Archive for the ‘academia’ Category

new post-doc program in inequality at harvard

From the home office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a new post-doc is announced. An excerpt from the program description:

Social and economic inequality are urgent problems for our society, with implications for a range of outcomes from economic growth and political stability to crime, public health, family wellbeing, and social trust. The Inequality in America Initiative Postdoctoral Program seeks applications from recent PhD recipients interested in joining an interdisciplinary network of Harvard researchers who are working to address the multiple challenges of inequality and uncover solutions.

The postdoctoral training program is intended to seed new research directions; facilitate collaboration and mentorship across disciplines; develop new leaders in the study of inequality who can publish at the highest level, reach the widest audience, and impact policy; and deepen teaching expertise on the subject of inequality.

The Award

The fellowship is a two-year postdoctoral training program, with an optional third year conditional on program director approval and independent funding. The salary is $65,000/year plus fringe benefits, including health insurance eligibility.

The award will include appropriate office space; a one-time grant of $2500 for the purchase of computer equipment; a $10,000 research account to support research-related expenses; and up to $2500 per year reimbursement for research-related travel.

Check it out!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!


Written by fabiorojas

November 15, 2017 at 5:01 am

sociological science v. plos one

A few days ago, the Sociological Science editors released a report that discusses their journal’s performance over the last three years. I was also reading an interview with the editor of PLoS One, Joerg Heber, These two items show how these journals operate in different ways and the long term results of their editorial policy choices. Before I move on, I want to thank each journal for making their work transparent. Sociological Science and PLoS One have shown how to do scientific publishing in ways that make editorial decisions more transparent.

PLoS One: The idea is here is simple. PLoS One will only evaluate papers based on technical criteria and ethical standards. In other words, they only thing that is judged is whether the evidence in the paper actually matches the claim of the paper. No judgment is made about whether it is “high impact.” Basically, if it is competent, it gets published, assuming the authors are willing to pay the fees. Papers are blind reviewed, but authors are given many, many chances to fix flaws until either (a) the author gives up or (b) all flaws are addressed.

Long term impact? PLoS One now publishes about 20,000 papers a year. Acceptance rate? 50% in 2016, down from about 66% in earlier years. PLoS has published fewer papers than before, probably due to the rise of Science Advances (the open access branch of Science).  Also, PLoS One has a decent impact factor (2.8 in 2016) given that, by design, they published a lot of marginal materials.

Sociological Science: Also a simple idea – send us a paper, they peer review fast and give you a “yes or no.” There are no revisions. Then, after you pay the publication fee, it goes open access. The result? They get 100-200 papers a year and publish about 20-25% of them. The impact factor is not reported (I may have missed it).

Perhaps the most interesting thing that I saw in the Sociological Science report was an analysis of the “most senior co-author.” They find that 47% of the top co-authors are full professors. This is insane, given that full professors, by design, a small fraction of the population of sociologists and many of them no longer publish because they are deadwood or administrators. Post-docs should be all over Sociological Science since they are desperate for jobs and have a lot of new work. This fits my impression, expressed on Facebook, that Sociological Science tilts towards research that is more established. It makes sense given the editorial model. If you are shooting for well done articles but only give “up or down” decisions with no revision, you select out for older authors and more established work.

A comparison of both journals shows that open access publishing is successful. If you want a public repository of peer reviewed work, the PLoS One is clearly a winner. Sociological Science seems to have taken the position of a well regarded specialty journal, with an emphasis on more established authors. That is good too.

Readers know that I am a “journal pluralist.” I am very happy that we have both of these publications. Three cheers for Sociological Science and three cheers for PLoS One.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome 


Written by fabiorojas

October 5, 2017 at 12:01 pm

response to gelman on what retraction does and does not do

In our recent discussion about retraction, Andrew Gelman wrote the following:

I’m on record as saying that retraction is not much of a solution to anything given that it’s performed so rarely.

So I agree with you, I guess, and I’d probably go further and say that we can’t realistically expect papers that are fraudulent or fatally erroneous. Again, the problem is that there are so many papers that are fraudulent or fatally erroneous, that most of them aren’t gonna get retracted anyway.

We have to get away from the whole idea that, just cos a paper is published in a serious journal (even a top journal), that it’s correct or even reasonable. Top journals regularly publish crap. They publish good stuff too, but they also publish a lot of crap. And, to the extent that retraction is a way to “protect the brand,” I’m against it.

