is pink slime a moral panic?

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a story about defenders of so-called “pink slime,” the mixture of beef scraps disinfected with ammonia that has been the subject of major derision since Jamie Oliver “exposed” it on his show. Important elements of the story:

  • “lean finely-textured beef” (the technical identifier) has been used for a long time
  • the stuff is much less fatty than regular ground beef
  • it’s actually beef, not a filler, starch, etc., as some other meat extenders are.

So, is pink slime getting a bad rap just because of the name it’s been given? Is anybody really surprised that industrial food producers use every scrap of meat they can? Is anybody upset that higher-risk bits of meat are disinfected before entering the food supply? What unintended consequences will result from the moral panic surrounding the stuff?

I take for granted here that we are talking about an industrial food supply, and we can have a separate discussion about the virtues of organic, free range, etc., meat. But should consumers of industrial meat be surprised or upset at the presence and use of this product?

sex work policy in canada is changing

Prostitution has had a strange legal status in Canada. Prostitution itself is not a crime, but there are a host of criminal penalties that apply to a number of activities surrounding prostitution, including soliciting clients, operating a “bawdy house” (how risqué!), and “living off the avails” of a prosititute. These provisions have been challenged in court recently, struck down, and then appealed.

The most recent decision came out yesterday by the Ontario Superior Court. In its ruling, the court ruled the ban on bawdy houses was unconstitutional, ordering legislators to change the law within a year. The court also decided that it was unconstitutional to make it illegal to live off the avails of a prostitute, but retained this prohibition under “circumstances of exploitation.” Paging Karl Marx to the Superior Court! Continue reading “sex work policy in canada is changing”

eight observations on “biology” and social science

By this point, I am a longtime observer/participant in the effort to integrate genetic data into social science. So Andy’s post stirred up various convictions that I have. Not so much directed at Andy, but at lines of argument suggested by his post that are familiar to me by now. So, eight responses: Continue reading “eight observations on “biology” and social science”

neuro folly: the quest for biological bases for politics

The sociological fad for seeking straightforward biological bases for complex social phenotypes has spread in recent years to political science. A recent collection of articles and blog posts rehashes the rhetoric that garnered widespread criticism in sociology. Essentially the scholarship establishes an entirely noncontroversial position–that biological influences on political ideology are “nonzero”–and spins this into the much broader, and indefensible, claim that inter-person variation in biology is (a) unidirectionally causal; and (b) a significant source of variation in political ideology. Continue reading “neuro folly: the quest for biological bases for politics”

wsj: 3x the income share is remarkable similarity

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries an opinion piece by Allan Meltzer based on a 2006 study by Roine and Waldenstrom. The piece reprints a graph showing the income share of the top 1% in several countries between 1900 and 2000. (The graph is quite interesting in itself.) Meltzer’s interpretation: “…the share of income for the top 1% in these seven countries generally follows the same trend line.” The pullout quote: “The remarkable similarity in income distribution across countries over the past century means domestic policy has less effect than many believe on who gets what.” The remainder of the piece is pretty much the same stuff we always see in the WSJ: additional taxes on the rich will reduce investment and therefore jobs and income for the other 99%, therefore it’s really in the best interests of the whole country for the obscenely rich to be left alone to become even richer.

I’m not interested in refuting the obviously self-serving argument about the “job creators,” but the interpretation of the graph is important. First, while there is an overall trend line, dispersion around it is substantial. Even during the time period of the least dispersion (the postwar era, about 1945-1975), the difference between the share of income held by the top 1% in the top country (the Netherlands) and the bottom (Sweden) is about 5 percentage points, which is hardly negligible when it’s percentage of national income! Second, since about 1980 the dispersion between countries is quite marked, with the US share climbing from about 8% to about 17% (reading from the graph) between 1980 and 2000 and large increases in the UK and Canada but much less increases in France, Sweden, Australia, and the Netherlands. Thus by 2000 the difference between the share claimed by the top 1% in Sweden (5%) and the US (17%) is a factor of greater than three! The conclusion, then, ought to be just the opposite of Meltzer’s: even in the era of globalization and the decline of the state, nation-to-nation differences persist and even increase. Thus this is evidence that national policy can make a difference in income inequality.

gay men can play hockey

Has it really been four years since we pondered the number of closeted lesbians and gay men in sports? Where does the time go? In that post, I made the rather obvious claim that many sports, especially those with large audiences like baseball, football, and hockey, are particularly unwelcoming to gay men. I am not aware of any out gay men among the active players at the professional levels of any of these sports, but a handful have come out after they retired. When are professional sports, bastions of traditional masculinity, ever going to catch up with the changing attitudes toward homosexuality in U.S. and Canadian society? Perhaps the first steps are underway. Continue reading “gay men can play hockey”

mathematical sociology controversies?

Dear Scatterplotters: Would you say there are any “controversial issues” about or within mathematical sociology? This would be either debates inside the terrain of mathematical sociology OR debates between mathematical sociologists (or subsets of mathematical sociologists) and “others”? If you can point me to sources, that would be cool.

Why am I asking? I’ve assigned honors students a paper that is supposed to include some sort of controversial issue with advocates on both sides. One student is really interested in mathematical sociology and I’d like to nurture that if at all possible. As a onetime quasi-mathematical sociologist, I’ve certainly felt that some sociologists thought the entire enterprise was illegitimate, and have received reviews along the lines of “why would you even bother doing this?” But I’m not sure I can find sources for that. Any kind of “controversy” will do if there are people who have written things disagreeing with each other.



asa baseball is back

You might think that we have abandoned the scatterplot tradition of organizing a trip to a baseball game during the ASA, but no! The ASA’s move to Las Vegas foiled our plans last year, but we are back on track in 2012, and I am especially excited because I have never, ever been to Coors Field. Ohmigodimgonnadieofexcitement!

I am tempted to suggest the Sunday afternoon game (a day game? in a new stadium? *breathe, breathe*), even though we would need to buy the tickets before the ASA program comes out, as we always do. However, I am willing to be talked down from that plan–here is the schedule. So, who is joining me?

Continue reading “asa baseball is back”