All posts by Marc Beebe

Who’s Called for Trump’s Resignation?

So far, I’ve found three newspapers that have published editorials calling for Trump’s resignation, the Indy Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Connecticut Post. See data viz below. Click on the newspaper name and follow the link to the actual editorials.

By the time Nixon resigned in August of 1974, most major newspapers had called for him to resign. Let’s see how things progress this time.

EDIT: It’s now four newspapers, with the addition of the Orlando Weekly.

EDIT: Lots of activity after the House hearings — now we’re up to 12, that I know of.

The Server Test and Copyright Infringement

In a recent article on Slate, Lance Koonce talked about his recent experience of having a video he tweeted of the June 10th helicopter crash in NYC go viral. In his article, he referenced his experience as a lawyer defending against charges of copyright infringement for using an embedded tweet. 

Technologists often accuse judges and legislators of not understanding science and technology. I don’t disagree with this charge; I’m in the middle of writing something about mistakes made even at the Supreme Court level. 

However, I think technologists sometimes fail to understand the human element in how people actual use and perceive the technology. 

The particular case Koonce references, media sites embedding a tweet with picture that was originally taken by Justin Goldman. The issue partially depends on what’s known as the “Server Test,” which basically says that you can commit copyright infringement if you copy an image and place it on your server. If instead, you merely provide a link to that image on someone else’s server, you’re in the clear.

Let’s say that I want to post image that I don’t have the rights to use, like this image of a Wikipedia server, which I copied from Wikipedia1I’m actually allowed to use this image. A significant portion of the images on Wikipedia have some version of Creative Commons license, which allows others to use them. In this case, the image has CC BY-SA license, so I can use it as long as I give credit (the image is by Victor Grigas) and allow sharing of the image. Unlike many sites, Wikipedia also explicitly allows hotlinking to their images; so I’m not even violating the terms of use by linking to the image on their site..

I could copy that image, upload it to the server that hosts my website, and post it from there. It might look something like this:

Wikimedia Foundation Server

Image stored on my server

Alternatively, rather than copying the image, I could simply link to the image on the website of original owner. And then it would look like this:

Image embedded by linking to Wikipedia

So, the reader experienes no difference. But as far as I can tell, they’re treated very differently by copyright law, at least according to the ninth circuit. The more recent court decision in the second circuit comes to a different conclusion.

Now, the actual Second Circuit case, Goldman v. Breitbart News Network, LLC, involved an embedded tweet, so it would look something like this:

Image on Twitter, in an embedded tweet

The tweet at the center of this case wasn’t made by Goldman himself, but by another person who didn’t have permission to use the image, although that’s not directly relevant to my concern about the server test.

So I have three version of the exact same image shown on this page. The first two look exactly the same to the reader. The server test makes it awfully easy to use another creator’s work, not credit them, and be legally okay. That doesn’t seem right.

Am I missing something? I certainly respect a lot of the people who support the server test, but it doesn’t actually seem to reflect how people actually view a website.


1 I’m actually allowed to use this image. A significant portion of the images on Wikipedia have some version of Creative Commons license, which allows others to use them. In this case, the image has CC BY-SA license, so I can use it as long as I give credit (the image is by Victor Grigas) and allow sharing of the image. Unlike many sites, Wikipedia also explicitly allows hotlinking to their images; so I’m not even violating the terms of use by linking to the image on their site.
Carrie Buck and Emma Buck, 1924

Eugenics and Abortion

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned Clarence Thomas’s misuse of Adam Cohen’s book, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. Thomas had essentially reversed the connection between eugenics and abortion. When this book first came out a few years ago, I had wanted to read it, but never did, so Thomas’s misleading use of it prompted me to actually purchase and start reading.

Although I’m only about a third of the way through it, it’s as good as advertised, and anyone interested in eugenics and its implementation in the US should pick it up. Especially striking to me is the kind of people who were serious promoters of eugenics – that is, progressives and the scientific establishment. This hits me at the core of who I am – a progressive supporter of science!

I first read about this issue when I was just a kid and read this Washington Post article, from February 1980, by Sandra G. Boodman and Glenn Frankel.

They told me the operation was for an appendix and rupture

Their article talks about the more than 7,500 people in Virginia sterilized, often without consent or even knowledge of what was happening to them.

