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Posts in “Sociology”

Sat, Feb 15, 2014

Social Aspects of Success and Failure in Cultural Markets

This week on ATP, Marco and John had a discussion about Flappy Bird, the irritatingly addictive and unexpectedly successful iOS game that was pulled from the App Store by its developer at the height of its popularity. The hosts’ views shifted around a little during the discussion, but I think it’s fair to say that they had a basic difference of opinion. Marco thought that, at bottom, the game succeeded for good reasons having to do with its own design.
Thu, Jan 23, 2014

Plain Text Papers Pandoc

Over the past few months, I’ve had several people ask me about the tools I use to put papers together. I maintain a page of resources somewhat grandiosely headed “Writing and Presenting Social Science”. Really it just makes public some configuration files and templates for my text editor and related tools. Things have changed a little recently—which led to people asking the questions—so I will try to lay out the current setup here.
Sun, Nov 17, 2013

Two New Papers

Here are two new papers from me. The first, co-authored with Marion Fourcade, is “Classification Situations.” It’s forthcoming in Accounting, Organizations, and Society. Here’s the abstract: This article examines the stratifying effects of economic classifications. We argue that in the neoliberal era market institutions increasingly use actuarial techniques to split and sort individuals into classification situations that shape life-chances. While this is a general and increasingly pervasive process, our main empirical illustration comes from the transformation of the credit market in the United States.
Tue, Oct 8, 2013

MIT Sociology

The Chronicle reports on a new ranking of “Faculty Media Impact” conducted by the Center for a Public Anthropology. The ranking “seeks to quantify how often professors engage with the public through the news media” and was done by trawling Google News to see which faculty were mentioned in the media most often. The numbers were averaged and “and then ranked relative to the federal funds their programs had received” to get the ordering.
Wed, Sep 25, 2013

The Golden Age of LISREL

Jim Moody and I are writing an article on data visualization in Sociology. Here’s a picture that won’t be in the final version, but I like it all the same.
Wed, Sep 4, 2013

A Word on Critical Realism

Note: The original version of this post, with lots of comments including several follow-ups, clarifications, and further argument from me can be found at OrgTheory. A very useful contribution by Omar Lizardo can also be found there. Seeing as Fabio has promoted some off-the-cuff remarks I made on Twitter about Critical Realism, I suppose I should say something a little more about it. All the moreso seeing as some anonymous commenters have been getting quite huffy at the very idea that anyone who called themselves an academic could make a dismissive comment without, presumably, devoting themselves full-time to “thoughtful debate and analysis” on the work in question.
Fri, Aug 16, 2013

Academic Feedback

As the Fall semester is about to begin, here again by popular demand are your invaluable, comprehensive, and wholly accurate twin guides to Interpreting Feedback. First—which, with the exception of a few lines, I didn’t write—is The American Grad Student’s Guide to Interpreting Feedback from Faculty Trained in Britain and Ireland: Click for a larger version. And second, its counterpart, The European Grad Student’s Guide to Interpreting Feedback from American Faculty: Click for a larger version.
Mon, Jun 24, 2013

Citation Networks in Philosophy: Some Followup

June 26th, 2013. I’ve corrected some errors in the dataset. They changes don’t effect the substance of the post. All of these involve merging variant citations to the same work. Notable changes in the graph are the increased prominence of Davidson (1980), van Inwagen (1990), Putnam (1975), and (to a lesser degree), Wittgenstein (1953). I thank Brad Wray for drawing my attention to some of these errors. Last week’s posts on A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy and Lewis and the Women generated a fair amount of discussion amongst philosophers, and I also got quite a few emails.
Wed, Jun 19, 2013

Lewis and the Women

Corrections and Changes as of June 26th, 2013: See the end of the post for details on some corrections and changes to the analysis. In the previous post I promised I would say something about the influence of David Lewis, and also something about citation frequency by gender. Some caveats at the outset. First, as I said before, this is exploratory work. I’m still in the process of cleaning the data and correcting mistakes, so things may change (although hopefully just around the margins).
Tue, Jun 18, 2013

A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy

Corrections and Changes as of June 26th, 2013: See the end of the post for details on some changes and fixes to errors in the data. What have philosophers been talking about for the last two decades? I’m asking—and presenting an answer to—this question partly out of an ongoing research interest in philosophy, partly out of some recent “Does anyone know …?” questions I’ve been asked, and partly to play with some new text-processing and visualization methods.
Tue, Jun 11, 2013

Following up on Paul Revere

Yesterday’s post on Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere really caught fire. It’s still going, in fact, and it will probably break a hundred thousand unique pageviews some time this afternoon. It’s always exciting and a little anxiety-making when something like that happens. Overall, I’m delighted that the response has been so positive. By way of follow-up, I’d just say that it’s a single post that was meant to make a point in an accessible and hopefully entertaining way.
Sun, Jun 9, 2013

Using Metadata to find Paul Revere

London, 1772. I have been asked by my superiors to give a brief demonstration of the surprising effectiveness of even the simplest techniques of the new-fangled Social Networke Analysis in the pursuit of those who would seek to undermine the liberty enjoyed by His Majesty’s subjects. This is in connection with the discussion of the role of “metadata” in certain recent events and the assurances of various respectable parties that the government was merely “sifting through this so-called metadata” and that the “information acquired does not include the content of any communications”.
Tue, Mar 26, 2013

Sociology Rankings and the Fabio Effect

When I posted the Sociology Department Rankings for 2013 I joked that Indiana made it to the Top 10 “due solely to Fabio mobilizing a team of role-playing enthusiasts to relentlessly vote in the survey. (This is speculation on my part.)” Well, some further work with the dataset on the bus this morning suggests that the Fabio Effect is something to be reckoned with after all. The dataset we collected has—as best we can tell—635 respondents.
Mon, Mar 25, 2013

Sociology Department Rankings for 2013

Last week we launched the OrgTheory/AAI 2013 Sociology Department Ranking Survey, taking advantage of Matt Salganik’s excellent All Our Ideas service to generate sociology rankings based on respondents making multiple pairwise comparisons between department. That is, questions of the form “In your judgment, which of the following is the better Sociology department?” followed by a choice between two departments. Amongst other advantages, this method tends to get you a lot of data quickly.
Thu, Mar 14, 2013

U.S. News's Small N Problem

While we’re running our Crowdsourced Sociology Rankings, people have been looking a little more closely at the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Over at Scatterplot, Neal Caren points out that U.S. News’s methods page has some details on the survey sample size and response rates. They’re bad: Surveys were conducted in fall 2012 by Ipsos Public Affairs … Questionnaires were sent to department heads and directors of graduate studies (or, alternatively, a senior faculty member who teaches graduate students) at schools that had granted a total of five or more doctorates in each discipline during the five-year period from 2005 through 2009, as indicated by the 2010 “Survey of Earned Doctorates.” … The surveys asked about Ph.D.
Wed, Mar 13, 2013

Crowdsourcing Sociology Department Rankings: 2013 Edition

As many of you are by now aware, U.S. News and World Report released the 2013 Edition of its Sociology Rankings this week. I find rankings fascinating, not least because of what you might call the “legitimacy ratchet” they implement. Winners insist rankings are absurd but point to their high placing on the list. Here’s a nice example of that from the University of Michigan. The message here is, “We’re not really playing, but of course if we were we’d be winning.” Losers, meanwhile, either remain silent (thus implicitly accepting their fate) or complain about the methods used, and leave themselves open to accusations of sour grapes or bad faith.
Sat, Jan 12, 2013

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz took his own life yesterday. He was twenty six. Like many millions of writers and internet users, I use things every day that he had a hand in creating, improving, or catalyzing, whether directly or indirectly, well-known or less so: RSS, Markdown, JSTOR, other things. Like many thousands of people, I had some contact with him via email, blogs, and twitter over the years. I gave him some data he asked for once.
Fri, Jan 11, 2013

Invisible Men

Over the years I’ve written about the work of Bruce Western, Becky Pettit, Chris Uggen, and other scholars who study mass incarceration in the United States. By now, the basic outlines of the phenomenon are pretty well established and, I hope, widely known. Two features stand out: its sheer scale, and its disproportionate concentration amongst young, unskilled black men. It should be astonishing to say that more than one percent of all American adults are incarcerated, and that this rate is without equal in the country’s history and without peer internationally.
Thu, Dec 20, 2012

The New York Times and the OECD

Update: See the addendum at the end of this post for the response I got from the Times. Yesterday I got an email from an editorial assistant at the Times: Hi Professor Healy, We are publishing a column today that may reference the data you use here in your post here: http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2012/12/18/assault-death-rates-in-america-some-follow-up/ You mention that the OECD stats are gated — any chance you could share them with us, for fact checking purposes?
Tue, Dec 18, 2012

Assault Death Rates in America: Some Follow-Up

The Newtown elementary school shooting led people to link to and share my graphs of OECD and CDC data on assault deaths in the United States. I made them last July, in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting. What a depressing reason to be in the newspapers. Here are the original posts: America is a Violent Country, and Assault Deaths Within the United States. The original posts clearly explain what the data show and what the sources are.
Tue, Nov 13, 2012

The Long Shadow of the X-Case

The Irish Times reports the death of a 31 year-old woman last month in Galway, as a result of being denied an abortion: Savita Halappanavar (31), a dentist, presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st, was found to be miscarrying, and died of septicaemia a week later. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar (34), an engineer at Boston Scientific in Galway, says she asked several times over a three-day period that the pregnancy be terminated.
Tue, Sep 4, 2012

The Sources of Social Power

{{% img src=“http://kieranhealy.org/files/misc/mann-vol-3.jpg Mann vol #3 %} I’m teaching Weber next week in my social theory class. This afternoon I uploaded some of the recommended reading to the class website—a longish excerpt from the first volume of Michael Mann’s The Sources of Social Power, a book which made a big impression on me when I read it as an undergraduate. It didn’t turn me in to a Big Structures/Huge Comparisons guy, if for no other reason than the ambition it entailed seemed so gigantic, but of all the products of the so-called “Golden Age” of macro-sociology, *Sources*—and the first volume in particular—seemed to come closest to fulfilling Weber’s vision for what really big-picture sociology could be.
Tue, Aug 21, 2012

This Year's Theory Syllabus Leaves Out More Than Ever

I’m teaching our required Graduate Social Theory course again this semester. This year I decided I’d snub not just monomanical German system-builders but French Weberians as well. No Foucault for you! I should have started a “What, no x?” sidebet before posting it. In the syllabus, I present a justification for my sins. An excerpt: Like many programs in our field, Duke’s Sociology department requires its graduate students complete a one-semester survey course in social (or “sociological” theory).
Mon, Aug 13, 2012

Bingo in Utopia

Will there be Bingo in Utopia? It is hard to say. The emancipatory potential of bingo as praxis has been criticized from the earliest days of modern social theory. In 1862 Marx was prompted to write the first draft of what became Theories of Surplus Value during very straitened financial circumstances (he had pawned the clothes of his children and his maid, Helene Demuth) brought on mostly by clandestine visits to an East London bingo emporium, where he would play games of “Housey-Housey” while his wife Jenny believed him to be at the British Library conducting research.
Mon, Aug 13, 2012

After Taking Beyond the Relational Paradox of Bringing it Back in Seriously Revisited

Some things people are Bringing Back In at ASA 2012 later this week: Animals, Hegel, Gender, Migration, Utopia, Materiality, the Generalized Other, Theory. Some things we are going Beyond at ASA 2012 later this week: the Glass Ceiling, Geneticization, the Individual, Growth and Neoliberalism, the Normal v Deviant, the Cost Structure, the Fact/Value antagonism, the Black/White divide. Some things we are After at ASA 2012 later this week: Globalization, 9/11, Gouldner, the Flood, the Afterschool Special, Socialism, Retirement, Occupy.
Sat, Jul 28, 2012

Olympics Trolling

It’s that happy time when I whine about American television coverage of the Olympics. This year’s whining has a new twist—beyond the usual complaints about sentimental crap and tape-delay—given the lack of decent streaming options absent a pre-existing subscription to some cable channels. But it’s also the time when I’m reminded of my existing personal prejudices about sports, when I may discover new ones (as new events are added), and when I try to figure out whether there’s any defensible rationale to my preferences.
Sat, Jul 21, 2012

Assault Deaths within the United States

Trends in the Death Rate from Assault, 1999–2009, by Region. Click for a larger PNG or PDF. Update: You can click here for some further followup to this post, answering some common questions. The chart in “America is a Violent Country” has been getting a lot of circulation. Time to follow up with some more data. As several commentators at CT noted, the death rate from assault in the U.S. is not uniform within the country.
Fri, Jul 20, 2012

America is a Violent Country

Update (December 2012). For answers to some frequently-asked questions about this post, see this follow-up discussion. The terrible events in Colorado this morning prompted me to update an old post about comparative death rates from assault across different societies. The following figures are from the OECD for deaths due to assault per 100,000 population from 1960 to the present. As before, the most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S.
Fri, Jul 13, 2012

The Neighborhood in your People

Via John Siracusa, a really nice exercise in crowdsourcing and data visualization on Bostonography. we’re running an ongoing project soliciting opinions on Boston’s neighborhood boundaries via an interactive map. We want to keep collecting data, but we’ve already received excellent responses that we’re itching to start mapping, and when we hit 300 submissions recently it seemed like a good enough milestone to take a crack at it. (That’s actually 300 minus some junk data.
Wed, May 16, 2012

The Fragile Network of Econ Soc Course Readings

The current issue of Accounts has an interesting article by Dan Wang called “Is there a Canon in Economic Sociology?”. It’s a study of the contents of more than fifty Econ Soc syllabuses looking to discover which authors are most often assigned. (I don’t remember seeing the call for the data, which is odd.) There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there, including a variety of measures of “canonicity” and different ways of counting the importance of different texts and authors.
Mon, May 14, 2012

Gayja Vu

Michael Dorf and Sid Tarrow have an Op-Ed piece today on CNN titled “How the right helped launch same-sex marriage movement.” It’s a clever argument about the role that the conservative movement played in galvanizing and even decisively re-orienting the direction taken by one of its antagonists, to its likely long-run cost: How, in less than a decade, did America go from being a country in which some states punished gay sex with criminal penalties to one in which the highest elected official in the land now champions the right of same-sex couples to marry?
Sun, May 6, 2012

Practical and Theoretical Knowledge

My friend Jason Stanley has a blog post up at the New York Times’s Opinionator section that might be of interest to you social theorists out there. Jason’s a philosopher of language who teaches at Rutgers. He attacks a distinction which is by now extremely well-entrenched in social theory generally and in specific theories of action in the sociology of culture, the sociology of organizations, and elsewhere—namely, the distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge: Humans are thinkers, and humans are doers.
Mon, Apr 23, 2012

Updates to the Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences

I’ve made some updates to the Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences. The kit builds on Phil Hagelberg’s original and Eric Schulte’s org-mode version, and incorporates some packages and settings that are particularly useful for the social sciences. See the Starter Kit’s Homepage for more details. The new version requires Emacs 24, which is not quite officially released but is in very good shape. See the project page for more information about what’s included in the starter kit and how to install it.
Fri, Mar 23, 2012

Departmental and Specialty Affinities net of Reputation

The two-sided quality of the connection between departments and specialties invites us to find ways of visualizing them both at the same time. But the large number of departments and specialties makes it tricky to generate interpretable pictures. There is a large family of methods designed to map multidimensional data onto just a couple of dimensions. Here I’ll take one of the more straightforward ways of doing this and apply it to the 2006 data.
Thu, Mar 22, 2012

Ratings and Field Position

I want to get to the department-level stuff today instead of just looking at the raters, but I promised yesterday that I’d say something about the relationship between the field position of raters and their voting patterns. As with specialty areas, where you stand might depend on where you sit. If we slice raters into groups based on the PGR rating of their employer, we can calculate overall PGR scores based just on the votes from within each group, as we did with the specialty areas.
Thu, Mar 22, 2012

A Not Quite Satisfactory Way of Looking at Departments and Specialties

One of the nice features of the PGR data is the duality in the relationship between departments and specialties. Departmental identities are defined in part by the kind of specialized work that gets done in them. The identity of areas is associated with particular departments and schools (with a large or small ’s’). The PGR data lets us see some of this association, and of course also make the link between this relationship and overall status.
Wed, Mar 21, 2012

Rating and Specialties

Yesterday we saw that raters come mostly from the top half of of PGR ranked schools, with a good chunk of them from very highly-ranked schools. We also saw that specialty areas are not equally represented in the rater pool. (Specialty areas are not equally represented within departments, either, because not all subfields have equal status—more on that later.) Are voting patterns in the 2006 data connected to the social location of raters?
Tue, Mar 20, 2012

About the Raters

As it does for the current report, the 2006 rankings listed the names and affiliations of those who participated in the report, along with the survey instrument and a bit of information about the response patterns of raters. Based on this information, we can say a little bit about where the raters come from. For example, in 2006 about sixty five percent of raters were based in the U.S., eighteen percent in the UK, eight percent in Canada, five percent in Australia or New Zealand, and the small remainder elsewhere.
Mon, Mar 19, 2012

Greetings, Philosophers

I come in peace. As Brian mentioned last week, I’m going to be guesting on his blog for the next few days. For those of you who don’t know me—which I imagine is most of you—I am a sociologist; I teach at Duke University both in my home department and the Kenan Institute for Ethics; and for the past nine years or so I’ve been a blogger at Crooked Timber. Initially, I was tempted to treat this gig in the way that people tend to treat philosophers they meet in bars—viz, aggressively tell you all what my philosophy is, perhaps make a truly original joke that comes with fries, or maybe sketch out my own interpretation of two-dimensionalism.
Mon, Mar 5, 2012

Obituaries for Philosophers in the New York Times since 2000

The philosopher Ruth Marcus died two weeks ago, but—as Brian Leiter noted—no obituary for her has appeared in a major newspaper. Michael Della Rocca and some colleagues have circulated a letter calling on the New York Times to rectify this, which I agree they should. In the comments over at Feminist Philosophers, Catarina asks how many of the philosophers who did get an obituary in the NYT were women. In partial answer, I looked at the number of obituaries that have appeared in the Times since 2000 of people who were described primarily as philosophers.
Thu, Dec 8, 2011

Books I Did Not Read This Year: An Ebook

I’ve been using the Readmill ebook reader on-and-off. I like it quite a bit. Using it prompted me to make an ebook of my own. Because I moved this entire blog over to Octopress a little while ago, everything I’ve ever written on it going back to 2002 is now in Markdown format. So over lunch today I took advantage of John MacFarlane’s amazingly useful Pandoc, which can make EUPB format ebooks out of markdown files, selected thirteen posts from the Archives and made a little anthology called Books I Did Not Read This Year.
Tue, Nov 22, 2011

US Road Accident Fatalities

From ITO comes this very nice—and very sobering—map of road accident fatalities in the United States between 2001 and 2009. As someone who wrote a book about blood and organ donation in Europe and the United States, I’ve spent time analyzing NHTSA data on traffic accidents. I remember that, during Q&As at talks, people were often surprised to learn just how many road deaths there are in the U.S.: about forty thousand per annum (though 2009 saw a very sharp drop, interestingly).
Mon, Oct 10, 2011

A Sociology of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs had charisma. What does that mean? Narrowly, it means something about the force of the man’s personality and its effects on those who worked for him at Apple. More broadly, it has something to do with his gradual emergence as a cultural icon over the past decade. The wave of emotion that washed across the Internet following the news of his death is evidence of how important he was to many people.
Fri, Aug 26, 2011

The Performativity of Networks

Prompted in part by some conversations at the ASA meetings, in part by Gabriel’s discussion of the Social Structures author-meets-critics session, and in part by some gentle prodding from Cosma Shalizi, here’s a current draft of a paper of mine, The Performativity of Networks, that I’ve been sitting on for rather too long. Here’s the abstract: The “performativity thesis” is the claim that parts of contemporary economics and finance, when carried out into the world by professionals and popularizers, reformat and reorganize the phenomena they purport to describe, in ways that bring the world into line with theory.
Tue, Aug 16, 2011

Your ASA Vegas Bingo Card

The ASA’s Annual Conference is this weekend. I’m flying in from Sydney, so if I see you there and don’t recognize you, or fall asleep at your talk, or forget my own name, then please accept my apologies in advance. This year it’s being held at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, which may be the most exciting thing to happen to professional sociology since Ulysses G. Weatherly took Edward A. Ross out to a disastrous surprise birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant in 1899.
Mon, Aug 8, 2011

Markets for Organs

Here’s a short inverview/profile thing I did recently for the “Good Question” series that the Kenan Institute for Ethics has been doing. There was a high-concept photo-shoot and everything, so if you’ve ever wanted to see me hanging around in a junkyard warehouse surrounded by various spare parts (I’m sure you see the connection here), then now’s your chance.
Sun, Jul 17, 2011

"What I mean is that I have Marx in my bones and you have him in your mouth"

Via Chris, on Twitter (I hope I’m not preempting him here), an Open Letter from a Keynesian to a Marxist by Joan Robinson, and “Zombie Marx”, an essay by Mike Beggs. Here is Robinson, writing in 1953: I was a student at a time when vulgar economics was in a particularly vulgar state. … There was Great Britain with never less than a million workers unemployed, and there was I with my supervisor teaching me that it is logically impossible to have unemployment because of Say’s Law.
Mon, Jun 13, 2011

Pass the Ferrero Rocher

Via Jonathan Davis on the Twitter, the Registration form for the Royal Opera House, which comes with the best drop-down box ever devised. Choose your title! I fear “HE The French Ambassador M” may be taken, however.
Wed, Jun 8, 2011

Durkheim and Religious Experience

Andy Perrin has a post at Scatterplot about the value of religious experience to sociology. I started writing a comment on it but it got a little out of hand, so here it is as a post. The context is Andy’s argument that religious experience is an amazingly widespread social phenomenon, and it has a sui generis quality to it that makes it difficult to explain without some sort of experiential link.
Sun, May 22, 2011

I'm shocked. Shocked.

