all persons are fictional

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decisions, there have been renewed discussions of corporate personhood. The argument is relatively simple: the 19th century Supreme Court made a mistake when it created the legal fiction that corporations are persons. I don’t want to get into that argument here. Instead, I want to make a slightly different argument: all persons are fictions.

Continue reading

html-excel bleg

Techo-nerds, can you help? A student of mine downloaded about thousand spreadsheets from a public site using the “Excel file” option that saved themselves as .xls files and will open in Excel but are REALLY HTML files and, as such, cannot be imported or even parsed by Stata. Any ideas for automating the file translation? We estimate that opening each file in Excel and saving it as an Excel file at 30 seconds each will take 35 hours. Hoping for a programming solution.

My university’s class rosters ALSO download with .xls extensions but are really html files. Hmmm.

Edit: I think I can crack this. I’ve learned that I can read each file into Stata as lines of text this way:

import delimited “census_Tract101.xls”, delimiter(“^”) varnames(nonames) clear

from there, I’m pretty sure I can fairly easily extract the information needed with string functions, as all the files have identical formats. This may be more elegantly done in R or a programming langauge, but I think I can do it in Stata faster.

We’ll see. Thanks for the fast responses.

 

 

true d.

I binge-watched all eight episodes of True Detective recently. Favorite quote from the series:

Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at.

the con in “economic impact” study

Cute paragraph from Simon Kuper’s Soccernomics:

[T]he trick for American [sports team] owners is to persuade the taxpayer to cough up for stadiums. This is where economists come in handy. Economists like to say that people respond to incentives. Well, economists certainly respond to incentives. Anyone hoping to persuade taxpayers to pay for a stadium in the US commissioned an economist to write an “economic impact” study. By a strange coincidence, these studies always showed that the stadium would make taxpayers rich. (One book describing this racket is aptly called Field of Schemes.)

stinchcombee practice round: beauties avoid bogeys

Recent reading about elite sport led me to an article finding that more attractive women have lower scores in women’s professional golf (HT: @KevinKniffin). From the abstract:

There is evidence that attractive looking workers earn more than average looking workers, even after controlling for a variety of individual characteristics. The presence of such beauty premiums may influence the labor supply decisions of attractive workers. For example, if one unit of a product by an attractive worker is more rewarded than that by her less attractive coworker, the attractive worker may put more effort into improving her productivity. We examine this possibility by analyzing panel data for individual female golfers participating in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. We found that attractive golfers recorded lower than average scores and earn more prize money than average looking players, even when controlling for player experience and other variables related to their natural talents.

It’s not a very convincing analysis: there are only 132 women golfers in the sample, and the effect involves this spline where really it’s a difference between the most attractive golfers and everyone else, and it’s unclear from the write-up whether the results are just a Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer effect. BUT, while reading it, I found it a good mental exercise to think about alternative explanations for the pattern if it was actually true (a la the Stinchcombe Test), so I’m posting this for anyone else who might enjoy the imagination workout.

what happened in 1999?

From the ASA permission form sent to authors when a publisher wants to reprint an article that appeared in an ASA journal:

Prior to 1999, ASA policy on revenue sharing with its authors stated that proceeds will be shared equally by the author(s) of the article and the ASA as copyright holder. For articles published prior to 1999, the ASA will collect all fees and will disburse one half of these receipts to authors upon collection from the requestor, unless you agree to donate your share to the ASA. For articles published in 1999 and later, ASA retains all fees received for reprint permission requests. (This applies to journal articles only). 

 

the genius of lebron james

Bill Simmons has an article wondering if LeBron James is a genius, talking about his decision-making and tacit understanding of basketball.

When LBJ participated at the NBA combine as an 18 year old, he was 6’7 1/4 inches tall. Some sources say he has since grown to 6’8″. Since 2000, NHANES has measured heights on 6,267 US men between 18-45. Of these, 8 are 6’7″ or taller (1 in ~750), and 2 are 6’8″ or taller (1 in ~3000).

LBJ also had a 7’0 1/4″ inch wingspan at the NBA combine. This makes his wingspan to height ratio about 1.06, about the average for NBA players, but unusually large otherwise. That is, without even getting into his vertical leap, etc.: he’s got a > 99.95 percentile skeleton just by his height and arm length.

