everything you wanted to know about bad citation practices

Spinach, it turns out, is not an especially good source of iron. As the story goes, people believe it’s a good source of iron because of a misplaced decimal point in a publication in the 1930s, reporting the iron content of spinach as ten times its actual level. But this story is itself apocryphal, as Ole Bjørn Rekdal wonderfully narrates in a cheeky and insightful piece in the most recent Social Studies of Science, Academic Urban Legends.

Rekdal traces the origins of the spinach-decimal-point myth and uses the occasion to catalog bad citation practices, including citing secondary sources for a point made by an original source without verifying the original source, citing an original source instead of a secondary source but relying on the secondary source’s interpretation, and more. Rekdal also traces the urban legend that most academic papers are never cited back to a 1980s study that actually found no such thing. I highly recommend the entire short piece, it’s funny and surprising throughout. For example, Popeye never claimed that spinach made you stronger because it had a lot of iron, and Popeye’s creator apparently had vitamin A in mind instead!

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grad skool rool?

Fabio mentioned he’s planning an update of his Grad Skool Rulz. Several months ago I read a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. While I wouldn’t recommend the whole book, I do adore the quote that Newport uses for his title, which comes from Steve Martin. As Newport tells it:

“Nobody ever takes note of [my advice], because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,” Martin said. “What they want to hear is ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’… but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’”

The implication for academia for me is that I think it’s common for aspiring sociologists–especially if in the throes of Bourdieu–want to think about academia as a game and think about advice in terms of figuring out how to play the game. And of course there are political elements to academia, and every accomplishment involves the subjective judgments of others (although this is even more the case for stand-up comedy). My worry is that it’s easy to get distracted by all that and miss the main task, which is: work toward trying to be able and do excellent things.

big data, big cities datathon august 15 — sign up this week

The day before ASA begins, August 15, three graduate students, Laura Nelson, Laura Norén, and my advisee Alex Hanna, are hosting a pre-ASA datathon at the D-Lab in Berkeley. From the website: we are holding a datathon to examine contemporary urban issues – especially around housing – with municipal data from cities including San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Boston, Austin, and Chicago.

The hacking itself begins on the 15th, with presentations and judging at the Hilton on the 16th. They are expecting a good mix of participants from both academia and the private sector, and will have a mix of judges from academia, industry, and government. Head to the website for more details on the schedule and how to sign up.

blog party: elevenses

How did it get to be nearly August? I don’t know where the time flies. But I do know that you are flying to San Francisco in a few weeks, and you will need a drink when you get there. Your servants at scatterplot have selected a superb spot just for you. It’s the special sort of place that has fancy appletinis, $3 bottles of beer, and everything in between. I am very pleased to announce:

The 11th Annual Blog Get-Together

Sunday, Aug 17 at 5:30pm

Trocadero Club

701 Geary Street

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.

okcupid is the new facebook? more on the politics of algorithmic manipulation

OK Cupid’s excellent blog just posted the results of a set of experiments they conducted on their own users. The post is framed in explicit defense of similar practices at Facebook:

We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook “experimented” with their news feed. Even the FTC is getting involved. But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.

In this post, I want to engage with the above argument in the context of OKC’s own manipulation.
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socsters are doin it for themselves

Kieran has scraped and redone the ASA meeting online schedule so that one can easily add sessions to one’s calendar. In addition to making it easier to navigate the meetings, he has perhaps also spared us a round of lavishly dubious explanation for why something has to be the way that it is and why it would cost exorbitant amounts to be any different. That is: a larger parable might be drawn, but I have a course to prep and some fùtbol to cheer, so you’re on your own.