asa presidents, secretary send a letter to UIUC chancellor

There is an update to some discussion in the comments about why the ASA has not sent a letter of concern regarding the UIUC’s failure to hire Steven Salaita. As I mentioned there, the ASA Council handed the matter over to the ASA presidents, who decided at that time, there was insufficient consent to warrant a letter.

Since then, as additional information has come to light, the three ASA presidents (President Paula England, Past-President Annette Lareau, and President-Elect Ruth Milkman) and ASA Secretary Mary Romero reconvened and decided to send a letter at this time. Please note that this letter is not from the ASA organization per se, but from these four prominent sociologists as they occupy these key elected and appointed positions in our professional organization. The text of the letter is here:

UPDATE: ASA Vice President Elect Barbara Risman and Council Member-At-Large Stephanie Bohon have written a letter of support for the UIUC’s decision. Both letters can be found as pdfs on the ASA website in the “What’s New” section.

Continue reading “asa presidents, secretary send a letter to UIUC chancellor”

very cross words

The NYT always has some gimmick with its Thursday crossword puzzle (the app store package of Thursday puzzles are called “Tricky Thursdays”).  This past week’s took my beloved and me twice as long as usual to complete it, even though the clues themselves were ostensibly not that difficult, because it turned out the trick was really tricky. For us, the trickier the better, so we found the puzzle gratifying once we solved it. However, it turns out there was a whole online outcry against it. Example:

This is not the puzzle I needed today. It’s 9/11, and the memorials have already started, broadcast on TV. I’m planning to view the light towers illuminating the skyline tonight, which I can see from my home. Frankly, to run this puzzle today is an abomination of insensitivity.

In any event, if you’re a cruciverbalist and feeling suitably psychologically robust, I recommend going for it. (The NYT did recently increase the cost of their crosswords to $7 a month, which is still a great price for us, but I think you can get a month free, which access to all the archives, and then cancel.)

equal environments assumption

The equal environments assumption in behavioral genetics is the assumption that environments for identical twins are not more similar than the environments of fraternal twins. One might say the assumption is violated more than many behavioral geneticists would like to admit and less than many sociologists would like to think. The point of this post, however, is just to share a video of an example of unmistakable violation:

zee mortgage of zee body on zee mind

A decade or more ago I was at a talk on cognitive aging giving by a old guy with a thick German accent. My only memory of this talk whatsoever is the guy repeatedly using the phrase “the mortgage of the body on the mind” to describe the idea that bodily problems interfere with cognitive potential as one gets older.

In related news, I went to a personal trainer for the first time in my life for a couple of days, which involved attempting to lift weights for the first time since high school. In addition to the expected but substantial new-to-exercising-this-part-of-the-body soreness in my arms and shoulders, I seem to have messed up my back in a more worrisome way, as in the spell last fall where I would fill a long sock with tennis balls and lie down with my spine on that for awhile.

In any event, it’s compromised my writing goals for the past couple days. I start to settle in and then think, “Holy [bother] does my back hurt”, followed by reminiscing about the German guy and his cognitive aging catchphrase. It’s like Harrison Bergeron, only instead of a dystopian satire it’s simply midlife.

the shock and awe memo

Comment by a well-known sociologist and friend on Facebook:

“We have turned from a discipline of article writers into a discipline of revision memo writers. This is a very sad thing.”

This concerns me, too. But what can be done? I’ve wondered if memos could be capped, but not sure if that would end up as routinely ignored as the page limits on ASA papers.

Thing is, my belief–and I’m very confident I’m not alone in this–is that long memos work. I’ve even said things like, “You need to write a shock-and-awe memo” (along with doing the actual revisions to the actual paper). But of course I think the discipline as a whole would benefit by maximizing the research time spent on the research products themselves, and not unpublished memoranda about those products.

UPDATE: An obvious answer to “What can be done?” is “Reduce the number of R&Rs” and/or “Promote non-R&R-giving outlets like Sociological Science and As Yet Untitled.” And, yes. But, is that it?

endowments and economic diversity

The NYT has an interesting story this morning about how top colleges do (or do not) use their large endowments to increase economic diversity.* Along with the article, the NYT also offers up the data themselves in a linked spreadsheet.** The selection criteria were a bit problematic for some purposes – they only include universities with graduation rates over 75% – but this is just a blog post, so let’s play around.

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i suspect there is a third way

An example (otherwise unimportant to his argument) that Harry Collins uses to illustrate a concept in his 1998 AJS on evidential cultures:

Consider that there are two ways to organize an undergraduate course in sociology during periods of high politicization of the subject. One can insist that every teacher of sociology presents an unbiased course, so that if, for example, they favor a Marxist approach, they also put the counterarguments, or one can allow each teacher to teach according to his or her biases but make sure that the faculty as a whole is balanced.

Indeed, I suspect that these two approaches are correlated: the more “balanced” the department, the more likely the individual instructors are to be “unbiased” in their courses.

is homosexuality really like menopause?

As someone interested in genetics and social behavior, here was a passages that caught my attention in the Posner decision:

Although it seems paradoxical to suggest that homosexuality could have a genetic origin, given that homosexual sex is non-procreative, homosexuality may, like menopause, by reducing procreation by some members of society free them to provide child-caring assistance to their procreative relatives, thus increasing the survival and hence procreative prospects of these relatives. This is called the “kin selection hypothesis” or the “helper in the nest” theory.

The passage includes a citation to this “responsible popular treatment” of the topic.  That article is better, in that it articulates a number of different explanations for how homosexuality being “inborn” (as Posner puts it) is not incompatible with evolutionary theory.  What’s interesting is that Posner’s decision singles out for attention the weakest argument of the lot.

