Thursday, November 30, 2006

things that go stata in the night

mystery graph!

The variable on the x-axis is a uniformly distributed variable, as in say "deciles." The y-axis is the probability of observing the outcome. As you move from the lowest to highest "decile," the probability of observing the outcome increases from less than 10% to almost 80%. By the standards of social science, I would call this a "strong effect." Would you call this a strong effect? Someone, validate me!

I will post about what this graph is actually a graph of when I get a chance. It is not a graph of the probability of my getting on a mechanical bull by the number of vodka-and-cranberry-juices consumed. Guesses welcome, with the usual coveted JFW kewpie doll as prize.

blogging: the new smoking?

There is this finding from some network analysis that smokers had the most interesting connections in a business organization--in the sense of having the interactional ties across different levels of the organization that made it more of a "small world"--because being driven onto the same huddled outdoor posts gave them various connections with fellow smokers that they would not otherwise have.* I've never smoked--despite strong familial patterns to the contrary, not one cigarette ever--so I can't vouch for the finding ancedotally.

Anyway, the point is that I've had more than one conversation in the last couple years where someone's name X has come up, and I say: "Sure, I know X." And the person asks, reasonably, "Why would you know X?" And some part of the answer, whether I articulate it out loud or not, is that the person either has a blog, has had a blog, or has commented on my blog, etc.. In other words, I've had interactions with people through blogging who, by usual mechanisms of social tie formation, I would have no especial reason to have any connection to.

I cannot be alone in this. Participation in blogging is relatively uncorrelated with what kind of sociology a person happens to do--more uncorrelated, I suspect, than smoking is nowadays--and where one is and has been located, so it lends itself toward forming intriguing ties. So, one gets the network benefits of smoking, without the icky carcinogenic aftertaste.

The other nice thing is the by-now-well-established pattern that, the present author excepted, the average person in sociology who has a blog or reads blogs seems to be more interesting and, well, "intellectually alive" than the average person who does not. (Don't tell the members of the latter group this, or at least don't attribute it to me, as they tend to be touchy about it and launch into the whole haughty "I have better things to do with my time [like watch television]" thing, etc., etc..)

* I should say I think this is an actual finding given the number of times I've heard people mention it, but I have no idea what the originating paper is.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

take one joke, and gun it into the round


I've always liked spoonerisms, ever since I was a kid listening to Metallica's "Pastor of Muppets" CD or engaging the whole "bottle in front of me" vs. "frontal lobotomy" debate. Anyway, my word-of-the-day e-mail (today: pencel) had an ad for this holiday children's book of spoonerisms, so, wracked with insomnia as ever, I clicked on it.

Then I looked at the page and was overcome with this slow, "My God, this is so unrelentingly unamusing that my sleep may be permanently disturbed" eyescalding sensation. It's amazing enough that there are like forty-some stories with names like "The Gnion and the Latt" and "The Loat and the Gyon," but then the site also provides wample sext as tell. It's kind of like imagining how amusing Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" would be if only he'd released the special 630-page original edition. Calooh! Callay! "Loldy-fox and the Bee Thrairs," Yay!

I hate not being able to sleep. I'm not sure easy access to the Internet from bed is good for the forces of slumber (I'll resist backspacing and changing to sources of flumber.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

sorry the photo is blurry. maybe some vision therapy would help.

zero balancing

Sign from a local center for alternative/complementary health services. Does anyone know what zero-balancing is? I've never heard of it. Is it a treatment one can get that will help take care of the debt a person runs up using the other services available at this center?

I've never heard of "Aston-Patterning" either, actually. These are things that, as far as I can tell, aren't even on Wikipedia. I understand how a place can offer services without any good scientific evidence as to their efficacy--note that I am not suggesting this for everything on the sign--but should you really be allowed to have painted signs offering health services that haven't even made it to Wikipedia? Scrying has a perfectly respectable Wikipedia entry with subpages for hydromancy and crystallomancy; are you really expected to put your trust in a place that offers a certified "zero-balancer" and board licensed "Aston-Patterner" but no town scryer?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

why get help when you can help science?

clinical trial poster
(clinical trial advertisement in boston subway car)

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? If you don't have good social support, you've probably lost enough in one way or another from the costs of bad behavior resulting from these problems that $600 is maybe enough to get you to go for it, especially since you don't have prudent people around you to talk you out of it.

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! Yes, that's a picture of a human brain we got off the web, with a martini glass superimposed on top of it. And, see, there's a photo of an anguished woman, just below a photo of a cartoon man so excited he's raising his arms with glee (if you didn't know: in bipolar disorders, it's common for people to switch not only from very low to very high moods, but also from female to male, from actual to cartoon, and from normal size to being only three inches tall).

I'm tempted to call the number and see what their screening procedure is like. I would love to see an ethnographic investigation of clinical trials.

BTW, on the science front, I made my first trip the other night to the famous Miracle of Science Bar and Grill near MIT's campus. I was expecting there to be more science. Sure, the chalkboard menu was arranged like a periodic table, and the tables and stools were like those from a chemistry lab, but apart from some radio equipment sitting above the bottles of alcohol there really wasn't much science in there. I have more science toys-y stuff in my Madison office. The patrons also looked sadly ungeeky; I was expecting to feel some deep geekinship. The bar did, at least, serve it's drinks up in beakers:

miracle of science bar & grill

Saturday, November 25, 2006

quantum leaps

So, every day, I get a day older. I understand this. I even get that every day, everyone else gets a day older, even if I do not see them or think about them. (I understand the latter point and yet reserve the right to be continually amazed by it in particular instances.)