The most moving part of the article are the quotes from Doris Buck Figgins (younger sister of Carrie Buck), who tried for years to have children, not knowing she was sterilized without her consent. “’They told me the operation was for an appendix and rupture,’ said Figgins.”

Sterilizations in Virginia continued into the 1970s. 

To overturn Buck v. Bell, the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia filed a class action lawsuit to have the court declare that the sterilization program violated the victims’ constitutional rights and prohibit further sterilizations without informed consent.

Connection between Eugenics and Abortion Today

Flash-forward to today and the government still tries to control women’s reproduction. While the mechanism has changed (i.e., forcing women to give birth rather than sterilization), the elitism and misogyny hasn’t. As I mentioned earlier, Clarence Thomas reverses the connection between eugenics and abortion; he claims that the pro-choice movement is like the eugenicists of the past, but it’s really the opponents of abortion who are trying to control women’s bodies.

To me, that’s the most important part of the story. We still need to fight these attempts to pass laws that would control a person’s very body.


Using your brain

Building on the “brains” part of my earlier post, one of the issues that I find so striking is the meaningless of a ban at six weeks and what this reveals about the lack of knowledge of the world. 

I can imagine a hypothetical reasonable person who thinks about a six-week abortion ban and says, “six weeks…that’s plenty of time to realize you’re pregnant, decide what to do, and then have an abortion if you want.”

But, of course, people don’t know they might be pregnant on day 1. Pregnancy is measured from the last menstrual period, and it’s a missed period that may be the sign of pregnancy. So, that’s four weeks in. 

“Okay,” my hypothetical reasonable person says to themselves, “that still leaves two weeks to think about what to do and get an abortion.” 

But most people don’t discover they’re pregnant until 4 to 7 weeks. For many women, under completely normal circumstances, six weeks will pass before they even try to determine if they are pregnant. 

Some women may not keep track of the time between their periods, especially if their periods don’t happen in a precise 4-week cycle. On average, a woman gets her period every 24 to 38 days (38 days happens to be just short of 6 weeks).  Irregular periods are particularly common for younger women, or women who have recently stopped using the pill.

“Gee, so maybe six weeks doesn’t actually mean a lot for many people who might get pregnant, but I’m going to ignore that and believe that women will know at four weeks,” goes my ever less reasonable hypothetical person. “So they can still go get an abortion.”

If only it were that easy. Because of restrictive and unnecessary state laws, someone seeking an abortion may need multiple trips to obtain an abortion. There are 27 states that require a waiting period between counseling and an abortion; 14 states require that counseling be in-person and be separated from the actual abortion, necessitating two separate trips.

And those trips may be to a distant facility, because TRAP laws and other pressures have resulted in the closing significant numbers of abortion facilities. Kentucky went from 9 clinics to 1; Louisiana went from 17 to 3; Ohio went from 45 to 10.

So, for many, a six-week abortion ban is as good a complete ban. In order for this not to be true, depending on where one lives, they must:

  • Realize they’re pregnant
  • Determine what to do, often in consultation with loved ones
  • Get the resources to pay for the abortion as well as the travel to a perhaps distant facility
  • Take time off work, perhaps twice
  • Travel twice, or stay overnight
  • Actually have the abortion

Of course, it could all be a cynical ploy to appear to do something other than a total ban while not explicitly labeling it so.

Abortion Rights: March for Women's Lives -- April 2004 "Washington Monument"

What to do about the assault on abortion rights

I’ve been wondering what can I do to support reproductive freedom and abortion rights in light of the terrible, vile laws that have been passed recently, and I’ve come up with three prongs:

  • Your money
  • Your words
  • Your brain

Use your dollars

As is so often the case, money always helps. It costs a lot of money to fight these laws and to support individuals directly affected by them.

Donate to those organizations on the frontline of the abortion fight. Certainly, that includes the ACLUPlanned Parenthood, and NARAL. But also include those smaller organizations that may not get so much publicity, such as the Yellow Hammer Fund, which directly supports those seeking care at one of Alabama’s three abortion clinics, or ARC-Southeast, which helps individuals travel to Atlanta to get reproductive services.  The National Network of Abortion Funds lists funds in many US states as wells as some supporting women outside the US.

