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It’s official: CB3 gains final approval of postsecondary commission

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

The Coordinating Commission on Postsecondary Education on March 14 gave final approval of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior as an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The center is a key component of an emerging collaboration between athletics and academics at UNL. Known as CB3, it will be located this summer in half of a 50,000-square-foot research area in the East Stadium addition to Memorial Stadium.

The vote by the commission was the final step in making the center official. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents also had given unanimous approval for the center in January.

“We are very pleased to have received the commission’s support and to know we have met all the requirements for its approval,” said Dennis Molfese, Mildred Francis Thompson Professor of Psychology at UNL and director of the center. “Now we can turn our attention toward final preparations for this cutting-edge center.”

CB3 will house a radiology unit and a state-of-the-art functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) magnet, which will enable faculty and students from a wide spectrum of disciplines to conduct research related to behavior and performance, including the study of concussions.

The center will integrate the disciplinary building blocks of genetics, neuroscience, physiology, affect/emotion, cognition, socio-political attitudes and behavior. Research includes areas ranging from the heritability of social attitudes to the neurological basis of human decision-making to the study and remediation of brain concussion in athletes.

CB3 will occupy space in the south half of the East Stadium addition, while the north half will be dedicated to the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab. The research facility also will provide shared space, including 48 laboratories and a common area large enough to accommodate 40 to 50 people.

The CCPE is a state constitutional agency whose mission is to promote sound policies for Nebraska’s state and community colleges and the University of Nebraska. The CCPE balances the best interests of taxpayers, students and Nebraska’s postsecondary institutions. The Coordinating Commission’s responsibilities include authorizing academic programs such as CB3.

The laboratory and office space in Memorial Stadium is on schedule to open this summer.

UNL professor leads collaboration to open 300 years of books for data analysis

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

In the 19th century, Britain was the world’s superpower, boasting a global empire of 10 million square miles and 400 million royal subjects. And British authors of the era reflected this supremacy, peppering prose with words of command and certainty — ones like always, never and forever.

At the same time in Ireland, writers echoed a different perspective in their books. With the Irish under the thumb of British rule, the nation’s scribes frequently used words that displayed inability or frustration — ones like almost, nearly or perhaps.

Matthew Jockers knows this to be a fact because it bears out in his computer-generated data: The University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor of English has combined computer programming with digital text-mining to produce deep thematic, stylistic analyses in 19th-century literary works. He calls the data-driven process macroanalysis, and it’s opening up new methods for literary theorists to study classic literature.

“But what we don’t know is what happens after the turn of the 20th century,” Jockers said. “The 20th century, as we know, is when the British Empire deteriorates and the Irish gain independence. So do each country’s authors remain as they were in the previous century? Or if they do begin to change their approach, in what ways do they go about it? That’s the kind of question we can address — with access to proper data, that is.”

Now, thanks to an exclusive agreement between UNL and private company BookLamp, Jockers and research collaborators from several U.S. universities have the tools to begin uncovering the answers to that question — and many others. This new research collaboration will ultimately allow scholars to access and analyze book data from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

BookLamp uses digital tools to compare books by theme and writing style, suggesting other books a reader might like based on how closely they match previous reads. To power their algorithm, BookLamp works with publishers across the industry to analyze thousands of titles in its Book Genome Project, which it launched in 2003.

“We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at the writings that have been published over the years as a whole, at a scale that’s been difficult to do in the past,” said Aaron Stanton, CEO of BookLamp. “We’re not providing access to data for individual books, but instead information that can help answer larger questions about changes in society over time.”

Jockers, who also is a fellow in UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, said that in scholarly circles, the arrangement signifies a big step forward: For years, digital researchers have had a difficult time gaining access to the results of digitally text-mined books from the 20th century, thanks to copyright and access issues. While BookLamp will not directly provide scholars with book texts or book-level data, it does provide corpus-level “anonymized” data that allows researchers to ask questions about key thematic and stylistic structures.

An example may be to query how often female writers used keywords related to traditionally male professions in the 1920s compared with, say, the 1980s, to track the changes in women’s literary roles over time, researchers said.

