Uncommon Knowledge

Surprising insights from the social sciences

Cincinnati Bengals’ Hue Jackson is the only black offensive coordinator in the NFL.
ASsociated press
Cincinnati Bengals’ Hue Jackson is the only black offensive coordinator in the NFL.

Passed-up interference

In an effort to improve the representation of minorities in head-coaching positions, the NFL implemented the so-called Rooney Rule in 2003, requiring teams to interview at least one minority for any head coaching vacancy. However, a new study by a group of business school professors suggests that the Rooney Rule might not address the root cause of racial disparity among head coaches: promotions at lower levels. They found that even though there’s no evidence of racial disparity in the odds of promotion to head coach from the next level down — positions like defensive or offensive coordinator — there are significant racial disparities in being promoted to those steppingstone positions in the first place, even controlling for various aspects of a coach’s resume and team performance.

Rider, C. et al., “Racial Disparity in Leadership: Performance-Reward Bias in Promotions of National Football League Coaches,” Georgetown University (January 2016).

Election stakes

Before you plant that lawn sign for your candidate, ask yourself whether it’ll be a close election. A team of political scientists conducted “the first rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of lawn signs” by working with four different campaigns (congressional candidate, mayoral candidate, independent expenditure campaign directed against a gubernatorial candidate, candidate for county commissioner) to plant different types of signs in randomly selected voting precincts. Although the lawn signs had “essentially no effect on turnout,” they did appear to shift voting results by a point or two, especially in the case of the sign directed against the gubernatorial candidate.

Green, D. et al., “The Effects of Lawn Signs on Vote Outcomes: Results from Four Randomized Field Experiments,” Electoral Studies (forthcoming).

The new ‘welfare-queen’

Ronald Reagan famously stigmatized poor African-Americans as welfare recipients. That stereotype, it appears, has changed in modern times. Analyzing survey data from the past couple decades, political scientists found that attitudes about immigration and immigrants are now strongly associated with attitudes about welfare recipients and spending, even controlling for attitudes about blacks, partisan identification, political ideology, age, gender, race, education, family income, and church attendance. In fact, “the effects of attitudes toward immigration are stronger than are the effects of attitudes toward blacks and other variables such as partisan identification, political ideology, and even family income.”

Garand, J. et al., “Immigration Attitudes and Support for the Welfare State in the American Mass Public,” American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

God knows better


Is it fair to attribute the bad acts of believers to God himself, especially when God disagrees? Researchers asked Palestinian youths living in the West Bank and Gaza whether it was appropriate — from their perspective or God’s perspective — to sacrifice a fellow Palestinian’s life to save the lives of five children, who were either Palestinian or Jewish Israeli. Although these Palestinian youths — especially boys and Gazans — tended to favor saving Palestinian compared to Jewish Israeli children, they were less likely to do so when answering from God’s perspective.

Ginges, J. et al., “Thinking from God’s Perspective Decreases Biased Valuation of the Life of a Nonbeliever,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

Credit for good behavior

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The row in “death row” alludes to the segregated cells or facilities to which many prisoners who’ve received a death sentence are assigned. These areas generally feature greater security and isolation, and, as a result, cost more and are more psychologically challenging than areas for other prisoners. A new study finds that this policy is an overreaction. Death-sentenced prisoners who were integrated into the general population of a Missouri prison were no more violent than either life-without-parole or term-sentenced prisoners. The researchers also observed that no death-sentenced prisoner there required administrative segregation (i.e., “solitary”).

Cunningham, M. et al., “Wasted Resources and Gratuitous Suffering: The Failure of a Security Rationale for Death Row,” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at