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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black/white mortality differentials and american politics

There’s a new paper from Social Science and Medicine making the rounds with the provocative title “Black lives matter: Differential mortality and the racial composition of the U.S. electorate, 1970–2004.” The Monkey Cage has a write-up with a blunt (clickbait-y?) title that emphasizes the paper’s main question, Blacks die sooner than whites. How many votes has this cost Democrats? Something about this framing bothered me.

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facebook’s algorithm removes politically diverse content from your feed

Today, three researchers at Facebook released a new study in Science titled “Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook.” The authors summarize their own findings in a companion blog post:

We found that people have friends who claim an opposing political ideology, and that the content in peoples’ News Feeds reflect those diverse views. While News Feed surfaces content that is slightly more aligned with an individual’s own ideology (based on that person’s actions on Facebook), who they friend and what content they click on are more consequential than the News Feed ranking in terms of how much diverse content they encounter.

As several commentators have noted, this framing is a little weird.

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the increasing penalty for not going to college

Sociologists and economists have long written about the college-non college wage gap. People who attended college, and especially college graduates, tend to make more money than those who did not. The way this gap is usually discussed is in terms of the “returns to a college degree” or the “college premium.” For example, Hout’s (2012) excellent Annual Review piece on the subject is titled “Social and Economic Returns to College Education in the United States.” There’s something about this framing that’s always bothered me.

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replication vs. robustness in social science

Economist Michael Clemens has posted a very useful working paper attempting to bring order to the chaotic discussions of replication tests in the social sciences. Clemens argues for a clean conceptual distinction between replication tests on the one hand, and robustness tests on the other. Continue reading

living social science.

Update (4/15/15): I’ve since heard that this idea emerged in a class at Price’s undergraduate institution, Seattle Pacific University (also where I became a Sociology major thanks to a class taught by another Price). In other words, having students consider how social science can inform their own lives and future decision-making as part of classes could have a tremendous impact on how they carry that knowledge into the world. Something academics should take seriously and cultivate.

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I have long been fascinated by quests to live out proscriptions (whether Oprah’s adviceThe Bible, or the myriad other things people decide to do and blog about for a year). When I read today’s headline about the CEO who was raising his lowest paid worker’s salary to $70,000, I was anything but fascinated. But tonight, a friend’s Facebook post inspired me to actually read the article.

Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity Payments isn’t only raising his employee’s salaries, he’s also lowering his own from 1 million to just $70,000. What inspired him to pull the lowest up and his own down?

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research on self-regulation and success.

As a follow-up to previous scatterplot discussions of impostorism, I thought that some readers might be interested in participating in an online study of faculty well-being, self-regulation, and the impostor phenomenon:

h/t: Shit Academics Say

caution about three-article dissertations

Over at The Evil EmpireOrgTheory, Fabio makes a case that, as a default, dissertations should take the form of three-paper (or, more generally N-paper) format. On the whole, I totally agree and think that the three-paper format helped me finish grad school and set me up well for my post-doc and life on tenure track.

But the conversation on three-paper dissertations (or, equivalently, “digital” dissertations in the humanities) often fails to address a major shortcoming of the three-paper format. The introduction and conclusion end up being anachronous appendages that weary students tack on at the end. Or, I should say, that a single particular weary student tacked on at the end of his dissertation.

It was not until I had a faculty position and read cover letters as part of the faculty search committee that I realized how I had screwed myself by tacking on an intro and conclusion. In my own letter I had failed to articulate what my research as a whole meant to the discipline and how I charted my own course for research. I had three pretty interesting empirical results and I dutifully described those. What I was missing, I realized, what a broader statement of overall relevance.

I believe that the three-article dissertation contributed to that lack of awareness. It affected my own cover letter and, I think, prevented me from getting more interviews. It didn’t deal a fatal blow to my career, after all I ended up in a great job. But it did limit my options when I entered the job market. In fact, I didn’t write a really cohesive research statement until I wrote my third-year review since that was the first time circumstances forced me, in a relatively concise way, to explain my contribution to the field.

As with any N of 1, especially with the measurement error that occurs when N=me, too many degrees of variables affect an outcome to certainly argue for a particular cause. And I believe that writing three articles established a direct, clear path of publications that helped me secure my post-doc and job that I now have. As with any benefit comes costs, and the three-article dissertation can come at the cost of thinking about larger research narratives. For that reason, I would caution advisors and advise grad students to think early in their candidacy about the larger narrative they construct with the three articles.

the hunting ground and the university as organization

The Hunting Ground is a new documentary about the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. It’s also a story of the birth of a new social movement targeting universities using innovative legal tactics alongside traditional organizing and protests. And in a gut-wrenching way, it’s a story about universities as organizations, and the dark side of the organizational imperative for self-protection and survival. In addition to being important for faculty to see in their roles as advisors, teachers, and participants in university governance, I think the film will also make an excellent teaching tool in a range of sociology classes on anything from sex and gender, to social movements, sociology of law, crime and deviance, and especially organizations. In theaters now!

