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Tracking the Congressional Attention Span

CowboyNeal posted more than 8 years ago | from the hot-button-issues dept.

89

Turismo writes "Ars Technica covers a new research project that uses computers to look at 70 million words from the Congressional Record. The project's goal was to track what our representatives were talking about at any given time, and researchers were able to do it without human training or intervention. From the article: '...researchers found, for instance, that "judicial nominations" have consumed steadily more Congressional attention between 1997 and 2004. In fact, the topic produced the most number of words published in a single "day" of the Congressional Record: 230,000 on November 12, 2003.' It looks like automated topic analysis has truly arrived."

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Or Maybe Not.. (5, Funny)

vjmurphy (190266) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845598)

"It looks like automated topic analysis has truly arrived."

Not according to my in-depth research. Looks like "automated topic analysis" isn't arriving at all.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22automated+ topic+analysis%22&btnG=Google+Search [google.com]

Re:Or Maybe Not.. (1, Insightful)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845688)

Oh but just wait for a few days.
Once google indexes this page and the linked articles page, and every copycat page.

Re:Or Maybe Not.. (3, Insightful)

Faylone (880739) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845717)

The first thing you should do when the exact phrase can't be found is try searching for just all of the words...59.5 millions results, and the first one seems to be quite accurate. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=automated+top ic+analysis&btnG=Google+Search [google.com]

Re:Or Maybe Not.. (1)

vjmurphy (190266) | more than 8 years ago | (#15847267)

But then it isn't as funny. :)

Or maybe... (1)

Sepodati (746220) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845764)

Or maybe that's just what Google wants you to thing...

Re:Or maybe... (1)

Sepodati (746220) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845774)

think...

Re:Or Maybe Not.. (1)

andrewman327 (635952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15874343)

For those of you reading the parent late, when it was posted, there were zero Google results for the search.


It is interesting that there are already 166 results only a few days after you posted. Now maybe it really has arrived!

Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (3, Insightful)

jkrise (535370) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845609)

If Pro is the opposite of Con.... what'd Congress mean?

Just playing around with some silly words... do we need to analyse what Congressmen speak, to understand their intent or motivations? Following the money would be a better option.. and we'll find a Very High Attention Span for words like money, dollars and Big Bucks..

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (4, Interesting)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845674)

I would think that both "follow the money" and this type of record analysis would be the best thing. Think of it as the money as the input and the speeches as the output.

Correlate the two and you'd really have something.

No, not that. What I meant was who outside of Congress is trying to push buttons, and who inside Congress is helping them. Also, you'd be able to watch for what you may consider important topics to see how they are dealt with.

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (1)

cheezit (133765) | more than 8 years ago | (#15848278)

Money = input

Action (or inaction) in congressional committees, hidden from public view = output

Votes on the record = optional output, only if hidden action can't accomplish desired result

Speech on the record = optional side-effect of input, with (I would bet) only moderate correlation

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (3, Insightful)

andrewman327 (635952) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845722)

It's more complicated than simply money issues, but I agree that this study does not prove much. If congressmen want to stay in office they need votes and they need to do what they think will get them elected. If you want to know what has your elected official's attention, it is much more direct to look them up in Project Vote Smart [vote-smart.org] .

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (3, Interesting)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845911)

If Pro is the opposite of Con.... what'd Congress mean?

Just 'cause I was mildly interested (I've heard that wordplay before), I read the dictionary's entries for progress [reference.com] , congress [reference.com] and con [reference.com] .

And it appears con (when used in pros/cons of a decision) is different to con/com (the prefix).

The gress suffix is from indo-european ghredh (to go) and pro & con have root meanings of advance/forward & to meet respectively.

Progress = Forward Go.
Congress = Meet Go.

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15846600)

Probably more clearly understood as:

To Go Forward
To Go Meet

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (2, Informative)

General Wesc (59919) | more than 8 years ago | (#15847437)

Progress = Walk forward
Congress = Walk together/with

'-gress' is from the Latin 'gradi' (to walk)/gradus (a step). 'ghredh' comes from the same place, but 'go' obviously makes less sense than 'walk' (which it also means).