Oh look, some evidence that inflammatory claims in something written by Satoshi Kanazawa may not rest on the deep structure of reality or spring from his special ability to speak uncomfortable truths, but may instead arise from an inability to analyze AddHealth data properly. I for one am stunned.
Tue, May 3, 2011

Six Degrees of Danish Bacon

The current issue of New Left Review has an article by Franco Moretti applying a bit of network analysis to the interactions within some pieces of literature. Here is the interaction network in Hamlet, with a tie being defined by whether the characters speak to one another. (Notice that this means that, e.g., Rosencrantz and Guildenstern do not have a tie, even though they’re in the same scenes.) And here is Hamlet without Hamlet: I think we can safely say that he is a key figure in the network.
Thu, Apr 28, 2011

Durkheim goes to the Royal Wedding

By way of Stewart Lee in the Guardian: Once upon a time, royal marriages were political acts that forged links between different nations. Instead, William and Kate’s wedding will bind this nation to itself, and in marrying so very far beneath himself, I believe the young prince has made a heroic and deliberate sacrifice to achieve this end. … The Fisher King must search the devastated terrain for the Holy Grail, and drink from it to heal the land.
Tue, Apr 26, 2011

Harold Garfinkel

Harold Garfinkel, who brought phenomenology back to the core of social theory, died last week in Los Angeles. His best-known work, Studies in Ethnomethodology, has led a double life. It’s put to work in introductory courses so that people can read about breaching experiments, and maybe do some minor ones themselves while pining for the days before IRBs. Here its contents are often played for laughs, or the general lesson that social life is a funny old thing and simultaneously more rulebound and more fragile than one might expect.
Fri, Apr 15, 2011

The Statistical Abstract of the United States

I saw this report go by on the Twitter saying that, in the wake of the latest budget deal, the Census Bureau is planning on eliminating the Statistical Abstract of the United States, pretty much the single most useful informational document the Government produces. The report says, When readying the FY2011 budget, the Census Bureau tapped teams to do thorough, systematic program reviews looking for efficiencies and cost savings. Priorities for programs were set according to mission criticality, and some cuts were made to the economic statistics program.
Thu, Apr 7, 2011

A Call for the ASA to Increase its Transparency

There’s now a petition at http://asatransparency.org requesting a better explanation from ASA for its proposed dues increase, which would make the organization about the most expensive social science association to join for people across the income spectrum. If you feel ASA should do more to explain and justify this increase to its members—which is of course consistent with either supporting or opposing the increase itself—please consider signing the petition.
Fri, Apr 1, 2011

Workflow Articles in "The Political Methodologist"

I’ve written a few times before about how to choose the software you work with, and what you should and should not care about when making those choices. I maintain a page with various resources related to this, if you’re interested, most notably the Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences. A revised version of an article of mine on this topic called “Choosing Your Workflow Applications”, which I’ve had online for a while, has now been published in The Political Methodologist, the newsletter of the Society for Political Methodology.
Thu, Mar 31, 2011

A comparative look at ASA membership costs and benefits

A number of people have been asking—or asserting—things about the relative cost of membership in the ASA as compared to peer organizations. This post provides some data about comparative membership costs and benefits. First, a comparison of current and proposed ASA membership fees with peer organizations that also have a sliding scale of membership costs. Not all of the ASA’s peer organizations have sliding scales: several simply charge a flat rate.
Fri, Mar 25, 2011

The ASA Loophole and the unfairness of AEA dues

While looking again at the proposed changes to the ASA’s dues, I noticed that, under the new scheme, a few lucky duckies will pay nothing at all. How is this possible, you ask? Consider the table: As you can see, for those sociologists lucky enough to earn between $125,000 and $125,998 per annum, the new system requires them to pay no dues at all. What a great deal! Speaking of good deals, it’s worth comparing the generous terms of the new ASA dues structure to what’s currently on offer from the American Economic Association.
Wed, Mar 23, 2011

The Dues are Too Damn High

Jeremy comments on the proposed large increase in ASA dues set out in this month’s Footnotes issue. To be honest, I think the “Rationale” for the increase in terms of fairness and progressivity comes across as a piece of sanctimonious handwaving. To be clear, I am completely in favor of a tiered, progressive system of membership dues for the ASA. The Footnotes article convinced me that the income brackets in the current system are outdated, and that they should be changed.
Mon, Mar 21, 2011

The Vertiginous Regressivity of Choice

G.A. Cohen on the German Ideal of Freedom: If logic is more your thing, there is also a lecture by Alfred Tarski, a tutorial with Gilbert Ryle, or a boxing match between John Roemer and Jurgen Habermas.
Tue, Mar 8, 2011

Content Strategy and the Birth of Occupations

This morning I listened to an interesting interview on one of Dan Benjamin’s shows. He was talking to Erin Kissane about her new book, The Elements of Content Strategy. Say you are using a website to communicate something to someone, or enable communication between a group of people, or both. The something you are conveying or facilitating is your content. According to Kissane, the job of a “content strategist” is to figure out how best to make sure that content is assembled, presented, and maintained in a way that’s appropriate to its audience.
Mon, Mar 7, 2011

Karpik's "Valuing the Unique"

Lucien Karpik’s Valuing the Unique: The Economics of Singularities came out with Princeton University Press recently. From the book jacket: Singularities are goods and services that cannot be studied by standard methods because they are multidimensional, incommensurable, and of uncertain quality. Examples include movies, novels, music, artwork, fine wine, lawyers, and doctors. Valuing the Unique provides a theoretical framework to explain this important class of products and markets that for so long have eluded neoclassical economics.
Tue, Mar 1, 2011

The American Sociological Association has Interest Rate Swap Obligations?

Update (March 2nd): The ASA has just posted their audit statements for the past two years. Looks like someone from HQ was reading Prof. Disgruntled. My pet Theory of Professional Academic Associations is that the discipline’s organizational life inverts its core intellectual commitments. Thus, Political Science is the discipline of government and especially of democracy. Yet, the last time I checked, all of the high-level positions in APSA are decided by committee deals rather than free and fair elections by the membership.
Thu, Feb 10, 2011

Income Growth Shares over Time

A useful bit of interactive data visualization for Emmanuel Saez’s time-series on historical trends in income growth and distribution in the United States. As you can see, between 1970 and 2008 people in the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution typically chose not to partake of annual increases in total income, presumably because of a tendency to prefer and thus self-select into lower-paying jobs, or possibly because of an innate dislike for the more complex mathematics (surrounding tax calculations, car payments, and budgeting generally) that is associated with earning more money.
Wed, Jan 26, 2011

Daniel Bell

Daniel Bell has died at the age of ninety one. The New York Times has an obituary, and I’m sure there will be more to follow elsewhere. I heard a story once about Bell being asked what he specialized in. “Generalizations”, he replied. But not the sterile, merely verbal generalizations of something like structural-functionalism. Bell was prepared to sick his neck out. This meant he could get things wrong. His cultural criticism in particular has not aged well: his worries about “aggressive female sexuality”, for instance, or his view that the “new sound” of the Beatles made it “impossible to hear oneself think, and that may indeed have been its intention” are unlikely to play so well today.
Wed, Jan 12, 2011

Sociology Department Rankings: Now with Added Legitimacy

So, where should you go to find sociology rankings? The NRC? No. U.S. News and World Report? Perhaps, if you also need to catch up on AARP-related news and events. Google, however, shows a new player in the game: So there you have it. If you search for sociology department rankings you’ll find OrgTheory-related material is the first and third hit, with US News managing 2nd (for now) and NRC back somewhere in the dust.
Tue, Jan 11, 2011

Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences: Now Easier to Install

New in nerdery this week, it’s now a bit easier to install the Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences that I put together (based on lots of great work by Phil Hagelberg and, more recently, Eric Schulte). In the past, the fact that AucTeX was both necessary and had to be compiled locally made for some awkward steps in the installation. But AucTeX is now part of the new Emacs Package Manager, so it’s possible to install it automatically.
Tue, Jan 11, 2011

Two Syllabuses

In Spring a young man’s fancy turns to love. Rapidly aging academics such as myself, however, have to decide which readings to assign. This semester I’m teaching Organizations and Management to students in Duke’s MMS certificate program and Markets and Moral Order to a small group of seniors at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Both classes were a lot of fun last year (perhaps not for the students). I’ve rearranged the running order in the Orgs course a bit, as the flow was wrong last time.
Tue, Jan 11, 2011

Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences now gets ESS via ELPA

More starter kit stuff. Up till now, the Emacs Starter Kit for the Social Sciences included ESS, but bundled it with the git repo. A better option would be to have it installed via the package mechanism, like AucTeX is now, but it’s not included. The ELPA system is allows you to specify repositories besides the official ones, so I’ve created a repository on my own site containing just ESS. I’ve updated the starter kit to include a pointer to it, so now on first install the kit will pull in ESS from there, and compile it for you.
Sun, Jan 9, 2011

Crowdsourcing Sociology Department Rankings

I think we can all agree that the NRC rankings were a disaster. So, Steve Vaisey and I think that we can generate a new list from scratch. Using Matt Salganik’s excellent “All Our Ideas” site, we’ve set up a tool for pairwise comparison of Sociology Departments. The goal is to get as many head-to-head snap judgments as possible. You can vote as many times as you like — in fact, it’s encouraged.
Fri, Jan 7, 2011

Viviana Zelizer on gifts of money

Here’s a very nice Op-Ed from Viviana Zelizer on what (if I remember rightly) Michel Callon once described as the central question that animates her thinking in economic sociology: can one give money as a gift? The key to the problem, early 20th-century gift-givers found, was to camouflage money inside a traditional gift. This took effort and it had nothing to do with efficiency, but it enabled people to elevate the gift of cash.
Thu, Dec 9, 2010

PowerBook 145B vs MacBook Air 11"

PB145 vs MBA 11, originally uploaded by kjhealy. I bought an 11” MacBook Air last month, and I really like it. Thanks to the solid-state drive it’s quicker than it has any right to be. The only thing I missed from my MBP was the infra-red receiver — I bought an old Keyspan Keynote Remote instead, which works perfectly with RemoteBuddy. (The dedicated remote is more convenient than using a phone, and RemoteBuddy lets you do useful things like flip through slides without showing them on the projector screen, which is handy during lectures and the Q&A after talks.) I wanted, though, to see how the Air would fare in a simple test against one of its ancestors.
Tue, Aug 31, 2010

Another year, another theory syllabus

I’m teaching graduate social theory again this semester, and I ended up taking a hatchet to the syllabus. This time round we’re looking at things more thematically than chronologically, because I decided I didn’t want to be doing the History of Ideas all the time. Comments, suggestions, incoherent grunting, and bitter laughter at the sad, sad, state of the field are welcome.
Fri, May 14, 2010

Actually, having one Identity for yourself is a Breaching Experiment

This should really be a comment to Henry’s post, but I have the keys to this car, so I’m going to drive it, too. We have Zuckerberg’s remark: “You have one identity,”… “The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” He adds: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” Michael Zimmer and danah boyd comment.
Wed, May 5, 2010

Presumed Consent in Theory and Practice

Nurse & Lawyer have a dialog on the Room for Debate roundtable on presumed consent. During the conversation, they say the following about my contribution: Nurse: One of the panelists, Kieran Healy from Duke, makes what amounts to a ridiculous argument that this law will rekindle fears that surgeons are standing over sick people with hack saws, waiting to harvest their organs, and that they might just take them even if you’re not truly gone.
Mon, May 3, 2010

Room for Debate on Presumed Consent

I have a short contribution up about presumed consent and organ donation over at the New York Times’s Room for Debate Section. If you are interested in following up some of the ideas, see this blog post or this law review article.
Sat, Apr 10, 2010

The AGIL Turkey

Robert Paul Wolff — the well-known philosopher of politics and political economy, late convert to Afro-American studies, and author of some very good books including the best explanation of how to approach Marx’s ironic, sarcasm-laced prose style — has lately been keeping a blog, and writing his memoirs. There are some very good stories, mostly about philosophers. Most sociologists are unaware that Talcott Parsons’ son Charles Parsons is a well-respected philosopher of logic, mathematics and language.
Thu, Mar 4, 2010

Lists and Loops in R

Following up on some work Gabriel has been doing, here’s a way to accomplish the same sort of thing, with less reliance on loops and more on functions that work on lists. Also, a way to manage the conversion of the .png files to an animated .gif without having to manually rename files. As I say in the comments over at Code and Culture, if the code works as a loop there’s not necessarily a strong reason to vectorize it, but I’d be interested to see whether this approach was at all faster.
Tue, Feb 16, 2010

Easily display information about R objects in Emacs/ESS

I found this post that provides a nice function for conveniently showing some information about R objects in ESS mode. ESS already shows some information about functions as you type them (in the status bar) but this has wider scope. Move the point over an R object (a function, a data frame, etc), hit C-c C-g and a tooltip pops up showing some relevant information about the object, such as the arguments a function takes or a basic summary for a vector and so on.
Fri, Feb 5, 2010

Crocodile Tears Lie Thick on the Page of the American Political Science Review

I was reading Cohen, March & Olsen’s “A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice” this week and, by coincidence, also looked at some of World Society: The Writings of John Meyer, a collection of Meyer’s most important work edited and introduced by Georg Krücken and Gili Drori. Sadly it is far, far too expensive and only available in hardback at the moment. (I got it after reviewing a manuscript for Oxford.) In “Reflections: Institutional Theory and World Society”, Meyer takes on a string of critics.
Thu, Jan 28, 2010

Not your Father's Communicative Action

Here is Jürgen Habermas’ Twitter feed. No, really. One can’t quite be sure, of course (maybe a German speaker can point to some coverage of this in the German press?), but it seems on the level. If so (even if it’s him via an assistant), that is pretty outstanding, because my ASA Publications Committee slogan can now be “Jürgen Habermas is on Twitter but ASR still requires paper submissions”. Update: Looks like I need a new slogan.
Thu, Jan 21, 2010

Naturalizing the Social, and Vice Versa

Via Cosma Shalizi, reports of a very interesting piece of work: Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour, C. Eisenegger, M. Naef, R. Snozzi, M. Heinrichs & E. Fehr, Nature 463, 356-359 (21 January 2010). The abstract: Both biosociological and psychological models, as well as animal research, suggest that testosterone has a key role in social interactions^1,^^2,^^3,^^4,^^5,^^6,^^7^. Evidence from animal studies in rodents shows that testosterone causes aggressive behaviour towards conspecifics^7^.
Thu, Jan 7, 2010

Top Jobs

Via Brian Leiter, a list of the 200 Best Occupations ranks Actuary at #1, Historian at #5, and then, a little further down, this: I guess if the Life of the Mind is good, it follows that the the Life of the Head must be even better.
Tue, Dec 22, 2009

Presumed Consent Again

Some work of mine on presumed and informed consent for organ donation has been picked up by Catherine Rampell at the New York Times’ Economix blog. It’s a good summary of the paper. I’ve discussed this stuff before on CT, in the context of the possible introduction of a presumed consent rule in Britain.
Wed, Dec 2, 2009

The Scottish Verdict

A prompt from Dan Hirschman made me dig up this review essay on Donald MacKenzie’s An Engine, Not a Camera. A shorter version appeared ages ago on OrgTheory, and this version never quite got finished, but some people have found the discussion useful so here it is as a PDF.
Sun, Nov 29, 2009

Minarets in Switzerland

I hadn’t been following the story of Switzerland’s efforts to ban the construction of minarets. Switzerland has about 400,000 muslims and — though there are many mosques — precisely four minarets. The referendum succeeded by a comfortable majority. As you can see from the poster, the rights of women under Islam were pointed to as a reason to support the ban. The Guardian reports that the pro-ban SPP said that going to the European court would breach the popular sovereignty that underpins the Swiss democratic model and tradition … It dismissed the arguments about freedom or religion, asserting that minarets were not a religious but a political symbol, and the thin end of a wedge that would bring sharia law to the country, with forced marriages, “honour” killings, female genital mutilation and oppression of women … The prohibition also found substantial support on the left and among secularists worried about the status of women in Islamic cultures.
Mon, Nov 2, 2009

Facts and Values

I recall a short but striking conversation with the formidable Piero Sraffa at the Economics Faculty cocktail party after Dennis Robertson’s Marshall Lectures. I well knew that it was Sraffa whom Wittgenstein had described as his mentor during the gestation of the Philosophical Investigations, but I still ventured a rather simple-minded remark about the obvious importance of the fact-value distinction to the social sciences. He turned on me his charming smile and glittering eyes.
Mon, Oct 19, 2009

Bach and before, Ives and after

From a 1949 issue of Life Magazine, your guide to the “three basic categories of a new U.S. social structure—and the high brows have the whip hand”. Except the chart shows four categories, but never mind. With the rise of the cultural omnivore still well off in the distance, this is your must-have guide for the vagaries of mainstream culture in postwar America. Click for a larger version.
Tue, Oct 13, 2009

Looking at Data

Jeremy Freese is doing some analysis: So, the General Social Survey reinterviewed a large subset of 2006 respondents in 2008. They have released the data that combines into one file the respondents interviewed for the first time in 2008 and the 2008 reinterviews of the respondents originally interviewed in 2006. In a separate file, of course, you can get the original 2006 interviews for the latter people. What has not yet been released, however, is the variable that would identify what row in the first file corresponds to what row in the second file.
Wed, Aug 26, 2009

The Impact Factor's Matthew Effect

Via Cosma, comes the following article: Since the publication of Robert K. Merton’s theory of cumulative advantage in science (Matthew Effect), several empirical studies have tried to measure its presence at the level of papers, individual researchers, institutions or countries. However, these studies seldom control for the intrinsic “quality” of papers or of researchers—”better” (however defined) papers or researchers could receive higher citation rates because they are indeed of better quality.
Sun, Aug 23, 2009

niklas luhmann is still not on my syllabus

I was rereading him a bit over the weekend, though. Ian Craib once remarked that Talcott Parsons’ approach to social theory put him in mind of an office clerk who was too intelligent for his job, and so passed the time by devising ever more complicated ways to file the very dull paperwork he was assigned. Luhmann, of course, felt that Parsons was not nearly abstract enough. I was struck by Luhmann’s opening remarks, “Instead of Preface to the English Edition”, of Social Systems: This is not an easy book.
Thu, Aug 20, 2009

Social Theory Syllabus

I’m teaching graduate social theory this fall. Which is to say, next week. Here’s a first cut at the syllabus. Duke has a one- rather than two-semester theory requirement (though this is partially offset by the way my colleague Jim Moody teaches the Proseminar), which makes designing the course a bit tricky. I remain dissatisfied with the current version. Comments and suggestions are welcome.
Tue, Aug 11, 2009

What I bought at the ASAs

Besides double espressos in the morning and vodka tonics a bit later in the morning, I mean. Books, books, books. Social Structures, by John Levi Martin. I started reading this at six o’clock this morning while waiting at my departure gate, which was perhaps unwise. Two flights, five cups of coffee and three muffins later, I am in the middle of Chapter 4 and up to my neck in scribbled marginal notes.
Thu, Jul 30, 2009

Cocky Bastard

John Gruber mentions a report in the New Scientist about some research showing that people prefer cockiness to expertise: The research, by Don Moore of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, shows that we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. Moore argues that in competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are.
Fri, Jun 5, 2009

Friday Night Frivolity: Finnish Edition

I had all my wisdom teeth removed earlier today and so I am perhaps not quite at the peak of my game. Although, if you ask me, there is quite a good argument to be made that the AMR is best read while high on a cocktail of extra-strength Advil, Vicodin, and Haagen Daz ice cream. Here instead, in honor of Teppo, is a clip from an episode of BBC car show Top Gear featuring one of the presenters, James May (aka “Captain Slow”), getting a lesson in rally car driving from Mikka Häkkinen, and subsequently entering a local Folk Rally.
Mon, May 18, 2009

Shake-n-Bake Social Theory redux

I think I’m broadly on Fabio’s side when it comes to the question of the vagueness of concepts in the social sciences. I think my main caveat is that, based on the evidence, successful social science requires precisely specified concepts coupled with a willingness—perhaps elevated to a principle—to strategically ignore any amount of empirical evidence accumulated against them. But enough trolling. Beyond the problem of vague concepts lies the question of vague argument.
Sat, Jan 10, 2009

The Metropolis and Mental Life

News from the leading edge of cognitive psychology: … scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting—that’s why Picasso left Paris—this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.
Wed, Jan 7, 2009

Presume not on thy heart when mine's coerced; Thou gav'st me thine, but then we got divorced

Donated Kidney is Center of Divorce Dispute: A Long Island doctor is demanding that his estranged wife give him back the kidney he donated to her seven years ago. Dr. Richard Batista’s lawyer Dominic Barbara says his client would also be satisfied with the value of the kidney: $1.5 million. Newsday reports that Batista married wife Dawnell in 1990 and that he donated the kidney in 2001. According to Batista, their marriage was on the rocks then, but “My first priority was to save her life.
Wed, Jan 7, 2009

R in The New York Times

Funny to see the virtues of R extolled in The New York Times. Although I did wonder whether Professor Ripley spilled his tea when he read this effort at introducing Times readers to it: Some people familiar with R describe it as a supercharged version of Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software that can help illuminate data trends more clearly than is possible by entering information into rows and columns. On second thoughts, though, I imagine no tea was spilled.
Wed, Dec 10, 2008

Randy Newman was right

Studies of network contagion in health outcomes and behaviors (such as obesity and smoking) are all the rage these days. So it is interesting to read this paper in the current BMJ by Cohen-Cole and Fletcher that uses Add-Health data to establish some statistically significant but substantively rather implausible effects of just this sort: Objective To investigate whether “network effects” can be detected for health outcomes that are unlikely to be subject to network phenomena.
Mon, Dec 1, 2008

