bad science, computational imperialism, and the economy of attention

The following is a guest post by Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra.

Here we are, yet again, discussing a paper that, through computational means, resurrects painful ghosts from the past.

Here we are, yet again, discussing the myriad problems of design, inference, and logic behind Michal Kosinski’s work.

Here we are, yet again, trying to painstakingly explain why physiognomy is an intellectual dead end, even when powered by the engines of modern computation.

Here we are. Again.

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some notes on the impact of student debt forgiveness across income groups

The following is a guest post by Raphaël Charron-Chénier and Louise Seamster.

As the debate over student debt cancellation ramps up, some of the more basic information about the impact of different loan forgiveness plans is not easy to find. Because some of our work has informed the current debate, we often get questions about how some of the more prominent policy proposals would impact borrowers at different income levels. Here, we’re sharing some basic analyses that look at where Black and White borrowers tend to fall, and how Senators Schumer and Warren’s recent proposal to cancel $50,000 in debt for all households would impact them.

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climate change economics goes to congress

Who speaks authoritatively about climate change? What role, in particular, do social scientific experts play in the conversation? This second question in particular is a key part of my next big research project on debates over the costs of climate change. Today, I was delighted to read a new paper by Maher et al that presents an incredibly useful new and freely-available dataset of testimony offered at congressional hearings in the U.S. by social scientists. Making use of their data, I was able to get a little bit of insight into one piece of this question. Spoiler: not that many social scientists have testified before Congress about climate change, but those who have are overwhelmingly economists.

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research during covid (part 2): centering care in/with the mechanics of virtual fieldwork

The following is a guest post by Laura Mauldin. Part 1 is available here.

In the previous post I talked about care for ourselves as we embark on fieldwork during a pandemic, care for each other as fellow academics also trying to figure it out, and care for our participants too. To continue the conversation about how to best care for ourselves, each other, and our participants, this installment focuses on logistics. There have been a variety resources posted about what it means to strategize fieldwork and to be “in the field” during a pandemic. Deborah Lupton’s crowdsourced document has been a fantastic resource for students and faculty alike trying to re-define field work during COVID19, anthropologist Pam Block wrote about bearing witness for the Wenner-Gren Blog, and a post by Sharon Ravitch for Social Science Space emphasized trauma-informed methods and chronic illness methodology (both of which I engage in my own work).

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research during covid (part 1): taking care of each other

The following is a guest post by Laura Mauldin.

During COVID19, qualitative researchers are having to improvise and use all kinds of new strategies for doing fieldwork. I’ll focus on some of mechanics of these strategies in part 2 of this series, but this installment is focused on care: It is imperative to care for each other as researchers right now. We need a collective act of care for our fellow qualitative researchers; we are all pressured and stressed and trying to scramble to do the best work we can. We are all learning to adjust to the new realities of fieldwork, but we need to be willing to talk about what adjustments we have made so that we can collectively add to the fund of knowledge about this adjustment. Let’s make it easier for each other by talking about the ways we’ve adjusted, and, when necessary, the ways these adjustments have failed or fallen short.

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partisans, not scientists, decide if science is partisan

Last month, Audra Wolfe wrote a fantastic post about how science is and always has been political. In the post, she analyzes statements from Nature and Scientific American, both of which endorsed Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election, but which take different approaches. Nature argues that Biden will restore the centrality of science to governance and trust in science, while Scientific American focuses on how rejecting scientific guidance has hurt the public. Wolfe summarizes:

“Trust science” and “being guided by” scientific data are different things. One implies restoring scientists’ ability to work as autonomous professionals; the other implies that a Biden administration will take scientists’ advice into consideration along with other factors, including our obligations to one another and to the planet.

Wolfe’s analysis is great and I recommend you go read it and then come back. Good? Ok! I have two related thoughts that I want to try to clarify in this post: the relationship between something being “political” and something being “partisan” and the question of how something becomes partisan. Thinking through these distinctions has been useful for me as I try to parse my frustration around contemporary discourse about whether science should be political (in some sense) and what scientists should do in light of different answers to that question.

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“credible threat: attacks against women online and the future of democracy”: a q&a with sarah sobieraj

In her new book Credible Threat: Attacks Against Women Online and the Future of Democracy, Sarah Sobieraj takes a deep dive into the experiences of women who have been targeted by online attacks in response to their participation in public dialogue about political and social issues. She documents the personal and societal-level costs of this harassment. Sobieraj shows how this abuse is at once focused (especially on non-white women, and on women who engage in arenas dominated by men including sports, gaming, and politics), but generic in its content (consisting of an unending stream of largely interchangeable threats of violence, often sexual violence, alongside vague attacks on women’s credibility and expertise). Women responded to these threats in different ways, making use of an array of largely ineffective tools provided by internet platforms and the legal system (where online threats are routinely dismissed as “not credible”). Many also ceased working on certain topics, or limited their public presence, forgoing the career opportunities associated with such a presence. In addition to creating considerable personal and professional consequences for the women targeted, Sobieraj argues that these attacks diminish the public sphere by forcing women out of it, and especially out of the male-dominated spaces where their voices are most needed. The book ends with a series of recommendations for how platforms can better enable users to respond to threats, and how the legal system can better react to such abusive speech.

The following is a Q&A with Soberiaj about her new book.

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vichy’s family separation policy, and our own

The following is a guest post by Aliza Luft.

