advice you never asked for: volume 1

I often find that people don’t ask me for advice. This is a good thing as I don’t know anything. Still, it means that in order to provide people with advice, I have to give it unsolicited. As you might expect, this works hand-in-glove with blogging which, after all, is a pass time for people who want to offer their opinions to those who haven’t asked for them.

Today I want to briefly touch on a topic that some of my fellow grad students out there might be struggling with: writing loops in Stata.
Continue reading “advice you never asked for: volume 1”

my issue with the bailout

So I’ve been reading up a lot on the financial crisis. Along with a great group of grad students, my colleagues Josh Whitford, Sudhir Venkatesh, and I have been dedicating a couple hours every other Friday to read through and make sense of what’s going on. Yesterday word just came down that GM’s CEO has been fired by the Obama folks. I don’t have much of an issue with this. But here’s what I DO have an issue with: Continue reading “my issue with the bailout”

challenge the scatterbrains

So during our visit day a prospective student and scatterplot reader proposed a challenge to our fellow sociologists. I won’t out said person here unless they want to reveal themselves. But here’s the idea: sociology posts on wikipedia are enormously popular (thousands of visits a day) but tend to be quite terrible. So, folks should improve them. That means you! As an incentive, a special prize will be awarded to anyone who re-writes (or writes) the best wikipedia sociology entry. Before and after accounts will be required. The panel of judges is to be determined (likely, yours truly). The prize will be awarded at the annual scatterplot gathering (which the ASA has wisely decided to coordinate its meeting around). To quote from the originator of this idea (I edited the quote to suit my needs): Continue reading “challenge the scatterbrains”

fouls as resources in basketball

This one is in honor of March Madness, even though I am now officially in last place in both brackets I filled out. Oy, vey!

A common scene in the first half of a college basketball game: a player is called for his third foul and, in the words of the announcer, “he’ll rush to the bench.” Ditto with the fourth foul in the second half, because the fifth foul is when the player “fouls out” and must leave the game. Fouling out is relatively uncommon, largely because most coaches follow this rigid rule of removing players after their fourth fouls (or third if during the first half).

My question is: why?! It seems to me that fouls in basketball are a bit like pollution in a cap-and-trade system: licenses to commit a certain amount of a kind of semi-forbidden behavior that can often lead to gains in a field. The sanction for using too many of these licenses is–not having access to the gains available if one used more. (Of course I’m not talking about intentional, technical, or flagrant fouls here.) So removing a player before he can commit his fifth foul is voluntarily withholding team talent from a field whose whole existence is legitimated by the successful deployment of that talent.

Time would be a legitimate reason to withhold such talent but for one thing: greater deployment of talent earlier in the game tends to diminish the need for that talent later in the game. So if a star player is kept in until his fifth foul, it is less likely that the game will enter “crunch” time later on and require that player’s star power to rescue the team. In other words: a basket with 30 seconds left is no more valuable than a basket with 10 minutes left.

baseball at the asa

Going to a baseball game at the ASA with people you’ve never met in person is a longstanding bloggerly tradition, almost as longstanding as drinking together, but not quite. This year, as the ASA is in San Francisco, Brayden and I are particularly excited to see our beloved Giants in our beloved Pac Bell AT&T Park. Because tickets go fast, and because the ASA website isn’t coughing up the details of our presentation times, we have to get tickets before we know our schedules. So, we’ve decided to catch a game on the evening of the last day of the conference, August 11, after things are all over. Continue reading “baseball at the asa”

data cleaning

I’ve been swallowed up lately in trying to finish a long-overdue project.  Not being particularly sane in some ways, I keep bringing new data into the project. This has led to hours of time spent in cleaning up messes in data sets that have been the basis for other people’s publications, as well as messes in public data sets like the Statistical Abstract. Today’s fun was realizing that published Statistical Abstract tables for counts of Republicans and Democrats in state legislatures vary over the years in terms of when the count is made, so that sometimes the count is in March or mid-year (i.e. before the general elections) and other years the count is made in December of the year (i.e. just after the general elections).  This matters a lot if you are trying to match up political control of a state with other variables. The data in exactly the same on-line table vary in this from year to year, and the notes in the downloadable spreadsheet are wrong. You can correct the mistake only by checking the older PDF versions of the tables and reading their footnotes. Another set of errors was in a data file posted on line to support a publication: some entries for the governor’s party were just flat wrong, they must have been entered by an under-motivated student employee from paper sources. These I could correct by checking alternate on-line sources state by state. And data files of prison numbers have what are clear errors if you do enough checking. Some are flagrant, including population numbers with additional or missing digits that make the population wrong by a factor of 10 and counts for “other” race that just happen to equal what the total for all known races is. Others are subtle and can be found only by merging data across years and looking at the time plots, such as the clear case in which one state one year reversed its numbers for Black and Native American prison inmates.  I know I am unusually obsessive about data — and introduce plenty of my own mistakes that I later have to find and correct. But this whole process of two steps forward and one step back is driving me crazy.  It also makes me feel like reminding folks how important it is to check and clean data. There are quite a few cases in which people have published results that turned out to be driven by the fact that “no response” was coded 999 and the analyst just threw the whole thing into a regression equation without ever looking at the frequencies.

i didn’t know there was going to be a bikini wax ban

So apparently the state of New Jersey was going to ban “Brazilian” bikini waxes after two women were hospitalized because of infections after the procedure. But the bill was pulled. In my brief on-line searching on this I found two great lines. One from a fellow academic blogger, “Mammals have hair. Get used to it.” and another from an article on the dangers on the procedure (in an academic journal). To quote yet another fellow academic blogger, “This paper provides the best line I’ve ever seen in a science journal: ‘In addition, pubic hair can be styled into various designs and can be dyed.'” You can see the article here.

again, i point you to progpak

Okay, so I know you all might not share my love or interest in this blog (or the movement in Pakistan). But some great journalism is happening on this and other blogs. In “A Primer for the New York Times” on the recent movement, progpak outlines a problem with journalism, one I hadn’t thought of before: how in using narrative devices of fiction (“characters” and “scenes”), journalism often obscures the social processes behind movements. The result is a terrible misunderstanding of events, resulting in potentially disastrous consequences. Continue reading “again, i point you to progpak”

goodbye, dad

I am out at my parents’ house in California this week, working through some tough times again. My father’s battle with Alzheimer’s came to an end, and as usual, Alzheimer’s won. Memorial services for my dad will be tomorrow. I am so thankful that I arrived in time to see my dad one last time, and to tell him stories about his grandson and tell him how much I love him. He was only awake for about half an hour, and he couldn’t talk at all, even though he had so much to say. He clapped his hands to show me he was happy to see me and the rest of the family. Then, he fell asleep, and his embattled brain continued turning off the light switches and shutting the blinds until he passed away last Saturday night.

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sadly, he actually exists

Given my ongoing and rather crippling addiction to Conservapedia, none of you will be surprised to learn of my trepidation at the launch of the new Conservapedia YouTube Channel. Now, not only can you read utter madness- you can get a full A/V version of it. And you thought Pauly Shore movies were bad. Since I know some of you still don’t know what conservapedia is, allow me to “educate” you through the use of this handy propaganda film starring Andrew Schlafly himself:
Continue reading “sadly, he actually exists”