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.

my experience with sociological science

I published my second paper in Sociological Science last week (first paper here). I’ve had a great experience with them both times: what they say about quick, no-bulls**t turnaround is absolutely true. Two things that I might not have anticipated about publishing there:

1. Despite the stuff about how the journal evaluates papers and doesn’t mentor them, for both papers, we still got useful feedback in the process of acceptance that led to revisions that strengthened the papers. It wasn’t very much feedback, and certainly not the laundry list of this-and-that one gets from reviewers, but it was a couple of incisive points that were correct and which I found myself wanting to address.

2. I don’t know who SocSci found as their copy editor, but the person is crazy good. For the paper that just came out, it was thoroughly copy edited with a lot of little things getting caught or changed, and yet I did not do one single STET. My usual experience with copy-editors is that they are either so superficial that they may as well be a bot, or they are intrusive in ways that lead to a lot of annoyance and STET-ing.

I’m very excited about Sociological Science more generally, and I’m pleased it is doing so well. I fell in love with the idea from the whatever was the first draft of the mission statement that I read. What I loved was that the statement offered a number of different innovations, but they were all guided by a single priority: what would a sociology journal look like if pushing social inquiry forward was the only thing that mattered?

antimatter

So much self-loathing in sociology, so many different diagnoses as to why. Overall, it gets frankly tiresome, even though I find particular sociologists’ particular (parting?) shots interesting. The latest: Orlando Patterson has an essay on “How Sociologists Made Themselves Irrelevant” in today’s Chronicle. I thought his best lines were toward the end:

The first is the Garfinkel rule, mentioned earlier: Never treat your subjects as cultural dopes. If you find yourself struggling to explain away your subjects’ own reasoned and widely held account of what they consider important in explaining their condition, you are up to something intellectually fishy.

The second is this: If you end up with findings that have policy implications that you would never dream of advocating for yourself or your loved ones, be wary of them. A case in point: If you find that neighborhoods have no effects, you should be prepared to do the rational thing and go live in an inner-city neighborhood with its much cheaper real estate, or at least advise your struggling son or daughter searching for an apartment to save by renting there. If the thought offends you, then something stinks.

Anyway, his call for a more “public sociology” is just using the slogan to call for–what I do agree with–sociology that is more connected to social policy. I mean, I like that sociology allows one to think about big-picture questions that don’t always have to come back to policy–indeed, I think that is one of the great privileges of being in our field. Continue reading

annals of very large effect sizes

From Nicholas Kristof’s most recent column in the NYT:

Researchers once showed people sketches of a white man with a knife confronting an unarmed black man in the subway. In one version of the experiment, 59 percent of research subjects later reported that it had been the black man who held the knife.

Does anyone know the study on which this is based?

causes of differences

The other day I read a useful paper about causation, by Kenneth Waters, who is now at the University of Calgary. At least I found it useful. Every so often I’ll make a dive into philosophical literature on causation, and the recurrent problem that I find is that philosophers are generally preoccupied with causation for single events (examples of balls hitting other balls and convoluted assassination schemes) or for big generalizations about classes of events. Meanwhile, sociologists regularly form their causal questions as about differences between groups of persons, as in wanting to explain why whites score higher on standardized tests than blacks or why women live longer than men.

Waters explicitly tries to formulation insights about causation in population terms. As he puts it:

Focusing attention on singleton situations about a single lighting of a match, a single breaking of a vase, or the single catastrophic dropping of a boulder obscures important features of causation. Much light could be shed on causal reasoning by shifting attention to causes in populations.

To get there, he draws a distinction between potential difference makers and actual difference makers. The key move here is the study of actual differences, for which you have to be talking about the causes of multiple outcomes, that is, a population. While potential difference makers are the larger body of causes of an outcome, actual difference makers are the ones for which actual variation in the population in question explains actual variation in the outcome.

tummyache tips

If you find yourself sending the following e-mail to students:

[Student A], [Student B]:

I woke up this morning feeling really sick to my stomach. I thought it was something that would pass, but it hasn't passed yet. So, [A], I'm sorry for being so last minute about this, but the pain is so acute at the moment that I don't think I can walk up to campus to meet. We'll need to reschedule (and [B], if you don't hear more from me, us too). More when this subsides enough that I can think clearer.

--Jeremy

You might consider the possibility that it is appendicitis, and that perhaps rather than staring at your monitor thinking “When is this going to pass? I’ve got writing to do!,” you should Uber yourself to the emergency room, stat. Because getting to the emergency room is just the start of a long waiting process to see the doctor, and you can’t get any pain medication before that happens, so by the time that happens you will have exhausted your mental inventory of theistic-like entities from known religions that you can beg and bargain with, should they exist, to make this horribly painful queasy painful pain in your stomach go away? Continue reading

overheard

“The single most important piece of advice for the one-on-one meetings you have during a job interview is to LISTEN.”

academic name changes

OW’s post about her problems from not changing her name reminds me of a question that came up last week in Bloomington over lunch. The question concerns women scientists — well, let’s start out by restricting attention to women sociologists — who are placed in tenure-line academic jobs. Some women have publication records in which they publish under one surname, and then later on–say, no earlier than after completion of their PhD–switch and publish under an entirely different surname. Leave the matter of name hyphenation out of this: I’m talking about case where if my CV went from publications as “Jeremy Freese” to publications as, say, “Jeremy McDonald”.

