- Murky Research, Monkey Research
- Useful Habits
- Anecdotal Evidence – One More Time
- Pittsburgh - My Hometahn
- Graphing Grade Inflation
- Tax Expenditures
- Mulgrew Miller
- Hudson on Hudson
- “Frances Ha” and Those Narcissistic Millenials
- Small-time Gamblers
- Dismissing Durkheim . . . and Sociology
- Not Your Grandfather’s Anti-Flouridation Movement
- Abortion and Infanticide
- Goffman in the Lunch Room
- And the Prize Goes To . . .
- Rich and Happy
- More Certain About Uncertainty
- No Keynes Please, We’re Straight
- Cute Little Shooters
- We Have a Winner. . . .
- Committing Sociology
- Wanted – Bad Research
- Ulysses in LaLa Land
- Underground Demography
- Bitcoin - "A Currency Without an Army*
JUNE 19, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Marc Hauser left his professorship at Harvard after an investigation found that he had committed scientific misconduct. Basically, he made up the data for some of his published articles. It wasn’t the irony that got me – Hauser’s research focused on morality. It was this brief passage in a Nation article* (here) about the scandal:For the first stage of the experiment, you put a chaired monkey in front of a TV screen – black and white, maybe 9" diagonal. His hand can reach a bar. When the green circle comes on the screen, he has six seconds to press the bar or he gets an electric shock. You train two monkeys. It doesn’t take them too long to learn the drill.
Marc Hauser has worked at the exciting interface of cognition, evolution and development . . . Hauser has worked primarily with rhesus monkeys,That took me back to my first disillusioning dip into the murky waters of scientific research, waters I had imagined to be clear and pure. As a teenager in the early sixties, I worked one summer in a psych lab where the principal investigators were doing experiments on rhesus monkeys.
“Communication of Affect in ‘Cooperative Conditioning’ of Rhesus Monkeys.” That was the title of the article that appeared not long after, though it was probably not till years later that I came across it and was appalled. The abstract begins
Rhesus monkeys in primate chairs were conditioned to bar press within 6 seconds of presentation of a light in order to avoid electric shock.First of all, those “primate chairs.” The chairs were plexiglass contraptions that isolated the monkey’s head from his arms, and his arms from his lower body. Clearly, the chairs were uncomfortable, to say the least.
Following acquisition of this avoidance response two animals were placed facing each other and the bar was removed from the chair of one monkey and the stimulus light from the chair of the other. In order for either monkey to avoid shock a communication was necessary since neither animal had access to all elements of the problem.You put the monkeys in different rooms. One monkey sees the green circle, but he has no bar to press. The other monkey has the bar but his screen no longer shows the circle. Instead, what he can see on the screen is the other monkey. Monkey #1 has to let Monkey #2 know when the light comes on, and Monkey #2 has to then press the bar. Otherwise they both get zapped.
The results indicated that through nonverbal communication of affect an efficient mutual avoidance was performed.As I recall, the article had photos of the monkeys and an analysis of the facial expressions of Monkey #1. “Nonverbal communication of affect,” said the journal articles. Bullshit. Or as they say on each episode of (appropriately enough) “Monk,” here’s what happened. First, you need to know the layout of the lab. Our domain was the narrow top floors of an otherwise large building. aba dabba dabba?’” That may have been closer to the truth than were those articles published in the psychology journals. ----------------------------- *HT Andrew Gelman, who recently blogged (here) about Chomsky’s defense of Hauser. ** This was not my only disillusioning experience in this lab. See this post from six years ago about my failure with flatworms. But don’t get me wrong -- I mean, some of my best friends do psychology experiments on animals.
JUNE 14, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ _Habits of the Heart_ by Robert Bellah and colleagues, published a quarter-century ago, remains a required reference in courses and discourses about American society and culture. I was reminded of its continuing usefulness today when a WaPo link took me to a review by Chrystia Freeland of _The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite _by Mark Mizruchi About halfway through the 2600-word review, she writes:
When America’s postwar corporate elites were sexist, racist company men who prized conformity above originality and were intolerant of outsiders, they were also more willing to sacrifice their immediate gain for the greater good. The postwar America of declining income inequality and a corporate elite that put the community’s interest above its own was also a closed-minded, restrictive world that the left rebelled against—hence, the 1960s. It is unpleasant to consider the possibility that the personal liberation the left fought for also liberated corporate elites to become more selfish, ultimately to the detriment of us all—but that may be part of what happened.The authors of _Habits_ outline four “traditions” which still, separately or in combination, provide the ideology for American’s private and public lives. These traditions are, the authors say, rest on: * Biblical Religion (mostly Protestant) * Civic Republicanism * Expressive Individualism * Utilitarian Individualism I don’t know whether Chrystia Freeland has read_ Habits of the Heart_, but in the historical change she outlines in those three sentences fits perfectly into the Bellah model. Elites once based their actions on Civic Republicanism, but Expressive Individualism lured them into Utilitarian Individualism.
JUNE 14, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Anecdotal evidence seems more convincing, I tell my students in Week One, but if you want to find out general truths, you need systematic evidence. The New York Times today provides my example for next semester. The Times had run an op-ed last week about only children. The author, Lauren Sandler, referred to results from “hundreds of studies” showing that only children are generally no different from those with siblings on variables like “leadership, maturity, extroversion, social participation, popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability, contentment.” Nor were they more self-involved or lonelier. And they score higher on measures of intelligence and achievement. Today, the Times printed a letter challenging these conclusions.The first decline in the phrase _only children_ runs parallel to the baby boom (though it starts a few years earlier) and the burgeoning of multi-child families. But the second decline comes in a period when multi-child families are decreasing. Perhaps there is less concern because single-child families have become frequent rather than freakish.
