Category Archives: Uncategorized


Kieran Healy has written a paper about nuance and posted it here.  It’s an argument that resonates with my own experience, especially in terms of various forays of reading efforts of social theory to talk about the relationship between what they are doing and psychology or, worse, “biology.” While there’s various colorful language throughout the paper, this unadorned sentence hit home for me in that regard:

there is a desire to equate calling for a more sophisticated approach to a theoretical problem with actually providing one, and to tie such calls to the alleged sophistication of the people making them.

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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is parenthood really worse than divorce? demographic clickbait in the washington post

The following is a guest post by Aaron Major.

If you’ve seen, or heard about, the Washington Post piece on having a baby being worse than death, read on. Lots of these science/social science articles come across my feed and while most of them bug me in various ways, this one has prompted me to write. Maybe it’s because I’ve got good friends who just had their first baby and, while they’re too tired and blurry-eyed to spend much time on the Facebook these days, I cringe thinking about this stuff becoming part of the many ‘having a baby’ conversations that they, and lots of folks, are having. To start with context. The article summarizes research recently published in the journal Demography as showing that having a baby reduces your happiness more than divorce, unemployment, or death of a partner. Yikes! That is one click-worthy headline. So what’s the problem with this article? A few things.
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in (partial) defense of cultural dopes

The following is a guest post by Jeff Guhin.

John O’Brien has an important new article at Sociological Theory about individualism that everybody should read. It uses a brilliant and incredibly well-handled meta-analytical technique: by combining 17 qualitative studies of religion in America (including his own), he’s able to use others’ data but not take their conclusions for granted. Of course, he’s limited by what ended up in the field notes and then, more importantly, what made it from the notes to the pages, but he still does a lot of his own interpretation. In fact, watching O’Brien shift how an author interprets “individualism” to what he thinks is really going on is some of the article’s best stuff. Continue reading

healy on “the performativity of networks”

Kieran Healy has a wonderful new article on The Performativity of Networks, just published in the European Journal of Sociology. The article is useful for both its empirical claims about how social network analysis has transformed the world, and for its cogent summary of the performativity of economics as laid out in MacKenzie’s work on finance. Throughout, Healy takes a somewhat ambivalent tone towards the performativity thesis itself. That is, he carefully argues that the evidence for the performativity of network theory is as good as the case for financial economics, but does not make a strong claim that such evidence is overwhelming. Anyone interested in the performativity thesis or in the history of social network analysis should give the paper a read. I won’t spoil the empirics here, read the paper for the details. Instead, I want to focus on how we think about performativity.

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do economists make (health) policy? aca edition

The influence of economists on policymaking is a topic of perennial interest to sociologists, and one I’ve spent a fair bit of time trying to understand. One of the arguments Beth Berman and I stress in our review piece on the subject is the importance of institutional position inside the policymaking apparatus. Economic ideas dominate certain federal agencies because economists (and MPPs trained by economists, etc.) staff those agencies. Academic economists have a clear route towards policy influence through their counterparts inside the government.

A new paper by Glied and Miller (G&M) on the role of health economics in the drafting of the Affordable Care Act offers a nice illustration of this argument (h/t to The Incidental Economist, the best health economics/policy blog around). Continue reading

use the asa app with this one weird trick!

This year, the ASA meetings will have an app with more features than you can shake a stick at. If you are a careful planner and be sure to log in when browsing the online program, you can add sessions to your schedule, and they will automatically download to a calendar feature on your app.

There are also maps of each floor of the hotels, so it will be much easier to find your way around. I haven’t tried it yet, but it even boasts a feature to give you directions to a particular room. If you know the author of a paper at the session you are heading to next, you can search for their name, find the session, and click a button to take you straight to the map of the hotel rooms to find your way.

All this and more, but you can’t get to any of it unless you login to the Members Only section of the ASA website. Continue reading

blog party: twelfth time’s a charm!

As July comes to a close, sociologists set their sites on the impending annual meetings. Apart from scrambling to finish our papers, and struggling to figure out which panels we are supposed to attend, the most important part of prepping for ASA is deciding where to drink. In furtherance of that last goal, we at the Scatterplot party planning committee are delighted to announce the twelfth annual blog party, the can’t miss event of the blogger social season! Details:

The 12th Annual Blog Get-Together

Sunday, Aug 23 at 6:30pm

Brando’s Speakeasy

343 S. Dearborn Street, a short walk from the Hilton and Palmer House

Brando’s features classic cocktails and an impressive list of silly looking ‘tinis guaranteed to appeal to the Andrew Perrin demographic. So come join us! As Tina put it last year, “All blog writers, commenters, and readers are welcome, as are folks-who-used-to-write-but-don’t-so-much-anymore-you-know-how-it-goes, lurkers, tweeters, and assorted people who simply would like to come. Please recall that well-behaved sociology faculty will generously purchase a beverage or two for a thirsty graduate student. We may be awkward, but we don’t need to be that awkward.”

why does college cost so much?