Toward the question of “genius”: two implications seem to follow. Continue reading

experimental vs. statistical replication

In the context of all of the debates about replication going on across the blogs, it might be useful to introduce a distinction: experimental vs. statistical replication.* Experimental replication is the more obvious kind: can we run a new experiment using the same methods and produce a substantially similar result? Statistical replication, on the other hand, asks, can we take the exact same data, run the same or similar statistical models, and reproduce the reported results? In other words, experimental replication is about generalizability, while statistical replication is about data manipulation and model specification.

On the one hand, sociology, economics, and political science all have ongoing issues with statistical replication. The big Reinhart and Rogoff controversy was the result of an attempt to replicate a statistical finding that revealed some unreported shenanigans in how cases were weighted, and that some cases were simply dropped through error. Gary King’s work on improving replication in political science aims at making this kind of replication easier, and even turning it into a standard part of the graduate curriculum. Similarly, I believe the UMass paper (failing to) replicate Reinhart and Rogoff emerged out of a econometrics class assignment (e.g.) that required students to statistically replicate a published finding.

On the other hand, psychology seems to have a big problem with experimental replication. Here the concerns are less about model specification (as the models are often simple, bivariate relationships) or data coding, but rather about implausibly large effects and “the file drawer problem” where published results are biased towards significance (which in turn makes replications much more likely to produce null findings).

Both of these kinds of replication are clearly important, but they present somewhat different issues. For example, Mitchell’s concern that replication will be incompetently performed and thus produce null findings when real effects exist makes less sense in the context of statistical replication where the choices made by the replicator can be reported transparently, and the data are shared by all researchers. So, as an attempt at an intervention, I propose we try to make clear when we’re talking about experimental replication vs. statistical replication, or if we really mean both. Perhaps we might even call the second kind of replication something else like “statistical reproduction”** in order to highlight that the attempt to reproduce the findings are not based on new data.

What do you all think?

* H/T Sasha Killewald for a conversation about different kinds of replication that sparked this post.
** Think “artistic reproduction” – can I repaint the same painting? Can I re-run the same models and data and produce the same results?

do we think one head is better than two?

Robb Willer sent me a link to this study “When Multiple Creators Are Worse Than One: The Bias Toward Single Authors in the Evaluation of Art.” It presents a series of experiments suggesting that people have a lower evaluation of artwork if it is presented as a collaborative effort rather than as a work of a single artist.

Of course this gets one thinking about the strong premium that is placed in some quarters of sociology on sole-authored work. Granted, this usually comes up in the context of individual evaluation, with the argument that it is hard to determine what the contribution of one person is on a multiple-authored work. But, can it have consequences for the evaluation of the work itself? Given that the findings of the experiment are about art, one possibility is that bias varies along the humanities science spectrum in sociology, where there’s bias toward single-authored work in humanities-oriented sociology and perhaps even against it in science-oriented sociology.

ritzer on ritzer on ritzer

George Ritzer, Editor in Chief, The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, 2nd Edition, in an email to me:

We would like to invite you to contribute to Wiley-Blackwell’s Encyclopedia of Sociology, Second Edition, under the general editorship of George Ritzer… The Author will be entitled to receive access to the electronic (online) version of the encyclopedia for a period of two years…  In addition, the Author will have the right to purchase the entire set of volumes of the current print edition of the Work for personal use at a discount of 25% from the published price, copies of any work published by the publishers and currently in print, provided that all such purchases, including purchases of the Work, are paid for in advance by the Author.

George Ritzer, social theorist:

For example, when you write product reviews for Amazon.com you are enhancing the value of that site and the company; you are working for them and you are not being paid for that work…To put it baldly, the value of these computer-based businesses is based largely on the “work”- those clicks and likes- that you do for them free of charge. In a capitalist world you ought to be paid by all of them, but of course you are not paid. From the perspective of the critics of capitalism, you are being exploited by firms such as Google and Facebook (Fuchs, 2013). In fact, you are being exploited more than the paid workers in the capitalist system. Most of them are being paid relatively little, but you are paid nothing at all. Low paid work often yields great profits, but work that is unpaid leads to an even higher rate of profit.

