Gender bias is pervasive in our society generally, and in the tech industry and AI research community specifically. So it is no surprise that image labeling systems—tools that use AI to generate text describing pictures—produce both blatantly sexist and more subtly gender biased results. Our new paper, out now and open access in Socius, adds more examples to the growing literature on gender bias in AI. More importantly, it provides a framework for researchers seeking to either investigate AI bias or to use potentially biased AI systems in their own work.Continue reading “ai gender bias and computational social science”
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.Continue reading “partisans, not scientists, decide if science is partisan”
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.Continue reading ““credible threat: attacks against women online and the future of democracy”: a q&a with sarah sobieraj”
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.Continue reading “vichy’s family separation policy, and our own”
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?Continue reading “why do we need a book about measuring culture?”
A few years ago, Neal Caren started the “intro to sociology syllabus project” on scatterplot, and it was such a useful resource for me and many others. Extending that project, this post is a space to share medical sociology syllabuses (or Society & Health, Sociology of Health & Illness, or– as you’ll see below– any of the many other course titles we use for related classes).
Many thanks to everyone who has shared their syllabus with me! If you sent me a syllabus and have an update, I’ll happily post. And if you’d like to participate, please send me your syllabus. If you end up borrowing ideas from any of the syllabuses below, I recommend sending the instructor a note so they can know that their syllabus was useful to you.
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.Continue reading “a checklist to reduce your word count and polish your writing”
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.Continue reading “teaching the new economic sociology of race & racism”
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.Continue reading “facing the fall with empathy”
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.Continue reading “15,000+ academics oppose international student ban”
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?Continue reading “colleges are more like cruise ships and bars than kindergartens and elementary schools”
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.2Continue reading “levels of racism: individual, organizational, institutional, and systemic”
The following is a guest post by Nabila Islam.
On Friday, June 12, 2020, fourteen sociology graduate students at Brown University held a teach-in on how to support BLM in academia at the Population Studies Training Center (PSTC), an interdisciplinary center for the study of population issues. The teach-in evolved from the invitation that sociology graduate students (with support of staff and faculty) had extended in the department’s statement in support of BLM. The letter had urged members of the sociology community to have conversations with and beyond each other on how to combat anti-black racism and to produce anti-racist research. Susan Short, sociologist and Director of PSTC, asked graduate students if they wanted to hold an event or a meeting at the center as a follow-up. The students decided on holding a teach-in on race and racism in the academy. In the tradition of teach-ins and public sociology, the event mixed theoretical discussions with conversations about praxis and centered the coming together of the PSTC community to discuss recent political events and possible futures. During the second part of the teach-in, the attendees were invited to participate in facilitated breakout sessions to brainstorm anti-racist practices in research, as well as in institutional and interpersonal situations within the academy. The suggestions below are the result of those collaborative conversations. Recently there have been discussions on how professors in all disciplines can talk to students about race and racism. Teach-ins potentially provide a way to challenge status and generational divides between students, staff and faculty on campus while offering opportunities to rearticulate the meaning of community and to create anti-racist publics within the academy.Continue reading “anti-racist research practices and the value of teach-ins”
The following is a guest post by Mo Torres.
Abolition is in the public eye like never before. In five years, we’ve gone from “require body cameras and implicit bias training” to “defund the police.” Longtime abolitionist Mariame Kaba is in the New York Times: “Yes, we mean literally abolish the police.”
As a discipline that has had much to say about racism, policing, and incarceration, where do sociologists fit into this new picture, where abolition is not simply a fringe position, but one front-and-center in current debates?
Over the past 4 years, I’ve studied community perceptions of the Minneapolis Police Department. With a team of students, we conducted qualitative interviews with over 100 residents and 20 leaders of police reform/transformation/abolition groups; tracked reform efforts by the MPD; and attended city council hearings, vigils, and community listening sessions. We learned that many in Minneapolis agreed that racialized police violence was a dire social problem, but disagreed on its solution (and whether policing could ever be reformed). Some citizens and groups fought for reform through bureaucratic channels, while others pushed for police abolition or transformation.
As readers are well aware, these questions about reform vs. abolition recently became a national conversation. Following the murder of George Floyd by four now-former MPD officers on May 25, 2020, and the explosion of protests locally (and nationally and internationally), many have looked to Minneapolis to see how this conversation might produce real change.Continue reading “dismantling the minneapolis police department”