Archive for the ‘the man’ Category
I’ve spent the past few days at the EGOS meetings in Rotterdam. If you’re not an organizational scholar, EGOS is the acronym for the European Group for Organizational Studies – an interdisciplinary network of organizational scholars from both sides of the ocean. The theme of this year’s meeting was about reimagining and rethinking organizations during unsettled times. Naturally, they asked Jerry Davis – who has done more reimagining and rethinking of organizational theory than most – to be the keynote speaker.
Jerry’s keynote was, as expected, a witty, concise, empirically-driven argument for why the corporation has ceased to be a major institution in society (the impromptu dancing was an unexpected delight). If you’re not familiar with his argument, you should really read his book, Managed by the Markets, a real page-turner that explains how the growth of financial markets accompanied the deterioration of the public corporation as a major employer and provider of public welfare in contemporary society. I’ve heard him give a version of this talk several times, and like every other time I left his talk feeling uncomfortable with some of his conclusions. Feeling uncomfortable is an understatement. I disagree with his conclusions. But I still think that Jerry has done an excellent job of marshaling data that can lead to a scarier and even more cynical conclusion than the one he claims.
Update: Bryan Caplan also discusses this lunch at Econlog.
There have been a lot of wonderful tributes to Gary Becker, who passed away this weekend. In the blogosphere, you have commentary at Marginal Revolution, Econlog, and Mankiw’s blog. Organizations and Markets posted two tributes. Kieran has a very insightful discussion, which draws on Foucault’s reading of the rise of economic thinking, and Brayden’s commentary is worth reading as well.
Here, I’ll relay a story that is a little more personal. In my first or second year of grad school at Chicago, my friend Bryan Caplan was invited to give a talk at an economics department workshop. He came at the invitation of Sam Peltzman. While showing Bryan around campus and getting him to his next meeting, Peltzman said that it would be ok if Bryan’s friend could come to lunch at the faculty club. I readily accepted the invitation.
After we sat down, and I ordered the trout, Peltzman indicated that his friend would be joining us. It was Gary Becker. He just came in and ordered his meal. Now, since Becker was a presence in my building and my econ friends where taking micro with him, I wasn’t surprised. I saw him all the time. But Bryan was a huge Becker fan and was star struck. So much that he fumbled his glass and spilled some water on himself. He denies it to this day, but this is truth.
The conversation started out in a way that kills all your dreams about hanging out with star faculty. Peltzman, I think, was talking about weddings. Bleh. Then, Becker, I think, talked about some home repair. Maybe it was a broken appliance. Double bleh. I was bored silly. Is this what Nobel prize winners talk about over lunch?
I was totally lost in my trout when, finally, the conversation shifted. Things perked up a bit when Becker and Petlzman started to assess some other economist. Some junior professor whose work left them totally unimpressed. This was the first moment that I realized that academia is, at its core, about evaluation. I had never heard professors talk this way about each other. It was all lovey dovey in the class room. But, here, right in front of me, these two professors were shaping the career of some other colleague. Humbling moment.
Then things got really testy when Peltzman and Becker, and Bryan to a lesser extent, started arguing the merits of this funky new paper they’d just read. They were kind enough to summarize it for me: This economist was arguing that abortion legalization resulted in lower crime rates. Really? Why? The people who tend to get abortions are low SES are also the people who tend to have children who grow up to commit crimes. Then, they started thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the argument. As usual, Becker focused on inter-temporal utility issues. He was worried that abortion didn’t reduce crime because getting abortions didn’t necessarily reduce the number of low SES kids. It might just shift them in time. Peltzman, I think, focused on the econometrics.
As this debate went on, I finished my trout and a few thoughts crossed my mind. First, wow. It’s pretty cool that I can hear such talented people debate such a novel hypothesis. Second, whoever wrote this paper must be a real clever person. The claim is designed to make everyone angry. Liberals would hate it for its implied eugenic policy implication. Conservatives would hate any paper that had a good thing to say about abortion. Third, I was fascinated by the way that Becker and Peltzman picked at the paper in a dispassionate, but sharp, way. It was a real model of critical thinking.
That was the last (and only) time I ever had any serious interaction with Gary Becker. A brief encounter, but one that was that was instructive and memorable. You can read orgtheory articles that are about Becker here.
