Among NBA players, there’s very little correlation between a player’s height and how many points they score. Michael Jordan was slightly below average height for an NBA player; Allen Iverson was in the bottom decile. And yet no one would argue the height is irrelevant for someone’s prospects at playing pro basketball: the average NBA player is nearly 6’7″, that is, in the top percentile of the male population.

The relationship between GRE and graduate outcomes is like this. If you take a group that has already been selected on a number of characteristics, including test scores, then there is often only a modest correlation between test scores and outcomes. But exactly the same could be said for any of the other criteria that were used, like GPA, or like the quality of the writing sample or the ever-amorphous assessment of “fit”, if either of the latter were to be assigned scores.

One can not extrapolate from this reasoning to draw conclusions about how people should be selected in the first place. If you did, you’d conclude that nothing departments use to admit students matters much for whether or not they will succeed, and that perhaps the fairest thing to do would just be to admit students completely at random. Admittedly, this would save departments a lot of time.

Continue reading “selection”

the internet doesn’t want us to get along

Editor’s note added to a story in In These Times by a professor at Michigan:

Editor’s note: This article was originally titled “We Can’t All Just Get Along” in the print version of the magazine. The title was then changed, without the author’s knowledge or approval, to “It’s Okay to Hate Republicans.” The author rejects the online title as not representative of the piece or its main points. Her preferred title has been restored. We have also removed from the “Comments” section all threats to the author’s life and personal safety.

the unc scandal, fall 2014 roundup

Since I last wrote about the UNC athletic/academic scandal in May 2014, we’ve had an intense summer and fall of revelations and reactions. Most visibly, the independent investigation by Kenneth Wainstein was released in November, touching off a whole new round of discussion, hand-wringing, and finger-pointing. We also learned some important additional information from the report: much of it quite embarrassing, some of it minorly reassuring. In this post I want to offer some thoughts on the report and many of the side conversations. I’m sure there will be more to say in comments and future posts as well!

Continue reading “the unc scandal, fall 2014 roundup”

stiglitz on inequality: have economics, sociology, and political science converged?

The newest issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Politics and Social Science is out and the theme is inequality, especially intergenerational mobility. Several pieces caught my eye, including a short reflection on Ken Prewitt highlighting how little we know about the influence of social science on policymaking (including the institutionalized production of data, about which I have written a little). Prewitt is much more optimistic than many scholars about the potential for scientific research, and even social science, to influence policymaking in the present moment.

Also in the issue is a talk given by Joseph Stiglitz on inequality in the United States. Stiglitz has been writing about inequality on and off for his entire career. This talk struck me for two reasons: first, for how much it highlights the rise of top incomes as the hallmark of increased inequality and second, for how Stiglitz (and by moderate extension, some subset of mainstream economists) sounds a lot like mainstream sociology and political science in his diagnosis of inequality.

Continue reading “stiglitz on inequality: have economics, sociology, and political science converged?”


I found myself becoming the guy I had always wanted to avoid being: That Guy, With The Bad Back. Fall 2013 I had some horrible back problems, and I was pro-active about it with a combination of buying a better chair, doing yoga, and being sure to jog every day (doable because I was on sabbatical). All this really helped, which isn’t to say there weren’t still problems.

I decided I could do better, though, and when I got back to the United States I made an appointment with a personal trainer, and said that I really wanted to work on strengthening my core, which I understood to be key to minimizing back pain. The result of this one session with a personal trainer–which for the love of god involved doing deadlifts for the first time since high school–was a full-on back injury that led me to my first experiences with a physical therapist. I had to start bringing a mini-foam-roller to meetings just so I could bear to sit through them.

Skip ahead. I am now happy to report that my back feels great: no pain whatsoever, so better than it has felt in a year and a half and likely much longer. My secret? I had an emergency appendectomy, and as a result have not exercised one bit in five weeks and have had intentionally to take it easy with everything else. It’s also been a great month in terms of getting writing and reading done.

There is some lesson in all this, but I am having trouble figuring out what.

best of 2014 sociology blogging

Each year, the political scientists at Duck of Minerva give out awards for the best international relations blogging of the year. Sociology at present has no such organized structure. I’m not sure we need more awards (though I suppose we could always ask the 52 ASA sections to create a “best blog post” award!), but the process does have a useful by-product: it creates a curated list of great posts and new blogs for each year. Below, I’ve compiled my own list of favorites. I wish I’d started keeping track earlier in the year, as I’m sure I’ve forgotten as many good posts as I remembered. But the real hope of this post is that you readers will leave comments with your favorite posts from 2014, and together we can build a comprehensive list! My list is shamelessly subjective, as any list of favorites must be, and focused on topics I’ve been following this year.

