Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.)

what happened in 1999?

From the ASA permission form sent to authors when a publisher wants to reprint an article that appeared in an ASA journal:

Prior to 1999, ASA policy on revenue sharing with its authors stated that proceeds will be shared equally by the author(s) of the article and the ASA as copyright holder. For articles published prior to 1999, the ASA will collect all fees and will disburse one half of these receipts to authors upon collection from the requestor, unless you agree to donate your share to the ASA. For articles published in 1999 and later, ASA retains all fees received for reprint permission requests. (This applies to journal articles only). 

 

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.

ritzer on ritzer on ritzer

George Ritzer, Editor in Chief, The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology, 2nd Edition, in an email to me:

We would like to invite you to contribute to Wiley-Blackwell’s Encyclopedia of Sociology, Second Edition, under the general editorship of George Ritzer… The Author will be entitled to receive access to the electronic (online) version of the encyclopedia for a period of two years…  In addition, the Author will have the right to purchase the entire set of volumes of the current print edition of the Work for personal use at a discount of 25% from the published price, copies of any work published by the publishers and currently in print, provided that all such purchases, including purchases of the Work, are paid for in advance by the Author.

George Ritzer, social theorist:

For example, when you write product reviews for Amazon.com you are enhancing the value of that site and the company; you are working for them and you are not being paid for that work…To put it baldly, the value of these computer-based businesses is based largely on the “work”- those clicks and likes- that you do for them free of charge. In a capitalist world you ought to be paid by all of them, but of course you are not paid. From the perspective of the critics of capitalism, you are being exploited by firms such as Google and Facebook (Fuchs, 2013). In fact, you are being exploited more than the paid workers in the capitalist system. Most of them are being paid relatively little, but you are paid nothing at all. Low paid work often yields great profits, but work that is unpaid leads to an even higher rate of profit.

I asked George Ritzer about this tension. He wrote:

As you know, this is a high compliment- using my ideas.. even if only to critique me. Your point is well-taken, but I am one of the exploited low-paid workers in the quotation (on a per hour basis for the number of hours it takes to edit a 2500-entry encyclopedia…far less than the minimum wage). I am also a prosumer in this case “consuming” the entries and “producing” edits, comments, etc. If there is an exploiter here, it is Wiley-Blackwell, but this is endemic to academic publishing. When we submit articles to journals owned by them (and SAGE, etc) we are the prosumers of those articles (and others), we are paid nothing, and they are profitable companies in large part because of the free work done by authors. There’s a broader critique here.

By my calculation Wiley, an academic publisher, has earned about a billion dollars in profit since the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Sociology came out.

the lgbt movement did not, it turns out, tone it down

“Groups Debate Slower Strategy on Gay Rights” was the title of this 2004 NY Times article that I just discovered in my file drawer.* In which the author describes a bedraggled and frustrated LGBT movement just weeks after George W. Bush had been elected to his second term.

In the past week alone, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, has accepted the resignation of its executive director, appointed its first non-gay board co-chairman and adopted a new, more moderate strategy, with less emphasis on legalizing same-sex marriages and more on strengthening personal relationships…

One official said the group would consider supporting President Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program.

While the article quotes two academics, George Chauncey and Jonathan D. Katz , who disagreed with a sharp, “They are, of course, completely wrong,” the most interesting tiff is among politicians: Continue reading

the real facebook power: agenda setting

Did everyone have a chance to read Noah Grand’s post on the Facebook issue? He posted a link in the comments, but I am afraid it will be buried. Noah has a background in journalism, so his post compares Facebook to other news outlets.

He brings up an excellent point about the bigger problem behind the Facebook issue. It’s not that users’ emotions were manipulated, but rather that Facebook’s News Feed algorithm has the power to deem what kinds of news are important:

“Facebook Manipulates Users’ Emotions” is a great headline that prompts people to think of a lot of nightmare scenarios. However, the emphasis on stealthy, subtle emotional manipulation makes it hard for people to understand the most powerful and plausible effect of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm: the ability to influence which topics we think are worthy of debate.

Read the whole post here.

a/b for every/body!

An offhand Twitter comment reminded me of Google+ and its Circles feature, which allows you to very easily separate friends into different groups and post different updates to particular groups. Facebook has similar capacity where you can put your friends in categories.

Here’s an idea: Facebook should start making amends by implementing a feature where anyone can randomly assign their friends to two categories: “treatment” and “control”, or “A” and “B”. Then anyone can try different status updates and see how they differ in the responses and “likes” that you get. You could either reshuffle after each status updates, or conduct entirely alternate personas and lives. Point is, why should Facebook get to have all the fun? WE CAN ALL DO CREEPY EXPERIMENTS AND MANIPULATE ONE ANOTHER.

(I’m being facetious. Well, actually, it would be cool if— No, that’s me being facetious again.)

#tbt: the dirty secret of analyzing survey data

analytic-goldilocks-diagram-from-2004

I posted this drawing on my blog over ten years ago. IT IS STILL TRUE.

#tbt: literary aside about that facebook experiment

A sociology professor plays a prominent role in a 1960s short story about what we might imagine to be the end point if Facebook’s understanding of how to manipulate user moods continues to advance.

elite sport as model phenomenon

I’ve been interested in the interdependence of biological and social processes for a long time now, without nearly as much to show for it as I’d like. The empirical work in this area has a long way to go, but it’s as plain to me that as much of the problem is conceptual: the point where sociology has the potential to be the best social science is always in terms of the big picture, and the big picture for biological and social interdependence is extremely difficult to think or theorize effectively about.

Of course a big hurdle is the ugly history of using biological arguments for social injustices, as whatever steps one tries to take here so morally and politically freighted that it feels like trying to theorize through a minefield. It’s not like you can be a sociologist and just spitball ideas about this stuff in a seminar.
Continue reading

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