There are ample reasons to be skeptical of recent headlines announcing that “AI [Artificial Intelligence] Can Tell If You’re Gay,” summaries of a pre-print study by Yilun Wang and Michal Kosinski of Stanford University’s School of Business. Their goal is to “advance our understanding of the origins of sexual orientation and the limits of human perception” (p.1). For the first they fail miserably but I concur with the second, though the perceptions that are limited, in this case, are the researchers’ own. In this post I review the underpinnings of this research that render it much less insightful than the researchers claim, the problems of journalistic reporting that compound these problems, and the stunning tone-deafness of Kosinski’s defense of his ethics.
Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy (2017) introduced the wonderful concept of ubercapital, “a form of capital flowing from [individuals’] positions as measured by various digital scoring and ranking methods” with consequences for stratification. Two new papers provide clear (and terrifying) analysis of how ubercapital works in hiring and law enforcement.
As questions about the future of affirmative action once again rise to the surface of the water cooler talk on the internet, there has been a concomitant rise in excoriations of legacy admissions as “affirmative action for white people” and “the real affirmative action.” Most recently, a freelance writer tweeted some of the results of The Harvard Crimson’s survey of the entering freshman class of 2021, focusing on a figure representing the percentages of students in the entering class who have various familial ties to alumni of Harvard College. Based on the survey data, Murphy reported that the percentage of legacies in the entering class is an eye-popping 41.2%. Shocking, right? (or perhaps not, depending on how cynical you are about elite higher ed).
But let’s take a step back, because there’s more than meets the eye with this figure and the accompanying tweet(s).
Yesterday, Sociological Science published my new paper, co-authored with Ellen Berrey, The Partial Deinstitutionalization of Affirmative Action in U.S. Higher Education, 1988 to 2014. The paper is largely descriptive and the most important result is above – we show that lots of selective schools voluntarily abandoned their public commitments to the consideration of race in admissions, but not the most elite schools. Beyond that, we show that most of this decline cannot be directly attributed to state-level bans on the practice (85% of schools abandoning were not covered by such bans). In 1994, 60% of selective schools considered race; by 2014, just 35% did. Here, I want to briefly describe how the paper came into existence as a way to plug some of the new, open access routes to circulating work and publishing that have the potential to address some of sociology’s woes.