Another problem with these studies is that they put families in boxes: the only-child box, the divorced-parent box, the single-mother box — all of which I am in. They oversimplify family situations. I have seen the offspring of single divorced mothers grow up happy and successful, and I have seen children of two-parent families turn out disastrously. Regarding the precocity of only children, my granddaughter at 2, like Ms. Sandlers daughter, could tell the difference between the crayon colors magenta and pink, and she is not an only child. So much for boxes.Or as a student will usually ask, “But doesn’t it depend on the individual?” Yes, I say. But scientific generalizations do not apply 100% to everyone in that box. Are men taller than women? Are smokers less healthy than non-smokers? Of course. Yes, there’s Maria Sharapova and the WNBA, and there are no doubt thousand of pack-a-day octagenarians. Does that mean we should throw categories (i.e., boxes) like Sex and Smoking in the trash? As the letter writer says, categories simplify. They overlook differences. But categories are inevitable. _Pineapple_ is a category. We know that not all pineapples are alike, and yet we talk about pineapples. And men. And smokers. And divorced mothers and only children. I’m not surprised that my students – 18-year old freshmen or transfers from the community colleges – need this brief reminder. But the New York Times? In any case, the concern over the problems of only children seems to be fading, though Im not sure how to interpret that. The Google n-grams graph of the phrase in books looks like this:
JUNE 10, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston from Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian eastbound, somewhere near Horseshoe Curve._ The cab driver, a Black man in his forties, had a perfect Pittsburgh accent. On the short drive from the train station to our hotel near Pitt, he talked about the transformation of the “Sahth Side” – the once industrial area just south of the Monongehela. I cannot describe in writing the other linguistic tipoffs – I’m not a linguist, and even if I were most readers could not decipher those phonetic cryptograms – but I knew I was home. The man who hooked up the refrigerator in our room and who was as surprised as I was that we couldn’t get the Penguins game (the TV in the bar downstairs had it) – he too was African American and spoke Pittsburghese. I take it as a hopeful sign of more general integration – geographic, social, economic. It bothers me when I hear a stereotypically “Black” accent rather than the regional one, not because I don’t like the sound of it, but because it tells me that even after many generations, kids are still growing up in a segregated world. A handful of brief conversations, and even the several interracial couples we saw at the arts festival in Point Park (or the one here in the train’s café car) are hardly conclusive evidence. Still, I was surprised to find that Pittsburgh is among the twenty most segregated metro areas in the country. On a black-white “dissimilarity” index, the Pittsburgh area scores 63.6. (A score above 60 is considered “high.” Chicago, New York, Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit all have scores above 75.) Eric Fisher has mapped the 2010 census data. Here, for example, is the New York area. (Red dots are Whites, blue Black, orange Hispanic, green Asian. Maps of many other cities are on Fisher’s Flikr page.)African Americans are now 8% of the population, largely clustered in two areas. Some have moved to the towns just to the east, like Monroeville, where the cab driver hails from. But the suburbs of the South Hills (where I grew up) and North Hills, are still predominantly white. The overall density is much lower than that of New York. Like many US cities, Pittsburgh was transformed by the suburbanization that began in the 1950s – transformed from a city into a “metro area.” After 6 p.m., downtown (“dahntahn”) is more like a ghost town. The outward migration began not as “White flight” – Whites being driven from the city by fear of Blacks. It was not the push of the city but the pull of the suburbs, with government housing and highway programs sweetening the deal. But for decades, African Americans were excluded from that process. In the 1950s and 60s, in the town where I grew up, there were no known Negroes (it was said that there were a handful of families that were “passing”). Nobody would sell or rent to Blacks. Even after the civil rights laws, change was slow. Stateways can nudge folkways along, but it takes persistent work.
(Click on a map for a larger view._)The shadings – more dots indicating more people – show density as well. The white rectangle of Central Park is bordered by the high-density White areas of the Upper East and Upper West Sides and the high-density Black area, Harlem, to the north. This is what Pittsburgh looks like. (For those not familiar with the local geography, the lazy-Y shape in white represents the three rivers.)
JUNE 5, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I have little talent in the visual arts. But since I started doing this blog, and especially when Sociological Images started using some of my posts, I’ve become more sensitive to graphs. and the visual presentation of quantitative data. In the old days, when I had trouble deciphering a graph, I blamed my own visual limitations. Now, I think about how the graph might be improved. A couple of days on a campus listserv, someone posted this graph to illustrate grade inflation.The first comment on this began, “If I understand the chart correctly . . .” Exactly. The chart is hard to understand. When you are trying to show changes over time, lines flowing from left to right imply that time sequence, so this graphs makes it seem as though F’s were changing to D’s and then to C’s, and so on. When I wanted to know how the percentage of B’s had changed over the three time-points, I had to keep looking at the legend to see which color dot represented each year. Was there a better way to graph the 30 data points? This is what I came up with.
JUNE 3, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ We got another reminder last week that despite complaints about federal government programs that give money to the poor, when it comes to taxes, the government is much more generous to the wealthy. The news came in a report from the Congressional Budget Office:The Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits mostly the poor, costs less than $40B. The tab for the low tax on investment income (capital gains and dividends) is more than twice that, and nearly all of that goes to the top quintile. More than two-thirds goes to the richest 1%. Dylan Matthews at the WaPo WonkBlog (here) regraphed these numbers to show the total amounts overall plus the amounts in each category for each income group.
THE DISTRIBUTION OF MAJOR TAX EXPENDITURES
IN THE INDIVIDUAL INCOME TAX SYSTEMTax expenditures are ways that the government uses the tax system to give money to people. Some expenditures are tax credits, which can take the form of cash payments. Others are tax breaks – giving people a discount on their income tax. For example, if I am in the 35% tax bracket, but the government charges me only 15% on the $100,000 I made playing the stock market, the government is giving me $20,000 it could otherwise have had me pay in taxes. That’s an expense. The special rate I get on the money I made in the market costs the government $20,000. This government largesse benefits some people more than others.
(Click on a chart for a larger view._)About half of all tax expenditures go to the top quintile. The bottom 80% of earners divide the other half. And within that richest quintile, the top 1% receive 15% of all tax expenditures (this distribution of tax breaks roughly parallels the distribution of income). Were you really expecting Sherwood Forest? Here is a breakdown of the costs of these different tax expenditures.
MAY 31, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Mulgrew Miller died on Wednesday. He was 57 years old. He was a giant among piano players – a large man with large hands (he could comfortably span all the major tenths). He was solidly in the bebop tradition. In his twenties he was playing with Art Blakey, and he stayed in that main stream. He recognized that bebop had become what Jenn Lena calls “a traditionalist genre,” something taught at universities, but he had little respect for avant-garde for its own sake.
A lot of people do what a friend of mine calls ‘interview music.’ You do something that’s obviously different, and you get the interviews and a certain amount of attention. . . . Guys who do what I am doing are viewed as passé.And now Mulgrew himself has passed. As I was listening to YouTube clips, I found this interview that contains a now-poignant moment. Mulgrew relates how vibraphonist Steve Nelson reminds him that our time here is finite.
