity on any number of political races — before or after Tuesday? University of Nebraska-Lincoln experts are available to discuss the presidential, Nebraska U.S. Senate and other campaigns with members of the media:

-  John Hibbing, Foundation Regents University Professor of Political ScienceNebraska’s U.S. Senate race, Congress.Hibbing is a nationally known expert in political psychology, biology and politics, political behavior, public opinion and legislative politics. For reporters, he can provide insight into this year’s national and statewide campaigns, including the races for U.S. Senate in Nebraska and the presidential campaign, and can provide reaction and analysis on campaign-trail developments. Reach Hibbing at 402-472-3220 or jhibbing1@unl.edu.

-  Kevin B. Smith, professor of political scienceNebraska’s U.S. Senate race, presidential race, political messaging. Smith focuses on public policy, public administration, American politics, and biology and politics. He can discuss the dynamics of this year’s U.S. Senate race and other major races, including the presidential campaign. He can analyze broad aspects of these campaigns, including the effectiveness or lack thereof of political advertising. He also can discuss differences between liberals, conservatives and moderates in the context of the 2012 election, and how developments on the campaign trail may be interpreted by these different groups of voters. Reach Smith at 402-472-0779 or ksmith1@unl.edu.

-  Dona-Gene Mitchell, assistant professor of political science: Public opinion, effects of campaign information on voters over time. Mitchell’s expertise is in American political behavior, public opinion and political psychology. She researches and teaches in the areas of how opinions are formed via information, campaigns and time, and the lifespan of information effects. She can discuss the effectiveness over time of campaign messaging on voters or how long unfavorable information may affect politicians and elected officials. Reach Dona-Gene Mitchell at 402-472-5994 or dmitchell2@unl.edu.

-  Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Willa Cather Professor and Chair of Political SciencePublic opinion, political behavior, political psychology. Theiss-Morse researches Americans’ attitudes about numerous aspects of the American political system and about their fellow Americans. She is currently analyzing politicians’ use of heated rhetoric and how it affects the effectiveness of democracy. Reach Theiss-Morse at 402-472-3221 or etheissmorse1@unl.edu.

-  Ronald Lee, Professor of Communication Studies: Politics, public discourse, rhetoric, race, religion. Lee’s expertise is in contemporary political discourse. His research delves into the rhetorical construction of presidential legacies, the discourses of poverty, the mythical use of American place in national politics, and the use of race in post civil-rights-era political discourse. Reach Lee at 402-472-2255 or rlee1@unl.edu.

-  Damien Smith Pfister, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies: Political rhetoric, culture, digital media in politics.Pfister researches the impact of digital media on public deliberation and culture, including how blogging and social networking has challenged traditional patterns of communication during political campaigns and controversies. His current research includes the content of presidential campaign ads from 1952 to 2012 and the Obama administration’s use of digital media. Reach Pfister at 402-472-0646 or dpfister2@unl.edu.

UNL’s Swearer to lead Gaga’s advisory, research board

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Susan Swearer will lead a new research board to advise Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation on its youth empowerment and tolerance programs, the foundation announced this week.

The group also will work to boost the influence of the foundation’s proposals and apply well-founded research to all of the foundation’s upcoming programs.

Swearer, professor of school psychology in the College of Education and Human Sciences, will be chairwoman of the six-person group, called the Research and Advisory Board. It includes researchers from New York University, Harvard University and the University of Chicago, among other schools.

“It’s an honor to be working with an esteemed group of scholars,” Swearer said. “The Research Advisory Board has been helping the Foundation make sure that its initiatives are grounded in research and will make sure that research guides their programming.”

Gaga’s foundation, co-founded by her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, recruited Swearer to help its official launch in February. Swearer co-directs the Bullying Research Network, which promotes international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers. Swearer has been working with Born This Way since 2011, helping to create resources as the foundation prepared to officially enter the national anti-bullying discussion.