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 8 years ago | (#15848124)

Now, now - we can't have that. Actual study and thought is prohibited on Slashdot, especially when such breaks or bends strongly held canards.

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 8 years ago | (#15849954)

The actual opposite of progress would be contragress or regress.

Re:Pro-Gress vs Con-Gress (1)

Atheose (932144) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846851)

Tracing the money works well for some things, but some of the hottest topics today do not involve any at all. As the article talks about, Congressional Nominations of Supreme Court Justices has slowly taken up more and more of Congress' time. If you were to follow the money trail and nothing else, topics like this would slip through the cracks.

I'm not sure this is the best metric... (5, Insightful)

PixelPirate (984935) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845636)

Think about it: "Who thinks we should elect Joe Six-Pack"
Lots of talk, chit-chat, chatter, etc...

"Okay, now who would want to oppose the True American, Patriot, Love, Peace Act*"
Cricket! Cricket!
*And of course this Act happens to have about thirty-thousand ridders attached to it...

Re:I'm not sure this is the best metric... (3, Funny)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845993)

Man I am impressed, I thought the US was done with its colonial masters, but here you are saying that congress wants to play Cricket instead of voting on a bill. Bring it on .. but be warned, no-one the US could field will ever match the Don.

Opposite Side (4, Funny)

BigNumber (457893) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845637)

So what scored the lowest? Individual freedoms? Constitutional Rights? Fair use?

Re:Opposite Side (2, Insightful)

adam1234 (696497) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845709)

Judicial nominations affect all three to a very large degree.

Re:Opposite Side (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15850495)

Only if you believe they should. And then you're part of the problem.

Re:Opposite Side (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15846200)

That parent comment is even voted funny, even worse it's now at 5 Funny, is if anything an indication of how bad the situation is. To say it saddens and even frightens me doesn't even begin to describe my feelings.

INSOLENCE!!! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15845649)

The project's goal was to track what our representatives were talking about at any given time...

Isn't that like "Big Brother"'ing your goverment?

I hate citizens with double morals. Leave those fine representatives alone and let them represent!

Re:INSOLENCE!!! (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846487)

The US Congress spent far too much time this last session on Chinese products, which make money for China but absolutely don't affect the US (why should we care about made-in-China American flags, for instance????).

It's obvious, Congress is NOT competitive --- they are far overpaid, not to be trusted, poor workers (excepting of course, Senators Menendez (D-NJ), Feingold (D-WI), Byrd (D-WV), and some of the reps. We must offshore their jobs to China!!!

Re:INSOLENCE!!! (1)

carpeweb (949895) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846505)

It seems more like "Little Brother"ing the government. You know, that pain in the rear who always tagged along, repeated what you said, but, ultimately, who you ignored ...

... I'm hoping Little Brother grows up fast, but Big Brother seems to have the upper hand at the moment.

Dupe? Double Dupe? (0, Offtopic)

jmke (776334) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845651)

is this a double dupe by Ars AND /. ?

http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/08/02/221227 [slashdot.org] ( http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060802-7408 .html [arstechnica.com] )

from the current one:
While text mining 330,000 New York Times articles poses an interesting challenge, it's not as interesting as sifting through 70 million words (from over 70,000 unique documents) found in the Congressional Record. A team of political science researchers has done just that (PDF), and found that their software was able to answer questions too difficult for humans to handle on their own.

from the one posted yesterday:
The discipline of text mining took a step forward recently as a team from the University of California-Irvine used a new technique called "topic modeling" to sift 330,000 articles from the New York Times archive (hardcore geeks can read one of the team's papers [PDF] for more information). The team's goal was to have their computers sort the stories by topic--without requiring any human training or intervention. Computers have trouble understanding large fields of unstructured text without guidance, but the new approach enables them to engage in some unsupervised learning that could soon pay huge dividends for academics, corporations, and government security programs alike.

Re:Dupe? Double Dupe? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15845680)

If the previous was a dupe story, presumably this is a tripe story. But look on the bright side - at least Slashdot is maintaining its standards.

Re:Dupe? Double Dupe? (1)

Caesar (9965) | more than 8 years ago | (#15849764)

No, they are different stories on related topics.