MAY 30, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Maybe geographical names are like t-shirts. The farther away the place, the more attractive the shirt. Local references, not so much. You don’t see many New Yorkers wearing I ♡NY t-shirts, certainly not here on the banks of the Hudson. A week ago, I got an e-mail birth announcement from a local West Side politican, Ken Biberaj (politicians have extensive contact lists). He and his wife (a handsome young couple if ever there was) named their son Hudson. To my ear, Hudson doesn’t really fit with their obviously Albanian surname. Maybe the Biberajs were in a New York state of mind. We do have a city and a river by that name. Oh well, it’s different. Or so I thought. A few day later, I was at a street fair on upper Broadway, and near a rather desultory clown who was making balloon figures, I heard a man call, “Hudson, don’t go too far away.” And sure enough, there was a little blond Hudson, three or four years old. A trend? It turns out that we New Yorkers are way behind the Hudson curve. The name has been on the rise for the last 15 years. here). This name for girls had been on the rise, but mostly in places far from the geographical Brooklyn. That pattern continues.
MAY 28, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “Frances Ha,” the new movie by Noah Baumbach is basically “Girls” in black and white. Twenty-seven year olds in Brooklyn. They move from one relationship to the next searching for a good one and never quite finding it. The same goes for work and especially for apartments.* Fluidity rules. For the girls at least, only their friendships have something suggesting permanence, importance, and intensity.Most of the reviews of the film were favorable, but at the New York Film Critics Circle, Armond White (here) would have none of it.
It offers an obnoxiously self-satisfied portrait of a young white New Yorker–played by Greta Gerwig–running out her parent’s stipend, roommating with other New York hipsters, sometimes skipping the pond to Paris, all the time pursuing her goal to be a professional dancer, even though she demonstrates no aptitude for it.White tears into Baumbach’s “warped values,” values that White says also permeate Baumbach’s “detestable” movie “The Squid and the Whale.” What really galls White are the concerns and desires of the characters in the film.
Maybe you have to be a Mumblehattan elite to love this kind of self-love.I wouldn’t pay such attention to this obscure review except that it embodies a much more widely held view of “millenials” like the characters in this movie. They are narcissistic, they won’t work hard for the things they want but feel entitled to them anyway. “They really do seem to want everything, and I cant decide if it’s an inability or an unwillingness to make trade-offs.” “Their attitude is always ‘What are you going to give me,’” says a manager of human-resource programs. (These quotation are from a WSJ distillation (here) of _The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace _by Ron Alsop. A Facebook friend of mine says much the same thing
My work in HR teaches me daily that the younger generations entering the workforce are dripping with this undeserved sense of entitlement (not all, of course).A business researcher says,
Nearly 70 percent of survey respondents think Millennials are lazy and uninterested in their jobs. What’s more, 55 percent of Millennials agree.This moralistic hand-wringing about the younger generation – even when the hand-wringers are not so old themselves (my FB friend is 33) – reminds me of the song “Kids” from “Bye-bye Birdie,” a musical that opened more than a half-century ago.**
Kids! I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today! . . . Kids! They a disobedient, disrespectful oafs! Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers! While we’re on the subject: Kids! You can talk and talk till your face is blue! Kids! But they still JUST DO WHAT THEY WANT TO DO!The perception of millenials as “lazy” or “uninterested in their jobs” or doing only the things they want to do may not even be generally true of most of these twenty-somethings. So the complaint probably tells us more about the complainers than about the objects of their contempt. The complaint comes down to this: Frances Ha, Hannah Horvath, and their real-life counterparts are willing to forgo financial rewards in order to spend more of their time doing (or at least looking for) something personally meaningful. And for some reason, that’s just wrong. Those who castigate them seem to be saying, “For years, I spent forty or more hours a week at a job I disliked so that I could make a lot of money. You should choose to make yourself miserable too.” ------------------------ * You could even say that “Girls” and “Frances Ha” are really about the New York rental market. In 2007 post, I said that most American films are “about” Success in the same way that British films are “about” The Class System. Those ideas and structures shape the actions and reactions of the characters in the way that grammar shapes their speech. ** This post from years ago offers a more complete explanation of the moral nostalgia that this song is satirizing.
MAY 24, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Someone on the Internet is wrong. I just can’t believe it’s Mark Kleiman.Perhaps as early as the mid-70s but certainly by the mid-80s, casinos began increasing the number of machines relative to the number of tables.(The differences in absolute numbers are so great, I used a secondary Y-axis for the tables. Take note of the axis scales.) The ratio of slots to table games increased from about 20:1 to more than 30:1.Among casual or infrequent gamblers and in newer gambling venues like Pennsylvania, the slots account for an even larger share of the house take. But even on the Las Vegas strip, the traditional feeding area of the whales, slot machines still account for nearly half (45%) of revenues.The time-line suggests that the shift to machines had something to do with competition from other states. The first non-Nevada casino opened in New Jersey in 1978. Starting around 1990, other states started to get in on the action. Or maybe the success of these other casinos revealed a previously neglected or uncourted population – a population that the casinos could easily accommodate.To go back to Mark Kleiman, for whatever reasons, the gambling market does not share the inequalities of drug and alcohol markets, where the heavy users far outweigh the long tail of the distribution. True, some of those small-time players at the slot machines may be problem users. And many of the high rollers at the tables may be problem free (as _Book of Virtues_ whale William Bennet claims to be. But in the overall distribution of gambling revenues, things are more evenly shared between the whale and the tail. ------------------------ * Data on Nevada come from a UNLV site (here)
I made my usual argument that (in rough numbers) 80% of the users of almost any drug use it moderately, take no harm from it, and do no harm to others, but that the other 20%, who use more than is good for them, account for 80% of the consumption and an even larger fraction of damage to themselves and others. . . Since the industry that sells the drug (or offers other potentially habit-forming services such as gambling) will always be financially dependent on dependent problem users, while the public interest is in serving the desires of non-dependent non-problem users while minimizing the number of dependent users.Mark surely knows about drugs and alcohol. And the distribution of other activities (serious crime, for example) may be even more skewed than 20-80. But gambling – at least casino gambling, is different. It didn’t use to be, but it is now, and I’m not sure why it changed. In the old days, casinos too relied on “whales” – the high rollers who gambled large amounts on table games like craps, roulette, and blackjack. Casinos saw the slot machines as diversions for the whale wives or whoever – small-time customers dropping in their pennies, dimes, and quarters and pulling the handles. That was then. Now, the larger part of casino revenue comes from not from the few but the many – the smaller-time folks at playing the slot machines. The whales still matter. The average table brings in 15-20 times as much money as each slot machine, even when you factor in the table’s larger capacity.* (Tables are communal; slots are a solitary vice.)
