Category Archives: Uncategorized


Posted here for posterity: my first appearance in a Vine video (thanks to @kimberlybrogers).

The backstory is that, as Social Psychology section chair, I was supposed to keep and pass on our section’s gavel, but because I was coming to the meetings directly from Australia, I wasn’t able to bring the gavel with me. So right before our business meeting I had to rush to a store and find something gavel-ish that I could improvise. As a fellow blogger on our masthead can confirm, the trick shown may be simple, but nevertheless I tried it roughly 20 times as we were chatting before the meeting, and came nowhere close to getting it to work.

northwestern is hiring!

We are hiring for two positions. One of them is an open position, for which I presume there is little extra need to get the word out. But we are also hiring a new “Assistant Professor of Instruction,” which is a job title that did not exist when I started my sabbatical (although the basic type of position has existed under the heading of “Continuing Lecture Faculty”). That position got some attention last year in a study indicating that instructors in this position performed as well in the classroom (in the metric of the study) as tenure-line faculty.

I’ll paste the ad below the jump. I don’t know anything about the ad’s stated preference for candidates with “demonstrated experience working with diverse student communities.” I completely adore Northwestern, but compared to my previous stints at middle-American public universities, the NU student community feels noticeably less diverse except with regard to race/ethnicity and geographic origin. On the upside, perhaps, a palpable part of this lower diversity is the overall high classroom performance of so many of our undergraduates.

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lifecourse of a paper

Working on a paper and proposal that both involved life-course explanations of social phenomena, I realized that my papers have a life-course of their own. I thought I would share:

  • Birth. This is the first glimmer of a new idea. Unfortunately, nature is cruel and mortality at this stage is very high. Some ideas are truly great, but are lost by the time I leave the department/committee/research meeting in which I had their first glimmer. Others were really stillborn: good in principle, impractical in reality. Others needed to be culled for the good of my brood of other, unfinished papers

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fundraising to digitize ASA journal archives

There are 588 boxes of materials from the ASA’s journals (American Sociological Review, Contemporary Sociology, Contexts, the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Social Psychological Quarterly, Sociological Methodology, Sociological Theory, Sociology of Education, and Teaching Sociology) that have been housed at Penn State that are now slated to be shredded and destroyed unread unless funds can be raised to digitize them first. As concerned scholars say: “These unique documents cover an era of major change in the intellectual, organizational, and social-demographic composition of the discipline of sociology. Sociologists in a variety of fields have recently attested to the significance of the data contained in these records for studying the development of all subfields of the discipline, as well as for research in the areas of science/knowledge, social networks, race/gender/class, higher education, the history of sociology, sociological theory, political sociology, and public sociology.”

After much acrimonious debate at ASA Council about whether on principle the records should ever be released due to tradeoffs between historical value and legal/ethical concerns about privacy & confidentiality (the archive includes draft MSS later revised, confidential reviews, and internal memos), as well as debates about the cost of the archiving, the compromise achieved at ASA was to allow concerned parties to do a fundraising campaign to amass the estimated $120,000 it will cost to digitize the archives. As you doubtless know if you are on ASA mailing lists, this fundraising campaign is underway. You can learn about it and click a donate now button at ASA has about 14,000 members, making the per capita cost about $10/member, although of course many members are students or underemployed. Small contributions are welcome and larger contributors are invited to donate $200 to “adopt a box.”

The ASA has vowed to shred all documents whose digitization has not been paid for by June 15, 2015.

Edit: There was an extensive orgtheory  discussion of this last Februrary, where we debated the confidentiality concerns and the historical value of these archives, but could not find that discussion in a Google search. Please drop a comment if you can locate these substantive debates.

(I couldn’t find it in the scatterplot archives because that isn’t where it is!)



grad skool rool?

Fabio mentioned he’s planning an update of his Grad Skool Rulz. Several months ago I read a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. While I wouldn’t recommend the whole book, I do adore the quote that Newport uses for his title, which comes from Steve Martin. As Newport tells it:

“Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’… but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’”

The implication for academia for me is that I think it’s common for aspiring sociologists–especially if in the throes of Bourdieu–want to think about academia as a game and think about advice in terms of figuring out how to play the game. And of course there are political elements to academia, and every accomplishment involves the subjective judgments of others (although this is even more the case for stand-up comedy). My worry is that it’s easy to get distracted by all that and miss the main task, which is: work toward trying to be able and do excellent things.

big data, big cities datathon august 15 — sign up this week

The day before ASA begins, August 15, three graduate students, Laura Nelson, Laura Norén, and my advisee Alex Hanna, are hosting a pre-ASA datathon at the D-Lab in Berkeley. From the website: we are holding a datathon to examine contemporary urban issues – especially around housing – with municipal data from cities including San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Boston, Austin, and Chicago.

The hacking itself begins on the 15th, with presentations and judging at the Hilton on the 16th. They are expecting a good mix of participants from both academia and the private sector, and will have a mix of judges from academia, industry, and government. Head to the website for more details on the schedule and how to sign up.

blog party: elevenses

How did it get to be nearly August? I don’t know where the time flies. But I do know that you are flying to San Francisco in a few weeks, and you will need a drink when you get there. Your servants at scatterplot have selected a superb spot just for you. It’s the special sort of place that has fancy appletinis, $3 bottles of beer, and everything in between. I am very pleased to announce:

The 11th Annual Blog Get-Together

Sunday, Aug 17 at 5:30pm

Trocadero Club

701 Geary Street

All blog writers, commenters, and readers are welcome, as are folks-who-used-to-write-but-don’t-so-much-anymore-you-know-how-it-goes, lurkers, tweeters, and assorted people who simply would like to come. Please recall that well-behaved sociology faculty will generously purchase a beverage or two for a thirsty graduate student. We may be awkward, but we don’t need to be that awkward.

asa responded to calendar request!

