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Archive for July, 2011

Education affects Americans’ religiosity — but not how you might think

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

It’s pretty much a given that the more educated someone becomes, the more likely they are to question their religious beliefs, stop going to church and even abandon their faith entirely.

Or is it?

A new University of Nebraska-Lincoln study is challenging that age-old notion with findings that show education actually has a positive effect on Americans’ churchgoing habits, their devotional practices, their emphasis on religion in daily life and their support for religious leaders to weigh in on the issues of the day.

The work, to be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal Review of Religious Research, analyzed a nationwide sample of thousands of respondents to the General Social Survey. The analysis determined that education does, in fact, influence Americans’ religious beliefs and activities – but the effects are more complicated than conventional wisdom suggests.

“Education influences strategies of action, and these strategies of action are relevant to some religious beliefs and activities, but not others,” said Philip Schwadel, UNL associate professor of sociology and author of the study. “The effects of education on religion are not simple increases or decreases. In many ways, effects will vary, based on how you define religion.”

For example, the study found, higher levels of education eroded Americans’ viewpoints that their specific religion is the “one true faith” and that the Bible is the literal word of God. At the same time, education was positively associated with belief in the afterlife. And while more highly educated Americans were somewhat less likely to definitely believe in God, it’s because some of them believed in a higher power, not because they were particularly likely to not believe at all.

The research also found that disaffiliating, or dropping religion altogether, was not a popular option for highly educated Americans – in fact, having a greater level of education was associated most often with converting to mainline, non-evangelical Protestant denominations.

The study is unique, Schwadel said, because it examines education’s effects on religion in the various ways that Americans are religious – from their different beliefs, their varied ways of participating and the nature of their affiliations with specific denominations.

Also among the study’s findings:

* Education had a strong and positive effect on religious participation. With each additional year of education, the odds of attending religious services increased 15 percent.

* Increases in education were associated with reading the Bible. With each additional year of education, the odds of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9 percent.

* Education was related to respondents’ switching of religious affiliations. The odds of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination increased by 13 percent for each year of education.

* The more educated respondents were, the more likely they were to question the role of religion in secular society. Yet, they were against curbing the voices of religious leaders on societal issues and supported those leaders’ rights to influence people’s votes.

“The results suggest that highly educated Americans are not opposed to religion – even religious leaders stating political opinions,” Schwadel said. “But they are opposed to what may be perceived as religion being forced on secular society.”

The research illustrates the unique, voluntary American brand of religiosity, he said, and should open up a discussion about the interactions between education and religion in modern American life.

“It’s clear that though the religious worldviews of the highly educated differ from the religious worldviews of those with little education, religion plays an important role in the lives of highly educated Americans,” Schwadel said. “And religion remains relevant to Americans of all education levels.”

Contact Prof. Schwadel for an interview: (402) 472-6008 or pschwadel2@unl.edu.

Coverage: CNN | USA TODAY | Daily Mail (UK) | Inside Higher Ed | Discovery News

Circles, Streams, Sparks and … Incoming! Some thoughts on Google+

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Depending on who’s doing the talking, Google+ is either made of sunshine and awesomesauce or it’s another time-consuming social-network beast to have to feed in order to keep one’s online profile up, grumble grumble grumble. Me, I’m not entirely sure what to think of it yet.

But that, of course, hasn’t stopped me from having a few thoughts about the newest social network on the web. So here.

- It combines the best elements of Facebook and Twitter (and a little bit of Tumblr). While my G+ stream looks and functions like (a better, cleaner) Facebook feed, the social arrangement on G+ is more like Twitter. My circles — those whose streams I follow — can feature G+ members who don’t know me, or those who don’t wish to follow me back. Combining a more familiar Facebook-like interface with the one-to-many format of Twitter creates an interesting environment, one that, admittedly, has me struggling a bit to find a voice. A colleague of mine said you can tell the validity of a social network by how easy it is to be funny on it. I think, so far, G+ is still looking for its sense of humor.

-It’s so hot, you can see Sparks. With Sparks, the built-in recommendation engine, I can create categories that interest me — cycling, comic books, movies, soccer — then G+ will scoop up the web’s best content and tailor-make a feed on that topic for me to dig into and share with others via my stream. It also can help find others with similar interests. To do this on Twitter, you have to guess what hashtags some opinion leaders are using. On G+, the heavy lifting is done for you, and more intelligently, it seems.

