Stuff I Write


Capturing the Relationship between Election Polls and News

posted Jan 14, 2017, 9:39 AM by Jack Bandy

The following is from a group project I recently completed for my "digital assets at scale" course. Note that not all of the work is my own, as three other students worked on this project. Also note the data set we analyzed is fairly incomplete, so no objective conclusions should be made.


Overview
This project used a homemade web crawler to download and inspect approximately 60,000 online news articles related to the 2016 election. Of these articles, approximately 3,000 contained direct links to published poll data. Using data from FiveThirtyEight, we tallied the articles and 


Juicy stats

This graph (Reference Frequency for Grades) uses the poll grades given by FiveThirtyEight to show how often news articles linked to polls with specific grades. The graph is somewhat bimodal, with many links to A- polls but also a fair number of links to C+ polls. In a perfect world, news articles would only link to A or A+ polls, ignoring flawed poll results.




This graph shows how often news articles linked to polls in certain locations. Most are battleground states or swing states.




The final graph (Polls in final two months before election) shows polls taken over time, both cumulative (red) and by day. There are noticeable correlations between polls taken and the news cycle, including the final debate (see peak at 10/19 on graph), the sexual assault allegations against Trump (see peak at 10/25 on graph), and the new emails related to Clinton that were unveiled (see peak at 10/30 on graph). This shows that pollsters were, understandably, trying to account for shifting public attitudes by taking new polls.





The table (below) shows some of the 10 polls that were most linked to within the articles we inspected. "PollRank" is a modification of the PageRank algorithm, which Google is built upon, and can be thought of as a popularity score (i.e. higher PollRank indicates more news articles linking to that poll).

The top two polls are both generic urls, not specific poll outcomes. This means the top-ranked (most-cited) poll from our crawl was an “A” grade poll indicating a narrow lead for Clinton a week before the election. However, the next two are “B” and “C” grade polls that indicate a Clinton lead. It was not immediately clear why Arizona, with 11 electoral votes and a strong Republican-voting history, would be so interesting to news articles. But, it should be noted that Bill Clinton is the only Democrat to win the state (in 1996) since 1952, which may have made the state interesting to some news sites. Generally polls in the top-10 with “A” grades predicted outcomes that were consistent with the results, notably Trump leading in Florida, closing the gap in Pennsylvania, and steadily drawing closer in the popular vote. Polls in our top-10 with “B” or “C” grades predicted outcomes that favored Clinton in the popular vote.

PollRank

Poll URL

Poll Grade

Poll Outcome (Clinton, Trump)

Poll End Date

0.001739

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/02/tracking-poll-finds-race-tied-as-trump-opens-up-an-8-point-edge-on-honesty/

A+

46, 46

10/31

0.00190

http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2016/10/21/ajc-poll-trump-and-clinton-deadlocked-georgia/

A-

42, 44

(Georgia)

10/20

0.001890

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2016/images/10/24/cnn.poll.pdf

A-

49, 44

10/23

0.001919

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cbs-battleground-poll-partisans-divide-on-news-of-fbi-emails/

B

48, 40

(Pennsylvania)

10/28

0.001966

http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/texas-news/new-poll-trump-lead-shrinks-in-texas-within-margin-of-error/335896258

A

43, 47

10/12

0.001999

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-10-26/florida-poll

A+

43, 45

(Florida)

10/24

0.002007

http://www.people-press.org/2016/10/27/as-election-nears-voters-divided-over-democracy-and-respect/

B+

46, 40

10/25

0.002069

https://poll.qu.edu/2016-presidential-swing-state-polls/release-detail?ReleaseID=2399

A-

48,43

(Pennsylvania)

11/1

0.002555

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/10/19/arizona-poll-hillary-clinton-donald-trump/92339110/

C+

43.4, 37.8

(Arizona)

10/15

0.002649

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/10/26/poll-clinton-builds-leads-nation-worried-election-day-violence-trump/92712708/

B+

45, 42

10/26

0.003030

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-leads-clinton-point-poll-enthusiasm-declines/story?id=43199459

A+

45, 46

10/30

0.004178

http://www.investors.com/politics/ibd-tipp-presidential-election-poll/

A-

44.4, 43.9

11/8

0.007278

http://graphics.latimes.com/usc-presidential-poll-dashboard/

(no grade)

44.9, 44.5

11/8





Nerdy details
  • Scraping Polls

    • The polls scraping part is straightforward. We scraped the urls of original polls from two websites, FiveThirtyEight.com and RealClearPolitics.com. Both of the websites provided multiple lists of polls in chronological order.

      • From the two websites, we extracted 3,510 unique nationwide poll urls and 9,554 unique urls of statewide polls.

      • Two Source for Scraping Polls

        • FiveThirtyEight

        • RealClear Politics

    • For instance, the screenshot attached below is from RealClearPolitics. The have poll lists for nationwide polls, statewide polls, etc. The other picture attached below is the HTML code for one particular poll from RealClearPolitics.com. The “a” tag of Line 300 is the url of the original poll, which is what our poll crawler will extract from the website.


RCP_Poll copy.jpg




  • Scraping News Aggregators

    • While crawling the domains of known news websites would give us millions of related articles, we would have to first crawl through hundreds of millions (or even over a billion) webpages. Because our 2016 election polls topic is so specific, it is likely only a small fraction of crawled articles would be relevant.

