Archive for November, 2004

Tracking blog coverage

Sunday, November 28th, 2004

This on CT.

I have updated the graph that looks at the words “weblog” and “blog” in mainstream print media since 1997. I am sure nobody is surprised to see the large increase during the past year.

The graph represents the results for a search in LexisNexis Academic for “weblog” and “blog” in the General News section of Major Papers from 1997 to 2004 (these searches also turn up results for the plural of these terms). This section includes 47 (53 in 2004) papers from across the world including 24 (29 in 2004) US dailies.[1] The figure shows the change over the past eight years. The 2004 numbers include coverage until November 28, 2004. I also ran the searches for 1995 and 1996 but there was no mention of these terms then either so I decided to follow the suggestion made by a commenter to my previous post on this topic and now just start with 1997.

Please note that this figure does not give accurate information about the total sum of articles on the topic because 1. some articles mention both “blog” and “weblog” and are thus counted in both columns (which also explains why I decided not to stack the two columns on top of each other); 2. I did not do a search for other related terms such as blogger or blogging which may have excluded some articles. Moreover, although for the earlier years I checked each article to verify it featured related content, I did not do this for later years when the numbers became too large (given that this is not a research project, just something I’m doing for fun:). The information on this graph is thus just an estimate of the actual occurance of these words in major print media outlets. Also, because it seems that the General News search of Major Papers in LexisNexis Academic searched more newspapers in 2004 than earlier years, the change in coverage may explain some (although likely not all) of the increase from 2003 to 2004.

(I posted earlier versions of this graph in April, 2003 and May, 2004.)

fn1. It looks like there are quite a few additions/deletions in the LexisNexis Academic database over the years.

Top books

Saturday, November 27th, 2004

This on CT.

Since people on Crooked Timber seem to enjoy book lists (of ones not read, favorites, ones every educated person should read, ones lesser-known) I thought I’d post a link to the OCLC Top 1000 list.

OCLC Research has compiled a list of the top 1000 titles owned by member libraries—the intellectual works that have been judged to be worth owning by the “purchase vote” of libraries around the globe.

The complete list page has links to top lists by genre. The site also features a page with fun facts about the list plus pointers to other top book lists.

Hat tip: Neat New Stuff.

Pumpkin pie redux

Friday, November 26th, 2004

This on CT.

Who would’ve thought that discussing pumpkin pie would be such a popular topic among Timberites (and others as well). Here, I offer an alternative European perspective as there were eight of us around the table last night (with not an American in sight although some later joined us for socializing): three Italians, two Germans, one German/French, one Dutch and one Hungarian. First of all, I’m proud to say that you couldn’t have had a more traditional Thanksgiving meal including a mashed potato/sweet potato dish, bean casserole, cranberry relish, cranberry jello salad, squash, stuffing, plenty of gravy and, of course, a beautiful and delicious turkey. Other than the dinner rolls, ice cream and whipped cream everything was home made. But let me fast forward to the dessert portion of the evening.

After a walk out to the beach to make some room for the pies, we started a general discussion comparing European vs American pastries. Several people around the table thought that American desserts are just too sweet. This may explain why most people only took a small slice of my pecan pie (oh, and I cheated, I didn’t make the crust). However, I was happy to note that people were quite excited about the pumpkin pie (pictured here without the important whipped cream component). I relied on canned pumpkin pure, but used a special recipe that adds vanilla ice cream to the filling making it extra fluffy and yummy. To the skeptics who in the comments to Belle’s post wondered whether people just said they liked the pie versus actually enjoyed it, I can report that my guests were quite honest regarding their preferences. Everyone got to take food when they left and people did not seem to have any qualms about expressing their preferences (thus I got to keep quite a few peanutbutter bars given that several of those in attendance have not yet developed a taste for peanut butter). I should add that my friend’s Alsatian apple tart was a really big hit as well (and as suggested earlier, it was not as sweet as the other desserts). One more point about desserts: I never use vanilla extract, I use vanilla sugar instead. I think it works much better (the former seems to have an artificial taste I don’t like). Substituting one packet for one teaspoon seems to work well.

