anatomy of liberal bias

This morning on NPR I heard a classic NPR-like story. It was a discussion of budget cuts and the potential effect on NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The story can be found here.

As I said, it’s a classic NPR story. The reporting is excellent; the sources are strong; the background is thorough and well-researched. However it seemed to me that there was an unspoken bias to the story: NOAA is important, the message of the story goes, and as such budget cutters ought to be very careful with what they choose to cut. Remaining unasked were questions of whether there might be other ways to organize the provision of such services. For example, much of the weather data provided by NOAA is ultimately piped through commercial handlers (media, websites, etc.).  Could they pay for a privatized piece of the administration, and use revenues so generated to fund the truly public missions (e.g., hurricane tracking)? Could foreign governments “subscribe” to such services? I have no idea if either of these is at all reasonable, but the story contained what seems to me an unexamined assumption: if something is important, government should support it. Now, I generally agree with that proposition, but I do think that treating it as an assumption constitutes bias.


An interesting report came out from William Frey at Brookings. Non-white births are now 49% of all American births. And growth in major cities is now almost entirely made up of minorities (98% of population growth in major cities was due to non-whites). Two good graphs in the report. First, on the racial composition by age:

Second, Continue reading “cha-cha-cha-cha-changes”

outta here, in a puff of engine exhaust

Dalhousie professor Danford Middlemiss quit earlier this week, when the line-ups to get a parking pass were too long.

“For a guy like myself that lives in Lower Sackville [I presume this is on the east end of the Shire], I have to get on the road around 6:30 to 7 to get an assured parking spot somewhere so I can get here to teach at 2:30 in the afternoon,” said Middlemiss, an expert on Canadian defence policy.

“Luckily, I don’t have to put up with it.”

I wish us all the chance to retire in a great flourish such as this, pounding a fist on a desk of some student employee over some irritation that the administration should have fixed long ago.

(h/t @treycausey)

what a summer!

Gosh, it’s been quite a summer – five separate trips not including ASA, and major family transitions. We moved to a new house, my kids both started new schools, and I did a lot of policy-related work early in the summer alongside. With all that, I miss scatterplot and my scatterbrained colleagues! I’ve been trying to read when I can, but haven’t written in a long time.

Look for that to change soon. I’m planning a long post about the feedback on our study on the Tea Party Movement; another on plagiarism and UNC’s honor court; and some retrospective stuff on disappointment and anger at President Obama, among many others. See you soon!

and don’t hit your american sociological society on the door on your way out

We knew ASA Vegas was going to be special, but… has there been an ASA before where part of the aftermath was a story in the hosting city’s local media telling us not to come back? [HT: various]

Also, fact-check question: I’ve heard the complaint from various people that ASA Vegas was unusually expensive, especially for students, but when I repeated this to someone today, they said, “That’s absurd. They’re forgetting how much people saved on average on their hotel rooms and airfare.” To which I had no reply. Anybody have a sense of how this balanced out?

[BTW, as for Twitter: sure, it’s easy in tech discussions to fall back on a rhetorical division between the ones who “get it” and the crotchety folks angrily waving their canes and shouting for the young’uns to get off their lawns, but–hey!–I was practically begging people to tweet ASA in serial blog posts back in 2007. Even though I haven’t taken to Twitter much myself since, I am glad people are tweeting about content as well as fun at the meetings. During-talks tweets don’t bother me personally–academic speakers are supposed to be conversation pieces–but I’m sure you’ll also understand if I only give so much credence to anybody’s 140-character second-hand characterization of a project. Then again, if there really is an actual intellectual market for such things, maybe ASA should supplement the middle-micro-blogger by having us all submit our own 140 character abstracts when we upload our papers. I’d read them.]

bingo wars!

Row 3, Column 2 from Kieran’s bingo card this year: “Eyeroll from Chronically Hip Grad Student.” But, let’s face it: eyerolling is such a meatspace maneuver anymore. If a speaker says something out-of-step with standpoint theory nowadays, are they really more likely to be met with an eyeroll, or met with younger scholars’ eyes darting down to their smartphone/tablet so they can tweet about it? Here is an alternative Bingo card that a couple Twitter users have made that better reflects their view about the social-media-augmented ASA.

Frankly, I don’t get the part in the authors’ post about how Kieran’s card “revealed much about the sociological discipline and the problems with the annual meetings.” Kieran’s cards seems to me to involve some gentle ribbing here and there, but overall don’t exactly provoke the possibility that there might be something basically wrong–or, at least, decreasingly viable–about the conference.

On the other hand, the Twitter card does seem to raise what may be a basic problem — which is that, for many-such-people much-of-the-time, sitting still and simply listening to somebody talk about their work for fifteen minutes is no longer enough on its own. I could deliver an avuncular tsk-tsk about that, but it would be completely hypocritical given my own lately-regrettable record of panel attendance and tendencies toward junkie-style surreptitious smartphone-checking if my attention has wandered and I have the opportunity. If folks are talking about reading a few tweets from a session as a substitute for attending it, you know, maybe we should start reconsidering the prolonged reciprocal captive-audience model on which conferences like ASA are based?

Anyway: I wonder if there is going to be intergenerational tension in the coming years about the etiquette of in-session tweeting. I don’t have any problem with it, and seems like something everybody will need to get used to regardless. But I can see where others might see it as being like passing notes during a talk, only if those notes were posted on a giant whiteboard behind the speaker so that everybody but her could read them. More broadly, though, I wonder if people will start to question the default model of organizing sessions as a series of people having the floor for 15-20 minute turns of talk.

a beautiful method

Steven J. Tepper sent out  a request to various people looking for advice on “particularly good and
compelling examples of creative, parsimonious scholarship.” Here’s what he and those who responded came up with.

