an object lesson in good interviewing and public health

I have recently experienced an example of a persistent and rigorous interview that yielded an unexpected payoff. I somehow contracted a Giardia infection, a parasite usually associated with contaminated water. The first questions anyone knowledgeable asks are “Were you drinking out of streams?” and “Were you drinking well water?” because there is a problem in rural areas with contaminated water and wells can become contaminated, especially when there is a lot of flooding, as there was this summer. But I am a city person and only drink tap water. No, I haven’t been camping, I have not been drinking out of streams. I thought maybe there was a sick food service worker? Maybe contaminated tap water in a rural gas station in our trip to Duluth? Hard to know.

It turns out that Giardia is a reportable public health infection, so I got a call this week from a public health student. Continue reading “an object lesson in good interviewing and public health”

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”

bad behavior, secrecy, duplication, science

I’ve been mulling over Phil Cohen’s insistence that there is a serious problem with reviewer malfeasance, specifically in using the anonymity of peer review to prevent the publication of work that would encroach on the reviewer’s “turf.”  My first response was that Phil must be exaggerating, or in a bad field. But then I remembered that I do know for sure of one case in which someone I know did everything they could to block funding for and the success of a project with a similar research idea and methodology–but different data–to their own. And then, as I think about it, I know of another pocket of cases in which senior people published their own work on several related variations of topic X even though they had commented on and thus knew of prior working papers by graduate students on that topic and did not even have the grace to cite those prior papers, much less cede the turf to the people who had originated the research ideas. Is this kind of behavior as common as Phil seems to think it is? And, if so, what ought we to do about it? Continue reading “bad behavior, secrecy, duplication, science”

on sharing work in progress and anonymity

I got involved in a debate over at orgtheory about the pluses and minuses of putting working papers on line at SocArXiv (or elsewhere). That debate was tangled up with a variety of issues around the proposal to require public posting of papers that win (or are submitted to) section paper award competitions.

In this post I want to avoid that tangle of other issues and open discussion/debate on the narrower question of whether the discipline of sociology as a field should do all it can to move toward the model of other fields, where working papers are routinely placed on public archives before they go through peer review for ultimate publication.

The sociology model as it is generally practiced involves writing a paper, presenting it at conferences and circulating drafts of it around for a year or more, submitting it to a journal, going through several iterations of rejections and R&Rs, and finally getting it published maybe 4 or 5 years after it the work was originally done. In the meantime, some people (those you were at conferences with or to whom you sent the paper) know about the work, while others working in the same area may not know about it and thus will not cite it or be influenced by it, junior scholars worry that their work will be scooped by a more senior person who gets the idea from a circulating PDF or as an anonymous reviewer, and knowledge as a whole bogs down.

The alternative model practiced in many fields is: (1) Do the work and present it at conferences as the work evolves.  Be known as the person/team working on problem X because you have talked about it at multiple conferences. (2) Post a working paper on ArXiv or SSRN etc. as soon as you think  you have something to report. (3) Other people cite and debate your work based on the ArXiv or SSRN etc version. If it is wrong it gets called out and fixed. If it is novel and correct, you get invited to more conferences to discuss it and you learn about the work others are doing in the same field. (4) Your paper slogs its way through peer review and ultimately gets published; then you link to the published version from the working paper site.  Continue reading “on sharing work in progress and anonymity”

stata: roll your own palettes

I realize all the cool kids have switched to R, but if you still work with Stata, you may be interested in some routines I worked up to generate color and line pattern palettes and customize graphs fairly easily with macros and loops. This is useful to me because I am generating line graphs showing the trends for 17 different offense groups. Some preliminary tricks, then the code. Continue reading “stata: roll your own palettes”

asking the wrong questions about protest

Originally published in Race, Politics, Justice About protest as a complex multi-actor field.

We social movement scholars are in the news a lot these days. There have been massive protests since the election of Donald Trump. Reporters want to know: will the protests be effective? Do protests work or are they just ego-trips of protesters? How can protesters be sure they can win? These are the wrong questions because they presuppose that people can just make the right choices and gain victory.  Continue reading “asking the wrong questions about protest”

did bill clinton cause mass incarceration of black people?

Short answer: Bill Clinton’s policies contributed to maintaining and increasing mass incarceration, but they affected Whites more than Blacks. Edit to short answer: Over in my full post on my own blog, I added graphs of the federal system, where Black imprisonment did go up under Clinton more than White imprisonment did. Federal system is smaller than state systems, so the overall patterns are dominated by state systems. The full post also gives graphs for other races.

Graph state imprisonment by race
National rate of being in state prisons, by race, 1978-2007.

The vertical line at 1995 represents the first year Clinton’s crime bill could take effect. Black state imprisonment leveled off during the Clinton years while White imprisonment continued to rise steeply. The Black/White disparity declined in the Clinton years. The steep rise in the Black imprisonment rate occurred during the Reagan/Bush years and the drug war, which was at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before Clinton took office.

Graph of Black/White disparity in state imprisonment
Black/White disparity in rate of being in state prisons 1978-2007

 

More details and data sources over at my academic blog Race, Politics, Justice.