Monthly Archives: July 2011

oxford bibliographies online

A new resource for those wanting a quick introduction to different fields of sociology: Oxford Bibliographies Online. The sociology one, edited by Jeff Manza, is now online. These are basically annotated bibliographies of areas of the field. You could read this as shameless self-promotion, as I did one of the entries! But I think folks — particularly graduate students or those who want a quick introduction to a field — will find it useful. It doesn’t replace the Annual Review. But it’s a very handy resource.

tales of irb

A friend of mine e-mailed to tell me about a problem she is currently having with her IRB. She’s involved with a longitudinal survey of a disadvantaged population. They are going to be collecting a new round of data. Her university’s IRB is saying that an Adverse Event form needs to be filed for each person that has died between the previous round of data collection and the current round.

If you were doing a medical intervention study on a population, then Adverse Event forms are used to keep track of the possibility that maybe your intervention is killing people. To my knowledge, there has never been a recorded instance of somebody dying as a result of answering survey questions, although metaphorical dying of boredom is not infrequent. (Incidentally, once upon a time in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, I documented fairly carefully that, net of a large battery of controls that would have satisfied the causal-pushovers of a bygone era, people who refused to participate in the WLS were more likely to die than people who did not. A bonus question on one of my research methods exams was to offer three possible explanations.)

Has anyone else heard of survey researchers being asked to do this?

+1 credits

Grumpy backwards people may still be claiming that videogames are not art, but they behave like many other art worlds. From an IGN news article on videogames [HT: my G+ stream]:

“There’s a tendency among the press to attribute the creation of a game to a single person,” says Warren Spector, creator of Thief and Deus Ex.”

“See what you just did there?” Spector, the creator of Deus Ex 2, did not add. “And there again! Stop it!”

dressing down

Former Harvard president Larry Summers, in reference to the interaction immortalized in The Social Network (via Gawker):

[O]ne of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at 3 o clock, there are two possibilities. One is that they are looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an asshole. This was the latter case.

speaking of misconduct

In a case in which the other shoe took a very long time to drop, Marc Hauser, the Harvard psychology professor renowned for his work on moral judgment, apparently has resigned after a protracted dispute regarding “scientific misconduct” that included retraction or post-publication-revision of three papers because of data problems.

Q: Is any schadenfreude sweeter for the mainstream sociologist than evolutionary psychology schadenfreude? (A: Economist schadenfreude. But just barely.)

see no evil, hear no evil, especially if that evil is plagiarism

Time-old professorial question: “Is it worth it to pursue students who cheat?” Here is the conclusion of a business school professor who caught a fifth of his class cheating: hell, no. In addition to being an incredible timesuck, he claims it cost him money:

Instead of the usual evaluations that were in the region of 6.0 to 6.5 out of seven, this time my ratings went down by almost a point: 5.3 out of 7.0. Instead of being a teacher in the upper percentiles, I was now below average.

The Dean’s office and my chair “expressed their appreciation” for me chasing such cases (in December), but six months later, when I received my annual evaluation, my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation, as my “teaching evaluations took a hit this year”.

Granted, it sounds like he felt more comfortable pursuing plagiarists in the first place after he was awarded tenure, and probably if there is something that one is averse to doing because one is concerned about its implications for tenure, it shouldn’t be completely surprising that doing it afterward might have salary implications. Still pretty dispiriting.

(None of which is me saying one shouldn’t pursue cheaters. I do think if one starts thinking about it strictly in cost-benefit terms, one never will. Which is why it is a good thing many academics take pride in having an idealist or irrationalist streak.)

the continued anthropomorphization of markets

From Politico:

“We’ve said for some time now, as have most, that we need to do on the order of $4 trillion of deficit reduction over the next 10, 12 years. We would like to get that done now,” Lew said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Still, he indicated the financial markets would accept something smaller, if negotiators aren’t able to secure a larger package.

“If that can’t happen, if there’s not a willingness to come together… I think that the markets will understand moving as far as we can,” Lew said. “What would be hard to explain is doing nothing.”

Stata resource and question

I’ve been googling around trying to solve an annoying problem using Stata graph bar. In the process, I came across this totally awesome page of user-written graph types.I realize this is appealing only to a certain subset of us.

What I’m trying to do is to control Stata’s graph bar with three over variables. It is an extremely cumbersome little product that will basically do the job with three “over” variables, but has no obvious way to let me fine-tune details like exactly which color to assign to each series of bars, or to be sure that the order of labels in the legend matches up to the order of the bars in the graph if I’ve used the sort option to change the bar order.  You can reset the color of each bar individually, but that isn’t what I want to do: I want each series to have the same color and doing this bar by bar is both tedious and error-prone. Stata knows enough to give each series a distinct color, but does not seem to want to let the user choose the color on a series-wise basis. If you happen to be a Stata graph wonk and want to provide some free consulting, do let me know. I’ve already read through the Statalist archives enough to know that other people also find it difficult to do exactly what they want with graph bar. In case you are wondering, the independent variables are categorical and twoway bar does not help at all.

