Archive for the 'Soc/Pol/Econ' Category

Some social science links of interest

Saturday, January 10th, 2015
  • Nature has an editorial about why investment in the social sciences must accompany investments in the sciences.

    If you want science to deliver for society, through commerce, government or philanthropy, you need to support a capacity to understand that society that is as deep as your capacity to understand the science. And your policy statements need to show that you believe in that necessity.

    To many in my world, this is unlikely to be a particularly surprising statement, but one need only glimpse at the comments that follow to appreciate how controversial the idea seems to some.

  • The New Yorker has a long piece about the sociologist Howard Becker and his work about what it means to be a “deviant.” Certainly if you’re a sociologist, it is unlikely that you would not have encountered his work at one time or another during your training at minimum thanks to his helpful tips on how to write as a social scientist.
  • The Pew Research Center has an interesting new position of “Director to lead the creation of the Pew Research Center Labs.”
  • The new open-access journal Social Media + Society is now ready for submissions (submission fees waved for now).

A fresh look at the left and right political blogospheres

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

It’s exciting to see a paper about blogs across the political spectrum that goes beyond the by-now rather common practice of looking at who talks to whom among bloggers (e.g., whether there are any cross-ideological conversations going on). Yochai Benkler, Aaron Shaw and Victoria Stodden of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society have just released “A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and Right” showing some significant differences in types of blog platforms used (with different affordances), co-authorships and levels of participation among blogs of different political persuasions. Here is one example of specific findings (based on analyses of 155 top political blogs):

Over 40% of blogs on the left adopt platforms with enhanced user participation features. Only about 13% of blogs on the right do so. While there is substantial overlap, and comments of some level of visibility are used in the vast majority of blogs on both sides of the political divide, the left adopts enabling technologies that make user-generated diaries and blogs more central to the site to a significantly greater degree than does the right. (p. 22.)

There are lots of other interesting results in the paper so I highly recommend reading it [pdf].
It’s very clearly written and summarizes related literature well so in case this is not an area you’ve been following, this is a good piece with which to start to familiarize yourself with related debates. If it is an area that you’ve been following then this is a must-read to see some truly original contributions to the literature.

For more on this elsewhere, Ari Melber has an interview with Yochai Benkler on this research in The Nation.

How free is free?

Friday, February 13th, 2009

One of the many perks of being at the Berkman Center this year has been to learn about all sorts of interesting and important legal matters that otherwise would either not make it on my radar or would be hard for me to understand without background and context. The New York Times now reports on an issue that Berkman fellow Steve Schultze first introduced me to last Fall: the complexity involved in accessing unclassified government documents online that are theoretically free to the public, but in reality can be quite hard to access. The article identifies some major problems with PACER (the government-run Public Access to Court Electronic Records system) and also discusses some important efforts to make the material more accessible to the public. Included is work by (and an interesting photo of:) Crooked Timber commenter Aaron Swartz.

Steve’s blog points us to Show Us the Data whose purpose is to “identify the 10 Most Wanted Government Documents”, that is, “unclassified documents or data that .. exist–on paper or in government computers and databases–that would be of value to the public if posted and regularly updated on an agency’s Web site.” Check out Steve’s blog and that voting site for more on truly freeing up free government documents.

Gas shortage in Europe

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

It’s unusually cold in some parts of Europe and temperatures are expected to be especially harsh this coming weekend. This makes the following even more unfortunate than it would be otherwise: due to conflicts with Ukraine, Russia has cut off gas supplies to several countries some of which rely on Russia for the majority of their needs and have enough supplies for no more than a few days. There isn’t a ton of good coverage* about this out there (yet?), you can read up on some of it here and here (although some information in English already seems outdated when I compare it to reports in Hungarian papers, which presumably have more accurate updates for at least Hungary). Hungary has already shut down numerous industrial plants and has taken other measures to lower usage.

Let’s say you are a country and calculate that you have enough supplies for about three weeks. Your neighbor only has enough for two days and asks for your help. What do you do? (Judging from some of the reports, this isn’t necessarily a hypothetical.)

[*] Feel free to post links to additional coverage that you find helpful. New stories came up as I was writing this post, I suspect/hope that more will be available. (Don’t assume I didn’t search in the right places, there was very little on this when I first started looking for it earlier today. The only reason I even knew to look was a mention by my cousin in an email and a phone conversation later with my Mom. They are both in Budapest so they are following the details and seem to have more to go on.)

The real world

Friday, December 19th, 2008

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to go to DC and meet with some people on the Presidential Transition Team. I got to talk about my research on Internet uses and skills with people who seemed genuinely interested in what we know about this topic and how it might apply to future initiatives. It was an exciting experience.