“Nearly everyone who does this kind of work focuses on the 19th century, because that’s all that’s been available in the digital format, outside of copyright,” Jockers said. “So unfortunately, we’ve been kind of stuck in time for a while. But this arrangement will help us clear that hurdle and we’ll be able to look more deeply into more modern works.”

Jockers leads the collaboration with digital literary scholars at Stanford University’s Literary Lab as well as Arizona State University. It starts with a two-year project involving data from BookLamp, as well as data from 18th- and 19th-century novels already compiled in Stanford’s Literary Lab.

Organizers have dubbed the effort the “Unfolding the Novel” project. Ultimately, they will consolidate 300 years of high-level book data to study long-term literary trends and patterns.

And in the 20th century, those patterns explode into a multitude of modern genres and open up a swarm of new research questions, Jockers said.

With the BookLamp-provided summary metadata, researchers could query information from a range of years — the 1950s, for example — and learn how many times a particular word was used in any of the new genres of the time, from detective stories to romance to science fiction. The text-mined results would shed new, data-supported light upon the various themes and styles authors employed in that decade.

One of the project’s initial queries will be to examine the words and stylistic elements that best allow scholars to distinguish between male and female writers, Jockers said. For example, in the 19th century, male authors were far more likely to use male pronouns than female ones. This indicates their stories were more masculine than those written by women authors, who used male and female pronouns more evenly during the same period.

“We’re interested to learn what happens to this tendency in the 20th century,” he said. “This is, after all, the period of liberalization, so the theory would be that women would begin writing more female-centered work. And, if these movements had any effects on the males, we should start to see a greater attention to the other gender in works by 20th-century men, as well. It will be interesting to see.”

The work of understanding and organizing data from 100 years of literature is long and difficult, Jockers said, much less 300 years of literature. But he said he thinks that he and his collaborators are inaugurating a game-changing, information-rich era of literary scholarship.

“The potential uses of this information are huge,” he said. “BookLamp has been a spectacular partner in the effort; they are genuinely interested in many of the same questions we are, and they are passionate in the pursuit of knowledge.

“The possibilities are practically endless.”

Contact: Matthew Jockers, assistant professor of English, 402-472-1896 or mjockers@unl.edu.

Expert alert: UNL’s Thimmesch on proposed state tax changes

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

In January, Gov. Dave Heineman proposed big changes to the state’s tax system, including the the elimination of the state’s corporate and personal income taxes. Other proposals would eliminate corporate taxes and make more limited changes to income taxes. Adam Thimmesch, assistant professor of law at the University of Nebraska College of Law, studies constitutional limitations imposed on state taxing power and instructs students on the structure and content of the tax system. As debate on the topic begins, we asked Prof. Thimmesch to analyze the proposals and provide us some food for thought.

Governor proposes dramatic changes to state tax system

In his State of the State address on Jan. 15, Gov. Heineman proposed sweeping changes to the Nebraska state tax system. One proposal would completely eliminate the state’s corporate and personal income taxes, while an alternative proposal would eliminate the corporate income tax but make more limited changes to the personal income tax. Both proposals include modifications to the state’s sales tax laws that are intended to offset the lost revenue from the income-tax reductions. The Governor should be applauded for putting tax reform at the forefront of this legislative session. With any major tax reform, however, many issues need to be considered. A few of those issues are discussed below.

Revenue Neutrality

The Governor has indicated that he wants his proposal to be revenue-neutral—meaning that the net taxes collected by the state after the modifications would be the same as they are today. The state’s income taxes currently raise approximately $2.4 billion, and, to achieve revenue neutrality, the Governor has proposed eliminating certain tax exemptions contained in the state’s sales tax laws. The particular exemptions that would be eliminated have been the focus of much of the early discussion regarding the Governor’s proposal. However, regardless of the specific exemptions ultimately revoked, it is assured that the proposal would result in certain Nebraskans paying less in state taxes and certain Nebraskans paying more in state taxes. How that burden would be allocated cannot be certain at this time, but we must be mindful of that factor.  Any sales tax increase will impact both the constituencies that are directly paying the new tax and others who will be indirectly impacted by that tax.

