clownish conflation of ascription and achievement constitutes calumny

[There is a short update/response for readers coming from Tablet/Liebovitz at bottom; click here to jump]

It’s been, um, 3+ years since I last posted here but I’m gonna exploit my not yet lapsed login to follow up on Dan’s post on the Salaita/UIUC affair…. It’s not short though so tl;dr: pulling things out of context to wreck reputations is calumny; that has been happening to Steven Salaita; in a world in which we tweet and blog and some of our fearless leaders are spineless, we need to worry about bad faith academic vigilantism.

The reasons this post has to be long are, well, my point is that it’s easy to pull things from context especially when the context is twitter/bloggorrhea; I’m writing about something controversial and calling someone out (though in response to his own very public and dishonest defense of someone else unfairly being denied his frigging livelihood); and I’m gonna be damn sure to provide context (and links). I may have tenure and be governed by people other than Phyllis Wise and Chris Kennedy, but I don’t need that s**t.

If you want to get to my main value-add net of what’s out there, jump to my parlor; if you you’d like some entertaining but irrelevant linkbait about diarrheaous clowns click here; for the whole post:

Continue reading “clownish conflation of ascription and achievement constitutes calumny”

dear committee members

Letter of recommendation season is upon us, and I helped get myself in the mood by reading Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, a novel that is written entirely as a series of letters of recommendation that an English professor writes for different people. It’s a tough constraint for a novel, as it requires complete abandonment of the advice to authors to “show, don’t tell.” The book also wavers in its purpose between being an academic farce, a la Straight Man, and something far more somber.

But the protagonist is very well-drawn as an aging professor who no longer cares if he stays on point when writing letters and is nevertheless often quite effective because of it. And the letters include all kinds of great bits on life in the academy. I’ll include three favorites after the jump: Continue reading “dear committee members”

why is it so easy for social science to get it backwards?

In the last couple of months I’ve had occasion to read three different papers that I thought were persuasive about a particular pattern of association between two variable correct, but were probably incorrect about the direction of influence. That is, the paper was all framed around the idea that X influences Y, whereas my conclusion was that the association more likely reflecting the influence of Y on X. While there are various strategies one can use to estimate parameters in the face of reciprocal causality and reverse causality, none of these papers had anything convincing to offer in this respect.

Anyway, here’s the part that I think is systematic: much of quantitative social science pursues the idea that some specific thing influences some more general thing–to be pithy, that a little thing causes a bigger thing–whereas the overwhelming way that the social world works is that general things have very broad effects that leak into all kinds of specific manifestations.

(Yes, I recognize this would be clearer with a concrete example and so apologize for the coyness. As recompense, I’ll offer a free diagnostic: if a paper seems to be structurally framed around the idea that X leads to Y, but at the same time the authors offer specific disavowals of their interest in causality, you should probably consider this a red flag that the authors have the independent and dependent variables of their study mixed up.)

nfl domestic violence policy

This is happily far more unequivocal than I was expecting (HT: Daily Beast):

Roger Goodell sent a letter Thursday to 32 NFL owners describing new policies for domestic violence incidents. A first offense will result in suspension without pay for six games, and a second offense will result in a lifetime ban from the NFL. “We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place,” Goodell wrote. “My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

what happens in cusco stays in cusco

At least it does if you don’t speak Spanish. On the other hand, if you do, here is an official document from the local Tourism Police about what happened to me there. They just e-mailed it to me and, even with the aid of Google Translate, I can't figure it out. I don't think I need to know, but I'll post it here sans comprehension as a cautionary tale for any Spanish-speaking readers who might be considering leaving behind electronic equipment in the back of an illegal taxi in the middle of Peru.*

Incidentally, regarding Machu Picchu: even though an unsustainable number of tourists are allowed to visit there each year, if you get the opportunity, you should add to the problem and go. It’s so large you still get a lot of great views, especially if you do Wayna Picchu. I highly recommend reading Last Days of the Inca before you visit, and it’s a great book anyway if Unbelievably Sad History is your thing.

* Of course I feel stupid for having done this, although I do so many absent-minded things when I travel that I would be lying if claimed to be greatly surprised by any lapses at this point.

coding, language, biernacki redux

Dylan Riley’s Contemporary Sociology review (paywall, sorry) of Biernacki’s Reinventing Evidence is out, and an odd review it is. H/T to Dan for noting it and sending it along. The essence of the review: Biernacki is right even though his evidence and argument are wrong. This controversy, along with a nearly diametrically opposed one on topic modeling (continued here) suggest to me that cultural sociology desperately needs a theory of language if we’re going to keep using texts as windows into culture (which, of course, we are). Topic modeling’s approach to language is intentionally atheoretical; Biernacki’s is disingenuously so.

Continue reading “coding, language, biernacki redux”

people deserve respect; viewpoints don’t

I have not been following the story of Steven Salaita and the University of Illinois closely, but the details coming out are troubling, to say the least. The basic facts are clear and I think undisputed: Salaita was offered a job by the American Indian Studies program at Illinois, which he accepted. Salaita resigned from his existing position and prepared to move to Illinois, when he was told that he would not in fact be hired because the Chancellor refused to send his appointment to the board of trustees for approval. The Chancellor’s refusal seemed connected to Salaita’s statements on Israel-Palestine on Twitter, and his criticisms of the phrase “support our troops” published in Salon.*

Today, more details have come out in the form of emails between the Chancellor and various parties including, perhaps most disturbingly, the fundraising wing of the University.

Continue reading “people deserve respect; viewpoints don’t”