    • We therefore first crawled from a seed set of URLs that were obtained by scraping news aggregators such as Google News and News Look Up which we obtained a total of approximately 36,000 unique articles.

      • Keyword search queries such as “polls”, “2016 elections”, “trump leads”, “clinton leads”, “electoral college”, “battleground states”, and more were used to fetch as many related articles as possible.

      • Returned articles were also filtered by date (7/31 to 11/8 for Google News and past one month for News Look Up) to maximize the proportion of articles that are relevant to the 2016 presidential election.

    • Upon fetching the HTML of a Google News search result page, our Google News scraper looks for three different types of anchor tags that have links to articles ('l _HId', '_sQb', and '_rQb'). Each of these three tags represent different types of content (see figure below).

      • Note that Google does not usually permit scraping/crawling of their search results and blocks non-browser users, so we spoofed the user-agent of the scraper to do this. However, we did attempt to minimize the amount of GET requests our scraper was making by forcing the return of 100 results at a time instead of the default 10.


  • The structure of the News Look Up search result page is much simpler as there is only a single class for links to articles (see figure below). However, we were limited to fetching articles that were published within the past month.



  • Scraping Web Archive

    • Scraping news aggregators could not provide enough urls for us. Thus, we tried to scrape from the snapshot of the Web.

    • We use The Internet Archive (archive.org) for this task. According to internet resource:

      • The Internet Archive is a San Francisco–based nonprofit digital library with the stated mission of "universal access to all knowledge". It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including web sites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books. As of October 2016, its collection topped 15 petabytes.

    • We scraped over 340,000 distinct urls from the Internet Archive. If time allows, we can scrape as much as we want from the Internet Archive.

    • Root urls for scraping web archive

      • We use RealClearPolitics (realclearpolitics.com), the political session of FiveThirtyEight (fivethirtyeight.com/politics), NewsLookUp (newslookup.com), and Associated Press (ap.com) as the root urls.

      • By using these four root urls, we are hoping we can extract more urls related to political during the recursive crawling process.

    • The screenshot attached below is the HTML code snap for the snapshots of FiveThirtyEight on August 9, 2016 from the Internet Archive.

      • Their code organized very well. From the code we can easily identify the information we want. For instance, there are three snapshots was taken on that day. The url of each snapshots contains the data and time.

      • One thing we found interesting and we cannot figure out the reason is that the Internet Archive decided to include the url of very first snapshot of each day of  each website in their HTML code. However, users are not be able to see it from browser. We do not know why they are doing this, but we guess it must be using for some internal purpose.  

  • Creating a Graph

We used BeautifulSoup to parse links once a news article was retrieved. Since most poll-related articles will link directly to a poll. The resulting graph is in the file “data/depth0_graph.csv”


  • Ranking Polls

For implementing the PageRank algorithm, we used the Hadoop framework in conjunction with MapReduce. This part was implemented in Java. Our code has three mapper and two reducer classes: the first mapper class parses the input file (i.e., web link graph), and the associated reducer class creates a new input file for the second mapper class. The second mapper class initializes the initial PageRank value and sends them to the second reducer class, while the second reducer class mainly does the whole calculation of the PageRank. The third mapper class does the sorting of the web pages according to the PageRank. Our final output is in the format <Rank, Link>. Figure shows a sample output of PageRank for subdomain cs.uky.edu.

Job 1:

Mapper:        

·         Input: <fromlink    Tolinks >

·         Output: <link        link >

Reducer:

·         Assign the initial value for every link.

·         Output: <link   initialRank   links>

Job 2:

Mapper:

·         Input: <link      initialRank   links>

·         Output: <link   Rank   links>

Reducer:

·         Calculate the PageRank

·         Output <link   Rank>

Job 3:

Mapper:

·         Sort the links according to Rank

·         Output <Rank Link>


  • Scaled crawl with scrapy

We were able to collect approximately 47,340 unique article urls from scraping news aggregators. (NewsArchive URLS were not included in this batch, as there was a significant crawling delay in these retrievals). We used this “seed set” of urls to start a much more expansive crawl, powered by scrapy. The first round of 47k urls was crawled in about 2 hours (400 pages per minute) on a Mac laptop with a home internet connection. This produced a set of 355,501 unique urls after de-duplicating links and removing links to polls or previously crawled articles. With the rate of 400 pages per minute, this list should have been completely crawled in 14 hours.


However, in the second crawl (depth 1), scale became an issue. The spider had only crawled about 50,000 articles after running overnight (approximately 80 pages per mintute). This was because many news sites refused connections after some number of requests, even using scrapy’s request delays and other spoofing/cloaking functionality. Eventually, we reached a configuration that allowed us to crawl depth1 links reasonably quickly, and could have completed the full list given about 31 hours. This was done by changing some of scrapy’s default functionality and shuffling urls to minimize repetitive requests to a given server.


Crawling just a subset of depth1 links generated a list of over 2 million more articles (before de-duplication and filtering), however, we expect the percentage of those articles containing links to polls would be significantly lower, as was shown in the difference between depth0 and depth1 crawls. At the pace achieved during the depth1 crawl, our crawler would have taken quite a while to crawl 2 million articles. 