Oppressed by Social Forces

Allow me a bit of a rant. Until a few volumes ago, Social Forces typeset its articles in Minion Pro, a modern serif face well-suited to lengthy stretches of text. Then, for no apparent reason, the journal was redesigned. (I speak loosely.) Minion was retained for the title, abstract and acknowledgment note, but the body text is now set in a light version of Zurich or Univers. OrgHeads will recognize the latter as the font that Administrative Science Quarterly is set in.
Wed, Nov 19, 2008

You Little Bobby Dazzler

Soc Blogger Jeremy Freese won this year’s Interactive Fiction Competition, where the goal is to write a text-based puzzle game in the tradition of stuff like Infocom classics. The premise of Jeremy’s game, Violet, is summarized by the Chronicle of Higher Education: It’s noon and you’ve still got 1,000 words to type. That might not seem like much, but it’s been months since you’ve last worked on your dissertation and distractions are plentiful.
Tue, Nov 18, 2008


I’m so far behind on this one. Here’s a figure based on a table Eric sent me. There is a PDF version. There is also a 4-category version (with a PDF too), that breaks out farm workers from the main category.
Fri, Nov 7, 2008

Revolution as Fulfillment

Via Cosma, Canadian historian Rob MacDougall on a characteristic American tendency to see radical social change as the inevitable expression of values expressed and promises made at the country’s inception: “We’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” said Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. … King went on: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note … a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And here Sancho [Panza] or Sacvan [Bercovitch] whispers to the guy standing next to him, “Were they?
Wed, Nov 5, 2008

Gelman brings the R

Andrew Gelman with a first pass at analyzing the election data. This figure illustrates point 5 below—the election was more of a partisan swing than a redrawing of the electoral map. Andrew’s impressions: 1. The election was pretty close. Obama won by about 5% of the vote, consistent with the latest polls and consistent with his forecast vote based on forecasts based on the economy. … 3. The gap between young and old has increased–a lot: But there was no massive turnout among young voters.
Thu, Oct 23, 2008

Apple hires Joel Podolny

Via John Gruber comes news that Apple has hired Joel Podolny away from his position as Dean of Yale’s Business School to lead a project called “Apple University”. The Wall Street Journal says: The Cupertino, Calif., computer maker said Joel Podolny, the dean of the Yale School of Management, will join Apple as vice president and dean of Apple University. The company declined to provide details about the university or the position.
Tue, Aug 5, 2008

Economics and the Sociology of Culture

There’s been a bit of chat about “Cultural Sociology and its Others”, the Culture Section one-day conference held before the ASA meetings this year. This has broadened out into a discussion of the place of cultural analysis within sociology, and the relative position of the subfield. Some people worried about the allegedly marginal status of culture within sociology. Other people pointedly said that they were rather central figures in the discipline, thank you very much.
Wed, Jul 30, 2008

Play Along

Here is your 2008 ASA Bingo Card. Mark each square when the event described happens (or happens to you, as appropriate). If you get five in a row in any direction, you win.
Mon, Jul 21, 2008

Last Best Wordle

Henry beat me to the punch by about five minutes, dammit. Here’s my wordley representation of my book, Last Best Gifts. I didn’t look at the site closely enough to see if I could get a PDF of the output, but it would be nice to have one.
Thu, Jul 17, 2008

Norm Enforcement is Hard, but People do it Anyway

Via John Gruber, here is Lance Arthur standing in line for three hours for a new iPhone. He gets inside the door of the Apple Store and finds someone has skipped into the queue right behind him. So, the interminable line outside comes at last to an end, the Apple Security guard walks over and counts “One, two, three, four, five,” and I am lucky Number Five, allowed access at last to the inside of the store.
Thu, Jul 17, 2008

Reversing Mass Imprisonment

Bruce Western writes in the current Boston Review about the prison boom and its effects, summarizing findings and extending arguments he’s been developing for a few years, and which I’ve often written about here. There are now 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons and jails, a fourfold increase in the incarceration rate since 1980. During the fifty years preceding our current three-decade surge, the scale of imprisonment was largely unchanged. And the impact of this rise has hardly been felt equally in society; the American prison boom is as much a story about race and class as it is about crime control.
Fri, Jul 11, 2008

Elementary Particles

I am all in favor of further work at the intersection of sociology and emerging work in biology, cognitive science and neuroscience. There is surely much to be learned. But, let’s face it, this seems needlessly limiting. Particle physics has been in the doldrums a bit lately, so they could do with some interdisciplinary reinvigoration. Also, their research budgets remain quite large. Below we see a picture of the emerging Standard Model of sociophysics, with which you will no doubt be quite familiar.
Tue, Jul 1, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

Consider the following piece in the Daily Telegraph, which may begin making the rounds: Scientists find ‘law of war’ that predicts attacks: Scientists believe they may have glimpsed a “law of war” that can be used to predict the likelihood of attacks in modern conflicts, from conventional battles to global terrorism. … The European Consortium For Mathematics in Industry was told today that an international team has developed a physics-based theory describing the dynamics of insurgent group formation and attacks, which neatly explains the universal patterns observed in all modern wars and terrorism.
Sun, Jun 29, 2008

No idea more obscure and uncertain

You only have to hang around the world of social science research- or policy-related blogging for a few hours before you come across someone willing to snottily inform you, or some other luckless interlocutor, that although the finding of this or that paper may appeal to you, nevertheless don’t you know that Correlation Is Not Causation. Often this seems to be the only thing they know about statistics. I grudgingly admit that it’s a plausible-sounding rule, and in the textbooks and stuff.
Sun, Jun 29, 2008

Git Bibs

Over the past few months, I’ve been messing around with Git and Mercurial, two modern, distributed version control systems (DVCSs). While designed by software engineers, these systems are very useful to people who, like me, write papers and do data analysis in some plain-text file format or other, who very often revise those files, sometimes splitting them off into different branches as projects develop, and who do this work on more than one computer.
Mon, Jun 23, 2008

A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

Chris Uggen, of the University of Minnesota, reports from the frontiers of collegiate apparel licensing agreements: Victoria’s secret recently announced that minnversity-themed t-shirts, hoodies, and underwear will be sold as part of the company’s PINK collegiate collection. … however, the Minnesota Daily reveals that Goldy Gopher [the UMN mascot] will not be participating in the new loungewear line … Spokesgophers made clear that the clothing line is “not in step with the University’s values and focus” and that the Minnversity only “approves tasteful trademark requests.” … Though i wouldn’t want my university to be involved in anything distasteful, i know we can always use new revenue streams.
Wed, Jun 18, 2008

Kenworthy on Nixonland

My colleague Lane Kenworthy reviews Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, proving in the process that he is a faster reader (and writer) than me. Is Perlstein right about what happened during these years? Did America harden into two warring camps? I think an argument can be made that something very different occurred: the developments of the 1960s coupled with (and accentuated by) Nixon’s political tactics opened up new fissures that left the political landscape not more crystallized, but more clouded.
Fri, Jun 6, 2008

Performativity avant la lettre

I just noticed the last paragraph of White’s “Notes on the Constituents of Social Structure” (1965), which we’ve been talking about this week. Either-or intensities and infinitely sharp criteria of membership have been assumed in defining nets and cats. The realities of social structure are more blurred. The most revealing approach to these realities is through analysis of the validation and legitimation structures and processes which settle issues of existence and intensity of ties and attributes in social systems.
Thu, May 29, 2008

Cool Waters

In a classic discussion of scientists sampling the ground in the Amazon rainforest, Bruno Latour details the process through which physical bits of soil are turned into recorded measurements and data points for comparison and analysis. He remarks, Stage by stage, we lost locality, particularity, materiality, multiplicity, and continuity, such that, in the end, there was scarcely anything left but a few leaves of paper. … But at each stage we have not only reduced, we have also gained or regained, since, with the same work of representation, we have been able to obtain much greater compatibility, standardization, text, calculation, circulation, and relative universality, such that by the end, inside the field report, we hold not only all of Boa Vista (to which we can return), but also the explanation of its dynamic.
Wed, May 14, 2008

Harrison White on Blog on Blogs

A video interview with Harrison White, conducted by a German blogger at the December 2007 Luhmann conference in Lucerne. Reptating goo, social networks, Niklas Luhmann, and your mother-in-law as reality point.
Tue, May 13, 2008

Dr Dr

While at a conference in Germany over the weekend, I was initially quite chuffed by the greeting on my hotel-room TV: But I quickly learned I am quite unable to compete on this front: Somewhat more substantively, the conference, on norms and values, was attended by a bunch of interesting philosophers and political science types of a generally soft rat-choice disposition. As it happens, this week Aaron Swartz is writing about Jon Elster’s recent book, Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences.
Tue, Apr 29, 2008

Charles Tilly

Just ten days or so ago Henry wrote that Chuck Tilly had won the SSRC’s Hirschman Prize, and linked to a classic paper of his. Tilly died this morning. He had been battling cancer for several years. Tilly was a comparative and historical sociologist, an analyst of social movements, a social theorist, a political sociologist, a methodological innovator—none of these labels quite capture the scope of his work. I think of him as someone who was interested in the general problem of understanding social change, and he attacked it with tremendous, unflagging energy.
Wed, Apr 9, 2008

Psychology vs Organizations in Organ Procurement

Via Sally Satel, here’s a bit from a Freakonomics discussion. Stephen Dubner asked a bunch of people, “How much progress have psychology and psychiatry really made in the last century?” One of the respondents, Dan Ariely (a Professor of Management at MIT) cites some work about organ donation (emphasis added): One of my favorite graphs in all of social science is the following plot from an inspiring paper by Eric Johnson and Daniel Goldstein.
Tue, Apr 1, 2008

The Hobgoblin of Little Minds

John Gruber twittered the following: Suggestion for Gallup: how many Americans both (a) are offended by sermons of Obama’s Christian pastor and (b) think Obama is a Muslim? Which led me to check out this Pew Center Report: The recent controversy surrounding sermons by Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Wright, and Obama’s March 18 speech on race and politics have attracted more public attention than other recent campaign events, according to Pew’s weekly News Interest Index.
Mon, Mar 31, 2008


Network theory is well-known for its evocative vocabulary, but sometimes what that language of structures and relations evokes can seem a little … antiseptic. Via Jacob Christiansen, however, comes the excellent Swedish term gubbslem: Apperently gubbslem – which would translate into something like geezer phlegm – is the popular Swedish expression for what is otherwise known as old-boys networks. In the physical world gubbslem is a kind of algae. Superb.
Sun, Mar 9, 2008

Figs from Thistles

In May, Princeton University Press will publish a new edition of Identity and Control, by Harrison White. It will be interesting to see how it is received and, indeed, what’s changed inside. The original edition is an extremely difficult read. To borrow a phrase from Ste Croix, the text repeatedly lapses into the kind of writing that does not always repay the repeated re-readings it invites. White’s prose eschews connectives, prepositions and other grammatical signposts in favor of an impatient, declarative style that is suggestive but difficult to follow.
Fri, Feb 22, 2008

The Iron Cage Revisited, Revisited

Next week at Arizona we’re having a Symposium and Mini-Conference to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of DiMaggio & Powell (1983)48:2%3C147:TICRII%3E2.0.CO;2-S), which—as anyone reading this blog almost certainly knows—had something of an impact in sociology, organizations, and related fields. Paul and Woody will be in town to talk about their paper, and Lis Clemens will kick off the discussion. I’m the moderator—playing Jon Stewart to all the actual stars, except without the good looks, nice suit, or team of writers to make me sound funny.
Thu, Feb 7, 2008

On Wasting One's Time

At Scatterplot, Shamus remarks in passing that some people have told him that blogging while untenured is a bad idea. In the comments, olderwoman says: The problem with blogging for untenured people is not what you say (unless it is so egregious it makes national news or something) but that it is a recreational activity. There are a fair number of academics — in my experience, mostly but not only men — who believe that single-minded devotion to career is everything when you are young.
Wed, Jan 30, 2008

Theory is dead, long live theory

In comments at Scatterplot, Dan Hirschman asks, A colleague of mine in graduate school interested in social theory claimed there were no longer job postings available for specialists in theory. Instead, budding theorists have to masquerade as ‘cultural sociologists’ or something like it. Does that hold up to your impressions of the Sociology job market? What advice would you give to a budding sociology PhD who wanted to concentrate on social theory?
Wed, Jan 30, 2008

Kidney Theft in India

There’s a long-standing urban legend about where you meet an attractive person in a bar, they buy you a drink, and the next thing you know you wake up in a bath of ice with a pain in your lower back and a note telling you to get to a hospital. One of the reasons this story is just a story is that in order to usefully extract someone’s kidney for transplant, a whole lot of stuff has to be organized beforehand, and you need to have a lot of skilled people working together against a hard time constraint—too many, really, to quietly and reliably pull something like this off.
Tue, Jan 15, 2008

Opt-Out Organ Donation for the U.K.?

The BBC reports that a change may be in the offing in Britain’s policies on cadaveric organ donation: Gordon Brown says he wants a national debate on whether to change the system of organ donation. He believes thousands of lives would be saved if everyone was automatically placed on the donor register. It would mean that, unless people opted out of the register or family members objected, hospitals would be allowed to use their organs for transplants.
Fri, Dec 21, 2007

Workflow Update

Following on from our discussion of editing tools the other day, and in response to a couple of requests, I have updated and somewhat expanded my note about Choosing Your Workflow Applications. The revised version talks about which operating system to choose (to a first approximation, these days I’m agnostic), focuses on Emacs+R+LaTeX as an integrated set of high-quality apps available for free across all the major platforms, and then points to some alternatives (like Stata and various editors).
Mon, Dec 17, 2007

Facebook Friends

Not one but two former office mates of mine are quoted on the front page of the Times today in a story about Facebook. Jason Kaufman talks about his work with Nicholas Christakis on patterns of affiliation amongst Facebook users. Our own Eszter Hargittai talks about her research on comparative adoption of Facebook and MySpace. And my brilliant colleague Ron Breiger will doubtless be pleased to see that Georg Simmel gets a shoutout too, for the idea of triadic social closure.
Thu, Dec 13, 2007

The Right Tools for the Job

A discussion about Mac applications at Scatterplot (which is threatening to spill over into a Windows vs OS X war) reminded me of something. Although not by any means a quant jock, a good deal of my work involves analyzing quantitative data. Almost since I learned how to do that kind of thing at all, I have used software tools designed to make the process easier and less error-prone. The most basic of these is a proper programmer’s text editor with support for whatever statistical software I’m using.
Sat, Dec 1, 2007

Choice and Social Structure

A rich post over at Scatterplot. I spent a lot of those years exhausted and angry. We continued to have only part-time child care. Some nights I put the children to bed crying because I knew they were better off crying alone in bed than interacting with an angry sleep-deprived mother. I was furious that I had to make constrained choices and could not have the life I wanted. When he was home, my spouse was “superdad,” who did a lot of the work and played a lot with the children, so there was a big hole when he was gone.
Thu, Oct 18, 2007

How the Edwardians Spoke

A (slightly ponderous) documentary on a set of rare sound recordings of British and Irish POWs from World War I. First recordings are just after 10 minutes in. I liked the way the speed of the shellac recording is calibrated by matching an A note on the last groove to the A from a tuning fork. At 23” or so there’s a recording of a man telling the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the difference between the ‘a’ in father and the ‘a’ in man is quite striking.
Wed, Oct 3, 2007

Invisible Hands

Via John Gruber, here is a striking series of photographs of workers in toy factories in China. I wish I had seen them yesterday, because this morning I did a midterm review in my social theory course and, in quick succession, students asked me about Smith’s idea of the invisible hand and about Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism. Smith argued that the specialization encouraged by a market system liberated people from material want, but also freed them from having to spend all their time being “butcher, baker and brewer” for themselves.
Wed, Sep 5, 2007

Doc Socc

Superhero blogging is the province of other members of this collective. But here—via Dan Myers, outgoing chair of the Notre Dame sociology department—is Rory McVeigh, incoming chair of said department, welcoming new grad students to the program. Dan explains the hat in coldly rational terms. But I prefer to think we’re witnessing the birth of a new Supervillain: Doc Socc, whose origin story begins with the mild-mannered but brilliant young Rory being continually passed over when it was time to choose teams in grade school, and who subsequently used his genius to develop the FootieTron (pictured), a prosthetic attachment that enhanced his football skills a millionfold.
Sun, Aug 5, 2007

Rodrik on Disagreement amongst Economists

Dani Rodrik argues that much disagreement in economics is between “first-best” economists and “second-best” economists. The former take Mark 1:14-15 as their text, and believe the Kingdom of God is at Hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. The second believe, with Proverbs 16:18 that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Sun, Jul 29, 2007

Tyler Cowen's Secret Blog

Tyler Cowen has a “secret” blog and he made a deal with his readers: pre-order my book and I’ll send you the URL. Don’t link to it, and don’t tell anyone. Inevitably, now, we have this request from this guy: DO YOU KNOW THE URL OF TYLER COWEN’S SECRET BLOG?? IF YES, PLEASE, SEND ITS URL TO CHRIS MASSE. ANONYMITY GUARANTEED. AND I PROMISE I WON’T PUBLISH IT. YES I KNOW HE’S SHOUTING.
Sat, Jul 28, 2007

Net Migration in Ireland

Like Henry, I’m part of the last generation of Irish people to date for whom fleeing the country was a standard career path. I emigrated in 1995, coincidentally the year that the boom in immigration really began, and the era of significant net migration arrived. My usual impeccable timing, in other words. The scale of Irish emigration throughout the twentieth century is astonishing. From 1926 to 1961, the rate of emigration was sufficient to at least equal and usually significantly outweigh the natural rate of increase in the population, so that overall population numbers either stagnated or fell.
Thu, Jul 19, 2007

Sciences Dismal and Cheery

Fabio says By emphasizing social dysfunction, we become associated with dysfunction. A basic finding in the study of the professions is that the prestige of your clients is a big predictor of your prestige. Also, if that’s what the average college student takes away from sociology – that it’s the field of social problems – then that’s the image they’ll have about us for the rest of our lives. Quick, which is the dismal science?
Wed, Jul 11, 2007

Sparse Small-World Graphs are Disturbing

Read Henry’s post on Facebook. Signed up out of curiosity and masochistic desire to have smallness of social network confirmed. Joined the University of Arizona network. Noodling around, saw the profile for Joe Grad Student from my department. Looked at his list of friends. Noticed that one of Joe Grad Student’s friends looked familiar. Realized I knew him. He had been a year ahead of me in Secondary School in Ireland in the late 1980s.
Tue, Jul 10, 2007

The Age of Independence

The other day David Brooks wrote a column which appeared to be a stock piece of standard conservative anxiety about what he called “hard-boiled, foul-mouthed, fedup, emotionally self-sufficient and unforgiving” young women. Matt Yglesias picks up on on the piece today, salvaging the key insight of Brooks’ piece from the muddled pop-culture framing. As Brooks says, Now young people face a social frontier of their own. They hit puberty around 13 and many don’t get married until they’re past 30.
Tue, Jun 5, 2007

Student Evaluations

Despite being a contributor to this OrgTheory blog, my dirty little secret is that this past semester was the first time I ever taught a Sociology of Organizations course. Shocking, I know. It went OK for a first-time effort. Quantitatively my ratings were a bit below my average, but not worryingly so. Today, though, I got back the specific (anonymous) comments of the students, which always make for interesting reading. I broadly subscribe to Fabio’s view that evaluations are pretty informative.
Mon, May 28, 2007

Incarceration and Education Budgets

Last weekend I read Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McGraw’s biography of Joseph Schumpeter. Maybe more on that later: I need to write something about it before I forget the content. Somewhere in there McGraw quotes Schumpeter’s line that “the budget is the skeleton of the state, stripped of all misleading ideologies.” With that in mind, here’s a kind of X-ray of California’s state budget, via Chris Uggen. This is from a SF Chronicle article on these trends, which look set to continue.
Mon, May 21, 2007

Mary Douglas Interview

From Alan Macfarlane, an interview with the late Mary Douglas. The full interview (almost an hour and a half) is available on Macfarlane’s website, which has a terrific number of such conversations with social anthropologists and sociologists. Here’s the full menu. Highlights include Ronald Dore, Raymond Firth, Audrey Richards (worth listening to for a great anecdote about Malinowski and colored pencils), and many others. Also worth checking out is film from a pair of seminars from 1976 and 77, with roundtable discussion from the likes of Jack Goody, Ernest Gellner, Maurice Godelier, Tom Bottomore, Edmund Leach, Edward Thompson, and others.
Fri, May 4, 2007

Beware the Spellchecker

This month’s issue of Contemporary Sociology contains the following erratum notice: In the January issue … in the review written by Elizabeth Gorman of The Work and Family Handbook: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives and Approaches, edited by Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Ellen Ernst Kossek, and Stephen Sweet, the contributors’ last names should have been spelled “Karen Gareis” instead of “Karen Agrees,” “Laura Beavais” instead of “Laura Beavers,” and “Gerstel and Sarkisian,” not “Gretel and Sardinian.” We regret the errors.
Sun, Apr 29, 2007

Women in U.S. Philosophy Departments

There’s a discussion going on at Brian Leiter’s about the role of race and gender. There are a lot of anecdotes, which is fine, but little in the way of good data. Just for some context, here’s a figure showing the number women in full-time positions, as a percentage of all full-time positions, at U.S. philosophy departments surveyed in the Philosophical Gourmet Report. Click on the image for a larger version.
Sat, Apr 28, 2007

Freakonomics Review

Following up on the ongoing discussion about Freakonomics, my review of the book just came out in Sociological Forum, and I think it overlaps a bit with some of the things Omar was saying in the comments to Fabio’s post. (A layout issue in headline makes it look as though I’m the author of the book and Levitt and Dubner are reviewing it. Sadly for my bank manager, this is not the case.) As it happens, this essay started out life as a blog post I wrote for Crooked Timber’s Seminar on the book.
Sun, Apr 22, 2007

Welcome ... to Fantasy Ireland

Fantasy Ireland is a long-running cultural trope in America and a few other places (including, at times, Ireland itself). In the old days, it was a bucolic paradise, with a surfeit of pigs in the parlor and an absence of indoor plumbing, which Irish-Americans imagined they could visit in search of their roots. But its content has changed in recent years and it has popped up in various places this past week.
Thu, Apr 19, 2007

Reviews Galore

Articles from this year’s Annual Review of Sociology are starting to appear online in advance of their hardcopy publication, and in a tasty new layout, too. It’s a good year for people interested in social organization, economic sociology and culture. The essays include: The Consequences of Economic Globalization for Affluent Democracies by David Brady, Jason Beckfield and Wei Zhao. Toward a Historicized Sociology: Theorizing Events, Processes, and Emergence, by Lis Clemens.
Sun, Mar 18, 2007

Why are Women more Religious than Men?