* work a 24/7 shift * can’t cheat the house * can’t cheat bettors * don’t call in sick * don’t have drug and alcohol problems * don’t join unions * don’t require health benefits * don’t get arguments from bettors
MAY 23, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ There it was again, the rejection of sociological thinking – not because it’s wrong or because it offers no effective policies, but just because it doesn’t make people feel better. A Newsweek article on suicide makes the obligatory hand-wave:
Sociologists in general believe that when society robs people of self-control, individual dignity, or a connection to something larger than themselves, suicide rates rise. They are all descendants of Emile Durkheim, who helped found the field in the late-19th century, choosing to study suicide so he could prove that “social facts” explain even this “most personal act.”That’s 58 words in a 6600-word article, not so much a shout-out as a mumble-out. I exaggerate. The article does cite sociologists Julie Phillips and Sherry Turkle, and it tosses around statistics about suicide rates by age, sex, race, and birth cohort. Still, the paragraph that starts with sociology and Durkheim ends with this curt dismissal of sociology because it cannot play to people’s feelings by predicting individual cases:
But when someone’s son dies by suicide and the family cries out for an answer, “social facts” don’t begin to assuage the pain or solve the mystery. When a government health official considers how he might slow down the suicide problem, “society” is a phantom he can’t fight without another kind of theory entirely.That other theory, needless to say, is focused on individuals, and the center of the article is a psychologist, Thomas Joiner, whose first job was to identify– and quaratine! – those who would otherwise kill themselves.
He got to regularly look suicidal people in the eye, only this time he did so knowingly, as a therapist, and with a decision to make: which of these people were risks to themselves? Under Texas law he was allowed to lock people up if they were.The article gives no data on whether Joiner was actually able to pick out the truly suicidal. I would guess that he had a Texas-size false-positive problem. That problem comes with trying to predict and change individual behavior. It is much more socially beneficial and accurate to think in terms of predicting and changing rates of behavior. If someone’s son dies in a car crash, it might “assuage the pain or solve the mystery” to find out who was to blame – which driver was drunk or momentarily distracted or whatever. It’s much less comforting to look at aggregate rates. But when you do, you just might notice that crashes are frequent on this one stretch of road or that crashes are more likely to be fatal in cars without airbags or seatbelts. Those “social facts” lead to structural policies that can reduce the overall numbers. In fact, the absolute number of highway deaths in the US in 2012, despite a 5% increase over 2011, was lower than at any time since the early 1950s. The rate per vehicle-mile has fallen by 80% since the 50s and 60s. Most of that decrease – tens of thousands of saved lives each year – came not from identifying fatality-prone drivers but from changing the structure of roads and cars. We don’t know which individual lives were saved. We just know that there were a lot of them.
MAY 22, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “Fight Mental Health.” The gag bumper sticker from decades ago was funny because of the double-take you did to realize what it literally meant. Yesterday, the citizens of Portland, Oregon voted No on fluoridation (a news story is here). I had thought that questions about fluoridation had been settled long ago, and that most Americans had made their peace with water that reduced tooth decay. But the issue never really went away. The “fight dental health” movement is no joke. But the constituents and ideology have changed somewhat. Here’s what it was like back in the day.But the dominant non-medical theme seems to have been “choice.” The government should not force you to do things without your consent, even if those things are good for your health.
In Seattle, Washington, in 1951, for example, the anti-fluoridation committee drew support from Christian Scientists, a few dentists, health food operators, and fervent anti-Communists.*aliens from outer space have come to earth, but only the Animorphs -- our quintet of teenage heroes – knows about them. The worm-like alien creatures, Yeerks, threaten to take over the country not by force but by stealth – taking over our minds. A Yeerk slips into the porches of a victims ear, slides inside, and swift as quicksilver wraps itself around the victim’s brain. To others, the victim appears unchanged, an ordinary American citizen, but he is now under the control of the evil aliens. As with Animorphs, so with fervent 1950s anti-Comnunists. Three months ago (here), I quoted Gen. Jack Ripper of “Dr. Strangelove”:
It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.Gen. Ripper and the Animorphs are fictional. But they’re not far-fetched.
During the 1950s, Golda Franzen, a San Francisco housewife, became the leading exponent of the idea that fluoridation was a “Red conspiracy.” She predicted that fluoridation would produce “moronic, atheistic slaves” who would end up “praying to the Communists.” Franzens warnings, echoed by such groups as the John Birch Society and the Ku Khu Klan acquired particular salience during the anti-communist fevers of !he McCarthy era. For his part, C. Leon de Aryan, editor of an antiSemitic publication in San Diego, described the spread of fluoridation as a plot to “weaken the Aryan race” by “paralyzing the functions of the frontal lobes.”Maybe the Yeerks too wrapped themselves around the frontal lobes. The mood of the anti-fluoridation forces today in Portland seems different, at least according to the WSJ account, more lighthearted (hey have a film called “An Inconvenient Tooth”) and perhaps more concerned with filtration than with infiltration. Rock musicians, not usually known for rigid boundary maintenance, participated. Local bands – the Dandy Warhols, the Guantanamo Baywatch – were part of the opposition. On the other side, the Decemberists, who rock globally, were acting locally in favor of fluoridation. The purity-of-essence argument still has exponents, but they do not look at all like the anti-Communist Jack Rippers of the 1950s. Their quest is not for freedom from insidious foreign influence but for what is “natural.” (A major organic food vendor was on board.) I would guess that they prefer acupuncture and herbal remedies and don’t want their children inoculated. I would also guess that even with Portland’s water still uncontaminated by fluoride, they drink only bottled natural spring water.
* From Donald R. McNeil (1985) “Americas Longest War: The Fight over Fluoridation, 1950 —” (full text behind a paywall here http://www.wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?AT=1&AID=2696
MAY 17, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Cross posted at Sociological Images Does “the abortion culture” cause infanticide? Does legalizing the aborting of a fetus in the womb create a cultural, moral climate where people feel free to kill newborn babies? It’s not a new argument. I recall a Peggy Noonan op-ed in the Times in 1998, “Abortion’s Children,”* arguing that kids who grew up in the abortion culture are “confused and morally dulled.” Earlier this week, USA Today ran an op-ed by Mark Rienzi repeating this argument in connection with the Gosnell murder conviction. Rienzi argues that the problem is not one depraved doctor. As the subhead says:Many of these victims were not newborns, and Rienzi is talking about day-of-birth homicides – the type killing Dr. Gosnell was convicted of, a substitute for abortion. Most of these, as Rienzi says are committed not by doctors but by mothers. I make the assumption that the method in most of these cases is smothering. These deaths show an even steeper decline since 1998.Where did Rienzi get his data that rates had doubled? By going back to 1950.
