Thu, Jan 19, 2017

Rank Error in Your Favor

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.

Mon, Nov 28, 2016

Flipped Counties in the 2016 Election

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.

Thu, Sep 29, 2016

Opiate-Related Deaths in the US, 1999-2014

Yesterday I had a conversation on Twitter with Josh Zumbrun that followed on from this tweet: This is one of the most horrifying graphics I've ever seen: — Josh Zumbrun (@JoshZumbrun) September 28, 2016 The striking maps he linked to tracked the rise in deaths due to drug-related overdoses over the past 15 years, caused in large part to the surge in use of heroin and synthetic opiates. The details are in the WSJ report on the problem.

Mon, Sep 12, 2016

Vaccination Beeplot

Last year I wrote about vaccination exemptions in California kindergartens, drawing on school-level data provided by the state of California about the number of kindergarteners with “personal belief exemptions” (or PBEs) that allow them not to be vaccinated. Today I came across a ggplot package called ggbeeswarm that’s designed to create a “beeswarm plot”, or a 1-D scatterplot with a bit of information about the density of the distribution. I had used geom_jitter to do something like this for one of my plots last year, but the geoms in ggbeeswarm are better.

Sat, Jul 23, 2016

Transformative Treatments

Back in January, it snowed in Chapel Hill. When that happens around here, as you can imagine, things tend to shut down fast. The schools were closed, and we were iced in at home for a couple of days. The kids had a lot of quality Playstation time. Meanwhile, my wife and I ended up sitting across from one another at the kitchen table, arguing. In the end we resolved things by doing something we’d never done before—we co-authored a paper.

Sat, Jul 16, 2016

Facetiming the Coup

The apparently failed coup against President Erdoğan of Turkey continues to unfold this morning, in what remains a very uncertain and fluid situation. Last night, during the most chaotic sequence of events, Erdoğan gave an interview via a video chat service on his iPhone, where he asserted the legitimacy of his government’s authority and called on the Turkish people to take to the streets against the coup. The picture of him talking via Facetime is already one of the iconic images of the night.

Tue, Jun 28, 2016

SASE Panel on The Moral Economy of Technology

Note: This is the text of my contribution to a panel at the SASE meetings, UC Berkeley last Sunday. My role was to tee up the discussion. The other panelists were Maciej Cegłowski, Stuart Russell, and AnnaLee Saxenian. My remarks draw on work that Marion Fourcade and I have been doing on information technology and markets, but she should not be held responsible for anything here, especially the bits about 18th century French intellectuals.

Thu, Apr 28, 2016

How Rude

Nomy Arpaly has an interesting post at Daily Nous called Is Polite Philosophical Discussion Possible? She says, in part: I am not a philosophical pacifist, but you don’t need to be a literal pacifist to oppose war crimes, and you don’t need to be a philosophical pacifist to oppose gratuitous rudeness. Being compelled to break the rule of thumb against telling people that they are mistaken in the understanding of an important thing is no excuse for also yelling at them, repeatedly interrupting them and talking over them, responding to their painstakingly prepared talks with a sneering “why should I be interested in any of this”?

Fri, Apr 8, 2016

Tironian Notes

Irish parking sign with a Tironian ⁊, or et. If you visit Ireland, you’ll see that official signs (such as road signs and the like) are written in both English and Irish. On some of them you’ll see a character that looks like a backwards ‘r’, like this: ⁊. It’s used instead of an ampersand, or &. Although I knew the glyph and its meaning (it’s common enough on signage, and some of my teachers used it when they wrote on the board), until yesterday I never knew why it looked like that.

Thu, Mar 10, 2016

The Protracted Game

You may have heard the news that Lee Sedol, a Go Master, has been defeated by a computer program created by a group of Google engineers. A second match is underway today. The Google/DeepMind team has a technical paper in Nature describing AlphaGo, the program they wrote. Various commentators have remarked on the sometimes surprising but extremely effective moves that AlphaGo made. And of course there’s the usual half-serious musings about the inevitable robot uprising that this victory portends.

Sociology and other distractions, since 2002. View all posts by date, or an index of posts by category.


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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