Author Archives: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

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.

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

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.

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

our week as walter white

“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.)

a study in scarlet

(N=100 on the left, N=24 on the right, one data point per person, observational study)

Andrew Gelman and I exchanged e-mails awhile back after I made his lexicon for a second time. That prompted me to check out his article in Slate about a study published in Psychological Science finding women were more likely to wear red/pink when at “high conception risk,” and then I read the original article.

I don’t want to get into Gelman’s critique, although notably it included whether the authors were correct to measure “high conception risk” as 6-14 days after a woman starts menstruating (see Gelman’s response to authors response about this). And I’m not here to offer an additional critique of my own.

I’m just looking at the graph and marveling at the reported effect size, and inviting you to do the same. Of the women wearing red in this study, 3 out 4 were at high conception risk. Of the women not wearing red, only 2 out of 5 were.*

UPDATE: Self-indulgent even by blog standards, but since I could see using this example again somewhere and it took some effort to reconstruct, I’m going to paste in the cross-tab here: Continue reading

life gamification project: the ten o’clock tally

With our Life Gamification Project, the goal is 100 points a day. But what’s a day?

The obvious answer might be that a day starts when you wake up and ends when you fall asleep. Doesn’t work. Continue reading

the bigfoot-black swan continuum of behavioral science

Jason Mitchell uses the example of “black swans” to argue that there is a fundamental asymmetry between positive and negative findings in psychology experiments, such that positive findings are the only meaningful findings and negative findings should not be published. The idea is that no matter how many white swans you observe, you don’t know if black swans exist; whereas if you observe one black swan, you know they do (full quote at bottom).

The problem: findings from behavioral science experiments aren’t like being able to hold a black swan by the neck and shout to everyone, “See! I told you they existed!”

Instead, you are presented with papers in which you have to trust researcher reports of what they did to produce a finding that an observed swan was darker than would be expected under the white-swan null (p < .05).

In this respect, positive experimental findings are somewhere on a continuum between Bigfoot and black swans. Continue reading

why so much psychology?

(Zeroth in a series) I’ve been interested in the sociology of psychology ever since my dissertation, but the recent dramas in social psychology have made this interest, like Tinder at the Olympic Village, “next level.” (Also, I’ve a genuinely remarkable advisee, David Peterson*, whose dissertation involves a multisite lab ethnography of psychology, and even though we’ve got nine thousand miles between us we’ve been corresponding on this issues quite a bit.)

I’m just explaining here what’s going on if you ever wonder, “Why does Jeremy talk so much about psychology?” Also, I worry that a lot of my concern about psychology appears like it’s strictly methodological, but a lot of the methodological critique adds up to a dire substantive point that I think sociologists should be extreme concerned about-but that’s a teaser for another post.

For now, let me link to one of the latest turns in the drama: a post by a Harvard psychologist arguing strongly against the value of replication at all, by as far as I can tell unwittingly following Harry Collins’s experimenter’s regress all the way to a sort of anti-replicationist fundamentalism. Continue reading

life gamification project: how we earn points

(Second in a series.) I said my beloved and I are having a good run with a system where every day our goal is to score 100 points. How do we get points?

Our core idea: instead of making any big resolutions, we provide small incentives for doing things that we’d like to do more often. Right now, I have 67 different ways that I can earn points. More, in fact, once you break everything down. I am not making this up.

Here are some of the non-work related things I can get points for: Continue reading

gamify your life!


(our last six weeks of scores under our life-gamification system)
Continue reading


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