The great author Gabriel Marquez died and he left a treasure of great literature. Here, a few notes about the smallness of networks inspired by Marquez’ passing. One of my uncles was a lawyer and literature professor named Eduardo Pachon Padilla. He is probably best known for El Cuento Colombiano, an important anthology of Colombian fiction.
Throughout my life, he would go on and on about Marquez and I never understood why. One day I got the story. It turns out that Eduardo and Marquez where from the same region of Colombia, and they studied the same subject (law) in Bogota. The world of novelists and literary critics is small. They knew each other. This was before either had achieved much, but Marquez was competitive and smart and people knew it. So there was that. Later, it came to a head when my uncle was on the jury of a literary contest and, according to Eduardo, Marquez submitted this absolutely brilliant manuscript. Perhaps it was some version of Cien Años, or another work. It was about thirty or forty years after the fact, the memory was not fresh. Regardless, people could tell it was brilliant but still, the jury liked one other book a teensy bit better. He never did regret the award and always argued that, on some technical ground, this other book was better. Perhaps. I also wonder if the friction between Marquez and some his contemporaries was translated into the texts and that Eduardo and his buddies exists as characterization in one of Marquez’ short stories or novels.
Last year, we discussed a specific policy at the American Sociological Review (and me getting booted from the reviewer pool for complaining!). What appears to be happening is the papers are being sent out for 3rd and 4th reviews, to new reviewers, and then getting rejected after years of review. Since I haven’t submitted in about a year and a half, I have no idea – have things have changed? I ask in all seriousness. I’m just a believer in not jerking people around.
In case you were wondering, George Washington represents American positivist sociology and Jong-un represents critical realists, post-modernists, and the other counter-positivist forces. I’ll let you choose who Lincoln represents. In other words, orgtheory is up an running!
The first “tweets/votes” paper established the basic correlation between tweet share and vote share in a a large sample of elections. Now, we’re working on papers that try to get a sense of who is driving the correlation. A new paper in Information, Communication, and Society reports on some progress. Authored by Karissa McKelvey, Joe DiGrazia and myself, “Twitter publics: how online political communities signaled electoral outcomes in the 2010 US house election” argues that the tweet-votes correlation is strongest when people compose syntactically simple messages. In other words, the people online who use social media in a very quotidian way are a sort of “issue public,” to use a political science term. They tend to follow politics and the talk correlates with the voting, especially if it is simple talk. We call this online audience for politics a “twitter public.” Thus, one goals of sociological research on social media is to assess when online “publics” act as a barometer or leading indicator of collective behavior.
March 16 is Open Borders Day, the day where we draw attention to the right to peacefully move across national borders. The Open Borders position is that borders are unethical and have harsh consequences. March 16 was chosen because the Open Borders web site opened for business on that day two years ago. If you are interested in Open Borders Day, you might want to participate in the following way:
- Tweet about Open Borders. #OpenBordersDay is our hashtag.
- Write a blog post.
- Use the image above as your banner image on Facebook.
If you participate in some other way, please email me and I’ll link to it.
I’ll wrap up this post by talking a little bit about why Open Borders is such an important issue. First, it is massive. We could easily and quickly lift millions of people out of poverty with the simple policy of not stopping people from migrating. Second, this is a policy that is consistent with most political beliefs. Hate inequality? Open the borders. Hate racism? Open the borders. Want to help abused women? Open the borders. Like free labor markets? Open the borders. Want to encourage families to stay together? Open the borders. Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians should all stand united for freedom of movement. Open borders!
My colleague Johan Bollen was featured in Nature because of his proposal for a new funding model for science:
What got you thinking about funding models?
A lot of people are unhappy with the current system. When you submit a proposal, you are like a contractor, but science does not work like that — it works best by generating ideas and gifting them to society and other scientists.
How did your idea take shape?
Some friends and colleagues had a Christmas party in 2012, and as soon as alcohol started to flow, so did commiseration. Guests talked about reviewer comments on proposals, marvelling that one person can have that much power. The disgruntlement is a by-product of how the review system works. I started by saying, “Why not just take all that money and distribute it evenly?”. The goal was to see if we could, with as little administration as possible, distribute funding so that researchers have the freedom to explore the topics that they think matter most.
Briefly, what is your plan for science funding?
All scientists would receive a base amount — for example, US$100,000, which roughly corresponds to the US National Science Foundation’s 2010 budget divided by the number of senior researchers funded that year. Each scientist would be required to distribute a predetermined percentage of their funding to the researchers whom they believed would make best use of the money.