Below is a summary of the statistics from our crawls:


Crawl Depth

Total Urls

Crawled Urls

Total Poll links

Poll links/Crawled URLs

Approximate Pages Per Minute

0 (aggregated list)

47,340

47,340

2,779

5.8%

400

1

355,501

18,943

540

2.8%

80, 190 after adjustments

2

>2,657,451

0

n/a

n/a

n/a


Analyzing Presidential Candidates' Websites

posted Oct 2, 2015, 5:06 PM by Jack Bandy   [ updated Oct 2, 2015, 5:08 PM ]

I pasted the following from a project I recently completed for my computational linguistics course.

1. Choosing Text for a Corpus

Several different corpus sources would give different insights about the presidential candidates. I considered speech and debate transcripts, tweets, or blog posts. I ended up using text from the candidates’ websites under the “issues” pages, because these sites, unlike the other mediums, serve a common purpose for each candidate. Each “issue” page is crafted to clearly communicate the candidate’s position and explain his or her platform. There exists some variation, for example, Donald Trump essentially has three essays that communicate his positions and platform for different issues, whereas Marco Rubio provides over thirty different pages. Carly Florina’s “issues” page only provides links to videos, so I could not use her for comparison in my project.


2. Website Scraping and Clean-Up

I used a recursive wget command to scrape issue pages from the following websites:
Once I had clones of each website, I used a python script to extract all the text in paragraph sections of the website, snipping out headers and footers.


3. Investigating the Text

I wanted to investigate two broad questions: (1) what kind of “political archetypes” do candidates tap into, and can archetypes be traced to the candidate’s party affiliation? Then, (2) how does each each candidate present themselves linguistically? Essentially, some calculations with word and bigram frequencies can answer both questions.


4. Features


Clinton

Sanders

Rubio

Trump

Carson

Bush

Length

8870

9172

17422

4913

1854

13146

Vocab

1916

2303

3124

1367

579

2943

Lex. Diversity

4.6

3.98

5.57

3.5

3.2

4.6

Top Bigrams

criminal justice

sen. sanders

president obama

united states

united states

united states


health care

social security

american dream

tax rate

founding fathers

middle east


minimum wage

united states

united states

concealed carry

innocent life

president obama


Hillary believes

health care

supreme court

middle class

middle east

border patrol


clean energy

nuclear weapon

second amendment

tax plan

american people

energy revolution

Noteable bigrams

human rights

billionaire class, middle class

21st century

america great, make america

dangerously belligerant

Ronald Reagan

Top Words

Hillary, America, care, women, health, plan, access, work, need, new

must, people, sanders, country, americans, war, time, veterans

american, president, america, world, life, must, people, need

tax, immigration, plan, america, americans

must, america, american, states, time, united, israel

veterans, president, energy, american, federal, must, border

First Name

139

3

16

4

0

18

Last Name

3

38

7

17

0

1

Self-Ref Pct.

1.6%

0.4%

0.1%

0.4%

0%

0.1%



5. Feature Intuition

Length.
(total words from issue pages) Ben Carson’s site can be considered an outlier, each of his issue pages contains about three sentences. Rubio’s site is considerably larger than others.

Lexical Diversity.
(total words used divided by unique words used) As expected, lexical diversity generally increases according to length of the respective text.

Self-references.
(first name or last name of candidate) No site used personal pronouns.

Bigrams and words.
(most frequently occurring word pairs and individual words) I used nltk’s built-in stopword set for english to eliminate words like “a,” “the,” “it,” and more from the analysis.


6. Observations and Future Work

Political Archetypes.
Although these pages are supposed to declare specific positions on issues, the frequently occurring bigrams and words do not serve that purpose. References such as “human rights,” “american dream,” “second amendment,” “founding fathers,” “ronald reagan,” “21st century,” “make america great,” and more tap into political archetypes about which all of us have preconceived notions, while doing little to clarify a candidate’s position. Clinton’s frequent use of “Hillary believes” may be considered an exception.
As far as tracing features to party affiliation, the table reveals a few shallow insights. Because of the variance in length, it is not appropriate to say that one party has a stronger lexical diversity than the other, however, Clinton’s site achieved the same lexical diversity as Bush’s site with about 4,000 fewer total words.  Health care made the top bigrams for both Democratic candidates, but not for any Republican candidates. President Obama made top bigrams for two Republican candidates, but not for any Democratic candidates. While these features are interesting, they are somewhat unsurprising.

Self-references.
As previously noted, Bush and Clinton refer to themselves almost exclusively by last name. Although I can only speculate the intention is a disassociation from dynastic politics, the choice is clearly deliberate. This can be seen even in Bush’s website address, which is “jeb2016.com.” Other candidates using their last name is not entirely surprising, however it is interesting that Ben Carson did not reference either.

Future work.
Although different candidates use twitter and blogging for different purposes that might make comparisons complicated, a corpus built from tweets and/or blogs may carry additional insight beyond what is found on the candidates’ issue pages.

Mere Contradictions

posted Jun 16, 2015, 6:28 PM by Jack Bandy   [ updated Jun 18, 2015, 3:53 PM ]


One of my personal summer projects is/was to work through the above infographic (which you can find in full here) that I saw on reddit over easter weekend. It’s snazzy. Oftentimes, it’s assumed that we Christians either (a) don’t see things like this or (b) deny them when they come into our line of site (i.e. "ACTIVATE COGNITIVE DISSONANCE MODE"). I will demonstrate this is not the case.

