ai gender bias and computational social science

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.

Two images of U.S. Members of Congress with their corresponding labels as assigned by Google Cloud Vision. On the left, Steve Daines, Republican Senator for Montana. On the right, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Democratic Representative for California’s 40th congressional district. Percentages next to labels denote confidence scores of Google Cloud Vision.
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partisans, not scientists, decide if science is partisan

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.

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“credible threat: attacks against women online and the future of democracy”: a q&a with sarah sobieraj

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.

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vichy’s family separation policy, and our own

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.

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why do we need a book about measuring culture?

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?

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which lessons learned?

As I’m sure everyone knows, after an ambitious plan to open the campus for in-person instruction one week earlier than normal, we at UNC-Chapel Hill had to reverse course only a little more than week in, moving nearly all classes online and sending most students home. This post is my attempt to draw lessons from this very demoralizing experience.

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medical sociology syllabus project

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.

Instructor(s)Course Name/ LevelMain Text/Readings
*Additional readings in most cases; see syllabus
Elaine Hernandez
Soc 101- Social Problems and Policies: Medicine in AmericaCockerham. 2017. Medical Sociology, 14th edition.Syllabus
Rachel Donnelly (Vanderbilt)Soc 1020- Contemporary Social Issues: Health and SocietyAssorted chapters, articles, & other materialsSyllabus
Stefan Timmermans (UCLA) Soc 170- Medical Sociology: Caring in the Medical Care SystemAbraham. 1993. Mama Might Be Better Off Dead.
Fadiman. 1997. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.
Starr. 1982. The Social Transformation of American Medicine.
Tania Jenkins (UNC)Soc 1576- Introduction to Sociology for Health ProfessionsConley. 2017. You May Ask Yourself, 5th edition.
(Optional: Jauhar. 2008. Intern.)
Alka Menon (Yale)SOCY 127-
Health and Illness in Social Context
Watkins-Hayes. 2019. Remaking a Life.Syllabus
Alya Guseva (Boston)Soc 215- Health and SocietyWeitz. 2020. The Sociology of Health, Illness, & Health Care, 8th edition.Syllabus
Ajlina Karamehic-Muratovic (St Louis University)Soc 2490- Sociology of MedicineWeiss & Copelton. 2021. The Sociology of Health, Healing, & Illness, 10th edition.Syllabus
Magdalena Szaflarski (UAB)Soc 283- Sociology of Mental HealthCockerham. 2017. Sociology of Mental Disorder.
Karp & Sisson. 2010. Voices from the Inside.
Shawn Bauldry (Purdue)Soc 374- Medical SociologyWeiss & Lonnquist. 2017. The Sociology of Health, Healing, & Illness, 9th edition.Syllabus
Aida Isela Ramos (UMHB)Soc 3350- Sociology of HealthWeiss & Lonnquist. 2017. The Sociology of Health, Healing, & Illness, 9th edition.Syllabus;
Assignment (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3)
Corey Stevens (SIUE)Soc 383- Medicine, Health, & SocietyConrad & Leiter. 2019. The Sociology of Health & Illness, 10th edition.Syllabus; Assignment
Kenzie Latham Mintus (IUPUI)Soc R381- Social Factors in Health & IllnessConrad & Leiter. 2019. The Sociology of Health & Illness, 10th edition.
(Optional: Fadiman. 1997. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.)
Syllabus; Final Paper (Option 1; Option 2; Suggested Timeline; Checklist)
David Russell (Appalachian State)Soc 3600- Medical SociologyCockerham. 2017. Medical Sociology, 14th edition.Syllabus; Presentation Schedule
Tania Jenkins (UNC)Soc 3525- Urban HealthAbraham. 1993. Mama Might Be Better Off Dead.
Fink. 2016. Five Days at Memorial.
Rosenberg. 1987. The Cholera Years, 2nd edition.
(Optional: Klinenberg. 2015. Heat Wave, 2nd edition)
Rene Almeling (Yale)SOCY 390/629- Politics of ReproductionAssorted chapters, articles, & other materialsSyllabus
Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk (University at Buffalo, SUNY)SOC 322- Medical SociologyWatters. 2011. Crazy Like Us.
Tweedy. 2016. Black Man in a White Coat.
Ryan Masters (CU-Boulder)SOCY 4052- Social Inequalities in HealthPhillips. 2001. Darwin’s Worms.
Johnson. 2007. The Ghost Map.
Andrea Tilstra (CU-Boulder)Soc 4052- Social Inequalities in HealthCockerham. 2013. Social Causes of Health and Disease, 2nd edition.Syllabus
Anna Zajacova (UWO)Soc 4408- Advanced Sociology of Health and IllnessGawande. 2014 Being Mortal.Syllabus; Video Guides (1, 2, 3); Assignments (1, 2)
Deborah Carr (Boston)Soc 418/818- Social Inequalities in HealthBerkman, Kawachi, & Glymour. 2014. Social Epidemiology, 2nd edition.
Carr. 2014. Worried Sick.
Syllabus; Response Memos (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
Deborah Carr (Boston)Soc 418/818- Death and DyingBonanno. 2019 The Other Side of Sadness.
Doughty. 2018. From Here to Eternity.
Gawande. 2014. Being Mortal.
Syllabus; Writing Assignments (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
Jennifer Jennings (Princeton)Soc 414- Sociology of MedicineKidder. 2009. Mountains Beyond Mountains.
Johnson. 2007. The Ghost Map.
Daniel Menchik (Arizona)Soc 410- The Hospital: A Small SocietyBosk. 2003. Forgive and Remember, 2nd edition.Syllabus (includes assignment details)
Josh Seim (USC)Soc 475- Medical SociologyAnsel. 2017. The Death Gap.
Seim. 2o20. Bandage, Sort, and Hustle.
Syllabus (includes reading guides/ summaries for assigned articles and chapters)
Evan Roberts (Minnesota)Soc 4246- Sociology of Health and IllnessCockerham. 2017. Medical Sociology, 14th edition.Syllabus
Patricia Thomas (Purdue)Soc 571- Health & BehaviorAssorted chapters, articles, & other materialsSyllabus
Corey Stevens (SIUE)Soc 590- Health, Illness, & SocietyMetzl. 2019. Dying of Whiteness.
Metzl & Kirkland. 2010. Against Health.
Davis. 2015. Contesting Intersex.
Duffy, Armenia, & Stacey. 2015. Caring on the Clock.
Ellen Idler (Emory)Soc 531- Sociology of Health and IllnessCockerham. 2010. The New Blackwell Companion to Medical Sociology.Syllabus (assignments included)
Brea Perry & Jane McLeod (Indiana)Soc 660- Social Origins of Health InequalityAssorted chapters, articles, & other materialsSyllabus
Elaine Hernandez
Soc 660- Social Origins of Health InequalityAssorted chapters, articles, & other materialsSyllabus
Josh Seim (USC)Soc 658- Sociology of Health and MedicineAnsel. 2017. The Death Gap.
Seim. 2o20. Bandage, Sort, and Hustle.
Syllabus (includes reading guides/ summaries for assigned articles and chapters)
Mieke Beth Thomeer (UAB)Soc 781- Sociology of Health and IllnessKempner. 2014. Not Tonight.
Sulik. 2010. Pink Ribbon Blues.
Hoppe. 2017. Punishing Disease.
Shim. 2014. Heart-sick.
Mieke Beth Thomeer (UAB)Soc 724- Body & HealthAlmeling. 2011. Sex Cells.Syllabus
Magdalena Szaflarski (UAB)Soc 780- Advanced Medical SociologyCockerham. 2013. Medical Sociology on the Move.
Newhart and Dolphin. 2019. The Medicalization of Marijuana.
Magdalena Szaflarski (UAB)Soc 783- Health Care Delivery SystemsBarr. 2016. Introduction to US Health Policy, 4th edition.
Rosenthal. 2017. An American Sickness.
Syllabus; Group mini-projects; Final project
Magdalena Szaflarski (UAB) Soc 788-Sociology in Medicine Assorted chapters, articles, & other materials Syllabus
Phil Brown (Northeastern)Soc 7287- Social Movements in HealthA. Nelson. 2013. Body and Soul.
J. Nelson. 2015. More than Medicine.
Zavella. 2020. The Movement for Reproductive Justice.
Wylie. 2018. Fractivism.
Lilla Pivnick & Faith Deckard (UT-Austin)Health & Society (Texas Prison Education Initiative)Assorted chapters, articles, & other materialsSyllabus
Mieke Beth Thomeer (course director; syllabus created in collaboration with other instructors; UAB)Dent 1110- Dentistry & Culture (taught in Dental School)Assorted chapters, articles, & other materialsSyllabus; Debate assignment
*NOTE: Some of these taught post-March 2020, meaning include COVID-19 content or have been adjusted to be taught online (if previously in person) or in hybrid format.

