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”

asa council decides on gender categories

Remember how the ASA was trying to decide how to expand its gender categories? Since then, the ASA Committee on the Status of LGBT Persons in Sociology has been holding conversations, doing research on how other organizations do it, and thinking through what schema will best capture the sociological categories that are meaningful to people. They came up with the following proposal, which ASA Council voted on and passed at their meeting this week:

Continue reading “asa council decides on gender categories”

sociologists statement on Ferguson

Last week, a group of 10 sociologists gathered at ASA to discuss the terrible situation in Ferguson.* Following that meeting, the group wrote up draft text for a statement. Here’s how they diagnose some of the larger problems:

Law enforcement’s hyper-surveillance of black and brown youth has created a climate of suspicion of people of color among police departments and within communities. The disrespect and targeting of black men and women by police departments across the nation creates an antagonistic relationship that undermines community trust and inhibits effective policing. Instead of feeling protected by police, many African Americans are intimidated and live in daily fear that their children will face abuse, arrest and death at the hands of police officers who may be acting on implicit biases or institutional policies based on stereotypes and assumptions of black criminality. Similarly, the police tactics used to intimidate protesters exercising their rights to peaceful assembly in Ferguson are rooted in the history of repression of African American protest movements and attitudes about blacks that often drive contemporary police practices.

If you are interested in signing the statement, you can do so here.

* I was not at the meeting, and thus cannot provide any details beyond what’s in these documents. Links to the petition were circulated by Alison Gerber, who can perhaps answer queries.


Posted here for posterity: my first appearance in a Vine video (thanks to @kimberlybrogers).

The backstory is that, as Social Psychology section chair, I was supposed to keep and pass on our section’s gavel, but because I was coming to the meetings directly from Australia, I wasn’t able to bring the gavel with me. So right before our business meeting I had to rush to a store and find something gavel-ish that I could improvise. As a fellow blogger on our masthead can confirm, the trick shown may be simple, but nevertheless I tried it roughly 20 times as we were chatting before the meeting, and came nowhere close to getting it to work.

productivity, sexism, or a less sexy explanation.

I apparently attended the same session at the ASA conference as Scott Jaschik yesterday, one on Gender and Work in the Academy. He must have been the guy with press badge who couldn’t wait to fact-check his notes during the Q&A.

The first presenter, Kate Weisshaar from Stanford University, started the session off with a bang with her presentation looking at the glass ceiling in academia, asking whether it was productivity that explained women’s under-representation among the ranks of the tenured (or attrition to lower-ranked programs or out of academia all together). A summary of her findings – and a bit of detail about the session and the session organizer’s response to her presentation – appeared in Inside Higher Ed today. Continue reading “productivity, sexism, or a less sexy explanation.”

northwestern is hiring!

We are hiring for two positions. One of them is an open position, for which I presume there is little extra need to get the word out. But we are also hiring a new “Assistant Professor of Instruction,” which is a job title that did not exist when I started my sabbatical (although the basic type of position has existed under the heading of “Continuing Lecture Faculty”). That position got some attention last year in a study indicating that instructors in this position performed as well in the classroom (in the metric of the study) as tenure-line faculty.

I’ll paste the ad below the jump. I don’t know anything about the ad’s stated preference for candidates with “demonstrated experience working with diverse student communities.” I completely adore Northwestern, but compared to my previous stints at middle-American public universities, the NU student community feels noticeably less diverse except with regard to race/ethnicity and geographic origin. On the upside, perhaps, a palpable part of this lower diversity is the overall high classroom performance of so many of our undergraduates.

Continue reading “northwestern is hiring!”

your chance to sound off about asa tech

Some of us have had our share of fun ribbing the ASA for being slightly behind the times in its approach to technology and social media. We have whined about wifi. We have had a laugh or two about The HUB. We have said salty things about the HUB’s stuffed bear mascot. And, of course, we have mercilessly mocked the “app.”

With all this, the staff at the ASA office might be forgiven for ignoring us, claiming the higher ground of dignified intellectual discourse. Luckily for us, however, they have decided to give us a listen. Introducing the brand new feedback forms for the ASA App and the ASA website.:

I should also add that the person collecting this feedback is a brand new staff member at ASA, not responsible in the least for the existing infrastructure, so please give a lot of details in your feedback, and be nice about it.


This essay is about the phenomenon often called mansplaining (with its variant whitesplaining). It is prompted a recent 90 minute episode of what felt to me like mansplaining. Any use of the term mansplaining or whitesplaining in mixed company typically evokes complaints that the term itself is sexist/racist. Even our own scatterplot had a minor eruption of this conflict when mansplain was used to describe something women had said to a man  Of course both mansplaining and whitesplaining are very common special cases of the more general privilegesplaining or, better, just splaining. The term splaining has not been applied to class, or to student vs. professor status, or other hierarchies, but it could and should be. Let’s begin by saying that I am often guilty of splaining, at least in the basic sense of telling someone else something they already know or of speaking with confidence about something that is later revealed to be wrong. In fact, when I told my spouse what I was thinking about, he said: “well, you know, you do that.” As if I didn’t know that. This essay is thus not about my own virtue and others’ vice, but about unpacking the idea of splaining, examining its sources and making distinctions. And then explaining why we don’t stay neutral about it. Continue reading “splaining”