This is not, however, how I have experienced aging over the last 15 or so years (prior to that, to my knowledge, I did not experience aging at all, but just growing.) The way I have experienced aging has been more punctuated, where I will go through some extensive time where I feel I'm basically a certain age, and then over a relatively rapid period I come to feel I am a different (older) age, then I will feel that different age for an extended while, and so on. Graduate school basically had three phases for me. As those phases were beginning I had this rapid-accumulating sensation of feeling older, but while the phases themselves were going on I felt basically the same age.

We are coming up on the sixth anniversary of my finishing my dissertation and moving to Madison. In that time, I do feel like I've aged about six years. But like about my 5th or 6th semester, I felt like I abruptly aged two years, then in the months before moving to Cambridge I aged another two years, and then this fall I've felt the sudden phenomenochrono-lurch forward again another two years. Is this normal? I presume this has to be normal. Other people must also experience age discretely, rather than continuously.

BTW, I'm not entirely convinced it's a good thing that the cumulative consequence is that I do feel like I am tracking the actual chronological passing of time fairly well, as opposed to some benign delusion that I am somehow decoupled from the calendar by a magic internal preservative. Although one happy consequence, perhaps not always evident on this blog, has been large gains on the maturity front, as well as in matters of wisdom, even if there I still have a-ways to go.

Friday, November 24, 2006

on anon

I have re-enabled anonymous comments. We shall see.


lost and found tag

When I made my recent list of what the seven dwarves would be if the story was staged in my brain, I did not include "Loser." But maybe that was an omission, or at least would be the added dwarf if the story morphed from "Snow White" to "Eight Is Enough." Because, whoa, am I a loser. Not in the broad sense where y'all should be worried about my self-esteem, but in the literal sense of someone who loses things. Whenver I see that bumper sticker that says "Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most," I think the person clearly has not lost the things I've lost. Of all the things I've lost, I miss my iPod the most. Or, maybe my last cel phone. Or, maybe the cel phone before that. Or, maybe one of the 183 stocking caps, 327 umbrellas, or 978 pairs of gloves I've lost over the years. I bought a new blazer this month; if not for someone chasing after me, I would have left it in the room where I gave my talk in Dallas. The lost-and-found tag above is for the man-purse that someone found in the hotel, which if not for someone's honesty would have resulted in the loss of my digital camera (yeah, Mom, the one you gave me) and my wrestling mask (yeah, Sal, the one you gave me).

Tonight: I had Thanksgiving with a friend in Dorchester, which involved a 45 minute subway ride. On the ride home I was reading Jon Elster's Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences. I walked directly from the train station home. I get home, and I realize the book is gone. Did I somehow leave it behind on the train? Did I drop it? Did it self-destruct? Did it fall into the same strange spatiotemporal fold that also holds roughly 25% of the would-be-reimbursable travel receipts I accumulate over the course of a professional trip? Who knows?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

the turkey has left the oven

The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

Ah, Thanksgiving is a great day to send off a paper, especially one that had developed a certain discomfiting, crushing-psychological-burden character to it. Of course, now I have to take up all the things I had kept at bay while working on it.

They say changing anything in academia is like moving a cemetery. (They say this because changing things in academia regularly involves overcoming nearly-insuperable institutional inertia, not because changing things in academia is a necrophile's bonanza.) Still, I can't help but wonder if somehow, someday, sociology might change its citation style for books. The style right now:
Healy, Kieran. 2006. Last Best Gifts: Altruism and the Market for Human Blood and Organs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Obviously, you need to have the author's name, the year, the title of the book. The publisher, fine. But the city where the publisher is based? Why? Who has, in the past 10 years, made any use of that information for any purpose? What conceivably could it be used for? I'm tired of wasting time trying to figure out whether presses are based in New York or not. Guilford, yes. Westview, no (Boudler, CO). And when publishers move (e.g., Sage), do you use the location when the book was published (which would make no sense except its what's on the title page) or its current location?

Also, given that we are the discipline that teaches "if situations are defined as real, they are real in their consequences" in our intro classes, can't we maybe adopt a journal practice that would convey that we define ourselves to be doing importantly, timely, potentially scoopable work. Namely, printing the date submitted and date accepted on articles, like journals in all kinds of other disciplines that fancy having researchers who may sometimes discover things do.

Anyway, the albatross is off, and I'm done carping as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

the deal with the mask

I will not profess to understand how one goes about being "funny." As far as being unfunny, though, it seems like up there on the list, albeit below screaming a hideous racist tirade at one's audience, is failing to appreciate the distinction between anecdotes that are actually humorous in the retelling and those for which you had to be there.

So, some people have asked what the deal is with me and the Mexican wrestling mask that I was wearing in the video of me riding a mechanical bull, especially since there are other photos of someone Jeremy-shaped wearing the mask on Flickr. The deal is that when I got to the conference in Dallas, Sal presented me with the mask as a gift he had bought when he was in Mexico. I am not sure if he bought the mask for me in tribute to my own hallowed past as a high-school wrestler, or because he thought it might help my aesthetic capital. The idea was, ha-ha, that I would put on the mask and maybe get a photo. If there is anything about me, of course, it's that if I am in for a penny, I am in for a pound, and perhaps even in for a few dozen pounds, especially if there are drinks involved and I can put it on my credit card. So I had the mask on for much of the weekend.

Dinner with colleagues:

gsa - group at dinner

Playing shufflepuck at the hotel bar (at which, for the record, I rock):

gsa shufflepuck

Hanging out with various women in cowboy hats:

me - at gilley'sgsa - with hats at gilleys

Using my laptop while chillin' in my hoodie:

gsa - me in badger hoodie

Talking to a hotel cop to get back my man-purse after accidentally leaving it behind in the hotel cafe:

gsa lost and found

And checking out the area behind the famous picket fence atop the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza:

gsa - me behind picket fence

You've long since gotten the idea, I suspect. I make no claims to its secondhand funniness, or even its firsthand funniness to anyone but Sal, who seemed as an objective matter to find it hilarious. I have another friend who finds masks terrifying. But Sal, you want to make him laugh, put on a Santo mask and he's in stitches.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

another boy detective fails

If you are an Encyclopedia Brown fan, this caused me to laugh out loud three different times, and do that quieter snorty sorta-laugh thing I do a couple other times as well (via Lucy).

