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

Continue reading

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!)



everything you wanted to know about bad citation practices

Spinach, it turns out, is not an especially good source of iron. As the story goes, people believe it’s a good source of iron because of a misplaced decimal point in a publication in the 1930s, reporting the iron content of spinach as ten times its actual level. But this story is itself apocryphal, as Ole Bjørn Rekdal wonderfully narrates in a cheeky and insightful piece in the most recent Social Studies of Science, Academic Urban Legends.

Rekdal traces the origins of the spinach-decimal-point myth and uses the occasion to catalog bad citation practices, including citing secondary sources for a point made by an original source without verifying the original source, citing an original source instead of a secondary source but relying on the secondary source’s interpretation, and more. Rekdal also traces the urban legend that most academic papers are never cited back to a 1980s study that actually found no such thing. I highly recommend the entire short piece, it’s funny and surprising throughout. For example, Popeye never claimed that spinach made you stronger because it had a lot of iron, and Popeye’s creator apparently had vitamin A in mind instead!

Continue reading

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.

okcupid is the new facebook? more on the politics of algorithmic manipulation

OK Cupid’s excellent blog just posted the results of a set of experiments they conducted on their own users. The post is framed in explicit defense of similar practices at Facebook:

We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook “experimented” with their news feed. Even the FTC is getting involved. But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.

In this post, I want to engage with the above argument in the context of OKC’s own manipulation.
Continue reading

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.

junior theorists symposium 2014

The final schedule for the 2014 Junior Theorists Symposium has just been released. If you’re going to be in the Bay Area the day before ASA (Friday, August 15), and have not already committed to one of the other pre-conferences, stop by 60 Evans Hall at the University of California (Berkeley) to see some amazing junior theory in action! If you have any questions, or would like to RSVP, just send an email to Jordanna Matlon and myself at

download ASA schedule to calendar?

The room assignments have just appeared in the ASA’s calendar and show up in your personal schedule now. However, I don’t see any option as there were in past years to download this as a calendar file for import into Outlook or Google. Also the personal schedule I saved on the web interface does not seem to show up on the phone app after a login. Does anybody know how to do either of these?

FYI here’s a link to what worked in 2012:  But the interface has changed since then.

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.

all persons are fictional

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decisions, there have been renewed discussions of corporate personhood. The argument is relatively simple: the 19th century Supreme Court made a mistake when it created the legal fiction that corporations are persons. I don’t want to get into that argument here. Instead, I want to make a slightly different argument: all persons are fictions.

Continue reading


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 791 other followers