The killers are not who you think. They’re moms.Worse, he warns, infanticide has skyrocketed.
While murder rates for almost every group in society have plummeted in recent decades, theres one group where murder rates have doubled, according to CDC and National Center for Health Statistics data — babies less than a year old.Really? The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports has a different picture.
The data on infanticide fit with his idea that legalizing abortion increased rates of infanticide. The rate rises after _Roe v. Wade_ (1973) and continues upward till 2000. But that hardly settles the issue. Yes, as Rienzi says, “The law can be a potent moral teacher.” But many other factors could have been affecting the increase in infanticide, factors much closer to actual event – the mother’s age, education, economic and family circumstances, blood lead levels, etc. If _Roe_ changed the culture, then that change should be reflected not just in the very small number of infanticides but in attitudes in the general population. Unfortunately, the GSS did not ask about abortion till 1977, but since that year, attitudes on abortion have changed very little. Nor does this measure of “abortion culture” have any relation to rates of infanticide.If there is a relation between infanticide and general attitudes about abortion, then we would expect to see higher rates of infanticide in areas where attitudes on abortion are more tolerant.
As a society, we could agree that there really is little difference between killing a being inside and outside the womb.In fact, very vew Americans could agree with this proposition. Instead, they do distinguish between a cluster of a few fertilized cells and a newborn baby. I know of no polls that ask about infanticide, but I would guess that a large majority would say that it is wrong under all circumstances. But only perhaps 20% of the population thinks that abortion is wrong under all circumstances. Whether the acceptance of abortion in a society makes people “confused and morally dulled” depends on how you define and measure those concepts. But the data do strongly suggest that whatever “the abortion culture” might be, it lowers the rate of infanticide rather than increasing it. ------------------ * I had trouble finding Noonan’s op-ed at the Times Website. Fortunately, then-Rep. Talent (R-MO) entered it into the Congressional Record. ** The data are from the CDC. In earlier version of this post, I used data based on the CDC’s more inclusive “external causes” codes which include accidents.
MAY 12, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ One of my favorite quotes from Goffman’s _Asylums_ (on my syllabus this semester) appears early on in the section on The Staff WorldThe filmmaker, Zachary Maxwell (that’s a nom-de-vid) has edited his clips into a 20-minute documentary: “Yuck.” You can read the Times story and see an excerpt here.
This contradiction, between what the institution does and what its officials must say it does, forms the basic context of the staff’s daily activity.The semester is over, but I was reminded of that passage when I read a New York Times online article about school lunches. An 11-year old kid had surreptitiously taken videos of what was actually served and compared these with the official menus
there is a disconnect between the wholesome meals described on school menus and the soggy, deep-fried nuggets frequently dished up in the lunchrooms.Apparently, the contradiction Goffman mentions goes all the way down the staff hierarchy, even to the people dishing out school lunches.
On a day advertising “cheesy lasagna rolls with tomato basil sauce, roasted spinach with garlic and herbs,” for instance, Zachary is handed a plastic-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich on an otherwise bare plastic foam tray. Salads devised by the Food Network chefs Rachael Ray and Ellie Krieger are similarly plagued by missing ingredients. On the day Ms. Ray’s “Yum-O! Marinated Tomato Salad” is listed, Zachary is served a slice of pizza accompanied by a wisp of lettuce.
MAY 12, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_
_When you hustle you keep score real simple. At the end of the game you count up your money. That’s how you find out who’s best. _ “The Hustler,” screenplay by Sidney Carroll and Robert RossenI missed this Freakonomics post by Dave Berri back in February* – the one arguing that the Oscar award for best picture should follow the money. Why would a presumably intelligent economist make such an argument? I have a guess. Read on. According to Berri, box office receipts reveal the opinion of a different but more important set of judges – “people who actually spend money to go to the movies.”
According to that group, Marvel’s the Avengers was the “best” picture in 2012. With domestic revenues in excess of $600 million, this filmed earned nearly $200 million more than any other picture. And when we look at world-wide revenues, this film brought in more than $1.5 billion.To rule out The Avengers is an insult to moviegoers around the world
Essentially the Oscars are an industry statement to their customers that says: “We don’t think our customers are smart enough to tell us which of our products are good. So we created a ceremony to correct our customers.”The only reason the Oscars are of any use at all, says Berri, is that the they get people interested in the nominated films, and this interest “generates value.” See, it’s still about the money. OK, it’s a really stupid argument. (Some readers may have thought that Dave Berri was a typo and that the author was Dave Barry.) The 50+ comments on the post were not kind. Many of the comments criticised Berri’s economics, noting that many factors besides the quality of the movie can influence gross sales – advertising budgets, production costs, barriers to entry, etc. But I think everyone overlooked the real point of the post. It’s not about movies. Consider that it was posted on Freakonomics. Consider also that the Freakomics blog, books, and movie have far more viewers than do most other economic works, even widely used economics textbooks. The implication couldn’t be clearer: when it comes time to give out the prizes in economics – the Nobel and lesser awards – the judges should factor in book sales, blog hits, movie tickets, and TV appearances.. Levitt, Dubner, and contributors like, oh, maybe Dave Berri would be shoo-ins . . . if it weren’t for competitors like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer. As for Ostrom, Sen, Diamond, Schelling, Kahneman, et al. – nice try you guys, but really? ------------------------------ *Andrew Gelman dusted it off recently on his blog (here).
