Monthly Archives: June 2011

do student interests reveal the future of sociology?

Below the jump are the ASA sections ranked by the proportion of their members that are student members. I would have made it into a graph if I had sophomore-level Excel skills; as it is, you are lucky I managed to sort and round the numbers.

Is this a good measure of the areas of sociology we’d expect to get bigger or smaller in the years ahead? Main limitations I see to considering the numbers as a predictor of growth would be whatever extent the different areas have different probabilities of students transitioning to the professoriate and/or different probabilities of switching interest areas along the way. Plus areas may differ in the extent to which they recruit student members, especially those sections that tend to hover around the lines that determine how many sessions each section gets at the meetings.

Probably the biggest surprise for me on the high side is how student-dominated Race/Gender/Class still is (what happened to all the folks interested in this when I was a student?) and probably the biggest surprise on the low side is only 20% of Sociology of Population (do demography students mostly ignore ASA in favor of PAA?).
Continue reading

if harry hay could see them now

In the news today, trouble in gay softball leagues: what to do with all the straights who want to play, too. Leagues have limits, either everyone who plays must be gay, or there might be a 2-hetero limit on each team. The question becomes how to tell who has too many straights. The blurry and fluid boundaries of sexuality that scholars have been loving to talk and write about for decades comes into stark relief as the shortstop married to a woman says he is bisexual, or the best slugger in the league claims to be both straight and gay. Continue reading

free kittens or social measurement ideas

I was reviewing something yesterday that had a sentence of the form “Recent work, however, indicates that… (Smith 1997).” About which my first thought was, “That’s not recent.” And my second thought was, “Well, this paper is in a slow-moving specialty area, so maybe that does count as recent.” I wonder if somebody handy with text scraping could take instances of “recent work”, “recent study”, “recent paper”, etc., and the accompanying citation date and use it as a measure of how quickly different areas or fields develop.

al gore invents something and all republicans want to do is tear it down

I looked through the Coburn report (hipsters pronounce it co-BURN re-PURN)  that recommends eliminating the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences directorate of NSF. The report contains a section that gives examples of smart funding by NSF. First on the list: the Internet. Second: cloud computing (i.e., the Internet). The latter half of it are studies that Coburn uses to illustrate what sorts of things taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for. And what does it focus on? The Internet–studies of its use and social impact. I was too lazy to keep precise count, but social implications of the Internet seemed like over a third of the projects listed, on these topics: Continue reading

stata 12!

Stata 12 has been announced. The three biggest additions for sociologists are probably:

1. Structural equation modeling, including (sigh) a path-diagram drawing module for folks who cannot figure out what their diagram implies in terms of a set of linear equations. Includes FIML estimation for missing data, which is the SEM counterpart to multiple imputation in terms of missing-data techniques that some folks wishfully believe have mystical powers to surmount fundamental data limitations on inference.

2. The -margins- command added in Stata 11 will be accompanied now by a graphing program, so between the two of those commands one should be able to do just about anything one wants post-estimation with predicted values. -Margins- already is a mighty command, with the caveat is that it is extremely easy to use it to generate results that are not quite what you thought you were getting.

3. A -contrast- command that allows you to easily generate the significance tests for various kinds of implied contrasts in a model, so you don’t have to re-estimate models with different dummy variable or interaction specifications in order to get all the significance tests of interest.

The analogy in my mind is that Stata is to the iPhone as R is to Android, as far as social science data analysis goes. I guess SAS would be BlackBerry, insofar as it’s dated and propped up by a strong lock-in among government employees. And SPSS is a Nokia phone that has a slick interface for dialing your friends but requires you to push dozens of extra buttons in a non-intuitive sequence if you want to call anyone new.

[Update: Gabriel beat me to posting about this. He's also enthusiastic about the addition to contour plots and the ability to export graphs as PDF.]

parents of the reading class: the backlash against your little ‘joke’ has begun

From, regarding the best-selling book Go the F*** to Sleep:

“Crass in concept and execution, this is an expletive-filled bedtime story intended solely for the amusement of parents. [...]

