summer reading bleg

June 27, 2011

So, i haven’t posted here in seemingly forever (and it seems that each of my last few posts start off with a similar preamble), but I have a query, and figured why not send it out to the ole world wide web to see if i get any nibbles.

The following is a list of a chunk of the books i was aiming to (re-)read this summer  (those i brought with me on my first stint away from home anyway). You’ll likely notice a strong theme given my full(er) investment in an ongoing sociology of science project on the structuring of problem-based interdisciplinary fields (but there are a smattering of others that I’ve merely wanted to read and/or revisit for a while).

The request is simple – if there’s one (or even better, more) books on this list that you happen to be tackling this summer as well and you’d be up for throwing a few ideas back and forth via email/phone/skype/whatever, give me a shout. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ngrams of Social Science Disciplines

January 24, 2011

An “ngram” is an n-word phrase.  So, “human science” is a 2-gram.  If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard about the latest gift from google – having scanned most published books in a number of major languages, they recently provided us the data, and a tool for easy visualization, of the relative popularity of words and phrases over time.  I thought I’d explore some terms of broad interest to sociologists with no particular idea about what I’d find.  Please take a look and help me interpret them.

Below you’ll find the relative frequency with which the major social scientific disciplines (plus psychology) are mentioned in books.  Let me explain the numbers on the Y-axis.  “psychology” is the most common word.  In 1950, it accounted for about 0.0034% of all words published.  In other words, google takes all the books published in a given year, and counts how many occurrences there are for each word.  Then it divides that number by the total number of words published.  There are many methodological considerations… for example, each book only counts once, regardless of how many copies are sold.

So what do we see?  Well, the rank order doesn’t really change over time.  Psychology gets the most mentions, then economics, sociology, anthropology and finally political science.  It’s tempting to interpret this as measuring the prominence of each discipline, but this isn’t a great test.  For starters, authors aren’t generally referring to the academic discipline when they use the word “psychology,” but they are when they use the phrase “political science.”  Sociology is probably between the two in terms of, “the share of word-mentions which actually refer to the academic discipline.”

I feel a bit more comfortable making inferences based on how each of these terms changes over time.  For example.  In in 1950, sociology received almost twice as many mentions as anthropology.  The situation was similar in 1980.  But in 1999, anthropology achieved parity with sociology, and they have been close to even in the decade since.  This appears to be evidence that anthropology gained prominence, relative to sociology, in the last half of the twentieth century.  Naturally, I don’t think we should put too much stock in this single measure of prominence.  We might want to look at trends in the number of students, and people working in each discipline.  We could count mentions in periodicals, citations to academic articles.  We could look to see how each word is used, and how much their usage changes over time.  Do these other measures corroborate, counter, or otherwise contextualize these trends?

I can’t give you easy access to all that data, but you can explore ngrams for yourself!

So readers, what do you see in this graph?  Care to nominate and discuss plausible/potentially useful and/or plainly dangerous assumptions that help us interpret these ngrams or lead us astray?


Montgomery’s Mathematical Sociology Textbook

April 22, 2010

Fabio highlights a freely available mathematical sociology textbook in-progress by James Montgomery.

I previously pointed to good downloadable math soc textbooks that emphasized networks.


an aside on asides

January 4, 2010

For as long as i’ve read books (which admittedly isn’t actually nearly as long as most people in this line of work), i’ve had a strong preference in the whole endnotes versus footnotes debate.* I actually read them. So, i find it incredibly annoying when they’re all tucked away in the back of the book somewhere, nowhere near the content to which they actually apply. I’m sure there are folks out there who prefer endnotes, if that’s you, can you share why? I’m genuinely curious.
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My Old Book Review of Six Degrees

October 7, 2009

I wrote a review of Duncan Watts book on social networks, for a class and thought I might as well share it here, even if it is a little out of date:

Networks are everywhere.  In the first chapter of Six Degrees Duncan Watts notes that gossip, power outages, epidemics, even properties of the human brain such as consciousness all emerge from the interaction of their constituent elements.  Having provided this motivation, Watts spends much of first half of the book discussing what he knows best, “small world” networks.  In the second half he presents a network perspective for a wide range of topics such as… Read the rest of this entry »