MAY 11, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Cross posted (in edited form) at Sociological Images_ _Stevenson and Wolfers also find no “satiation point,” some amount where happiness levels off despite increases in income. They provide US data from a 2007 Gallup survey.The data are pretty convincing. Even as you go from rich to very rich, the proportion of “very satisfied” keeps increasing.* Did Biggie and Alexis get it wrong? Around the time that the Stevenson-Wolfers study was getting attention in the world beyond Brookings, I was having lunch with a friend who sometimes chats with higher ups at places like hedge funds and Goldman Sachs. He hears wheeler dealers complaining about their bonuses. “I only got ten bucks.” Stevenson and Wolfers would predict that this guy’s happiness would be off the charts given the extra $10 million. But he does not sound like a happy master of the universe.** I haven’t read Robert Frank’s Richistan, but the New York Times review had this to say: “If Richistan is travel journalism, then . . . do we want to go there? Not much. The people sound dreadful and not very happy, to boot.” I think that the difference is more than just the clash of anecdotal and systematic evidence. It’s about defining and measuring happiness. The Stevenson-Wolfers paper uses measures of “life satisfaction.” Some surveys ask people to place themselves on a ladder according to “how you feel about your life.” Others ask
_In America I saw the freest and most enlightened men placed in the happiest circumstances that the world affords, yet it seemed to me as if a cloud habitually hung upon their brow, and I thought them serious and almost sad, even in their pleasures._ DeTocqueville, Democracy In America, Book II, Chapter 13
_Mo money, mo problems_ Notorious B.I.G.Forty years ago Richard Easterlin proposed the paradox that people in wealthier countries were no happier than those in less wealthy countries. Subsequent research on money and happiness brought modifications and variations, notably that within a single country, while for the poor, more money meant fewer problems, for the wealthier people – those with enough or a bit more – enough is enough. Increasing your income from $100,000 to $200,000 isn’t going to make you happier. It was nice to hear researchers singing the same lyrics we’ll soon be hearing in commencement speeches and that you hear in Sunday sermons and pop songs, both the earnest (“The best things in life are free”) or ironic (“Money, its a gas / Grab that cash with both hands / And make a stash” sounds anything but joyful). But this moral has a sour-grapes taste; it’s a comforting fable we nonwealthy tell ourselves all the while suspecting that it probably isn’t true. A recent Brookings paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (here) confirms that suspicion. Looking at comparisons among countries and within countries, they find that when it comes to happiness, you can never be too rich.
All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?The GSS uses happy instead of satisfied, but the effect is the same
Taken all together, how would you say things are these days - would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?When people hear these questions, they may think about their lives in a broader context and compare themselves to a wider segment of humanity. I imagine that Goldman trader griping about his “ten bucks.” He was probably thinking of the guy down the hall who got twelve. But when the survey researcher asks him where he is on that ladder, he may take a more global view and recognize that he has little cause for complaint. Yet moment to moment during the day, he may look anything but happy. There’s a difference between “affect” and life satisfaction. Measuring affect is much more difficult – one method requires that people log in several times a day to report how they’re feeling at that moment – but the correlation with income is weaker. In any case, it’s nice to know that the rich are benefitting from getting richer. We can stop worrying about their being sad even in their wealthy pleasure and turn our attention elsewhere. We got 99 problems, but the rich ain’t one. ----------------------------- * Sample size in the stratosphere might be a problem. As the authors footnote, “While 100 percent of those reporting annual incomes over $500,000 are in the top bucket of ‘very happy’, there are only 8 individuals in this category.” I suspect that bucket is a Cupertino and that they intended it to be bracket. But bucket is a much more colorful metaphor. ** In Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the vanities (1987), the yuppie bond traders appropriated the Mattel action figure title to refer to themselves. And they were not being entirely facetious. Wolfe does research for his fiction – he was a first a journalist, then a novelist – and I suspect that in this use of MOTU he was reporting, not inventing.
MAY 7, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ It’s nice to have your hunches confirmed by real data. Two years ago, the Republicans were blaming the slow recovery on “uncertainty.” The job creators (businesses), so their theory went, were not creating jobs because they were uncertain about regulations and taxes that might be in store. I was skeptical. I’ve never been in business, but I suspected that the real problem in job creation was that business weren’t doing business. It was the demand – or lack of demand – stupid. this one) actually got some attention from economists. That post was based data from a survey of small businesses. It’s not the highest-quality evidence – business owners could be wrong about the causes of recession and even about what was affecting their businesses – but at least it was more than the single anecdote that law professor/columnist/novelist Stephen L. Carter based his views on. Now, real evidence is available, allowing us to compare economic recovery in the different states, those laboratories of democracy and economic policy. If the uncertaintists are right, states where businesses ranked regulation and taxes as their biggest problem should show the slowest recovery. But in fact there was no correlation. Owen Zidar at the New York Times Economix blog (here) summarizes the evidence from a few studies.*
Using state-level data from National Federation of Independent Businesses, however, [researchers] found almost no relationship between job growth and the share of small businesses that cite regulation and taxes as their top concern. (Rather, they found a strong correlation between weak job growth and complaints of a lack of demand.)So we are now more certain about the irrelevance of uncertainty.
MAY 4, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ _Hard_ money, a _strong_ currency, Spartan-like _austerity_, concern that inflation will _weaken_ the dollar. It’s not just that the conservative analysis of the crisis has been wrong or that the conservative solutions have been disastrous (even the Austerians in Europe have had second thoughts). It’s not just that the last few years have provided much support for the Keynesian view and little for its opponents. But until now, I never saw the connection between right-wing economics and right-wing reaction to social issues. Then Niall Ferguson made it all clear. Never mind that the Keynesians were right and Ferguson and other conservatives wrong in predictions about inflation and interest rates. Keynes was wrong, says Ferguson. Why? Because Keynes was gay. According to a report in Financial Advisor,
Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated.I think that _homophobia_ as a term is often inaccurate. Gay bashers don’t fear homosexuality so much just dislike it. But Ferguson’s ad hominem (ad homo-hominem?) argument is changing my mind. Why else would he bring up poetry and ballet as at all relevant to economic theories?
Ferguson says U.S. laws and institutions have become degenerate.It’s the classic language of a brittle machismo. I don’t know if anyone has looked at the linguistics of economics, but I would expect that conservatives turn to this strength-vs-degeneracy language mostly for policies that bring suffering to others – the unemployed and others with little economic or political power.
Throughout his remarks, Ferguson referred to his “friends” in high places.For policies like bank bailouts that benefit these friends – investors, traders, banksters – these same economists may choose a different set of metaphors. UPDATE, 8:00 p.m.: Ferguson has posted a sincere “unqualified apology” (here). Still, the thoughts he expressed and the words he used in the speech were his own. Maybe he was drunk. He says his remarks were “of the cuff.” Whatever. It’s clear that he was not being thoughtful or careful about what he was saying. But that’s the Freudian point – and you don’t have to be much of a Freudian to see it. It takes some effort to keep unconscious, unacceptable ideas and impulses in check. When the conscious, the thoughtful and careful monitor, relaxes or is distracted, those untoward ideas come spilling out like an ugly oil slick. UPDATE 2: May 5, 8:30 a.m. Ferguson’s off-the-cuff comments came in response to a question about Keynes’s line that “in the long run, we’re all dead.” Paul Krugman points out that Ferguson’s response, aside from its other sins, distorts the point Keynes was making when he used it.