-It’s built for convenience. This goes beyond the actual interface being more intuitive than Facebook or Twitter. Consider: the new Google toolbar. This thing was built with one universal truth in mind — that it’s nearly impossible for the average person to make it through the day without using one of Google’s services, whether it’s the search engine, News, Videos, Maps, Gmail,  to see what today’s Doodle is (and let’s face it, that Alexander Calder one was just brilliant), and now, Google+.

The new navigation bar displays all notifications and allows users to share posts and update their status. That’s slick. And for those of us who like to connect with lots of different people around the country, especially those in the news media, it’s good, because …

- It’s intimate, and that’s good — at least for the time being. Google’s rollout of its new social-media platform was invitation-based, meaning you had to know someone to get on. About three weeks in, reports vary as to how many people are using G+; I’ve seen estimates anywhere from 10 million to 50 million. So the bad news is, the network is still fairly exclusive — most people’s parents and grandparents aren’t on it yet. But that’s also the good news. Minus the noise and traffic of more mature social networks, connecting is purer and easier at this point of G+’s existence. A UNL political science professor, for example, recently sat in on a Hangout with GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and had a chance to ask him some questions. On a less exciting scale, I’ve been able to connect with reporters around the country and have them Add me back — several of these reporters haven’t followed me on Twitter, so G+ is already serving as another entry point to getting out the university’s message.

- That said, G+ seems to be built for individuals, not brands. Maybe this is simply because the rest of one’s interaction with Google’s products is as an individual. Or maybe it’s because Google has encouraged organizations to stay off of G+ for the time being. Or, maybe there’s something about how anyone can Add (read: follow) anyone, a la Twitter, which is a social platform well-known to work better as an individual-to-individual platform than Facebook, which is more friendly to faceless brands. So from the outset, I’m finding G+ more valuable as an individual networking tool with journalists and opinion leaders in areas that interest me or intersect with my job promoting the university. Perhaps someday soon G+ will open up the site to those standard, push-content “link farms” that institutions and brands manage on places like Facebook and Twitter. Time will tell how that shakes out, and how those corporate and/or institutional accounts may differ from their presence on other platforms.

- Hangouts have great potential for us to get our experts face time with reporters. This feature is like Super-Skype, and we’d be crazy to not exploit it. I could easily imagine creating media availability sessions hosted by university faculty, administrators, coaches or other officials at a given time each week to discuss the topic du jour with reporters. Or, more powerfully, how about arranging a Hangout on the fly in response to the news of the day — maybe you’ve got a great source on Norway or Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Hangouts are one way to get them in front of a good number of reporters quickly and all at once.

But for now, the question is: Do people want or have time for yet another social network? Right now, I’m torn. G+ is very good, and only stands to get better and more robust, and best of all it’s right there in my Google navigation bar all day for me to click on. But, like most people, I’ve already got plenty of social-media upkeep — I guess “curation” is the popular buzzword right now — to do already, and I’m feeling the strain of being stretched a bit too thin. That’s coming from someone who is pretty adept at moving from one social-media channel to the next. As the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Jennifer Howard recently remarked after joining G+: “So I’m now supposed to G+, FB, tweet, blog, and Tumblr-ize as well as check three email accounts on a regular basis? Social networking has started to feel like being on some kind of perimeter patrol.” The worst thing that can happen is that people feel like they have to be on G+ instead of wanting to be on G+. That’s a legitimate concern here in the early days.

Part of me thinks that we’re nearing social-media burnout, and that something has to give. Maybe Twitter takes a dive, or G+ figures out a way to catch up, quickly, with Facebook’s 750 million users as it adds games and other functionality. But regardless of what happens — it’ll be fun to look back at this post in a year or two — I think it’s safe to say that Google+ has changed the social-media world in more than a few ways. Its improvements in usability, organization and privacy,in particular, will make other platforms sit up and take notice, and more than likely adopt some of those innovations. So one way or another, G+ will be part of our digital experience whether it supplants other platforms or not.

If you’re not on G+ yet, give it a shot and see what you think. There’s no truth to the rumor that when you join, the theme from The Love Boat plays. And if you need an invite, let me know. I’ve got a few still lying around.