Imagine if this were written about Jews, blacks, Muslims or Latinos,” says Dr. David Arredondo. He is an expert on child development and founder of The Children’s Program, in the San Francisco metropolitan area, which provides consultation and training for those working with troubled youths.

It is hard to imagine this kind of humor being tolerated by any of the marginalized groups Arredondo cited. Consider the lines on page 3:

“The eagles who soar thru the sky are at rest
And the creatures who crawl, run and creep.
I know you are not thirsty. That’s bulls**t.
Stop lying.
Lie the f*** down, my darling, and sleep.”

The irony, says Arredondo, is that the people buying the book are probably good parents.

I wonder how much contemporary satire would pass the test of “Imagine if a paunchy white Southern sheriff was screaming this at an [insert disadvantaged group] person they had just pulled over for speeding. Stop lying. I know you are not thirsty. Is it so funny now?”

welcome, dissidents!

So, just in case Scatterplot and Orgtheory end up squaring off in a race to get banned in China, I looked up a list of phrases that will supposedly put you on the golden road to getting blocked. Phrases of potential relevance to handicapping the contest:

1. A power law [advantage, Orgtheory, which occasionally discussions about mathematical models]
2. PubMed [advantage, Scatterplot, with more connections to health research]
3. Sale of organs [advantage, Orgtheory (Kieran)]
4. Pseudo-large [advantage, Scatterplot, given the wild ideas some people seem to have about the extent of our readership]
5. Fake diploma [advantage... wait, I think that's supposed to be a secret.]
6. Miss Independent [advantage, Scatterplot. You do not want to take me on at Kelly Clarkson karaoke.]
7. Young woman [disadvantage, Scatterplot (Olderwoman)]
8. Electric Chicken [advantage, Scatterplot (Have you seen Shamus dance?)]
9. Boycott [advantage, Orgtheory (Brayden)]
10. Gambling [advantage, Scatterplot. Seriously, as some will have the privilege to see at ASA Vegas, Freese has a mortgage now and a system for roulette that works.]

global minima

Social scientists have recently been involved with exploring the possibilities of using Amazon Mechanical Turk for various research purposes. (What about data entry? Has anyone used it for data entry?) In a twist, here are some journalists using Mechanical Turk to try to figure out the minimum wage for which they could at least get three folks in different countries to do a task. The answer for getting three Americans: 25 cents an hour.

(Is there a Fair Trade Turk movement? Should there be?)

worrying world of psychiatry

Marcia Angell has written a fascinating two-part (here and here) review in the New York Review of Books on the transformation of the psychiatric profession over the last 50 years — my post is mostly a rehash of her longer argument. What I find most fascinating is that the theory that depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brian has little empirical support. That theory was developed because of the effects of drugs developed in the 50s. Those drugs initially were meant to treat infections. But they also seemed to influence patients’ mental state. Doctors wondered how. And they discovered that these drugs impacted chemical levels in the brain. So was born the theory that serotonin levels (or dopamine, or other chemicals) influenced our mental health — or more accurately, that abnormal levels of chemicals in the brain are responsible for our psychic states. The logic of this conclusion requires some herculean leaps.  Continue reading

