another peer-review horror story

Just in time for Hallowe’en, Phil Cohen has posted an account of a recent experience of trying to publish an article. The account is more striking when one pauses to think that the story is not getting told because it is extreme in a discipline-wide sense, but that it’s extreme for one of the few folks who write blog posts about things like this. In other words, too many people with too many papers are ending up with these sort of stories.

I appreciated Phil’s forthrightness in the account, particular the part where he reproduced one editor’s request to insert citations to more papers from their journal.
Beyond that, I was particular fond of this paragraph of the summary:

Sociologists care way too much about framing. Most (or all) of the reviewers were sociologists, and most of what they suggested, complained about, or objected was about the way the paper was “framed,” that is, how we establish the importance of the question and interpret the results. Of course framing is important – it’s why you’re asking your question, and why readers should care (see Mark Granovetter’s note on the rejected version of “the Strength of Weak Ties”). But it takes on elevated importance when we’re scrapping over limited slots in academic journals, so that to get published you have to successfully “frame” your paper as more important than some other poor slob’s.

asr comparative historical reviewer guidelines

Last month, ASR announced they would be publishing guidelines for reviewers of qualitative, theoretical, and comparative/historical papers. Today, draft versions of the historical guidelines were released (pdf version). Here’s the message that Monica Prasad posted on the CHS list today along with the guidelines:

“The committee to draft guidelines for comparative historical sociology articles in ASR has finished its work, and the draft guidelines are attached here. The committee consisted of Richard Lachmann (chair), Greta Krippner, George Steinmetz, Melissa Wilde, Nicholas Hoover Wilson, and Xiaohong Xu. Thank you to the committee for doing such an excellent job, and let’s all hope that the end result is more fabulous CHS articles in ASR!”

I’d love to know what you all think of them.

the mythical job.

There’s a tenure-track academic job I hear students talk about – one with work-life balance and a forty-hour work week and at least two weeks (but hopefully an entire summer) of carefree, completely unplugged vacation; one where you have all the autonomy and prestige of a professor, along with job security and a professional level paycheck, but there aren’t external pressures on your time except for those that you select because they’re consistent with your values and life goals…that job – that does not exist. And, even if it did, you would not increase your chances of landing such a job by eschewing the professional advice of faculty or colleagues because they are seen as somehow biased toward a different kind of job, one that just doesn’t fit you or your life goals.

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translating habitus from bourdieu to english

The following is a guest post by Steve Vaisey.

Last Friday I was in the airport, coming back from a talk at Emory when I saw this tweet from Paula England.

At one level, I shared her pain. “Structured structures predisposed to serve as structuring structures” is not exactly the clearest phrase ever written. But, that said, I get a lot out of Bourdieu and I think this passage is a pretty good summary of the entire argument of the Logic of Practice.

So, foolishly, publicly, I claimed that, when rendered in plain English, this was actually a pretty good passage. Then, doubling down, I offered to try such a translation. A number of people expressed interest in seeing what I came up with, so here it is.
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the $7bn myth: isis and the antiquities black market

The following is a guest post by Fiona Rose-Greenland.

Last week the FBI posted a new bulletin warning American citizens to be careful when purchasing antiquities of Iraqi or Syrian origin. The risk, according to the FBI, is that “purchasing an object looted and/or sold by the Islamic State may provide financial support to a terrorist organization and could be prosecuted under 18 USC 233A.”

Media outlets responded with a new round of articles, resurrecting the specter of a “$7 billion black market in antiquities”, in which the Islamic State (IS) is apparently making a killing. Continue reading


Kieran Healy has written a paper about nuance and posted it here.  It’s an argument that resonates with my own experience, especially in terms of various forays of reading efforts of social theory to talk about the relationship between what they are doing and psychology or, worse, “biology.” While there’s various colorful language throughout the paper, this unadorned sentence hit home for me in that regard:

there is a desire to equate calling for a more sophisticated approach to a theoretical problem with actually providing one, and to tie such calls to the alleged sophistication of the people making them.

the place of reproducible research

The ongoing scuffles over reproducible (or is it replicable? or robust?) research always seems to miss one point particularly important to my own work: protecting geographic identities of respondents.

I do not wish to argue that we should not replicate or share data. Rather, I wish to suggest that the costs of data sharing are not as low as many make them out to be and that a one-size-fits all policy on reproducible research seems unwise.
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is parenthood really worse than divorce? demographic clickbait in the washington post

The following is a guest post by Aaron Major.

If you’ve seen, or heard about, the Washington Post piece on having a baby being worse than death, read on. Lots of these science/social science articles come across my feed and while most of them bug me in various ways, this one has prompted me to write. Maybe it’s because I’ve got good friends who just had their first baby and, while they’re too tired and blurry-eyed to spend much time on the Facebook these days, I cringe thinking about this stuff becoming part of the many ‘having a baby’ conversations that they, and lots of folks, are having. To start with context. The article summarizes research recently published in the journal Demography as showing that having a baby reduces your happiness more than divorce, unemployment, or death of a partner. Yikes! That is one click-worthy headline. So what’s the problem with this article? A few things.
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in (partial) defense of cultural dopes

The following is a guest post by Jeff Guhin.

