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

ask a scatterbrain: supporting students on the job market.

I am wrapping up my second year as DGS in my department. Over the last couple years I’ve made some small, but significant changes in our grad program and I’m finally beginning to see the results. Now that I’ve found my sea legs (just in time for my term to end next summer), I’m ready to tackle something new: improving our support for students on the market. 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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davis and mizruchi on “corporations and capitalism”

The newest issue of the Economic Sociology section newsletter Accounts was just published. The first piece in the issue is a conversation Mark Mizruchi and Jerry Davis about their research on corporate political power and the contemporary capitalism. Unsurprisingly, it’s simultaneously provocative and hilarious. Here’s a snippet:

Mark: You just gave a good example of why democratic management might not be the way to go.

Jerry: Oh, really?

Mark: Yeah, the problem is, if you’re going to run a company democratically you have to spend 20% of your time in meetings.

Jerry: Okay, some of that 20% is HabermasticationTM. Sometimes meetings are worthwhile because you’re sharing information and figuring things out, but sometimes meetings are a waste of time. Some decisions could be more efficient because we have the technology to be more democratic and local than we used to (say, using a voting app). The alternative less-democratic version of that is let’s say Uber, where you use the same technology to create a class of Student Loan Activated Volatile Employment… it’ s an acronym.

Mark: …Slave.

Jerry: Yes. In Ann Arbor there must be 5, 000 people driving for Uber this second who are recent sociology undergraduates, who have discovered that they are unemployable but they have to repay their student loans. That’s the digital immiseration version of this technology.

Check it out!

genes and infidelity

Phil mentioned in the comments of an earlier post the recent news story about how martial infidelity has a heritability of .4, and the news story also features various more specific claims about the specific genes and systems supposedly involved and the purported evolutionary psychology of it all. Eric Turkheimer, who is hopefully already established as Sociology’s Favorite Behavioral Geneticist, has a nice blog post in which he explains problems with the news story. Enjoy!

aside on the heritability of everything

(Substantial prelude with some light technical bits, feel free to jump to [UPSHOT] or [BOLDFACE PUNCHLINE])

As is shown in the meta-analysis Andy references in his last post, more or less every measurable outcome anybody cares about in any study of human beings is more similar among identical twins than it is among fraternal twins, which in the classical model applied to twin study data means the trait has a non-zero heritability.

Perhaps the major motivation of the giant meta-analysis, however, is evaluation of the extent to which identical twin correlations are twice the fraternal correlation. Continue reading

are all human traits heritable?

A new article by Polderman et al. in Nature Genetics, nicely summed up by Jeremy:

is a meta-analysis of essentially every twin-based study of heritability of any trait between 1958 and 2012. The top-line coverage, encouraged by the authors’ press release, is:

One of the great tussles of science – whether our health is governed by nature or nurture – has been settled, and it is effectively a draw.

This is based on the fact that, across 17,804 traits in 28 “general trait domains,” the overall mean heritability was 49%. That prompted me to write:

Read on for why I think that, what value there is in the below-the-fold part of the article, and why I think this kind of work is in desperate need of an injection of theory. Continue reading

lacour and the opportunity costs of intransigent irb reviews

Of all of the issues brought up by the Lacour controversy, we have not devoted enough attention to one in my view. The YaleColumbia* IRB made itself part of this problem.

In his initial comments to Retraction Watch, Lacour’s coauthor and Columbia political science professor Donal Green wrote,

Given that I did not have IRB approval for the study from my home institution, I took care not to analyze any primary data – the datafiles that I analyzed were the same replication datasets that Michael LaCour posted to his website. Looking back, the failure to verify the original Qualtrics data was a serious mistake.

This points to a real cost imposed by intransigent IRBs that become significant hurdles for research to progress. As institutions evaluate their response to this affair, and we reevaluate our own approaches to collaboration, those efforts would not be complete without considering the fact that IRBs hinder good, ethical research.

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the lacour and green retraction

News broke recently of very serious concerns about the data in a high-profile political science study. Not to put too fine of a point on it, it now appears that a UCLA graduate student and rising star in political science, Michael LaCour, fabricated data nearly out of whole cloth. These data led to a surprising, widely-cited finding about the ability of relatively minor sympathetic contact to change attitudes toward LGBT people over the medium term. The original article is here, a very careful forensic investigation that revealed the likely fabrication is here, and Retraction Watch has a timeline and many relevant links here. Continue reading

2015 junior theorists symposium (jts) schedule

As a follow-up to Dan’s posting of the Junior Theorists Symposium’s call for papers last year, here is the recently released schedule. By the looks of it, 2015’s event promises to live up to the JTS’s reputation as a lively and thought-provoking way to kick off the ASA meetings. The event is open to all.*

Junior Theorists Symposium
University of Chicago
Social Sciences Room 122
August 21, 2015

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