TheyWorkForYou.com (4, Informative)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845654)

Even with a large team of grad students at their disposal, researchers find it difficult to tag more than a small subset of the speeches in question

Are there really that many speeches? TheyWorkForYou.com [theyworkforyou.com] offer a similar service for the UK's Houses of Parliament, except it's done manually, and there's only a dozen volunteers working on it.

Re:TheyWorkForYou.com (2, Informative)

joeljkp (254783) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846562)

As I understand it, they're searching through the Congressional Record, not simply transcripts of congressional speeches. The CR is full of pages upon pages of stuff that doesn't get spoken anywhere, except for saying "please insert this into the Record" (or something to that effect). The CR has full text of speeches, letters, reports, amendments, textual evidence, etc.

Tracking the Congressional Attention Span (5, Funny)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845660)

The conclusion. Congress has ADD, just like me.

Re:Tracking the Congressional Attention Span (2, Funny)

Roody Blashes (975889) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845706)

Suffer from a crippling neurolgical disorder that makes you incapable of focusing long enough to make an informed decision, become a congressperson.

Spend the first forty years of your life a drunken, aimless slob with no business acumen and bad manners, become president.

I think I'm beginning to see some cracks in the stout facade of democracy here....

Re:Tracking the Congressional Attention Span (1)

mgblst (80109) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846121)

One of the great things about America, anyone can become president.

One of the biggest problems with America, anyone can become president.

Or as Adlai Stevenson put it: "In America, anyone can become president. That's one of the risks you take."

Re:Tracking the Congressional Attention Span (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15845755)

You'd think the American public would wake up and... OH Chappelle's show is on!

Re:Tracking the Congressional Attention Span (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15846588)

I *love* Chapell... OOOH, SHINY!

Re:Tracking the Congressional Attention Span (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845762)

You're absolutely right I saw some smoke it's time for lunch look at the street.

Re:Tracking the Congressional Attention Span (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15845788)

Has ADD like who? Hey look! Money!

sophistication, ha? (2, Funny)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845667)

Does it take really a sophisticated tool to count the number of times "judicial" and "nominations" appearing in the same sentence?

May be the submitter forgot to cite a little bit more impressive examples?

Re:sophistication, ha? (2, Informative)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845705)

The data generating process that motivates our model is the following. On each day that
Congress is in session a legislator can make speeches. These speeches will be on one of a finite
number K of topics. The probability that a randomly chosen speech from a particular day will be
on a particular topic is assumed to vary smoothly over time. At a very coarse level, a speech can
be thought of as a vector containing the frequencies of words in some vocabulary. These vectors of
word frequencies can be stacked together in a matrix whose number of rows is equal to the number
of words in the vocabulary and whose number of columns is equal to the number of speeches. This
matrix is our outcome variable. Our goal is to use the information in this matrix to make inferences
about the topic probabilities and how they change over time as well as the topic membership of
individual speeches.


Word frequency? That is primitive given the fact that there already tools that can parse the grammar of the sentence finding relations between words.

They're asking the wrong question (4, Funny)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845668)

Great. Now we know what congress has been talking about.

Big deal.

Wake me up when you can tell me what in the hell they were thinking.

--MarkusQ

P.S. Other than how to make sure that they--and Joe Lieberman--get re-elected I mean.

Re:They're asking the wrong question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15845702)

Wake me up when you can tell me what in the hell they were thinking.

simple..

they are thinking about money and power.

with a few thinking about hookers as well.

That is it.

Re:They're asking the wrong question (1)

kabocox (199019) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846021)

Great. Now we know what congress has been talking about.
Big deal.
Wake me up when you can tell me what in the hell they were thinking.


Nah, that won't ever work. You'd need to add in support to track lobbiest and funds spent towards each individual congress person. You need to also compare if they actually voted along the lines of what they presented. This sounds like its just doing something like a word count. Big whoop. You can have 2 or more sides pushing competing bills that have similiar but important differences. They'd both pop up the same main key words. How will they improve this thing so that they can track not just that they were talking about "abortion" but one side had bills limiting abortion and another side wanting it to be easier for abortions. Well, I'd want to know not just that they were talking about abortion, but all the sides and the money follows of the behind the scene people as well. Then you'd really start getting interesting results.

