seth stephens-davidowitz is a pretty good sociologist!
Seth probably just felt some nausea. For an economist, being called a good sociologist is like being called a Yankees fan at Fenway. But still, I have very much enjoyed Stephens-Davidowitz’ work and I think it can be emulated by more sociologists. Roughly speaking, Stephens-Davidowitz uses “big data” to track and measure otherwise illegitimate or stigmatized behavior, and link it to measurable outcomes. So far, his work is reported in NY Times op-eds (!), but you should definitely check it out if you haven’t done so already:
- He uses online searches for sexual materials to estimate the proportion of gay men in the US.
- He used racial slur searches (the “n-word”) to show where Obama under performed in the presidential vote.
- He’s been scraping white nationalist websites to develop profiles of racial hate groups.
I call this sociology because … it is! It isn’t economics in the sense of being about rational choice theory, except in the most bland sense of the word. It clearly is not about commerce or trade. Rather, it is about measuring specific racial and sexual identities in novel ways and seeing if it links with behavior. Bravo!
In his recent post on white nationalists, he says that he can’t go further on the question of motivation. I say he should embrace his inner sociologist and start reading social psychology and critical race theory, which has lots of testable hypotheses about when people feel heightened racial anxiety. Let the sociologist come out and I’ll welcome you with open arms!