“Susan Swearer knows how to translate strong, solid research into practical, relevant strategies for youth and the adults and families who work with them,” said Marjorie Kostelnik, dean of UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences. “She is a bridge from the research world that cares about bullying, to the public that cares about bullying. Her ability to connect those two worlds will serve her well in this role.”

In a statement, Germanotta said the board is “made up of some of the brightest minds in education and adolescent research. With the help of these university-based experts, we will be able to reach even more youth and provide them with the tools necessary to be the brave person they were each born to be.”

The board will evaluate ongoing programs and give feedback on new proposals, while also providing assessment and evaluation strategies for existing programs – including Born Brave Nation, localized groups of supporters working to affect change in their homes, schools and communities.

Swearer and Gaga in February during the BTWF launch.

Contact: Susan Swearer, Professor of School Psychology, 402-472-1741 or sswearernapolitano1@unl.edu

It’s about time: Research tracks how campaign information plays, stays in voters’ minds

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

(Photo: CBS News)

Maybe you’re a Republican and believe Mitt Romney will sail to victory on the lasting momentum of his early October debate performance. Or maybe you’re a Democrat who thinks that President Obama’s consistent policy messages in the late summer and early fall will remind voters to award him with a second term in November.

But if your candidate of choice wants his message to leave a lasting impact on undecided or low-information voters as they cast their ballots, he may want to focus on having a strong closing week, University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientist Dona-Gene Mitchell says.

Mitchell researches the effects of time on the political process — and specifically, how long information endures or how fast it fades from people’s minds during multi-week campaigns. Her most recent findings, published in the American Journal of Political Science, suggest that in a tightly controlled information environment, issue-related information about a candidate was supplanted quickly from voters’ minds by new data.

Character and personal facts about a candidate, meanwhile, were found to stick in people’s memories a little longer – but not by much.

“I find a remarkably limited role for enduring information effects,” Mitchell said. “In other words, during campaigns, citizens appear to operate as if they have short-term memory loss where information this week mattered but the effects quickly faded a week later.”

Mitchell’s work employs a unique approach into the study of how different kinds of candidate information is processed. Unlike previous experimental studies, which had been done in a single sitting, the method releases different types of information about a candidate to study participants over 12 weeks. This approach, Mitchell said, brings new insights into the lifespan of campaign information – and just how much of it helps voters to modify their judgments about a candidate.

In her most recent study, information was provided once a week about a hypothetical Republican candidate for Congress. The type of information varied: Sometimes it was about the candidate’s character or communicated a personal detail; others, his positions on different political issues. After receiving the information each week, participants then evaluated the candidate.

Some information, such as the candidate’s party affiliation, exhibited stronger staying power with the study’s participants. But Mitchell said she was surprised at how other less sticky information, particularly where a candidate stood on a single issue, was displaced to make room for new facts. Partisanship combined with new short-term information to push other stockpiled information about the candidate out of participants’ minds.

“What is particularly striking about these findings is that the rapid rate at which information effects decay may be greater than previously imagined,” Mitchell said.

Does this mean that whoever gets the last word in the campaign can expect to spend the next four years in the White House? Not necessarily, Mitchell said. While the study brings new understanding into the lifespans of certain types of political messages, it was primarily designed to look at low-information campaigns such as races for the House of Representatives and not forecast presidential horse races. But it does provide food for thought in a presidential campaign in which a relatively small slice of undecided or low-information voters in a handful of states may swing the election.

Mitchell’s upcoming research looks further into the temporal dynamics on political information effects. A forthcoming study examines how much more voters pay attention when a staunchly partisan official becomes more inconsistent in his or her views. She also is determining empirically how much the timing of a political scandal, and the amount of coverage devoted to the scandal, matters in a race.

“We have only a limited understanding of how and to what extent people modify their judgments as new information becomes available and the salience of old information fades,” she said. “But what we know from this research is that timing definitely matters.”

Contact: Dona-Gene Mitchell, assistant professor of political science, (402) 472-5994 or dmitchell2@unl.edu.