The evening ended with us reminiscing about European 70s music (that may require a separate post sometime) and playing around with the various toys on my coffee table (coffee table books are so passé, try putting some Rubik games out sometime). Of course, after that amount of food no need to get so technical as to introduce elaborate puzzles. I brought out my vintage Schwarzer Peter card deck my grandmother and I used to play with when I was five. There is a reason I used to play with it when I was five. After a few minutes of playing we started wondering how many PhDs it takes to figure out the quickest way to end the game (well, you know, without actually just calling it quits). (Keep reinventing the rules and working with the other players so someone can win.) What a fun evening, and of course, no need to cook for the next several days.

Academic blogging survey

Sunday, November 21st, 2004

This on CT.

As a follow-up to my recent post about academia and blogging, I have compiled a brief informal survey for academic bloggers, broadly defined to include all academics (any rank) who either read and/or write blogs. Please consider filling it out. It should take no more than five minutes. The material will not result in any scientific publications, it is merely meant as an informal exercise to inform some conversations. I am collecting all information anonymously. I will post a summary of the material on CT at a future date.

Hargittai: Our Lives

Friday, November 19th, 2004

The Nov 11, 2004 issue of Nature has a review of my father’s most recent book, Our Lives: Encounters of a Scientist. The review is by Henryk Eisenberg and the piece is called “The view from Budapest”. It’s a positive review so you now have one more reason to go out, get the book and read it!

The academic contributions of blogging?

Friday, November 19th, 2004

This on CT.

I realize this topic has been discussed much already (e.g here, here, here, here, here, here) and elsewhere (e.g. Brian Leiter, but also in the mainstream media: e.g. The Guardian, Chicago Tribune) numerous times already. I am bringing it up because I have been asked to speak to a campus-wide audience about academia in a digital world and I have picked as my topic: “Can blogs revive academic debate?” I only have about fifteen minutes to talk and I want to touch upon several points. What better way to prepare for such a talk than to try out some of the ideas on a blog? There are two main points I want to address and thought I’d discuss here a bit. I welcome your feedback. First, I want to talk about blogs as a great medium for debate of all sorts that does not always seem possible in one’s immediate physical surroundings. Second, I would like to consider how the material posted and discussed on blogs relates to published material and whether there is any potential for such contributions to count toward one’s academic achievements and service. I elaborate on the second point below. There seems to be some amount of disagreement in the blogosphere on this issue and I wanted to bring it up for some more discussion.

One emerging theme seems to be that there are definite benefits to blogging for many academics, but these are often not very tangible. In addition to the general intellectual exchange many of us likely find of value (or hopefully we would not be spending so much time on it) is the feedback we receive on specific research related posts that has the potential to influence our thinking and writing. This has certainly happened to me and I consider it a somewhat tangible benefit although one that only shows up indirectly on my CV. (That is, I may have publications that benefitted from valuable feedback on blog posts.)

A potentially important aspect of blogging by academics concerns whether blogging activity can count in any way toward getting a job or promotion and tenure. Another approach has been to ask whether it may work against those goals. Daniel Drezner, Brian Leiter and Brian Weatherson have specifically dismissed the idea that blogging should be counted as rigorous scholarship although they seem supportive of the idea that it could be considered under one’s academic service. Here, I would like to challenge the position of dismissing blogging as relevant scholarship altogether.

I would like to do this by comparing blog writing to journal publishing, undoubtedly one of the most wide-spread and accepted measures of academic achievement. There are posts on blogs that are certainly much more original and careful in their arguments (and more clearly written) than many articles that get published in academic journals. I think people’s reluctance to consider blog writing as comparable to journal publishing comes from thinking about journals in a somewhat romanticized and unrealistic manner. Sure, the most prestigious journals may not be the best comparison group (although even they publish articles one wonders about), but plenty of work gets published in peer-reviewed journals that would make most people either yawn or hurl the journal straight out the window. So why be so incredibly critical of blog writing when many don’t seem to be nearly as critical of journal publications.