On July 6, 1942, an SS captain in Nazi-occupied France sent an urgent report to Hitler’s Reich Main Security Office in Berlin. Excitedly, he wrote, “All stateless Jews in the occupied and unoccupied zones are being made available for deportation. President Laval has proposed that, when deporting Jewish families from the Free Zone, children under 16 should also be taken.” Jews had been rounded up, detained, and deported from France for more than four months, but this was the first time French children were targeted for violent detention and removal—and the orders were handed down by their President.

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why do we need a book about measuring culture?

The following is a guest post by Jenn Lena and Terry McDonnell.

While cultural sociologists have had numerous debates about method in recent years (ethnography v. interviews v. forced choice surveys!), we have been far less attentive to questions of measurement. Our new book, Measuring Culture, aims to fill this gap. We start with the simplest question: Who might benefit from our book?

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a checklist to reduce your word count and polish your writing

The following is a guest post by Emma Frankham.

“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting” – Attributed to Poet Robert Graves

Academics spend significant time learning research skills. However, little time is devoted to learning writing and editing skills. Through providing academic editing services I’ve developed a checklist for writing improvement. I arm myself with this checklist, the ASA Style Guide, and The Chicago Manual of Style. Following this checklist will reduce your word count, tighten your argument, and improve the flow of your writing. I hope you find this checklist helpful when you wrangle with your next manuscript.

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teaching the new economic sociology of race & racism

In 2018, I taught my first graduate seminar on economic sociology. In general, I was very happy with how the syllabus and course came together. But I struggled to figure out how to best incorporate discussions of race & racism into the course. There just wasn’t very much research on the topic in economic sociology. For the course, I mostly borrowed work that’s usually identified as part of either inequality or organizations research, and then talked about my frustration in not finding a robust conversation within economic sociology proper (to the extent those fields are separable, which is its own important conversation). This frustration is part of what motivated my collaboration with Laura Garbes where we 1) examine the history of economic sociology’s (non)engagement with race, and 2) offer an overview of recent developments in the sociology of race with the aim of guiding economic sociologists who do want to put race & racism at the center of their work. In this post, I return to my initial motivations to offer suggestions about how I would approach teaching race & racism in an economic sociology graduate seminar in light of the work that Laura and I have done, and in light of new research that has emerged in the past couple years at this intersection.

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facing the fall with empathy

The following is a guest post by Zawadi Rucks-Ahidiana.

In March, universities across the country shifted to online learning and adopted policies to account for students’ lives in the midst of a global pandemic. Many administrators asked professors to consider students’ circumstances and to teach with compassion. My university advised that “Our students’ lives are already complex, and shifting instructional modes in the middle of the semester will increase complications. Some students may also, unfortunately, become ill. Be prepared to provide more flexibility than usual.” While there were debates about what that should look like, the message was universally one of empathy and compassion. Yet the tone around decisions about the fall has been business as usual. Instead of compassion, the implicit message became one of returning to normalcy. As one university President stated of the decision to go online in the fall, “we will focus our attention on perfecting remote learning, teaching and working. It will not be the same, but it will be good.” This despite that it seems unlikely that anything about the fall will be normal for students or any other university employees for that matter. We can all hope for normal operations by September, but it is imperative to enter the fall with the same compassion with which we finished out the spring. COVID continues to affect Americans’ lives and the frustration and anger of recent BLM protests remains unaddressed.

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15,000+ academics oppose international student ban

Earlier this week, the US government announced a new policy that would prevent international students from staying in the country if their universities offered entirely online courses. This policy was designed to force universities to reopen, even if doing so is unsafe and against public health advice. Harvard and MIT have already sued to prevent the policy taking effect and other universities have condemned the policy.

Sociologist Heba Gowayed organized the below open letter for faculty to express their opposition to this cruel policy. More than 15,000 academics have signed the letter so far. You can sign the letter here and view the list of signatories here. Another petition (for anyone, not just faculty) has garnered almost 200,000 signatures and can be signed here.

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colleges are more like cruise ships and bars than kindergartens and elementary schools

The following post is co-authored with Jessica Calarco.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, policymakers at the national, state, and local level are scrambling to decide what can reopen while limiting the virus’s spread. In some sense, we can think of the overall rate of infection of the virus as a kind of budget constraint. As long as the rate of spread is kept below 1, the virus is under control. If too much opens up, and the rate goes above 1, the virus will begin to overwhelm the healthcare system, as we’re currently seeing in Arizona, South Carolina, and Texas. Keeping everything closed would certainly help avoid that outcome. But keeping everything closed also comes with costs to the economic and social/emotional well-being of individuals, organizations, and society as a whole. Thus, the question that policymakers face – at least assuming they want to avoid massive, unnecessary deaths – is what to reopen given that some things have to stay closed? Or, put differently, which institutions are so critical to society that reopening them for in-person use is ultimately worth the risk? 

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levels of racism: individual, organizational, institutional, and systemic

Discussions of racism tend to get tangled up in issues of level of analysis.1 Sociologists (e.g. Bonilla-Silva) and critical race theorists (e.g. Haney-López), among others, have long argued that we need to understand racism as something that works “beyond” or “above” the individual, building on arguments that go back to Stokely Carmichael’s distinction between individual and institutional racism. In talking through these ideas with friends and students, I’ve found that the terminology can be confusing – in part because sociologists (and non-sociologists) have used terms like institution and structure to mean so many different, overlapping things. In this post, I outline my idiosyncratic terminology for characterizing different levels of racism when trying to explain these interwoven concepts. For me, it’s been useful to break down racism into four levels that are at least partially nested: individual, organizational, institutional, and systemic.2

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