Archive for the ‘sociology’ Category
Before the holiday, we asked – what should computational sociologists know? In this post, I’ll discuss what sociology programs can do:
- Hire computational sociologists. Except for one or two cases, computational sociologists have had a very tough time finding jobs in soc programs, especially the PhD programs. That has to change, or else this will be quickly absorbed by CS/informatics. We should have an army of junior level computational faculty but instead the center of gravity is around senior faculty.
- Offer courses: This is a bit easier to do, but sociology lags behind. Every single sociology program at a serious research university, especially those with enginerring programs should offer undergrad and grad courses.
- Certificates and minors: Aside from paperwork, this is easy. Hand out credentials for a bundle of soc and CS courses.
- Hang out: I have learned so much from hanging out with the CS people. It’s amazing.
- Industry: This deserves its own post, but we need to develop a model for interacting with industry. Right now, sociology’s model is: ignore it if we can, lose good people to industry, and repeat. I’ll offer my own ideas next week about how sociology can fruitfully interact with the for profit sector.
Add your own ideas in the comments.
Right now, very few sociology programs teach what you need to know to participate in the current revolution that is data science. In many cases, people self-educate. They pick up some R in a stats class, then Python and so forth. But let’s be systematic about this. If you were designing a curriculum for a graduate or upper division computational sociology core, what would it look like?
Let’s get the discussion rolling and we’ll pick up after Christmas. Until then, happy holidays.
This semester we spent a lot of time discussing Shiao et al’s (2012) article in Sociological Theory claiming that recent genetic research provides a reason to believe that “races” exist. Now we’ll discuss the symposium that was recently published.
There are three responses by Anne Morning, Daniel Hosag, and Fujimora et al. There is a lot in there so I will focus on what I think is most important:
- Genomic analyses are contaminated by racial categories. I.e., genomic clustering results rely on social categories of race.
- Genomic analyses are inconsistent in that different algorithms producs different number of human clusters (“clinal groups”).
- Genomic analyses do not clearly map onto groups that would clearly be identitified as racial or ethnic groups.
Let me take each in turn. On a purely logical level, 1 is probably the weakest point. As I noted in my original post on Shiao et al 2012, the contamination of a scientific research program by social bias does not logically imply that the basic idea is flawed. That requires a different argument. My original example: social definitions of non-humans have plagued scientific research, but that doesn’t imply that there aren’t meaningful distinctions between fish or rocks. It only shows that a particular scientist got it wrong.
Point 2 is a much stronger point. Inconsistent results, or those that are very sensitive to initial paramters set during model estimation, should reduce our confidence. I think the respondents do a good job suggesting that genomic research does not show a clear partition of people based on genomic data.
I think Shiao (and other people on his side) have a plausible response: human populations have no clear boundaries, they intermix a bit, and we should expect fuzzy boundaries. To support this point, you would examine the distribution of the number of clusters done using different data and different methods. If we get a very “flat” posterior (i.e., any number of groups is equally possible), the critics win. If the distribution has concentrated mass and the mean is not zero, then Shiao et al wins. In other words, meta analysis is the way we settle this sort of claim. Neither side has done this analysis in the Sociological Theory exchange.
Point 3 is unpersuasive as presented. As I noted in an earlier point, it is logically possible that there is genuine clustering of people but it doesn’t match to our notions of what counts as a race. For example, maybe I am not Latino but I am Basque-Dutch-Colombian-Sub-Tico. So race exists, but not in the way we understand it. So the mismatch between genomic data and folk notions of race may be beside the point.
Shiao et al’s response hits some common points and focuses on others (e.g., their review of the genomic literature is accurate in contrast to what the critics claim). Shiao et al’s response to point 2 is a bit different in that it goes into detail about what certain algorithms accomplish.
Overall, I am struck at what was accepted by most folks. There seem to be genuine biological differences between people, behavioral genetics is not irrelevant to sociology, and there seems to be meaningful dimensions of variation among people that is tied to geography. This last point is also noted by Shiao at el. Shiao then makes a strong point – if you believe that there is genomic variation by geography, why immediately jump to the strongest constructionist argument? Doesn’t make sense.
A few months ago, I noted that I was a racial agnostic because I don’t possess the technical knowledge to judge rival claims and I don’t immediately assume the constructionist view is true. After reading this exchange, I am moving toward the view that there is indeed systematic variation in people, but “Race” might be a terribly bad way to think about it.
Martin Riesebrodt died a few days ago in Berlin. He was an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago and a very prominent scholar of religion and Max Weber. I was lucky to have him as an instructor in the graduate social theory class. He was friendly with students and is remembered well. What I took away from Martin was his view of Weber as a broad thinker with an uncanny ability to grapple with the interaction of culture and history. His best work is probably Pious Passion, which argued that fundamentalism is driven by a desire to reassert patriarchy. My best memory of Martin is when he joked about how the West Coast’s beautiful weather drove people to the beach and made it hard to have great California sociology!