Author Archives: mike3550

the place of reproducible research

The ongoing scuffles over reproducible (or is it replicable? or robust?) research always seems to miss one point particularly important to my own work: protecting geographic identities of respondents.

I do not wish to argue that we should not replicate or share data. Rather, I wish to suggest that the costs of data sharing are not as low as many make them out to be and that a one-size-fits all policy on reproducible research seems unwise.
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lacour and the opportunity costs of intransigent irb reviews

Of all of the issues brought up by the Lacour controversy, we have not devoted enough attention to one in my view. The YaleColumbia* IRB made itself part of this problem.

In his initial comments to Retraction Watch, Lacour’s coauthor and Columbia political science professor Donal Green wrote,

Given that I did not have IRB approval for the study from my home institution, I took care not to analyze any primary data – the datafiles that I analyzed were the same replication datasets that Michael LaCour posted to his website. Looking back, the failure to verify the original Qualtrics data was a serious mistake.

This points to a real cost imposed by intransigent IRBs that become significant hurdles for research to progress. As institutions evaluate their response to this affair, and we reevaluate our own approaches to collaboration, those efforts would not be complete without considering the fact that IRBs hinder good, ethical research.

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caution about three-article dissertations

Over at The Evil EmpireOrgTheory, Fabio makes a case that, as a default, dissertations should take the form of three-paper (or, more generally N-paper) format. On the whole, I totally agree and think that the three-paper format helped me finish grad school and set me up well for my post-doc and life on tenure track.

But the conversation on three-paper dissertations (or, equivalently, “digital” dissertations in the humanities) often fails to address a major shortcoming of the three-paper format. The introduction and conclusion end up being anachronous appendages that weary students tack on at the end. Or, I should say, that a single particular weary student tacked on at the end of his dissertation.

It was not until I had a faculty position and read cover letters as part of the faculty search committee that I realized how I had screwed myself by tacking on an intro and conclusion. In my own letter I had failed to articulate what my research as a whole meant to the discipline and how I charted my own course for research. I had three pretty interesting empirical results and I dutifully described those. What I was missing, I realized, what a broader statement of overall relevance.

I believe that the three-article dissertation contributed to that lack of awareness. It affected my own cover letter and, I think, prevented me from getting more interviews. It didn’t deal a fatal blow to my career, after all I ended up in a great job. But it did limit my options when I entered the job market. In fact, I didn’t write a really cohesive research statement until I wrote my third-year review since that was the first time circumstances forced me, in a relatively concise way, to explain my contribution to the field.

As with any N of 1, especially with the measurement error that occurs when N=me, too many degrees of variables affect an outcome to certainly argue for a particular cause. And I believe that writing three articles established a direct, clear path of publications that helped me secure my post-doc and job that I now have. As with any benefit comes costs, and the three-article dissertation can come at the cost of thinking about larger research narratives. For that reason, I would caution advisors and advise grad students to think early in their candidacy about the larger narrative they construct with the three articles.

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.

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the professor is in

Since I have found tiny tidbits from the blogs to be helpful over the years, I thought that I would pass along one myself that has been helpful in my life as a professor (it is still weird writing that statement): consider using online booking for office hours. I have seen two benefits from doing this. First, I can see when students are coming and, in the infrequent but not unusual situation of finding common meeting times with colleagues for committee-type meetings, I feel more free to agree to meet during office hours when I can see that no students are signed up to meet. Second, it helps the students since they do not have to wait outside the office until I finish with another student. They can sign up for a time and I can meet with them at that time.

I had used Google Appointment Slots but, alas, like Reader, Google killed them. Now I use the website youcanbook.me to schedule my appointments. You can link it to your Google Calendar and in doing so, it has a pretty slick feature that you can designate a type of meeting in your Google Calendar that youcanbook.me will look for to designate your availability (mine is, appropriately enough, “Office Hours”).

It’s worked for me and it might be worth a try.

lifecourse of a paper

Working on a paper and proposal that both involved life-course explanations of social phenomena, I realized that my papers have a life-course of their own. I thought I would share:

  • Birth. This is the first glimmer of a new idea. Unfortunately, nature is cruel and mortality at this stage is very high. Some ideas are truly great, but are lost by the time I leave the department/committee/research meeting in which I had their first glimmer. Others were really stillborn: good in principle, impractical in reality. Others needed to be culled for the good of my brood of other, unfinished papers

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mastering sociology

What purpose does a terminal MA in sociology serve and what purpose should a terminal MA in sociology serve?

These questions have come to my mind after spending three years in a department with a terminal masters program (and no Ph.D. program). To partially answer the first question, I can say that there seem to be three kinds of students who enter our program:

  1. Students who want to pursue a Ph.D. program and either don’t have the credentials to be accepted currently or don’t feel like they have the credentials to be accepted;
  2. Students who receive some kind of promotion or pay for holding a Master’s degree; and
  3. Students how liked undergrad and want to continue in school with a vague idea that they want to do non-academic research (e.g., in think-tanks) who might also be, possibly, maybe-in-the-future, considering a Ph.D. program.

For the first group, the terminal MA seems to serve a defined goal. The information to make the decision is "knowable," though I am not sure how many follow solid advice not to enter Ph.D. programs. The second group probably makes the most sense since everything is on the table. The benefits seem clear for those in the second category since one could evaluate what one would pay in tuition or student loans against the expected future return in increased salary.

It is the third group which concerns me.

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don’t tread on my statehood dreams

"Taxation Without Representation" license plate on Presidential Limo

In case you’ve missed the news of of rural Northern Colorado, a number of counties there wish to secede from the state because those darn city slickers in Denver just don’t listen to their concerns. Although the chances are nearly impossible since it would require an amendment to the Colorado constitution and approval of Congress, nothing has deterred them yet.

