guest post: how might the history of ai help us critique kosinsky’s “gaydar” study?

The following is a guest post by Shreeharsh Kelkar.

On this blog, and elsewhere, Greggor Mattson, Phil Cohen, and many others have written thoughtful, principled critiques of the recent “gaydar” study by Yilun Wang and Michal Kosinski (henceforth I’ll refer to the authors as just Kosinsky since he seems to be the primary spokesperson). I fully agree with them: the study both does too much and too little. It purports to “advance our understanding of the origins of sexual orientation and the limits of human perception” (!) through a paltry analysis of 35,326 images (and responses to these images by anonymous humans on Amazon Mechanical Turk). And it aims to vaguely warn us about rapacious corporations using machine learning programs to surreptitiously identify sexual orientation but the warning seems almost like an afterthought: if the authors were really serious about this warning, they could have dug deeper with a feasibility study rather than sliding quickly into thinking about the biological underpinnings of sexuality.

As someone who follows and studies the history of artificial intelligence (as I do), there are some striking parallels between the argument between Kosinsky and his critics, and early controversies over AI in the 1960s-80s, and I will also argue, some lessons to be learnt.

Continue reading “guest post: how might the history of ai help us critique kosinsky’s “gaydar” study?”

sunday morning sociology, flint fertility edition

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According to a new working paper by Grossman and Slusky, reported here in the Washington Post, Flint’s water crisis appears to have caused a massive increase in fetal deaths which contributed to a significant decline in fertility.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, flint fertility edition”

guest post: mental health parity laws, crime, and graham-cassidy

The following is a guest post by Emma Frankham.

News coverage about the Graham-Cassidy bill has been inescapable in recent weeks. This news coverage has primarily focused on comparing the Graham-Cassidy bill with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in terms of essential benefits and caps on coverage. However, there has been some confusion over how this bill will affect coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment. Furthermore, there has been little consideration of the potentially broader effects of this bill, particularly regarding crime.

This blog post aims to: a.) Demystify mental health parity laws and explain the relationship between mental health parity laws and essential benefits coverage in the Graham-Cassidy bill; and b.) Encourage a discussion regarding a potential relationship between mental health and substance use parity laws, treatment for substance use and mental health disorders, and crime. If enacted, how might the Graham-Cassidy bill affect crime? Research on the relationship between treatment for substance use disorders and mental illness and crime would arguably suggest that eliminating full parity of mental health coverage would increase crime.

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surveys are hard work

[See updates below]

John Villasenor’s study on free speech attitudes among college students has received some attention.

In one of the questions he asked, only 47% of students favored, “an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people.” In contrast, 53% favored speech restrictions to, “create a positive learning environment.”

This is a huge swing from last year when Gallup asked the same question. They found that only 22% favored speech restrictions.

This 30-point shift could be because attitudes changed rapidly. Villasenor’s study was immediately after Charlottesville, for example, and students might be more primed to think about Nazi’s marching on their campus.

It could also be because of differences in survey methods. Surveying college students is really hard.

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sunday morning sociology, unstable attitudes edition

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The NYT reports on survey evidence showing that Donald Trump’s nomination led to a big shift in religious voters’ willingness to forgive past transgressions (and, more generally, that partisans follow cues from their leaders more than we sometimes think). 

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

This week, a few articles feature discussions of how malleable our stated opinions are (or aren’t.)

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, unstable attitudes edition”

exercising judgment in teaching about controversial issues

My department has run a number of workshops (organized by grad students) on “teaching about race.” They asked me to speak about what the rules are about what we can and cannot say in the classroom. I was pretty sure I knew the “rules” but asked our Provost for the official statement. Interestingly, there was none, but the question was referred to the Legal department. After a delay, Legal Affairs sent back an email citing Wisconsin state statutes and linking to some policy statements. I’ve pasted the original correspondence below.* First a student and I translated the legalese into English bullet points. Then I wrote an essay about how to think about the authority and ethical responsibility in teaching controversial topics. This was recirculated this fall and as I’ve gotten positive feedback about this, I decided to post it here, with a few more edits, in case it is helpful. There’s always more to say, and legitimate disagreement about how to handle some things. Feel free to use the comments to expand on these points. Continue reading “exercising judgment in teaching about controversial issues”

racial inequality: it’s not getting better

Until the 2016 election, it was very easy for Americans to convince ourselves that racial inequality was getting better. Look, a Black president! What could be a better sign of improvement in race relations? Of course, as sociologists like Eduardo Bonilla Silva have long argued, “Obama’s America” offered a promise of colorblindness, not a reality of racial equality. Three recent data points are worth keeping in mind when thinking about the (lack of) progress on racial inequality in the past 30 years – even before White Supremacy came back to the front page, and Trump entered the Oval Office.

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