unhealthy obsession, revived

So, I tend to get obsessed with facts, figures, and numbers. It’s not healthy. Initially I was obsessed with the visit statistics here on scatterplot. I stopped caring about that after a few months. But when my book came out in January… wow was that an entirely different story. Particularly, I started an unhealthy obsession with my sales rank. I had forgotten about this too (actively, upon the encouragement of others who told me to stop obsessing), until today when I was talking with my editor (hi Eric!) and again, I started to think about. Now here’s the thing: according to everyone under the sun, your Amazon sales ranking is really really hard to make sense of. It’s not just raw sales numbers. But still, since my 11AM conversation I’ve been looking at my sales ranking like a day-trader following stocks. Luckily it only updates on the hour. But I checked at 12, 1, 2, 3, and I’m sure I will again at 4. If it updated every 15 minutes, I worry that I’d never get anything done. Now, it’s not like I have a high rank or anything… Or that the ranking changes all that much. It’s silly of me. It’s also not like checking the ranking is going to improve it, or encourage more people to buy the book! Yet there I am, obsessing over it yet again. I know others who obsess over their citation counts, or their teaching eval numbers, or the number of students in their classes. For those of you who have books coming out and want to join my unhealthy habit, check out It allows you to track your book (and your sales by region of the country). Here’s a screenshot of my data:

the tweet hereafter

I cleaned out the blogroll today, for the first time in years. I was surprised by how many once-upon-a-soc-blogs had not simply become inactive, but had disappeared entirely.

social causes of death

There is a new piece in the American Journal of Public Health that does a meta analysis of the “social causes” of death: poverty (individual and area), segregation, low levels of education, and inequality. The results shouldn’t surprise. In 2000 approximately 245,000 deaths in the United States in the year 2000 were attributable to low levels of education, 176,000 to racial segregation, 162,000 to low social support, 133,000 to individual-level poverty, 119,000 to income inequality, and 39,000 to area-level poverty. As reported elsewhere, “For example, the number of deaths the researchers calculated as attributable to low education (245,000) is comparable to the number caused by heart attacks (192,898), which was the leading cause of U.S. deaths in 2000. The number of deaths attributable to racial segregation (176,000) is comparable to the number from cerebrovascular disease (167,661), the third leading cause of death in 2000, and the number attributable to low social support (162,000) compares to deaths from lung cancer (155,521).” I have some questions about the study. And I wonder about whether “social” and “physiological/behavioral” causes can be treated as analytically distinct (the conclusion claims, “The estimated number of deaths attributable to social factors in the United States is comparable to the number attributed to pathophysiological and behavioral cause”). Still, the study is worth checking out.

The article is: Sandro Galea, Melissa Tracy, Katherine J. Hoggatt, Charles DiMaggio, Adam Karpati. Estimated Deaths Attributable to Social Factors in the United StatesAmerican Journal of Public Health, 2011. Linked above.

rising expectations?

Greetings from, Thank you for your recent inquiry. Did your contact with Customer Care exceed your expectation?

If yes, please click here: [link]

If no, please click here: [link]

So if I expected a rapid and complete resolution of my problem by a friendly and well-trained representative and that’s what I got, do I click “no”? If I expected a slow, incompetent and surly response and it was even worse than I thought it would be, do I click yes?

I assume people on the other end are getting bonuses for yes clicks. Do I just ignore the question actually asked and decide whether to award a bonus?



ask a scatterbrain: journal submission length

Posted by request of a reader:

Some journals have maximum length guidelines for manuscripts that one submits, perhaps in page count or word length. If a journal’s guide to authors says that the maximum length is, say, a maximum of 9,000 words, what gets included in that word count if the guidelines do not explicitly state? (Footnotes, references, tables, the abstract?) And does “maximum” really mean no words over 8,000? Do standards differ for articles using different methods? Studying less familiar phenomena / places or using less familiar methods?

adventures in entitlement

This video is all the rage in NY right now. With titles varying from “Well-Educated Person Wrongfully Accused of Being Loud on Train” to “‘Educated’ Snob Berates Train Conductor for No Good Reason“. From the person who recorded this and put it on youtube, “This woman was talking too loud on the train when the conductor politely asked her to keep it down and stop using profanity or to take it to the vestibule. She jumped up and started yelling about how “educated” she is, proving the exact opposite. There was an announcement a minute later asking all passengers to please not use profanity on the train, “especially those people who went to Harvard or Yale or are from Westport.”


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