Tyler Cowen asks, So why are women more religious than men? Is it just greater risk-aversion? According to my colleague Louise Roth, in an article from the current ASR co-authored with Jeff Kroll, the answer to the second question is, “No.” Here’s the abstract: Scholars of religion have long known that women are more religious than men, but they disagree about the reasons underlying this difference. Risk preference theory suggests that gender gaps in religiosity are a consequence of men’s greater propensity to take risks, and that irreligiosity is analogous to other high-risk behaviors typically associated with young men.
Wed, Mar 14, 2007

Gift Exchange

Kieran James Joyner is perplexed by John Quiggin’s beard. Or, more precisely, by this: All manner of worthwhile charities hold events wherein people are “sponsored” based on how many miles they bike, laps they walk, hours they go without sleep, ropes they jump, or what have you. Why the need for the gimmick? Are there some significant number of people who don’t give a damn about curing leukemia but are nonetheless willing to donate to the cause for whatever pleasure seeing people shave their beard yields?
Tue, Mar 13, 2007

Twitter Curve

Becks at Unfogged is justly skeptical of Twitter yet fears its inevitability. Kathy Sierra’s Asymptotic Twitter Curve is a sharp summary of the problem: One question is whether the curve describes some kind of cognitive limit or is a rather more cohort-specific representation of the dangers of adopting technologies developed an increasing number of years after your own core work patterns are established.
Thu, Mar 1, 2007

Market Incentives and Moral Responsibility

On Bloggginheads.tv, Virginia Postrel and Dan Drezner discuss organ markets, Virginia’s recent spat with Amitai Etzioni, and the importance of making clear that Kieran Healy Is Not A Libertarian. In the discussion, Virginia wonders what I think of Etzioni’s view. In his letter to the New York Times, Etzioni decries the prospect of market incentives in organ exchange and proposes this alternative: Actually, what we need is more, not fewer, evocations of our moral responsibilities.
Mon, Feb 26, 2007

Viviana Zelizer on Econ Talk

Continuing the trend of Libertarian economist types talking to sociologists, here is Viviana Zelizer being interviewed by Russ Roberts (of George Mason University) on Econ Talk, a podcast hosted by the Library of Economics and Liberty.
Sat, Feb 3, 2007

The Constant Flux of Feeling

Via Alan, some dynamic visualization of emotions as expressed in online posts from a variety of sources. Some background: Once a sentence containing “I feel” or “I am feeling” is found, the system looks backward to the beginning of the sentence, and forward to the end of the sentence, and then saves the full sentence in a database. Once saved, the sentence is scanned to see if it includes one of about 5,000 pre-identified “feelings”.
Sat, Jan 27, 2007

Last Best Gifts in the NYT

My book, Last Best Gifts: Altruism and the Market for Human Blood and Organs, is reviewed this weekend by Virginia Postrel in the New York Times. Obviously, I’m delighted: Virginia’s review is generous and perceptive, and in many ways it’s hard to think of a better choice of reviewer. For one thing, as many readers will probably know, Virginia is herself an organ donor—she gave one of her kidneys to her friend Sally Satel—and now regularly writes about the organ shortage and market incentives.
Wed, Dec 27, 2006

OrgTheory of a Kind

Here’s something I’d forgotten I’d written. An early, co-authored publication of mine in ASQ. Sadly, only the first page survives. In case you’re unfamiliar with the topic, I should say that the bibliographical references and quotations are all perfectly accurate. Any resemblance to this paper is wholly accidental.
Mon, Dec 11, 2006

The Averaged American

Aha, via Andrew Gelman I see that a book I’ve been waiting for has just been published. Sarah Igo’s The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public is a study of the history of quantitative social research in America, documenting how Americans came to think of themselves as the subjects of social science, and how the categories of survey research got embedded in our culture. From the publisher: Igo argues that modern surveys, from the Middletown studies to the Gallup Poll and the Kinsey Reports, projected new visions of the nation: authoritative accounts of majorities and minorities, the mainstream and the marginal.
Sun, Dec 10, 2006

MacKenzie's Engine

I have been extremely irresponsible about my contribution to our OrgTheory book seminar on Donald MacKenzie’s An Engine, Not a Camera. But for once this is because my thoughts on the book metastisized into an article-length something-or-other. I’m still working on it so I won’t inflict it upon you (but stay tuned: eventually I will). Instead, here is a long excerpt. At the risk of sounding like Saul Kripke, some disclaimers: I’ve dropped some of the throat-clearing sign-posting introductory stuff and also left out supporting material in the middle; there’s another whole bit to the paper which I’m not putting in here; and I’m still not sure what I think on some points.
Mon, Nov 27, 2006

Annals of Rationality vol MCMLXXVII

Via Jeremy Freese, a poster for a Mass General Hospital study. As Jeremy says, Do you have not one, but two separate problems that are associated with making bad decisions? If so, why don’t you choose to have a 50% chance of forgoing treatment for both for three months, in exchange for $600?… Don’t worry: you can rest assured you’ll be in the most capable, professional hands—just look at the quality of our graphic design!
Sun, Nov 5, 2006


I was browsing in the campus bookshop over lunch and saw the UK/Australia edition of Freakonomics for sale—this is the recently released revised and expanded version. Looking to see what had changed, I was surprised and gratified to see that the new version incorporates much of Steven Levitt’s response to our seminar on the first edition. The essay is prefaced by a generous comment from Steve to the effect that the CT seminar is the best available discussion of the book.
Sun, Nov 5, 2006

More Cartwright

Following on from Omar’s post about Nancy Cartwright’s The Dappled World, I will abuse my right to post here to point to this review of the book by Laurie Paul. Paul is a very intelligent philosopher (her unwise decision to marry me was an uncharacteristic lapse), and her review gives a good sense of the response to Cartwright’s position within philosophy. I’ve found that social scientists who read Cartwright’s book are excited and interested by it.
Wed, Oct 18, 2006

Floating the Fraud Balloon

Daniel wrote a piece for the Guardian’s blog saying that critics who wanted to reject the findings of Burnham et al.’s Lancet paper and believe the Iraq Body Count estimate (or similar-sized numbers) were going to have to come out and claim that the paper was fraudulent, “and presumably to accept the legal consequences of doing so.” Well, now David Kane has floated that balloon. Update: Kane’s accusations have been removed from the front page of the SSS blog.
Thu, Oct 12, 2006

Statistics and the Scale of Societies

How many people are murdered in the U.S. every day? How many people die in car accidents every day? How many people die of heart disease in the U.S. in a year? What about the number who die for any reason at all? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, do you have immediate, confident intuitions about what the answers must be? The Lancet paper by Burnham et al.
Tue, Sep 19, 2006

Attractive Models

Via Jeremy Freese, a paper by Alan Gerber and Neil Malhotra called “Can political science literatures be believed? A study of publication bias in the APSR and the AJPS.” Here’s the main finding. When you run a bog-standard regression, you typically want to know how much a change in some variable x*—usually a number of such *x variables—is associated with a change in y, some outcome variable of interest. When you run the regression, you get a coefficient for each x telling you how much a one-unit change in that x changes the value of y according to your data.
Mon, Sep 18, 2006

CT Radio

I’ve been on the road for the last week or so, gradually making my way by tramp steamer to Australia. By coincidence, I was on ABC radio’s Background Briefing programme on Sunday, talking about gift and market exchange in the world of human organ and tissue procurement. There’s a podcast of the show available if you want to listen. The topic is easy to treat in a glib or sensationalistic way, but I thought Ian Walker (who wrote and presented the show) did a really good job with it.
Sat, Sep 2, 2006


Via Dave Weeden, the latest moneyspinner to emerge from the labs at Scientology HQ in Clearwater, FL: Under wraps for decades, Super Power now is being prepped for its eventual rollout in Scientology’s massive building in downtown Clearwater. … A key aim of Super Power is to enhance one’s perceptions – and not just the five senses we all know – hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard taught that people have 57 “perceptics.” … Hubbard promised Super Power would improve perceptions and “put the person into a new realm of ability.” How much would you pay to receive this marvellous training?
Sun, Aug 27, 2006

Death Rates Again

It’s depressing to see a professor of demography pull this sort of stunt in the Washington Post: Between March 21, 2003, when the first military death was recorded in Iraq, and March 31, 2006, there were 2,321 deaths among American troops in Iraq. Seventy-nine percent were a result of action by hostile forces. Troops spent a total of 592,002 “person-years” in Iraq during this period. The ratio of deaths to person-years, .00392, or 3.92 deaths per 1,000 person-years, is the death rate of military personnel in Iraq.
Thu, Aug 3, 2006

Last Best Gifts

My new book, Last Best Gifts: Altruism and the Market for Human Blood and Organs has just been published by the University of Chicago Press. You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells or of course any bookseller worth the name. There’s a website for the book, too. Amongst other things, there you can learn more about the cover image, which the people at Chicago did such a nice job with after I came across it by chance.
Tue, Jul 18, 2006

Balko on SWAT raids

Radley Balko’s study of the increase in paramilitary police raids by SWAT teams is now available from Cato. They’ve also produced a map of botched raids, using Google Maps, to show the distribution of raids that involved some kind of serious error. I’d like to see a table of that data as well (or, because I’m greedy, the whose dataset). There are a lot of things one could do with the data beyond just plotting the incidents on a map, though this is certainly an effective way to draw attention to the issue.
Mon, Jul 17, 2006

Ron Burt certainly does not live in a van down by the river

I am here in Palo Alto at the Center for Advanced Study, for a Summer Camp Institute, and am drowning in readings on global convergence, divergence and trajectories of global capitalism, while trying to punch above my weight with a bunch of smart people. (World Cup mixed metaphors have infected my writing: not “Not waving but drowning” but “Drowning and Punching”. Hmm.) Palo Alto is like Princeton West, only somewhat larger.
Thu, Jun 29, 2006

Social Isolation Again

Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Matt Brashears’ ASR Paper on changes in core discussion networks has been getting a lot of play in the blogs and media. As is often the case with research like this, the commentary doesn’t really do justice to the paper. The summaries tend to be superficial and a lot of the commentary raises questions that the paper addresses, or proposes explanations it controls for. But I liked this piece from CBS’s Dick Meyer.
Wed, Jun 28, 2006

Liberty at Low Prices

Say what you like about the free-marketeers, they certainly know how to ignore market forces, eschew profit and embrace subsidization when it suits them. I just got the 2006 Liberty Fund catalog in the post, and as usual I am having a hard time not buying a lot of their absurdly under-priced offerings. You can get the complete Sraffa/Dobb edition of Ricardo (eleven volumes!) for about a hundred bucks, or $12 for individual volumes.
Fri, Jun 23, 2006

Social Isolation in America

Here’s an important new paper by two former colleagues of mine (just departed for Duke) and one of our grad students here at Arizona. The paper compares the social network module of the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) to the 1985 GSS, the last to include network questions. The key question of interest is this: From time to time, most people discuss important matters with other people. Looking back over the last six months—who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?
Wed, May 31, 2006

Speaking of Hackery

Jesus wept. This nonsense again. Despite media coverage purporting to show that escalating violence in Iraq has the country spiraling out of control, civilian death statistics complied by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, indicate that Iraq actually has a lower civilian violent death rate than Washington, D.C. … Using Pentagon statistics cross-checked with independent research, King said he came up with an annualized Iraqi civilian death rate of 27.51 per 100,000. While that number sounds high – astonishingly, the Iowa Republican discovered that it’s significantly lower than a number of major American cities, including the nation’s capital.
Fri, May 26, 2006

Incarceration Again

The comments in my recent post about U.S. incarceration rates got a little bad tempered: some people (I’m looking at you, jet) didn’t like the figure, because it included countries that are not exactly model states. Some followup below the fold. The point of the figure was to bring home that the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, bar none. To illustrate this is not to explain it.
Tue, May 23, 2006

Incarceration Rates

Via Chris Uggen, some new Bureau of Justice Statistics for incarceration in the United States as of mid-2005. Imprisonment rose by 1.6 percent on the pervious year, and jail populations rose by 4.7 percent, for a total of just over 2.1 million people behind bars. The total population in prison has gone up by almost 600,000 since 1995. Women make up 12.7 percent of jail inmates. Nearly 6 in 10 offenders in local jails are racial or ethnic minorities.
Thu, May 11, 2006

Wanting to Know Everything

The NSA has assembled a gigantic database of telephone calls in the United States, with the help of all of the major telecommunications providers (except Qwest). The database is not of voice recordings, but of calls made. It constitutes data on a huge network of ties between people who call each other. In recent years, sociology and related fields have seen a lot of development in the areas of dynamic modeling of social networks, and in fast algorithms for analyzing large, sparse graphs.
Tue, May 2, 2006

Sociology and Political Philosophy

I mentioned in posts or a comment a while ago that I was writing a survey piece on sociology and political philosophy, and several people expressed an interest in seeing it. Well, here’s a draft. I was invited to write it for the second edition of A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, which is being edited by Bob Goodin, Philip Pettit and Thomas Pogge. Like the first edition, there will be chapters on the relationship between political philosophy and disciplines like political science, economics, law, and so on, together with essays on problems, ideologies and debates in the field itself.
Wed, Apr 12, 2006


Over at the Guardian Blog, Daniel looks to see what percentage of the 300 “Comment is Free” contributors mentioned in their profile that they went to university, and of those what percentage went to Oxford or Cambridge. Answer: 20 percent mentioned a university, and 85 percent of the time it was Oxford or Cambridge. This reminds me of a line, which you still sometimes see in obituaries or profiles, that goes something like, “Educated at Eton and Oxford, he then [or “also”] attended Harvard.” There’s also that episode of Inspector Morse where the Chancellor, played by John Gielgud, is asked by some toady how many honorary degrees he has.
Thu, Mar 30, 2006


Here’s an apposite comment from P.Z. Myers about someone who has had some cells from his late pet dog, Tito, cultured and frozen: This is a personal decision, and I wouldn’t argue one way or the other about what Hank should do; it sounds like he’s wrestled over the issues already. All I can say is what I would do if I were in his sorrowful position. I wouldn’t even try cloning.
Thu, Mar 23, 2006

Locked Out

Several good books dealing with the American penal system and its effects on other aspects of American society are slated to appear this year. The first of them has just been published. Locked Out, by Jeff Manza and Chris Uggen examines the consequences of felon disenfranchisement laws for political participation and electoral outcomes. As might be expected, the United States puts much stronger restrictions than most Western countries on the voting rights of those currently imprisoned, on parole or probation, as well as on those who have served their sentences.
Wed, Mar 15, 2006

Demography is not Destiny

A bit of nonsense from Philip Longman by way of Daniel Drezner, about how conservatives are going to out-reproduce liberals: It’s a pattern found throughout the world, and it augers a far more conservative future — one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback … Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families.
Tue, Mar 7, 2006

Official Secrets

I’ve been rereading some Weber for an article I’m writing, and while taking a break from it came across this story about the administration going after journalists: The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. The efforts include several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.
Mon, Mar 6, 2006

Evangelicals and Democrats

Amy Sullivan writes about the prospect of the Democratic party recruiting evangelical or conservative Christians. Kevin Drum comments I have to confess that I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that liberals should spend much time trying to get the Christian evangelical community on our side. When push comes to shove, they just care way more about sex and “moral degeneracy” than they do about helping the poor or taking care of the environment, and that means that outreach efforts are ultimately doomed to failure.
Thu, Mar 2, 2006

The Right Words at the Right Time

Listening to the radio on an airport shuttle last night—some CBS news station, I think—I heard the presenter interview a correspondent about the new videos and transcripts of the White House’s response to Hurricane Katrina. At one point she asked whether this would make any difference to President Bush, or whether it was all “just water under the bridge.” To be fair, she realized just before she said this that it might not sound quite right, but was trapped by the need to maintain the flow of talk.
Tue, Feb 7, 2006

Good Old John Lott

Don Luskin may be the stupidest man alive, but this is small beer compared to John Lott, whose career strives to maximize a three-variable function defined by stupidity, error and sheer bad faith. Whenever you think there are regions of this space that he could not possibly explore further, he proves you wrong.
Mon, Jan 30, 2006

What was that all about? Were fat people involved?

I missed this over the weekend, but here’s Garrison Keillor tearing a strip off of Bernard-Henri Lévy and his book about America. (The San Francisco Chronicle liked it a bit better, but only a bit.) Based on Keillor’s review, it sounds like BHL has a case of the disease that Bruce McCall brilliantly parodied in his travelogue “In the New Canada, Living is a Way of Life.” That article (which I’ve talked about before) is written in the prose characteristic of the cultural tourist/feature writer touring around Russia, c.1982 for Readers Digest: serious, curious, with an outsider’s eye for paradox and an uncanny ability to miss the point altogether: The cabin attendant on our Air Canada flight answers a request for the correct time in almost perfectly unaccented English.
Mon, Jan 16, 2006

University Wealth and Philosophical Reputation

I’ve been looking again at data from the Philosophical Gourmet Report, Brian Leiter’s reputational survey of philosophers. Here are a couple of scatterplots showing the relationship between the size of a University’s endowment and the reputation of its philosophy department, as measured by the PGR, broken out by Private and Public universities. The red regression line in each panel shows the general association between the two variables. Only data for the U.S.
Wed, Jan 4, 2006

All Creatures Great and Small

Technorati’s List of Popular Books introduces me to There is Eternal Life for Animals, which argues that All animals go to heaven. How do we know? We look in the book that God left us, the Bible. This book takes you through the Bible and proves through the scriptures that there is life after death for all the animals. It covers:—God’s relationship with the animals;—The current life of the animal kingdom;—The future life of the animals and its restoration;—What animals are currently in heaven;—Whether animals have souls and spirits;—Praying for animals.
Tue, Jan 3, 2006

Mark Schmitt on abuse of executive power

Mark Schmitt provides some historical context for the current wiretapping scandal, and reminds us of the main practical reasons why allowing the President to circumvent the law is a bad idea: Roughly speaking, there have been four great showdowns over abuse of executive power in modern U.S. history. … These episodes have certain themes in common. Yes, one of them is that they were all hatched in the first term of Republican presidencies and revealed only after reelection, but that’s not the answer I’m looking for.
Thu, Dec 22, 2005

A Word from the Nerds

John “Hannibal” Stokes at Ars Technica has some interesting speculation on what the new technology behind the NSA wiretap abuse scandal might be. Because he knows a lot about computers, he’s also in a position to explain to the likes of Richard Posner one of the (several) things that’s wrong with computer-automated mass surveillance: Just imagine, for a moment, that 0.1% of all the calls that go through this system score hits.
Mon, Dec 19, 2005


All over the U.S. at the moment, academics like me are complaining about end-of-semester woes like administering exams and grading papers. Cheer up! It could be worse. For instance, take this despairing page put up by the economist John Hey, who spends some of his time teaching in England, and the rest as Professore Ordinario at a University in Italy. Pretty nice gig, you might think—except when it comes to exams: The intention of this web page is to draw attention to large differences in the number of examinations in different countries of the world, with the particular intention of revealing Italy as an outlier.
Fri, Nov 4, 2005

Darwin at Home

On a couple of long plane flights this week, I read Janet Browne’s Charles Darwin: The Power of Place, the second volume of her biography of Darwin. (I haven’t read Volume One.) I strongly recommend it. Three things stood out for me. First, in an unobtrusive but compelling way, Browne brings insights from the sociology and social history of science to bear on her narrative. She discusses how Darwin was at the center of a vast and remarkable network of written correspondence: he wrote thousands of letters to all kinds of people, in the effort to gather information and clarify points of interpretation about everything from rare Malaysian birds to common English flowers.
Sun, Oct 30, 2005


I just finished reading Doormen, by Peter Bearman. It’s a study of the residential doormen who work in the buildings of New York’s Upper West and East sides. A fairly restricted topic, to be sure, but the book is a small gem: the kind of sociology that takes a particular job and investigates it in a way that derives quite general lessons even as it delves into the specifics. Appropriately, Doormen was featured in the New Yorker recently, though the article didn’t convey the flavor of the book all that well.
Thu, Oct 20, 2005

Ye Ladies of Easy Leisure

So by now everyone and his same-sex partner knows that Maggie Gallagher’s stint at Volokh is one long struggle between her strong argument that marriage has many benefits and her handwaving about gay people bringing down the Roman Empire. As I said originally, if you think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, you probably believe that same-sex marriage is the least of the threats to civilization-as-we-know-and-like-it. Well, via Lawyers, Guns and Money here is Leon Kass—Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and The College at the University of Chicago, and Chairman of the President’s Commission on Bioethics—in the first of a three-part series on what’s really wrong with America: Today, there are no socially prescribed forms of conduct that help guide young men and women in the direction of matrimony … most young women strike me as sad, lonely, and confused … today’s collegians do not even make dates or other forward-looking commitments to see one another; in this, as in so many other ways, they reveal their blindness to the meaning of the passing of time.
Wed, Oct 19, 2005