I want to challenge Matt Barsotti’s claim that the gospels “are not telling the same story.” Really, that claim is non-sequitur. Even if you use all the information in the infographic, you can’t reasonably arrive at that conclusion. One of the options listed at the end lets one “Use historical methods to look for the common core between the gospels where they overlap. Assert that the big claim of the resurrection is true.” That is, in essence, the position I want to defend: the gospel's salient points coincide.


My notes look a lot at the first section, “Mere Contradictions,” but also explore the points made throughout the other sections. Unlike the infographic, I will cite my sources for the claims, so you can go check them out yourself.



Contradiction: a combination of statements, ideas, or features of a situation that are opposed to one another.



Fate of Judas?

There are four red x’s to indicate one central contradiction: how did Judas die?

  • Acts 1:18 “Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out”

    • This paragraph is parenthetical

  • Matthew 27:5 “And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself”

Paul refers to Luke, the author of Acts, as “Luke the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. It is not surprising that Luke gives such an explanation of Judas’ death in Acts, while the account in Matthew only gives the original cause. As an analogy, consider a pedestrian hit by a car. An observer, if asked, would recount the pedestrian died “because he was hit by a car.” If the body was taken to a doctor, the doctor would say, for example, the pedestrian died “due to heavy impact on the skull.”

Note the shared details: the thirty pounds of silver that Judas was rewarded for betraying Jesus in order to by the field that was renamed to “The Field of Blood.” Matthew and Acts speak differently as to who directly used this money to buy the field. If it is a contradiction, it is an insignificant one. However, one can imagine several scenarios with which both the Matthew and Acts accounts align.



At the feet of the Cross?

Each gospel mentions women in observance of the crucifixion, and three of the four explicitly name two of those women (both named Mary, if you get confused you can go here). Given the shared details and the personal context of John’s gospel, this doesn’t qualify as a contradiction.

  • Matthew 27:55: “There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph"

  • John 19:25: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene”

    • John’s words, “by the cross,” differ from the poster’s, “at the foot of the cross.”

    • John’s gospel states that Jesus saw (his mother) Mary from the cross and put her into the care of one of his disciples, an example of his (then) radical treatment of women. This dialogue is not recorded in the other gospel accounts, but again, it is not contradicted. Have you ever exchanged dialogue with someone? Good. What about from far away? John’s gospel even includes exclamation points when Jesus has this dialogue.

  • Mark 15:40: “There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses”

  • Luke 23:49: “And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things”



Famous Last Words

What explicit claims do the gospels make about Jesus’ last words? In fact, the gospels coincide with great precision at this point in the narrative if you read complete verses. For example, each gospel mentions the sour wine Jesus drank. Mark is the only gospel that omits Jesus surrendering his spirit (it is safe to assume this surrender constituted Jesus' last words), but Mark's description that Jesus “uttered a loud cry” is certainly compatible with this. This detail from Mark is not, however, opposed to the claims of the other gospels. Matt is really stretching the text to call anything here a “contradiction.”

  • Matthew 27:50 “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit

    • (Quote on the infographic is from Matthew 27:46)

  • Mark 15:37 “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last”

    • (Quote on the infographic is from Mark 15:34)

  • Luke 23:46 “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last”

    • (Quote on the infographic is from the same verse)

  • John 19:30 “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit

    • (Quote on the infographic is from the same verse)



Stay or Leave?

Contradictions about the resurrection are the most important among those Matt points out in the infographic. For me and many others, everything about the Christian faith rests on Jesus’ resurrection. It would be a powerful critique if the gospels flatly contradict each other in the details of Jesus’ travels post-resurrection. Many unique details exist in harmony, not including this one regarding Jesus’ instructions to the disciples.

  • Matthew 28:10 “Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me”

    • Matthew 28:16 “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them”

  • Mark 16:7 “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you”

  • Luke 24:50 “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven”

I will examine more details about this (maybe) contradiction in the next few sections.



Greeters at the Tomb?

Technically, this contradiction can be solved rather easily: if there were two or three, there was at least one. I acknowledge this 'solution' is not very satisfying, ("How many angels were there, one or two?" "Yes!") but I don't think it is a detail that calls into question the existence, life, teachings, death, or resurrection of Jesus. And, once again, note the shared detail: angels greeting the women at Jesus’ tomb in the morning.

  • Mark 16:5 “And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed”

  • Matthew 28:2An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it”

    • Matthew 28:8 “So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings’”

  • Luke 24:4two men stood by them in dazzling apparel”

  • John 20:12 “And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain”



Finding the Tomb - Who? When? Where?

The infographic does a pretty good job of outlining the discrepancies, but in doing so, it also shows how the different accounts intertwine and form a more plausible scenario. Four perfectly harmonious accounts which included and excluded the same details would make a historian more suspicious than four accounts which include and exclude different details. Imagine if we doubted everything that Fox and CBS reported simply because they shared different details. Here is a general outline of Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection. You will see that no claim flatly contradicts any other claim.

  • Easter Sunday (in the Jerusalem Area)

    • John 20:11 and Mark 16:9 Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene outside the tomb

    • Matthew 28:8 Jesus appears to two Marys as they hurry from the tomb

    • Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5 Jesus appears to Peter

    • Mark 16:12 and Luke 24:13 Jesus appears to two disciples on the Emmaus road

    • Luke 24:36 and John 20:19 Jesus appears to the apostles (minus Thomas) in a house in Jerusalem

  • Later on that week

    • John 20:26 and Mark 16:14 Jesus appears to the apostles (including Thomas) in a house

  • Later on (in Galilee)

    • John 21:1 and Matthew 28:16 Jesus appears to the apostles

    • 1 Corinthians 15:6 Jesus appears to more than 500 followers and to James

    • Matthew 28:16 Jesus gives the great commission



True Colors?

