Jeremy Freese on Blogging and Public Intellectuals

November 17, 2009

From a short article in the journal Society by Jeremy Freese:

Blogs are distinct from their predecessors for the pervasiveness of quotation and the extent to which authors keep your attention by continually directing it elsewhere. If one thinks in terms of the services that public intellectuals contribute—new ideas, means of making sense of the events of our times, moral conscience—than the important question is whether the new model of decentralized collaboration provides these services better than a model in which a few erudite individuals are identified as the souls of the age.

The answer is yes.


The Most Interesting Scholar in the World

November 16, 2009

I imagine everyone is now familiar with the Dos Equis commercials.  Peter Klein’s adaptation is The Most Interesting Scholar in the World:

His work would pass peer review . . . if he had peers.

Football players at his university have season tickets to his lectures.

…Stay thirsty for knowledge, my friends.

There are a bunch more funny ones if you follow the link above.


assessing peer review

November 13, 2009

Here’s an interesting paper (may require login) from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. From the abstract:

Design 607 peer reviewers at the BMJ were randomized to two intervention groups receiving different types of training (face-to-face training or a self-taught package) and a control group. Each reviewer was sent the same three test papers over the study period, each of which had nine major and five minor methodological errors inserted.
Results The number of major errors detected varied over the three papers.The interventions had small effects. At baseline (Paper 1) reviewers found an average of 2.58 of the nine major errors, with no notable difference between the groups.The mean number of errors reported was similar for the second and third papers, 2.71 and 3.0, respectively. Biased randomization was the error detected most frequently in all three papers, with over 60% of reviewers rejecting the papers identifying this error. Reviewers who did not reject the papers found fewer errors and the proportion finding biased randomization was less than 40% for each paper.

The thing is, i am having a relatively difficult time convincing myself that the comparison they made is the interesting one. When reviewing a paper, are we really ever looking for all of the errors in the piece or just enough to sufficiently determine whether to accept/reject the article? So, how interesting is the difference in the “number of errors found” among those who rejected the paper? To me, not very. This doesn’t undermine their conclusion:

Conclusions Editors should not assume that reviewers will detect most major errors, particularly those concerned with the context of study. Short training packages have only a slight impact on improving error detection.

My question is do you find the question interesting, or would you have sliced the data a different way?

(HT: Michelle Poulin)


Mistaking Beauty for Truth

November 13, 2009

Peter Klein agrees with Paul Krugman that economists have mistaken beauty for truth, but disagrees that it has anything to do with the financial crisis so he won’t be signing the Hodgson petition.

Also at the Organizations and Markets blog, Nicolai Foss discusses a special journal issue entitled “Economic Models as Credible Worlds or as Isolating Tools?”

Speaking of models and truth and beauty, I found Murray Gell-Mann’s TED Talk fascinating.  He argues that in physics, a beautiful theory is more likely to be true.  This makes me a little nervous.  I would be especially worried about using this heuristic in the social sciences because the objects we are studying are complex, and have so much meaning to us that our aesthetic sense is more likely to attach to theories for reasons other than truth.  Truth may be beautiful, but so are our cognitive biases and ideologies.


Forced to Defend Rational Choice Theory

November 10, 2009

I’m finally responding to Eli Thorkelson, who asked for my comments on an article by feminist economist Julie Nelson.  The article is a critique of rational choice theory (RCT) and I think it has some omissions and misleading claims.

I regularly come across particular instances of rational choice theorizing that I dislike, but non-economists, including sociologists, often dismiss rational choice theory without understanding it, so when the topic comes up among non-economists, I almost inevitably find myself defending it.  My claim is that rational choice theory, broadly construed, is an important, though certainly not the only, useful framework for understanding human behavior.  This should be considered an utterly boring claim.  What is interesting is how any social scientist could deny it… Read the rest of this entry »


homophily in sexual networks

November 10, 2009

Today in my social networks class, we covered Bearman, Moody and Stovel’s 2004 AJS paper. Virtually every time i have heard that paper presented (by Peter or Jim, i’ve never actually met Stovel in person), and the couple of times i’ve talked about it in class, some variant of the following has been part of that discussion:

So, we know that there are any number of factors on which homophily operates in the formation of social networks in general. And in the particular case of romantic networks, the story’s much the same. However, there is one particular trait on which homophily is a much more robust predictor of a relationship than any others. Any guesses what that might be?

At which point the audience guesses a long list of traits, and virtually never hits #1 on the head (my class today got it on about guess 14, when i made it multiple choice from about 15 options). So, i pose the question to you, fair reader. What do you think it is?* If you’ve read the footnotes/appendices to the paper closely you can likely guess, but i’m not sure whether its actually explicitly stated anywhere in that particular paper or not.

*If no one gets it, i’ll post the answer in the comments in a day or two.


Suggestions for a Snappy Blog Subtitle/Slogan?

November 5, 2009

Please leave suggestions in the comments.  I would offer some of the ones Matt and I have considered, but research on brainstorming suggests that more unique ideas are generated if individuals try to come up with them independently before sharing them.


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