Same Sex Marriage Breakdown

Since my earlier post about it, Maggie Gallagher’s guest appearance at the Volokh Conspiracy has taken a rapid turn for the worse. She keeps putting up scattershot posts that resolutely fail to engage with any of the reasonable questions and criticisms an increasingly exasperated group of commenters have repeatedly offered her. It irritates the commenters no end that she begins posts with phrases like “Let me clarify” and then doesn’t clear anything up.
Tue, Oct 18, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage

Over at Volokh, Maggie Gallagher is visiting for a bit and arguing against the legalization of same-sex marriage. At least, soon she will begin arguing against it. Right now, she is clearing some ground to prepare for her main case. It looks like she wants to make some broad sociological generalizations about the place of the institution of marriage in society and the likely effect of a legalization of same-sex marriage on that institution.
Thu, Sep 22, 2005

Some Data on Families in the Workforce

What with all the kerfuffle about the NYT article on Ivy League women and their labor market / parenting plans, I took a look at some BLS data on long-term trends in earnings patterns within families, and in mothers’ labor force participation. Here are a couple of figures I created that capture some of what’s been happening in these areas over the past thirty-odd years. The first figure shows trends in earning patterns within families.
Wed, Sep 21, 2005

Selecting Future Moms

David Goldenberg at Gelf Magazine has a copy of the survey that Louise Story conducted as the basis for her irritating article about Ivy League women and their plans for motherhood. Doing a reliable survey is hard, and by far the two biggest difficulties are sample selectivity (when the probability of participation is related to the outcome you want to measure: this a very tricky problem) and poor design of questions (where you look for what you want to find).
Tue, Sep 20, 2005

Mommy-Tracking the Ivy Leaguers

Here’s an irritating piece from the New York Times about how high-achieving women students at elite schools are planning to quit their jobs and have children when they’re a bit older: Cynthia Liu is precisely the kind of high achiever Yale wants: … So will she join the long tradition of famous Ivy League graduates? Not likely. By the time she is 30, this accomplished 19-year-old expects to be a stay-at-home mom.
Tue, Sep 13, 2005

Maybe they can put my name on the cover of Suicide

Routledge publish a nice line of classic social science, literary criticism and philosophy. A couple of months ago I picked up their edition of Words and Things, Ernest Gellner’s entertaining hatchet-job on linguistic philosophy a la Wittgentein, J.L. Austin and the like. The flyleaf has a couple of blurbs from Bertrand Russell and the Times (“The classic attack on Oxford Linguistic Philosophy”, etc) but also one from Bryan Wilson, the sociologist of religion.
Wed, Sep 7, 2005

Crossing the Great Divide

Alan Wolfe and Tyler Cowen are discussing Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bait and Switch on Slate this week. The book is a kind of white-collar counterpart to Nickel and Dimed, where Ehrenreich tries to get a job (using an invented identity) in the media/public relations sector. Neither Wolfe nor Cowen is much impressed by the result, so I wonder whether they’ll be able to keep agreeing with each other about this for the next few days.
Fri, Sep 2, 2005

The Drowned and the Saved

Alan Schussman takes a first look at the social ecology of the flooded areas of New Orleans: The flood area has a population of about 380,000. Here’s how it compares to national numbers [from the 2000 census]: median HH income % black % poverty % owns home % private trans. % public trans. US $ 41,994 12.1 12.3 66.2 87.9 4.7 Flood area $ 29,854 66.8 26.9 50.6 79.0 13.0 These real numbers should be part of the discussion of why so many people didn’t get out of town.
Thu, Sep 1, 2005

Social Disasters II

According to AP, this photo shows a man covering the body of a man who died—apparently in a chair—on Thursday outside the convention center in New Orleans. The baby in his arms looks to be about three or four months old. I wonder whether she has any milk to drink. Plenty of people are saying this already, but the situation in New Orleans and the surrounding areas is just unbelievable, and the official response thus far is pretty appalling.
Thu, Sep 1, 2005

Social Disasters

I’ve written before about the sociological dimension of disasters—the fact that natural disasters are never wholly natural, because some kinds of people will be more likely to suffer and die than others, depending on how life is organized when the disaster hits. As everyone knows, social order is under severe pressure in New Orleans at the moment, and the media coverage is slowly coming around to analyzing the differential impact of the disaster.
Wed, Aug 31, 2005

Teaching Adam Smith

This semester I’m teaching Sources of Sociological Theory to undergraduate majors, a course I’ve taught several times before. After a crash course on the state of Europe and America prior to 1780 or so (100% guaranteed to make historians come out in at least hives, and possibly trigger fits), we’ve started reading Adam Smith. It’s always a pleasure to teach Smith as a social theorist. For one thing, he’s a clear enough writer (certainly compared to, e.g., Weber) and more importantly his central insight about the possibility of decentralized co-ordination always catches students by surprise.
Wed, Aug 10, 2005

The Future Lasts a Long Time

On the way in to work I was listening to a story about the latest round of proposed radiation standards for the proposed high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Because spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste lasts a terrifically long time, and because the project is so controversial, the EPA has had to come up with a standard for storing the stuff. Yesterday they announced one designed to protect public health for a million years, or, in the words of an EPA administrator “the next 25,000 generations of Americans.” I’m not an expert on any of this, but it seems that the inescapable fact about this sort of policy document is that the premise is wholly absurd.
Thu, Jul 28, 2005

Cos it's too darn hot

Flickr’s photos tell me that it’s cold and sunny in Canberra. I knew that already. The Lobby Bar is closing in Cork, which comes as a shock. (It’s a great venue.) And the Saguaros are flowering in Tucson. That means it’s really hot in Arizona right now—dangerously hot, in fact—just as I’m about to return there. One advantage of desert life, though, is that it’s possible to live in a more-or-less solar powered house.
Sun, Jun 26, 2005


What with Tom Cruise and his Scientology-driven antipathy to psychiatric medicine in the news recently, it might be worth revisiting an old post about the claims that Scientology makes for its founder, the appalling L. Ron Hubbard. Was there ever a more entertaining belief system embedded in a more ruthless organization? (Apart from the obvious one, I mean.) And then there is L. Ron himself — a man whose abilities and achievements are quite literally incredible.
Fri, Jun 3, 2005

Women Drivers

The suggestion that women in Saudi Arabia might, conceivably, be allowed to drive cars provokes squeals of outrage: Consultative Council member Mohammad al-Zulfa’s proposal has unleashed a storm in this conservative country where the subject of women drivers remains taboo. Al-Zulfa’s cell phone now constantly rings with furious Saudis accusing him of encouraging women to commit the double sins of discarding their veils and mixing with men. … [Opponents], who believe women should be shielded from strange men, say driving will allow a woman to leave home whenever she pleases and go wherever she wishes.
Sun, May 29, 2005

Regexps Rule

Regular readers will know that my list of indispensable applications includes the Emacs text editor, the TeX/LaTeX typesetting system,and a whole array of ancillary utilities that make the two play nice together. The goal is to produce beautiful and maintainable documents. Also it gives Dan further opportunity to defend Microsoft Office. I am happy to admit that a love of getting the text to come out just so can lead to long-run irrationalities.
Mon, May 23, 2005

A Wealth of Notions

Review of Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes a little at first. Behold the Freakonomist! “Politically incorrect in the best, most essential way,” said the blurb. A “rogue economist,” who goes out of his way in the first few pages to say he is “afraid of calculus” and doesn’t know how to do theory. Amazing! Incidentally, he trained at Harvard and MIT, was at the Harvard Society of Fellows, won the John Bates Clark medal and teaches at the University of Chicago.
Fri, Apr 22, 2005

Crooked Timber's Field of Positions

Thanks to the SQL gurus who responded so quickly to my question. Their help allowed me to get the data I wanted, namely, a table showing how often each of our authors has posted in each of our categories. A matrix like this allows for a correspondence analysis of the joint space of authors and topics, in the spirit of Pierre Bourdieu. I’ve updated the analysis from the original post, following some of my own advice to amalgamate the categories that different people were using to post a short joke or trivial item (like “Look like flies” or “Et Cetera” and so on).
Wed, Apr 13, 2005

My Health-Care Co-Pay

Everyone else is talking about health care this week, so here’s a reprise of an old post of mine. Below is a figure showing the relationship between the “Publicness” of the health system and the amount spent on health care per person per year. Data points are each country’s mean score on these measures for the years 1990 to 2001. You can also get a nicer PDF version of this figure.
Sat, Apr 2, 2005

When the Pope came to Ireland

Pope John Paul II came to Ireland in 1979. It was the first time a reigning pontiff had visited the country and the nation went crazy. I was six. I went to see him in Limerick, along with my father, my brother, my uncle Donal, and about 300,000 other people. He faced a similar-sized crowd in Galway, and filled the Phoenix Park in Dublin with nearly a million people, by some estimates.
Sat, Apr 2, 2005

Sociologically Improbable Phrases

Amazon has a new feature: Amazon.com Statistically Improbable Phrases: Amazon.com’s Statistically Improbable Phrases, or “SIPs”, show you the interesting, distinctive, or unlikely phrases that occur in the text of books in Search Inside the Book. Our computers scan the text of all books in the Search Inside program. If they find a phrase that occurs a large number of times in a particular book relative to how many times it occurs across all Search Inside books, that phrase is a SIP in that book.
Thu, Mar 24, 2005

Violent Societies

While thinking about the deterrent effect of the death penalty I wondered about cross-national variation in rates of violent death. Comparative data on homicide rates undoubtedly exist, but I don’t have them to hand. I do have OECD data on death rates due to assault, though, so here’s a nice picture of this trend for eighteen capitalist democracies from 1960 to 2002. You can get this as a higher-resolution PDF file (with appropriately rearranged layout), too.
Wed, Mar 23, 2005

Deterrence and the Death Penalty

Eugene Volokh quotes extensively from a new paper by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule that presents an argument for the death penalty based on recent studies that find it has a deterrent effect on potential murderers. In particular: Disaggregating the data on a state by state basis, Joanna Shepherd finds that the nation-wide deterrent effect of capital punishment is entirely driven by only six states … [The states] showing a deterrent effect are executing more people than states that do not.
Tue, Mar 22, 2005

Hot in the City

Draft review of Heat Wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago, by Eric Klinenberg. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. In the middle of July of 1995, temperatures in Chicago rose to record heights as a mass of hot, humid air settled over the city. On Thursday the 16th, the high temperature was 106 degrees Fahrenheit, or just over 41 degrees centigrade. The humidity made it feel even hotter, more like 126 degrees (52 degrees centigrade).
Mon, Mar 21, 2005

AddHealth Returns

Nothing like teen sex to get sociology in the newspapers. Here’s more interesting stuff from the AddHealth dataset, and more particularly from Peter Bearman and Hannah Brueckner. This is the most recent in a line of papers on abstinence pledges and adolescent sexual activity more generally. A summary from the L.A. Times: Young adults who as teenagers took pledges not to have sex until marriage were just as likely to contract a venereal disease as people who didn’t make the promise, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Thu, Mar 17, 2005

Volokh and Cruelty

Eugene Volokh’s thirst for blood has already provoked a fair bit of reaction, and rightly so. Volokh says I particularly like the involvement of the victims’ relatives in the killing of the monster; I think that if he’d killed one of my relatives, I would have wanted to play a role in killing him. Also, though for many instances I would prefer less painful forms of execution, I am especially pleased that the killing—and, yes, I am happy to call it a killing, a perfectly proper term for a perfectly proper act—was a slow throttling, and was preceded by a flogging.
Thu, Mar 3, 2005

Body Parts Sociology

I have left the bitter Sonoran desert behind and am in balmy Chicago for a conference about body parts. Packing my suitcase, I realized that I’m going to have some trouble keeping my own body parts at a reasonable temperature: where are all those Winter clothes I used to own? Didn’t I live in New Jersey and Connecticut for years? So I just brought everything I had. The conference should be interesting.
Fri, Feb 18, 2005

Minding the Kids, Again

Now that Larry Summers has begun to live up to his putative commitment to open, freewheeling inquiry by finally releasing a transcript of his infamous remarks, various people are commenting on it. Matt Yglesias says I don’t think you can reasonably expect any given university (or corporation, or person) to singlehandedly shoulder the burden of changing a set of social expectations that’s become very well entrenched over a very long period of time.
Wed, Jan 26, 2005


Kevin Drum relays the bad news that high self-esteem is basically good for nothing in terms of tangible outcomes. These findings sound much like the literature on optimism and pessimism, which finds that optimists overvalue their abilities and blame others for their mistakes. People with sunny dispositions are a real menace to society. A solid Irish Catholic upbringing (or functional equivalent) is guaranteed to inoculate you against these problems for good.
Sat, Jan 8, 2005

Sociology in Cafe Society

Just before Christmas, a new cafe opened up outside the main gates of the University of Arizona. The coffee is good and it’s a shorter walk than the alternatives. The people are friendly, too. One of my colleagues was chatting with the owner, Danny, last week—he’s often behind the bar serving customers. Danny asked whether my friend taught at the university, and then in what department. “Sociology,” my friend said, which is usually enough to move the conversation to some other topic.
Wed, Dec 29, 2004

A Sociologist Amongst Philosophers

Not only is it MLA Season, it’s also time for the meetings of the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division. The APA meetings are scheduled at this time of the year because, as is well known, philosophers hate Christmas—even if a good number of its senior wranglers do their best to look like Santa. So here I am in Boston. This year I even have a professional excuse to be here, because I’m doing some work on the relationship between specialization and status amongst philosophy departments.
Wed, Dec 15, 2004

Identity Politics for All

Two posts sit side-by-side at the Volokh conspiracy at the moment. In one, Eugene Volokh updates a post making fun of some women protesting about not being picked for parts in a production of The Vagina Monologues: Auditions Are So Patriarchal: Early this year, I blogged about a controversy related to The Vagina Monologues, in a post titled “Life Imitates The Onion.” An excerpt: … In flyers handed out to audience members at the show, University graduate Nicole Sangsuree Barrett wrote that while there was “diversity” in the show, it was minimal.
Mon, Dec 13, 2004

Our Law and God's

As Brian notes (via Kevin Drum), there are some people who think that [Clarence] Thomas is one of the few jurists today, conservative or otherwise, who understands and defends the principle that our rights come not from government but from a “creator” and “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” as our Declaration of Independence says, and that the purpose and power of government should therefore be limited to protecting our natural, God-given rights.
Sun, Dec 5, 2004

Academic Job Markets and Status Hierarchies

Over at Brian Leiter’s blog, there’s a debate going on about the role of publications in the hiring process. Keith DeRose is arguing that a graduate student’s publication record should be given a larger role than it often is: [W]hich graduate school one gets into and what job one initially lands tragically does very much to determine how well one is likely to do, long-term. It often happens for instance, that extremely talented philosophers who deserve to do as well as those landing the great jobs instead end up at some low-prestige job with a heavy teaching load.
Tue, Nov 23, 2004


Kevin Drum writes: LAKOFF FRAMING…. it’s finally time for me to get a copy of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, which appears to be something of a Bible among despairing liberals who can’t believe that half the country likes George Bush and apparently doesn’t like us. Basically, Lakoff says we need to get our act together and “frame” our arguments in more positive ways … Although I know (and like) his work on Metaphor, I’ve only seen Lakoff’s stuff on this at one remove or more—snippets on TV shows here and there, and talk in newspapers and blogs.
Sat, Nov 20, 2004

Economics and Philosophy

Over at Brian Leiter’s blog the Stanley brothers, Jason and Marcus are guest blogging about Philosophy and Economics. Marcus writes: I wonder if there are some commonalities between the desire to be “technical” or “scientific” that one sees in economics and some of the things Jason is posting about in philosophy. It seems to me that the internal academic war between “continental” humanism and “Anglo-American” empiricism has impacted a lot of different disciplines … The internal narratives of Anglo-American philosophy and modern economics see their paradigm emerging at almost the same time.
Fri, Nov 19, 2004

Further Analysis of Electronic Voting Patterns

Mike Hout and some colleagues at Berkeley have a working paper called “The Effect of Electronic Voting Machines on Change in Support for Bush in the 2004 Florida Elections”. A summary is also available as well as the data itself. They try to estimate whether the presence of touch-screen electronic voting made a difference to the number of votes cast for Bush, controlling for various demographic characteristics of the counties as well as the proportion of votes cast for the Republican Presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000.
Thu, Nov 11, 2004

Going Home to a Foreign Country

There’s a nice piece in the Times about Irish emigrants returning home from New York because they think they can do better these days in Ireland. (Many of them do, though very low-skill service jobs are done by emigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere.) The article gives some sense of the surprise many of them feel when they see how much the country has changed. That used to take a generation or more to happen—one of our American cousins, returning to Ireland in 1978 after nearly fifty years in San Francisco, lasted only three days before the presence of televisions and the absence of livestock in the house caused him to fly home in disgust—but now returning emigrants can get culture shock after only a few years away: Counselors in immigrant advice bureaus on both sides of the Atlantic say that many returnees will have a rude awakening in Ireland—especially those who were stuck in the underground economy in the United States, unable to travel abroad for fear of not getting back in.
Wed, Oct 20, 2004

Over-Enthusiastic Organ Procurement?

Reading about a case described in the National Review by Wesley J. Smith,[1] Kevin Drum wonders “if there really are serious moves afoot to redefine “death” in order to expedite organ harvesting.” The case in question concerns a Colorado man, William Thaddeus Rardin, who shot himself in the head. His organs were procured for transplantation. In his report on the death, however, the local Coroner, Mark Young, ruled that proper procedure hadn’t been followed, that Rardin’s brain death hadn’t been properly established and so the cause of death was the organ procurement itself.
Tue, Oct 19, 2004

May-December Marriages Again

For the sake of reducing the general level of snarkiness in the world, the pursuit of truth to its innermost thingys, and of course the children, I’ve looked a bit further at the question of May-December marriages and what that tells us about revealed preferences. As is often the case, the data tell us both more and less than you might think. The amateur demography continues below the fold, at Holbovian length.
Fri, Oct 15, 2004

Brad DeLong discovers Cultural Capital

Brad DeLong notices a relationship between the PSAT tests and the magazines lying around his home: Dubbed… declaimed… reflexive… inquisitive… sustenance… enumerated… demeaned…harangue… munificent… straitened… divestment… sinecure… corollary… culmination… manifestation… constellation… amalgam… embodies… sanguine… impudent… reiterating… carapace… antennae… [I]t’s hard to avoid noticing something about the vocabulary that they are testing. It’s not, by and large, science or engineering vocabulary. It’s not financial or commercial vocabulary. It’s not political or quantitative vocabulary.
Thu, Sep 16, 2004

Sui Generis

Jim Lewis has a piece on Slate about the photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, who is famous for candid shots of fashionable French people in the early 1900s. The stock story about Lartigue was that he “achieved late-life fame as one of the first masters of the medium, an unschooled amateur who achieved genius entirely by naive instinct.” But there’s plenty of evidence that, in fact, this is rubbish: His father was a camera buff, and the son was given every possible advantage: the newest equipment, lots of leisure time, and a thorough education in the ways of the medium.
Sat, Sep 4, 2004

Religion and Class

Berkeley’s Mike Hout and my colleague Fr Andrew Greeley have an Op-Ed in the Times today making some good points about the Republican Party’s support amongst Evangelical Christians. Religious and political conservatism don’t line up as closely as you might think, and certainly not as much as the talking heads assume. The intervening factor is how much money you make: [N]either region nor religion can override the class divide: if recent patterns hold, a majority (about 52 percent) of poor Southern white evangelicals will vote for Mr.
Thu, Sep 2, 2004

Emile Durkheim on Zell Miller

Well, OK not really—Durkheim died in 1917. But there’s more to crowds than being able to estimate prices accurately and The Elementary Forms of Religious Life is without doubt the place to begin when reflecting on the Republican Convention once the speeches are all done: The force of the collectivity is not wholly external; it does not move us entirely from outside. Indeed … it must enter into us and become organized within us … This stimulating and invigorating effect of society is particularly apparent in certain circumstances.
Fri, Aug 27, 2004

Altruism as an Organizational Problem

The University of Arizona’s news service has done a little press release covering a recent paper of mine about the social organization of cadaveric organ procurement in the United States. One way to think about the paper is in relation to ongoing debates about offering commercial incentives to donor families. These debates are conducted in individual-level terms—they are about appealing people’s to selfish rather than their altruistic impulses—and they rely on a straightforward contrast between giving and selling.
Wed, Aug 18, 2004

Krugman at the ASA

Paul Krugman and Fernando Cardoso were the final plenary speakers yesterday evening at the American Sociological Association Meetings in San Francisco. The topic under discussion was “The Future of Neoliberalism,” and both of them did a pretty good job. The panel was introduced and moderated by Juliet Schor, who spoke for twenty-odd minutes at the beginning and seemed just a tiny bit reluctant to give up the mike. That was understandable, I suppose, as the ballroom was jammed—standing room only and spillover into the hallways outside, and it’s hard to resist a crowd that big.
Sat, Aug 14, 2004

Love is a Battlefield Spanning-Tree Network with no 4-Cycles

Quick, in high school were you ever told not to date your old girlfriend’s current boyfriend’s old girlfriend? Or your old boyfriend’s current girlfriend’s old boyfriend? Probably not. But I bet you never did, either. This month’s American Journal of Sociology has a very nice paper (subscription only, alas) by Peter Bearman, Jim Moody and Katherine Stovel about the structure of the romantic and sexual network in a population of over 800 adolescents at “Jefferson High” in a midsized town in the midwestern United States.
Sat, Aug 14, 2004