Optical illusion dress

This is certainly not the first time in history that two people have looked at an article of clothing and described it as two different colors. Also, the color difference is negligible, not conflicting. I’ll point out yet another shared detail: the Romans clothed Jesus in a unique way before his crucifixion.

  • Mark 15:20 “And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.”

  • Matthew 27:28 “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on Him”

  • John 19:2 “And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him.”
    • The infographic doesn’t mention John’s description.


Lamb to Slaughter?

John’s gospel is notoriously philosophical. He opens with the claim that God is the logos – the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. He states towards the end of his gospel, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The purpose is to help you believe, and he takes a unique approach, in light of which, it is not surprising that John’s gospel includes a philosophical discourse during Jesus’ appearance before Pilate.

  • Isaiah 53:7 “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”

  • Matthew 26:23 “But Jesus remained silent”

  • John 19:9 “But Jesus gave him no answer"

    • John 18:20 “Jesus answered him…”

    • John 18:34 “Jesus answered him…”



Gospel Truths

  • Anonymity This is a very weak criticism about the historicity of the gospels. Much can be gathered from any document without knowing the original author. While the authors weren’t attempting to hide their identity, it was not the focus of their work. Furthermore, the gospels were exchanged in-person. Imagine, if you will, a time where the post office didn’t exist, and you personally delivered mail, would you sign your name on everything? Lastly, most scholars are interested in attributes of the authors, rather than their identity. For example, we are more interested that the author of Luke interviewed eyewitnesses (which he did) than we are about knowing the author's full name and birthday.

  • Undated Again it is important to consider what the original authors aimed to communicate. The date of their authorship was not of the utmost importance. Nonetheless, dates for all the gospels are provided later in the infographic. New Testament scholars (read “critics”) agree that the gospels were written within the lifetime of the original eyewitnesses, so it would be difficult to completely fabricate a story like this. (Imagine your parents publishing stories about an alien invasion from their High School years).

  • Greek Greek was the language of business/education at the time. The Gospel of Luke even opens with a particularly scholarly dialect in verses 1-4, before continuing in a more common language. Greek would also be the most easily translated language out of the three languages with which Jesus was acquainted (add Aramaic and Hebrew). Jews would have been particularly familiar with the language.

    • Why would the disciples not write in their own language? Now that the reason for using Greek is clear, one can assume the disciples would take the means to do so, whether that involved a translator or a scribe or what have you.

  • Not in first-person If the historicity of the gospels is to be challenged, this point only shoots itself in the foot. A formal recount of a historical event would have been told as a narrative, not an autobiography.



Local Legends and Glaring Omissions

  • Matthew

    • “Hand-Washing Pilate” I find the following claim outlandish: “these points of trial melodrama would have been known to all the writers, if they actually happened.” Nonetheless, there is quite a good reason only Matthew mentions this. Aimed towards an audience of Jews, this gospel packs in a number of old testament references, this being one of them. The fact that Matthew includes details in order to appeal to a Jewish audience does not invalidate those details. Even if it is embellishment, the core Jesus narrative is unaffected by this detail.

      • Deuteronomy 21:6-8 “And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed’”

      • Matthew 27:24 “So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves’"

    • Tomb Seal” In fact, each gospel explicitly mentions the stone in front of the tomb. It’s kind of like saying “no other gospel said the door was locked.” Well, every gospel made it clear that a key was required to open the door.

      • John 20:1 “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb”

      • Matthew 28:2 “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it”

      • Mark 16:3 “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?"

      • Luke 24:2 “they found the stone rolled away from the tomb”

    • “Guards” The soldiers are less important, at least in my eyes. The fact that Matthew is the only one to include them may very well be due to him answering the skeptics.

  • Luke

    • “Trial Punt to Herod” I don’t have an answer for this one. It does not really make sense to me that the other gospels wouldn’t include this.

    • “Ascension of Jesus” There are direct references to Jesus’ ascent in three of the four gospels, so I wouldn’t qualify this as a “glaring” omission. But the symmetry in the table was worth preserving, I suppose.

      • Luke 24:51 “he parted from them and was carried up into heaven”
      • Mark 16:19 “after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven”
      • John 6:62 “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before”
        • John 20:17 "Jesus said, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father"
  • John

    • “Spear to the Side” I really wish other gospels had mentioned this. Again, I don’t really have an answer for this one, but I’m pretty comfortable crediting it to the skeptical audience to which John was writing.

    • “Magical Powers” Addressed in “Quizzical conundrums”



Whoppers that fail the fact check

From what I know, the historical record is not as great as Matt purports it to be. A few of these really are whoppers, but overall I don’t think he’s relying too much on there being “no evidence.” Would historians really want to record an earthquake? Even more trivial, if a storm came and made the sky dark for a few hours, who would write about it? Josephus was one of the only historians we have from the area around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. He wrote about Jesus, but not weather patterns. So I’m counting out the first three.

