Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, August 30, 2004
 
The Efficacy of Protest, Part I

This Press Release from the University of Washington breathlessly touts a "conclusive" answer to a common controversy: "Protests more help in passing environmental laws than working on 'inside'." ScienceBlog posts the PR without generating any comments, but I am dubious at best. The study being promoted is a presention made a couple weeks ago by University of Washington doctoral student Jon Agnone, in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Assocation. From the Press Release:

"''Contrary to conventional wisdom, working from the inside has not had much of an impact and, in general, public opinion doesn't matter,'' [Agnone] said. ''Most people say they are for the environment and lawmakers say, 'Yeah, yeah,' but they don't do anything unless people start protesting. Protests amplify public opinion by directing politicians' attention to the public's interest.'' . . . The actual impact of individual protest acts on whether legislation passes is relatively small, with each protest event that occurs in a given year increasing the number of pro-environmental bills passed by about 2.2 percent, Agnone said. That means in a year in which 20 protests occurred, about 44 percent more pro-environmental bills would be approved, he said. ."

I would really like to get a better handle on Agnone's statistics, because being able to quantify a correlation between protest events and bill passage seems highly unlikely to me. If you're only looking at a dated list of protests and a dated lists of bills passed, you are treating all protest events equally and the weight of passing all bills equally. Are we talking about benign resolutions to praise the condor or hardhitting and complex legislation to decrease mercury output from coal burning plants?

Moreover, there is nothing in this press release about how Agnone quantifies the efforts of those "working on the inside" and correlates those efforts with bill passage. That makes any comparison of the two effects weak and unconvincing, exactly unlike this declarative headline. There are a lot of people who would like to believe that protests get a lot done, but that doesn't necessarily make it so. The fact that Agnone's homepage opens up with an emotional quote from Howard Zinn* doesn't exactly fill me with confidence in the objectivity of his analysis. However, it may be that the UW Press Office was overstating the sweeping magnitude of the Ph.D. student's conclusions--unfortunately, I can't yet find the actual conference preceedings online.

This press release is interesting in light of a somewhat toungue-in-cheek post by Matthew Yglesias yesterday, and the resulting back and forth of comments:

"If there's anything I hate more than the Farm Bill, it's protestors. Absolutely hate 'em. If people put all the time, energy, intelligence and ingenuity that they currently spend doing these things into boring jobs in Washington that involved ties and desks and offices then progressive politics would be about five times as effective as it is" said Matt. Most of the responders are angry, "you-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about" types, and they make good points. Our Republic was founded in protest, and it's right there in the First Amendment after the freedom of the press. Not everyone can get those inside jobs. Creative protest is one of the great assets of the Left. Etc. Etc.

On the other hand, we must admit that despite huge protests, Iraq was still invaded. When I graduated from Berkeley, I was more conservative than when I had started, and the local protest culture was big part of the reason why. My mother always reminds me that when one has limited time and energy (as we all do) one has to direct that time and energy in the most effective way, and think hard about efficacy. I know that this common sense is sometimes strangely hard to follow, but we should at least try instead of hiding behind platitudes. Careful sociological and economic scholars can be helpful guides in making intelligent, informed decisions about political activism--but they have to be sincere in wanting to find the best answer, and they have to use good math.


*Don't get me wrong, A People's History of the United States was one of my high school history books, and Zinn is a great writer and provider of information. But the whole idea of the title is that some people are more qualifed to be called "the people" than others--and those others are strongly correlated with persons "working on the inside."
 


<< Home
Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

ATOM FEED



Spring 2006: Guest Bloggers!
Colin!
Rishi | Scott | Emily
Echan | Robert | ToastyKen

MAIN:ssrdatta.blogspot.com
Email me!
Ways to help the Tsunami Victims Here

Want this badge?

ARCHIVES
01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 05/01/2010 - 06/01/2010 / 09/01/2014 - 10/01/2014 /


Blogs I Read (Or Try To)
113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
Apartment Therapy
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Dave Barry
The Bellman
Mine's On The 45 (Brimful)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
ChennaiCentral
ClimateBoy
Combing the Sphere
Crooked Timber
Daily Dose of Imagery
The Daily Rhino (Bong Breaker)
Dark Days Ahead
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Atanu Dey on India's Development (Deeshaa)
Daniel Drezner
Ennis
Ephemera
Cyrus Farivar
Finding My Voice
Forsv
Neil Gaiman
Ganesh Blog
Geeky Chic 2.0 (Echan)
Geomblog
Green Ink!
Heliolith
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Indeterminacy
India Uncut
InSpiteOfEverything
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
Mark A. R. Kleiman
KnowProse (Taran Rampersad)
1Locana
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Reneebop
Rhinocrisy
Scott Rosenberg(Salon.com)
Rox Populi
Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Subjunctive.net:klog
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
Tech Policy
TiffinBox
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
TreeHugger
Unfogged
VatulBlog
Venk@
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
Wonkette
WorldChanging
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Eschaton(Atrios)
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece
Wonkette
Yglesias:Tpmcafe

Photo Blogs
Daily Dose of Imagery
Ephemera
Alexandra Huddleston
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
TiffinBox

Columbia Journalism Folks
Apartment Therapy
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
Alexandra Huddleston
InSpiteOfEverything
Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

Literature, Fiction and Entertainment
Dave Barry
Neil Gaiman
Electrolite: Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Scott McCloud


A Note on Comments
Haloscan is not very good at counting comments. If a comment thread is more than three months old, and you think there might be comments, please click the comments link even if it indicates zero comments. It won't display the true count properly. Thanks!


A note on permalinks
I find that a lot of people don't know about permalinks. When you want to have someone read a specific blog entry, then you should find that blog entry's permalink, click on that, and send them the resulting browser address. Otherwise they will just be sent to the blog in general, and between your reading the blog entry and your correspondent's or audience's getting to it, a whole slew of material may have pushed the entry off the front page. In this blog, the permalinks are the timestamp at the end of the entry. (Feel free to frequently send your friends and family permalinks from my blog!)







Weblog Commenting and Trackback by 
HaloScan.com Powered by Blogger