May 29, 2007
Student Evaluations of Teachers "Flawed but Fixable"
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on research by Anthony G. Greenwald, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. Some tidbits from his research:
* "At best, student ratings provide a weak measure of instructional quality"
* "70 percent of the variance in departments' average course-evaluation scores could be explained by differences in students' grades. In departments where professors' grading was more rigorous, students' evaluation scores were lower"
* "The most reasonable use of student evaluations, Mr. Greenwald said, is to identify instructors at the extreme ends of the spectrum"
Some previous posts on the topic of student evaluations of professors:
* Law Professor Tampers with Student Evaluations
* Merritt on Teaching Evaluations
* One professor's testimony of how she inflated grades to improve her tenure candidacy
* Sexy professors are better professors (?)
* Are You Hot or Not?, Academic Style
* Tenured Canadian Professor Fired for Posting Comments to RateMyProfessor.com
May 28, 2007
Lawyers with MySpace Pages
This breathless Law.com article discusses how lawyers with MySpace pages are being deluged with new clients. I particularly liked this quote:
Mark Meisinger, a 28-year-old criminal defense lawyer in Dallas, says his prospective clients are on MySpace. Meisinger says he defends people from charges involving drugs, driving while intoxicated and probation violations, as well as from traffic tickets. He also does juvenile law.
"This is my perfect age group. The people I'm going after [as clients] are on MySpace," says Meisinger, who graduated from Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Neb., in 2004, and office shares at Gioffreddi & Associates in Dallas. "A whole bunch of people who party, who drink, whatever, those are the people on there who want to be my [MySpace] friend."
Here's a man who knows his target audience!
May 27, 2007
Email Interviews with Reporters
This Washington Post article discusses how interview subjects are redefining their relationship with reporters:
The humble interview, the linchpin of journalism for centuries, is under assault....[I]n the digital age, some executives and commentators are saying they will respond only by e-mail, which allows them to post the entire exchange if they feel they have been misrepresented, truncated or otherwise disrespected. And some go further, saying, You want to know what I think? Read my blog.
1) I like email interviews with reporters because I think I generally express myself better in writing than babbling in real-time, plus reporters often can't keep up with my fast talking. However, sometimes phone interviews have a spontaneity that leads me to say more outrageous things than I would write, and in some cases phone interviews take less time than email interviews.
2) I still find it odd when reporters quote from a blog post without verifying authenticity, but I do love it when my blog is quoted with or without my permission: it takes no additional time on my part and I get extra credit for the work I've already done, plus usually my blog post says exactly what I wanted to say. (Even better is when the resulting story gives me a little link love). In fact, I'm a little surprised when reporters who read my blog post nevertheless want to conduct a separate phone interview to get my comments. Huh? (Believe it or not, this happens with some frequency).
3) Not infrequently, if I get two or more calls on a particular story and I haven't blogged it, I go ahead and write up a blog post recapping what I told those reporters. I can then direct future reporter inquiries to the post. If I conduct an email interview with a reporter, almost invariably my emailed remarks go up on my blog--not because I worry about misquoting, but simply because I want to recycle the work. (A blogger's credo: No good thought goes unblogged).
May 22, 2007
"Eureka!: Lawyer-Scientists Cash In"
AP story on the rising number of law school applicants with deep scientific backgrounds. From my own personal observation this year being loosely involved with SCU's admissions process, I'm blown away by the technical backgrounds and expertise of our applicants. There are a lot of strong scientists who've decided to pursue law instead. As the article quotes Prof. Polk Wagner, "It almost scares me...Who's left in the lab?"
NYT Op-Ed Against Vegan Kids
The NYT ran an op-ed called "Death by Veganism." Some "high"lights:
* "You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants."
* "There are no vegan societies for a simple reason: a vegan diet is not adequate in the long run."
* "Children fed only plants will not get the precious things they need to live and grow."
FWIW, our kids are vegetarian, not vegan, and they do consume a fair amount of dairy (and some egg) in their normal diet. I'd love to see some scientific critique of this article though; it seems more troll-y and designed to spur sales of the author's book than a rigorous argument.
UPDATE: Another doctor blasts the editorial's author.
May 16, 2007
Googling "Eric Goldman"
Kevin Delaney of the WSJ ran an interesting story about how parents are selecting baby names on their ability to generate distinctive results in the search engines.
As someone who went through a personal re-branding, this is a topic of particular interest. My old name, "Eric Schlachter," was pretty unique. There are relatively few Eric Schlachters in the world, and even fewer with a high public profile. Even today, 10 years after my name change, I own the first 68 results in Google for the search "Eric Schlachter."
However, that high Google-bility came at a significant cost. No one could pronounce or spell "Eric Schlachter," leading to lots of misspelled variations of my name and creating all kinds of endless confusion. In fact, I own the first 14 results in Google for the search "Eric Schlacter" (note the missing second "h").
I must confess that I didn't check the search engines before selecting the name "Eric Goldman." It was pre-Google, and it just didn't occur to me. If I had, I might not have chosen the name. By adopting "Eric Goldman," I opted into a much more common name with low distinctiveness in the search engines. There are plenty of other Eric Goldmans out there (see, e.g., this one), but consider some Eric Goldmans that are especially easy to confuse with me:
* Professor Eric Frederick Goldman, a Princeton professor whose encyclopedia entry describes him as an "American historian, author, and special advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1963 to 1966."