I don’t know when “conferencing” became a verb, but I guess I’m doing it all the same. I’m at the ASA Meetings in San Francisco, where the keynote speakers include well-known sociologist Paul Krugman. I’m off to the Economic Sociology Section reception soon, but I am nevertheless tempted by the Section on Alcohol Drugs and Tobacco reception. Meanwhile, the storm damage in Florida reminds me of the answer to the stupidest question in the world.
Wed, Aug 11, 2004

Good Stuff from the Decembrist

Two good things from Mark Schmitt (but you wouldn’t expect anything less, right?). There’s an American Prospect Piece by him about the long-term effects of the congressional reforms of the 1950s and ‘60s, and a post about jobs with no sick leave: According to the brilliant analysts at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, sixty-six million workers, or 54% of the workforce, does not get a single paid sick day after a full year on the job.
Tue, Aug 10, 2004

Egalitarian Capitalism

I’ve mentioned this book before, but now that it’s been published so I thought it worth mentioning again. Egalitarian Capitalism is a new book by my new colleague Lane Kenworthy, who’s just joined us at Arizona. It’s a comparative analysis of trends in income inequality and household pre- and post-tax transfers in sixteen wealthy capitalist democracies. Lane’s approach is to ask whether the data support the idea that there are tradeoffs between a low degree of inequality, on the one hand, and strong growth, high employment and growing incomes.
Sat, Jul 24, 2004

Markets, Firms and Planning

Some threads of the ongoing discussion about the Efficient Markets Hypothesis have begun to address the contrast between markets and planning, with the state as the prospective planner. As is often the case in such discussions, the implicit contrast is between a Hayekian information-processing ideal and, say, North Korea. To break down this assumption a bit, it’s worth drawing a link to a related debate in the economics and sociology of organizations about the existence of the firm.
Fri, Jul 16, 2004

A New Analysis of Incarceration and Inequality

I’ve written about the intersection of incarceration, race and the labor market several times in the past. In the United States, the remarkable expansion of the prison system over the past thirty years, despite generally falling crime rates, has had far-reaching effects on large segments of the population, but especially amongst unskilled black men. A striking way to characterize the depth of this change is to make a comparison to rates of participation in some other institution—- say, for instance, that more black men have been to jail than are in college.
Thu, Jul 15, 2004

My Irresistible Rise

Speaking of accepting responsibility, I am planning to take the credit for this trend (also pdf, to print out and hang on your wall). Go to the Social Security Administration Website and investigate some trends for yourself. See the decline of the Heathers, the sudden, spectactular rise of the Ellas, and the terrible Hillary crash of 1993. Then read Stanley Lieberson’s A Matter of Taste for the sociology.
Tue, Jul 13, 2004

Public and Private Health Care

Brayden King notes that the Wall Street Journal is concerned about ever-rising health care costs in the United States. I’ve been looking at data on national health systems for a paper I’m trying to write. It turns out that there’s a lot less theoretical work done on comparative health systems than you might think, certainly in comparison to the huge literature on welfare state regimes. Here’s a figure showing the relationship between the “Publicness” of the health system and the amount spent on health care per person per year.
Fri, Jul 2, 2004

Public Sociologists

I agree with Brayden. In a year when the theme of the ASA’s annual meeting is Public Sociologies, it’s appropriate that the winner of the ASA’s dissertation award is a Blogger. Congratulations to Brian Gifford and also co-winner Greta Krippner.
Thu, Jul 1, 2004

Rabies via Organ Transplant

The Centers for Disease Control report that three people have died from rabies contracted after receiving transplants that originated with the same donor. The donors lungs, liver and kidneys were recovered. The lung recipient died during the transplant of unrelated causes. The recipients of both kidneys and the liver died of rabies. In their more detailed investigation of the events, the CDC report that the donor as an Arkansas man who visited two hospitals in Texas with severe mental status changes and a low-grade fever.
Sat, Jun 26, 2004

Sociology's Final Frontier

Via Baptiste Coulmont comes word of an effort to establish a new subfield of Sociology. Jim Pass, who as far as I can tell is an adjunct sociology instructor at Long Beach City College, is trying to get Astrosociology [Warning! Monster Java Zombie Nightmare Website from Beyond 1996], off the, uh, ground. He has managed to get a paper on this topic accepted at an Informal Roundtable Session at the upcoming ASA meetings in San Francisco.
Tue, Jun 15, 2004

Biblical Literalism

Eugene Volokh posts a table from a poll showing that about 60 percent of Americans say they believe Biblical stories like the 7-day creation, Noah’s flood and Moses’ parting of the Red Sea to be literally true. This is rather higher than other estimates I’ve seen of Biblical Literalism. Based on GSS data (the GSS is the best available public opinion survey in the U.S. with a long time-series), we know that in 1998 about 30 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word”.
Wed, Jun 9, 2004

The Social Production of Libertarians

I swear I had this post ready before all this stuff about positive and negative rights. My appetite for that kind of thing isn’t terribly high, except as an opportunity to think up slogans like “Libertarianism is the Socialism of Lawyers.” But a few months ago I made a passing comment that “Libertarianism has always seemed to me to depend for its realization on features of the social structure that it officially repuditates.” There’s probably a nice theory to be built about how this is true of all programmatic ideologies for social reorganization.
Mon, Jun 7, 2004

D-Day in the Public Mind

With all the hoopla over D-Day remembrances, I found myself wondering whether remembering the anniversary had become more or less important in the last twenty years. To this end, I spent twenty minutes getting LexisNexis to email me New York Times stories mentioning D-Day since 1980, running it through the world’s kludgiest Perl script to clean it and drop irrelevant entries[1], and looking at the data in R. The result is the figure to the right, which shows the number of stories per year over a 25-year period, though of course the 2004 data only go to June 6th of this year.
Mon, May 31, 2004

Sociology of Culture

Draft Syllabus for Soc 508, a graduate seminar/survey course in the Sociology of Culture. Coming this Fall[1] to a University of Arizona near you. Comments welcome. fn1. If August 24th can count as the Fall. The University of Arizona thinks it can.
Sun, May 30, 2004

A Government of Laws and not of Men

Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor whom Richard Nixon attempted to fire in the Saturday Night Massacre has died at the age of 92. I use a video about those events in my social theory class, when we read Weber, because it nicely illustrates Weber’s views about authority and bureaucracy. As the video goes on, you can draw an organizational chart of the official relationships between the main players—Nixon, Agnew and Haig in the White House; Cox, Elliott Richardson, William Ruckleshaus and Robert Bork at the Justice Department—and see how Nixon’s efforts to fire Cox were, in effect, an effort to act like he was the King rather than the President.
Fri, May 28, 2004

Professional Misconduct

Eugene Volokh has an interesting post about unsolved or unexplored issues in First Amendment doctrine. His topic is Professional-Client Speech: Many professional-client relationships—lawyer-client, psychotherapist-patient, accountant-client, even often doctor-patient—mostly consist of speech. Sometimes, of course, they involve physical conduct (surgery) or the submission of statements to the government (a lawyer arguing in court). But often they consist solely of two people talking with each other, one asking questions and the other giving advice.
Tue, May 18, 2004

Quick Eurovision Followup

In Nottingham today, and I eventually found wireless access in the lobby of a rather better hotel than the one I’m staying in. Just time to note that, in the light of last weekend’s Eurovision song contest, my network analysis of voting is now both confirmed and redundant.[1] The introduction of the Eastern European bloc of countries has had striking structural and cultural effects. Structurally, political voting for neighbors is now blatantly obvious love fest and openly commented on by the returning officers for each country.
Fri, May 14, 2004


My post about voting networks in the Eurovision led to a followup from Danyel Fisher, a grad student at Irvine who studies social networks. His weblog is has lots of interesting stuff, including a better-informed version of a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while about fingerprint databases. When the U.S. announced that it was going to fingerprint visitors entering the country, I began to wonder when the vast size of these databases was going to run up against the problem of false positives.
Thu, May 13, 2004

Torture of a different kind

Remember to watch the Eurovision Song Contest this weekend. If you have no idea what this is, you can read my primer on the subject from last year. Update: Never let it be said that the tools of empirical social science are not abused on this website. I decided to see whether my prejudices about the geopolitics of the Eurovision were empirically confirmable. To this end, I dug up data on voting patterns in the Eurovision from 1975 to 1999.
Mon, May 3, 2004

Conspicuous by his Absence

Still working my way through Robert Skidelsky’s John Maynard Keynes. Frank Ramsey appears only in passing, but the book manages to suggest what a terrible loss it was when Ramsey died, just short of his 27th birthday. His contributions to mathematics, philosophy and economics bring to mind Tom Lehrer’s line, “It’s sobering to reflect that by the time Mozart was my age, he’d already been dead for two years.” There’s no telling what he’d have done, had he lived.
Sun, Apr 25, 2004

Culture Matters

There’s often a strong temptation to think that only other people have culture, a mistake of the same kind as thinking only other people speak with an accent. The odd beliefs and attitudes of foreigners are best explained by reference to their culture, whereas our own actions are generally rational and defensible on their own terms. This fascinating story is about the Japanese hostages recently released in Iraq and their subsequent reception on their return home.
Sun, Apr 25, 2004

Red and Blue America

Via Kevin Drum comes this comment from political scientist Hans Noel, quoted in the Washington Post: “Most people say they are ‘moderate,’ but in fact the country is polarized around strong conservative and liberal positions.” [Noel said, and the article continues] … As it becomes more difficult to reach across the party line, campaigns are devoting more energy to firing up their hard-core supporters. For voters in the middle, this election may aggravate their feeling that politics no longer speaks to them, that it has become a dialogue of the deaf, a rant of uncompromising extremes.
Mon, Apr 19, 2004

Smoking in Public

Ireland’s ban on smoking in buildings other than private homes has been in place for a few weeks now, and appears to be holding. Wandering around Cork and Dublin over the past week, hotels, cafes, shops, and of course bars are all smoke-free. According to the OECD, 27 percent of Irish adults smoked every day in 1998 (down from 34 percent in 1985), which puts Ireland in the middle of the distribution internationally.
Tue, Apr 6, 2004

Who Fears to Speak of Easter Week?

We’re on an Evolutionary Psychology kick here at CT. It seems most of our commenters are more enamored of it than some of our contributors. This is maladaptive for the CT meme, because the realization that we disagree will cause traffic to our site to drop. Unless it’s actually adaptive, because the disagreement means traffic to our site will rise. While we’re on the topic, I mean meme, I want to know how my 12-week-old daughter’s emerging desire to put everything that comes her way into her mouth is either evolutionarily adaptive or individually rational.
Fri, Mar 26, 2004

Seduced by a Model

A nice example via Crescat Sententia of an issue I’ve mentioned before, namely, a case where the stylized facts lend themselves to an elegant bit of modeling that seems to analyze things very neatly, but the empirical details turn out to be much messier or a different kind of process altogether. Here it’s the debate about the Hijab in French schools. This is why fieldwork is important. The identification of mechanisms like sub-optimal conventions, failed co-ordination, tipping phenomena, self-fulfilling prophecies or auto-equilibrating systems are amongst the most useful and powerful tools in social science, but the number of phenomena they appear to explain is much larger than those they in fact explain.
Wed, Mar 24, 2004

More of the Same

Henry’s post on Microsoft as a monopolist is generating a lively discussion. A side-point popped up that I think is worth discussing. As a libertarian, Micha Gertner doesn’t like Henry’s argument that “sometimes (as here) the maintenance of competition requires vigorous state intervention”. Micha asks, So the solution to a monopoly is a monopoly? […] Henry’s proposed solutionvigorous state interventionis no solution at all; it merely sweeps the problem under the rug.
Tue, Mar 9, 2004

The Sociology of Blood and Guts

The director of UCLA’s Willed Body Program, Henry Reid, has been arrested for illegally selling human body parts from perhaps as many as 800 cadavers. A second man, Ernest Nelson, has also been arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods. Nelson claims that he routinely showed up hacksaw-in-hand at UCLA, with the full knowledge of the Program, and left with knee joints, hands and other body parts. UCLA officials describe Nelson and Reid as a pair of criminals operating without the knowledge of the University.
Mon, Mar 8, 2004

The Gay Divorcee

Divorce was declared illegal in Ireland by the Constitution of 1937. A referendum to repeal the ban was proposed in 1986 and soundly defeated. Almost two-thirds of the electorate voted against it. In November 1995 a second divorce referendum was put to the country. That one passed, by a margin of just over nine thousand votes in a total valid poll of 1.62 million. I had just started graduate school at Princeton that Autumn and remember the slightly frozen expressions of fellow grad students when I told them about the constitutional debate raging at home.
Fri, Feb 27, 2004

Writing History

Simon Schama protests too much. He claims that academic history is obsessed with scientific data and obsessive footnotes rather than good storytelling and calls for a return to a “golden age” of historical writing—Gibbon, Macaulay, Carlyle. This mostly seems like promotional fluff for his new TV series. Yet Timothy Burke and Invisible Adjunct broadly concur with Schama, though as cogs in the “juggernaut of academic history” that he condemns they add the caveat that “a broadly communicative, publically engaged rhetoric of history is dependent upon the existence of a body of much more meticulous scholarship.” That’s true—but it’s more than a caveat!
Mon, Feb 23, 2004

Economics of Mozart and Happiness

Tyler Cowen writes Read Michael’s recent treatment of The Economics of Mozart. The bottom line? Mozart was a successful commercial entrepreneur. His economic problems stemmed from a war with Turkey, not the failures of the marketplace. He should definitely have known better than to start a war with Turkey. That whole abduction from the seraglio business was a complete farce. Meanwhile—sorry, I’m not even going to pretend to link these comments—Matt Yglesias makes the following observation about Greg Easterbrook’s The Progress Paradox: The real progress paradox isn’t “why doesn’t all our stuff make us happy” but rather, given that all our stuff pretty clearly doesn’t make us happy, how do we come to have all this stuff.
Mon, Feb 16, 2004

The World City System

The latest issue of the American Journal of Sociology [subscription required] has a number of interesting articles, but given the, ahem, cosmopolitan nature of the crew here at CT, a paper by Alderson and Beckfield on Power and Position in the City World System [also pdf] caught my eye. They examine power relations between three and a half thousand cities in a network analysis, operationalizing ties with a measure of HQ and branch locations of the world’s 500 largest corporations.
Sun, Feb 15, 2004

Knowing about Religion

Kevin Drum is surprised to learn that schools in Britain offer religious education classes. (Ireland is the same, by the way.) He comments that “I don’t think there’s anything unconstitutional about teaching a “History of Religion” class or something like it in an American high school, but it just wouldn’t happen. And then a proposal to add atheism as one of the highlighted religions? Kaboom!” I’ve wondered before about this, in part because of a course in Classical Social Theory that I teach.
Tue, Feb 10, 2004

Conservatives in Academia

I’ve never found the argument that conservatives are discriminated against in academia terribly compelling. But it does seem like an interesting case, if only because in making it common or garden conservatives are forced to admit the existence of institutionalized inequality, something they are usually loath to acknowledge. Andrew Sullivan just bumped into this question. (Via Pandagon.) He raises and then dismisses the most parsimonious explanation for this inequality, namely that conservatives are just not as clever as liberals and so don’t get hired.
Tue, Feb 3, 2004

Walking to School

Kevin Drum asks why kids don’t walk to school anymore: according to the CDC, only 31% of children ages 5-15 who live within a mile of school walk or bike. That’s down from 90% in 1969. But I still can’t figure out why. Why do parents ferry their kids around when there’s no reason for it? What’s the motivation? There might be more than one initial impetus—irrational concerns about safety, heavier school backpacks making walking more difficult, busier parents using the commute as quality time, and the like.
Wed, Jan 28, 2004

Inequality and the Varieties of Capitalism

My department has a job offer out to Emory’s Lane Kenworthy, a comparative macro-sociologist. We hope he accepts, of course, because his stuff is very interesting. His homepage has a list of his papers, along with various datasets. He also has a complete draft of a forthcoming book, Egalitarian Capitalism [2mb PDF]. It’s an examination of trends in growth, employment and income in 20 of the advanced capitalist democracies. The analytical focus is on whether there is a tradeoff between each of these desirable goals, on the one hand, and income equality, on the other.
Wed, Jan 28, 2004

Drugs and Deterrence

Mark Kleiman notes that the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program has been killed. This was a useful dataset on patterns of drug-use amongst criminals. In his post, Mark quotes John Coleman, a former bigwig at the DEA, who says The importance of ADAM always has been its stark statistics showing the large percentage of criminals high on drugs and alcohol at the time of their crimes. ADAM surveyed arrested felons and then drug-tested them to confirm their statements about drug use.
Sun, Jan 25, 2004

After the New Economy

[Note: This is a long post. You can get it in a more readable PDF format if you wish.] After the New Economy, by Doug Henwood, is a timely book in the best tradition of broad-minded, trenchant and critical commentary on economic life. In the United States, writing of this sort is uncommon, in part because of the highly professionalized nature of economics as a discipline. Commentators on the economy have to work hard to establish their legitimacy and, justly or not, are often quickly dismissed as “economically illiterate” or “ignorant of Economics 101” by accredited economists, who guard their turf fiercely.
Sun, Dec 21, 2003

Cry me a River

An article in the New York Times reports that the (white) relatives of Strom Thurmond are all upset since (black) Essie Mae Washington-Williams told the world last week that Thurmond was her father. Her mother had been a teenage maid in Thurmond’s household when Strom was in his early twenties. The article doesn’t have much in the way of commentary, but it doesn’t have to because you just have to listen to them damn themselves out of their own mouths.
Fri, Dec 19, 2003

The Beast with two Robacks

Jennifer Roback Morse’s views on sex and marriage are worth reading if you are interested in what happens when natural law theory, evolutionary psychology and conservative family values are stewed together and left to simmer in a base of visceral disgust toward homosexuals. I leave it to legal scholars to explain what’s wrong with arguments from “what nature intended.” Feminists can take Morse’s complaint that “we have already redefined the social context of marriage in the name of equality for women” and invite her to pine for the days before the Married Women’s Property Act.
Thu, Dec 18, 2003


I just finished a writing up a 500-word entry for a forthcoming Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, edited by Jens Beckert and Milan Zafiroski. (I was only about a year late. You’d think the blogging would have made 500-word chunks easy to churn out.) While reading the boilerplate in the contributor’s agreement, I came across the following clause: 2 (a) … The Contributor further warrants that the Contribution contains nothing obscene, libellous, blasphemous, in breach of copyright or otherwise unlawful … All well and good, except that my allocated entry is “Sacred.” As you will all remember from your social theory class, Durkheim’s view is that religion is a collective representation of the social structure.
Fri, Dec 12, 2003

Sociology of Cultures

Via Alan Schussman (it’s great when your RAs have blogs) comes an interesting review by Steven Shapin of Camembert: A National Myth by Pierre Boisard. The book shows how there’s rather more—and rather less—to the famous cheese than meets the eye and nose. Unlikely though it may seem, Camembert’s development mirrors the evolution of the French state. A friend of mine once raised a skeptical eyebrow, and smirked a bit, when I told him about that there was a fascinating subfield on the sociology of food.
Tue, Dec 9, 2003

Islam and Economic Growth

Tyler Cowen thinks that Islam might be bad for economic growth. The relationship between religious beliefs and practices, on the one, hand and economic prosperity, on the other, is a very tricky question. It’s kept comparative sociologists busy for more than a century. Here’s one of the reasons why it’s tricky, courtesy of Ernest Gellner’s brilliant essay, “Flux and Reflux in the Faith of Men,” which can be found in his book Muslim Society: I like to imagine what would have happened had the Arabs won at Potiers and gone on to conquer and Islamise Europe.
Mon, Nov 24, 2003

Tenure and Toddlers

I’ve written before about the way debates about work-family conflict are framed. In general, men with children are not thought to face work/family choices. Alternatives to this way of thinking about it—analyzing the institutions that structure people’s choices, for example—are often dismissed as utopian flim-flam. It’s a good example of how social facts are mistaken for natural facts. Quite sensible people—who know that it’s silly to argue that cloning, contraceptives and representative government are wrong because they are “unnatural,” for instance—can often be found insisting that the Pleistocene Savannah has set implacable constraints on the institutional design of work/family policies in postindustrial democracies.
Thu, Nov 13, 2003

SUV luv

Jim Henley defends SUVs by comparing them to his recently much-improved level of fitness: Now consider a common complaint against sport-utility vehicles: Most people who buy them don’t need that much power … A comparison with personal fitness is suggestive: SUVs are anaerobic strength vehicles; high fuel-efficiency cars are aerobic. Vehicle power is like muscle power: When you need it, you need it. Maybe you have to cart a new refrigerator home.
Mon, Nov 10, 2003

Solidarity and Hierarchy in Academic Job Markets

Via Brayden King, I’ve come across a nice paper by Shin-Kap Han in the current issue of Social Networks, which my colleague Ron Breiger co-edits. The paper is a network analysis of the exchange of job candidates in a number of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Though academics talk about “the job market,” it will not surprise you that placement is deeply embedded in systems of departmental status that bear little resemblance to a properly functioning market.
Wed, Nov 5, 2003

Interview with the Moor

Via MaxSpeak comes a link to an excellent interview with Karl Marx conducted sometime in the last month, apparently. Karl has lost none of his vitality, despite having been dead for some time. His analysis is as trenchant as his invective is unrelenting. Who is an “insipid, pedantic, leather-tongued oracle of the ordinary bourgeois intelligence” and who is “so easy to comprehend, so stupendously unoriginal, so devastatingly tautological”? Read it and see.
Mon, Oct 6, 2003

All Things Nice

Over at Slate, Steven Landsburg has a piece on the finding that the parents of daughters are more likely to divorce than the parents of sons: In the United States, the parents of a girl are nearly 5 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of a boy. The more daughters, the bigger the effect: The parents of three girls are almost 10 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of three boys.
Mon, Sep 15, 2003

Capital Mobility

Daniel’s post on Crooked Timber about the Cancun trade talks explains that their failure was rooted in disagreement about restrictions on foreign investment and capital controls. This reminds me that it’s time you all re-read Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Olivier Jeanne’s paper “The Elusive Benefits from International Financial Integration,” which I blogged about a few months ago.
Sun, Sep 7, 2003

Existence Theorems are Reductios

John Quiggin gives a modest defence of existence theorems in economics, one of the three real vices of economists according to Deirdre McCloskey. Existence theorems, for McCloskey are the archetypal example of ‘blackboard economics’, mathematical games yielding purely qualitative results that can be overturned with modest changes in assumptions. They were the high point of mathematical economics in the 50s and 60s … There are a wide variety of ‘impossibility theorems’ demonstrating the non-existence of index numbers with various properties [an area of research interest for John].
Wed, Sep 3, 2003

Minding the Kids

Jane Galt is worried about the economics of childcare and she gives a good account of the hard choices women often feel they must face about bearing and rearing children: Should we stay home, or shouldn’t we? It’s a difficult question for professional women. … We want to be successful as much as our husbands do. Taking five or eight or ten years off to get the kids started off right before they go to school is going to mean irreperably harming our prospects for advancement.
Sun, Aug 31, 2003

Get a Lifestyle

In Newspaper Land, Summer is the season of fake lifestyle trends. There’s nothing like a bit of pop sociology to fill the feature pages on those long, hot days. The New York Times has been doing quite well on this front recently. A couple of months ago it was telling us about metrosexuals, the allegedly new breed of straight male who uses Neutrogena products and so on. They also had a story about the rise of the thirtieth birthday party.
Fri, Aug 29, 2003

Russia and China

Nick Kristof discusses the economies of Russia and China today in the Times. He wants to stop you from using the phrase “market democracies” quite so freely. China’s economy is doing very well. The centralised and basically despotic communist state has managed to smoothly introduce market-type institutions in the economy. Meanwhile nominally democratic Russia is a disaster. “I wish I could say that free elections pay better dividends than massacres” Kristof says, “But, although it hurts to say so, in this case it looks the other way around.” He then looks for an answer to this question—why has democratic Russia done so badly economically, while communist China has done so well?—and here’s his answer: [I]t seems to me that the best explanation for the different paths of China and the former Soviet Union is not policy but culture.
Wed, Aug 27, 2003

Conference Advice

Dan Drezner blogs some advice for attendees of academic conferences. His suggestions are fine, but I have some of my own. First, some general perspective for those of you who are lucky enough not to have to go to these things. Attending an academic conference is like being a teenager again. This is why they can be so awful. You hang around trying to attach yourself to a group—preferably the cool kids, but in the end any group will do—and then these groups hang around waiting for something to happen.
Mon, Aug 25, 2003

Incarceration and the Labor Market

Devah Pager has won this year’s Dissertation Award from the American Sociological Association. (I wrote about her work last year. It’s worth mentioning again.) Devah studies the effect of incarceration on labor market outcomes. Her approach was to conduct an audit study of employers, sending in applications for real jobs using vitas for matched pairs of black and white men. The abstract of a working paper from the study says, in part: With over 2 million individuals currently incarcerated, and over half a million prisoners released each year, the large and growing numbers of men being processed through the [U.S.] criminal justice system raises important questions about the consequences of this massive institutional intervention.
Sun, Aug 24, 2003

Take the Money! Open the Box!