Read the whole thing.
When people discuss Obama’s contribution to racial inequality, people quickly sort into a few camps. In the middle, and among Democratic partisans, Obama has done well. He believes in affirmative action and avoids race baiting. On the hard left, he’s slammed for not taking a more direct approach. They suggest that Obama either openly discuss the legacy of slavery and consider more redistribution. On the right … well, let’s just say that they can’t quite accept the fact Obama isn’t an atheist Muslim who hates America. I think these views all miss something important about race and the US presidency. They all say: What do I wish the president could magically do? Instead, you have to start by asking: What are the biggest racial issues in America? Which of these can the president actually solve?
In my view, the biggest drivers of racial inequality are:
- The mass incarceration of Blacks for non-violent drug related offenses. This is hugely important because prison massively disrupts the economic and social lives of people in nearly irreversible ways.
- The de-facto criminalization of undocumented migration, which is designed to marginalize non-whites on a massive scale.
- The college completion gap between Whites and Asians, and everyone else. This hugely important because college completion is the crucial difference between having a middle class life style and not getting one.
Notice that I didn’t say white privilege or white distrust/hatred of other groups. I certainly believe they are important, but honestly, if one had to choose, most rational people probably end mass incarceration before eliminating white privilege.
Let’s talk about Obama specifically. What can he do about #1? No president can magically undo a maze of Federal and state drug law, or single handedly reform the nation’s prosecutors. However, he could do some fairly simple things like simply remain silent on drug issues or down play excessive drug enforcement. I’ve little evidence that the Obama is especially interested in reforming drug laws and the President has scoffed, in the past, at drug legalization. On #2, Obama’s record ranges from marginal improvement (like promoting the DREAM act) to atrocious (overseeing mass deportation). On #3, there is little that the President can do directly to affect education. The power to improve schools lies mainly in the hands of the states and local school boards. My summary judgment on Obama is that he has done little to directly affect mass incarceration of Blacks and what positive he is doing immigration is outweighed by doing nothing to prevent (or actively encourage?) deportation. On schooling, I’ll give a pass.
For the past year I’ve slowly been working my way through Stanley Aronowitz’s Taking it Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals. My slowness in finishing the book isn’t an indicator of how enjoyable or interesting the book really is. This book is fascinating, especially if you’re interested in the intellectual history of sociology. Aronowitz makes the case that Mills’s sociological impact was a direct result of his engagement with the broader intellectual public in an effort to push social change and present ideas that challenged the capitalist status quo. Mills wasn’t a socialist or any of the things typically associated with the Old Left. Rather, Mills was the forerunner of the New Left – a group that believed in the power of ideas to shape equality and freedom in society. He saw himself as a producer of those ideas.
Not long before I began reading this book I had a conversation with a former student at Columbia University when Mills was still a professor there. (Mills died in 1962.) The former student, now an emeritus professor himself, described Mills as a recluse. He had no involvement with the graduate program and showed no interest in training future PhDs. His main involvement with the department was to teach the undergraduate political sociology class. He was rarely, if ever, in his office, and so running into him in the halls was unlikely. At the time of his death, Mills’s impact on the discipline was fairly minimal, largely because he didn’t have an ongoing research agenda that involved PhD training or publishing articles in the top journals (although he had published those types of articles in the past). Merton, Lazarsfeld, and Bell were the stars of the department in the eyes of the students.
But arguably, Mills’s reputation has outlasted those other scholars. Read the rest of this entry »
Federal grant agencies have asked people who receive grants to make the results of their work “public access.” In other words, if the public pays for it, the public should get to read it. Turns out that the ASA is against this policy. In a letter dated January 9, 2012 (about two years ago), Sally Hillsman, executive officer of the ASA makes a strong argument against public access. Here is the letter and some key clips. Please read the letter yourself (open_access_hillsman):
It remains unclear why the federal government should spend scarce taxpayer dollars appropriated for scientific research to add to existing dissemination avenues. This is what scientific societies such as the ASA and our private sector publishing partners have done for over a century, and continue to do extremely well today. The national and international marketplace demonstrates that non-‐profit and profit-‐making scientific publishers in collaboration with scholarly societies have responded vigorously and competitively to expand access to scientific knowledge as new demands for content and sophisticated communication technologies have emerged. This success suggests that federal science agencies should invest taxpayer dollars in the research itself, especially as federal dollars that support scientific innovation fail to keep up with the pace of research.