  • “Massive Quake at Crucifixion”

  • “3 Hours of Darkness Mid-day”

  • “2nd Quake on Easter Morning”

  • “Temple Veil Torn in Half” Again, Matthew was writing to the Jews and packing in Old Testament references. The temple veil is a huge icon. We’re talking Charles Dickens-style symbolism here. There’s a whole lot I could write about it, but I’ll just mention that it marks the end of the old covenant, Jesus’ sacrifice tears down the barriers to heaven, and now all may enter.

  • “Many Dead Walk the Streets” I don’t have a great answer for this one. Hopefully it’s not talking about physical bodies. Jesus raised Lazarus, but, zombies in the bible? This might be worthy of the “whopper” title.



Other Quizzical Conundrums

Emphasis on “quizzical.”

  • Why did the women go to the tomb?

    • Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56 and John 19:39 To anoint Jesus with spices.

    • Luke 16:3 “And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’”

  • Why was the tomb found open?

    • The empty tomb is probably the strongest piece of hard evidence anyone has or had pointing to Jesus’ resurrection. How would anyone know it was empty if it was sealed? Again, he has kind of shot himself in the foot, already pointing out that “all the resurrection accounts depict the stone being rolled back.”
      • Counterargument "If Jesus is truly resurrected, then having Him appear to Roman authorities, lead said authorities to the still-sealed tomb, and having it opened to show that he truly was resurrected would've been MUCH better. An open tomb only raises questions about body-snatchers and all that jazz."
        • The proposed scenario seems like a better performance, but is it reasonable to be unimpressed by a man coming back to life just because he didn't also walk through a rock? Furthermore, for multiple reasons made clear in the gospels it is unreasonable that the Roman authorities would ever have consented to rolling back the stone.
        • The body-snatching theory is a giant box of worms, you can take a peak inside if you'd like: William Lane Craig mentions some key aspects of it in a fairly accessible essay here.
    • It's also come to my attention that Matthew actually depicts tomb as still sealed when the women visit.
      • Matthew 28:2 "an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it"
  • Was Pilate actually reluctant to convict?
    • The gospels included this detail exactly because it was so unlikely. We remember and record things that are worth remembering and recording, if Pilate broke character, such an event would qualify. Furthermore, describing Jesus as a “a violent small-time troublemaker” is neither historically accurate nor logically reasonable, even with all the evidence in the infographic.



Conclusions

Personifying this infographic:


Two quick points then you can leave. First, quit thinking of the gospels as chapters of the same book. The New Testament is cool and all, but putting each book under the same cover has distorted our perception of their historicity. When we talk about the gospels, we are talking about four independent sources recording the same event, written by different people, at different times, and reporting many of the same low-level details. Historians are often ecstatic with two sources that even remotely resemble one another!


Which brings me to my next point. Have you read all those biographies and weather records from Jerusalem and other areas of the near-east that were written in the first century AD? … If you answered “no,” you’re right! Literacy rates were at best around 10% (I’m using an atheist’s book as my source for that number: Ehrman, Bart D. Did Jesus Exist?), so these stories would have spread predominantly by word of mouth. In light of low literacy rates, how would we expect Jesus’ crucifixion to be recorded? I don’t think these four accounts are too far off from the model we might imagine. Bill (Craig) and Bart (Ehrman) discuss this point – which I might dub the “evolution of the Jesus narrative” – in an awesome debate that you can find here. I’ll end this post abruptly so you can go watch.


Weeks into Wheaton

posted Oct 1, 2013, 9:58 AM by Jack Bandy

Driving to Wheaton on August 7th, I realized I was leaving more than just a physical location. It felt so busy and abrupt at the time, dealing with the practical matters and not actually thinking about how much life was about to change. Well, it's a typical Friday night here at Wheaton -- I'm in the computer science lab, working on a program. So I decided to take some time and reflect on my experience over the last month and a half or so.

I like to believe that I know what to expect from reality at any given time, and reality likes to prove otherwise. Two days before I left for Wheaton, I received a phone call from an army official regarding the status of my ROTC scholarship (I had been 'temporarily' disqualified months earlier due to my sleepwalking and applied for the waiver). The review board disapproved my waiver. Suddenly my four-year, full-tuition scholarship was dangling by a thread. Panicking, I called everyone who had a shot at changing anything, but this just complicated everything. I left for the Boundary Waters on the 7th, to be without my phone for two weeks, all the while unaware of whether or not I would have the scholarship.

It was an excruciatingly stressful process, but the final decision was that I could not participate in ROTC. Sometimes brick walls actually function as such.

Besides this blog, I haven't even thought about the scholarship since my terminal meeting in August, largely because Wheaton has given me plenty of other things to think about.

For one, everybody is new, and as an introvert, it's been exhausting to constantly put effort towards all the new relationships. At the same time, the process has been very rewarding. My cynical mindset sometimes spills over into how I think about people, and the people at Wheaton have stomped that out of me a bit. Not many people have fit my predisposed stereotypes: I've met genuinely selfless guys, home-schoolers who make eye contact during conversation, girls who think pragmatically, and even a philosophy major without a ponytail.

I also study a lot. The Trial of Socrates, axiomatic set theory, holoalphabetic validation via Java, Aristotelian justice, recursively producing a power set of a set of sets in ML (no typos there), oh, and Plato's Republic. It's a bit different, namely busier, than high school.

