sunday morning sociology, panda power edition

When I first saw this image of a new Chinese Panda-shaped solar power plant circulate on Twitter, I was sure it was fake. It’s not. It’s real, it’s adorable, it fights climate change, and it’s somehow weirdly intimidating. Source.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, panda power edition”

of checkerboards and matthew effects: sakoda, schelling and models of segregation

OrigamiCheckerboard.jpg
An origami checkerboard. Source.

Thomas Schelling was a famous economist. He won a Nobel Prize, published agenda setting books, and influence Cold War policy. He also wrote one of my favorite papers, on radically time-inconsistent preferences (specifically, the curious case of asking your friends not to give you a cigarette when you later ask for one, and related phenomena). One the things Schelling is most famous for is a simple agent-based model of residential segregation known as the “Schelling Model.” The model was first published in a 1971 article in the second issue of The Journal of Mathematical Sociology, and was discussed at length in Schelling’s very widely-read Micromotives and Macrobehavior. Many readers of this blog have likely come across the model; the original article now has over 3600 citations on Google Scholar and the book has over 6600.

James Sakoda was a relatively unknown computational sociologist. His main lasting fame seems to be among origami enthusiasts, e.g as the author of Modern Origami. But, as detailed by a fantastic (and lengthy) new article by Rainer Hegselmann, Sakoda may well have the better claim to having first invented checkerbaord models of discrimination. In his 1949 dissertation, Sakoda lays out a class of checkerboard models. And in a 1971 article in the first issue of The Journal of Mathematical Sociology, Sakoda published “The checkerboard model of social interaction.” As Hegselmann shows, Schelling’s model is very nearly a special case of Sakoda’s more general treatment published one issue earlier. Yet Sakoda’s articles boasts just a bit more than 200 citations, and no one speaks of a “Sakoda model.” What happened?

Continue reading “of checkerboards and matthew effects: sakoda, schelling and models of segregation”

sunday morning sociology, july never seemed so strange edition

Maternal_Mortality.jpg
Through evidence-based standards, better data, and organizational incentives, California’s maternal mortality rate dropped over the last 20 years even as the rate in the rest of the US has soared. Vox.com explains here.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, july never seemed so strange edition”

peter berger and tobacco sociology

Eminent sociologist Peter Berger has died. The New York Times has a lengthy obituary here. In my neck of the woods, Berger is most known for his book, with Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality. Berger and Luckmann introduced a vocabulary for understanding the process of social construction (externalization, objectification, internalization, habitualization, etc.) that has been applied widely, including especially in institutional theory in organizational sociology. Elsewhere, Berger is known for his extensive work in the sociology of religion.

At the same time as the laudatory obituaries circulate, I am a bit troubled by one omission: Berger’s work for the tobacco industry. As documented by Glantz et al (2008)’s article on the role of sociologists in defending tobacco from public health critics in the 1970s-1980s, and discussed more at Sourcewatch, Peter Berger was deeply involved with pro-tobacco social science. For example, in the industry-commissioned book Smoking and Society: Toward a More Balanced Perspective, Berger accused the anti-smoking movement of being a “health cult” (an interesting charge from a sociologist of religion).

None of this work is mentioned in the New York Times obituary. Nor is it mentioned on Berger’s wikipedia page. And yet it seems like a full accounting of his life and legacy (and of the legacy of 20th century sociology) should grapple with this aspect as well. What do we do with the fact that one of the most prominent figures associated with the term “social construction” also worked as a “merchant of doubt”?

sunday morning sociology, free speech edition

NORRIS-age-gap-Fig-1
We can’t say if it’s age, period, or cohort but, at least right now, Millennials are the best! Or the most progressive on a ton of metrics, anyway. From this Monkey Cage post about how old and young are voting differently in both the US and UK.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

This week’s links feature several discussions of recent “free speech controversies”, including those targeting scholars (some of which might better be characterized as hate speech controversies, or racist assaults on free speech controversies).

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, free speech edition”

sunday morning sociology, non-stop violence edition

Screen Shot 2017-06-18 at 10.15.55 AM.png
From the Washington Post’s police shootings tracker.

A weekly link round-up of sociological work – work by sociologists, referencing sociologists, or just of interest to sociologists. This scatterplot feature is co-produced with Mike Bader.

This week’s edition includes links about violence in the United States. It’s been that kind of week. Of course, in the US, it’s almost always that kind of week.

Continue reading “sunday morning sociology, non-stop violence edition”

algorithmic decisionmaking replaces your biases with someone else’s biases

There has been a lot of great discussion, research, and reporting on the promise and pitfalls of algorithmic decisionmaking in the past few years. As Cathy O’Neil nicely shows in her Weapons of Math Destruction (and associated columns), algorithmic decisionmaking has become increasingly important in domains as diverse as credit, insurance, education, and criminal justice. The algorithms O’Neil studies are characterized by their opacity, their scale, and their capacity to damage. Much of the public debate has focused on a class of algorithms employed in criminal justice, especially in sentencing and parole decisions. As scholars like Bernard Harcourt and Jonathan Simon have noted, criminal justice has been a testing ground for algorithmic decisionmaking since the early 20th century. But most of these early efforts had limited reach (low scale), and they were often published in scholarly venues (low opacity). Modern algorithms are proprietary, and are increasingly employed to decide the sentences or parole decisions for entire states.

“Code of Silence”, Rebecca Wexler’s new piece in Washington Monthlyexplores one such influential algorithm: COMPAS (also the study of an extensive, if contested, ProPublica report). Like O’Neil, Wexler focuses on the problem of opacity. The COMPAS algorithm is owned by a for-profit company, Northpointe, and the details of the algorithm are protected by trade secret law. The problems here are both obvious and massive, as Wexler documents.

Continue reading “algorithmic decisionmaking replaces your biases with someone else’s biases”