What does the end of the shuttle mean for laws governing space?

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

The last space shuttle mission marks the end of an era, but also opens an unprecedented age of private and commercial spaceflight. This new era will require international collaboration to keep watch over the practice, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and internationally renowned space law expert said this week.

Frans von der Dunk said that in the short term NASA will be dependent upon other countries’ vehicles for manned spaceflights to the International Space Station. But in the long run this may be beneficial both for the United States and other countries.

“The result is a thorough stimulation of international cooperation, and the United States has still so much unique technology to offer that its dependence (on other countries) does not need to turn into a position of weakness,” von der Dunk said. “International cooperation is fundamental for any true further development of international law, regulation and practice in the space sector.”

Von der Dunk said the phasing out of the shuttle program, which commenced its 135th and final flight Friday when Atlantis blasted into orbit for a 13-day mission, has prompted private entrepreneurs to invest in commercial spaceflight.

Some companies – like Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, an American space transport company founded by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk – are close to launching their first flights. Like SpaceX all of these companies have critical U.S. involvement.

The legal implications for this new wave of commercial spaceflight are already becoming visible, von der Dunk said. The United States is leading the way in carefully developing a balanced regulatory regime for private commercial spaceflight on a national level, and also with considerable consultation with Europe.

“Soon, such questions will have to be addressed at a truly international level, where the same balanced approach between the interests of the operators in this infant industry to make things happen and the interests of the public at large regarding safety and security should somehow determine the details of such systems as well,” he said.

Another international legal ramification involves security – specifically, laws concerning export controls on “dual-use technologies,” which can be used for both civil and military purposes, von der Dunk said. A sensible approach to current U.S. policies on ITARs, or International Traffic in Arms Regulations, will be important in that realm.

ITARs, which are interpreted and enforced by the U.S. Department of State, safeguard national security and further foreign policy objectives through the control the export of defense-related articles and technologies.

“The gradual progress in making the current U.S. regime on ITARs increasingly more sensible, efficient and effective is a very important step both for allowing relevant U.S. technology to serve those developments – and therefore the U.S. industry – and for allowing a more globally coherent approach to the security issues involved,” von der Dunk said.

Frans von der Dunk, UNL professor of space law, can be reached at fvonderdunk2@unl.edu .

UNL in the national news: June 2011

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011
National media outlets featured and cited UNL sources on a number of topics in June. Appearances included:
Stephen Baenziger, agronomy and horticulture; Scott Fuess, economics; Josephine Potuto, law; and Carl Nelson, engineering, were quoted in a June 25 article by the Lafayette Journal and Courier about UNL joining the Big Ten. The article appeared in a number of Gannett newspapers in the following week, including the Indianapolis Star.
Sidnie White Crawford, classics and religion, was quoted in a June 5 CNN.com article about popular sayings that are often mistaken as scripture. The story was among the site’s top viewed for more than a day and received more than 6,800 comments.
Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies, was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor on June 22 about Hollywood remaking 1980s classic movies.
Brian Fuchs, geosciences, was quoted in a June 9 Associated Press article about the resiliency of a Florida drought that has wilted crops and sparked wildfires. The article appeared in dozens of media outlets nationwide. On June 10, he was quoted in USA TODAY about droughts throughout the southern United States.
John Gates, Earth and atmospheric sciences; and Wayne Woldt, biological systems engineering, had their letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging more research into the risks of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline reported upon by Reuters News. The story appeared in hundreds of media outlets around the world.
Michael Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, was quoted in a June 15 New Scientist story about climate change’s role for droughts in some parts of the United States.
Matt Joeckel, geology, was quoted in a June 13 Kansas City Star article about efforts to extract rare earth materials in Nebraska for use in high-tech devices.
Wanda Koszewski, nutrition and health sciences, had coverage of her study on low-income families’ nutrition and diet appear in Yahoo! News as well as dozens of news outlets nationwide in late June.
Julia McQuillan, sociology, was quoted in a June 18 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about the importance of fatherhood to men.
Stephen Ramsay, English, was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog June 12 about how far digital-humanities work has evolved in the last decade.
National media often work with University Communications to identify and connect with UNL sources for the purpose of including the university’s research, expertise and programming in published or broadcasted work. Faculty, administration, student and staff appearances in the national media are logged here.
To offer suggestions regarding potential national news stories or sources at UNL, give me a shout at (402) 472-4226 or ssmith13@unl.edu.