Continue reading “best of 2014 sociology blogging”

hot sociology, 2014 edition

It is somewhat boring that my annual list of the most cited works in sociological journals always puts Bourdieu’s Distinction at the top. That was going to be the case again this year, so I decided to change the sorting algorithm to measure “hotness”.

An article’s hotness is the number of cites it received in sociological journals this year divided by the log of the number of years since publication. This means that a work that was published in 2010 and cited 18 times in 2014, like Putnam and Campbell’s American Grace scores slightly higher than something that was cited 34 times last year but published in 2000, like Putnam’s Bowling Alone. I tried different variations of what to put in the numerator and denominator, but this method 1) had the most pleasing mix of new and old things and 2) knocked Distinction all the way down to #2.

So, the 63 hottest articles in sociology last year were:

Continue reading “hot sociology, 2014 edition”

my experience with sociological science

I published my second paper in Sociological Science last week (first paper here). I’ve had a great experience with them both times: what they say about quick, no-bulls**t turnaround is absolutely true. Two things that I might not have anticipated about publishing there:

1. Despite the stuff about how the journal evaluates papers and doesn’t mentor them, for both papers, we still got useful feedback in the process of acceptance that led to revisions that strengthened the papers. It wasn’t very much feedback, and certainly not the laundry list of this-and-that one gets from reviewers, but it was a couple of incisive points that were correct and which I found myself wanting to address.

2. I don’t know who SocSci found as their copy editor, but the person is crazy good. For the paper that just came out, it was thoroughly copy edited with a lot of little things getting caught or changed, and yet I did not do one single STET. My usual experience with copy-editors is that they are either so superficial that they may as well be a bot, or they are intrusive in ways that lead to a lot of annoyance and STET-ing.

I’m very excited about Sociological Science more generally, and I’m pleased it is doing so well. I fell in love with the idea from the whatever was the first draft of the mission statement that I read. What I loved was that the statement offered a number of different innovations, but they were all guided by a single priority: what would a sociology journal look like if pushing social inquiry forward was the only thing that mattered?

at a loss

I am shocked, stunned, and maddened at the fact that Eric Gardner’s murderer will not even be prosecuted for a crime that was caught on camera. I am also deeply worried about the power of the state in a society where the message to police officers becomes anything that happens on the job will not be prosecuted under the law. You might lose your badge, you might lose your job, but we — as a society — will legally condone whatever you do.

I am not a person to typically denounce the tyranny of the state. In fact, I tend to believe that most problems can be addressed by state action. But this is a systemic flaw that must be addressed. If it doesn’t, it not only hurts those affected by police violence, but it sows mistrust in police and leads people to back non-state actors with their own incentives. Paramilitary violence will further escalate the situation if officers of the law are not held to account.

I am struggling with how to talk with my students today about all of this. It is our last class meeting and I had planned for the last day to be a working day for their final assignment. Apropos of the conversation on policy and agency, I feel like this needs to be addressed. I need to provide them with some way to see how they fit in this picture. Any ideas would be most welcomed.

Continue reading “at a loss”


So much self-loathing in sociology, so many different diagnoses as to why. Overall, it gets frankly tiresome, even though I find particular sociologists’ particular (parting?) shots interesting. The latest: Orlando Patterson has an essay on “How Sociologists Made Themselves Irrelevant” in today’s Chronicle. I thought his best lines were toward the end:

The first is the Garfinkel rule, mentioned earlier: Never treat your subjects as cultural dopes. If you find yourself struggling to explain away your subjects’ own reasoned and widely held account of what they consider important in explaining their condition, you are up to something intellectually fishy.

The second is this: If you end up with findings that have policy implications that you would never dream of advocating for yourself or your loved ones, be wary of them. A case in point: If you find that neighborhoods have no effects, you should be prepared to do the rational thing and go live in an inner-city neighborhood with its much cheaper real estate, or at least advise your struggling son or daughter searching for an apartment to save by renting there. If the thought offends you, then something stinks.

Anyway, his call for a more “public sociology” is just using the slogan to call for–what I do agree with–sociology that is more connected to social policy. I mean, I like that sociology allows one to think about big-picture questions that don’t always have to come back to policy–indeed, I think that is one of the great privileges of being in our field. Continue reading “antimatter”