But we can also work to reduce the flow of money to politicians who advocate and pass these laws.  So, share your concern with those whose dollars are going to those who oppose abortion rights. There are lists of companies that support the sponsors of these bills. Use them. Conversely, thank those companies that take a public stand against these laws, 

Use your words

Contact your legislators (no matter where you live) and tell them you, as a voter, can only support those who stand on the right side of this issue and back that up with your actions. Even in states that aren’t at risk to pass bad laws, we can get new, supportive laws passed, like the law in Maine allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurse midwives to provide abortion services.

Share your stories of how reproductive freedom and the assault on it affects you. Many people have shared moving stories of abortion in their lives. But even if you don’t have that story to tell, you may have another one. My wife and I can talk about choosing when to have our son (who is perfect in every way 😀) and the options available to us, because of where we live and the resources we have. 

Hold legislators and candidates (including the 2020 Presidential candidates) accountable for speaking clearly. They can’t mumble, sound wishy-washy, or equivocate. They must give full-throated, clear support for abortion rights, and we need to hold them to that. At this point, we can’t accept a candidate who will merely parrot back stock phrases about his or her support for a pro-choice position (“I will appoint judges who support Roe v. Wade”). Candidates need actual plans and policies

Use your brain

The anti-abortion movement, like so much on the right today, willfully, flagrantly denies science, logic, and evidence.  Take, for example, the current spate of “heartbeat” bills, banning abortion at six weeks. As Dr. Jen Gunter says, these should be called “fetal pole cardiac activity bills.” That’s because, at six weeks, a fetus DOES NOT HAVE A HEART.

Abortion Rights: Man holding sign, "Warning: Dangerous Fanatics Ahead" during the March for Women's Lives, April 25, 2004
March for Women’s Lives, April 2004

Ohio’s recent bill allows for insurance coverage for transplanting the fertilized egg in an ectopic pregnancy (when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus). This procedure does not exist! As Daniel Grossman, MD, Director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, states in an excellent twitter thread, this is “pure science fiction.”

Clarence Thomas’s recent concurrence in the Mike Pence/Indiana abortion case provides another example of willfully distorting the historical record. Thomas claims that the “foundations for legalizing abortion in America were laid during the early 20th-century birth-control movement.” This simply is not true. As it was in England, abortion was legal in colonial times. Abortion prior to “quickening” only became criminalized in the 1860s.

I’d add that Adam Cohen, the author of the book that Thomas cites in linking abortion and eugenics clearly indicates that Thomas gets this wrong too. While it may be true that Margaret Sanger supported eugenics, none of this was about abortion, which as illegal at the time. 

So, use your brain, use logic, and help others recognize the fallacies and fantasies in these laws. If one really wanted to support women’s health, the lives of children, and even reduce abortion, there are policies that could actually do this. 

Official Portrait of Brett Kavanaugh

But it was 36 years ago! And Brett Kavanaugh was just 17!

One of most common statements about Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault of Christine Blasey Ford focuses on his age at the time, just 17.  Megan McCardle, for example, in a slightly more sophisticated phrasing of this, tweeted, “I wouldn’t disqualify anyone from higher office because of anything they had done as a minor.”

But it’s not just conservatives who have expressed concern over derailing Kavanaugh’s nomination over something that happened when he was not yet a legal adult. For example, Rosa Brooks,  whoa among other things, is a Fellow at the New American Foundation, tweeted, “I oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination, think senators should vote no based on his judicial record, but am uncomfortable with asserting that his behavior as a teen tells us anything about his ‘character’ now.”

Under different circumstances, I would agree with this concern. Read Bryan Stevenson’s description of a 14-year-old charged with murder, and weep for how the criminal justice system treated Charlie.

We understand that at 17, human brains haven’t yet been fully formed. The criminal justice system shouldn’t treat adolescents as adults; minors shouldn’t be put in jail or prison with adults. They shouldn’t be sentenced to death or even life without parole. And they shouldn’t be placed in solitary confinement. 

But Brett Kavanaugh will not go to prison for his alleged actions 36 years ago. No one will fire him. No one will punish him. 

Instead, he might not get a promotion. He might not become one of the nine most powerful judges in the United States. And I’m okay with that.

Kavanaugh’s actions since 1982 matter too

But I’m saying that not just because of what happened in 1982, but because of Kavanaugh’s behavior today. He fails to recognize that his recollection of how he behaved in high school may not be accurate and the things he did may have actually hurt others.