MAY 3, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ In any society, parents must transmit the culture to their children, and the sooner the better. So elitist, arugula-eating, Prius-driving parents start their kids on Suzuki violins.But this great diverse country of ours has room for other cultural traditions, so much so that some people talk about a “culture war.” And some parents, to make sure their kids grow up on the right side of that war are arming their little ones with Suzuki rifles. FIVE-YEAR-OLD BOY ACCIDENTALLY SHOOTS, KILLS SISTERIt happened in rural Kentucky. The parents had given the boy the Crickett rifle as a present. Andrew Gelman, in a post* tinged with irony, sees the incident as validation of Charles Murray’s assertions about “irresponsible elites.” Murray takes the urban elite to task for practicing virtues like hard work, education, and family responsibility but refusing to preach these virtues to their White brethren lower down the social ladder. Which is why the US is “Coming Apart.” (_Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010_, Crown, 2012) In this case, Andrew says, it’s the conservative elite failing to preach sermons about guns and kids to their country cousins (and constituents)
I assume the senators who voted against the recent gun control bill wouldn’t give live weapons to their kids (or live in neighborhoods in which kids have access to guns at home), but they don’t feel right about restricting the rights of others to do so.I’m not so sure. You don’t preach to people who are conforming to your ideas of what’s good. And apparently, responsible grown-ups in Kentucky and elsewhere see nothing wrong with these mini-rifles. I expect that the NRA leadership won’t coming out against kid-size guns for kindergarteners but will instead tout its own gun-safety programs. (I hope they won’t come out with a statement that the only defense against a bad 5-year old with a gun is a good 5-year old with a gun.) This view from the other side of the culture war is that there’s nothing wrong with guns, that guns are no more dangerous than cars** or swimming pools. You just have to be careful. Sure, sometimes children get killed, but they get killed in cars and backyard pools too. Accidents happen. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the some of the senators who voted against the gun bills had in fact given guns to their children or grandchildren. If so, they probably take safety precautions. But then again, so do the people in Kentucky. In the coming days we’ll probably hear that the parents are good parents. It’s just that the gun was left standing in the corner, somehow it had a live cartridge in it, and for some reason the mother left her kids alone for three minutes. ----------------- *Andrew’s post has much better Crickett graphics – “The Crickett Club” (like the Mickey Mouse Club, I guess) and “My First Rifle.” As I write, the Crickett Website is unavailable. The news story gave them a sudden flood of publicity, and it’s possible the increased traffic crashed the site. But they also weren’t answering their phone when the press called. Maybe they became shy about their product. **Of course we don’t allow 5-year olds, or even 15-year olds to drive. And drivers must be licensed, and cars must be registered (funny that nobody sees vehicle registration as the first step in the government’s secret plan to seize all our cars).
MAY 2, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ They came from all over, the students did – from biology and economics, from business and psychology, physics and earth science. They unrolled their posters or polished their panel presentations – more than 300 graduate and undergraduate students at Montclair’s seventh annual student research symposium. And when the dust had settled, and the judges had finished their rounds of the posters and oral presentations, four projects were deemed worthy of a prize. Two of these were by graduate students. One of the two undergraduate winners was a sociology major, Jessica McCabe.*Jessica’s project untangled several factors that might contribute differences in women’s health. Her data came from an survey (n ≈9000) of women in India.-------------------------- *The other undergraduate award, for an oral presentation, was shared by eight co-authors -- too numerous to mention.
In recent years, the politicization of Islam has led many to make conclusions about the religion and the effect that it has on women. The health differences between Muslims and non-Muslims are often attributed to the restrictive nature of Islam. Therein lies the question, “does empowerment or context have the greater effect on Muslim and Hindu womens reproductive health and health-seeking behavior?”She operationalized “empowerment” with a measure of private-sphere decisions (what to buy, etc.) and public sphere autonomy (going to the market or to see relatives). At first glance, it looksas though the poorer health of Muslim women follows from their relative lack of power and autonomy. But when Jessica controlled for the contextual effects from SES, location, age, etc, these differences washed out. Here are the four points on her poster
1. Compared to Hindu women, Muslim women are more disadvantaged across several indicators of health and use of maternal health services. 2. For Muslim women, mobility in the public sphere does not influence health. 3. For Hindus in general, the effect of empowerment is washed away with the introduction of context variables. Location seems to have a greater effect on health. 4. Context (household socioeconomic status and locality) has a greater influence on health and use of services, although the exact pathways need to be explored further.The other sociology poster was by Ian Callahan. Using GSS data, Ian traced attitudes towards stigmatized groups – homosexuals, communists, anti-religionists, and militarists. Should they be allowed to teach in a university? Ian’s research found a strong generational effect – less tolerant people tend to be from the pre-1950 cohort; they also tended to be less educated and more Southern. Gender had no consistent effect. Women were more tolerant of gays and militarists, less tolerant of anti-religionists and communists. Here are our two poster children with their wonderful advisor Sangeeta Parashar.
APRIL 27, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ “This is not a time to commit sociology,” said Canada’s prime minister Stephen Harper. It’s witty, especially if you don’t know that Auden made the same joke nearly seventy years ago.
Thou shalt not answer questionnaires Or quizzes upon World-Affairs, Nor with compliance Take any test. Thou shalt not sit With statisticians nor commit A social science.But it’s wit in the service of a bad idea – willful ignorance. The less witty version is the introductory clause, “We don’t need ‘studies’ to know that . . .” with the word studies almost always in quote. As I’ve said in earlier posts (here and here) the phrase is pretty much a guarantee that the writer has no systematic evidence or that the available evidence points in the opposite direction. It’s not so bad when the sentiment comes from a poet few people know of. But when it comes from people with real power, it can do real damage. Here in the US the Republicans in Congress don’t like political science research. Understandably. But they are not just clapping their hands over their ears and shouting, “I don’t hear you.” They are saying, “I won’t fund you.” And now some of them want to eliminate funding for all science that can’t wave a patriotic flag.
the new chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology floated the idea of having every NSF grant application include a statement of how the research, if funded, "would directly benefit the American people." Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) said that he was not trying to "micromanage" the $7 billion agency but that NSF needs to do a better job of deciding what to fund given the low success rates for grant applicants and a shrinking federal budget. (More here.)The sociology Harper was referring to consisted apparently of remarks by Justin Trudeau on the topic of terrorism. Trudeau suggested that a strategy to prevent further terrorism should include a consideration of “root causes.” Naive Trudeau. Had he been more familiar with to the recent history of his neighbor to the south, he would never have used that phrase. When crime was in the US rose drastically in the late twentieth century (when Justin’s dad Pierre was prime minister of Canada), some people suggested that to reduce crime, it might help to understand “root causes.” Conservatives, the defenders of “law and order,” hooted with contempt. We didn’t need to understand. We needed to punish the bad guys, the more harshly the better. The same reaction seems to have been taking place in Canada in the days following the Boston bombing and the discovery of a plot to blow up Canadian trains. Apparently that is what Harper meant by “this is not the time.” At a time like this, when people are “uncertain and afraid” (Auden again), they do not want to understand. They want reassurance both of their safety and of their moral rightness. They want actions and words that reinforce the boundary between Us and Them. The trouble, especially with potential terrorists in our midst, is that we need the help of people who look like Them. Terrorism plots are foiled by information from insiders. Do we really want to paint the boundary in bright colors and force them to choose a side? Here is the sociology that Trudeau committed.