For example, the Governor’s proposal focuses on sales tax exemptions for manufacturers, agriculture, medical equipment and medicine, and purchases by exempt organizations (charities, churches, etc.). It is easy for people who are not in those industries to perceive that those tax increases will not impact themselves.  However, a sales tax increase on those organizations and industries would also impact their investors, employees, customers and the people that they serve—all of whom may be fellow Nebraskans. Like an income tax, the cost of a sales tax ultimately must be borne by some individual. Someone must pay for revenue neutrality. Thus, if the Governor’s proposal is enacted, it is clear that certain Nebraskans will end up paying more in state taxes even though they would be relieved of an income tax burden.

Distributional Effects of any Changes

One particularly sensitive aspect of the Governor’s proposal is how the additional sales tax burden would be allocated among Nebraskans of different income levels.  Of the state’s three major taxes (income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes), only the income tax is a progressive tax. The state sales and property taxes, alternatively, are generally regressive.  (A progressive tax is a tax that consumes a higher percentage of a person’s income as his or her income increases. A regressive tax is a tax that consumes a higher percentage of a person’s income as his or her income decreases.) If the state is going to shift its tax burden away from income taxes and more heavily onto the sales tax, the tax system will likely become more regressive. When considering fundamental tax reform, then, we should be aware of the distributional effects of any changes and determine whether we are comfortable with those changes. We need to fund government with revenue some way. The question is how we want that burden distributed among our population. Do we want a state where lower-income residents pay a higher percentage of each paycheck in state taxes than do higher-income residents? Or do we not care about regressivity as long as those with higher incomes send more aggregate tax dollars to Lincoln than those with lower incomes?

Structural Impacts of any Changes

Eliminating the state’s income taxes would cause a systematic change to how we fund our government here in Nebraska. That proposal leads to several questions about the overall structure of our tax system.

First, are there benefits from having an income tax?

The state’s income taxes are certainly complex and impose costs on persons and organizations doing business in Nebraska. Eliminating those taxes would thus reduce compliance costs and out-of-pocket tax expenditures (ignoring, for the moment, the potential increased sales taxes paid by Nebraskans). Those are laudable goals, and economists and our legislators should analyze the likelihood of success for the Governor’s proposal on those metrics. However, regardless of those perceived benefits, we must recognize that the income tax does play a significant role in our current tax system. Two benefits are particularly of note.

First, having an income tax offers a broader base of taxation in the state, which gives it more flexibility in times of fiscal troubles. Eliminating the income tax would put more pressure on the legislature to fund the state by raising sales taxes. That may be a difficult task in recessionary times when consumer spending is down and the legislature otherwise wants to encourage spending. Second, income taxes help to offset the general regressivity in our current tax system. (This point is addressed more fully above.) Care should be given to determining how the additional sales tax burdens from the Governor’s proposal would be allocated among Nebraskans of different income groups and how that allocation reflects how we want to raise revenue in the state.

Second, is our sales tax system healthy enough to shoulder the burden?

Eliminating the income tax in favor of higher sales taxes would place greater emphasis on the proper functioning of our state sales tax. Therefore, another factor to consider is the overall health of our sales tax system and whether it is well designed to shoulder that burden. Our state sales tax was enacted in 1967. At that time, the economy was centered on the sale of tangible goods, and our sales tax system reflects that history. Currently, the Nebraska sales tax applies to the sale of goods and some services, but it does not apply to all services. This is one instance where the sales tax picks “winners and losers,” something that the Governor has specifically said that he wants to address with his reform proposal.  If we are going to be serious about reforming our tax system, and we are going to rely more heavily on sales tax, it makes sense to consider shoring up this structural deficiency. The state should also consider what actions it will take to protect its sales tax base from online retailers who do not collect and remit the state’s sales tax and from increased sales of digital products. Modernizing those aspects of our sales tax system could help the Governor to achieve his goal of revenue neutrality without wholesale eliminations of sales tax exemptions that have adequate normative support.

