Rank Error in Your Favor

19 January 2017

Google Scholar is one of the most visible and widely-used examples of the rise of “impact measurement” in academia. While it is not yet used to assess people’s research as a matter of routine, I think it’s fair to say that people keep an eye on their scores and might draw on them if it seemed advantageous. Metrics and rankings have a ratchet effect. They encourage people to play along when they score well, while leaving room for you to deny that a serious person such as yourself would ever take such thin measures of quality seriously.

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I was playing with some county-level data from the U.S. general election, partly out of a spirit of honest inquiry and partly out of a feeling of morbid curiosity. Because I had some county-level census data to hand, I took a look at the results using some extremely basic demographic information—the two variables that structure America’s ur-choropleths, namely population density and percent black. I focused on the counties that flipped from their vote in the 2012 general election.

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Recent Papers

  • “Repugnance Management and Transactions in the Body.” American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings. Abstract  pdf
  • “Seeing Like a Market.” Socio-Economic Review. Abstract  pdf
  • “Transformative Treatments.” Abstract  pdf
  • “Foreword” to Viviana Zelizer, Morals & Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States, Legacy Edition. Columbia University Press. Abstract  pdf
  • “The Plain Person's Guide to Plain Text Social Science.” Abstract  pdf

Current Teaching

  • On Leave, July–December 2016. completed


I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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