What’s weak about it? Continue reading “is homosexuality really like menopause?”

god, i hate scribd

I was going to write a post just now about the Posner ruling that Andy cited in its previous post. More specifically, I was going to comment on the shout-outs to genetic determinism and evolutionary psychology that are provided on pages 9-10. Anyway, my momentum for that was derailed by trying to copy-paste and make presentable the relevant passages out of [expletive deleted] Scribd, and, so, like Coleridge after the visit from the man from Porlock, it’s gone now (and I have work to do). Maybe later.

posner’s same-sex marriage ruling

The Seventh Circuit appeals court ruling on Indiana and Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage bans is out, and is of interest for several reasons. It is absolutely dispositive — really no ambiguity at all. It rests on Richard Posner and colleagues’ “law and economics” paradigm instead of the more traditional rights paradigm. And finally, it is written so clearly, and with significant humor, as to be a pleasure to read. I’ll paste in some of my favorite passages below the fold.

I’ve also got a question for law-and-society and social movements people. The question is this: the legal trend toward same-sex marriage, even in hostile environments, seems nearly a juggernaut. What explains this enormous change over the course of a very short time, in the context of a legal regime that is understood to be, in a certain sense, timeless? In other words, all the materials were available for the court to find this, say, 30 years ago, but that would have been unthinkable. This seems, also, to contradict the main finding of a political science classic, The Hollow Hope, which argued that courts rarely lead social change.

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hit ’em high! hit ’em low!

Just finished Season of Saturdays, new book about the simultaneous appeal and contradictions–the author is a Penn State alum–of being a college football fan:

Maybe you don’t understand at all: Maybe you attended a liberal arts college in New England, or maybe you grew up in a city where the athletes were professionals (New York, say, or Boston, or Chicago, or London). Maybe the very idea of college football resided at the far edge of your consciousness, a rural preoccupation like Garth Brooks and Peanut Buster Parfaits and moonshine, the province of southerners and state-school graduates and scrubbed fraternity boys in hooded sweatshirts. Maybe the thought of a university’s morale being tied to its football team strikes you as a fundamental failing of American society. Maybe you hear stories about corrupt recruiting and grade-fixing, and maybe you cannot understand how a sport with a long history of exploitation and brutality and scandal can still be considered a vital (and often defining) aspect of student life. Maybe you see it as a potentially crippling frivolity, or as a populist indulgence, and maybe the threat of football encroaching on the nation’s educational system makes you wonder how someone could possibly write an entire book extolling its cultural virtues.

And the thing is, I would like to tell you that you’re wrong, but I also know that you’re not entirely wrong.

College football has been the sport I’ve followed most closely my whole life, but, yes, it feels harder to defend each year.

In any event, the book ends with an acknowledgment to the author’s spouse that I thought was fun for a book that talks a bunch about Big Ten football:

Thanks to Cheryl Maday (Northwestern) for ceding space on our couch all those Saturdays, and for buying the couch in the first place, and for tolerating my often inexplicable college football compulsion (especially during fall weddings), and for not going to Michigan.

northwestern is hiring, pt 2

BTW, at the blog party at ASA, someone called my attention to the fact that Northwestern’s ad for a tenure-line assistant professor said something about a preference for someone whose work used quantitative methods, with additional language about appreciating methodological synergies that I read as saying “we want someone who uses quantitative methods but isn’t a jerk about it.” As parties to that conversation know, I was extremely surprised to learn of this wording for the job ad; indeed, I didn’t believe it until someone brought it up on their phone and showed me.

While I am in no sense a spokesperson for our department or this search committee, my understanding is that the wording of the ad was a simple mistake; that it is a truly and fully open search with respect to methods and area of specialization; and that the ad has since been edited to reflect this. (If the last point is not correct, somebody let me know.)

sociology’s sacred project

(Reposting this to allow Chris Smith to post his response.)

After reading Philip Cohen’s thorough and entirely apt review of Chris Smith’s new book, I did what any self-respecting academic would do. I bought the book and read it.

I’m not going to offer a thorough review here; Philip’s is, characteristically, at once substantive and devastatingly accurate. In the main, it’s a profoundly silly book by an author who has the intellectual chops, professional history, and resources to do a much, much better job. The evidentiary base is irresponsibly haphazard, interpreted disingenuously, and in several cases factually inaccurate. And the pages are filled mostly with score-settling, as if Smith has spent his illustrious career keeping an enemies list of those who have insulted him and his friends and has committed to publishing it here. There are numerous basic editing mistakes (authors’ names misspelled, idioms incorrect, verbs forgotten). In short, it reads like an extended, incoherent blog post: a particular irony since Smith spends a considerable amount of space fretting that blogging has been bad for sociology, based mostly on Sherkat‘s admittedly obnoxious style.

Rather than a review, though, I want to ask whether there is a nugget or two of interest to be extracted from the book.

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uiuc board to vote on salaita appointment edit: nevermind

A group of activist students at UIUC made an announcement following a meeting with administrators:

We have discovered that the Chancellor HAS FORWARDED Professor Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees, and they will be voting on his appointment during the Board of Trustees Meeting on September 11th, on the UIUC campus

Via Crooked Timber, where you can also find a good analysis of what this might mean and why organizing over the next 10 days is so important. Also included is this lovely quote, in reference to a theory that this forwarding is a mere formality to immunize the administration from legal challenge: “in a country of lawyers, Louis Hartz reminded us, every philosophical question is turned into a legal claim.” A more skeptical take is here. Let’s hope it’s not just the Board wanting a chance to fire Salaita themselves!

EDIT: Corey Robin at Crooked Timber has an extensive update. It seems the students who spoke with the Chancellor were mistaken. UIUC’s current plan seems to be to try to buy Salaita off, not to open up further debate. For extensive details, including how you can join a graduate student or faculty boycott, see here.