Brad DeLong wonders why Dan Weintraub seems least inclined to support the candidate for Governeror of California about whom most is known. On Dan’s own admission, McClintock and Simon are liars, Schwarzenneger is an unknown quantity and Bustamente has a known program that at least holds together. And yet Dan leans towards McClintock (whom he knows is lying) or Arnie (about whom he knows nothing). Brad says: A normal person, if offered a choice between candidates (McClintock, Simon) who are lying to you, a candidate (Schwarzenegger) who refuses to say what he would do both because he has no clue and because he thinks “people do not care about the numbers and figures,” and a reasonably-smart guy who understands what the tradeoffs are and has a set of ideas about what to do with them—as I said, a normal guy would choose the clued-in candidate who is not lying to him.
Sun, Aug 17, 2003

Conference Blues

Actually, more like Conference Rock’n’Roll. The American Sociological Association’s annual meeting got off to a decent start last night, with a performance in the main ballroom by a band called Thin Vita. It’s made up of, amongst others, John Sutton (guitar/vocals) and current ASA President Bill Bielby (bass). So I think Bill is pretty well top of the list of Heads of Social Science Associations That You’d Want To Have A Beer With.
Sun, Jul 20, 2003

Shake'n'Bake Social Theory

Real innovation in social theory is hard but brute-force approaches can yield results. Henry’s comments on Public Choice Theory reminded me of a simple way to innovate theory that you’re welcome to apply in various contexts as you please. Take a few basic kinds of institutions, structures or practices that can be identified across many different social contexts. There are markets, say, and there is politics. There is ritual. There is culture.
Fri, Jul 11, 2003

Open Source Stuff

My draft paper on OSS development (co-authored with Alan Schussman) is picked up this morning by Linux Today.
Sun, Jul 6, 2003

Open Source Again

Troutgirl (aka Joyce Park) has some informed commentary on my draft paper [pdf] about open source software development. Once I get to Canberra (next week: yikes!) I really need to revise this paper in the light of some of the new literature and the feedback I’ve gotten from people. I’m presenting it at the ASA meetings in August, which will give me a push to look at it again. I’m not sure what the right outlet for it is (suggestions are welcome).
Thu, Jun 19, 2003

Open Source

Here I am at the HBS/MIT Sloan Free/Open Source Software Conference, able to leech off of the Harvard Business School wireless network. We just finished talking about motives for participation in Open Source, and of course for the economists the question is “Why are these people volunteering?” The answer (again for the economists) is that they must be getting something out of it. This is perfectly reasonable as far as it goes (though the impulse to treat co-operation and volunteering as a weird social anomaly has its pathological side).
Sat, Jun 14, 2003

Two Views of Society

Contrasting images of the social order from a Saki short story called “The Saint and the Goblin”. The Saint and the Goblin are little statues living in a small church somewhere. The Saint was a philanthropist in an old-fashioned way; he thought the world, as he saw it, was good, but might be improved. In particular he pitied the church mice, who were miserably poor. The Goblin, on the other hand, was of the opinion that the world, as he saw it, was bad, but had better be let alone.
Wed, Jun 11, 2003

Markets and Cultural Diversity

The economist Tyler Cowen has just joined the Volokh Conspiracy. As it happens, I’ve just finished reading his book Creative Destruction, which is about the relationship between globalization and markets for cultural goods like books, music, movies and food. In particular, Cowen wants to defend the idea that trade across cultures is, on balance, a good thing for everyone. It improves diversity, encourages innovation and widens choice. There is a downside, in that the mass market for cultural goods may tend towards homogeneity.
Wed, Jun 4, 2003

Elusive Gains

We all know what the benefits of open international capital markets are. Just like free trade in other goods, capital account liberalization means money flows where it’s needed, which makes for economic growth and development. We know this not just because of some verbal arguments, but because economists can write down a model of this process, and we can see it happening in the data. Right? Wrong. A fascinating paper [pdf] by Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas and Olivier Jeanne shows that this isn’t the case at all.
Sun, Jun 1, 2003

Blood and Guts

Organ donation is back in the news. CNN is running a story about a proposal to test cash incentives for organ donations. Maureen Dowd has a column about her niece who is that rarest of things, a live liver donor. And in the blogosphere, John Quiggin is complaining about a transplant-based example designed to show the problems with consequentialism. All of which can mean only one thing: I need to finish writing my book.
Thu, May 29, 2003

Weak Ties and all That

Liz Lawley and Brad DeLong run across Mark Granovetter’s classic 1973 article, “The Strength of Weak Ties”. It’s well worth reading. If you’re interested, you can check out the syllabus for the Economic Sociology seminar I taught last Fall. (Update: Whoops, the link goes to the right syllabus now.) Liz seems mainly interested in using the article to get into the literature on social networks rather than economic sociology. Social networks have become quite the thing recently, with which the publication of a number of popular books on the subect.
Tue, May 27, 2003

Risks, Rewards and the Wage Bargain

David Adesnik has a long post ruminating on some complaints by Kevin Drum on the amazingly rapid rise in income and wealth inequality in the United States over the past twenty five years or so. Kevin does some basic math to calculate how the increase in GDP over that time would have been distributed if rates of inequality hadn’t changed. David responds: While I don’t understand much about economics, I tend to accept that growth in market economies reflects the willingness of those with capital to invest it in projects that carry with them a certain degree of risk.
Tue, May 20, 2003

Max Weber Call Your Office

Via the excellent Julian Sanchez comes this snippet illustrating the difference between traditional and legal-rational authority. Tom DeLay wants to smoke in Tom Khandker’s restaurant: Khandker: “I’m sorry, sir, but this is a federal building, and it’s against the law of the federal government.” DeLay: “I am the federal government.” But Khandker stood his ground, and DeLay and several cigar-chomping compatriots left for the smoke-filled Caucus Room before the cheesecake course.
Mon, May 12, 2003

Robust Action

Here’s a great post by Henry Farrell that takes a classic paper in sociology—Padgett & Ansell’s Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici“—and shows how it informs the goings on in Survivor. He contrasts the sociological with the game-theoretic approach to good effect. As Eric Leifer once observed (I think in his paper “Interaction Preludes to Role Setting”) game theory can be thought of as the analysis of “games that do not have to be played.” In real games—in social interactions where people are scheming against each other and the outcome is not at all clear *a priori*—ambiguity, ambage and open-endedness are vitally important to successful outcomes.
Sat, May 10, 2003

Gender Again

John Quiggin follows up on my post about occupational segregation. He says: I’d argue that the bulk of the explanation can be found in high school or earlier. Girls do relatively well in language and boys in mathematics. Although I have no data, the disproportion seems to be higher the further up the performance scale you go, so that the very best students (the future PhDs) are highly gender-segregated. Given the incredible power of social pressures in high school, I think it’s reasonable to assume that this outcome is generated by social stereotypes rather than by differences in genes.
Fri, May 9, 2003

I'd Like to Thank the Academy

Jacob Levy also writes about the Clark medal, and asks whether such awards are worthwhile. I’m not sure. Like Political Science, Sociology has a few awards that are presented at the annual meeting, such as a best book award, a distinguished contribution to scholarship award and a best dissertation award. I can’t in good faith criticize these kinds of awards because, um, I won one last year. Like Jacob, I think that Political Science and Sociology have too much theoretical and methodological heterogeneity to support an equivalent to the Clark medal.
Fri, May 9, 2003

Economics, Philosophy, Gender

Brad DeLong congratulates Steven Levitt on winning the John Bates Clark Medal and gives us a list of previous winners. Awarded every other year since 1947, all of the winners are men. Brian Weatherson picks up on this point and notes that analytic philosophy “has done a very poor job over the years in attracting and keeping bright women,” though he thinks the situation is not quite as bad as economics.
Thu, May 8, 2003


Looking at my referrer logs, I find an uptick in people who find this blog through searches like these: marx human nature emile durkheim’s main themes sociology exam simmel stranger weber vocation what is the protestant ethic? This is because right around now, all over the country, undergraduates are writing final papers or taking final exams in sociological theory courses like the one I teach. Some of those searching are doing legitimate research and some are looking for material to plagiarize.
Wed, May 7, 2003

Marx vs Weber

Continuing this morning’s theme of head-to-head conflict, the Invisible Adjunct has a great post on opposition to graduate student unionization at Penn. Deputy Provost Peter Conn thinks it “makes no sense” that “an Ivy League graduate student researching Edmund Spenser is to be identified with a sanitation worker.‘” It’s funny how the very mention of “union” is enough to elicit such candid expressions of class snobbery and class anxiety. But this is the Ivy League!
Thu, May 1, 2003

Hats off to D-Squared

Hats off to Daniel Davies for having the energy to do what I do not. He wades into the comments section and says some of what needs to be said about this post by Megan McArdle (aka Jane Galt). She’s writing about the supposedly rock-solid scientific rigor of Economics compared to the humanities and allegedly fake social “sciences” like Political Science and Sociology. As the post and its comments thread show, few topics provide so much opportunity for confidently talking out your ass as the question “Are the social sciences really scientific?” Informed answers to this question are rare.
Thu, May 1, 2003

Paths to Neoliberalism

A follow-up to the previous post. Desai notes in passing that the pace of liberalization is different in different countries. My friend Marion Fourcade-Gourinchas and her co-author Sarah Babb have a very interesting article forthcoming in the AJS called “The Rebirth of the Liberal Creed: Paths to Neoliberalism in Four Countries.” It’s a comparative study of Chile, Britain, Mexico and France. A “neoliberal transition” happens when a country adopts a set of economic policies characterized by “tight money and market mechanisms.” The authors show that each country began moves in this direction in response to a balance-of-payments crisis.
Tue, Apr 29, 2003

Science as a vocation

Timothy Burke lets fly with an impassioned post about the state of academic life. Channelling Nietzsche, he complains that a combination of timidity born of careerism and ignorance born of overspecialization combine to form a “vacuum at the heart of academic life”. It is not because we are too busy. It is because we are afraid. For one, we are afraid because of having tenure, not because we have yet to have it: all of us with tenure fear starting a conversation that will reveal an irresolvable intellectual and political divide between ourselves and a colleague.
Sun, Apr 20, 2003

Apt Quotations II

While we’re playing around with quotations, here’s a good one in praise of Globalization, from one of its earliest prophets. It clearly articulates the cultural and economic benefits of free trade and open markets and expresses the contemporary neoconservative agenda pretty well, I think. [Free-market capitalism] has, through its exploitation of its world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood.
Sat, Apr 19, 2003

Gender Humbug II

Back from his holidays, Chris Bertram has comments about the male brain/female brain multi-choice quiz that I complained about before. Chris stakes out a reasonable position. He’s a bit more precise than I was when I wrote my original post—my excuse is that at the time I was, to quote Raymond Chandler, full of no coffee. However, I’d stand by what I said. The main point as I see it is that the questionnaire instrument is no good.
Fri, Apr 18, 2003

Gender Humbug

Via Maria Farrell I see that yet another psychologist is laughing all the way to the bank with a book and multiple choice quiz about essential differences in the brains of men and women. A significant commonality in the brains of men and women is an endless appetite for tests of this sort that comfortingly reinforce what you already know. Men, clever boys that they are, typically have a high “systemising quotient” because their brains are “hard-wired” for understanding and building systems.
Tue, Apr 15, 2003

A useful IQ test

Sick of Battleground God? Take the IQ test at the Center for the Study of Inequality and see how much you know about income inquality, gender and occupational segregation, social mobility and other cool stuff. There are 12 questions. I got one wrong, but I suppose it’s my job to know this stuff.
Mon, Apr 14, 2003

Pascal on Tyranny

Mark Kleiman quotes Pascal using the word “tyranny” in what Mark thinks is “an odd way” whose relationship to “political tyranny is only a metaphorical one” but that nevertheless, he thinks, “describes an important phenomenon, for which I can’t at the moment think of another single name.” Pascal says, in part: Tyranny consists in the desire of universal power beyond its scope. … Tyranny is the wish to have in one way what can only be had in another.
Fri, Apr 11, 2003

Dirty Minds

Kevin Drum is a little worried: (d) For the purposes of this section, the term “material that is harmful to minors” means any communication that— (1) taken as a whole and with respect to minors, appeals to a prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion…. Excretion? What’s up with that? I mean, the last time I looked kiddie TV was so full of fart and poop and pee jokes that it even makes me a little queasy.
Thu, Apr 10, 2003

Innately Flexible

Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum both comment on a survey that Republicans think, by a margin of 61-39, that homosexuality is caused by upbringing; whereas Democrats opt for genes by a margin of 66-34. This confirms a throwaway comment I read a few years ago, I think in the context of the Bell Curve debate. Conservatives think that everything except being gay is determined by the genes and Liberals think nothing but being gay is caused by genes.
Mon, Apr 7, 2003

How Significant is the Anti-War Movement?

Anti-war protestors are being criticized from various sources for continuing to turn out in large numbers to register their dissent. Reasons for criticism vary. Many want to tell the protestors what they ought to be doing instead, whether it be staying quietly at home or engaging in some other form of political action. Others just can’t stand the sight of them out there, chanting away. William Sjostrom cannot see them as anything other than “exercises in narcissism” that pose “serious risks” to public resources.
Mon, Apr 7, 2003

The Hand of God

In about an hour I’m due to give a lecture to my undergraduate social theory class. We’re reading Durkheim this week. As usual, I’m trying to think up accessible examples to illustrate some of the ideas. This is especially important for Durkheim, as his arguments are often terrible and his examples a little out of date. Last year, I mistakenly assigned the bit of The Division of Labor in Society discussing why the skulls of Parisian women are so small.
Wed, Mar 26, 2003

New in Print

Far away from the sound and fury of the war, high up in the ivory tower, my review [pdf] of Stephan Fuchs’ Against Essentialism just appeared in the current issue of Contemporary Sociology.
Sun, Mar 23, 2003

The Honeymoon's Over

Always wanted to say that. And it’s true! I’m back at home in my new role as a respectable married man. I strongly second most of Jim Henley’s observations about What He Won’t Be Doing now the war has started. (It’s about time Jim got added to the blogroll, incidentally.) The efforts of Sean-Paul Kelley to chronicle everything-as-it-happens are heroic (we’re already up to newflash XXXIX —I’m waiting for number 88), but I think Kevin Drum is right that it’s all a bit frantic, and rather more heat than light.
Thu, Mar 13, 2003

Teeny Tech meets Tiny Norm

Scene: In a parking lot, a few hours after renting a car for the week (much nicer than my regular car). Teeny Tech: The car’s headlights turn off by themselves about 30 seconds after you move away from the car. Tiny Norm: If you see someone’s left their lights on, you tell them. Teeny Tech meets Tiny Norm: Helpful Person: “Hey, you left your lights on!” Me: “No, they go off by themselves.” HP [looks slightly embarrassed]: “Oh.
Wed, Mar 12, 2003

Blogging Sociologists

The ranks of scholar-bloggers are filled with lawyers, historians, economists and political scientists, but sociologists are thin on the ground. I didn’t know of any besides myself and Eszter until this week, when I found Amitai Etzioni’s new blog. He’s a considerably more influential sociologist than me. As it happens, this week I also got a complementary copy of Issue 1 of the Socio-Economic Review, a new journal put out by the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics.
Tue, Mar 11, 2003

Reason as Religion

I got the same email from Nick, the Ranting Rationalist, as Matt Yglesias did. Nick proudly proclaims a commitment to “rational discourse” and says he is “similarly hopeful that you liberal, subjectivist, collectivist simpletons are roundly agitated and annoyed” by his unflinching approach. Matt raises some philosophical questions for this kind of view. Sociological ones begins with the observation that strident claims of rationality and individualism are often more like clan totems to enhance collective identity than they are commitments to standards of argument and action.
Fri, Feb 28, 2003

Your Cheatin' Hormone

Brad DeLong points to an article by Virginia Postrel about the nascent science of neuroeconomics. There’s a lot of experimental work showing that people typically trust each other much more than homo economicus would. In standard bargaining games, where it’s rational to stiff the other guy but better (in terms of your prize money) if you both trust each other for a bit, people tend to trust each other. This holds even where experimenters create exchange conditions that positively encourage you to be an asshole—by removing face-to-face interaction, ensuring anonymity, making the games one-shot deals, and so on.
Mon, Feb 24, 2003

Visions and Revisions (again)

Chris Bertram is done with his Rousseau book. Good for him. Meanwhile I am just trying to revise an resubmit an article. The deadline is Friday. Ack. Let me just say that—basic reasonableness of the reviews notwithstanding—it is a complete pain to have to rip out and rewrite the entire front end of your paper. Bleah. While I have 5 minutes before class, let me also draw your attention to Elizabeth Lane Lawley’s weblog, which, besides its interesting homegrown content, has a list of academic bloggers worth following up.
Sun, Feb 23, 2003

Robert K. Merton, 1910-2003

I just heard from my friend Courtney Bender that Robert K. Merton died this morning. He was 92 years old. Merton was one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century. He was born in 1910 (as Meyer Schkolnick) in Philadelphia to immigrant parents. He taught at Columbia for almost his whole career, from about 1940 to about 1980. Rather than having one big idea, Merton coined concepts. He wrote about self-fulfilling (and self-negating) prophecies, “goal displacement” in bureaucracy, functional explanation in sociology, the manifest and latent functions of social systems, the Matthew Effect in science, locals and cosmopolitans, theories of deviance and role strain, focus-group interviews (their misuse in marketing and politics irritated him), “opportunity structure” and other ideas.
Fri, Feb 21, 2003

That's Just Ancient History

Two mentions on Junius today. First, let me say that when Chris says “Kieran Healy has persuaded me of … the beauty of LaTeX” he of course means the wonderfully powerful, free, professional-grade typesetting system designed by the great Donald Knuth. You weren’t thinking he could have meant anything else, now were you? Chris also brings up G.E.M. de Ste Croix and his amazing The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World.
Fri, Feb 21, 2003

Smart Bomb

Kevin Drum sets off an intellectual WMD on his blog, writing about IQ and race. Sit back and watch the fallout spread across the blogosphere, with lots of posts of varying degrees of anger, tortuousness and smugness, depending. I could write a lot about this topic, but I’ll limit myself to two points. Kevin is begging the question, and he is equivocating between two senses of the word ‘intelligence’ in a way that makes his argument seem much more controversial than it really is.
Sun, Feb 9, 2003

Politics as a Vocation

Iain J. Coleman points out the difference between the chattering classes and the people who get things done: This is the grunt-work of politics. It has all the glamour of slashing your finger on a spring-loaded letterbox on a rainy winter’s night, and is as intellectually satisfying as giving up an evening to suffer personal abuse at the hands of strangers can be. But it is necessary. Doing this, you stand a chance of winning: sitting aloof at your keyboard, you can only lose.
Fri, Feb 7, 2003