If you read popular coverage of higher ed, one of the biggest recurring questions is “why does college cost so much?” There’s no really good answer to this question, in part because it’s poorly phrased. Higher ed is a big field containing several different organizational populations that look very different when it comes to costs and revenues (and student bodies, etc.). The chapters by Scott and Ruef & Nag in this edited volume do a nice job of laying out some of the contours of that diversity. Applying that basic insight suggests that the question “why does college cost so much?” might have very different answers for public research universities, community colleges, private liberal arts schools, the elite research universities, for-profits, etc. The relative weight of the various popular explanations (including administrative bloat, Baumol’s cost disease, lavish expenditures on amenities, higher levels of federal financial aid, and declines in state support) may differ radically.
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southern heritage and hate can’t be independent factors

L.J. Zigerell, a political scientist and frequent commenter here, has a new post on The Monkey Cage about attitudes towards the Confederate Flag among Southern Whites. Zigerell runs some regressions on attitudes data from 1994 and 2004 to show how attitudes towards the South in general and attitudes towards racial minorities predict support for the flag. Zigerell finds that even controlling for responses to racial attitudes, attitudes towards the South predict support for the flag. Here’s the conclusion:

Nevertheless, the results from these two surveys suggest a more qualified conclusion about the correlates of support for the Confederate battle flag. Surely racial attitudes reflect one such factor, but Southern heritage appears to be another.

This strikes me as wrong in an important way, but I’m curious if you all agree. Specifically, to me this conclusion rests on a “variables” conception of “heritage” and “hate”, where “heritage” means “responses to questions about love of the South” and “hate” means “responses to questions about attitudes towards racial minorities”. But that seems, well, wrong. It requires begging the question (in the sense of assuming the answer) that “Southern heritage” is a distinct thing that is separate from racism. But it isn’t. That’s not what racism is or how racism works. Zigerell adds some reasonable caveats about the age of the data, but I think misses this larger problem. The regression produces sensible seeming output, but the underlying constructs simply don’t make sense.

What do you all think?

new guidelines for transparent and open research

The journal Science has just published details about a new framework for encouraging better scientific research and publishing practices, titled Transparent and Openness Promotion Guidelines. The New York Times has the story here, including a quick description:

The guidelines include eight categories of disclosure, each with three levels of ascending stringency. For example, under the category “data transparency,” Level 1 has the journal require that articles state whether data are available, and if so, where. Level 2 requires that the data be posted to a trusted databank. Level 3 requires not only that data be posted, but also that the analysis be redone by an independent group before publication.

The guidelines come from the Center for Open Science, and scatterplot’s own Jeremy Freese is among the authors. Go Jeremy!

sjmr ama

I recently did an AMA (ask me anything) at SJMR. It was fun but hugely time consuming. In it I mentioned a “acknowledgement letter” from my time doing my ethnographic research. They couldn’t post it. So I decided I’d do it here.

if your business model requires that your employees not be recognized as employees, maybe you need a new model?

A California court just ruled that Uber drivers are employees. Here’s the (pro-Uber) coverage from Business Insider. Note how the story accepts Uber’s versions of the facts about who counts as an employee:
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plain-language harassment policy

My university’s sexual harassment and consensual relations policies are written in bureaucratic legalese. Here’s my attempt to create a departmental plain-language statement. Comments appreciated.

The plain language version of our policy is: Don’t date your students, and don’t try to date your students. There are no conditions under which it is acceptable for you to date a student in your class. This includes cases where the student takes the initiative: if a student asks you on a date, or makes romantic overtures to you, you must decline. Moreover, even if you imagine that your interest is entirely friendly and non-sexual, you must not initiate particularistic social relationships with students in your own classes. You should understand that when you undertake the role of instructor, you are entering a hierarchical relationship. Actions that would be acceptable among peers can be problematic and even illegal in a hierarchical relationship. Continue reading

the new economic imperialism: methods not models

Two economic graduate students affiliated with Duke’s Center for the History of Political Economy have just released a new working paper on the history of quasi-experimental methods in economics. Panhans and Singleton document the dramatic takeoff of the use of techniques like regression discontinuity, difference-in-difference, and instrumental variables in the top economics journals, and most of its subfields. The paper’s a nice introduction to this history, and for readers unfamiliar with the older approaches, sets up a nice quick contrast between a 1970s “structural” approach to the returns to education vs. a 1990s “quasi-experimental” approach. What really struck me, though, was an ending reflection on the nature of economic imperialism.
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