There are no empirical studies that I know of which support the notion that free access to the scientific research literature will increase research productivity or economic growth in the United States.
ASA spends nearly $600,000 annually on journal editorial office expenses alone (which does not include administrative costs, printing and mailing expenses, editor honoraria, legal or overhead costs). ASA does not pay peer reviewers, but in return we sacrifice some revenue by a long-‐standing policy of keeping our university library subscription prices low (averaging well under $300 in 2011) in explicit recognition of the contribution university faculty make as peer reviewers, editors, and editorial board members.
Comments: First, it seems that the main issue in Dr. Hillsman’s response is that they are concerned about the income stream. I think this is a legitimate concern. But it should lead to a few sensible questions. For example, in an age of electronic publishing, why does one need $600,000 for a journal office? At the AJS, of which I was an editor, we had (1) a full time manager (call it $50k), (2) some part time staff ($50k), (3) office space (say $5k month – $60k per year) and toss in $50k for postage, computers, etc. That totals about $210k per year. If we give Andy a nice fat bonus for running the joint ($50k), you get up to $260k. I am not sure why we need to wrack up hundreds of thousands more in administrative costs.
But there are deeper questions. What is preventing the ASR from going all electronic and printing paper versions on demand for a few readers? Or going free access, but having advertisements or the “freemium” model? In other words, this argument seems to be a rear guard defense of an older publishing model, not an attempt to creatively think about how the ASR can be read by the widest audience possible.
Second, I don’t think Dr. Hillsman’s letter gets at the main point – the Federal government, sensibly, doesn’t want the results of funded research to be hidden behind pay walls. The pay wall for ASR may not be a barrier to social scientists who have university accounts, but $300 is a barrier for many other readers. But the Federal government’s argument isn’t directed at the ASA. It’s directed at other publishers who charge thousands of dollars for a journal subscription. If you are a lay person, a poor person, or someone from another country, this is a real barrier.
We are now living in an exciting era of journal publishing. We have traditional models, the egalitarian PLoS One model, and the “up or out” Sociological Science model. I say let us experiment, not drift into rent seeking defenses of a 19th century approach to science.
Michael Corey is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago. This guest post explains his experiences working for Facebook, the world’s leading social networking website (as if you didn’t know that!).
Another Dispatch from Industry
Last summer I moved from Chicago to the bay area to work as a quantitative researcher at Facebook. I’d done six years in the PhD program at Chicago and left with drafts of all my dissertation papers but without a cohesive dissertation to turn in (3 paper dissertations aren’t exactly allowed). Six months at Facebook has been eye opening and weird. Below I’ll try to give readers a feel for what it is like to go from an academic track to an industry job.
The FB Culture:
The culture at Facebook is really fun. I work at the main campus in Menlo Park, where a few thousand people work on the various FB platforms and the associated companies (Parse, Onavo, Instagram, etc). My mother-in-law describes it as an Oxford College designed by Willy Wonka, which is pretty fair. The campus houses everything you need to reduce any external friction that would take you off-campus during the day [http://cnettv.cnet.com/barber-candy-shop-bank-among-deluxe-perks-facebook/9742-1_53-50153870.html]. It is pretty easy to drink the Kool-Aid about how great FB is, and I would imagine that it is hard to work here if you don’t. I wasn’t the biggest FB user when I started here, but having been off the site for a long time I learned to recognize how much I missed by not being on it. For so many of my peers it is the only medium to communicate news, baby pictures, or cat memes to weak ties. Risk taking is encouraged and speed is considered a virtue.
university of chicago visit – everything you wanted to know about tweets and votes, but were afraid to ask
I will be a guest of the computational social science workshop at the University of Chicago this coming Friday. I will present a very detailed talk on the more tweets/more votes phenomena called “Everything You Wanted to Know About the Tweets-Votes Correlation, but Were Afraid to Ask.” If you want to chat or hang out, please email me.
Refreshments will be served.
A few weeks ago, we all laughed when MIT was praised for its well known (but nonexistent) sociology department. But a serious question went unasked: why doesn’t MIT have a degree granting sociology unit? At first, you think the answer is obvious. MIT is an engineering and science school. We shouldn’t expect it to offer any sociology aside from a few courses for general education of engineering students.
