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Written by fabiorojas

May 6, 2018 at 4:11 am

don’t drink alcohol, like at all

I have consumed very little alcohol in my life. It is not a religious issue. When I was a child, my father gave me a sip of beer and I was revolted. As I got older, the bitter taste of some alcoholic drinks no longer bothered me, but I had relatives who abused alcohol, so I stayed away. I am still a near teetotaler, but I try the occasional drink at social events.

So I always thought that, like many people and even health professionals, moderate alcohol consumption was safe. Then, recently, I read an article in Mother Jones that argues that there is serious evidence that alcohol is carcinogen. Some of it is political reporting in that it is about the alcohol industry’s response to the research, but it does raise a red flag.

For me, the most interesting passage from Stephanie Mencemer’s article was about the “J-curve” – the finding that moderate amounts of alcohol intake improve cardiovascular health. She reports that when people re-examined the data and excluded former drinkers from the data, the J-curve disappeared:

But this J-curve is deceptive. Not all the nondrinkers in these studies were teetotalers like the ones I grew up with in Utah. The British epidemiologist A. Gerald Shaper began a wide-ranging men’s heart health study in the late 1970s, and when he examined the data, he found that 71 percent of nondrinkers in the study were actually former drinkers who had quit. Some of these ex-drinking men were as likely to smoke as heavy drinkers. They had the highest rate of heart disease of any group and elevated rates of high blood pressure, peptic ulcers, diabetes, gallbladder disease, and even bronchitis. Shaper concluded that ex-drinkers were often sicker than heavy drinkers who hadn’t quit, making them a poor control group.

Yet for decades, researchers continued to include them and consequently found an implausible number of health benefits to moderate drinking, including lower rates of deafness and liver cirrhosis. The industry has helped promote these studies to doctors.

That’s one reason why, until recently, alcohol’s heart health benefits have been treated as incontrovertible science. But in the mid-2000s, Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a researcher at the University of California-San Francisco, decided to study Shaper’s ex-drinkers. When no one in the United States would fund her work, she persuaded Tim Stockwell, then the director of Australia’s National Drug Research Institute, to help her secure Australian government funding.

Stockwell and Fillmore analyzed decades’ worth of studies on alcohol and heart disease. Once they excluded studies with ex-drinkers—which was most of them—the heart benefits of alcohol largely disappeared. Since then, a host of other studies have found that drinking does not provide any heart benefits. (Some studies have found that drinking small amounts of alcohol—sometimes less than one drink per day—can be beneficial for certain people at risk of heart disease.) Robert Brewer, who runs an alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, “Studies do not support that there are benefits of moderate drinking.” The Agriculture Department removed language suggesting that alcohol may lower the risk of heart disease in the most recent US Dietary Guidelines.

I think I’ll have the ginger ale.

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BUY THESE BOOKS!!
50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)
A theory book you can understand!!! Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)
The rise of Black Studies:  From Black Power to Black Studies
Did Obama tank the antiwar movement? Party in the Street
Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

May 4, 2018 at 4:08 am

Posted in fabio, health, uncategorized

party in the street: jacobin magazine edition

Branko Marcetic of Jacob Magazine did an interview with me about the main argument of Party in the Street. A quote:

BM: Why did antiwar organizing start to fall away around 2007?

FR: The main argument that Michael and I propose in our book is that support for the antiwar movement overlapped with support for the Democratic Party. So, in other words, when people were coming out to protest, they were protesting the war and using it as an opportunity to protest George Bush and the Republican Party.

So what happens is when the party moves on — when the Democratic Party starts to get victories and they start getting elected to office — there’s less of a motivation. Those identities start diverging from each other.

People have to make the choice, maybe unconsciously, where they could say, “You know, I could keep protesting the war, but does that make Obama look bad? Is that an issue we want to avoid?” And in the case of the antiwar movement, partisan motivations and partisan identities won the day.

Check out the whole thing!!

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

May 3, 2018 at 3:43 pm

robert bellah and people of color in habits of the heart

Habits of the Heart is simply a great book. Period. It’s not only a classic statement on American character, it’s also the first major book that employs a “cultural toolkit” framework, as developed by Swidler, Bellah, Tipton, and others. Still, that does’t mean that it’s without limitations. This post is a strong criticism of Habits‘ research methodology and how these problems lead to incorrect conclusions.

When I teach Habits, usually to graduate students, a common criticism is that the book only reflects the lived experiences of White Americans. One student said that after reading the book, you come away with the impression that the book is really about urban yoga fanatics.

I see what they mean. The book’s data is incredibly biased. In the preface to the first edition, the authors basically throw away standard social science data collection techniques. Each author did field work in a “community,” which is not specified. There is literally no discussion of how the field work was conducted (how long? auto-ethography? participant observation? field site selection?). Each author chose a “representative form” of public life, such as love and marriage.