In his most recent statements about his behavior in high school, Kavanaugh acknowledged that he drank beer, sometimes “too many” and did things that now make him “cringe.” But such vague generalities fail to consider the people he may have done those cringe-worthy things to.

Imagine the counterfactual — rather than issuing a categorical denial, Kavanaugh acknowledged that he may have done this, but because of his drinking at the time, he simply can’t recall. Like his friend Mark Judge wrote of his own time in high school, heavy drinking can lead to blackouts1Those fortunate not to have either been a heavy drinker or having someone close to them be one may misunderstand what a blackout is. It is not the same as passing out. A blackout is a loss of memory. People simply don’t remember the events during the period of the blackout. They may still be functioning and engaging in a whole range of behavior, some of which may be quite dangerous (e.g., driving, having unprotected sex, or committing crimes). such that Kavanaugh might not even remember his actions. 

Let’s carry the counterfactual further and imagine that he recognized the differences between adolescent behavior and that of adults and that he’ll take that into consideration when ruling on cases.  

And we know that how the criminal justice system (and in society more broadly) treats people depends considerably on one’s (or their parents’) wealth and the color of their skin. So, imagine a Brett Kavanaugh, who never seemed to get in trouble for underaged drinking or other behavior that makes one “cringe,” recognized how the context of his life made that possible, and how others aren’t so lucky. 

But all the evidence we have points in the opposite direction.

Because he served on Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, he hasn’t decided a lot of criminal justice cases. However, everything we’ve seen in his record suggests that he will take a harsh view of minors (and adults) caught in the legal system.

Kavanaugh certainly didn’t treat with care and respect the seventeen-year-old immigrant  in the Garza case, who he tried to prevent from having a legal abortion

He’s called former Chief Justice William Rehnquist his “judicial hero.” This “hero” argued that juveniles can be subject to the death penalty and that racial disparities in the criminal justice system are okay.

Going back to his time working with Ken Starr or when in the George W. Bush administration, we find other examples of his willingness to treat people harshly. While working on the Starr Report, he promoted the Vince Foster conspiracy theory without apparent consideration for Foster’s family, even though the official ruling, based on overwhelming evidence, concluded that Foster committed suicide. 

While in the Bush administration, he also helped bolster the case for torture. And once he was on the bench, he ruled in ways that prevent judicial oversight of torture and of Guantanamo.

Kavanaugh’s denial of even the possibility that the assault took place, his likely approach to criminal justice cases, and his inability to acknowledge others beyond his own experience lead to the clear conclusion that he does not deserve this promotion. So it’s the way he behaves today, not one night2or 4, as of when I wrote this 36 years ago that make him unworthy of the Supreme Court. 


1 Those fortunate not to have either been a heavy drinker or having someone close to them be one may misunderstand what a blackout is. It is not the same as passing out. A blackout is a loss of memory. People simply don’t remember the events during the period of the blackout. They may still be functioning and engaging in a whole range of behavior, some of which may be quite dangerous (e.g., driving, having unprotected sex, or committing crimes).
2 or 4, as of when I wrote this
Langston Hughes poem ("Cultural Exchange") on the wall by rpongsaj

Harlem Renaissance in Westfield, NJ

I live in Cranford, New Jersey, which is a lovely place to live and raise a family. Cranford, and the neighboring towns of Westfield and Garwood, have good schools, real downtowns with restaurants and movie theaters, and nice parks. 

These, however, are not ethnically diverse communities. According to the 2010 US Census, both Cranford and Westfield have populations that are about 90% White and 3% Black.  So it surprised me to learn that three towering figures of the Harlem Renaissance once lived in Westfield, New Jersey. 

Paul Robeson, New Jersey native, academic and athletic star at Rutgers, lived in Westfield when his father was Pastor of St. Luke’s AME Zion Church, at the corner of Downer and Osborn, from 1907 to 1910. He lived on what is now Watterson St (Spring Street at the time) near Rahway Avenue, in a house that no longer exists.

A decade later, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston both lived just around the corner from that church, Hughes at 514 Downer Street and Hurston at 405 West Broad Street.