This comment made me think about the problem with litigation – while it may help the plaintiff achieve an outcome, it rarely solves any broader problem. This is because taking people to court is a lengthy, expensive and inefficient process. Retraction is really similar. It is simply not a tool meant for more systematic monitoring of academic work. It is a blunt tool meant only for really extreme cases.

What would I suggest? 1. Encourage openness and replication. 2. Institute rules so people can share data. 3. Create systems were discussions of papers can be appended to papers. These are all less expensive and more decentralized ways to monitor work.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome 

Written by fabiorojas

October 4, 2017 at 4:01 am

why is it bad to retract non-fraudulent and non-erroneous papers?

It is bad to demand the retraction non-fraudulent papers. But why? I think the argument rests on three intuitions. First, there is a legal reason. When an editor and publisher accept a paper, they enter into a legal contract. The authors produces the paper and the publisher agrees to publish. To rescind publication of a paper is to break a contract, except in cases of fraud. The other exception is error in analysis that invalidates the paper’s claim (e.g., a math paper that has a non-correctable flaw in a proof or mis-coded data whose corrections leads to an entirely new conclusion – even then, maybe the paper should just be rewritten).

Second, there is a pragmatic reason. When you cater to retraction demands, outside of fraud and extreme error, you then undermine the role of the editor. Basically, an editor is given the position of choosing papers for an audience. They are not obligated to accept or reject any papers except those they deem interesting or of high quality. And contrary to popular belief, they do not have to accept papers that receive good reviews nor must they reject papers that receive bad reviews. Peer review is merely advisory, not a binding voting mechanism, unless the editor decides to simply let the majority rule. Thus, if editors ceded authority of publishing to the “masses,” they would simply stop being editors and more like advertisers, who cater to the whims of the public.

Third, I think it is unscholarly. Retraction is literally suppression of speech and professors should demand debate. We are supposed to be the guardians of reason, not the people leading the charge for censorship.

So what should you do if you find that a journal publishes bad, insulting or inflammatory material? Don’t ask for a retraction. There are many proper responses. Readers can simply boycott the journal, by not reading it or citing it. Or they can ask a library to stop paying for it. Peers can agree to stop reviewing for it or to dissociate themselves from the journal. A publisher can review the material and then decide to not renew an editor’s contract. Or if the material is consistently bad, they can fire the editor.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome 

Written by fabiorojas

September 21, 2017 at 4:01 am

dim kids of the ivy league, part 2

A long time ago, I wrote about the common knowledge in higher education research that many students at Ivy League schools do not qualify and are there for political reasons. This tweet from journalist James Murphy captures some recent data on the percentage of students admitted on “legacy.” It is very, very large. It overshadows athletes, affirmative action and other non-academic admits.

Quick take: I think you can make legitimate criticisms of athletes and affirmative action admits. But if you do, you really then have to confront the biggest issue in admission – legacies. Are you ready to do that?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome

Written by fabiorojas

September 5, 2017 at 12:27 am

three cheers for speedy open access

Over at Scatter Plot, Dan Hirschman discusses the advantages of publishing in Sociological Sciences, which employs a simple “up or down” decision process and fast time to print:

When we finished our first revisions, we could have sent the paper to a traditional journal and waited. If we were lucky, the paper might have been reviewed “quickly” in just a couple months, received an R&R, been re-reviewed in a couple more months, eventually accepted, and published, a process that would have taken at least a year, and typically more like 2. Instead, on June 21st we submitted the paper for review at Sociological Science and simultaneously uploaded the draft to SocArXiv. Posting the paper to SocArXiv meant that whether or not the paper was accepted in a timely fashion at a journal it would be available to anyone who was interested.

Sociological Science conditionally accepted the paper on July 17, just under a month later. We revised the paper and resubmitted it on July 27. The revised version was accepted on July 29th, page proofs came on August 9th, and the published version came out August 28th. Total time from submission to print: just over two months.