John O’Brien has an important new article at Sociological Theory about individualism that everybody should read. It uses a brilliant and incredibly well-handled meta-analytical technique: by combining 17 qualitative studies of religion in America (including his own), he’s able to use others’ data but not take their conclusions for granted. Of course, he’s limited by what ended up in the field notes and then, more importantly, what made it from the notes to the pages, but he still does a lot of his own interpretation. In fact, watching O’Brien shift how an author interprets “individualism” to what he thinks is really going on is some of the article’s best stuff. Continue reading

healy on “the performativity of networks”

Kieran Healy has a wonderful new article on The Performativity of Networks, just published in the European Journal of Sociology. The article is useful for both its empirical claims about how social network analysis has transformed the world, and for its cogent summary of the performativity of economics as laid out in MacKenzie’s work on finance. Throughout, Healy takes a somewhat ambivalent tone towards the performativity thesis itself. That is, he carefully argues that the evidence for the performativity of network theory is as good as the case for financial economics, but does not make a strong claim that such evidence is overwhelming. Anyone interested in the performativity thesis or in the history of social network analysis should give the paper a read. I won’t spoil the empirics here, read the paper for the details. Instead, I want to focus on how we think about performativity.

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do economists make (health) policy? aca edition

The influence of economists on policymaking is a topic of perennial interest to sociologists, and one I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to understand. One of the arguments Beth Berman and I stress in our review piece on the subject is the importance of institutional position inside the policymaking apparatus. Economic ideas dominate certain federal agencies because economists (and MPPs trained by economists, etc.) staff those agencies. Academic economists have a clear route towards policy influence through their counterparts inside the government.

A new paper by Glied and Miller (G&M) on the role of health economics in the drafting of the Affordable Care Act offers a nice illustration of this argument (h/t to The Incidental Economist, the best health economics/policy blog around). Continue reading

use the asa app with this one weird trick!

This year, the ASA meetings will have an app with more features than you can shake a stick at. If you are a careful planner and be sure to log in when browsing the online program, you can add sessions to your schedule, and they will automatically download to a calendar feature on your app.

There are also maps of each floor of the hotels, so it will be much easier to find your way around. I haven’t tried it yet, but it even boasts a feature to give you directions to a particular room. If you know the author of a paper at the session you are heading to next, you can search for their name, find the session, and click a button to take you straight to the map of the hotel rooms to find your way.

All this and more, but you can’t get to any of it unless you login to the Members Only section of the ASA website. Continue reading

blog party: twelfth time’s a charm!

As July comes to a close, sociologists set their sites on the impending annual meetings. Apart from scrambling to finish our papers, and struggling to figure out which panels we are supposed to attend, the most important part of prepping for ASA is deciding where to drink. In furtherance of that last goal, we at the Scatterplot party planning committee are delighted to announce the twelfth annual blog party, the can’t miss event of the blogger social season! Details:

The 12th Annual Blog Get-Together

Sunday, Aug 23 at 6:30pm

Brando’s Speakeasy

343 S. Dearborn Street, a short walk from the Hilton and Palmer House

Brando’s features classic cocktails and an impressive list of silly looking ‘tinis guaranteed to appeal to the Andrew Perrin demographic. So come join us! As Tina put it last year, “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.”

ask a scatterbrain: managing workflow.

As I have admitted before, I am a terrible electronic file-keeper. If I was to count up the minutes I have wasted in the last 15 years searching for files that should have been easy to find or typing and retyping Stata code that would have (and should have) been a simple do-file or doing web searches for things that I read that I thought I wanted to include in lectures or powerpoints or articles but couldn’t place, I fear I would discover many months of my life wasted as a result of my organizational ineptitude.

For a long while, these bad habits only affected me (and the occasional collaborator). It was my wasted time and effort. Now, though, expectations are changing and this type of disorganization can make or break a career. I think about my dissertation data and related files, strewn about floppy disks and disparate folders, and I feel both shame and fear. Continue reading

why does college cost so much?

If you read popular coverage of higher ed, one of the biggest recurring questions is “why does college cost so much?” There’s no really good answer to this question, in part because it’s poorly phrased. Higher ed is a big field containing several different organizational populations that look very different when it comes to costs and revenues (and student bodies, etc.). The chapters by Scott and Ruef & Nag in this edited volume do a nice job of laying out some of the contours of that diversity. Applying that basic insight suggests that the question “why does college cost so much?” might have very different answers for public research universities, community colleges, private liberal arts schools, the elite research universities, for-profits, etc. The relative weight of the various popular explanations (including administrative bloat, Baumol’s cost disease, lavish expenditures on amenities, higher levels of federal financial aid, and declines in state support) may differ radically.
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