surveys are hard work

John Villasenor’s study on free speech attitudes among college students has received some attention.

In one of the questions he asked, only 47% of students favored, “an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people.” In contrast, 53% favored speech restrictions to, “create a positive learning environment.”

This is a huge swing from last year when Gallup asked the same question. They found that only 22% favored speech restrictions.

This 30-point shift could be because attitudes changed rapidly. Villasenor’s study was immediately after Charlottesville, for example, and students might be more primed to think about Nazi’s marching on their campus.

It could also be because of differences in survey methods. Surveying college students is really hard.

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sunday morning sociology, unstable attitudes edition

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The NYT reports on survey evidence showing that Donald Trump’s nomination led to a big shift in religious voters’ willingness to forgive past transgressions (and, more generally, that partisans follow cues from their leaders more than we sometimes think). 

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

This week, a few articles feature discussions of how malleable our stated opinions are (or aren’t.)

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exercising judgment in teaching about controversial issues

My department has run a number of workshops (organized by grad students) on “teaching about race.” They asked me to speak about what the rules are about what we can and cannot say in the classroom. I was pretty sure I knew the “rules” but asked our Provost for the official statement. Interestingly, there was none, but the question was referred to the Legal department. After a delay, Legal Affairs sent back an email citing Wisconsin state statutes and linking to some policy statements. I’ve pasted the original correspondence below.* First a student and I translated the legalese into English bullet points. Then I wrote an essay about how to think about the authority and ethical responsibility in teaching controversial topics. This was recirculated this fall and as I’ve gotten positive feedback about this, I decided to post it here, with a few more edits, in case it is helpful. There’s always more to say, and legitimate disagreement about how to handle some things. Feel free to use the comments to expand on these points. Continue reading “exercising judgment in teaching about controversial issues”

racial inequality: it’s not getting better

Until the 2016 election, it was very easy for Americans to convince ourselves that racial inequality was getting better. Look, a Black president! What could be a better sign of improvement in race relations? Of course, as sociologists like Eduardo Bonilla Silva have long argued, “Obama’s America” offered a promise of colorblindness, not a reality of racial equality. Three recent data points are worth keeping in mind when thinking about the (lack of) progress on racial inequality in the past 30 years – even before White Supremacy came back to the front page, and Trump entered the Oval Office.

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guest post: artificial intelligence discovers gayface. sigh.

The following is a guest post by Greggor Mattson.

AI Can’t Tell if You’re Gay… But it Can Tell if You’re a Walking Stereotype.

[First published September 9th. This post has been updated with subsequent information, denoted by square brackets, cited on this resource of responses to the story by tweeters, bloggers, media, and Kosinski himself].

There are ample reasons to be skeptical of recent headlines announcing that “AI [Artificial Intelligence] Can Tell If You’re Gay,” summaries of a pre-print study by Yilun Wang and Michal Kosinski of Stanford University’s School of Business. Their goal is to “advance our understanding of the origins of sexual orientation and the limits of human perception” (p.1). For the first they fail miserably but I concur with the second, though the perceptions that are limited, in this case, are the researchers’ own. In this post I review the underpinnings of this research that render it much less insightful than the researchers claim, the problems of journalistic reporting that compound these problems, and the stunning tone-deafness of Kosinski’s defense of his ethics.

Study summary tweeted by Michal Kosinski on Sept. 8.
Continue reading “guest post: artificial intelligence discovers gayface. sigh.”

sunday morning sociology, kids these days edition


Kids these days are smoking, drinking, and using drugs at the lowest rates measured, via The Incidental Economist.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, kids these days edition”

new adventures in ubercapital

Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy (2017) introduced the wonderful concept of ubercapital, “a form of capital flowing from [individuals’] positions as measured by various digital scoring and ranking methods” with consequences for stratification. Two new papers provide clear (and terrifying) analysis of how ubercapital works in hiring and law enforcement.

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