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My Daily Read: Donald P. Green

Donald P. Green is a professor of political science at Columbia University. He is the author of four books, including Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout (Brookings Institution Press, 2008), with Alan S. Gerber.

Q: What’s the first thing you read in the morning?

A. My mornings start around 6 a.m., when my dog awakens me to lobby for breakfast and a walk. While she’s wolfing down her food, I scan the headlines on my laptop so that I have some campaign news to mull over while strolling through Riverside Park. When we return home, I check intrade.com, to see how the battles for president and Congress are playing out in the betting markets, and visit PollingReport.com or Pollster.com for a digest of state and national polls.

During campaign season, I conduct experiments designed to gauge the effectiveness of voter mobilization or persuasion tactics (for a readable introduction to this type of research, see Sasha Issenberg’s The Victory Lab), and much of the morning is spent communicating with colleagues about the latest news from the field. The ideal morning reading is news from a recently completed study, which precipitates a flurry of e-mail discussing its implications.

Q: What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to or read regularly? What do you read in print versus online versus mobile/tablet?

A. Having recently moved to New York City from New Haven, I read The New York Times (online) and The New Yorker (in print) with the smug satisfaction of someone who’s a short subway ride from extraordinary restaurants, theater, museums. As for academic reading, my favorite online gateway is the e-digest of social experiments compiled by David Greenberg and Mark Shroder. The editors assemble randomized experiments in the social sciences on topics such as discrimination, poverty, education, health, and crime.

While composing our textbook, Field Experiments: Design, Analysis, and Interpretation, my co-author, Alan Gerber, and I compiled a vast Dropbox collection of our favorite experiments in order to use as examples. Although the book is now in print, I continue to curate my digital collection of randomized studies, often marveling at the inventiveness of the research designs and the new insights they generate. One recent example is a paper titled “Does Money Burn Fat?,” which demonstrates that financial incentives induced obese Germans to lose weight.

Q: What are the best articles and books you’ve read recently?

A. I was intrigued to read the results of a paper by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz that uses Google searches for racist terms to measure the level of antiblack sentiment in various media markets, which in turn predicts the gap in vote support between Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008. The paper’s strategy for measuring prejudice unobtrusively strikes me as ingenious.

As for books, I recently enjoyed Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American  Opinion, by Donald Kinder and Cindy Kam, a beautifully written book that documents the correlation between in-group biases and political preferences on topics such as immigration. My favorite empirical chapter examines how the correlation between ethnocentrism and policy views changed after 9/11, as public perceptions of out-group threat changed.

Q: Has your reading of professional journals changed in the past 10 years?

A. The advent of randomized experiments in the social sciences during the past decade has led me to read journal articles in a wider array of disciplines. For example, some of the most interesting social-science research is conducted by economists and published in journals that I would not have read in years past, such as Econometrica or Quarterly Journal of Economics. Because I seldom read physical journals, I miss some of the serendipity that comes with scanning tables of contents. On the other hand, more of my reading time is devoted to articles that are tailored to my substantive and methodological tastes.

Q: The book as object: Is it a pleasure, a necessity, an anachronism?

A. The world of academic books is experiencing a period of upheaval. Quality tends to be low, and sales tend to be poor. In contrast to a top-tier academic journal, which accepts roughly one in 20 submissions, academic presses rarely turn down book manuscripts by prominent authors, and the content of those books is not vetted with the same scrutiny as academic-journal articles. For that reason, I have a strong preference for academic monographs that assemble and expand upon a series of top-tier journal articles, such as the engaging new book by Gabriel Lenz, Follow the Leader? How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Policies and Performance.

Q: What are the guilty pleasures in your media diet?

A. My hobbies are board games and woodworking, and the two intersect because I enjoy designing abstract strategy games and making the prototypes myself. My games, such as Octi or Knight Moves, illustrate some of the strategic trade-offs that I see in politics. Octi, for example, forces players to decide between moving their pieces or investing in them, deferring the opportunity to move so that their pieces will have more capabilities in the future.

As for woodworking, I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my technique and could spend a lifetime reading back issues of Fine Woodworking and watching demonstrations online. I am a big fan of Matthias Wandel; I marvel at his work, and my shop is covered in printouts of his various woodworking diagrams and instructions. Much as I love to make games and play them face-to-face, the overload of commitments at this time of year means that most of my gaming is done via the Internet, and my day concludes with play-by-e-mail missives to my board-game opponents around the world. Nerdy fun.

Illustration by Monica Hellström for The Chronicle Review.

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