Author Archives: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

are all human traits heritable?

A new article by Polderman et al. in Nature Genetics, nicely summed up by Jeremy:

is a meta-analysis of essentially every twin-based study of heritability of any trait between 1958 and 2012. The top-line coverage, encouraged by the authors’ press release, is:

One of the great tussles of science – whether our health is governed by nature or nurture – has been settled, and it is effectively a draw.

This is based on the fact that, across 17,804 traits in 28 “general trait domains,” the overall mean heritability was 49%. That prompted me to write:

Read on for why I think that, what value there is in the below-the-fold part of the article, and why I think this kind of work is in desperate need of an injection of theory. Continue reading

the lacour and green retraction

News broke recently of very serious concerns about the data in a high-profile political science study. Not to put too fine of a point on it, it now appears that a UCLA graduate student and rising star in political science, Michael LaCour, fabricated data nearly out of whole cloth. These data led to a surprising, widely-cited finding about the ability of relatively minor sympathetic contact to change attitudes toward LGBT people over the medium term. The original article is here, a very careful forensic investigation that revealed the likely fabrication is here, and Retraction Watch has a timeline and many relevant links here. Continue reading

fun with musical taste and identity

In my intro theory class yesterday I did an exercise using PollEverywhere to evoke associations between musical taste and identity. I played four musical pieces and asked the students to type free-text responses to “What kind of people like this song?”. Their responses were lots of fun, and I present them below in raw form for your enjoyment, interest, and comment.

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prestige trumps quality in faculty hiring? not so fast

This article (Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore. “Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks”) has been making the rounds lately. The article uses a network method to extract prestige rankings from the set of graduate degrees and faculty hires. It shows “that faculty hiring follows a common and steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality.”

Blog posts, tweets, and stories about the article (e.g., this one from the Monkey Cage) have mostly picked up on the idea that the fact that prestigious departments generally hire Ph.D.s from other prestigious departments must mean that “academia is not a meritocracy.” While I would certainly not claim that academia is a meritocracy, I don’t think the Clauset et al. paper demonstrates that.

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arum and roksa, “aspiring adults adrift”

I am a fan of Richard Arum and Jospia Roksa’s first book, Academically Adrift, which examined predictors of growth in critical thinking skills during the first two years of college. In their new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, Arum and Roksa follow the same cohort of students into the first couple of years after graduation.

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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!

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reflexive anti-geneticism

This is my contribution to the ongoing symposium on genetics,race, and sociological theory as well as its twin on that other blog. A quick disclaimer: I was in graduate school with J. Shiao, lead author of the paper being discussed, and we talk occasionally at conferences.

My view of the original paper is that its contribution is real but quite modest in the scheme of theory. The best way to read it is as a social-constructionist “friendly amendment” to constructivism’s tacit, yet stubborn, insistence that there is no biological basis for racial categorization. Genetic information can be used “to distinguish race/ethnicity from the existence of genetic clusters” (emphasis mine). Shiao et al. suggest that constructivist approaches to race need not cling to a strong no-genetic-clustering claim in order to maintain most of the findings of constructivism (“In sum, relatively little of the empirical explanations made by sociologists of race/ethnicity require the claim of biological nonreality traditionally associated with racial constructionism.”). In short, race is a

social reality that is historical, processual, stratified, and analytically multilevel but that is also entangled with biological inputs inherited from the geographic distribution of humans in genetic watersheds over the past 50,000 years.

While I’m no fan of genetic essentialism, I don’t think that’s what’s actually going on in the Shiao et al. article, and overall I find the critiques in the special issue quite disappointing because by and large they respond reflexively to something else instead of engaging the article’s actual contents. I actually think the most important criticism of Shiao et al. is that it’s not really all that important of a finding: the idea that minor, generally meaningless, and ancient genetic variations produce phenotypes that then become inputs to the social construction of race and ethnicity is a minor correction to social constructionism. It becomes important enough for an article in ST because of the sheer symbolic importance of race and the reflexive anti-geneticism in the field. And the character of much of the responses provide further evidence that the objections are to the symbolic affront of the article instead of to its content.

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big data hubris

A not-very-important, yet instructive, series of events on Friday offers a cautionary tale about the allure of big data and the fashionable mistrust of local knowledge.

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korteweg and yurdakul, the headscarf debates

The Headscarf Debates: Conflicts of National Belonging,by Anna C. Korteweg and Gökçe Yurdakul, is a detailed and thoughtful work of comparative cultural sociology. It focuses on four debates in Europe about the wearing of headscarves (in all four cases, actually niqabs, misrepresented as burkas, as the book nicely explains). Using extensive analysis of media and legal discourse, it shows similarities but, more interestingly, differences among the debates in France, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Germany. These differences highlight persistent cultural differences in the relationship between state, citizens, and religion: differences the book describes as “conflicts of national belonging.”

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kurzman, missing martyrs

I’m teaching my colleague Charlie Kurzman’s book The Missing Martyrs for the second time this semester in my Sociology 101 course. It’s a great book, and the students appreciate both its counterintuitive (to them) claims and its accessibility. (It doesn’t hurt that the book opens with a recounting of the all-but-forgotten botched attack on UNC’s campus in 2006.) Continue reading

his honor wants more truck drivers

Our governor, bless his heart, has come out with his latest education-is-overrated statement:

“We’ve frankly got enough psychologists and sociologists and political science majors and journalists. With all due respect to journalism, we’ve got enough. We have way too many,” McCrory said to laughter from the audience.

He said we have too many lawyers too, adding that some mechanics are making more than lawyers.

“And journalists, did I say journalists?” he said for emphasis.

My favorite neocon friend/mentor/correspondent wrote me to ask:

What say you to your Governor about this? In fact, he is always partly right. In fact, your Univeristy [sic] Entitled Ones are always more wrong than right.

Here’s my answer:

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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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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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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.

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against active learning

I’m against active learning. Well, maybe not against it. Would you settle for “less for it than others are?” Here’s why.

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