On the latter point, it is worth noting that most of the exemptions currently contained in the Nebraska sales tax laws are consistent with what tax experts would label an “ideal” sales tax and with the sales taxes enacted in other states. Elimination of those exemptions would thus cause our sales tax to diverge from those models. Consequently, in addition to the other issues discussed herein, our legislators must consider whether they desire to further diverge from an ideal sales tax system (and a system that provides exemptions like our neighboring states) to fund an income tax reduction.

Finally, should state property taxes be included in these changes?

Property taxes are largely a local matter.  However, state funding has an enormous impact on state and local governments and the taxes that must be collected via property taxation.  Any reform discussion should also include a discussion of the role of property taxes in Nebraskans’ overall tax burdens.

Conclusion

The coming weeks and months will undoubtedly see significant discussion regarding the Governor’s tax proposal. Much of that discussion will focus on the impacts of removing sales tax exemptions for certain industries or products, but a range of other issues should be also considered. Principally:

  • Who will ultimately bear the burden of higher sales taxes to fund the elimination of the corporate and personal income taxes?
  • Do we care about the regressivity of our tax system?
  • Should the sales tax be modified to become more modern and comprehensive rather than just eliminating exemptions (which may be normatively justified and allowed in other states)?
  • Should property tax reform be included in the discussion?
  • Should income tax reform, rather than elimination, be considered?

Contact: Adam Thimmesch, assistant professor of law, 402-472-4332, athimmesch2@unl.edu

UNL’s Swearer on the road with Gaga’s Born Brave Bus Tour

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

University of Nebraska-Lincoln school psychology professor Susan Swearer is riding the bus to work this week.

That’s normally not very big news — unless the mode of transportation is Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Bus, that is. And this week, the UNL professor is rolling with the bus alongside the U.S. leg of the pop icon’s current concert tour, which kicked off Monday evening in Tacoma, Wash.

Parked outside venues during Gaga’s new tour, the bus provides a space for 13- to 25-year-olds to learn more about local resources on anti-bullying, suicide prevention and mental health services.

BTWF co-founder Cynthia Germanotta (left) and Swearer on Monday.

Swearer, who co-directs the Bullying Research Network headquartered at UNL, was chosen to head the Research Advisory Board for Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation in October. In a Monday interview with Seattle FOX affiliate KCPQ, Swearer said that she hopes the bus tour can provide resources for and help reach struggling youths.

“Being brave is recognizing your strengths,” Swearer told KCPQ. “It’s about recognizing your limitations or things that you need to work on, knowing where to get help, helping others, bravery really encompasses not only your own self development, but being brave in terms of helping others who may need some support.”

Swearer also is tweeting about her experiences this week and sharing photos from the tour. The Born Brave Bus will continue to make stops across the country through the end of the Born This Way Ball tour in March.

Contact: Susan Swearer, professor of school psychology, sswearernapolitano2@unl.edu.

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

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

UNL political science class to reveal poll on campus political views

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Are University of Nebraska-Lincoln students more liberal or conservative? Who did students support in the 2012 presidential election and Nebraska’s Senate race? What do they think of their professors’ politics? What is students’ perception of the Benghazi attacks?

The Political Science 230: Elections, Political Parties, and Special Interests class at UNL not only created its own poll using knowledge learned in class about political surveys to answer these questions — the class has analyzed the data and will be sharing their findings at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29 in Unity Room 212 in the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center.

The poll received more than 2,000 responses and provides a representative sample of the student body’s political attitudes and opinions. It was created by 32 students in the class, who developed survey questions, programmed and promoted the poll and analyzed the answers. The poll was sent out to the entire student body and has a wide variety of questions ranging from basic political knowledge and attitudes to opinions on domestic and foreign policy issues, including:

– Who students supported in the 2012 presidential and Senate elections;

– Breakdowns of ideology and partisanship among students;

– Views on issues of the day, including Lincoln’s Fairness Amendment and the Middle East; and

–  Opinions about campus issues, such as class size and funding for student organizations.

The students will be open to questions after their presentation.

Coverage: Lincoln Journal Star | Daily Nebraskan |

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.