a checklist to reduce your word count and polish your writing

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.

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teaching the new economic sociology of race & racism

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.

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on decolonizing sociological theory – a reply to perrin

This is a guest post by Jose Itzigsohn, written in response to my prior post .

Erin McDonnell organized a wonderful panel on Rethinking Sociological Theory and Andrew Perrin published in Scatterplot a thoughtful response to the panel that included a critique of my arguments. I asked Prof. Perrin whether Scatterplot would publish my response and he readily agreed. I thank him and welcome the opportunity to elaborate on the call to decolonize sociological theory.

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decolonizing classical theory: some appreciatively skeptical thoughts

Yesterday’s panel on teaching classical social theory was fantastic. Erin McDonnell did a great job organizing and facilitating, and the four panelists — Greta Krippner, Jose Itzigsohn, Zine Magubane, and Jocelyn Viterna — offered really thoughtful, measured, and inspiring ideas. The session was remarkably well-attended, particularly for summer: I think around 100 people showed up. Awesome!

I want to raise a few thoughts about what I hope will be ongoing discussions and reforms in this vein.

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facing the fall with empathy

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.

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15,000+ academics oppose international student ban

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.

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colleges are more like cruise ships and bars than kindergartens and elementary schools

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? 

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levels of racism: individual, organizational, institutional, and systemic

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.2

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