Monday, November 20, 2006

the jaunty professor

I'm giving a talk at the University of Michigan on my replication paper in a couple weeks. I received an e-mail from someone there saying that the flier for my talk was attached. The e-mail said:
I'd appreciate it if you'd look over the flyer and send back any desired 
changes. I took the liberty of grabbing an image of you from your flickr
page. If it does not in your opinion convey sufficient gravity or formality
or native attractiveness, perhaps you could send me a replacement. (I think
it's jaunty.)
To which I could only wonder, what is this going to be? Turns out:

michigan talk poster

I will admit to some uncertainty as to how well the photo represents my "native attractiveness," but I gave the thumbs up regardless. Maybe I should wear a prosthetic hook for the talk and gesture it menacingly when talking about those scurvy bilgerats who won't allow others to replicate their findings.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

there's, um, obviously a long story to this, but...

(YouTube clip of me, wearing a Mexican wrestling mask, riding a mechanical bull)

"You right-handed?"
"Yes. Is it okay if I wear this mask?"
"Whatever does it for you, man. Hold up your left hand and lean back."

I'm in Dallas. What were you expecting me to do?

Update: BTW, Sal also tried the bull, without the twin cowboy-burdens of a mask and live-action video recording. Here's him being thrown off:

sal, falling off the mechanical bull

Saturday, November 18, 2006

they gave you a room on the top floor? you must have a beautiful view!

view from my hotel room, dallas

Several hundred vertical feet of concrete is pretty, in its own unrelentingly drab way. But why do hotels have to use decorating schemes in which the curtains themselves look like what they should really be opening onto is a giant circus puppet show?

I'm having a just-fine time here in Dallas, although I didn't go to any actual conference sessions (as I'm not, after all, a gerontologist). I'm up in my hotel room doing work unrelated to either of the presentations I need to prepare for tomorrow.

Friday, November 17, 2006

dispatch from the grassy knoll

book depository, dealey plaza
(the view of the book depository from what turned out to be the wrong grassy knoll--the real knoll is across the street. you can see the cardboard boxes in the window where they have set up in the museum an replica of what how the boxes were actual corner where Oswald sat)

Yes, that grassy knoll. I am in Dallas for a conference and am sitting here waiting for Sal and Megan, who are still working their way through the museum in the book depository.

I wonder if, in addition to blogging from all the states and from all the planets, if I should start a thing where I blog from the sites of all four presidential assassinations. Perhaps then Sarah Vowell will finally take my repeated marriage proposals seriously.

The states list, updated to include Texas:

MissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew Jersey
New MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahoma
OregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennessee
TexasUtahVermontVirginiaWashingtonWashington, D.C.
West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

Sal and I both have colds, his worse than mine, so the planned Tulsa trip is off, so Oklahoma will remain unblogged.

honey, i shrunk the boy detective

"My favorite dwarf was Dopey."
"Why must you always be so enthusiastic about stupidity?"
"I didn't like Dopey because he was stupid, I liked him because he was happy."
"There was another dwarf who was also happy. His name, in fact, was Happy. But he was without cognitive deficits, and so he's not your favorite."

So, I was at a party the other night where this exchange led into the question of what your name would be if you were suddenly dwarfinized and sent off to live with the Minificent Seven. A friend chose "Sensitive," which can I just say fits like a glass slipper from a certain other tale.* The question has come up in my company before, and I've chosen "Mercurial" for myself. This time, as the party was not long after my instant-dysclassic talk in NYC last week, I went with "Fragile." Later I changed my answer to "Awkward," in response to my amazing power to radiant discomfort and shyness in otherwise amiable social groupings. Which then put me onto the exercise of complating what would be the seven dwarves in a story where they reside not in some forest but inside my head.

What I decided for my cranial cast: Mercurial, Fragile, Antsy, Awkward, Scattered, HighlyAutocorrelated, and Wandery. Hi, ho! Let me know what you think your dwarf identity/identities would be.

* To the friend in question -- While I don't normally quote Milli Vanilli in bloggerly conversation: "Girl, you know it's true."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

ill timing

I am going to Dallas tomorrow for the Gerontology meetings*, with some associated other adventures. Yesterday I was a little sniffly, but I believed this would pass. Today, I awaken to a full blown head cold. This is not good. I don't even have anything clever to say in this post, since the sparklingwit gland in my brain is currently besieged by an ambitious green phalanx of congestive forces. Any cold maintenance advice is appreciated.

* No, I am not a gerontologist. Hence the associated other adventures.

Update: Speaking of bad timing, what's with Wisconsin's sociology e-mail server being down all day? Don't they get it? I'm a junkie! I need my e-mail! Can somebody send some e-methodone to my GMail account?

the way i see it

Starbucks has gone with their red cups for the holidays, meaning that they are no longer using their "The Way I See It" cups.* Which is too bad, because I just used the form on the Starbucks site earlier today to submit a "Way I See It" idea for their consideration:

the way i see it

I wonder if they would have used it. BTW, no offense intended if you happen to be the "first kind" of sociologist, although you do suck.