And please use the comments as a place to discuss your thoughts on the film.

Edit: Comments are now closed.

sociology should look to political science, not economics

Sociologists, online and off, spend a lot of time comparing our discipline to economics and debating how it is they managed to become so prominent. The unstated goal, of course, is to make sociology itself more important. In terms of contemporary tactics for that disciplinary project, I wonder if we shouldn’t be looking to political science instead.

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fun with moocs: i “heart” stats

As many of you already know, I am leaving Notre Dame to become the provost at Marquette University in a couple of months.  I am really excited to get started there, but I have a couple of things to finish up here on the home front as well.  One of them is that I will be teaching Notre Dame’s first “MOOC”, which is supposed to be a super fun introduction to statistics.  Below is the trailer for the course, which I’m sure you’ll find entertaining.  It completely embodies my approach to teaching this course…You’ll have to decided, after watching it, if (a) Notre Dame will be glad to see me go, (b) anyone will learn anything from the course, or (c) if I will win an online-learning-Oscar (I’d call it a MOOCie) in the category of best overacting!

Oh, and you can sign up here if you want to actually take it!

fun with musical taste and identity

In my intro theory class yesterday I did an exercise using PollEverywhere to evoke associations between musical taste and identity. I played four musical pieces and asked the students to type free-text responses to “What kind of people like this song?”. Their responses were lots of fun, and I present them below in raw form for your enjoyment, interest, and comment.

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rapid response teaching

A young unarmed Black man was shot by a White police officer in Madison a week and a half ago (not that common an event here) and there have been a lot of protests and a lot of discussion here about this.We got feedback from our TAs that they wanted more support for dealing with these kinds of emotion-laden issues in the classroom. Partly just acknowledgement that many of them, as well as many of the students, had personal ties to the young man who was killed, or personal reasons to feel close to the matter. And partly advice and teaching resources for being ready to deal with both the immediate issue and the broader sociological context in class. I discussed the event and the protests and the broader context it in my class because it was relevant to the class topic and because I already knew a lot of the relevant background knowledge, but I did not do anything to share the information I had with anyone else. There was some agreement in our departmental discussion about a need for a system of rapid deployment of information from those instructors  with knowledge to those instructors who want knowledge (or who maybe need the knowledge whether they want it or not) about current events they may want to address in their classes. Or maybe the proactive accumulation of background information about issues that are likely to become “hot” that can be quickly accessed? Are there departments that have systems for this? We were tossing out ideas of using the discussion board features of desire2learn or a private blog.

Other important points from the discussion: Continue reading

academic hot takes

A post over at orgtheory reminded me of this nice bit by Jeff Goodwin:

Hypothesis number one: For any book to become widely cited today, let alone to influence how people think, it must be reducible to a few general and easily grasped formulations. Many texts are “formulated,” furthermore, not by their authors, but by more or less officially designated readers (call them DRs), including reviewers for academic journals. Books that cannot be formulaically summarized by DRs, accurately or otherwise, are unlikely to generate much discussion, let alone change minds.

The process of “formulation” typically results in simplifications, half-truths, and outright errors, particularly when DRs are ill-disposed toward a particular text. The more complex the text, moreover, the more simplification is essential if the “formulation” that is a prerequisite of broad influence is to occur at all. Ensuing “discussions” and “debates” about a particular text often build upon these simplifications, half-truths, and errors. Before long, scholars can be “influenced” by these “debates,” or even participate in them without having read the text supposedly at issue; one need simply familiarize oneself with the formulaic “summaries” and “discussions” of it that DRs have produced.

Hypothesis number two: No book can claim to be “influential” today until large numbers of people who have not read it (or have not read beyond its introduction) have strong opinions about it. In fact, some of the most frequently cited books are, paradoxically, not very widely (or closely) read at all.

Hypothesis number three: A text that actually had to be carefully read by large numbers of people in order to be “understood” would never become “influential.”

Goodwin, Jeff. 1996. “How to Become a Dominant American Social Scientist: The Case of Theda Skocpol.” Contemporary Sociology  293-295.

what are we measuring when we measure behavior? elementary school edition

Organizations (and/or authority figures within organizations) are frequently called on to make consequential decisions about individuals. These decisions range from who to admit to a selective undergraduate institution or graduate program to which mortgage applications to accept to which prisoners should be paroled. The organizations and individuals have at their disposal varying kinds of information, which are perceived as being differently valuable in making those decisions. For example, in undergraduate admissions, we may know a student’s GPA, their SAT score, their class rank, the extracurriculars they participated in, and so on. Some schools may value SAT highly, others GPA, etc. In the past few decades, there has been a decided turn towards looking at behavioral information as particularly valuable across a variety of fields, including finance (the turn to behavioral credit scoring, which relies primarily on variables like past defaults and late payments) and criminal justice.
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