It is great to see an administration again that cares about information technologies (see related comments in Obama’s weekly address from two weeks ago). However, it’s important to realize that achieving a knowledgeable Internet citizenry is not simply a technological problem and thus cannot be resolved by a solely technical solution. There is plenty of research now that shows how mere access to the Internet does not level the playing field when it comes to achieving universal Internet literacy. Rather, coupling technical access with education about uses is an important part of the puzzle. Of course, even if one accepts all this, solutions are far from obvious. I got lots of really good questions from the people in the room and was thrilled by the conversation.

Afterward, walking down the hall, I saw on the doors the names of lots of people who have been in the news recently. It’s wonderful and encouraging to see the number of smart and knowledgeable people on this team.

Global Voices

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Global VoicesI’m embarrassed to note that seemingly I’ve never written about Global Voices here before. It’s a global citizens’ media project that focuses on areas of the world often ignored by mainstream media in the US and Europe. Just recently, I was talking to its co-founder Ethan Zuckerman about how at times of sudden events in otherwise less covered areas, interest in the site peaks. This may be one of those times. They are posting and linking to information about the events in Mumbai that may be of interest to those looking for additional resources.

Images galore

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Almost a week after the elections, I continue to be obsessed with related news reading up on people involved with the campaign and the transition team as well as the myriad of interesting opinion pieces. I’ve also found some interesting visuals. Here are links to a few in case you haven’t seen them yet:

Is fixing health care enough?

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

The responses over on Crooked Timber to my recent post about Breast Cancer Awareness Month were interesting. One commenter suggested that instead of addressing specific issues or charities, it would be better to “focus our energy on political action for good national health insurance“. I’ve seen this argument made before, specifically about breast cancer awareness. While you certainly won’t get any arguments from me against better health insurance (I hate hate hate hate the system in the US and I’m among the privileged who at least has health insurance), I’m not convinced that that’s the only issue at hand when it comes to achieving adequate levels of awareness and preventive care.

First, should we give up on incremental action in other realms until the overall health care system gets figured out? Second, even if we do achieve major gains on that front, will that really take care of all associated concerns? Unlikely. One way to approach this is to see whether people in countries that have good universal health care are all educated about various illnesses and preventive measures. The answer is likely no, which suggests that there is room for awareness campaigns.

Perhaps people are sick of all the pink. To be sure, I get skeptical about some companies’ approaches. But bad marketing on behalf of some doesn’t mean that there aren’t real issues to consider. Nor is it simply a women’s issue as men have partners, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends who’ll be affected. In fact, having watched some of these situations play out, the person fighting cancer is often stronger than those surrounding her so the emotional toll something like this can take on people is significant in and of itself.

Of course, it’s not enough to know that you should be getting a mammogram if you simply can’t afford it or if it’s too complicated to figure out where/how to get one. But there are charities that address those particular disparities as well. Should we ignore those efforts as we wait for universal health care to kick in? (And again, any guarantees that will address the necessary awareness associated with early detection?)

I was going to propose a trade. You donate some money or effort to the cause and I give you something in return. I started thinking about it too late though so I’ll table that for another time. Nonetheless, here are some pointers to charities that work to prevent and cure breast cancer. Alternatively, if you have no money to give or you don’t believe that’s a good use of resources, take some relevant action. Ask a loved one if she’s gotten a mammogram recently (assuming she’s of relevant age), read up on issues, encourage others to do so as well (including what it is that people need to look out for in terms of detection). A friend of mine was diagnosed when her partner noticed a change in her breasts so it’s important for men to be aware as well. Even among women who have adequate health insurance and are well aware that they should be getting regular testing, many don’t. Is it so bad to want to do something about that?


Saturday, October 11th, 2008

PinkI was talking to my Dad last week and he reminded me that it was seven years ago that day that my Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Until that recent phone conversation, I’d never made the connection between that event and the fact that October is breast cancer awareness month. As if there hadn’t been enough going on three weeks after 9/11, I now certainly had plenty to keep me up at night. Fast forward seven years and things are going well with my Mom. Although she’s never fully regained all of her energy since the treatments, overall she is back to being herself and has been for years now.

When all this came about, I was very grateful for having spent so many years in the US and how illness (or at least some types by now) is treated here versus many other countries, like Hungary, where my Mom’s diagnosis occurred. In too many cultures and communities, illness of all kinds remains a taboo. Not only is it not okay to tell people about it, often doctors won’t even tell patients their diagnosis. While awareness programs may seem superfluous to some*, it is important to remember that in many communities it is not only not the standard to talk and think about illnesses (and thus, for example, take preventive measures when possible), but it is a topic to be avoided outright due to associated embarrassment.

What struck me as I was talking to friends about my mother’s situation was how many among them had a close family member or friend who’d also had breast cancer. It was very helpful to hear about related experiences. But were it a taboo to discuss issues of this sort, I would have been left on my own to deal with the difficult news. Point being, there is value in talking about things of this sort at various levels: from contributing to prevention efforts to the emotional support that can come of it.

