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see you in toronto

Okay, so probably most of you probably aren’t at the Social Science History Association meetings in Toronto over the next few days. But some of you will be. And those lucky folks are in for four days of interdisciplinary historical social science (program here).

SSHA is my favorite conference. I’ve only been going for four or five years, but it’s quickly become the one I can’t stand to miss.

My understanding — I feel like this story used to be on the SSHA website, but I can’t find it there now — is that the organization was started in the 1970s, when quantitative history was becoming a thing. It brought together interested historians, historical demographers and economic historians, and comparative-historical sociologists into one place — basically, anyone who was interested in historical social science, or the social scientific study of history.

Over the years it’s grown and evolved, as trends have come and gone in its component disciplines. I’ve often heard SSHA described as three separate conferences that happen to meet in the same place at the same time — one of comparative-historical folks, one of historical demographers, and…I’m not sure what the third is. Economic historians? This may be true, but they all seem to get along pretty well, so far as I can tell. Maybe we’re just grateful to be somewhere where historical research doesn’t have to be justified.

However, my impression is that in the few years I’ve been going, SSHA has been attracting more and more sociologists, including a surprising number who don’t do historical work. (For example: Alice Goffman is doing an author-meets-critics panel this year. But that’s just one instance of many.)

On the one hand, it’s basically the people I like hanging out with, so awesome. On the other, I’m not sure what it means for the future of SSHA, if it becomes “Berkeley-Michigan sociology” rather than “interdisciplinary history.”

I organized a couple of panels on experts and policy (see after the jump), which I think have shaped up really well, and am presenting a paper on how the (brief) government craze for systems analysis helped spread economists throughout the federal bureaucracy in the 1960s.

I’d say drop me a line if you want to grab coffee, but you know, I’ll probably run into you.

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Written by epopp

November 6, 2014 at 4:54 pm

john danaher explains why he blogs

I often wonder: why should someone blog? Philosopher John Danaher explains that it helps him:

2. It helps to generate writing flow states: I appreciate that the term “flow” state is something of a buzzword. Still, it has a basis in psychological science and it is something that blogging can help generate. The psychological barriers to writing a blog post are much lower than the psychological barriers to writing an article for peer review. Yet, when writing the former you can get into a flow state that can then be leveraged into writing the latter. Many is the time that I have finished writing a blog post and jumped straight into writing a more serious article.

Agree. Writing a blog post is like a warm up. The whole post is worth reading. The rest of the blog is fascinating as well.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power 

Written by fabiorojas

November 1, 2014 at 12:05 am

“work in progress” forum on organizational sociology

Work in Progress, the blog of ASA’s organizations, occupations, and work section, just launched a new series on the future of organizational sociology. It launched today with a introduction from Liz Gorman and a first post by Howard Aldrich. Liz has an impressive slate of sociologists lined up — in the days to come, you can expect to hear from:

Martin Ruef (Duke)
Harland Prechel (Texas A&M)
Elisabeth Clemens (University of Chicago)
Ezra Zuckerman (MIT Sloan)
Gerald F. Davis (University of Michigan)
Heather Haveman (UC-Berkeley)
Brayden King (Northwestern)
Charles Perrow (Yale)
W. Richard Scott (Stanford)
Mark Suchman (Brown)
Patricia Thornton (Duke)
Marc Ventresca (Oxford)
Elizabeth Gorman (University of Virginia)
Matt Vidal (King’s College London)

Thanks to Liz and OOW for organizing this conversation and here’s hoping it gets the attention it deserves.

Written by epopp

October 30, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Posted in academia, sociology

letters of recommendation: still garbage

Long time readers know that I am a skeptic when it comes to letters of recommendation. The last time I wrote about the topic, I relied on a well cited 1993 article by Aamodt, Bryan amd Whitcomb in Public Personnel Management that reviews the literature and shows that LoR’s have very little validity. I.e., they are poor predictors of future job performance. But what if the literature has changed in the meanwhile? Maybe these earlier studies were flawed, or based on limited samples, or better research methods provide more compelling answers. So I went back and read some more recent research on the validity of LoRs. The answer? With a few exceptions, still garbage.

For example, the journal Academic Medicine published a 2014 article that analyzed LoR for three cohorts of students at a medical school. From the abstract:

Results: Four hundred thirty-seven LORs were included. Of 76 LOR characteristics, 7 were associated with graduation status (P ≤ .05), and 3 remained significant in the regression model. Being rated as “the best” among peers and having an employer or supervisor as the LOR author were associated with induction into AOA, whereas having nonpositive comments was associated with bottom of the class students.

Conclusions: LORs have limited value to admission committees, as very few LOR characteristics predict how students perform during medical school.

Translation: Almost all information in letters is useless, except the occasional negative comment (which academics strive not to say). The other exception is explicit comparison with other candidates, which is not a standard feature of many (or most?) letters in academia.