Anyway, a friend reminded** me today of this quote about the sociological eclecticist:
"An eclectic is always losing arguments. One lacks the close-mindedness necessary to treat others' positions with the contempt they so easily display for one's own. Of course in interaction I fake this contempt as well as the next academic. But I usually rush to bone up on what I have just been denying. And I have never managed that happy disregard of whole areas of intellectual life--mathematics, say, or history--that so simplifies the lives of some of my colleagues." -- Andrew Abbott, Chaos of Disciplines, p. x.
* Note: I go to Starbucks. I am not anti-Starbucks. I am anti-anti-Starbucks, in fact, and can be quite irascible about it if you get me going. I am, however, anti-coffee, and what I get from Starbucks is hot chocolate.

** That is to say, she sent it to me, and I looked in my own copy of Chaos of Disciplines, and it turned out I had underlined it, although I still have no recollection of having read the sentence or underlined it. So is characterizing it as reminding correct?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

if good fences make good neighbors, what do obnoxious fences do?

fence #1

So, sometime the pleasant picket fence went by the wayside and was replaced by the fence that doesn't let you see into the yard at all. Or, at least, there are a lot of these in Cambridge. The usual height of these fences are about 6 - 6 1/2 feet, which is tall enough. The owners of the property spent a lot time/energy/money renovating their house so that it looks splendid, and then their final act was to put this giant fence up to hide it. This fence is at least 7 1/2 feet tall, on a side of the street that is otherwise unobtrusively fenced. I tell you, this fence is aggressive. I walk by and I feel like it's provoking me. It speaks, this fence. Sneery, taunting things.

Or maybe not, but the fence is too ostentatiously tall for an otherwise laid-back neighborhood. After all, the menace right across the street that they are keeping out is the Harvard Divinity School.

Anyway, if you look at the picture above, you can see over on the right there is a sheet of paper attached to the sign. Close-up:

fence #2

I didn't do this, nor was I the one who added "I agree!", although I do agree. I think if I had written the sign it would have said, "This fence is an atrocity" or "This fence bespeaks an ugly soul." I'm normally not one to give into Schadenfence, but I'm not going to feel bad if some teenager tags this fence.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

i am an early-middle-age dog. i should still be able to learn new tricks.

I am working on a paper in which I use the word ubiquitous repeatedly, in reference to something I call the "thesis of ubiquitous partial heritability" (Mom! Are you still reading my blog? Don't I know some fancy words? Don't hear 'ubiquitous' up at the Korner Kupboard, do you?). I keep typing it as "ubiquitious" instead of "ubiquitous," time after time, getting the red squiggle and then having to correct. Why am I unable to internalize this? It's not like I say yoo-BIC-wit-ee-us. Seriously, you're going to think I'm making this up, but I typed it wrong at first for two out of the five times it appears so far in this post. It's like even as I'm thinking about how I can't spell it, my fingers insist on sticking in the extra "i."

As someone who has always prided himself on being able to spell, this is especially painful. But I do know how to spell ubiquitous--if I got it in a spelling bee, I would nail it--I just don't know that I should be spelling that way when I happen to be typing it.

Speaking of spelling bees, I had the greatest idea ever the other night. The big national spelling bee has become an annual hit, but the competition itself is basically more about memorization than spelling, and so then it's a matter of seeing which kid has managed to be able to have her head crammed most full of words she is then able to extract under pressure. Spelling bees are wildly unfair in this respect, though, as the difficulty of particular words varies considerably in ways that are hard to equalize (and the national spelling bee folks don't even seem to try). I suspect the winner almost always would not be able to spell all the words that were presented to competitors over the course of the bee. Plus, they get to stall with all those questions about etymology, etc., detracting from its excitement.

My idea: a National Pi Bee. Get ESPN on board, and some kind of massive scholarship prize. Then, put 12 kids on stage who've been culled in preliminary rounds and given a year to prepare with their families for this like it is basically their whole life. The format is like a spelling bee, except that, each time it's a kid's turn, he has to say the next seven digits of pi. No questions about definitions, no questions at all, and very little luck. Just pure pressure, and pure pi.

Update, 2:30pm: I just misspelled serendipitous "serendipitious", so the affliction appears to be spreading. Why?

Monday, November 13, 2006

don't fear the creeper*

goth creeper

So normally I wouldn't buy something pink for a baby girl. But, we have someone expecting in the RWJ program, and I have become associated with a pro-pink proclivity here.

Last year when I made my quasi-annual pilgrimage to the University of Iowa, there was a controversy there over its locker rooms for visiting football teams, which are famously painted pink because a former coach had read about the (hokey as far as I know) psychological evidence that pink stimuli makes otherwise aggressive people more passive and docile. Sometime after that, I was talking to another noneconomist fellow here about our trepidation about presenting in front of economists, who are known to be more masculine and "challenging" in the way they question seminar speakers. "My plan is to wear pink," I said, as a joke, explaining the psychological theory, but then it became one of those jokes that evolved a life of its own. When the time came to present, I wore my aggressively pink shirt.

My talk went well. Another one of the fellows had his talk received more roughly, especially by the economists, and went out and bought a pink shirt for the next time he had to speak to the group (which, indeed, was better received). So, anyway, when the expecting fellow expressed hope that the forthcoming daughter would not be one of those vacuous happy popular kids but instead would have a moody, gothy streak, I offered to get them something to help with the goth socialization as a shower present (in addition to a non-gag present, yes). Anyway, when I looked online and saw I could get a goth creeper in pink, I snapped it up, so she'll be ready in case she has to give any presentations from the crib to economists.

(Challege for the sociophilosophiconovelly inclined!: Identify that five books piled on the corner of my desk used to take this picture and win a coveted official JFW virtual kewpie doll.)