Process Process Process (4, Interesting)

LaughingCoder (914424) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845679)

That disease that has so infected business - talking about process (how) rather than products (what) - is readily apparent in Congress as well. I added up the percentages of the "Procedural [HouseKeeping]" categories (egads, there were 6 different line items - not sure what the distinctions were), and it was 50%!!! So, for half the time Congress is talking about *how* they are going to talk about things. Ugggh. I suppose, as one who believes that the less the government does, the better, I should be happy. But oh, the global warming from all that hot air!

Re:Process Process Process (2, Insightful)

AnyoneEB (574727) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846303)

And yet they still do not have reasonable rules like forbidding riders...

Re:Process Process Process (2, Informative)

joeljkp (254783) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846587)

A lot of this is substantive depate in disguise. They may literally be arguing whether Bill 1 gets an hour of debate or a day of debate, but what they're really trying to do is either kill it or give it room to breathe.

Re:Process Process Process (1)

LlamaDragon (97577) | more than 8 years ago | (#15847323)

You'd think after 200 years they would've figured out how to do things without the continued debate but, apparently, you'd be wrong.

Ob. Life of Brian: (1)

spun (1352) | more than 8 years ago | (#15847394)

REG: Right. Now, uh, item four: attainment of world supremacy within the next five years. Uh, Francis, you've been doing some work on this.
FRANCIS: Yeah. Thank you, Reg. Well, quite frankly, siblings, I think five years is optimistic, unless we can smash the Roman empire within the next twelve months.
REG: Twelve months?
FRANCIS: Yeah, twelve months. And, let's face it. As empires go, this is the big one, so we've got to get up off our arses and stop just talking about it!
COMMANDOS: Hear! Hear!
LORETTA: I agree. It's action that counts, not words, and we need action now.
COMMANDOS: Hear! Hear!
REG: You're right. We could sit around here all day talking, passing resolutions, making clever speeches. It's not going to shift one Roman soldier!
FRANCIS: So, let's just stop gabbing on about it. It's completely pointless and it's getting us nowhere!
COMMANDOS: Right!
LORETTA: I agree. This is a complete waste of time.
[BAM - the door opens]
JUDITH: They've arrested Brian!
REG: What?
COMMANDOS: What?
JUDITH: They've dragged him off! They're going to crucify him!
REG: Right! This calls for immediate discussion!
COMMANDO #1: Yeah.
JUDITH: What?!
COMMANDO #2: Immediate.
COMMANDO #1: Right.
LORETTA: New motion?
REG: Completely new motion, eh, that, ah-- that there be, ah, immediate action--
FRANCIS: Ah, once the vote has been taken.
REG: Well, obviously once the vote's been taken. You can't act another resolution till you've voted on it...
JUDITH: Reg, for God's sake, let's go now!
REG: Yeah. Yeah.
JUDITH: Please!
REG: Right. Right.
FRANCIS: Fine.
REG: In the-- in the light of fresh information from, ahh, sibling Judith--
LORETTA: Ah, not so fast, Reg.
JUDITH: Reg, for God's sake, it's perfectly simple. All you've got to do is to go out of that door now, and try to stop the Romans' nailing him up! It's happening, Reg! Something's actually happening, Reg! Can't you understand?! Ohhh!
[slam]
REG: Hm. Hm.
FRANCIS: Oh, dear.
REG: Hello. Another little ego trip for the feminists.
LORETTA: What?
FRANCIS: [whistling]
REG: Oh, sorry, Loretta. Ahh, oh, read that back, would you?

Reading the Record???? (5, Insightful)

jackb_guppy (204733) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845689)

The congressional record is a false document of what happened in congress. Watch C-Span one day and hear each person request "Unamious support to change or extend". This allows 30 second comment say to begainst the bill to become a 2 hr speech to supporting the bill WITHOUT editing marks.

This program may count time on paper but can not count time that congress is actually spending.

Congressional Record *IS* false (2, Interesting)

donutz (195717) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846698)

If you want more proof, read this article by John Stossel [realclearpolitics.com] , which takes a look at what the "Congressional Record" is really all about. Or like parent says, watch CSPAN.

