Monthly Archives: June 2008

spin + technology + lazy = bad idea

Religious right group, American Family Association, was embarrassed–or at least they should be embarrassed–by their practice of running Associated Press stories through an auto-correction program that edits articles to suit their preferred framing of issues. For example, they change Democratic Party to Democrat Party and gay to homosexual. Oops!

Continue reading

zomba, 5

IMG_3230
(Sal and I, having lunch right now at Tasty Bites)

Tasty Bites, where we’ve had lunch every day while teaching, appears to have a couple of mix CDs that they rotate back and forth. They are 80s music, heavy on Lionel Richie, Richard Marx, and other performers from the era who got their record contracts by sounding like Lionel Richie or Richard Marx. I have this fantasy that they are actually mix CDs that somebody in America made for somebody traveling to Zomba and were left here. Continue reading

wired pronounces: google trumps science

Over on Gelman’s blog there’s an interesting discussion of a silly Wired article proclaiming that the “petabyte age” makes theory and hypotheses obsolete:

Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, offered an update to George Box’s maxim: “All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them.”

This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.

I assume all Scattertrons are on-board with thinking this is an incredibly naive position. At the moment I’m particularly impressed with Pat Sullivan’s “Spurious Genetic Associations” piece, which demonstrates precisely why numbers don’t speak for themselves. More data means… more plausible causal pathways. Moreover, the number of plausible causal pathways increases exponentially (or something like that) with the increase in the amount of data.

Here’s my concern, though: the google mania (demonstrated by Conley’s piece, which we’ve been bashing, as well as elsewhere in pop culture) does seem like a potent anti-intellectual trend: why think when you can count high? I found this to be the case, too, in the popular book The Wisdom of Crowds, for which Google is an important example. What that book finds exciting about Google is its apparent asystematicity; but this “works” only for particular, web-ish definitions of “works.” So… in the popular mind, how do we make this case?

should i review that paper?

So I’m being hounded–begged, really–to review a paper for a journal. I review a lot (or it seems like a lot to me – probably 2 papers a month, all told), including for the journal that’s asking. But in this case, I know the paper and commented on it at an ASA panel a few years ago. I thought the paper was lousy then, and I suspect I would think similarly this time around. More importantly, it seems wrong for me to agree to review a paper I’ve already commented on in a previous draft. What do y’all think?

zomba, 4

Malawi - Monkeys Out The Hotel Room
(immediate outside my hotel room, first morning in Malawi)

The plurality of our waking time so far in Malawi has been in the classroom. Most of the rest of our time has been sitting in one of the three places we eat waiting for food. Most of the rest of the rest of the time has been me being up in the middle of the night, not asleep. I’m having a good time, but the more exciting part of our trip will commence on Saturday after our class ends. How exciting? Suffice it to say that we are renting a car and Sal will be driving.

Someone asked how the Internet works here (w/ special bonus Hard Candy SPOILER!): Continue reading

if you wear lipstick, who knows what will happen to you?

Government officials in Kota Bharu, a northern Malaysian city, have issued guidelines to women on how to dress in order to preserve their dignity and avoid rape:

Azman Mohamad Daham, a spokesman for Kota Bharu municipality, said the latest suggestion contained in leaflets was part of a two-year old campaign.

“We just distribute pamphlets,” he said. “Our minimum guideline is [women] must wear headscarves. The rest is up to them. If they want to follow the 100% Islamic way, it’s up to them.”

The goal of the modesty drive was to prevent rape and safeguard the women’s dignity, he said.

Why is it that whenever men issue advice on how to avoid rape, it comes out sounding like a threat? Weird.

all masculinity

Being in Paris, one can’t help but think of fashion. Especially where I’m staying (Saint-Germain-des-Pres) where there are small boutiques. I thought of buying new shoes (my fancy ones tore my feet apart, my sneakers, though comfortable, are not really “for work”) and as I wandered into a local place that caught my eye, the prices (around 750 euros for a pair of shoes) stopped my heart. And speaking of fashion, it’s fashion week in Milan. I got a kick out the NYTime’s covering of this, primarily because of the title, “in Milan, All Masculinity, No Pretense“. Why? Well, look at these clothes! (pictures below). Continue reading

how do you take & organize reading notes?

I’d appreciate your dropping comments if you have thoughts, suggestions or links relevant to good strategies for taking and organizing your “literature” notes.  I’m working with my advisees on this, and I have to say that my own procedures have been ad hoc and often unsatisfactory.  I have the index card  files from my notes taken in the 1970s that are useless now.   I (as many) have tended to do ad hoc literature reviews for particular papers, but find that I have failed to keep or organize good notes that I can return to for a subsequent project, so I either rely on the lit review from the past proposal/paper I wrote, or have to start over.  I often will remember something I’ve read but not be able to remember the citation or enough information to find it again.  I have zillions of poorly-organized photocopies made in the 1980s and zillions of poorly-organized PDFs saved since the mid-1990s.  So I thought I’d put this out to the scatterbrains to see if you have good suggestions, ideas.  We’re talking meta-suggestions for how to think about the problem, as well as tools or techniques.  It’s how to get the work done now for this project plus how to be able to access the work again three years or ten years from now.

update on france

1.)    Today, high off my embracing of American provincialism, I dressed the part. Off came the uncomfortable but stylish shoes. On came the white sneakers with jeans. Part of this was because yesterday I wore these horrendous shoes that tore my feet apart (I empathize with women who often navigate the world in footwear that is just a small step up from foot-binding). The stares stopped. Which makes me think all of my hypotheses were wrong. I suspect the French were looking at me because I looked so damn uncomfortable.