* I know I have posted before that every time I listen to Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" with any kind of specificity I marvel at how a song so completely freaking creepy could be an enduring hit song, but this post has me listening to it again right now and, once again, wow, so completely freaking creepy. I know it has the cowbell, but still. If I were a goth boy getting married, I would want it to be the song for my wedding dance, or maybe the second song after Ben Folds Five's "Brick."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

annals of anonymous comment

I deleted an anonymous commenter who earlier posted some stupid, abusive spray of assertions about the intellectual worthlessness of sociology, its failure to achieve social justice, the hypocritical privilege of academics, etc., etc.. I'm not sure if this is the same anonymous commenter who wrote the rambly self-righteous thing toward which I was supposedly "smug and condescending" yesterday. Anyway, now I have an anonymous commenter (same one? different? who knows?) telling me:
if you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen...sociologists typically do not solve social problems, they just write about them, so it is to be expected that they will engage in all kinds of "we're not upper-middle class", "you should be so happy we let "coloreds" and "little women" into our field
I just thought, rather than delete this or keep it only in the comments field, I would put it out here in the open so y'all would get to see the joys one gets to deal with when one allows anonymous comments. Perhaps one can also see why, by the time sociologists are five years out of graduate school, they commonly exhibit a certain dismissive weariness toward some of the "angrier" persons floating around the periphery of the enterprise. If this be smug and condescending, then Jeremy Freese: smug, condescending.

Regardless, I'm reluctant to turn anonymous comments off, because the majority of people who comment anonymously do not abuse the privilege, and I think I get many interesting and thoughtful anonymous comments I wouldn't otherwise get.

As I responded to the commenter, though: this is my house, and so I would rather this person leave my kitchen. If not, and they want to keep say provocative, albeit maniacal, things calling out myself and/or my profession, they should stop posting anonymously and use their real name, the way everything I say--which includes things other people don't like--goes out under my real name. Given the nitwitness of the person in question--for all I know it could be some 14-year-old dittohead who stumbled onto my blog and has decided to pull our collective chain, which would explain certain things about quality of the writing involved--I suspect to hear from her/him/it again.

Meanwhile: I am way too busy with urgent forthrushing deadlines to be wasting cognitive space on this. Anybody want to guest post for a few days?

Update: Reality check from a conversation with a friend just now on the phone. I'm turning anonymous comments off at least through my return from Dallas/Tulsa on 11/21. I invite reasonable people who presently comment anonymously to create Blogger accounts to comment. The sign-up screen can make it look like you need to set up a blog yourself to comment, but you don't.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

boys are stupider, send them to...

(Jupiter and me, at South Station in Boston)

Detractors of the boy detective might have thought that I had abandoned my plan to get photos of myself by all the exhibits in the Boston area model solar system. Wrong! When I got back from New York City late Thursday night, I remembered that Jupiter was in the train station. Some investigation revealed that it was in the food court, over on the side where a number of people were sitting. I felt quite self-conscious taking a photo of myself by Jupiter while these young station-hanging-hipsters were sitting a few feet away--not to mention being completely exhausted from my trip--so it's not like I was going for a accurate rendering of my handsome visage or an especially great depiction of the splendor of our largest planet behind me. Nonetheless, it counts, meaning that I now have five down--Mercury, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune--and five to go: the three remaining planets, Pluto, and the Sun.

Friday, November 10, 2006

the social forces social

So, my post about the Notre Dame rankings and Social Forces and its follow up have gotten a lot of comments. I'm out of the discussion as a participant, but highlights of some others' observations:

1. Kim has posted rankings that are based on the Notre Dame group's methodology but drops Social Forces over at Marginal Utility. Why she doesn't send them to Footnotes, I don't know.

2. Dan Myers from Notre Dame has posted his opinion about the Notre Dame rankings.

3. I was told to "CHECK YOUR OWN BIASES!", in boldface no less, by showing skepticism to a ranking which ranks many departments ahead of my own, which is defensible given that my current cloaking of my blog from search engines prevents me from easily linking back to my several posts criticizing the US News & World Report ranking system that ranked my own department #1.

4. While Kim and Dan may feel they have valid points, I think we can all agree that this comment is the true voice of righteous sociology on these matters. Fight the power. Peace. Word. Dude. All we have to lose are our chains.

5. Somebody (and also this) pointed me last night to the Sociology Rumor Mill blog, which has lately taken up journal prestige in its thread as well. It's spawned a Wiki that is meant to summarize key information about the junior search market.

Update: Dan Myers has started a discussion board devoted to professional socialization issues.

in praise of donald rumsfeld

Sure, so maybe I did high five the person who told me that Rumsfeld had resigned. And, so yes, of course, I'm glad he's gone. But in the occupational obituaries that have been playing for him, because keep bringing up this quote of his as an example of "mangled" speech:
"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
The quote won a "Foot in Mouth" award in 2003 as the most "truly baffling comment" made a public official. The runner-up was Arnold Schwarzenegger saying "I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman," meaning that apparently a distinguished panel of judges was more baffled by Rumsfeld's quote than that.

Can I just say: every time I read the Rumsfeld quote, I think, I understand exactly what this is saying, I think it's basically correct*, and not even especially poorly put. I mean, he could have just said, "Things that haven't happened often call attention to matters about which we haven't appreciated our ignorance," but then that wouldn't provide the little set of terms for thinking about it. If anything, I fault him for not completing the 2x2 table and discussing "unknown knowns."