Recently, I received some notices about interesting pink-themed undertakings going on right now. One is a Pink group on the photo-sharing site Flickr that seems to be raising money for breast cancer awareness in various European countries. Another is an innovative idea by sociologist Dan Myers who has decided to wear pink every day for the month of October to raise awareness and collect donations. Support him if you can.

Of course, there are serious critical ways of looking at the pink ribbon campaign. For a couple of years now, I’ve had the book Pink Ribbons, Inc. on my book shelf, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Has anyone read it?

I’ve been thinking about a way to contribute to these efforts myself this year and I have an idea. I’m putting some finishing touches on it. I’ll post about it in a bit.

[*] A few months after my Mom’s diagnosis, I still remember that there was an article in The Daily Princetonian making fun of the ribbon campaign. Like I have done above, a response to that piece tried to explain why these do serve a purpose.

Which one?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

That bit was hard to miss, but I hadn’t noticed the refusal of the handshake. Ouch.

Things to do in the New Year

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Happy New Year! But in these important political times, I have to include this (NSFWish):

Just sayin’

Friday, September 12th, 2008

I’m reposting this “Fiscal Conservative” cartoon with permission from Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Star, California:

Fiscal conservatives

Bob Herbert’s recent column summed up a lot of my sentiments:

Ignorance must really be bliss. How else, over so many years, could the G.O.P. get away with ridiculing all things liberal?

Or are some of us overreacting?

Herr Professor Daddy? I didn’t think so.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

I love my MommyAnyone who thinks male and female professors are treated equally by students is clueless. Just recently I came across a couple of examples that are very illustrative of this point. A friend of mine told me that her undergraduate advisees gave her a photo of themselves in a picture frame that says: “I love my Mommy”. (Apologies for the pathetic illustration accompanying this post, but given the time I put into it, I’m posting it.) Then just a few days later, I came across the following note on Twitter:

A friend of mine just bought this (as a gag) for her diss. director

Yes, click on the link. I’ll tell you where it leads, but you’ll appreciate it better if you see the image. The link is to a children’s book called “My Beautiful Mommy”. Raise your hand if you’re a male professor and students have given you similar gifts “as a gag”. No one? Shocking.

I can see the comments already: “If female profs are more caring then what’s wrong with students expressing their appreciation for that?”

First of all, students demand much more emotional work from female professors than they do of male profs. If the women don’t provide it, they are often viewed as cold bitchy profs that don’t care about students. Although I don’t know of any systematic studies of what types of topics students bring up during interactions with professors by gender, I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that female profs get approached much more by students wanting to talk about life issues than male profs. (More generally speaking, there is literature on how gender influences teaching evaluations, here are some older references.)

Second, there are plenty of ways to express appreciation that don’t involve putting the female prof in a mothering role, a role that certainly isn’t emphasizing her academic strengths and credentials. As my friend noted, a gift of this sort makes her feel as though her only contribution to the students’ success was in shepherding them through their projects and not in providing intellectual stimulation, helping them professionally, or contributing to the creation of new well-trained researchers. Maybe, just maybe, she’d like to be recognized for her intellectual contributions and the part of mentoring that involves the research aspects of her job. And while it would be neat if mothering was equated with all of those things, don’t kid yourself. Of course there is nothing wrong with being compassionate and caring, but it’s not what tends to be rewarded professionally in academia.

Painfully true

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I keep referring to this cartoon in conversations and people keep telling me they have no idea what I’m talking about so I’m just going to put it here with the hope that it spreads to more and more folks.

It’s amazing how well it tells so much. It reminds me of specific experiences throughout my life from high school through graduate school (although the latter not in my department, to be fair). Plus one encounters this type of attitude online all the time.

Thanks to XKCD. I’d buy this one on a T-shirt, but it’s not in the store. The college-style XKCD is tempting.

Girls and money

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

I bought some Girl Scout Cookies on a street corner yesterday. The box says: “The Girl Scout Cookie Program promotes financial skills such as goal setting, decision-making, customer-service and money management.” Okay, I buy it. I mean, literally, I have bought numerous boxes this season (and the last, and the one before that, etc.).*

But there was an interesting part of the experience this time that I thought was worthy of a note. Two girls were selling the cookies (with two women who were presumably their mothers behind them), but a little boy was next to them handling the money. The boy was clearly younger, probably the little brother of one of the girls. I think it’s great that he’s learning math and dealing with money. He should learn about things of that sort. But wait, wasn’t the purpose of this program to help girls learn such skills?

The incident reminded me of an anecdote in Babcock and Leschever’s book Women Don’t Ask:

Once, when their daughter was three, Linda stopped in a drugstore for something and the child saw a stuffed animal she wanted. “Do you have enough money to buy that for me, Mommy?” she asked. “Do girls have money, or is it just boys that have money?” Linda was horrified. Their family habits had unwittingly communicated to their daughter that men control money, not women. She and her husband now make sure that their daughter sees Linda paying for things frequently; they also bought their daughter a piggy bank so that she can have money of her own.