We still owe thanks to Kieran for his efforts, but I am also happy to report that as of today a saved schedule in “my schedule” on has the option to save the schedule as a calendar. It worked fine when I tested it with Google calendar.

socsters are doin it for themselves

Kieran has scraped and redone the ASA meeting online schedule so that one can easily add sessions to one’s calendar. In addition to making it easier to navigate the meetings, he has perhaps also spared us a round of lavishly dubious explanation for why something has to be the way that it is and why it would cost exorbitant amounts to be any different. That is: a larger parable might be drawn, but I have a course to prep and some fùtbol to cheer, so you’re on your own.

milkman make this happen

I’m in a B&B in Mexico City, marking my first night in my home hemisphere in nearly eleven months. Travels ahead that culminate in ASA, so posting from me will presumably be light.

During the 30 hour trip to get here, one of the films I saw on the plane was Tim’s Vermeer–in which a tinkerer without experience painting tries to reproduce a Vermeer using optics and a lot of craftsmanship–and I highly recommend it. Produced/directed by Penn and Teller. So, more than this: instead of An Evening With Malcolm Gladwell at ASA, we should try to get An Evening With Penn and Teller.

you think applying for academic jobs is hard?

Since retiring, my spouse has been volunteering at the “job club,” helping low income people apply for jobs. Applicants for low-wage jobs need to apply on line, and many low-wage workers neither own computers nor have much experience using them. Plus they are often unfamiliar with the various verbal hoops applicants have to go through. One of the big ones are banks of attitude questions. Yesterday he spent a couple of hours with a woman applying to work as a baker in a donut franchise, not the chef who thinks up recipes, someone who just does the work of cooking and frosting. She had to respond to 300 Likert items, 25 a page for 12 pages (!) with items like these

  • It is important to know what my coworkers think.
  • It is important to know what my coworkers feel.
  • I can easily imagine what my coworkers feel.
  • It is important to my life that the company do well.
  • Sometimes you have to take a risk to solve a problem for the company.
  • You have to know all possible solutions before picking one.
  • My coworkers say I’m cooperative.
  • My coworkers say I’m obedient.

Other items, he says, are convoluted sentence structures that even he finds difficult to parse to figure out what the positive/negative ends of the scale are. After two hours, they had to quit because the room needed to be used by someone else, and they had only gotten through five pages of the questions. The 300 is the worst so far, but this kind of thing is common in the low wage world. Another time he was working with a mentally disabled man trying to get a job as a dishwasher who had to work through 150 such questions. This is not what you do after you’ve passed the screening and are being interviewed. This is what you have to do just to enter the screening process. My daughter the labor activist says they are trying to screen out not only thieves but activists. I’m sure she’s right, and also pretty confident that these question banks are produced by consultants who don’t necessarily think through what it means to have to spend five hours applying for a $9/hour job on a computer in a public place. Or maybe they do, and that’s part of the test?

I don’t mean with my title to belittle the stresses of being on the academic job market. It is a scary world out there, and the application process is time-consuming and stressful for everyone. But I think we have not stooped this low. Yet, anyway.

teaching as treaty

Article in TNR about the shortcomings of elite education. While a digression from the author’s overall argument, I found this paragraph particularly… provocative:

At least the classes at elite schools are academically rigorous, demanding on their own terms, no? Not necessarily. In the sciences, usually; in other disciplines, not so much. There are exceptions, of course, but professors and students have largely entered into what one observer called a “nonaggression pact.” Students are regarded by the institution as “customers,” people to be pandered to instead of challenged. Professors are rewarded for research, so they want to spend as little time on their classes as they can. The profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be. The result is higher marks for shoddier work.

html-excel bleg

Techo-nerds, can you help? A student of mine downloaded about thousand spreadsheets from a public site using the “Excel file” option that saved themselves as .xls files and will open in Excel but are REALLY HTML files and, as such, cannot be imported or even parsed by Stata. Any ideas for automating the file translation? We estimate that opening each file in Excel and saving it as an Excel file at 30 seconds each will take 35 hours. Hoping for a programming solution.

My university’s class rosters ALSO download with .xls extensions but are really html files. Hmmm.

Edit: I think I can crack this. I’ve learned that I can read each file into Stata as lines of text this way:

import delimited “census_Tract101.xls”, delimiter(“^”) varnames(nonames) clear

from there, I’m pretty sure I can fairly easily extract the information needed with string functions, as all the files have identical formats. This may be more elegantly done in R or a programming langauge, but I think I can do it in Stata faster. We’ll see. Thanks for the fast responses.

Edit #2: That did it. My Stata-fu is strong and once I could get each file into Stata as a long string per row, I was good to go as regards writing the code to parse each file inside loops and combine all them into one big file. If you happen to want clues on how to do this kind of arcane task, let me know.



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.)


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