* At least as an epistemological matter, I don't know what concretely about our military situation it was made in reference to.**

** An economist I know upbraided me for using a fancy word when the two of us were talking, saying that she tries to avoid fancy words because she thinks they are just ways academics speak obscurely on purpose as a way of excluding the common masses from discourse. Of course, being an economist, she readily drops "elasticisties" and "externalities" into conversations, as well as using the word "efficiency" in a way that would wildly confuse an untutored member of the common masses. She justifies these words because she says she needs them for precision, a matter about which I would agree (the language of economists is infectious after you start hanging around them precisely because it's precisely useful--or at least that, and the whole economists-run-the-interface-between-social-science-and-any-hope-of-affecting-social-policy thing.) Anyway, the offending "fancy word" prompting this complaint from her was "epistemological."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

the boy detective fails

We will not be talking here on this blog about how my talk went yesterday. Suffice it to say that it did not go very well, for reasons that are entirely my fault. If one is going to present a complicated argument on a controversial topic, one needs to do a far, far, far-far-far-far-far better job of making one's argument clear than what I did. I could go on, but I will not. Various people on various fronts who have grounds to say I told you so can, indeed, say I told you so. I invite them to forgo doing this. Likewise, I invite those who know me personally and read this blog and might be prompted to ask, "So, did it really not go well, or are you just saying that?" to give me the benefit of the doubt and not actually ask this.

I do not want to sound melodramatic. I did not, I don't think, come across like a complete idiot. I just failed utterly to convey the argument that I wanted to convey, which, being someone who on occasional occasions actually does succeed in giving a clear and perhaps even interesting talk, is disappointing.

In any case, I did get useful feedback from a smart audience, and so from the intellectual standpoint of helping the paper, the experience was worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

dispatch from the city that never sleeps

When I agreed to give a talk November 8th, I didn't appreciate that it was the day after Election Day. Even then, I didn't appreciate that I would be up in the middle of the night distracted from whatever work I was doing on my talk by hitting refresh every few minutes to see if another 1% of precincts in Montana have reported their results.

I hate thinking that a nontrivial portion of my mood for the next two years is in the hands of a few thousand strangers in Montana. Nothing against Montana; indeed, I'm quite adoring of Montana right now. I do wish they were faster vote-counters.

Wasn't there a city in Montana that a San Francisco radio station convinced/paid to change its name to Joe as a tribute to quarterback Joe Montana? I wonder how Joe, Montana voted.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

can't have nothing nice

You know how I was complaining about how I can't find the cord for my digital camera, and I wondered how many pairs of gloves I would lose this year? Instead, I appear to have lost my pre-winter coat. With my barely-one-week-old iPod in the pocket. It's gone: nowhere in my house or office. For all I know, it could have been stolen. This is the thing with being somebody who is absent-minded and chronically misplacing things: miscreants could actually be ripping you off all the time, and you just attribute it to your own psychological failings.

Anyway: I am very unhappy about this. Given other demands on my cognitive space, I am trying to repress thinking about it for the time being, although this is harder to do when I go outside and notice how cold it is and how everyone else is wearing a coat.

by the time he finished his answer, it had actually dropped to being only second stupidest

JACKSON, Michigan (AP) -- The party game asked people to name the stupidest thing they had ever done. Police say Jerry Rose answered, "Shot a guy in the head."

Now, Rose is charged with murder and armed robbery in the March 22 slaying of 60-year-old Edgar Hawke.

Monday, November 06, 2006

big three, big whoop

Okay, so I'm really not interested in belaboring this, but in my recent post on the Notre Dame "productive faculty" rankings, some commenters have implied that I am ignorant about journal impact factors and that if I looked at them I would see what an obvious "Big 3" there were in sociology. I don't get what other people are looking at and, if people are going to hector me about being ignorant about evidence, I want to know what this evidence is. I pull up the ISI Web of Knowledge impact factors right now (note, not based on something somebody remembers reading sometime somewhere), and this is what I see:
1 AM J SOCIOL - 3.262
2 AM SOCIOL REV - 2.933
5 SOC PROBL - 1.796
6 SOC FORCES - 1.578
7 BRIT J SOCIOL - 1.490
8 LAW SOC REV - 1.396
9 SOC NETWORKS - 1.382
10 J MARRIAGE FAM - 1.350
Just to be clear, this is only incidentally relevant to the point I was arguing, which was more about whether there was a "Big 3" or a "Big 2" followed by subfield-dependent ambiguity as to how SF was regarded relative to the top journal in that subarea. It's weird regardless how some people believe that if you question whether there is a "Big 3" or just a "Big 2," people think showing something is #3 is a knockdown counterargument. I am sure they would also argue that there are a "Big 3" of human sexes, alongside "male" and "female", if one type of intersexedness was demonstrably more common than others.

(Note: I have problems of my own with journal impact factor measures anyway--although not nearly as large as the problems I have with the equation of citation counts with the merits of individual scholars.)

a portrait of the artist as a perfect storm

I'm sitting here in my office going through back issues of Behavior Genetics taking stock of various behaviors/traits/attainments that have been reported as substantially heritable in studies using one or more family design (mostly comparison of identical and fraternal twins). Anyway, I was just looking at a study titled "The Structure of Perfectionism: A Twin Study." Turns out, while you and I might just refer to someone as being a "perfectionist" or not, psychologists have broken this down into a construct with distinct subscales. Namely:

1. Personal Standards: "Setting of very high standards and the excessive importance placed on those high standards for self-evaluation." (Sample item: "Other people seem to accept lower standards for themselves than I do.")

2. Doubts about Actions: "Doubt their ability to accomplish tasks." (Sample item: "Even when I do something very carefully, I often feel it is not quite right.")

3. Concerns for Mistakes: "Tendency to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure, tendency to believe one will lose the respect of others following failure." (Sample item: "If I do not do as well as other people, it means I am an inferior human being.")