Again, I’m all for little boys learning about money and arithmetic, but the purpose of this program is that girls learn related skills. Given all the situations in everyday life where men are the default for handling money, it would seem important to emphasize girls’ exposure to it in the context of a Girls Scouts program.

To be sure, the girls were quite active in the selling process (attracting folks to the table, offering samples) so it is not as though they were passive observers. But if anything, this suggests that they were not shy to interact with the customers and thus could have been given the responsibility of handling the money. I only recognized these dynamics after I left the table. If I’d been paying more attention, I would have just handed one of the girls the money. Next time.

[*] No worries, I don’t eat most of these cookies myself, I give them to the students in my lab. I also try to make some healthier snacks available as well, but these cookies tend to be pretty popular.

Going viral

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

This video was posted on YouTube just yesterday and has already been watched over 150,000 times.* There’s also a site for a ringtone.

It’s impossible to know at this point how such viral campaigns might influence outcomes, but it’s certainly interesting to watch how people are taking advantage of new tools to disseminate material of this sort. It would be a stretch to suggest anyone can do this easily since this video is filled with celebrities, which likely helped it get coverage on ABC yesterday [source]. Nonetheless, having it available online certainly helps in spreading it widely. I’d be curious to know how most people linking to it found it, but many don’t seem to be pointing to sources, which makes this difficult to decipher.

[*] Note that YouTube’s numbers are confusing as depending on when I click on the link I either get around 153,000 or 84,000 views.

[thanks to]

Can we stop with the pink and the bows already?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Shortly after I found the great blog outside the (toy) box, its author decided that she couldn’t maintain it, not right now anyway. I completely understand her decision, but it’s still a bummer. There’s some great writing there about parenting, gender issues, and consumerism, and her voice will be missed.

WNBA for her - pink! - ughSo here’s a post along similar lines inspired by my stroll down 5th Avenue in Manhattan yesterday. One could probably write a whole book about the experience on that one street Christmas Eve, but I’ll just restrict myself to the NBA store. I’m more of a college basketball fan than an NBA fan, but I like basketball enough in general to have been intrigued by the store and so I went inside. (Yeah, clearly this isn’t a generic anti-consumerist post.) There’s tons of merchandise likely about any NBA team of interest. Naively one might think that most sports and fan gear could be gender neutral. But no, there is a separate “NBA for her” pink section, because how could a girl or a woman possibly appreciate a green or orange jersey, right? In addition to that pink section, I was really annoyed by the gendering of some playful items. I thought it would be cute to buy a little plush basketball as a gift for a child. Then I thought: hey, let’s support women’s basketball so I’ll buy the one that says WNBA instead of NBA. WNBA toy with bow - can't just let it be, can they?But the WNBA balls all had a bow! Why can’t a little plush basketball with two eyes, two hands and two feet not have a bow even if it is supposed to be female? Uhm, and why does something that supports WNBA have to be female anyway? Or would somebody like to critique me for assuming that the bow and big eyelashes are supposed to represent a girl?

I find this all so stupid and frustrating. Needless to say I walked out of the store not having spent a penny.


Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

I was in Trier, Germany last week, famous for.. among other things, being the birth place of Marx.

I found the store in the Karl Marx Museum filled with Marx merchandise amusing:


The “opium of the people” quote was only available on a magnet in German, not in English (other quotes were available in English), I’m assuming a conscious choice based on potential interest.

I couldn’t resist getting a copy of the poster that has the entire Communist Manifesto written on it with an image of Marx and Engels coming through from the text thanks to manipulation of the formatting.

I also got a postcard with a cartoon of Marx and the following quote: “Tut mir leid Jungs! War halt nur so ‘ne Idee for mir…”, which Babelfish completely butchers in its translation so I’ll try, but feel free to correct me: “Sorry kids! ‘Twas just an idea I had.”

Boarding a plane to Budapest later in the day added a twist to all this for me. While I can see friends and colleagues in the U.S. understanding why I would’ve picked up those items, I don’t think too many people in the town where I grew up would get why I’d want anything with Marx on my walls.

Is there a fire truck gene?

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Thanks to Tina over at the new Scatterplot, I just found a fantastic blog: outside the (toy) box. Here is an excellent post about gender socialization through toys. Plus the author maintains a helpful list of anti-sexist/anti-consumerist children’s books. Additions to that list here or there are welcomed.

Politics meets SATC

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

I doubt you have to be a Sex and The City fan to appreciate this clip from The Daily Show called “Is American Ready for a Woman President?”, but if you are a SATC fan you are absolutely guaranteed to LOL.