Counter Intelligence

Early this morning my blog got a visit from someone at cia.gov. They were searching for a information about an old article by the sociologist Erving Goffman called On Cooling the Mark Out, which I blogged about a while ago. The article is about how con men gently close out a successful sting in such a way that the victim won’t go and complain about it to someone. Good to see that the spooks are keeping up with their sociology—- and who knows, maybe even putting it into practice.
Thu, Feb 6, 2003

Objections to the Labor Theory of Value, #432

Professor: Here is your essay on Marx’s theory of value. You got a C. Student: A C?! But I worked really hard on it for two days! That should be worth more than a C! QED. PS: I don’t want any smarty-pants comments about labor values being properly measured in terms of abstract, socially necessary labor time, thank you very much. I know all about that. I still think this is funny.
Wed, Jan 29, 2003

The Ecology of Open Source Software

I’ve been working on a a paper [pdf] about Open Source Software development with Alan Schussman, a graduate student in my department. It’s still in a very early state—- we’re really just kicking around a few ideas—- but some of the findings are interesting. The basic idea is to try to look at the social structure of the OSS development community a bit more closely. Here’s a neat picture of the basic finding, which is that OSS projects are fantastically skewed on several different measures of activity.
Wed, Jan 29, 2003

Black/White Wealth Gap

Mark Kleiman follows up on the size of the wealth gap by race. (Ampersand has posted some summary data, so you can see how horrible the gap is.) I’d posted about this and Ted Barlow picked up on it, particularly on my mention of Dalton Conley’s work which suggests, in a nutshell, that differences in wealth explain differences in educational attainment between blacks and whites. Mark cites Meredith Phillips on the issue.
Wed, Jan 29, 2003

In Small things and Large

I’m about to go teach my undergrad social theory class. We’re reading Adam Smith (at least, I’m reading him) and looking at his argument about the invisible hand of the market . I’ve already had the class do a couple of practical experiments in distributed co-ordination, which were lots of fun. (At least, they were for me.) Today we’ll look at two of Smith’s arguments in the Wealth of Nations about why the invisible hand works.
Sat, Jan 25, 2003

Inside the Firm

Brad DeLong notes Sony’s internal conflicts over licensing and copy protection. The consumer electronics division sees the world differently from the entertainment division. This is a good example of why it’s not right to think, as Brink Lindsey does, that a Coasian picture of markets and firms accurately describes the social organization of the economy. Firms are not simply dictatorships established as the result of a transactions cost calculation. I wrote about this at slightly greater length a while ago, here and here.
Thu, Jan 23, 2003

Mind the Gap

Ted Barlow is appalled by the gap in median net worth between whites ($120,900) and blacks ($17,000), and asks “Can that be right?” Yes it can. Ted’s discovered the difference between income-based and wealth-based measures of inequality. A good place to get oriented on the black-white wealth gap is Dalton Conley’s book, Being Black, Living in the Red. Scroll down this page on Dalton’s website for reviews of the book. Two other good overviews of wealth inequalities in the U.S.
Thu, Jan 23, 2003

A Lott of Old Rosh

Disclaimer: I’m a practising social science researcher who does a fair amount of quantitative analysis, but I’m not an expert on sampling methods or data weighting. Proceed with that in mind. Kevin Drum has been following the increasingly bizarre John Lott affair. If you know the score, skip to the next paragraph. To get your bearings, read these posts by Mark Kleiman, Tim Lambert, James Lindgren, Julian Sanchez and John Quiggin.
Wed, Jan 22, 2003

Evil Scientist Dreams

Speaking purely as a sociologist, I have to say that I am all in favor of human cloning. I mean, think of the research opportunities. It goes way beyond the fantasies of even Dr Marvin Monroe, from the Simpsons. You’ll remember that, when Lisa came into a lot of money and wanted to give it away to a worthy cause, Dr Monroe’s pitch was for a research project. He wanted to buy a baby and raise it in isolation from other human beings for 18 years.
Mon, Jan 20, 2003

The Length of Two Lives

The story goes that when Chou En Lai was asked what he thought the consequences of the French Revolution had been, he replied “It is too early to tell.” As I’ve written before I’m always trying to get the students in my social theory class to broaden their historical perspective, because classical social theory is fundamentally a historical project. I have a hard time convincing them that the French Revolution wasn’t all that long ago, which isn’t a surprise.
Mon, Jan 13, 2003

How Peculiar

Drapetomaniac, who often leaves great comments about my posts, went and left a great comment about this post. Talking about Anthropological approaches to understanding other cultures, she notes that she was struck by how peculiar the anthropologists managed to make the most banal occurences in Other cultures. it’s become a game among my friends and i to try and apply this technique to what is normative in the US. “drapetomaniac begins her work day with the ritual consumption of a beverage of brewed leaves from the tea plant, which is associated in her culture with awakening, perhaps because of its caffeine.” that sort of thing.
Wed, Jan 8, 2003

Race and Reality

I’m supposed to be drafting a paper, but Kevin Drum keeps writing things I want to respond to. Talking about a bit of posturing by John Derbyshire he says Here is [Derbyshire’s] explanation: The principal non-respectable ingredients of my views about this topic are my convictions that race is (a) real, and (b) important. It is a measure of the height to which the waters of hypocrisy have risen that these beliefs are, by themselves, sufficient to put me beyond the pale of polite discourse.
Sat, Jan 4, 2003

Pop-Quiz Answers

Several people have asked me for the answers to yesterday’s pop quiz. Here they are, with some comments on how my students did. To the nearest 50 million, about 287 million people live in the United States today, and about 187 million people lived in Europe around 1800. My students tended to overestimate the current U.S. population quite substantially, and underestimate the European population in 1800. The populations aren’t enormously different (especially when you consider relative land area), which tends to surprise the class.
Fri, Jan 3, 2003

Sociological Theory

This semester I’m teaching two sections of Soc 300, “Sources of Sociological Theory”. Here’s the syllabus [pdf]. Whenever I teach this course, I run into three main problems. The first is that the course is required for majors, which means almost everybody in the class is only there because they have to be. This does not make things easier for the Professor. The second is that, even with Arizona’s grindingly long semesters, it’s hard to cover as much as one would like.
Sat, Dec 14, 2002

Philosophy Discovers Society

Matthew Yglesias reports on research investigating the radical idea that one’s philosophical intuitions might vary by culture, class position or prior exposure to philosophy. Although I think philosophy is great, and in fact am in the process of getting married to a pure-type analytic metaphysician, it’s still hard for me to resist needling philosophers about their blind spot about intuitions. To caricature, the standard form of argument in the field goes like this: I wish to argue that P.
Thu, Dec 12, 2002

Auditing Employer Discrimination

Brad DeLong, CalPundit and others have pointed out Alan Kreuger’s piece about Bertrand & Mullainathan’s paper on employment discrimination based on race-specific names. They did an audit study, sending out a sample of skill-matched CVs to employers, varying the names of the applicants, and waiting to see who got called for an interview. The depressing but not terribly surprising main finding was that “applicants with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be called for interviews than were those with black-sounding names.” This reminds me of Deva Pager’s work.
Thu, Dec 12, 2002


Some of the people at Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal thread about the name discrimination study are discussing trends in naming, and racial trends in particular. Sociologists have got that issue covered too. Take a look at Stan Lieberson’s A Matter of Taste, which analyzes trends in naming practices in the U.S. over a long period. I’m doing a lot of cheerleading for my discipline this evening. But hey, it deserves it.
Tue, Dec 10, 2002

Unto This Last

John Ruskin”) is a fascinating character—- the epitome of the Victorian mind’s sensibility, scope and ambition. He’s also one of those historical characters whom everyone knows exactly one embarrassing thing about, like Catherine the Great. Here’s a snippet from Unto This Last (1860) which I ran across this morning. “The social affections,” says the economist, “are accidental and disturbing elements in human nature; but avarice and the desire of progress are constant elements.
Sat, Dec 7, 2002

Market Discipline and Organizational Responsibility

Here are two stories that bump into one another in an interesting way. I came across both of them on the plane back from DC last week. (Catching up on reading is the only good thing about long, late-night flights.) The first one, Enron A Year On, comes from the November 28th edition of the Economist. The article goes through the political and legislative responses to the wave of corporate scandals and suggests that the new laws need to be implemented and enforced properly, rather than just sitting on the books, especially in the areas of auditing, accounting standards and corporate governance.
Tue, Dec 3, 2002

Sociology Sneaks In

Malcolm Gladwell is one of a few popular magazine writers who takes an interest in sociological research. Much of his book, The Tipping Point draws on research on social networks and contagion. His essay on Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg (which is also in the book) is good for introducing undegraduates to some basic ideas about networks. A little while ago, he published a short essay built around Eric Kleinenberg’s Heat Wave.
Sun, Nov 24, 2002


My survey article on Digital Technology and Cultural Goods [pdf] has just come out in the Journal of Political Philosophy. I have no pretensions to being an actual political philosopher, however. As befits a lowly sociologist∗, the article sticks pretty close to the ground. Go visit Chris Bertram, Jacob Levy, the Oxbloggers or Matthew Yglesias for self-subsistent web-spinning—- er, I mean, philosophical analysis ;-) (Just rattling off those names, incidentally, reminds me of how many good political theorists and political scientists have weblogs.
Fri, Nov 15, 2002

The Majesty of the Law

Ignatz is annoyed: Aargh! Here’s another guy talking about jurisprudence and nominees, who needs to be reminded: DUDE! Your preferences are preferences, your beliefs are beliefs, and they are NOT truths! You want judicial rulings that favor the interests with which you align yourself. Say it, admit it, be it: you want those things, and you want the confirmation of judges whom you expect to do those things. That is your preference, not an insight into what the law “is” in some objective sense that liberals are too blinded to recognize.
Thu, Nov 14, 2002

Political Sociology

I thought I’d make a contribution to the small buzz about reading in political philosophy set off by Josh Chafetz. Matthew Yglesias gave his list, and Chris Bertram and Armed Liberal made some useful suggestions too (as did I). Overall you get a very good list from these three—- a solid introduction to political theory in the Western tradition. But, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “Huh! In theory*—- *Communism works ‘in theory.’” What about in practice?
Tue, Nov 12, 2002

Cash for Kidneys

Nicholas Kristof has an Op-Ed piece about organ sales in the Times today. Exchange in human blood and organs is a subject near and dear to my, uh, heart. I wrote my dissertation about it. I have to go teach a class in five minutes, but if you have time to waste you can read a draft paper of mine called Sacred Markets and Secular Ritual in the Organ Transplant Industry that’s relevant to Kristof’s piece.
Thu, Oct 31, 2002

Cooling the Mark Out

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a post today about the The underlying forms of fraud, making the point that there really are only a few basic types with many variants. A little like jokes, I suppose. She gives a list of types and a lot of case law to illustrate them. We’re reading about Trust this week in my Economic Sociology Seminar. Con-Men (and Confidence Tricks) are very interesting sociologically, because they often exploit the very tools we usually use to determine whether someone is trustworthy.
Sat, Oct 19, 2002

Radical Goals

Christine Niles digs up her copy of the Communist Manifesto and finds Marx’s list of goals for his revolutionary movement laughable: And to think I actually used to like this stuff. Scary. Note especially #4. This should really lay to rest any arguments that economic freedom has no bearing on political freedom. Let’s take a look at the goals of the most incendiary political document of the 19th century. 1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes..
Wed, Oct 9, 2002

Kahneman's Nobel

Danny Kahneman’s share of a Nobel Prize in Economics (here’s a news story) keeps with a trend in the last 10 years: about every other year or so, the prize has been awarded to researchers who are outside the mainstream of economic thought, whose work draws on research in other social sciences, or whose impact on research has been greater outside economics than inside. (Here’s a list of recent winners, not including this year.) Kahneman’s work (and that of his collaborators) is all about how people actually make choices, as opposed to how homo economicus does.
Thu, Sep 19, 2002

Crime and Punishment, Part 3

My conversation with Iain Murray about crime and incarceration continues. (See 1, 2, 3 and 4 for previous installments.) Iain claimed that “In a just society … the incarceration rate reflects the level of criminality in communities. Spending on corrections is therefore reactive.” He also said he thought “the American experiment is one of the closest to ‘justness’ that there has ever been.” I suggested that there were three difficulties with this: (1) We need to decide what’s illegal: the things you can be locked up for have a tendency to vary over time and across societies.
Mon, Sep 16, 2002

Incarceration and Inequality, Again

Iain Murray responds to my comments about incarceration rates and the African-American population. At the end of his post, Iain says “The JPI study was, in my opinion, simplistic, flawed and inexact. In its choice of headlines it also showed poor judgment. It deserved the treatment it got.” The casual reader might think I had ridden in on my horse to defend the JPI. Not at all. (See my earlier post for fuller context.) The same disclaimer applies as before: I am not an expert on criminal justice policy.
Sun, Sep 15, 2002

Marx and Human Nature

Chris Bertram writes: One of the commonest myths about Karl Marx is that he said that there was no such thing as human nature, a myth believed not only by Marx’s enemies but also by his followers. It was ably exploded some years ago by Norman Geras in his Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend (a book, as I remember that contained a sentence beginning, “Just as no fish could be Mozart….”).
Tue, Sep 10, 2002

Inequality and Incarceration

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on criminal justice policy. I don’t even play one on TV. Jumping around randomly on weblogs (I’m trapped in the library during a bizarre Arizona hail and rain storm), I came across this post by Virginia Postrel: COLLEGE VS. PRISON: Iain Murray of TechCentral Station has an important piece debunking the common claim, made most recently by the Justice Policy Institute, that there are more African-American men in prison than in college.
Sun, Sep 8, 2002

Look a Little Closer at the Data

Slate’s Mickey Kaus joins a distingushed line of snipers at social science as he makes fun of a study finding that mothers often have little idea that their children are sexually active. “New York Times … or The Onion? You Make the Call!” he snickers. “Next: A team of researchers discovers that when teenage women say they can’t go on social outings because they are “busy,” they often are not describing their schedules accurately: 45 percent are in fact not busy at all.” I suspect his main motivation for highlighting this piece is to smack the Times around a bit, which seems to have become his main role in life.
Wed, Sep 4, 2002

Helpful and Unhelpful Solutions to Work/Family Issues

I just heard a report on All Things Considered titled “Waiting too Long.” (Listen to the segment in RealAudio.) Here’s a precis from their website: As more and more women are waiting to conceive a baby, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) wants to display advertisements to remind women that the biological clock keeps ticking. NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports the campaign has run into trouble. The gist of the story was that women think they have forever to have a baby, and then—- whoops!—- they find themselves in their late 30s or early 40s and then have difficulty conceiving (or no success at all).
Mon, Sep 2, 2002

Work, Health and Social Structure

BBC News is running a story headlined Work ‘puts health at risk’. It summarizes two studies on occupational health and safety. The first one, done in Sweden, found that 7% of workers surveyed fell asleep unintentionally on the job several times a month. The second one, done in Britain, found that the number of people who may be suffering hearing problems as a result of their jobs is higher than previously estimated.
Wed, Aug 21, 2002

Economic Sociology syllabus

Finally got the syllabus done for my graduate seminar in Economic Sociology. Here it is [pdf]. There are still a few spots left if you want to sign up :)
Tue, Aug 20, 2002

Wilco and Coase

I just came across a short piece on Slate by James Surowiecki that Brink Lindsey should read. Surowiecki is talking about I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the widely-praised documentary about the band Wilco and the problems they had getting their allbum released: Wilco hands Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to Reprise Records, its longtime label; Reprise demands changes to make the album more marketable; Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s singer-songwriter, refuses. They eventually part ways, and Wilco sells the record to Nonesuch, which releases it to considerable success on the charts.
Mon, Aug 19, 2002

Firms, Markets and Information

In this post to his weblog, Brink Lindsey, author of Against the Dead Hand, tries to put the recent corporate scandals in the context of a wider debate about markets and hierarchies. He wants to answer three questions, in descending order of generality. First, why are markets so great? Lindsey’s starting point is a standard one. Free markets are the best way to produce and allocate goods, and thereby promote growth and maximize welfare.
Fri, Aug 16, 2002

Money and Happiness

I’m off to the ASA meetings in Chicago this morning, of which more later. Brad DeLong has a weblog entry this morning wondering At what level of material wealth does one become, completely, totally, utterly sated? How much stuff—how many things—how much power to buy and control does one have to have before one can say “enough is enough,” stop playing the game for increased wealth, and start playing some other, different game?
Wed, Aug 14, 2002

Data and its Perverse Pleasures

I spent the day wresting with a big file of raw data, trying to get it into a manageable format. Here’s what the problem was. You a have very large text file contraining records in the following format:
Sun, Aug 11, 2002

More on Post-War Economics

I recently read Philip Mirowski’s Machine Dreams, a trenchant and engaging book about the development of Economics in the U.S. since the Second World War. (Click here for my thoughts on Mirowski.) On the recommendation of Marion Fourcade-Gourinchas—- who knows a hell of a lot more about this topic than me—- I went and read A Perilous Progress: Economists and Public Purpose in Twentieth-Century America, by Michael A. Bernstein. It’s a very interesting book, and a good complement to Mirowski.
Fri, Aug 9, 2002

UNC's Islamic Reading Assignment

The Washington Post reports that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “finds itself besieged in federal court and across the airwaves by Christian evangelists and other conservatives” for assigning incoming freshmen a book about Islam. The Post reports that Fox News Network’s Bill O’Reilly “compared the assignment to teaching ‘Mein Kampf’ in 1941 and questioned the purpose of making freshmen study ‘our enemy’s religion.’” O’Reilly’s analogy is laughable. Mein Kampf is not the sacred text of a major world religion, and moreover in 1941 “our enemy’s religion” was the same as ours.
Thu, Aug 8, 2002

JAMLS article

Galley-proofs of my article in the Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society arrived. “What’s New for culture in the New Economy?” is here for your reading pleasure. As I think I’ve said before, I love PDF proofs.
Sat, Aug 3, 2002

Last one to know

I just found out (about half an hour ago) that I won an award. (Scroll down after you click.) I’m on holidays in Washington state at the moment, so I guess I’ve been out of touch. Laurie’s conference at Western Washington University started this morning, so I drove down to Seattle to visit my friend Becky. When I arrived she said “Congratulations on the award.” I said “What award?” Wow. I need to have a beer or something.
Mon, Jul 29, 2002

Bureaucracy and its Benefits

Via Brad DeLong’s weblog comes a good column by Tom Friedman, out of today’s New York Times. Friedman makes the excellent point that, although Americans (and especially Republicans) love to disparage the Federal bureaucracy, the way it works is one of the best things about the country: …what foreigners envy us most for is precisely the city Mr. Bush loves to bash: Washington. That is, they envy us for our alphabet soup of regulatory agencies: the S.E.C., the Federal Reserve, the F.A.A., the F.D.A., the F.B.I., the E.P.A., the I.R.S., the I.N.S.
Sat, Jul 20, 2002

Visions and Revisions (and a Hundred Indecisions)

When revising a paper, you sometimes start down a line of argument in a paragraph or two that suggests the need to completely redo the whole article. This is a nasty moment. If you’re lucky, the new bit safely detaches itself and is either never heard from again or becomes the seed for a different paper. If you’re unlucky, the new bit threatens to eat your paper alive. This is demoralising.
Wed, Jul 10, 2002

Counterfactual Plausibility

I was rereading a bit of Doug Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach the other day and came across this comment: In everyday thought, we are constantly manufacturing mental variants on situations we face, ideas we have, or events that happen, and we let some features stay exactly the same while others ‘slip’. What features do we let slip? What ones do we not even consider letting slip? … There are times when one plaintively says, “It almost happened”, and other times when one says the same thing, full of relief.
Tue, Jul 9, 2002

ASR's unavailability on the Internet

I got my copy of ASR in the mail today and wondered why it isn’t available on line. The closest you can get is issues from five years ago, via J-Stor. Same goes for Contemporary Sociology. It’s appalling. In fact, of the ASA journals, I think Sociological Theory is the only one that’s available online, and that’s because it’s published by Blackwell. The American Journal of Sociology, the other major journal, is much better about this.
Fri, Jun 28, 2002

Culture and the Creative Industries

Finished a for-now-final version of What’s New for Culture in the New Economy? yesterday. As I said before, it’s a review that engages some of the recent work on creativity and innovation in the new economy (no such thing), the rise of the creative class, and the growing role of the creative industries. I’m pretty skeptical about a lot of these alleged trends. Grab the latest version here [pdf]. Bonus item!
Tue, Jun 18, 2002

Creativity, the Culture Industries and the New Economy (No Such Thing)

Now that Ireland have been knocked out of the World Cup (a tragedy, but never mind), I’ve had to figure out what else to do besides watch the game when I get up much too early. Catching up on backlogged work is, alas, the obvious choice. I just finished a first draft of a paper called “What’s New for Culture in the New Economy?” [pdf]. It’s a review rather than a research article, which made it hard to write.
Sat, Jun 15, 2002

Digital Tech and Cultural Goods paper

I got the proofs of my “Digital Technology and Cultural Goods” paper this weekend. It will appear later this year in the Journal of Political Philosophy. Nice to see that some journals now distribute proofs in PDF format: it makes the correction phase faster, as well as making it easier to make a good copy available.
Thu, May 23, 2002


In ethics, two things are incommensurable if they cannot be compared against a common standard. (In philosophy of science it means something a little different.) For some philosophers (like Elizabeth Anderson) and legal theorists (like Margaret Radin and Cass Sunstein), incommensurability is an important concept because it suggests that there are fundamentally different goods, in both the economic and the ethical senses of the word. That means that goods cannot always be valued on a single metric such as, oh, cash.