Maybe USA needs Hansard (1)

xixax (44677) | more than 8 years ago | (#15849797)

Canada is a Commonwealth country, maybe offshore your parliamentary reporting to them?
http://www.commonwealth-hansard.org/chea_index.asp [commonwealth-hansard.org]

The other option would be for a group to privately transcribe all or part of the actual proceedings and see what happens:
http://www.commonwealth-hansard.org/chea_story.asp [commonwealth-hansard.org]

Xix.

The Truth (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845744)

The project's goal was to track what our representatives were talking about at any given time, and researchers were able to do it without human training or intervention.
  1. Their penis sizes
  2. Jessica Alba
  3. Angelina Jolie
  4. Pay increases for Congress
  5. Junkets

legislative priorities (1)

misanthrope101 (253915) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845821)

Shouldn't penis size be discussed twice, before and after Jessica Alba and Angelina Jolie are discussed? Things change, you know. And I'd bump "pay increases" down to 5, replaced by "baby oil." Just a thought. Whoa, look out....

Re:legislative priorities (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846031)

Shouldn't penis size be discussed twice, before and after Jessica Alba and Angelina Jolie are discussed? Things change, you know.

Why? Remember, this is congress we're talking about. The "after" discussion would provide redundant results.

Re:legislative priorities (1)

misanthrope101 (253915) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846243)

The "after" discussion would provide redundant results.
Are you sure they could manage? Even with the proper pharmaceuticals in place, the degenerative effects of age are considerable. I don't think "filibuster" means what you think it means.

Re:The Truth (1)

Target Practice (79470) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846987)

1. Their penis sizes
2. Jessica Alba
3. Angelina Jolie
4. Pay increases for Congress
5. Junkets

s/Congress/Managers/ and I'm pretty sure that's the agenda from the last IT leadership meeting my superiors held...

the what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15845766)

tracking the what and the what?

The CR is anything but accurate (5, Informative)

sgtrock (191182) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845768)

30 years ago, I learned in my high school civics class that any Senator or Representative can insert anything he or she wants into it at any time. Examples that were pointed out to us were speeches on the floor of the Senate that were never made, modifications to committee meetings, etc. The CR is by no means an accurate measure of anything. Except maybe the size of their combined egos.

Re:The CR is anything but accurate (2, Informative)

Peyna (14792) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846338)

You're half-right there. They can get anything they want into the record without actually having to say it in front of everyone. This is good in some respects, because it allows that person to be officially on the Congressional Record on a particular point without having to tie up the time of the congressional body.

However, they can't modify things that are already in the record (at least, not without being subjected to censure or other punishment).

Re:The CR is anything but accurate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15846894)

However, they can't modify things that are already in the record (at least, not without being subjected to censure or other punishment).

I could have sworn they always say "I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks." And of course no one objects because they all want the option to change the record.

MOD PARENT UP!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15847984)

The repeated use of that statement on CSPAN reminds me of the Outland "let me cover my fanny" strip.

Corrupting the judiciary is a strong focus now. (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845785)

... "judicial nominations" have consumed steadily more Congressional attention between 1997 and 2004.

In the U.S., there has recently been a strong focus on appointing judges who will help the rich get richer.

-
Operation Iraqi Liberation, OIL [wikipedia.org] , has liberated Iraqi resources, not its people.

Re:Corrupting the judiciary is a strong focus now. (2, Insightful)

ryturner (87582) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845920)

Any sources to back up that statement?

Cost? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15845814)

It would be really interesting to see a cost analysis on this data. How much did it cost to talk about a certain topic.

Then everyone can get a warm fuzzy feeling about their tax dollars. :)

your worries are over, my friend! (-1, Flamebait)

misanthrope101 (253915) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845854)

The obvious solution to your concern would be to continue electing Republicans. That way, it doesn't cost you anything, because the cost is passed on to our children and grandchildren. It's immoral to pay as you go. Only liberals balance budgets. Say "NO" to fiscal responsibility--elect a Republican today!

Me, I just vote straight Diebold. I can almost cast my vote without even showing up. A few more years, and we'll be there.