I am not suggesting that blog posts as they exist would likely be published in journals. The format of the medium is too different for that. (After all, you’d have to have the requisite literature review instead of linking to a few relevant pieces, or give much more details about methods and analyses where data are concerned – just to name a few obvious differences.) But one extremely important component of the journal publishing process is very much present on blogs (or can be): the peer review process (this claim is in direct contrast with Brian Leiter’s assertion a while back). Blogs that allow comments make it possible for others to discuss the posted material. In many ways this is much more conducive to intellectual exchange and the advancement of knowledge than publishing articles in journals that no one will ever read. Not only is the original post available to all subsequent readers but so are the reactions of others. Sure, there are all sorts of limitations present. It may be that the most appropriate people are not reading the post and so those who would be able to offer the most helpful and relevant critique are not present in the discussion. But this is often likely true in the journal refereeing process as well. After all, how absurd that one’s chances of a job or promotion and tenure are so gravely dependent on the whimsy of no more than two or three people out there? (This is not an exaggeration. The likelihood of a new candidate on the market getting a good (or any) job in a field like sociology is tremendously increased by a publication in a top sociology journal.)

Again, I am not suggesting that blogs be considered a replacement for journal publications. I am just suggesting that dismissing them completely in the area of academic contributions seems like a mistake. If the journal publishing process was less flawed then perhaps there would be less need to look for alternatives. But since the traditional measures by which we evaluate academic contributions have serious limitations, it may be worth considering the potential role other venues may play in the process. I don’t have the answers. I have no specific recommendations as to how this could be achieved in a tangible manner. But I think it is a discussion worth having.

Just one more point on all this. It may well be that a better comparison and more relevant discussion to have here is whether contributing to public discourse – through articles published in the mainstream media (possibly a better comparison to blog writing than journal publishing) – should have any input in hiring and promotion decisions. It is not clear whether this matters in current practices (or whether it might actually hinder people’s prospects) and that’s another important point to consider in this discussion.

Kasey Chambers in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 16th, 2004

This on CT.

I should’ve posted about this earlier, but it’s not too late for those in New York, Milwaukee, Chicago and St.Paul/Minneapolis. The Australian singer Kasey Chambers is touring the U.S. I’ve seen her in concert twice already and it’s an experience not to be missed.

There is nothing obvious about my interest in her music. Less than two years ago a friend of mine asked whether I’d go with her to a concert. I asked her what type of music and when she mentioned “country” in her response (that included references to some other genres as well) I just said “no thanks”. My friend persisted and lent me the CD Captain. I liked it enough to ask for more and then listened to Barricades and Brickwalls. I was sold.

We saw Kasey in Philly in 2003, but she was coming down with the flu so she couldn’t sing all the songs she’d planned. Right after she stopped her tour. As unfortunate as this may seem, we were lucky because this meant that she resumed her tour a few months later in New York. So I got to see her again. And had my dissertation defense not conflicted with another one of her concerts, I would’ve gone to see her one more time.

Luckily, she’s visiting Chicagoland this time around. I’ve even managed to convince five friends to come with me (it actually didn’t take that much convincing). I just bought her Wayward Angels CD so I’m ready for all the new songs as well. Apparently she’s quite a big hit in Australia (others here are better equipped to address that) her popularity in the U.S. still seems limited. Oh well, that just means better seats for those of us who’re interested.:)

NCA ’04 awards

Monday, November 15th, 2004

My School did quite well at the National Communication Association’s award ceremonies this weekend. My colleague Bob Hariman received two awards, E. Patrick Johnson from Performance Studies received one, and I got a nice plaque about the G.R.Miller Outstanding Dissertation Award. Some of our alums got awards as well, like Cara Finnegan now at UIUC.

Purchasing power through the years

Thursday, November 11th, 2004

Here’s a nice little online tool to help figure out how much $X from a given year would be worth today in terms of its purchasing power. [Hat tip: NeatNew]

Political googlewhacking

Thursday, November 11th, 2004

Need a break? Try this little political googlewhacking exercise over at Crooked Timber. Just a reminder: googlewhacking is the act of finding a combination of two words, which when searched together on Google turns up just one (no more, no less) result. Try, for example, heteroskedastic bumblebee, which will work until Google picks up the page with my comment on Crooked Timber (and now here).