But sometimes I'm able to squeeze in a bit of fun. After four years on the bench, I've enjoyed a bit of athletic redemption in some pickup basketball games and intramural ultimate frisbee. I may or may not have learned a primitive version of Salsa dancing. My record in ping-pong has fared decently. I've settled in bed after 4am a few nights (causes include metaphysical discussions, "initiation," and, of course, meals).

Finally, I've learned a valuable lesson in deferred gratification. After my first time finishing homework on Saturday in order to rest on Sunday, I haven't done homework on a Sunday since. It will fundamentally change your lifestyle if you decide to work from rest, rather than rest from work. Yes, it does mean working harder during the week (maybe even programming on a Friday night), but the resulting rest is indisputably worth it.

Looks like I'm sustaining the stellar pace of one blog post per three months. Check back here accordingly.

An "Official" Decision

posted Apr 21, 2013, 12:46 PM by Jack Bandy

Four score months and seven years days ago, I received my rejection letter from Stanford. Put simply, I had put all my eggs in one basket. I handled my college search process pretty arrogantly, and I had only visited three schools by the time I found out I couldn't go to Stanford. Even though I could rationalize and convince myself it wasn't something to be disappointed about, it was pretty tough. But, I'll move on before my tears cause water damage to my keyboard... I'd give you a link to my rant, but I have a grand total of two three blog posts on here so you can just scroll down.

I had about one month to develop and execute plan B, and I completed applications to three schools: UK, Wheaton, and Case Western (because I needed acceptance into at least one selective school, just as a morale boost). I also applied for an Army ROTC scholarship at Wheaton.

UK accepted me, as did the honors program, and I had a full ride available through the Patterson Scholarship.

Wheaton accepted me, and I was offered the full-tuition ROTC Scholarship, as well as enough merit scholarships to cover room and board. Another full ride (with strings attached: four years of active service after graduation).

Case Western, the school I wanted acceptance from as a morale boost, wait-listed me.

So I had two really good options. I chose Wheaton. There you have it. I'll be accepting the full-tuition Army ROTC scholarship and $8500 of merit scholarships, I'm going to double major in Computer Science and something else I haven't decided on yet.

Wheaton Application Essay: Legos

posted Jan 8, 2013, 6:32 PM by Jack Bandy   [ updated Jan 25, 2013, 10:21 AM ]

Prompt: What was your favorite childhood game? What does that say about who you are now?


Instructions? No thanks. I wasn’t about to let some unimaginative, underpaid Lego employee tell me how to build my spaceship.

An empty, white table: the perfect platform for creating my masterpiece. Except for that little smudge there... ah. Much better.

No need to be anxious now, just take it two blocks at a time. Oh, but who am I kidding? I dump out the hundreds of pieces and my mind races to work, swiftly clicking and connecting. The laser guns needed improvement from their representation on the box, as did the cockpit. Let’s tilt the body back a little bit, since it’s taking off. That looks better. Connect the cockpit, strap on the guns, see what the captain thinks... too high? Let’s fix that. Disconnect. Connect. Still? Disconnect. Disconnect. Connect. Click, and... wow.

Now that’s a spaceship.

It wasn’t my first construction project, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Sometimes I still get out the delicately organized fishing box which houses all of my Legos. From top to bottom: yellow, blue, green, red, gray, other; from left to right: one-by-anythings, two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, the thin ones, the long ones, the misfits. But even the most useful pieces are all worthless on their own, which is why I have always felt obligated to combine them.

About one decade after my Lego obsession, I find myself anxiously looking at another pile of parts. This time, they’re more complicated than Lego pieces: a small two-stroke engine, some chains, a carburetor, mounting fixtures, way too many bolts, and a stripped-down bicycle. I know the process will be long and frustrating, I know the parts won’t assemble themselves, I know the final product will be worth it, and I know the instructions are still worthless.

I’m still a builder.

For me, it only feels natural to bring together a structure from individual parts. But it’s more than just stacking bricks to make a bigger brick. I realized early on in life that whatever I built was indeed worth more than the sum of its parts. When I build, I’m not just adding parts together, I’m creating a new, intricate, useful product. But my education generally has embraced deconstruction: understanding the parts, not the whole. Science and math especially demonstrate this “methodological reductionism”, breaking everything down into more understandable pieces. This deconstruction is certainly useful, but I find more value in construction. What good does it do to understand the parts of something if we can’t make anything of them?

If building is merely a physical activity, someone must have forgotten to tell me. I see everything in my life as a construction project: my page of notes in class, a problem set for calculus, a new explanation for my idea. To me, it’s all the same: using a sparse body of pieces to create something organized, useful, and original. So when I think of myself today in relation to my favorite childhood games, I see myself as the same builder I was as a kid.

I remember the simple structures I created as a kid: the basic (but undoubtedly awesome) forts I designed, the makeshift shelters I built in our forrest, and of course the awesome Lego spaceships. Then I think of the more complicated things I’ve built in recent years: a furnished room in our attic, some iPhone applications, and my homemade motor-bike. My entire life I’ve just been learning how to become a better builder, and since I can’t help but think I’ll be building my entire life, I want to continue mastering my trade.

Even if that means cracking open the instructions sometimes.