Re:Cost? (1)

CodeMasterPhilzar (978639) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846264)

They ought to put that in the background - sort of like a taxicab meter. Use some sort of basic formula, congressional salary of those present x time etc...

In a former job we were all billed at a fixed hourly rate. There was a computer in the corner of the conference room, so I wrote a little program... Whenever a meeting started, I'd run it and input the number of people there. It showed a running cost of the meeting. That is, of course, until I ran afoul of one management type that didn't see the humor in it. (That could be due to the fact that he wasted more time and $ than anyone else in meetings.) Then it was "suggested" to me that I not run that again...

Congress Zeitgeist (2, Interesting)

Speare (84249) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845850)

So in web2.0 terms, this is Google Zeitgeist meets the Statistically Improbable Phrase analysis like you see on Amazon. Find pairs or sets of words which are out of the statistical norm for English, then start to track their rise and fall among the "marketplace of ideas" in Congress. Also, on the c|net news site, they have two graph views to visualize connections between similar-topic stories or often-viewed "hot" stories.

It would be interesting to see how many phrases are just a matter of the odd language that Congress uses. There's a stock metaphorical phrase for just about anything, and there are also a lot of phrases that are steeped in tradition which often get misunderstood by layfolk.

Congressional Record vs. what's actually said... (4, Informative)

jejones (115979) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845856)

They know, don't they, that a representative can have arbitrary text inserted in CR as if it had been read?

Also, if you watch CSPAN while Congress is in session, in the evenings you'll see long stretches with just a few people who are delivering their rants into a nearly empty room. Can that be separated from the rest of the text?

Re:Congressional Record vs. what's actually said.. (1)

gibson042 (844355) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846568)

They know, don't they, that a representative can have arbitrary text inserted in CR as if it had been read?

Also, if you watch CSPAN while Congress is in session, in the evenings you'll see long stretches with just a few people who are delivering their rants into a nearly empty room. Can that be separated from the rest of the text?
The researchers stated in the paper that the Congressional Record is "subsetted into three major components, one for the Senate and two for the House of Representatives (one of which covers 'extensions', or speeches inserted into the record without being given on the floor)". They used only the Senate data, which their description leads me to believe is unaltered. The latter problem, however, is not addressable by their analysis.

Put it to use! (1)

Doctor_D (6980) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845875)

Now there's a way for the slashdot editors to help pick story submissions better. They can use this technology to sift through the queue and post those hot stories quicker. :)

Quick! (1)

liak12345 (967676) | more than 8 years ago | (#15845965)

Run the search for "not a dumptruck" and "A series of tubes"!

Re:Quick! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15847936)

Only one result? Thank *God*! It was just a brainfart!

(This post brought to you by the capcha 'relieves' - doesn't fate just have a way of making all the jokes?)

Journal Scraping (1)

kilodelta (843627) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846077)

Our state legislature likes to do thing the archaic way, in order to hide their dirty deals etc.

Well, someone figured out how to scrape the PDF journals they regularly post on their web sit. Very interesting to say the least.

See also: Clustering senators by votes & topic (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15846096)

You might also be interested in another topic model that not only automatically discovers topics, but also automatically discovers topic-specific groupings of the senators by their votes. http://www.cs.umass.edu/~mccallum/papers/grouptopi c_linkkdd05.pdf [umass.edu] "Group and Topic Discovery from Relations and Text."

It uses not only word data (from the text of 16 years worth of bills voted on in the U.S. Senate), but also the senator's voting records.

For example, you can see that Sen. Chafee (R-RI) (who was mentioned on this morning's NPR as a "liberal Republican") actually does fall into a cluster of Democrats, not fellow Republicans. When automatically discovering topics using word data alone (without the votes, as does the wustl.edu paper above) the topics on this Senate data are reasonably coherent, but the topics created by this "Group-Topic" new model are even more interesting because their discovery is driven by the need to predict the votes as well as the words. For example, "Social Security" doesn't appear in the old model, but pops out clearly in the new model because it has such a distinct voting pattern.

Some of the other results are also pretty interesting---on Education and Domestic policy the Republicans are more split than the Democrats (forming 3 groups, to the Democrats 1 group). On other topics, the split is the other way around.