Yikes! Sounds horrible! I'm glad I don't know anyone who suffers from shades of such an odious affliction! Universities must somehow conduct a secret purge of these people, as the grove of academe, so far as I can tell, is completely free of such haunted souls! (Note: I have not yet noted a study showing evidence for the heritability of sarcasm. Likewise, I suppose I should also add, for procrastination.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

it's all fun and games until somebody cracks a tooth on a diamond

top speed pizzeria
(from a flier I received in the mail yesterday)

"Hi... Can I get your pizza without that stuff hanging from the crust that makes it look like a jellyfish? Oh, and could you also hold the bling? Hold on -- (What? Really? Honey, you already had bling today in your omelet. Fine.) -- Okay, could you make that half bling and half black olives?"

Saturday, November 04, 2006

spells like teen spirit

Someone, please: Why is Microsoft Word's spellcheck dictionary so awful? I just discovered that it doesn't have "unpersuaded"? How nonobscure is "unpersuaded"? (It also doesn't have "nonobscure," but I don't think that's a real word anyway.) Is this something where they have a product that's deliberately mostly-effective-but-sort-of-lame as a way of getting you to upgrade to a better product, like with their equation editor? Does Microsoft sell a better dictionary?

Also, after finally finding my digital camera (it was in my Scrabble bag!), now I can't find the camera connecting my camera to my computer. Eszter told me I should just buy a memory card reader. I'd rather just be able not to lose my things. I wonder how many pairs of gloves I'm going to go through this winter, since the hegemony of "style" (or, as others might call it, "dignity") prevent me from using little clip-ons to hook them to my coat sleeves.

sociologist, rank thyself!

So, apparently some people have repeated the exercise of providing rankings of the research productivity of sociology departments based on publications in the American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, and Social Forces (via Chris). The authors appear to be from Notre Dame, which by the authors' methodology (e.g., the selected time window and counting affiliations by where authors are now as opposed to where they were when doing the article), comes out #5, far above its usual reputational ranking and well above where it was the last time productivity rankings were done, although then it was by a group at (my beloved) Iowa rather than at Notre Dame. I think Notre Dame has a number of great people, has made some extremely good recent hires, and is underrated by reputational rankings, but one of the curious things about these rankings is that they have a way of appearing just at the time and using just the criteria that manage to favor the department doing the rankings. When the Iowa group did the earlier rankings, they published a way of calculating them by which Iowa came out #1.

I'm all for departments promoting themselves, and I can understand where departments that feel like they have productive people and are collectively underappreciated would want to get the word out. But I don't much like the process of dressing it up like one is engaged in a dispassionate enterprise that just happens to produce results favoring one's home department.

Anyway, there are many obvious criticisms of using this as a general metric of departmental prestige or even department article-producing productivity, which the authors acknowledge (even if they plow ahead nonetheless). I want to offer an additional criticism the authors don't acknowledge: I want to see a defense of the concept that there is presently a "Big 3" of sociology journals. I think there is a "Big 2": ASR and AJS. Nobody in sociology confuses the prestige of a Social Forces with the prestige of an ASR or AJS. But the bigger problem with including Social Forces is that it's not obvious to me that Social Forces is the "next best home" for articles that don't make it into ASR or AJS. I think that much of that sociology right now is conducted in subareas for which the top journal in that subarea the most prestigious outlet after ASR and AJS, and then Social Forces comes somewhere after that. If that's true, then it really makes no sense to include it in rankings like this, as then there is all kinds of bias induced by whether work is in a subarea for which SF is the top outlet after ASR/AJS or not (e.g., ever noticed how many papers on religion appear in SF?).

I don't really mean to diss Social Forces--especially since, um, they could be getting a submission from me in the next few months--it's just that using them in these rankings raises two irresistable ironies. One is that the way the Notre Dame groups motivates their article is by the idea that reputational rankings of departments are fuzzy and history-laden so we should look to some hard-numbers criterion. Fine, then, I want to see a hard numbers criteria applied to establishing the prestige of the journals included, as then otherwise the authors are just using the same kind of fuzzy history-laden reputational reasoning for journals that they see as problematic in departments. The other is that, even though in the best case scenario, Social Forces is the clear third of the "Big 3", yet it publishes more articles than either AJS or ASR, so it actually ends up counting the most in these rankings.

For the record, I'm not much into prestige rankings for either departments or journals. Indeed, it's for that reason that I think when rankings are offered, they warrant some scrutiny.

Friday, November 03, 2006

the eight plots, revised

eight plots, redux

(Standard disclaimer about how I understand that this is not of interest to the usual regular or irregular reader of this blog.) Kieran and the mysterious "Steve M" caused me to rethink the eight plots I posted the other day. Kieran was right that what I said about the graphs wasn't consistent with the graphs themselves; instead of changing the graphs, though I've thought more precisely what I said about them. Steve M thought I should think more precisely in terms of the potential outcomes framework, which is what I actually meant to be doing, only I forgot about the "precisely" part. What I think I want to say is characterized by this table:

8 plots, table 1

I is the blue line in the graph, I′ is the red line. I is the “natural/default/control” entity (e.g., genotype), and I′ is the “intervened/treated” entity. E is the “natural” environment, and E′ is the “intervened” environment. y is the outcome, so y(I|E) would be the outcome for the "natural" entity in the "natural" environment. "---" in the table means that the answer can vary in ways which would imply that the graph would be drawn differently but I’m taking these variations for purposes here as being minor variations of the same plot.

Anyway, the plots themselves may be characterized like this:

(1) the genetic cause has an effect that is the same across the environments and the environmental cause has no effect
(2) the genetic cause has no effect and the environmental cause has an effect that is the same across the genotypes
(3) the genetic cause has an effect that is the same across environments and the environmental cause has an effect that is the same across genotypes
(4) the genetic cause only has an effect if the environmental cause is present
(5) the genetic cause only has an effect if the environmental cause is absent
(6) the genetic cause has an effect that is reduced by the environmental cause
(7) the genetic cause has an effect that is increased by the environmental cause
(8) the genetic cause has an effect that is reversed by the environmental cause

And, because the original point was not so much the eight plots per se as the fact that the figure in stories about genes v. environment, person v. situation, and agency v. structure all as matters of "internal" versus "external" causes, this would be an example of the eight plots using the example of people (given that drunkenness isn't actually a situation, one could substitute "at parties").