* Columnist Eric Goldman, a writer about reality TV shows for IGN, located in Brisbane, CA--the exact same building Epinions is located in! (FWIW, his stuff is pretty good; and I read it often because it shows up commingled with my various vanity alerts on the name "Eric Goldman").
* Accountant Eric Goldman from the San Fernando Valley, who owns ericgoldman.com and has rebuffed my previous overture about a possible acquisition.
* Attorney Eric Paul Goldman, an attorney in Oakland, CA.
(Just in case you're wondering, I don't have a middle name--my legal name is Eric Goldman. That's it).
Despite the low distinctiveness of "Eric Goldman," I'm proud to say that today I own the first 7 results in Google for the crowded search term "Eric Goldman" (my experience is that the results of this search fluctuates pretty regularly). My strong placement is hardly an accident. Note to parents googling "Eric Goldman" as part of a precedent check--I plan to defend this turf vigorously!
As for naming my own children, Lisa was wedded to the name "Jacob" from day 1, and Jacob Goldman is a terribly crowded name. To offset this a bit, Jacob's middle name is Marq, a variation that I believe will make him the only Jacob Marq Goldman in the world. (Notice that Google prompts a search for Jacob Marc Goldman). But if he chooses not to use his middle name, he's got a heavy road to top Google placement. Same goes for Dina; lots of Dina Goldmans in the world, but only one Dina Rebecca Goldman so far. Sorry, kids--use your middle name or you're going to have to work hard for top Google placement.
* Jennifer Laycock thinks precedent checks for baby names are old news. She registered the [first name/middle name].com for her daughter so that the domain name will work post-name changes (such as after marriage).
* If you want to identify trendy names (to adopt or avoid), try the Baby Wizard's NameVoyager.
May 08, 2007
Name Equality Act of 2007 Passes CA Assembly
The California Assembly has passed AB102, the Name Equality Act of 2007. The latest text of the law. The Mercury News article. This law, sponsored by the ACLU and others, is designed to statutorily overturn the discriminatory imbalance between men and women changing their name upon marriage. Let's hope this law gets enacted!
May 06, 2007
"Vegan eateries not just for hippies"
AP article on the proliferation of vegetarian restaurants. The article says there are 1,000-1,200 nationwide, a number that sounds very low to me, but it also says the number has doubled in the past 7 years, which I can believe. The article focuses on the growth of high-end vegetarian restaurants: "Once a network of grungy, obscure cafes, the vegetarian and vegan experience in some cities has blossomed on par with its carnivorous counterparts, complete with Zagat ratings and celebrity clienteles." While all of this is good news, I really don't like the headline. Maybe some day newspapers will run headlines like "Hamburger joints not just for carnivorous freaks."
May 02, 2007
Media Relations for Professors
On Monday, SCU had a "thank you" lunch for professors and administrators who had media exposure this year. The formal program included three speakers: Ed Clendaniel, San Jose Mercury News opinion page writer; Dana Nachman, NBC 11 special projects producer; and myself.
Ed spoke about getting op-ed pieces published in a newspaper. He said that the Mercury News gets about 20,000 op-ed submissions a year for less than 1,000 publication spots--a <5% publication rate. His suggestions for improving the odds:
* "don't bore me"
* the editors can't do very much editing of pieces, so the articles should match the newspaper's style--relevant topic, evoke an emotional response (be compelling, express an opinion), have an insight
* be conversational and use anecdotes
* 650 word limit means 650 words!
Personally, I found the whole idea of op-eds a little anachronistic. I've written a few op-eds in my day, but my blog has effectively usurped that writing role for me. My blog may not have as big an audience as a major newspaper, but I get instant access to the conversation and complete control of my words. In the past, there used to be enhanced validation/credibility by getting an op-ed into a major paper, but I just don't feel that's too important (at least for me) any more.
Dana spoke about interviewing with TV reporters. She explained that a typical news story gets about 75 seconds of airtime, so most interviewers get 5-20 seconds of that. Unlike Ed, she said that TV reporters *don't like* anecdotes because they usually take too long and can't be aired. TV reporters also hate it when interviewees say "As I said before..." in the middle of a thought, because that thought can't be aired. To avoid this, TV reporters generally don't like chit-chatting about the story before the camera is rolling. She said that after the interviews, most reporters transcribe the interview, circle the useful soundbites and use the rest as background material for the story. She said that if an interviewee really wants to convey a particular message, the interviewee should just keep repeating it (but don't say "As I said before!").
I spoke about how blogs have helped increase my exposure to reporters in at least three ways:
1) Reporters routinely use search engines to find sources, so my blog acts as a "magnet" for attracting those reporters. In some cases, reporters will quote the blog directly without even speaking with me. Further, my blog lends some internal credibility to my authority as a source.
2) Blog readers act as a type of distributed referral network, regularly referring reporters to me.
3) Reporters may become subscribers to my blog, in which case they may regularly report on stories I write about and quote my blog/contact me for more quotes.
I also noted that, by participating in the blogosphere, I could get access to websites such as Slashdot and Digg where the visibility of being linked may rival or exceed the exposure from being quoted in the mainstream media Given the choice between a quote in the NY Times or a link from Slashdot, I'd likely take the Slashdot link!
I did sound a few cautionary notes about blogging for professors. It's time-consuming; not everyone has a blogging personality; and there are a variety of risks (legal, reputational, and ruffled feathers).