Edit: I decided to jazz this up with a sample. Note that I put number prefixes on the race labels to get them in the same order as the bars. Otherwise Stata would alphabetize them! I could use the legend order command, but there’s a risk that this would not coincide with the actual categories associated with each bar. I’d like to shade the bars so White is light, Black is dark, and the disparity is medium.

problems of polarization

Here is a form of study I have seen in various guises over the years: The authors are interested in the question of whether people in a society are becoming more “polarized” in their attitudes in some kind of global sense. So what do they do?

1. Find data that has a long repeated series on a variety of attitudes.
2. Select those items that have been continued in these data over a long period.
3. Look at whether responses to these items are more divergent now, or more divergent for some group, than they used to be.

For me, here’s the problem: questions only initially appear and stay on public opinion surveys so long as disagreement is sustained in the population. Imagine if we had really long time series on public opinion. Do you believe women should be allowed to vote? Do you believe alcohol should be outlawed? Do you think our state should secede? Do you believe fugitive slaves should be returned to their masters? Or, obversely: Do you think gay couples should be allowed to get married? Do you think people should be allowed to smoke in public places?

So it seems like the study is strongly biased against finding evidence of polarization from the get-go, especially given that I think it’s less likely for questions without disagreement to be asked in the first place then for them to be re-asked for comparative purposes later on. More speculatively, I would not be surprised if there is also a bias toward finding evidence of more highly educated people being leaders of public opinion, because I would bet that questions with low overall disagreement are more likely to make it onto surveys if there is more disagreement among elites than there is among the masses.

in defense of antidepressants

Given my last post, I thought it might be interesting to point to a refutation of Angell’s claims about the effectiveness of antidepressants. It was published this weekend as an oped in the NYTimes. I’ve posted it below as well, since I know many folks don’t have full access to the Times anymore. Kramer’s is a spirited defense. I must say I am on Angell’s side with the evidence. But I think his point about their influence in treating specific diseases rather than general/ambiguous ones is very well taken. As are other insights. I’ll also add that Kramer, as far as I can tell, is not on the payroll of any drug company. Often defenders get smeared with this suspicion. The oped is after the break…  Continue reading

interactive tour of the barnes

Back in the day, when I lived in Philly (great city!), I used to spend a lot of time at the Barnes Foundation. For those of you who haven’t been, it has perhaps the greatest collection of impressionist art in the world. And it’s collection is so weirdly displayed that it has a unique charm difficult to describe. The museum is moving from its home in the suburbs to downtown Philly (by many of the other museums). And folks worry that the place may lose its charm. We’ll see. I just made a trip down there again this Spring, before it closes in preparation for the move. Felt pretty nostalgic about it. Anyway, if you’ve never been, you can see what this place is like through an interactive tour on the NY Times. It’s not just impressionist art. In the main room, make sure to look at the Matisse, almost on the ceiling… Many of the paintings you can learn more about by clicking on them. Enjoy!

and here you thought you were being helpful by providing suggestions for additional reading…

From the world of college athletics [story here]:

Nebraska self imposed a two-year probationary period as well as a fine because of NCAA violations pertaining to student-athletes who inadvertently received recommended course textbooks in addition to their required books. Recommended textbooks are not permissible under NCAA legislation. [...]

Starting last November, NU found that a total of 238 student-athletes over a four-year span were allowed to use scholarship money to purchase “recommended” text books when only “required” are covered. Osborne said it happened due to confusion between the athletic department and the university bookstore. [...]

NU also has imposed a fine of $28,000 on its athletic department.

…little did you know the harm your syllabus could cause to your university’s college football program.

your daily kafka

The New York Review of Books put up this new translation of a (very) short story, “A Message from the Emperor” by Kafka on its blog Friday. I keep returning to it. A thing of beauty. Following it is a note on the text by the translator. Enjoy:

The emperor—it is said—sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed. He bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. With a nod of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words. And before the entire spectatorship of his death—all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways—before all these he dispatched the messenger. The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. But the crowds are so vast; their dwellings know no bounds. Continue reading

for the shelf space next to your fabio bobblehead

A sociologist is leading a new fad for academic action figures.

bleg: feats of operationalization

I’m writing some stuff related to measurement, and specifically about operationalizing concepts as measures. Anybody have any favorite examples of clever ideas in measurement?

A economist colleague here at Northwestern (David Figlio) has a paper in which he was interested in whether African-American kids with first names like Da’Quan or Jacquizz had worse outcomes (possibly due to differential treatment by teachers) than African-American kids named Michael or Stephen. My recollection is that it was nicely designed in that the effects were identified off sibling variations: that is, families with a kid named Michael and a kid named Da’Quan. For measures, he used features of names like whether they included an apostrophe and prefixes (e.g., Lo-) or suffixes (e.g., -isha), but this didn’t take into account the apparent common feature of longer names with low-frequency consonants. So, he also included the Scrabble score of each name, which did indeed prove to be an informative measure.

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