(1) A is more outgoing than B, the same whether they are sober or drunk
(2) A isn’t more outgoing than B, but they’re both more outgoing when drunk
(3) A is more outgoing than B. They’re both more outgoing when drunk, to the same degree
(4) A isn’t usually more outgoing than B, but A is way more outgoing when you get them both drunk
(5) A is more outgoing than B, but B gets so much more outgoing when they both get drunk that then they’re about the same
(6) A is more outgoing than B. They’re both more outgoing when they’re drunk, B more than A so they’re more similar
(7) A is more outgoing than B. They’re both more outgoing when they’re drunk, A more than B so they’re even more different
(8) A is more outgoing than B. Unless you get them drunk, then B is more outgoing than A

I think I can name pairs of people who would satisfy all eight of these stories, actually.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

after the tone

So a question I ask in a variety of contexts, including sometimes on this weblog, is "Coincidence, or causality?" This question has a special self-absorbed counterpart: "Quirk, or incisive exemplar of a fundamental flaw in Jeremy's character?" To wit: I've let the voicemails on my cel phone pile up again. I've got like 17. I didn't check my messages one day, left my cel at home the next, and next thing I know there were 8 messages for me. Who wants to deal with 8 messages? But then I keep putting off listening to them, and new people keep calling (or old people keep calling again), which just makes me not want to deal with it even more*, which just makes it pile up all the more. Am I alone in this? If I'm not alone, is it because we share the same fundamental character flaw?

Sorry if I haven't returned your call. Don't take it personally. You know that if it's anything important you should e-mail me, right?

(Okay, this is crazy, even by my standards. I am not going to post this until I have listened to all my messages... There, done. No family members dead for days, great. Later messages did include--verbatim, from separate people--"Darling, where are you? Why don't you ever answer your phone anymore?", "Jeremy, every part of your overall communicative apparatus has failed me at this point..." and, eek, "Jeremy, answer your [expletive] phone..." Ah, well, the boy detective is back on top of The Case of The Vibrating Treo.)

BTW, I've disconnected my landline at home. I decided that ~$80/month was altogether too much to pay when a high-speed home Internet connection (the main reason I had it in the first place) might perhaps be obtained through certain uncostly means.

* This might be different if I could listen to my e-mails from the most recent message backwards, like with e-mail. Why doesn't voicemail offer this feature?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

don't let's sleep

Almost 6AM, and here I am: sort of reading an AJS article (Bearman, Moody, and Stovel's "Chains of Affection")*, sort of reading through Wikipedia entries on neoclassical economics, and sort of watching the YouTube video for "Don't Let's Start" over and over again.

It's hard not to watch "Don't Let's Start" and not feel a bit of rousing glee, perhaps even as viewings careen into the double digits, but still this deliberate flipping around of days and nights seems wrong. These were not unusual hours for me in graduate school, but, let's face it, graduate school is way back in the rear view mirror at this point. Ah, well, the luxuries of twisted self-experimentation that one can do when one is unmarried, childless, and doing a post-tenure postdoc.

* "Chains of Affection" (a deservedly award-winning article) is based on a saturated sample based in a "midsized midwestern town." The pseudonym for this town is "Jefferson City." This is what investigators from the coasts do to those of us in the Midwest. You wouldn't see researchers doing a study of a "midsized northeastern town" and use the pseudonym "Albany" or of a "midsized west-coast city" and use the pseudonym "Sacramento." See, there is this state in the Midwest, called "Missouri." The capital of Missouri is "Jefferson City."

twenty-four stories of internal-external causation

(No, this is not related to last night's post about new ideas, although if you know anybody who has thought about this exactly this way before, let me know. I'm not sure this is actually going to make it into anything I'm writing, but I've made the graphs, so I'm subjecting you to it. I'll try to post something hilarious to make up for it tomorrow, even though my inability to be amusing under any kind of pressure is well-documented.)

The three basic genres:

three genres of internal-external questions

1. How do a person’s genes and environments combine to produce the embodied characteristics (e.g., the psychology) of the person?

2. How do those embodied characteristics interact with the circumstances of the immediate situations to produce actions?

3. How do the actions of individuals interact with the structure of the networks and societies in which they are part to produce biographical attainments?

Note: more properly, one should add "at a particular point in biographical time" before the question mark for each question.

The eight basic plots:

the eight basic plots of internal-external causation

The red and blue lines are different genotypes or phenotypes or some-as-yet-unknown-word (agencies?). E is the default environment, and E' is the environment with some natural or artifical intervention.

As if we were talking about genes -> embodied characteristics, the eight plots briefly:

(a) Different genotypes cause different outcomes that are the same across environments.
(b) Different genotypes produce the same outcome that depends on the environment.
(c) Genes and environments both have effects, and the effects of each are not affected by the other.
(d) Environmental cause only has effect for some genotypes.
(e) Genes produce different outcomes in the normal environment, but under a compensating environment produce the same outcome.
(f) The environmental cause makes the effect of genes less than it would otherwise be.
(g) The environmental cause makes the effect of genes greater than it would otherwise be.
(h) Different genes do better or worse in different environments.

Anyway, if somebody ever asks you to think about "genetics and social structure" and you start doing background reading, you'll find that you are soon reading about debates about genes v. environment, person v. situation, agency v. structure. These are very different things. And, yet, you do have a entity and a substrate in which a transformation of the entity occurs and the project of telling a story about how the character of the entity and the character of the substrate caused the transformation to happen as it did.