They also offer therapy (page xliii) as a “increasingly important” aspect of middle class life. Wow! There is no argument or information presented about how common therapy is. Furthermore, there is a massive selection bias. If one of the issues you address is coping and pragmatic responses to particular life situations, then selecting therapy participants biases you towards a very specific kind of person. And don’t bother looking for descriptions of how interviews are conducted, or what the differences between populations might be.

When we read about data collection, it gets worse. Sample quote from the 1st edition:

“We do not claim that we have talked to average Americans or a representative sample. We have read a great many surveys and community studies, enough to know that those to whom we talked are not aberrant.” (page xliv)

Which studies? None mentioned. How did they measure the difference? No details, either.

Ok, now let’s get to racial differences. If you search the text for discussions of Blacks, you get very few, and only in reference to segregation or the Civil Rights movement (e.g., page 203). For a book about how people think about individualism, it is shocking to have so little discussion of how race may affect how people think about freedom and autonomy.

Someone drew  my attention to a 2007 Sociology of Religion article by Bellah where he answers critics. You can read it here. What he says on page 190 is that (a) he claims there is no difference and that (b) he addressed any differences in The Broken Covenant.

Let’s examine each point: (a) The critics are correct and Bellah is wrong. If you sample 200 people and interview them (see pages xlii-xliv), you will get about 30 Blacks – not enough statistical power to make any firm inference. It might be the case the he doesn’t understand statistical inference. With sample sizes that small, you simply will have a tough time picking up effects. But he admits he doesn’t have a representative sample to start with! Frankly, this is a mess.

(b) Bellah is wrong again. The Broken Covenant is a historical review of civil religion in America. To his credit, he does talk about race, a few times. But it is not an empirical examination of how Blacks and Whites deal with civil religion. There is nothing that I could find in this book that would lead me to believe that Whites and Blacks experience civic life in just about the same way. Heck, there are passages which suggest the opposite! A central message of The Broken Covenant is that civic religion has often come up short in America, which would suggest that some people feel left out.

Let me wrap up with a theoretical argument. One of the major innovations in the study of race and ethnicity is the application of habitus theories. This comes out with Bonilla-Silva and the “race without racism” school and it also comes out in more recent books like Emirbayer and Desmond’s treatment of race. If we understand habitus as being aligned with structures of inequality, our theoretical expectation is that whites and blacks would have very different situational responses to everyday problems. This theory may be wrong and maybe Bellah et al. might be right, but they simply don’t have the data to prove the null is true. Race (probably) matters.

Bottom line: Habit’s is commendable for many reasons, but research methodology is not one and it leads to some dodgy inferences.

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

April 25, 2018 at 4:40 am

no echo chamber for contexts

When I was visiting UC San Diego a few weeks ago, I gave a talk on public sociology. One audience member asked, “how does Contexts, and public sociology more generally, avoid being an echo chamber?”

Great question. First, you have to recognize that there is an echo chamber and that it is worth getting out of. Like any other academic discipline, sociology has its own culture. Often, it is easier to appeal to the crowd than reach out to people who aren’t already invested in sociology.

Second, you need a concrete strategy. If you genuinely care about breaking out of an echo chamber, then you need to think about actually doing something. At Contexts, we are already working on it. For example, one barrier we are trying to break down is the disciplinary boundary. In Winter, we interviewed the eminent political scientist Melissa Harris-Perry. In Spring, we’ll have a super cool interview with a leading legal academic who works in government (I won’t spoil it). Summer and Spring will have amazing interviews with leading figures in areas outside of sociology. Trust me, it will be amazing.

Another boundary that I want to break is ideological. I’d like to have material that has appeal to both liberal and conservative readers. That’s a work in progress. We’ll see how it goes. But I do know one thing for sure. It won’t work if you don’t try it.

Do you want a public sociology that speaks beyond sociology? I do, too. If you have an idea, put it in the comments. I’d love to hear it.

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

April 23, 2018 at 8:51 pm

the one and only hans reichel

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

April 22, 2018 at 5:06 am

the contexts editorial method

The Winter 2018 issue of Contexts is out and IT IS FREE until May 3. I’ll take a moment to discuss how Rashawn and I edit Contexts. We are motivated by a few things:

First, Contexts combines two missions – public sociology and scholarly development. Thus, we expect our articles to be interesting and they should also reflect current thinking within the discipline of sociology. So we like articles that have a solid “take home point” and are well written.

Second, we don’t play games with authors. For feature articles, we only ask for a 1 page outline. If we don’t like it, we pass. If we like it, we ask for a full paper that we will peer review. There is only 1 round of peer review. Then, we either reject or accept with revisions. We do things in a matter of weeks, even days.

Third, unlike most journal editors, we actually edit articles. We don’t sit back and wait for reviewers to tell us what we think and say “here are some comments, you figure it out.” We know what we think. We will sit with you and line edit. We will help rewrite. No games, just plain old editing.

You got something to say? Would you like it printed in a beautiful magazine? Send us a proposal. We’d love to read it.

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

April 16, 2018 at 3:41 pm