But hold on! MIT offers lots of non-STEM degrees. For example, it has a highly regarded business school and an architecture school. Ok, you say, maybe it’ll offer nuts and bolts professional programs that are closely allied with STEM fields. Yet, that argument doesn’t hold water. MIT also allows students to major and/or concentrate in music. It’s also got well known PhD programs in humanities fields like philosophy, social sciences like political science and economics, and a sort of catch-all program that combines history, anthropology, and science studies. Heck, you can even get the ultimate fluffy major – creative writing.
It’s even more baffling when you realize that it is amazingly easy to create a BS or PhD degree focusing on the quantitative side of sociology (e.g., applied regression, networks, demography, stochastic process models, soc psych/experimental, survey analysis, simulation/agent based models, rational choice/game theory, etc.)
My hypothesis is that the typical MIT faculty or alumni relies on the reputation of sociology, not what the field is actually about. Like a lot of folks, the field is written off as a hopeless quagmire of post-modernism, even though, ironically, most sociologists are not post-modernists. The reality is that the field is a fairly traditional positivist scholarly area with normal, cumulative research. Even qualitative research is often presented in ways that most normal science types would recognize. It’s really too bad. Sociology could use a healthy dose of ideas from the hard sciences, and MIT could be the place where that could happen.
Apparently, a lot of it has to do with working in that cycle of fourths into your lines. This is a very nice video of the post-bop piano master, with a performance of his tune “To Those Who Chant.” I also strongly recommend his composition Coral Keys, ideal for those who want easy listening with a hip edge.
Hypothesis: The House GOP likes sequestration because it allows them to cut defense but blame the other side. The GOP base loves guns and defense so you just can’t cut defense. But you have to cut defense if you are actually believe in deficit reduction and cutting overall spending.
So you sell the base this deal where you say you’ll cut defense only if the other side cuts some welfare state programs. The base buys it because they think that the other side just loves welfare so much that they’ll never let sequestration happen. Thus, defense is never in real jeopardy. But the Struassian leadership knows the historical record – presidents usually win budget fights. Well, maybe not all the time, but they rarely just surrender. Presidents usually just dig in their heels while the public gets mad at Congress. This time, the House GOP is motivated by the base, not the average voter. So they won’t roll over like earlier Congresses. Neither move, and sequestration, and budget cuts (however small), actuall kick in for defense.
A few weeks ago, I argued that the era of overt racism is over. One commenter felt that I needed to operationalize the idea. There is no simple way to measure such a complex idea, but we can offer measurements of very specific processes. For example, I could hypothesize that it is no longer to legitimate to use in public words that have a clearly derogatory meaning, such as n—— or sp–.*
We can test that idea with word frequency data. Google has scanned over 4 million books from 1500 to the present and you can search that database. Above, I plotted the appearance of n—– and sp—, two words which are unambiguously slurs for two large American ethnic groups. I did not plot slurs like “bean,” which are homophones for other neutral non-racial words. Then, I plotted the appearance of the more neutral or positive words for those groups. The first graph shows the relative frequencies for African American and Latino slurs vs. other ethnic terms. Since the frequency for Asian American slurs and other words is much lower, they get a separate graph. Thus, we can now test hypotheses about printed text in the post-racial society:
- The elimination thesis: Slurs drop drastically in use.
- The eclipse thesis: Non-slur words now overwhelm racist slurs, but racist slurs remain.
- Co-evolution: The frequency of neutral and slur words move together. People talk about group X and the haters just use the slur.
- Escalation: Slurs are increasing.
This rough data indicates that #2 is correct. The dominant racial terms are neutral or positive. Most slurs that I looked up seem to maintain some base level of usage, even in the post-civil rights era. The slur use level is non-zero, but it is small in comparison to other words so it looks as if it is zero. Some slure use may be derogatory, while some of it may be artistic or “reclaiming the term.” I can’t prove it, but I think Quentin Tarantino accounts for for 50% or more of post-civil rights use of the n-word.
Bottom line: Society has changed and we can measure the change. This doesn’t mean that racial status is no longer important, but it does mean that one very important aspect of pre-Civil Rights racist culture has receded in relative importance. Some people just love racial slurs, but that its likely not the modal way of talking about people. Is that progress? I think so.
* Geez, Fabio, must you censor? Well, it isn’t censoring if it’s voluntary. I just don’t want this blog to be picked up for slurs. Even my book on 1970s Black Power, when people used the n-word a bit, only uses it once, in a footnote when referring to the title of H. Rap Brown’s first book.