The question: when this happens, how much of the time is it because the woman has gotten married, and how much of the time is it because the woman has gotten divorced? This is in principle an empicial question that has an answer, but I don’t know what the answer is, so I invite your speculation. (Or, if this actually a question with a known answer out there somewhere and somebody wants to offer that, all the better.)

transparency as a matter of research ethics

Apparently APSA has actually made a step toward open science as part of their ethical guidelines. According to a recent paper in Science:

The American Political Science Association in 2012 adopted guidelines that made it an ethical obligation for researchers to “facilitate the evaluation of their evidence-based knowledge claims through data access, production transparency, and analytic transparency.”

My understanding is that the ASA ethical guidelines are still stuck on the idea that people should get around to sharing data after they’ve finished all the articles they might want to write from a paper, which as a practical matter often means “never.”

Any plans afoot to modify the ASA code of ethics?

step #1: repeat

I was re-reading Feynman’s essay on “Cargo-Cult Science,” largely to look at the context of the marvelous quote “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool.” But farther on I saw this part about repeating experiments: Continue reading

two headlines

1. Harvard photographed classrooms during classes in order to study attendance.
2. Jeremy does not understand why this is a big deal.

ADDENDUM: Quote at end of story:

“We know there are hundreds of cameras* all over Harvard, and we accept that they’re there for protection and safety and security,” Burgard said. “But the idea that photographs will be taken of a class in progress without having informed the students, much less the professor, is something very different. That is surveillance.”

* The cameras in question, which are doing something different than surveillance, are often called “surveillance cameras.”

active citation

Over the weekend I was at a workshop on journal practices convened by the editor-in-chief of Science and sponsored by the Center for Open Science in Virginia.* The larger cause of Open Science is seeking for greater transparency in research practice, something which anybody who knows me knows I think is badly needed. One idea that was raised at the meeting that I had never heard of before was “active citation.” Active citation is not about transparency in research practice, but greater accountability for our use of the work of others in making the arguments of a paper.

The basic premise of active citation is that when you cite a source, you need to indicate how it is that the source says what you say it says. Continue reading

the hociological imagination

A story about sociology’s past from Ralph Turner’s son [HT: Brayden]:

At the San Francisco Hilton in 1969, as Ralph stepped forward for his ASA presidential address, the crowning moment of a storied career, an energetic group of radical sociologists streamed down the aisles and took the stage. They announced that Ho Chi Minh had died that day and instead of listening to mainstream sociology we would have a memorial for Ho! Ralph handled the crisis with surprising grace: tipped off in advance, he had booked another ballroom. Thus Ho Chi Minh in one room, Ralph Turner in another.

overheard

“I sense a lot of good intentions around the room on these issues. That said, I would like to remind everyone how the road to hell is paved.”

what do drug tests actually measure?

Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle’s The Secret Race is a very detailed account of Hamilton’s (and, e.g., Lance Armstrong’s) doping during his bicycle racing career. Here’s one bit I found particularly interesting:

Journalists often used the term “arms race” to describe the relationship between the drug testers and the athletes, but that wasn’t quite right, because it implied that the testers had a chance of winning. For us, it wasn’t like a race at all. It was more like a big game of hide-and-seek played in a forest that has lots of good places to hide, and lots of rules that favor the hiders. So here’s how we beat the testers:

• Tip 1: Wear a watch.

• Tip 2: Keep your cell phone handy.

• Tip 3: Know your glowtime: how long you’ll test positive after you take the substance.

What you’ll notice is that none of these things are particularly difficult to do. That’s because the tests were very easy to beat. In fact, they weren’t drug tests. They were more like discipline tests, IQ tests. If you were careful and paid attention, you could dope and be 99 percent certain that you would not get caught.

(Note: Any analogies to academia, say for example for plagiarism detection or even for research fraud, are left as an exercise to the reader.)

another step forward for open science

The esteemed journal Nature has issued new guidelines about code availability. Includes:

Nature and the Nature journals have decided that, given the diversity of practices in the disciplines we cover, we cannot insist on sharing computer code in all cases. But we can go further than we have in the past, by at least indicating when code is available. Accordingly, our policy now mandates that when code is central to reaching a paper’s conclusions, we require a statement describing whether that code is available and setting out any restrictions on accessibility. Editors will insist on availability where they consider it appropriate: any practical issues preventing code sharing will be evaluated by the editors, who reserve the right to decline a paper if important code is unavailable. Moreover, we will provide a dedicated section in articles in which any information on computer code can be placed.

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