While in Westfield, Hughes and Hurston collaborated on a play that didn’t get produced for another 60 years. The two fought over the the play and it ended up ruining their close friendship. For a local take on this, see the Westfield Record from March 14, 1991, page A-14, with stories on both the play and Langston Hughes’s life in Westfield.


These three amazing individuals worked to make the world  a better place many decades ago. So while I’m thrilled to learn of this connection between them and my local community, I’m saddened to think about how far New Jersey still has to go to ensure racial justice and fairness.

People may think of NJ as a Northeastern, progressive state, but our communities continue to be too segregated and our justice system, by some measures, among the worst in the country. For example, in NJ, NJ incarcerates Blacks at more than 10 times the rate of Whites.

But I have hope for the future.  Great people have been doing great work on issues like bail reform, immigrants rights, and drug policy (which includes drug courts and marijuana legalization). Among these are my colleagues at the ACLU of New Jersey, Rev. Charles Boyer’s Salvation and Social Justice, and the Drug Policy Alliance in NJ. Please support these and other similar groups.

Some Langston Hughes Poetry

Having discovered that Langston Hughes once lived so close to where I am now, I went and re-read a bunch of his poems. These works still seem fresh and important. Even 75 or 100 years later,  so many speak to the America of today. He captures both the rage at what is wrong, and the hope for a better future.

Here are some excerpts from a few that seem particularly relevant today. Click on the titles to read the complete poems.

Harlem (Dream Deferred):

What happens to a dream deferred?
  Does it dry up
  like a raisin in the sun?

Or his earliest published poem,

The Negro Speaks of Rivers?

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

But perhaps, with our current struggles, it should be

Let America be America Again

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

Go read some Langston Hughes today!  

Feature Image by rpongsaj, other photos by me  


NFL Logo

A rant about Super Bowl Ads and data and measurement

So Sunday was the Super Bowl, which means yesterday USA Today released the Ad Meter ratings, the rankings of all the ads that were shown during the Super Bowl. Which means it’s also time for me to rant about data and measurement.

According to the USA Today story, Amazon won, with a score of 7.18 on a 10-point scale. Their “Alexa Loses Her Voice” ad beat the NFL’s “Touchdown Celebrations to Come” commercial, which had a mere 7.18.


This annual story, while a great deal of fun, is a terrible piece of data journalism. It gives a false sense of implied accuracy, doesn’t give us the margin of error or a sense of who the participants were, doesn’t show what’s significant or meaningful, and probably measures the wrong thing.

The USA Today story shows an exact tie, but other stories show it down to the 10,000th place — Amazon “won” by .0059 points on a 10-point scale (7.1836 vs. 7.1836). I suspect that this difference isn’t statistically significant, and it certainly isn’t meaningful.

The Ad Meter story doesn’t seem to indicate anywhere what the margin of error might be (if it’s even relevant). You can roughly estimate it though. Based on their FAQ, they expected to to have “thousands” of participants.

Roughly 100 million people watched the Super Bowl this year, so let’s call that our population. If 10,000 people participated in the ratings, the margin of error would be about ±.98, or a tenth of point on a 10-point scale. So the 0.0059 difference would not be anywhere near statistically significant.

But we don’t even have to worry about the margin of error if those doing the rating aren’t representative of the larger population. The raters are those who chose to participate — “Yes, US citizens 18 years of age and older can participate. Interested panelists must register in advance at Participants will be asked for basic demographic information— age, gender, income, zip code.” But we don’t know if these participants are skewed in one direction or another or, if they are, if USA Today weights the results to be more representative.

What are they measuring?

Most importantly, I doubt the Ad Meter measures anything relevant to the actual performance of the ads. Presumably companies advertise during the Super Bowl to increase awareness of their product, to create a buzz, and mostly to sell more stuff.

According to their data , the worst performing ad is actually one that sticks in my head — Diet Coke’s “Grove,” starring Australian actress Hayley Magnus. As Justin Peters of Slate says, “I am now fully aware that Diet Coke comes in mango. Mission accomplished!”

I didn’t know that before, and now I do — and I’m unlikely to forget it. Of course, I’m also unlikely to drink it, but perhaps that’s just my own peculiar taste in beverages.

But does any of this actually work? Jeri Smith of advertising research firm Communicus conducts research on the effectiveness of Super Bowl ads. Their research suggests that companies just waste their money with Super Bowl ads. According to their work, just 10% of viewers remember the ad and who it was for.