Why I am (not) Disappointed (with Stanford)

posted Dec 16, 2012, 5:14 PM by Jack Bandy   [ updated Jan 25, 2013, 10:20 AM ]

Having never been in a real teenage relationship, this is probably the closest I'll get to what a breakup feels like. I'm bitter, still trying to move on, and looking for a 'replacement.' My 'breakup' also resembled a typical teenager's in that it happened digitally. At about 6:00 pm on December 14th, the most devastating message (in the entire history of the whole entire history of the whole world) appeared on my phone. In a very superficial email from the Stanford Dean of Admission, I learned I would not fulfill my dream of attending Stanford in 2013.

I had analyzed the online threads of the early applicants, chuckling at their grammatical errors and typos. I had bought my Mac & Cheese from Panera, which I had planned for several months to be a celebratory meal. (It didn't taste quite as good as an attempt to cope with the rejection letter.) I didn't sleep on Thursday night. I survived on Cosmic Brownies for the better part of Friday. I waited for what seemed like years on Friday, for that one little piece of data to travel across cyberspace and reach my inbox. Which, I must add, must be as worthy as any Stanford acceptant's email address: 'me' @ jackbandy.com.

And yes, the email was superficial. "We were humbled by your talents and achievements and by the commitment you demonstrated in all of your academic and extracurricular endeavors." And just as much as the 4,806 other applicants who received this exact same email? Thanks. I also read (more accurately, studied) the Dean of Admissions' article explaining why Stanford Rejects survive. He commented "The world is not going to judge anyone negatively because they didn’t get into Stanford or one of our peer institutions."

Certainly true. Check out this unedited picture of Richard Shaw's rad signature he included in the email. Richard was also correct in predicting that I would still be alive today. Kudos, bro, kudos... What a boss.

Richard Shaw Signature

But knowing that "the world won't judge me negatively" doesn't help, and to be honest, although I really appreciate all the support I've received, no words of encouragement have saved my disappointment. You ask why, do you not?

Now I sincerely don't want to brag here (and I suppose by Stanford's standards these accomplishments aren't worthy of bragging about), but just to put things in perspective here are a few accomplishments I had on my Stanford application: a 33 on the ACT, a National Merit Semi-Finalist, a Kentucky Governor's Scholar, number one in my class of almost 300, an unweighted 4.0 GPA, three varsity letters, employment experience, volunteer experience, leadership experience, and eight reported AP scores: half 4s and half 5s.

I essentially based every choice in my high school years on whether or not it would help me get into Stanford. But the more I learn, the more I believe my time would have been better spent saving money to send flowers to my admissions officer.

In what I found to be a much more relatable article than Richard Shaw's, MIT admissions officer Ben Jones shed some light on how the admissions process breaks down for schools like Stanford and MIT. First a primary reader who weeds out the "no-way-jose" applications, a secondary reader and a summary, a third reader and another summary, a committee, tough decisions, another committee, a final decision.

To sum up, it's more about your admissions officer(s) than it is about you. I know I'm biased, shut up. But just imagine if your application was read on the morning your admissions officer forgot a cup of coffee! The system is inherently subjective. Another article from MIT admissions admits about the admissions process for such low admission rate schools: "it doesn't matter whether [the admissions decisions] are 'fair' as much as it matters that they 'work', which is to say that they produce the sort of community that you aspire to be a part of." I'm confident neither MIT nor Stanford struggled to create this community: over half of the 6,000 Stanford applicants had a 4.0 or higher GPA.

The latter quote from MIT was in response to a comment made that, once the "no-way-jose" applications are weeded out, the committee may as well roll dice to see who gets in. It's true. Of course I'm biased, quit bringing that up. But the statistics back me up when I say my rejection (along with many others) didn't mean much to Stanford, because I have no doubt the acceptants will thrive at Stanford just as much as I would have. Nor do I have any doubt Stanford will continue to create an appealing community of learners.

But again, even knowing my acceptance was a crap-shoot doesn't help. I worked my, uhm, rear end off f... Forget it. I worked my ass off for the last two years and poured my life into a few pieces of paper which, I hoped, would convince Stanford that I was worthy. Only for an admissions officer to sum me up on another piece of paper, then decide there were 725 other kids with the same scores and accomplishments who were simply... "better." In what way? In whatever way my admissions officer decided. I'd like to think it was something subjective, and I don't think that theory could be too far off. (I knew I shouldn't have mentioned that I don't eat steak burritos during full moon in February of even-numbered years...)

So yes, I'm disappointed I didn't get in and frustrated with the system which rejected me. But it's not Stanford's fault they have to deny 9/10 applications. To conclude, just a few things you shouldn't say to me...

  • "Stanford's loss! They're idiots for not accepting you!" Nope. Stanford will be fine, trust me. There's a reason I wanted to go there so badly, and I'm not going to pretend it's any worse of a school just because I wasn't accepted.
  • "It's going to work out, don't be upset!" Well, of course it's going to work out. How do I know? Even the Dean of Admissions told me I would live! On a serious note, I really do think I will still end up at a great college and make the most of my education. That doesn't make rejection from my dream school any less disappointing.
  • "Are you upset?" Absolutely devastated. The journey to my dream just ended at a brick wall, the kind of brick wall Randy Pausch talks about in his "Last Lecture", which you should watch since, considering you've read to this point in my article, you obviously have nothing better to do with your life
  • "I'm sorry!" Okay, I guess you can say this, just know that it wasn't your fault.
  • "They just didn't see who you really are!" Well, if so, that's my fault. I knew I was going to have to put an impressive version of myself on paper, and if I failed to do so, I can't put the blame on them.

Thank you.

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