One of the leaders of the movement, however, Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway made a much more plausible case: admit the new state of “Northern Colorado” along with another state, either Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C. As some of you may or may not know (though I’ve mentioned before), residents of the District of Columbia do not have representation in Congress. In other words, they have taxation without representation.

The idea is pretty clear: admit one Republican-leaning state and one Democratic-leaning state. The action would have precedent: the Missouri Compromise admitted Maine and Missouri together in order to maintain the balance of free and slave states.

I was curious what the addition of D.C. and Northern Colorado would do to state Congressional apportionment if Congress maintained the current 435 seats in the House (the Senate would likely add two Republican Senators and two Democratic Senators, keeping the current balance, though breaking a filibuster would be even slightly harder because 63 votes — or 60.6% of the Senate — would be required rather than the current 60). I wrote a Stata script to implement the “Amazing Apportionment Machine.”
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is open access equal access?

As Jenn and Brayden both write, a high-powered group of sociologists incoporated a new online journal, Sociological Science. Most commenters at orgtheory debate the prospect of Sociological Science succeeding in the near future and Brayden wonders whether this model can displace established journals. I, however, question how much the journal will promote or exacerbate inequality across academic institutions.

The editors tout the “evaluative not developmental” editorial reviews as a main feature of the nascent journal. One month review times and no R&Rs. It sounds great, after all I frequently get frustrated with the fact that reviewers do not recognize the my brilliant ideas, eloquent prose, and innovative statistical techniques. Who likes being forced to explain regression models to reviewers or to be asked by an editor to add three literatures and simultaneously cut 3,000 words?

At the same time, editorial focus on “evaluative” rather than “developmental” reviews implicitly assumes that authors can equally access venues to support the development of their work. I do not think that this is true.

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flawed science moves good science

I was fortunate to attend a talk by an economist visiting our campus last week and, during lunch, she mentioned the embarrassment that the Reinhart and Rogoff scandal caused the economics profession, including being flogged by Stephen Colbert. I then explained the embarrassment in our fair discipline, the Regnerus affair, of which she had not heard (which, itself, made me very happy). I realize that many might be losing an appetite for this topic, but I think that juxtaposing these two episodes shows some fairly sharp contrasts and lessons for academic work more generally.

Both, I believe, point to fundamental problems in our publication systems. Equally important, however, I submit that sociology’s handling of the Regnerus affair actually conveys a relatively healthy response that, through the subsequent devastating critiques, produced important knowledge. I also submit that the publication of Regnerus’s paper led to this outcome far quickly than what happened in response to the Reinhart and Rogoff scandal.

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math: electoral style

I got in the dangerous and time-consuming game of playing Electoral College math. It was highly illuminating with a week left before the election (and lots of time available thanks to Sandy). Here are the scenarios that I see using the great tool available at www.270towin.com.

First, some preliminaries. I started with 270towin’s battleground states, but allocated Michigan (16 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20 EV), and Wisconsin (10 EV) to President Obama and allocated Florida (29 EV) and North Carolina (15 EV) to Governor Romney. Assuming this allocation, President Obama starts with 247 electoral votes compared to Governor Romney’s 235. This leaves six states and 56 electoral votes up for grabs: Colorado (9 EV), Iowa (6 EV), Ohio (18 EV), Nevada (6 EV), New Hampshire (4 EV), and Virginia (13 EV). Continue reading

enduring neighborhood

For those of you who, like me, were first introduced to the wonders of neighborhood life because Mister Rogers was kind enough to share his, this is for you:*

As usual, couldn’t have said it better myself.

* (And my apologies to those parents, who like mine, couldn’t stand the man after watching him twice a day for years on end.)

structure and agency of graduate union activism

In the conversation about the Teaching Assistants’ Association at Madison not endorsing Tom Barrett in Wisconsin’s recall election, Jeremy wrote:

Mike: Given your experience, I would love to see a post from you on the individual/collective benefits versus time costs of graduate student unions. When I started at Madison, I was enthusiastic to get a faculty job somewhere where students were unionized, but left feeling much more ambivalent about it. Most of that shift followed from seeing the apparent costs to students in terms of time and distraction much more clearly than the benefits.

To be honest, I have thought about writing a post on this topic for a long time. Given strong negative feelings toward graduate employee unions among some faculty, I was reluctant to discuss the matter lest the post be connected to my real identity. But, no longer will I let my unruly side be sublimated by unwarranted caution so here I go…

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tea worthy

The Tea Party movement claims the mantle of Revolutionary forefathers to fight for liberty against the despotism of a distant ruler. They take their name from the Boston Tea Partiers who protested Britain’s taxation of Americans without representation in Parliament; a Parliament whose members nevertheless asserted power over the colonies “…in all cases whatsoever”.

If this is the mantle they wish to claim, I have a fight worthy of these modern-day Samuel Adamses: revolt against the despotism that subjects women in Washington, D.C. to laws created by an Arizonian.

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will we see a post-campus america?

Last week, Megan McArdle envisioned a “post-campus America“. Not an unreasonable vision given the advantages of online schools and rising tuition. The larger context of her comments comes from the fact that MIT now offers online certifications. She comes up with 12 specific claims of events she believes will transpire in the context of increased productivity of higher education. Overall, I think that she identifies appropriate questions but I think that she comes to the wrong conclusion about some. She also assumes colleges and universities to be monolithic rather than substantially varied, which carries important implications for some of her conclusions. I address each below (claims directly quoted) and am interested in what others think.
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