(compiled by Steven Tepper: Thanks to Shaul Kelner, Heather Talley, Karen Campbell, Eszter Hargittai, Terry McDonnell, Charles Kadushin, Kieran Healy, Bruce Barry, Larry Isaac, and Brian Steensland)

Continue reading “a beautiful method”

ask a scatterbrain: training grads in research ethics

One of the many wonderful sociologists I chatted with in Vegas was Iowa’s Mary Campbell, a loyal scatterplot reader. She asked me to pose a question to you (and I’m hoping in my post-Vegas/ASA/first-week-of-classes haze I remember its essence – if I don’t, I blame Andrew Perrin pushing appletinis at the bloggettogether):

Apparently the University of Iowa has asked departments to ensure that graduate students are trained in research ethics. We’re not just talking about IRB certification, but moving well beyond this. Are others schools requiring such?  How are others approaching the issue? Or, if you’re not, do you have ideas of how to best do this? Of course the ASA has a guide on such concerns* that could certainly be a place to start, but what else is out there? A quick search on Amazon brings up various options, but surely faithful blog readers can provide a more personal recommendation.

Continue reading “ask a scatterbrain: training grads in research ethics”

leaving las vegas

I just returned from the conference today. We went to the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon afterward. Also, as promised here earlier on this blog, I left Vegas ahead on roulette, and my partner left ahead on slots. I said I had a system. Not sure how many times certain findings need to replicated before folks will believe them.

Here is an Inside Higher Ed article on the sociologists’ views of the conference. The comments are mostly negative. Personally, I had a good time and probably had my sense of social wonder stimulated more by Vegas than any ASA venue other than New York City, and I liked the novelty of it as an academic conference venue. But I can understand the expense concerns and recognize the general thrust of the moral one, even if sometimes I think people have sounded maybe-a-little-naive about what goes on at other venues where ASA meets.

Overall, given the basic principle that many sociologists will not cross a picket line–and, hey, good for us–I think (1) ASA was right to move the conference, (2) timed the decision to move just about right, (3) came up with a logistically suitable venue-and-date combination on short notice and executed the conference itself pretty well.

Granted, it would be nice if they could get the name of the “Evolution, Biology, and Society” section correct one day–several years after a name change, we are still “Evolution and Society” on the ribbon and “Evolution, Body, and Society” somewhere in the program. Someone in the section likened it to a boorish boss who keeps calling you by different incorrect first names, despite your polite corrections.

the new apple is so gay

You’ve probably heard that Apple’s iconic CEO Steve Jobs has stepped down due to poor health. You can find lots of analysis about what is going to happen to Apple elsewhere, but let me just add that our own household’s retirement plan now involves a mattress and a shotgun.

The new CEO, Tim Cook, is clearly a genius who has organized the supply chain for Apple’s upcoming projects, managed the business while Steve has been sick, and is by all accounts an excellent choice for this position. Also, he is gay.

Continue reading “the new apple is so gay”

world sociology rankings!

I didn’t know world sociology rankings existed, but I ran across apparently new 2011 results while looking for something else. Normally, I can be relied upon to take a close look at ranking methodologies and opine about them. Today, though, I am rushing to get stuff ready for ASA and these look like they have sufficient problems that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Nevertheless: if you believe 2 of the 4 best sociology departments are located in the UK, or that Canada has 3 sociology departments better than Madison, then, hey, these are the world rankings for you.

My own beloved employer manages to come in at number 45, behind the University of Illinois, UCSB, and UCSD, but still edging out the highest-ranking departments of New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, and France.


All the way from the other side of the world, Kieran Healy has managed to pull together another awesome ASA Bingo card. Print it out and play along. This version is updated to include 2011 issues like the Dues Increase, though I was expecting a snarky square for Randall Collins calling out bloggers as Tea Party supporters. I guess Kieran is just too positive and upbeat for that sort of move.

but it’s a dry heat…

Great news everyone! Things are really cooling off in Vegas. Today there’s a high of 107. But Sunday and Monday we’re looking at 101, and on Tuesday, the high may only be in the double-digits. What more could you ask for? A cool 99!!! For those of us arrive on Friday (me), I’m sure we’ll really notice the difference after that day’s high of 106. At this rate, I’m not sure how the ASA will find a hotter city for us in 2012, when no doubt we’ll be moved from Denver. But in this, I have faith in them. Perhaps we’ll again leave this land, finding ourselves in Al ‘Aziziyah, Libya (hottest day on record: 136 — in September). Or maybe we’ll help revive the abandoned city of Dallol, Ethiopia (average temperature: 94 — that’s all year people). The solution, of course, leaves the issue of what to do in 2013 — how can we keep topping ourselves? I mean, Atlanta to Vegas — that was a varsity play. But what’s the followup? I guess there’s always hell…

creating a reviewer market — a modest proposal

I find myself reviewing a lot. And as I do, I keep thinking, “this must mean that lots of other people aren’t reviewing, because I review far more than 3 times the number of papers I submit.” And so, last night, when hanging out with Jenn Lena and Usher (or at least, being near him), I thought more about a solution: reviewer credits. Here’s the idea:

1.) Massively increase the cost of submitting papers (but not for grad students). So, increase the amount to something like $500.
2.) But… allow people to “pay” for submissions — or at least vast parts of them — with credits that they get for reviewing papers. Continue reading “creating a reviewer market — a modest proposal”