Other Measures

While the USA Today Ad Meter story appears to be the most popular version of this story, other groups have different measures. iSpot.TV looked at “Digital Share of Voice,” essentially what percentage of online activity that ad gets in relation to the other commercials, including views on YouTube, tweets, Facebook likes, and so on. As of today, the Doritos Mountain Dew commercial, “Doritos Blaze vs. MTN Dew Ice” was in first place, in comparison to its fourth place finish in the USA Today Ad Meter.

Particularly noteworthy to me was the Westworld Season 2 ad, which finished in 50th place in the Ad Meter, but in 9th place in iSpot.TV’s measure. From a quick glance, TV and movie ads do relatively poorly in the Ad Meter, but much better in online activity. The 2017 results particularly reflect this, with Netflix’s Stranger Things ad only in 49th place in the USA Today poll, but scoring in second place of iSpot.TV’s study.

You may be saying that this just a fun story…that it doesn’t matter if has any meaning. But it would be relatively easy for USA Today to add in some of this information, to actually inform the public about how what the data means. I don’t mind a fun story, but when they put this much effort into a project, that might as well make it informative too.

End of rant.

Arguing about Confederate Statues and History

Confederate Statue photo
Photo by Ron Cogswell

Much has been made about the relatively high public support for keeping Confederate statues. For example, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found that the majority (54%)of Americans favor keeping the statues, while only a minority (27%) want them removed. A number of explanations have been suggested for why such a significant portion of Americans support keeping the statues.
⁃ These represent a part of our history
⁃ They’re a symbol of Southern pride
⁃ It’s just coded racism

But if we want to remove these statues and monuments (and I’m certainly on this side), it’s important to understand why there is so much opposition to doing so and how one could counter that opposition.

Tom H.C. Anderson of the text analytics software company OdinText ran a nice survey, analyzing open-ended responses to try to understand how people explain their support for keeping or removing the statues. He first asked if Confederate Civil War Monuments should be allowed in the US.1 Following this, he gave people an open-ended question, asking why or why not.

For the three-fifths (61%) who said allow the statues, nearly all of the respondents explained this by saying something about our history. So, if keeping the statues is about maintaining our history, what happens if we explicitly make a statement out protecting history while still removing statues from public places. That should increase support for this action.

One survey, by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling supports this interpretation. They asked specifically asked about support or opposition to relocating to museums or other locations where they can be placed in historical context. This was the only poll I found that found a majority supporting removal (58% supporting relocation, 26% opposing).

However, I don’t think most people really consider moving them to museums, so I wanted to tease apart the issue of how one might remove the statues. I ran my own survey, using Google Consumer Surveys,2 asking the following question:

Which best represents your opinion about Confederate statues and monuments in public places?3

  • They should remain where they are
  • They should be moved to a museum
  • They should be completely removed

When presented with these three choices, people still chose “remain” most frequently, but it was no longer the majority option, but a plurality. Instead, the combination of moving to a museum or removing completely was the majority choice. See table 1, below.

Answer ChoicePercent
Moved to a museum34%
Removed completely22%

For those that really see statues as representing an important part of history and want them to be preserved for that reason, they now have a way to express that.

I take two key ideas away from this:

  1. Framing the argument: Those who want the statues removed (and I count myself among them) can more effectively frame the argument by including the concept of preserving history (and setting the context). There are some (although perhaps a small percentage) who really believe that it’s about history and they can (perhaps) be won over. And those that are using the argument of preserving history as a pretext will have to come up with a darned good counter-argument when removing (or rather moving) the statues is framed explicitly in terms of preserving that history.
  2. Evidence that “history” is just a pretext: A plurality (and close to a majority) still said that the statues should remain, rather than placed in historical context. Because they could have chosen to say move to a museum and didn’t do so, it suggests to me that many people who say history, don’t really mean that. Instead, it’s about, in their mind, honoring heroes fighting for a noble cause, even if they won’t acknowledge that the “noble” cause was slavery, the owning of other human beings.

A quick diversion on the history of these statues and monuments: these were largely erected between 1900 and 1915, when Jim Crow laws dominated after attempts at integration following reconstruction and leading up to the rebirth of the KKK in 1915. The United Daughters of Confederacy put up a huge portion of these monuments and worked to promote a revisionist history of the South.

