crochety rant against open access rants

I am officially a cranky academic curmudgeon. And I don’t even have tenure yet!

I say this because I have become the crotchety Mr. Wilson on Twitter expressing skepticism about moving from our current system of academic publishing to an open access system.

Let me state this clearly for the record: I support efforts to move to open access scientific publication. That said, I also worry about the logistical and distributive consequences (potentially unintended) of doing so very quickly. Open access is a noble and moral goal. But it also needs to become a practical reality. As we progress from our current system to a new one, I am worried that the process might inadvertently exacerbate inequalities in academia. For these reasons, I find it especially important to have a discussion using evidence to establish the best way to move from where we are to where we want to be.

I find polemics on the topic difficult to digest at this point. As a result, I found Ryan Merkley’s Wired essay about Sci Hub’s quest to free gated information by using illegal passwords and using them to access gated academic journal publications. The article is a string of mostly specious arguments ending with a call to arms to let Sci Hub’s founder off the hook for breaking the law. Let’s review them one by one: Continue reading “crochety rant against open access rants”

a chance to interact with randy collins about interaction

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 1.30.20 PMAnnette Lareau asked me to pass along the information and an invitation to the entire sociology community to join in celebrating the career and contributions of Randy Collins. The event has a great line up of speakers including Michèle Lamont, Elijah Anderson, Viviana Zelizer, Philippe Bourgois, Alice Goffman, among many, many more. The event is free with limited first-come first-serve housing opportunities for doctoral students. Check out the event and sign up on the website.

feet, doors, and saying “no”

“You spend the first part of your career trying to get your foot in the door. You spend the rest of it trying to get your foot out of it.”

My advisor gave me this pearl of wisdom during my first month of graduate school. At the time, it seemed farcically false. I was, after all, trying to feel out my first opportunties for research, feeling insecure about the experience and confidence that my cohort-mates brought to grad school, and wanted nothing more than to get my foot in the door.

Now I want it out.

While I’m being too flip to say I don’t welcome the opportunities that I have, one of the most frequent pieces of advice I have received is to “say no.” This simple statement has the benefit of being true, and the disadvantage of being unhelpful. It’s easy to know to say no, it’s much more difficult to do so. Having some experience saying “no” (and much more saying “yes” even when I later regretted it), I thought that I would write down some strategies that have proved helpful. I want to acknowledge that my ability to do many of these things without substantial penalties relates to the privilege I have of being a white, straight, cis-gendered man whose dad holds a Ph.D. Continue reading “feet, doors, and saying “no””

rocket mortgage scares me, but not for the reasons it scares others

Quicken Loans has managed to cause quite a stir with their Super Bowl ad marketing their new app, the Rocket Mortgage.

The commercial touts the reasons why homeownership advocates support increased homeownership. The justification that housing leads to a stronger economy squares with both conservative justifications for a market economy and progressive efforts to increase homeownership for poor and racial minority households. One can argue about the wisdom of making this reasoning explicit as a marketing strategy; but, the ad makes explicit what lots of people already think (part of me wonders if the ad wasn’t aimed at consumers as much as preempting policymakers who might want to regulate interstate products like Rocket Mortgage).

Unsurprisingly, critics pounced on the idea that a smartphone app foretells the return of the housing crisis. I think that they might be right, but for the wrong reasons.

Continue reading “rocket mortgage scares me, but not for the reasons it scares others”

racial disparities in police killings using bayes theorem

The Washington Post has been tracking police killings across the nation. Last week, Peter Aldhous published an analysis of these data.1 He figured that blacks suspects were 37.8% of all unarmed suspects killed by police. White suspects made up a nearly similar percentage of unarmed suspects killed by police, despite the fact that there are almost five times as many whites in the United States as blacks.

This does not provide the best evidence to adjudicate racial disparities in police violence, however. Aldous writes:

Video of McDonald’s last moments, shot 16 times by a white officer, made a stark contrast with images of a handcuffed Robert Lewis Dear, the white suspect in the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs — as activists were quick to point out.

Rather than figure out the probability that an unarmed suspect was black, it would be important to know the probability that a black suspect shotkilled by police was unarmed. We care less whether an unarmed victim was black as we do whether a black victim was unarmed. That would be more in line with, though not exactly equivalent to, what Aldhous wrote.2

Below, I try to explain how we can use rules of probability to explain this problem to an introductory statistics class. Continue reading “racial disparities in police killings using bayes theorem”

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.
Continue reading “the place of reproducible research”

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.

Continue reading “lacour and the opportunity costs of intransigent irb reviews”