Religion and politics

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

This on CT.

Nicholas Kristof in the NYTimes today makes the argument that “the Democratic Party’s first priority should be to reconnect with the American heartland”. He continues later by saying that “One of the Republican Party’s major successes over the last few decades has been to persuade many of the working poor to vote for tax breaks for billionaires.” Precisely. I am always shocked when I have conversations with people – doesn’t happen too often, but I try to do it when possible – who are clearly hurting the most by Bush’s politics, but who are nonetheless avid supporters.

Kristof goes on to address the issue of religion and politics in particular.

To appeal to middle America, Democratic leaders don’t need to carry guns to church services and shoot grizzlies on the way. But a starting point would be to shed their inhibitions about talking about faith, and to work more with religious groups.”

This is a point Amy Sullivan has been making throughout the year (and earlier). She has written tirelessly and convincingly about it numerous times in several venues.

Here’s one:

Religion is the third rail of Democratic Party politics. Seasoned political operatives who can soberly discuss the details of human rights atrocities or abortion procedures start twitching when the issue of religion enters the conversation. Congressional aides who maneuver through the world of Medicare regulations or appropriations with ease become stymied by references to faith. And hustings veterans who would never dream of running a campaign without targeting racial minorities and union members look askance when asked about outreach to religious communities.
Many Democrats are religious. More than one-half of Democratic voters attend church more than once a month. But until professional Democrats get over their aversion to all things religious, they will continue to suffer the political consequences.

Personally, I would prefer that religion was a more private affair. But one need not spend too much time in the United States to understand that religion is an incredibly important component of most people’s lives, and not such a private one for many. So it is not surprising that one ignores it at one’s peril.

If the U.S. had a parliamentary multi-party system where one could choose representatives closer aligned to one’s views then a party may be able to afford to put religion aside. In Hungary, the only place I can vote, I have always favored a particular liberal party. It never comes even close to a majority vote partly because it is viewed as the party of the intellectual liberal elite (a perception, Kristof argues, the Democratic Party seems to have among many). But a vote for that party closely aligned with my views does not mean a vote completely lost, because it can still have parliamentary seats and create alliances with other parties that represent similar views. And if part of the majority alliance, it can even have representatives in the top positions. But it is only affordable to take such nuanced points-of-view, because supporters of those nuanced positions can still be represented. That is not how politics works in the U.S.. And, hopefully, most of us who would prefer to keep religion out of politics recognize that. Although it may frustrate me that religion is so central in American political discourse, I would still rather have it be part of the discourse than watch people vote for a president who will clearly not represent their interests.

On a final note, one frustration as a social scientist interested in questions of culture and religion, is that there is very little funding available for research in these areas. Given the kind of importance cultural values and religious beliefs seem to play in people’s everyday lives, I find it quite disappointing and disturbing.

Handling traffic

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004

This on CT.

It’s interesting to see how Web sites may alter their presence this evening to deal with their anticipated traffic. Earlier today when I visited Zogby International they still had all sorts of graphics on their front page. Now they just show their predictions on a text-only page. I’d be curious to hear if people have come across other sites that have altered their homepage content in anticipation of unusually large traffic tonight that they are not otherwise prepared to handle.


Tuesday, November 2nd, 2004

This on CT.

The organization Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility is cosponsoring some important vote protection initiatives.

A U.S. toll-free telephone hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1 866-687-8683) and a great set of Web sites at and, help citizens to vote and have their votes counted as intended. Voting questions and problems can be reported, tracked, and responded to by thousands of specially trained operators, attorneys, and technologists, now and beyond November 2nd.

There is also a “do-it-yourself” 24/7 incident reporting form on the Web at, as an alternative recording method, without real-time follow-up.

The more people hear about and use the Web sites and hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1 866-687-8683), the better the world can trust U.S. elections to be.