A second, but smaller peak occurred during the 1960s, during the civil rights era, especially in the naming of schools after Confederate politicians and soldiers.

In other words, these statues, monuments, and schools weren’t put there to celebrate what happened in 1865 but promote White supremacy and attack the civil rights of Blacks at that time.

  1. I do have some issues with this framing of the alternatives. The “should be allowed” phrasing suggests a ban on such monuments, which some people would see as running counter to the American ideals of freedom and liberty.
  2. Google Consumer surveys attempt to match the overall US internet population through the use of stratified sampling and then weighting at the end. Google uses “inferred” data on gender, geographic distribution, and age distribution, through respondents’ browsing history (DoubleClick cookies for age & gender and IP address for geography). They then attempt to match this inferred data to national demographics from the US Census Current Population Survey (CPS). Because it matches the US internet population (now about 87% of the total US adult population), the results skew somewhat younger, higher in income, higher educational attainment, and less rural. In addition, there’s no information on race/ethnicity, which would have been particularly useful for this question. Not surprisingly, Whites and Blacks, on average, respond very differently to this question (see the Reuters/Ipsos poll referenced above). 
  3. The survey ran between 24 August and 26 August, with 384 respondents, for a margin of error of ±5%. 
Hand-painted "Vote" sign

Polling and voter fraud

A recent Morning Consult/POLITICO poll indicated that a plurality of voters think that Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton was helped most by voter fraud. According to the poll, 35% of respondents think voter fraud helped Donald Trump and 30% think it helped Hillary Clinton. Only 18% indicated that no voter fraud occurred (another 17% said they didn’t know or had no opinion).

That’s an interesting result and, in some ways, runs counter to Trump’s narrative of the popular vote. If voter fraud helped him more than it helped Hillary Clinton, then it can’t be responsible for his being a loser in the popular vote. He just lost.

But in a more important way, it confirms Trump’s and the Republican’s narrative about wide-spread voter fraud. Regardless which candidate they think it helped in this past election, if the general public believes voter fraud is pervasive, it becomes much easier to enact legislation to fight this non-existent problem. And the problem does not exist. As nearly every credible study has shown, incidence rates of voter fraud are just infinitesimal (see the Brennan Center’s terrific report for an excellent summary of the evidence).

But the polling itself, and the reporting of it raises some concerns for me. The Morning Consult article on the results does lead with the sentence, “President Donald Trump has insisted, without evidence [emphasis added], that the 2016 election was rife with illegal voting…” But that statement could be interpreted just that Trump himself provided no evidence, not that no evidence for voter fraud exists.

While it’s true that Trump has provided no evidence, any story on this issue, including reports of survey results such as this, should go further and affirmatively state that evidence for significant in-person voter fraud does not and could not exist, because you can’t provide evidence for something that doesn’t actually occur.

I’ll go even further and suggest that an article on suggestions of voter fraud should include reference to the much more significant issue of voter suppression. It, after all, does exist. Since the wave election of 2010 and after the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case, 20 states have passed laws to restrict voting. More importantly, these laws affect Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters at significantly higher rates than White voters.

Woman holding sign that says "Voter Suppression is Unamerican"
Voting Rights March on 10 December 2011 in NYC

Brendan Nyhan and others have researched and discussed the difficulty of challenging false information, and how attempts to rebut such misinformation can lead to a “backfire” effect. When attempt to rebut a false statement, one can actually reinforce those falsehoods with those who are motivated to believe the incorrect facts because the falsehoods support their world view. Instead, it may more effective to to frame your rebuttal in an affirmative way, rather than directly counter the false information.

This leads to my broader concern about this poll. When one asks about issues for which clear answers exist, what is our responsibility as researchers? We can study perceptions of voter fraud and we can report on what our respondents believe, but we can’t let that stand alone. But as I’ve just stated, when reporting the results, we must include the reality of the situation (e.g., widespread voter fraud does not exist; almost no cases of in-person fraud have been uncovered). Otherwise, we risk contributing to the perpetuation of false information.

But what about within the poll itself? Do we have any duty to our respondents to correct knowingly false information? Clearly, we wouldn’t want to bias the answers, but at the end of the survey, do we connect respondents to the true information? I don’t have good answers on this, but it’s an important question to consider.