But we also need to make sure that as we go forward, that we don’t emphasize a culture of fear and mistrust. Because that ends up marginalizing even further those who already are feeling like they are enemies of society.
APRIL 22, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I’m not a research director. But if I were, I hope I wouldn’t write questions that are obviously designed to bias the results.* And if I did ask such questions, I wouldn’t boast about it in the newspaper, especially if my stacking of the deck got barely a majority to give the answer I wanted. But then, I’m not Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute, whose letter to the Record (formerly known as The Bergen Record) was published today.
Regarding "Most favor minimum wage hike" (Page L-7, April 18): The recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll finding that 76 percent of New Jerseyans support a minimum wage increase only proves that incomplete poll questions yield misleading results. My organization commissioned ORC International to conduct a similar poll regarding an increase in the minimum wage. _WHEN RESPONDENTS WERE INFORMED OF THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF MINIMUM WAGE HIKES — PARTICULARLY HOW SUCH HIKES MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR THE LEAST-SKILLED TO FIND WORK_— 70 percent support flipped to 56 percent opposition. [emphasis added] This consequence isnt a hypothetical: Fully 85 percent of the most credible economic studies from the past two decades indicate a loss of job opportunities following a wage hike. Michael Saltsman Washington, D.C. , April 18As for the facts on the effects of an increase in the minimum wage, Saltsman’s literature review is on a par with his questionnaire construction. Apparently he missed John Schmitt’s CEPR article from two months ago (here). The title pretty much sums it up:
Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?Schmitt includes this graph of minimum-wage effects from a meta-analysis.
Hristos Doucouliagos and T. D. Stanley (2009) conducted a meta-study of 64 minimum-wage studies published between 1972 and 2007 measuring the impact of minimum wages on teenage employment in the United States. When they graphed every employment estimate contained in these studies (over 1,000 in total), weighing each estimate by its statistical precision, they found that the most precise estimates were heavily clustered at or near zero employment effects.Schmitt offers several guesses as to why employers don’t cut jobs when the minimum wage rises – maybe they raise prices, or accept a lower profit margin, or reduce the wages of better-paid employees; or maybe the increase minimum wage brings more customers, and so on.** But regardless of the findings on minimum wage, Saltsman’s letter carries a more important if depressing message. We try to teach our students to design good research. We tell them that good research skills might help them get jobs. Yet here is an example of a research-director job that depends on designing bad surveys and doing bad research. ------------------------------ *In his methods course, my colleague Chris Donoghue uses a made-up abortion item for teaching items that introduce bias: “Every year in the US, over a million babies are killed by abortion. Do you agree that laws should make it more difficult to get an abortion?” ** Brad Plumer at WaPo’s WonkBlog has more on this, including a fuller discussion of Schmitt’s paper (here).
APRIL 17, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ A non-sociological post. I’ve never been all that good at resisting the obvious. From today’s New York Times:
The indictment also named Molly Bloom, who made headlines in 2011 for her role in arranging clandestine games for high-rollers, including Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.And then he asked me if he could get into the game yes and would Matt be there yes and Ben with himself so pumped up and proud yes yes and Leo too all blond and often staying in with only king seven yes and he took out his checkbook and asked with his eyes if this would be enough for the buy-in yes and it was a wondrous number with lots of zeros yes yes yes
APRIL 16, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ Cross-posted at Sociological Images_ _ The magic of demographic knowledge is a memorable moment in John Sayles’s 1984 movie “Brother From Another Planet.” On the A train, a young man shows an elaborate card trick to the title alien, who looks like an African American but seems to have no understanding of the trick. So the magician offers another.From 59th St. to 125th St. is one stop on the express. But as the movie shows, that short ride covers a large demographic change, and it’s not just racial. The New Yorker has posted interactive graphics (here) showing the median income of the census tracts surrounding subway stations.*Take the A train one stop – from the southern border of Central Park to a few blocks above its northern border – and see median income drop by $100,000. Many other lines travel the extremes of economic inequality. My line is the 2.In the early morning commute, I see blue collar workers in their hoodies or rough jackets and steel-toe boots next to well-dressed people reading The Wall Street Journal. They didn’t get on at the same stop. The people who live in and work in the Wall Street census tract, which includes Park Place, are not on the train. Here’s what their housing looks like.And here is Franklin St., Brooklyn.The subway demographic trick is not limited to New York. Here’s a time-lapse video of the Red Line of Chicago’s CTA.
(If the video does not play, you can see it here.)Despite the social class segregation in housing, in cities like New York and Chicago, people of vastly different economic circumstances are likely to share the same subway car, at least for a few stops.
APRIL 15, 2013 _Posted by Jay Livingston_ I must be missing something in Paul Krugman’s dismissal of bitcoins (today’s NYT column here). Krugman says that unlike gold and paper money, the value of bitcoins does not rest on some intrinsic usefulness or upon the power of a state.
Bitcoins, however, derive their value, if any, purely from self-fulfilling prophecy, the belief that other people will accept them as payment.Then a few paragraphs later, he approvingly quotes Paul Samuelson saying that money is a “social contrivance.” What makes paper, silver, or gold worth something is “the expectation that other people would accept them as payment.” So bitcoin and metals and paper all depend on socially constructed definitions. But then how is bitcoin different from more traditional kinds of money? Or does Krugman mean that because the free-floating bitcoin is untethered to precious metals or governments, those definitions are less stable and that the bitcoin’s value is more susceptible to the mood swings of the public? (FWIW, the price of gold has fallen 13% since Thursday.) ---------------------- *The subject line of this post is a variant of what has often been said of Yiddish – a language without an army