how best are best practices?

November 25, 2009

You may have heard the flutter over UNAIDS’s report showing 17% reductions in HIV prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa. Sounds like good news all around, right? Well, here are brief thoughts on a few concerns i have about those figures.

  • i haven’t read the methods for the estimation closely, but it’s highly probable that some shifting population dynamics may be part of the story (e.g., recent declines in fertility – albeit modest – may be reducing the number of susceptibles sufficiently to shift the population structure enough to appear like a reduction when it’s not really one; similarly i don’t know how shifts in AIDS-specific mortality, have been accounted for either).
  • Perhaps more problematically for these estimates, given things that i have encountered personally in field work in Malawi, is the fact that those who know they are positive are more likely to refuse additional testing in the future. And with the – again, albeit limited – uptick in testing in many countries in SSA recently, the declines may be in part reflecting those refusals more than an actual drop in prevalence (see dadakim for more on this point).
  • i’d prefer to not always play the pessimist, i just think that this one should be read a bit cautiously.

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    standards in publishing

    November 24, 2009

    In the comments on a previous post, dadakim raises a pertinent question about publishing practices that hasn’t (yet?) been adopted in sociology (other than by SMR*, as far as i know). I re-raise it here in case you missed it because i’d be interested in reader reactions to the idea.

    But the motivation for this post was actually an unrelated publishing issue has been bugging me for a while. Why is it that news articles that mention scientific research don’t have to detail their sources? This is one practice i’ve never understood. I get elated when i see articles that actually go ahead and source the original materials, which is sad, since i think it should be SOP.

    *See the last paragraph of the guidelines.


    Does Class Exist?

    November 24, 2009

    In Dennis Condron’s new ASR article on academic achievement he writes:

    “The second contribution [of this article] lies in conceptualizing and analyzing social class rather than socioeconomic status (SES).  This reflects the view that children growing up in different positions in the stratification hierarchy have categorically unequal and qualitatively different (rather than continuously graded) life and educational experiences.”

    What evidence exists for this claim?  To me, this is the sort of claim that the paper should explore empirically, but let’s go ahead and see how he measures social class:

    “I [Condron] code children as middle/upper class if either parent has a bachelor’s degree or higher or works in an executive, administrative, or managerial position and their household income is above the federal poverty line.  Children are coded working class if both parents have less than a bachelor’s degree and do not work in an executive, administrative, or managerial position and their household income is above the poverty line.  Finally, I code students as poor if their household income is below the poverty line, regardless of parents’ education levels and job positions.”

    Then he examines the relationship between the class categories he created and academic achievement.

    The standard objection to this approach is that it is throwing away data, the class categories hide important differences.  Whether you have one or two parents with a B.A. does not enter the analysis.  If your parents’ income is under the poverty line, their education is ignored.  Income differences above the poverty line are ignored, etc.

    If I reanalyzed the data using parental income, education, and occupation, instead of class, I would be able to explain more variation in academic achievement.  There are times when I am more willing to “throw away” data, for example when I’m desperate for more degrees of freedom, but even then I feel bad about it.

    This provocative blog post title: “Does class exist?” drew inspiration from Daniel Little.  I’m curious to see if it attracts more clicks.  It would probably be more to the point to ask whether the concept of discrete social classes is useful.  If it does not help one predict outcomes of interest, then I think not.


    an (un)happy medium

    November 23, 2009

    As seen here (via KD), a quite dramatic and clear example of when the mean isn’t sufficient for telling the whole story is arising over at Amazon in the rankings of Going Rogue. Not surprising, i know. But still.


    when is throwing money at the problem the better solution?

    November 21, 2009

    Wow, here‘s a pretty dramatic suggestion (from mathematical modelers) about how to curb HIV. Though i think my attention may have been drawn even more strongly to the part of the story that makes not using upper case letters in my name possibly seem pretty normal by comparison.


    this is not how i expected “friending” you to come back to haunt me

    November 19, 2009

    This story‘s been making the rounds rather quickly. For now, i’ll link it sans commentary. Basically it’s a company that’s claiming to be able to make inferences about individuals’ credit ratings based solely on their social networks as publicly observable through Facebook, Twitter, etc.
    (via Keith Hampton and Valdis Krebs)


    Are Social Networks Fundamental?

    November 19, 2009

    Are social networks fundamental?  That is how Daniel Little frames this interesting post.  At first, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.  I thought, “No, social networks can’t be understood without understanding the people that comprise them, the society they exist within, etc.,” but then I actually started reading his post and realized he is asking whether the concept of a social network is central to most social explanation.  This is something I am more inclined to agree with.  Was I the only one briefly thrown for a loop by that title?