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Reactivity of Rankings: a Pure Case within Reach

MIT Soc is #1

The Chronicle reports on a new ranking of “Faculty Media Impact” conducted by the Center for a Public Anthropology. The ranking “seeks to quantify how often professors engage with the public through the news media” and was done by trawling Google News to see which faculty were mentioned in the media most often. The numbers were averaged and “and then ranked relative to the federal funds their programs had received” to get the rankings. As you can see from the screenshot above, the ranking found that the top unit at MIT was the Sociology Department. This is fantastic news in terms of impact, because MIT doesn’t actually have a Sociology Department. While we’ve known for a while that quantitative rankings can have interesting reactive effects on the entities they rank, we are clearly in new territory here.

Of course, there are many excellent and high-profile sociologists working at MIT in various units, from the Economic Sociology group at Sloan to sociologists of technology and law housed elsewhere in the university. So you can see how this might have happened. We might draw a small but significant lesson about what’s involved in cleaning, coding, and aggregating data. But I see no reason to stop there. The clear implication, it seems to me, is that this might well become the purest case of the reactivity of rankings yet observed. If MIT’s Sociology Department has the highest public profile of any unit within the university, then it stands to reason that it must exist. While it may seem locally less tangible than the departments of Brain & Congitive Sciences, Economics, and Anthropology on the actual campus, this is obviously some sort of temporary anomaly given that it comfortably outranks these units in a widely-used report on the public impact of academic departments. The only conclusion, then, is that the Sociology Department does in fact exist and the MIT administration needs to backfill any apparent ontic absence immediately and bring conditions in the merely physically present university into line with the platonic and universal realm of being that numbers and rankings capture. I look forward to giving a talk at MIT’s Sociology Department at the first opportunity.

Written by Kieran

October 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

17 Responses

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  1. We should run this experiment with the Princeton Law School.

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    Dan Hirschman

    October 8, 2013 at 6:03 pm

  2. MIT is apparently three-fold better than Princeton. Is it all Sherry Turkle? I can’t even think of another sociologist at MIT. Is this a viral video/TEDtalk induced result?

    Like

    Zach

    October 8, 2013 at 7:22 pm

  3. It is Ezra, it is all Ezra.

    Like

    fabiorojas

    October 8, 2013 at 7:43 pm

  4. Trey wrote a guest post for me a couple years ago on the 7″ heels problem in NLP.

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    gabrielrossman

    October 8, 2013 at 9:31 pm

  5. Read carefully (there is something called Notes): “Note: MIT has no formal sociology department but it does have a number of sociologists. It also has a website http://web.mit.edu/sociology/index.html entitled sociology@mit. The “department” classification is thus inappropriate. But the sociology faculty – collectively listed together in the study – are indeed well cited in the public media. Apologies for any confusion this caused. The study highlights faculty who reach out to the public regarding their research. Hopefully, despite the error, the study highlights the public recognition received by faculty listed as “sociologists” at MIT.” http://facultyimpact.publicanthropology.org/university_info.php?university_id=21&rank=3.

    And Sociology@MIT writes on the webpage: “Sociology exists in the interstices of MIT’s school and departmental structure.” http://web.mit.edu/sociology/index.html

    Like

    AR

    October 8, 2013 at 10:20 pm

  6. Read carefully (there is something called Notes):

    You added that note after I wrote this post.

    And Sociology@MIT writes on the webpage: “Sociology exists in the interstices of MIT’s school and departmental structure.”

    Yes. Or to put it another way, “MIT does not have a Sociology Department”.

    Like

    Kieran Healy (@kjhealy)

    October 8, 2013 at 10:36 pm

  7. These anthropologists must be jealous of our great success with almost a decade of public sociology.

    Like

    Big Z

    October 8, 2013 at 11:51 pm

  8. lol on this whole thing. Some of the many ironies:

    1. I don’t know about MIT sociologists’ impact on the media but (given the number of emails that have come in), I do know that Kieran Healy has a big impact on what sociologists read (enough with the emails about this!).

    2. While one can quibble about whether we are really no. 3, the rest of the ranking seems so obvious that one wonders why they bothered publishing this. Wasn’t it obvious already that Rice econ is no 1, SMU poli sci is 2, Texas-San Antonio Poli Sci/Geo [that’s geology, right?) is 4, and Arkansas poli sci is 5?

    3. I love how the only time MIT sociology gets attention, I’m actually helping to keep us down! (if you click on the dept, you’ll see me at zero!! [maybe I’d be at 1 or 2 if they went by ‘Zuckerman’ instead of my full name]

    4. If in fact this episode did create an unstoppable groundswell for us to open a department, is there anyone (in sociology? at MIT?) who would think it a good thing? :-)

    And a note:

    * Our website is about to be updated after not having been updated in an a couple of years (because, ahem, we don’t have a department…). There have been some departures (Centola, Davis, Davis, Obukhova) and arrivals (Turco, who would have brought up the number)

    Like

    ezrazuckerman

    October 9, 2013 at 12:02 am

  9. BTW, I also posted as “Zach” above. :-)

    Like

    ezrazuckerman

    October 9, 2013 at 12:03 am

  10. Wasn’t it obvious already that Rice econ is no 1, SMU poli sci is 2, Texas-San Antonio Poli Sci/Geo [that’s geology, right?) is 4, and Arkansas poli sci is 5?

    Ezra makes a strong point here. There’s face validity, and then there’s face validity. You can’t turn on the TV or breeze through Twitter without being bombarded by representatives of the so-called “Texas Triangle”, that notorious cadre of Rice/SMU/San Antonio faculty members who dominate our nation’s print, broadcast, and social media.

    If in fact this episode did create an unstoppable groundswell for us to open a department, is there anyone (in sociology? at MIT?) who would think it a good thing? :-)

    In all seriousness, MIT should totally have a Soc department.

    Like

    Kieran Healy (@kjhealy)

    October 9, 2013 at 12:14 am

  11. Giggling over here from “‘Texas Triangle’…

    And nice try, Kieran, but now we will never start a dept just to prove that your blog predictions are not always right.

    Like

    ezrazuckerman

    October 9, 2013 at 12:17 am

  12. ^ love.

    Like

    Jenn Lena

    October 9, 2013 at 12:25 am

  13. I think MIT should have a sociology department, but it should be entirely virtual. Also, tenure decisions get made (solely by Jesper Sorensen) two weeks after Assistant Professors get hired.

    Like

    Omar

    October 9, 2013 at 12:22 pm

  14. Higher scores can be garnered by not taking much money from the government. Is this a sly move to the privitization of education?

    Like

    Eric

    October 9, 2013 at 2:29 pm

  15. Like Ezra, Sebastian Seun got a zero score for MIT sociology, but this may be because his name is actually Sebastian Seung (and we can ignore that he is a computational neuroscientist who studies the neuronal connections in the human retina).

    Like

    Eric S

    October 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm

  16. Eric,

    But is it a sociological approach to neural connections in the human retina?

    Like

    gabrielrossman

    October 9, 2013 at 4:36 pm

  17. GR: Is there another kind?

    Like

    Eric S

    October 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm


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