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nussbaum on GDP alternatives

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Written by fabiorojas

October 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

race agnosticism: commentary on ann morning’s research

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Earlier this week, Ann Morning of NYU sociology gave a talk at the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society. Her talk summarized her work on the meaning of race in varying scientific and educational contexts. In other words, rather than study what people think about other races (attitudes), she studies what people think race is.  This is the topic of her book, The Nature of Race.

What she finds is that educated people hold widely varying views of race. Scientists, textbook writers, and college students seem to have completely independent views of what constitutes race. That by itself is a key finding, and raises numerous other questions. Here, I’ll focus on one aspect of the talk. Morning finds that experts do not agree on what race is. And by experts, she means Ph.D. holding faculty in the biological and social sciences that study human variation (biology, sociology, and anthropology). This finding shouldn’t be too surprising given the controversy of the subject.

What is interesting is the epistemic implication. Most educated people, including sociologists, have rather rigid views. Race is *obviously* a social convention, or race is *obviously* a well defined population of people. Morning’s finding suggests a third alternative: race agnosticism. In other words, if experts in human biology, genetics, and cultural studies themselves can’t agree and these disagreements are random (e.g., biologists themselves disagree quite a bit), then maybe other people should just back off and admit they don’t know.

This is not a comfortable position since fights over the nature of human diversity are usually proxies for political fights. Admitting race agnosticism is an admission that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Your entire side in the argument doesn’t know what it’s talking about. However, it should be natural for a committed sociologist. Social groups are messy and ill defined things. Statistical measures of clustering may suggest that the differences among people are clustered and nonrandom, but jumping from that observation to clearly defined groups is very hard in many cases. Even then, it doesn’t yield the racial categories that people use to construct their social worlds based on visual traits, social norms, and learned behaviors. In such a situation, “vulgar” constructionism and essentialism aren’t up to the task. When the world is that complicated and messy, a measure of epistemic humility is in order.

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

Written by fabiorojas

October 3, 2014 at 12:01 am

marijuana legalization as social movement

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Vox ran an article asking how marijuana legalization came to have so much support. In speaking to German Lopez, I offered a tipping point theory and some thoughts about the low cost of information:

Rojas of Indiana University suggested the advancements of the movement could be a self-perpetuating cycle: As more states legalized medical marijuana, Americans saw that the risks of allowing medicinal use didn’t come to fruition as opponents warned. That reinforced support for medical marijuana, which then made politicians more comfortable with their own support for reform.

A similar cycle could be playing out with full legalization, Rojas explained. As voters see medical marijuana and legalization can happen without major hitches, they might be more likely to start supporting full legalization.

“People said, ‘Okay, now that someone else is throwing this out in public, it’s okay for me to vote for it or approve it,'” Rojas said. “That’s probably the main driving force: using the electoral system to push ideas that people may be afraid to think about or consider because they’re illegitimate — or at least they were.”

The rapid change in public opinion could have been helped along by the internet, which allows people to share stories about their own pot use, research about the issue, and states’ experiences with relaxed marijuana laws much more quickly.

“When I was a college student around 1990, other than hardcore political wonky types, … nobody really talk about drug legalization,” Rojas said. “Now, you can go on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and people can share a news story. You get exposed to it constantly.”

Check it out.

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

Written by fabiorojas

October 2, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, social movements

if granovetter wins the nobel, remember that orgtheory called it back in 2007

Thomson Reuters has released a press announcement about their predictions for the 2014 Nobel prizes. They project it based on citation patterns. Check out the section on economics:

Mark S. Granovetter
Joan Butler Ford Professor and Chair of Sociology, and Joan Butler Ford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University
Stanford, CA USA

For his pioneering research in economic sociology

Kewl!!! Even if Granovetter never wins, he’ll always be recognized as a leader in sociological approaches to markets. And remember, if he does win – WE CALLED IT IN 2007. And yes, we just based it on citation patterns.

H/T: Umut Koc, who posted this on the Facebook orgtheory group.

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

Written by fabiorojas

October 1, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in economics, fabio, sociology

the declining role of simulations in sociology

Over the weekend, I got into an exchange with UMD management student Robert Vesco over the computer science/sociology syllabus I posted last week. The issue, I think, is that he was surprised that the course narrowly focused on topic modelling – extracting meaning from text. Robert thought that maybe there should be a different focus. He proposed an alternative – teaching computer science via simulations. Two reactions:

First, topic modelling may seem esoteric to computer scientists but it lies at the heart of sociology. We have interviews, field notes, media – all kinds of text. And we can move beyond the current methods of having humans slowly code the data, which is often not reliable. Also, text is “real data.” You can easily link what you extract from a topic modelling exercise to traditional statistical analysis.

Second, simulations seem to have a historically limited role in sociology. I find this sad because my first publication was a simulation. I think the reason is that most sociologists work with simple linear models. If you examine nearly all quantitative work, you see that most statistical analyses use OLS and its relatives (logits, event history, Tobit. Heckman, etc). There’s always a linear model in there. Also, in the rare cases where sociologists use mathematical models for theory, they tend to use fairly simple models to express themselves.

Simulation is a form of numerical analysis – an estimate of the solutions of a system of equations that is obtained by random draws from the phase space. You would only need to do this if the models were too complicated to solve analytically, or the solution is too complex to describe in a simple fashion. In other words, if you have a lot of moving parts, it makes sense to do a simulation. Since sociological models tend to be very simple, there is little demand for simulations.

Robert asked about micro-macro transitions. This proves my point. A lot of micro-macro models in sociology tend to be fairly simple and stated verbally. For example, many versions of institutionalism predict diffusion driven by elites. Thus, downward causation is described by a simple model. More complex models are possible, but people seem not to care. Overall, simulation is cool, but it just isn’t in demand. Better to teach computer science with real data.

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

Written by fabiorojas

September 30, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, mere empirics

hong kong protest – initial questions

HKPRO

From the Guardian.

Right now, pro-democracy protesters are in conflict with police in Hong Kong. I am not a China expert, so my knowledge is limited. A few questions for readers who know more than I do:

  • What lessons have the Chinese state and activists learned from previous rounds of pro-democracy protest?
  • Is this “internally generated?” Or have activists received training and support from outside China?
  • Was this triggered by specific events, or is this a response to the slow assertion of mainland power in Hong Kong?

Use the comments!

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

Written by fabiorojas

September 29, 2014 at 3:32 am

Posted in fabio, social movements

hats and bluegrass. and whiskey. yes, please.

Thile’s Punch Brothers Play “Rye Whiskey.” via guest DJ M&M.

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

Written by fabiorojas

September 28, 2014 at 12:01 am

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