I asked George Ritzer about this tension. He wrote:

As you know, this is a high compliment- using my ideas.. even if only to critique me. Your point is well-taken, but I am one of the exploited low-paid workers in the quotation (on a per hour basis for the number of hours it takes to edit a 2500-entry encyclopedia…far less than the minimum wage). I am also a prosumer in this case “consuming” the entries and “producing” edits, comments, etc. If there is an exploiter here, it is Wiley-Blackwell, but this is endemic to academic publishing. When we submit articles to journals owned by them (and SAGE, etc) we are the prosumers of those articles (and others), we are paid nothing, and they are profitable companies in large part because of the free work done by authors. There’s a broader critique here.

By my calculation Wiley, an academic publisher, has earned about a billion dollars in profit since the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Sociology came out.

life gamification project: goals brunch

The premise of our life gamification project is to provide lots of microincentives to do more of the small things we’d like to do more often. For it to work, we need to revisit these incentives regularly and think about what we’re trying to accomplish, what’s working, what we’d like to change.

So we invented an institution: Goals Brunch. Every Sunday morning, we go to a restaurant and think about our goals. We bring along notebooks and scribble reflections while we eat.

Goals Brunch has three phases: Continue reading

follow your passion!

My reading kick about elite sport has involved a serious sub-kick on women’s skeleton (it’s like luge, only headfirst). Great Britain has won the gold medal in women’s skeleton the last two Olympics; both times it was the only gold medal the UK won. 2014′s winner was Lizzy Yarnold, a 25-year-old who’d only been in the sport 5 years. Her story:

Yarnold’s sporting path to glory was changed forever when she attended a UK Sport Girls4Gold initiative, where highly competitive sportswomen were chosen for specific sports if they showed the attributes to become a potential Olympic champion.

Yarnold was a promising athlete at school in Kent, excelling at heptathlon, and enjoyed horse riding and diving. But she admitted to BBC Sport: “At the Girls4Gold selection, I desperately wanted to be picked for modern pentathlon. But they said I’d be more suited to skeleton instead. I must admit I’d never heard of it but I’ve never looked back since.

science as phoenix of global humiliation

Since we’re 13 hours ahead of Rio and I’m a sabbatical slugabed, I’ve watched very little of the World Cup. But of course the big story has been the humiliation of Brazil.

With 200 million people, Brazil is the world’s most populous country for which soccer is the national passion. They gave up 7 goals to Germany, and lost today 3-0 to Holland. Holland has 14 million people, so from population alone, the expected number of Dutch among the 11 best players on the field against Brazil is less than one.

What next? No idea, but I mentioned before that I’ve been thinking about elite sport as a model phenomenon for biological-social interdependence, and that this had me reading about Australian sport. Australia has a nifty parallel to the Brazilian case. Continue reading

sociology’s sacred project

After reading Philip Cohen’s thorough and entirely apt review of Chris Smith’s new book, I did what any self-respecting academic would do. I bought the book and read it.

I’m not going to offer a thorough review here; Philip’s is, characteristically, at once substantive and devastatingly accurate. In the main, it’s a profoundly silly book by an author who has the intellectual chops, professional history, and resources to do a much, much better job. The evidentiary base is irresponsibly haphazard, interpreted disingenuously, and in several cases factually inaccurate. And the pages are filled mostly with score-settling, as if Smith has spent his illustrious career keeping an enemies list of those who have insulted him and his friends and has committed to publishing it here. There are numerous basic editing mistakes (authors’ names misspelled, idioms incorrect, verbs forgotten). In short, it reads like an extended, incoherent blog post: a particular irony since Smith spends a considerable amount of space fretting that blogging has been bad for sociology, based mostly on Sherkat‘s admittedly obnoxious style.

Rather than a review, though, I want to ask whether there is a nugget or two of interest to be extracted from the book.

Continue reading

our week as walter white

katja
“Pick a country in Eastern Europe.” “Ukraine?” “Pick a hair color.” “…Red? Why?”

For a podcast series, I was recently asked to do a dramatic reading of Violet, the text adventure game I wrote as my Secret Hobby Project of 2008. Maybe I’ll talk about that later, but suffice it to say that text adventures (much less dramatic readings thereof) are niche interests that I have no illusions correspond to the niche interests of this blog.

However: the opening 3:20 of the podcast is me recounting an altogether insane text-ing adventure that happened the last week of my stint in Paris this spring, and if curious, click here. (Also a must-click for any adenoidal-voice fetishists.)

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