Dan also notes that his paper was read by a gazillion people when the Trump administration signalled that it would (re)-litigate affirmative action. By having a public draft in SocArxiv, millions could access the paper. A win for Dan and Ellen and a win for science. Three cheers for open access.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

August 31, 2017 at 12:01 am

the role of polemics (and emotions) in academic work

I’m here in Montreal at various pre-ASA conferences, and people are still talking about “Talk is Cheap,” Colin Jerolmack and Shamus Khan’s provocative article about the problems with interviews and the superiority of participant-observation.

I don’t want to get into the argument of “Talk is Cheap” in this post (I wrote about it a bit here) but instead want to think about the role of polemics in academic writing. Some (including Professors Jerolmack and Khan) might reject the characterization of Talk is Cheap as polemic but I’m calling it that because, well, it’s brought about the kinds of reactions polemics often get: most folks I’ve heard talking about the article disagree with it, some of them with fairly intense emotion, and many of the responses I’ve read have been disagreements, some also intense. People characterize the article as having too blunt a point, missing important distinctions, being right in a lot of senses but taking the argument too far, etc. They’re also often upset by what they characterize as the argument’s aggressive bluntness. I don’t want to get too much into the weeds on this (there has already been a lot written about this article) but the title alone can at least be an index to what I’m talking about. Interviewers felt that their entire methodology was being called “cheap.”

Whether or not “Talk is Cheap” is itself a polemic, those kinds of characterizations are often what we refer to when we call something polemical. Look up the definitions of polemic and you’ll usually get words like aggressive or attack but if you dig into the usages of the word, they tend to have connotations of simplicity for the sake of an especially damning critique. That’s not to argue that polemics are simplistic: they’re often quite intellectually ornate. It’s simply to say that the basis of the critique is powerful because it is so damning. If there are two kinds of arguments, the boring and the wrong, then the polemic errs on the side of the wrong, but it is rarely if ever boring. It makes a real argument, rather than a series of hedges and calculated clarifications.

Such arguments can raise emotions because they miss those subtle distinctions, but also at least potentially because they force us to think about our priors in ways that might make us uncomfortable, maybe because those priors aren’t as stable as we might think. Yet if we can get past our frustrations at what these polemics get wrong, I think it’s worth considering how they move conversations forward, forcing people to consider more fully their assumptions and their own commitments.

There is a cynical defense of polemics, which is that they gain dozens more citations than a more careful article from what some refer to as “hate-cites.” This is a tried and true method in philosophy, where there is even more incentive and possibility for seemingly ridiculous but fascinatingly provocative arguments. Yet think about how that works in philosophy: to argue, for example, that we are all brains in a vat forces other scholars to think harder about why that’s ridiculous, to clarify their own assumptions and methods and empirics. The emotional character of a polemic adds to this (again: the definition always has aggressive and attack). We are taken aback, forced to think on our feet, getting pulled into a conversation we might otherwise have avoided or felt comfortable moving past. I don’t think there’s any necessary reason for this to be cynical. It can even be fun.

To be clear, it’s not nice to be (or to feel) attacked. And there’s a way in which academics take quite personally what they do and how they do it, so that a critique of methods can be a critique of selves. (Not to mention that sometimes such critiques of moral commitments are explicitly part of the critiques of methods or arguments.) I often talk about how I’d like for academics to be capable, in the same act, of criticism and kindness. And there are questions, when talking about polemics, about who is criticized (and by whom) and their relative capacity to respond to the critique, etc. etc. But, well, people get passionate and say passionate things, and sometimes those passionate arguments (and their equally passionate responses) produce some important movements.

Of course, it’s possible that intellectual life could move forward by just thinking carefully about new ideas as they show up, and it’s an empirical question how often that’s the case. But the sociology of emotions helps us to see how even intellectual life is also a deeply emotional life. How we react to polemics (and how they function in moving social life forward) helps us to recognize how emotions do work in intellectual exchange. Along these lines, I disagree with quite a bit (though certainly not all) of “Talk is Cheap,” but I’m extremely grateful for how it’s forced me to think (and feel).

There are other kinds of emotions we could think of, of course: an encouraging warmth rather than a rallying frustration. But the question, for me, is what gets us excited, passionate, eager to respond. And for some of us it’s simply a great idea. But for others it’s the joys of working out the argument in, well, an argument, even a fight. There’s more to write here, but it’s worth thinking more about the ways in which emotions help intellectual conversations (and arguments) to move forward and the role of polemics in that emotional work.





Written by jeffguhin

August 10, 2017 at 2:56 pm