Some takeaways from DC

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

This year I was asked to speak at the College Media Conference in Washington, D.C., about how to use social media to achieve publicity for institutions. The conference drew about 300 attendees from universities and colleges from more than 30 states and Canada. It was the 25th year for the event, and it was held in the nation’s capital for the first time.

There were several takeaways. The main lesson I (re-) learned is that despite all the hype regarding social media, there is no substitute for face time with reporters, so I’m grateful to UNL for allowing me to travel to Washington this year to present, to participate and to connect with a number of key media contacts. One of the biggest limitations of my job, and of our national media strategy as a whole, is simply geography – which is why making and maintaining solid, sincere, authentic relationships with reporters at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major media outlets is so very important for us.

In a first-day session, Cornell College’s Jamie Kelly and I discussed how being “authentic” on Twitter and Facebook can help cultivate media sources — so when the time comes to place a faculty source or a story that is important to the institution, you have an existing relationship with (and the trust of) reporters. Questions and comments ran past the allotted time and bled into the next session, so Jamie and I both took that as a good sign that people were interested in what we had to say. If you’d like to see the slides from my presentation, here you go. Hopefully it will make sense without my stirring oral commentary to accompany it.

Much of the first day was geared toward understanding the various kinds of social media, how campuses and members of the media use them and how to create a basic social media strategy. Education bloggers from the Post, The Daily Beast and Slate.com discussed the nuances of pitching bloggers vs. those in traditional media. One takeaway was that colleges and universities would do well to focus on SEO when it comes to their faculty pages. So often, national reporters and bloggers find sources simply by banging in a few keywords into Google. Also, pitching to bloggers isn’t black magic; a lot of Pitching 101 rules apply to them just as they would members of the “legacy” media. But they’re particular about certain pitching pet peeves. Example: If bloggers even get a whiff of the notion that they’re part of a mass pitch, they in particular will run away from it, and fast.

The conference focused on a range of topics, including how to attract national media attention, something I naturally spend a lot of time on. A recurring theme was that reporters dislike being marketed to – they expect news, not agenda-driven, institutional “advertorial” content, when they are pitched. We heard “It’s the story, stupid,” at least three times from different panelists. The main takeaway was that institutions should be selective with what they pitch. Don’t clog a national reporters’ email inbox with rote news releases about building plans, donations and new associate vice chancellors. Save your ammunition for when you think you can score a direct hit. An institution’s credibility is all it has, really, when dealing with media; don’t squander it on superfluous or short-sighted pitches.

Some longer-term tactics were shared, too. Ed Blaguszewski of UMass suggested focusing time and resources into launching a research star – someone young, unafraid of the media spotlight and doing unique and noteworthy work – and launch them into orbit. But that wasn’t enough, he said; schools also need modern tools for modern media environments. UMass built a small TV studio so faculty experts could be filmed discussing their work and also appear on live TV, both regionally and nationally, when the occasion presented itself.

In a subsequent session about approaching national media, a national editor for USA TODAY also discussed the value of news video and how it drives online traffic better than text. He, like many other panelists throughout the conference, encouraged colleges and universities to send basically raw – not produced or polished – footage to them so their own video editors could make an original video out of it. Makes sense; they want to build their content to fit their site and branding, and are naturally suspicious of a slickly produced video or video package done by the university.

There was a lot more, but I’ll stop there. In sum, it was good to see some old friends, to make some new acquaintances and to continue cultivating national media sources on UNL’s behalf. I’d encourage anyone in higher-ed communications who wants to get a good look at the national news landscape to attend this conference next year. It’s an invaluable experience.

Some memorable tweeps from the conference:

Timmian Massie, Marist College

Marc Long, St. Louis College of Pharmacy

Tom Snee, University of Iowa

Gia Rassier, Concordia University, Minnesota

Andrea Boyle, University of Delaware

Mark DiPietro, Gehrung Associates

Scott Faust, California State University, Monterey Bay

Amy Mengel, ReadMedia