Ok, maybe this finding is limited to med students. What about other contexts? Once again, LoRs do poorly unless you torture specific data out of them. From a 2014 meta-analysis of LoR recommendation research in education from the International Journal of Selection and Assessment:

… Second, letters of recommendation are not very reliable. Research suggests that the interrater reliability of letters of recommendation is only about .40 (Baxter, et al., 1981; Mosel & Goheen, 1952, 1959; Rim, 1976). Aamodt, Bryan & Whitcomb (1993) summarized this issue pointedly when they noted, ‘The reliability problem is so severe that Baxter et al. (1981) found that there is more agreement between two recommendations written by the same person for two different applicants than there is between two people writing recommendations for the same person’ (Aamodt et al., 1993, p. 82). Third, letter readers tend to favor letters written by people they know (Nicklin & Roch, 2009), despite any evidence that this leads to superior judgments.

Despite this troubling evidence, the letter of recommendation is not only frequently used; it is consistently evaluated as being nearly as important as test scores and prior grades (Bonifazi, Crespy, & Reiker, 1997; Hines, 1986). There is a clear and gross imbalance between the importance placed on letters and the research that has actually documented their efficacy. The scope of this problem is considerable when we consider that there is a very large literature, including a number of reviews and meta-analyses on standardized tests and no such research on letters. Put another way, if letters were a new psychological test they would not come close to meeting minimum professional criteria (i.e., Standards) for use in decision making (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999). This study is a step toward addressing this need by evaluating what is known, identifying key gaps, and providing recommendations for use and research. [Note: bolded by me.]

As with other studies, there is a small amount of information in LoRs. The authors note that “… letters do appear to provide incremental information about degree attainment, a difficult and heavily motivationally determined outcome.” That’s something, I guess, for a tool that would fail standard tests of validity.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power 

Written by fabiorojas

October 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

dear steven fazzari

Hi, Steve, Fabio here. I recently read about how you are now the chair of the new sociology department at Washington University, St. Louis. It seems that you are getting advice from some excellent sociologists. Still, I wanted to offer a suggestion about how to build your program that I think has some merit  but that may not be obvious.

Here it is: build a program that, roughly speaking, is about 2/3 quantitative and 1/3 qualitative. However, don’t use the traditional criteria for “quantitative research,” which means anyone who does regression analysis or, as in economics, people who do research in theoretical statistics. Instead, the quantitative sector of the department should focus on unique and important quantitative types of data that sociologists are, or can be, good at. Roughly speaking, that means network analysis, social simulations, “big data,” and quantitative analysis of text. You might also toss in the experimenter or survey design guru.

Why? No one else is building such a program, but it would have a huge immediate impact on the profession of sociology. You would have an enormous first mover advantage. It also has other  benefits. For example, the graduate students would be immediately employable inside and outside academia; the faculty would be able to do some fundraising, though not as much as a demography center; and this sort of critical mass would increase the chance that WUSTL would be the origin of the next big quantitative advance in the social sciences.

The other 1/3 of the program should be filled with mid to late career qualitative scholars. You need this for a few reasons. First, sociology, especially the younger folks, has converged on the view that mixed methods is the way to go. So you will need top notch ethnographers, historical types, and interviewers to make sure that your PhD graduates have a proper view of sociology. Also, graduate students may opt for a qualitative PhD and you will need good faculty to make sure they don’t get lost in the cracks. The most important reason is that older scholars will be able to maintain a distinct identity and forge bonds in a program that is, by design, tilted in one direction.

As a well regarded private school, you might be tempted to mimic your peers and chase the “best people,” which means whoever recently graduated from high status programs with good publications. It’s not a bad idea, but you will directly compete with all the other top 2o programs that claims these graduates. Instead, you might consider a more focused mission that has a very specific, and achievable, intellectual goal. It’s worth a thought.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power 

Written by fabiorojas

October 28, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, fabio, sociology

congratulations to judson everitt

Business Insider named Judson Everitt of Loyola one of the best 25 professors in America. A hearty congratulations to an IU alumni and top notch educator. Here’s his profile at Loyola.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power 

Written by fabiorojas

October 27, 2014 at 2:26 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio

the latest at wustl

As many of you know, Washington University decided to reestablish a sociology department after notoriously shutting theirs down some two decades ago. The Chronicle of Higher Ed has reported that the university has chosen the department’s first chair and associate chair — Steven Mazzari, a macroeconomist at Wash U., and Mark Rank, who started in Washington’s sociology department before moving to the School of Social Work in 1989.

This seems like a surprising decision. The Chronicle writes:

Administrators had considered appointing a senior figure in American sociology to be chair, but, “lacking an obvious candidate,” as Mr. Fazzari puts it, they turned to him. Along with several teaching awards, he has six years of experience as chair of the economics department, and has done stints on campus-planning and hiring committees. He was a member of the campus advisory panel formed last year to consider how to revive sociology.

“There is much overlap between the problems addressed by economics and sociology,” he says. “Economics also provides a firm grounding in technical modeling and data analysis that is part of much advanced work in many social sciences, including sociology.”

I can imagine various reasons they might have taken this approach. Luring a top senior person in to build a department from scratch has to be a challenge. Still, Washington has a lot of resources and is a highly respected university (outside of sociology, where it has no presence). And there are some definite downsides to launching the department without a highly visible sociologist at the helm. I’m curious what the back story is here but, having no inside information, will leave it to you to speculate.

Written by epopp

October 23, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Posted in academia, sociology

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