2.)    On the food: Continue reading

perils of public sociology: not having a clue what you’re talking about

Dalton Conley wastes a page of valuable intellectual real estate.

1. Conley actually wrote this for publication in the New York Times:

The truth is that the triumph of conservative ideas may present a political problem for the ailing Republicans, but the party that’s truly lacking in ideas is my own, the resurgent Democrats.

Yeah, that triumph of conservative ideas is why the Republicans are in trouble.

2. In making the case for #1, Conley has trouble distinguishing the (vanishing) postwar corporatist “social compact” from the New Deal and Great Society programs, and figuring out that what’s “trouble” for the former is not obviously problematic for the government social insurance programs that are the hallmarks of the latter.

3. Conley mentions possible policy directions like government intervention to form health insurance pools and absorb other economic risks, and the “soft paternalism” movement, without noting that such things are hallmarks of Democratic policy, not Republican policy. For instance, making the government the reinsurer of last resort was the centerpiece of John Kerry’s health care plan, and arguably the most prominent advocate of “soft paternalism” in the U.S. is Cass Sunstein — a friend and informal advisor to last-time-I-checked-not-Republican Barack Obama.

4. Conley concludes that Democrats should “stop talking F.D.R., J.F.K. and L.B.J. and start thinking eBay, Google, and Wiki.” So the road to prosperity is paved with advertising sales of used stuff to each other. Great program.

(Cross-posted at Angry Bear.  Title edited.)

zomba, 3

Lunch break of Day 2. On Monday I woke up at 3:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Last night, same thing, except 1:30am.

Nonetheless, I am having a great time. It’s an odd way to acquaint oneself with a country of the developing world: to be in the country teaching natives how to using nationally representative survey data from that country. A main running example has been the measure of type of toilet facility, where the 2004 data indicate that less than 4% of Malawi households have either a modern latrine or a flush toilet (16% report “no facility; bush, field”). Later today we will be using an example that only 16% of Malawi women aged 15-49–and less than 10% of Malawi men–know that a woman’s fertile period is about halfway between their two menstrual periods.

francophilia, part deux

Last week I posted a teaser about Jeanneney’s Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge. I did so sans notes, though, so I bring it back up here. I do think this is a very French book, in two ways. The first is the way we discussed last week: the French concern for preserving and defending French-ness in petit-cultural ways, e.g., language and cuisine. Continue reading

lightning: up or down?

It doesn’t really matter which way the current is flowing if you are a part of a 100 million-volt circuit. Nonetheless, Husband found himself arbitrating an “up or down” dispute at work yesterday. Fortunately, we had already found this page to help explain the whole thing to Kid. I wish I could embed the video here–it’s worth clicking over there to check it out.

It’s amazing how much cartoons affect my understanding of the physical world. After years of seeing cartoon lightning bolts shoot down from the sky, it is tough to wrap my brain around the idea that the earth reaches up to the lightning to connect the circuit, through which massive current flows down from the sky. The light, on the other hand, moves in segments. In each of the segments, the light travels down, but these segments discharge from the earth upwards, such that the overall picture is light traveling up.

a peril of public sociology?

As you may remember, I got in a somewhat public tiff with a local Republican/libertarian blog, the Red Clay Citizen, over the veracity of their poll numbers on a state labor issue. Among other things, I was accused of being “basically a government-paid lobbyist for the labor unions,” a particularly incredible idea since NC government is deeply anti-union!

When I returned from vacation this weekend, I had a message waiting for me from UNC’s head of internal audit, whose job is to insure that UNC employees don’t abuse their positions for commercial or political gain. Continue reading

a note from france

So I’ve been here a day. But some notes on Paris:

1.) Paris is filled, and I mean FILLED with Americans. They are concentrated in obvious places – like around Notre Dame. But they truly are everywhere. I have heard almost as much English (and mostly American English) as I have French. This strikes me as odd and has cheapened my experience so far. Yes, I want to be the only one here. But apparently some memo went out to all upper-middle class Americans that they should take their kids to Paris as soon as school is out. And they have obliged. Either the French have abandoned the city this week, they are hiding, or they are simply overwhelmed and keeping their mouths shut. I suspect that those who went in the opposite direction to me do not wonder, “where are all the Americans in New York?!?” Indeed, I suspect my nostalgia for a French France is probably a particularly American variety.

2.) I’m going to say it… So far I have been disappointed with the food. Continue reading

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