Using the same technique, there is also an analysis of 60 years worth of voting records from the U.N. On the topic of "human rights", Nicaragua, Papua, Rwanda, Swaziland and Fiji all get clustered together---ouch!

Re:See also: Clustering senators by votes & to (1)

scottyokim (898934) | more than 8 years ago | (#15847528)

That pdf that you link to says something about 90 Democrats ??????

Re:See also: Clustering senators by votes & to (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15848447)

Yes, over 16 years of data there are well over 100 different Senators because they get voted in and out of office.

congress members (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846101)

I imagine that the length of time a congressman/woman talks on a subject is directly proportional to the importance of that issue to them personally.

This would of course be subject to certain modifiers.

- Time to next election
- money from interested lobbyists
- need to oppose the issues raised by competitors to keep their succes rate down.

I'm sure if you could accuratelly calculate the above modifiers and apply them to any subject spoken about in congress you'd get an accurate prediction.

Tracking the Congressional Attention Span ? (1)

Tibore Escalante (993235) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846216)

... only if they can make measurements as small as planck intervals...

'judicial nominations' (1)

spammacus (805242) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846462)

"researchers found, for instance, that 'judicial nominations' have consumed steadily more Congressional attention between 1997 and 2004."

My interpretation: "inter-party power struggles" have consumed steadily more attention...

Or the flip-side: "actually running the damn country" has consumed steadily less attention...

Libertarians, rejoice. Though I feel sick.

Judicial Nominations (1)

PineHall (206441) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846492)

I suspect the reason Congress is spending more time on judicial nominations is that in the last 20 years judges have been playing a bigger role in government. They seem to have become the final authority in the government. The balance of power seems to have shifted toward the Judiciary.

Re:Judicial Nominations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15848177)

Sorry, but that comment is at best ridiculous.

If anything, the Judiciary has been shrinking in relevance, as have all formally-defined partitions of our government. The only growth industry has been the bureaucracy and arguably the Executive, as the natural environment of said bureaucracy.

But the Congressional Record is faked (3, Informative)

carlivar (119811) | more than 8 years ago | (#15846935)

I just finished reading John Stossel's new book (quite good, though not as good as his first). He has a section in it about the Congressional Record.

If you think the Congressional Record is an accurate account of what happens in Congress you are dead wrong. Congressmen use taxpayer dollars to manipulate the Record because there is nothing that says they can't. They insert bogus info, like "Congressman Bob Blowhard addressed the House with a commendation for the 4-H Club of Woohah, Oklahoma". Which never really happened but it makes Senator Blowhard look good with his constituents. They also change the words of what they really said on the floor to make themselves sound better.

Here is a blog post mentioning the problem Stossel brings up and a small excerpt [powerblogs.com]

Carl

In Soviet Husi (1)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 8 years ago | (#15847349)

John Stoseel is fake!

Speaking as a member of congress... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15847260)

... I found the article interesting and entertaining up until "To boldly go where no one has gone before" and then I started thinking about Star-Trek and decided that I would watch some of that... but I got bored half-way through that and thought I would post here... hmmm... what's that over there?

Most CongressPersons (1)

BlindRobin (768267) | more than 8 years ago | (#15847423)

Have an attention span that is a complex of [all the things needed to get {re-)elected]. If they can support their original ideals/goals/etc. evil, good, demented or whatever, well that's a bonus.
They can't do shit unless they get elected first, and to get elected they have to sell out, so their priotities change with the system that owns them.

Does it track... (2, Funny)

SlowEmotionReplay (822314) | more than 8 years ago | (#15848392)

which orifice they were talking out of?

Congressional Record not accurate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15858913)

Congress members do not have what they actually said recorded in the Congressional Record. They submit written speeches that may or may not have occurred for inclusion each night. Much of what is in the Record is wildly inaccurate as a representation of what they are actually saying. It would be better to do analysis on C-SPAN recordings.

C-SPAN is the greatest tool ever for historians of Congress because it shows what they really are saying and doing. Members can have anything stricken from the record at any time before publication. So, is this project time well-spent? Nope.
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