Posts Tagged ‘Orgtheory’

Over at Orgtheory, Fabio ruminates about the disruptive effects that driverless cars will have for police, stating:

Another way that driverless cars will disrupt police departments is that they will massively reduce police stops. If a driverless car has insurance and registration (which can be transmitted electronically) and drives according to the rules of the road, then police, literally, have no warrant to pull over a car that has not been previously identified as related to a specific crime. Hopefully, this means that police will no longer use moving violations as an excuse to pull over racial minorities.

This might bring the “massive improvement for humanity” that Fabio foresees at some point in the future, but in the meantime I would argue that it will make things worse for those without the financial means to afford a self-driving car because police will pay disproportionate attention to them. This will, unfortunately, include a disproportionate number of racial minorities. As a result, I suspect that things will get worse before they get better.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed (what else are you going to do, watch baseball?).


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In discussing what it means for sociology to be a social science with students, I frequently compare it to the physical sciences and the increased difficulty of predicting human behavior compared with, say, the molecules that make up water. I also like to remind them, though, that the supposedly more “objective” physical sciences are not outside of social influence. The other day, two posts that appeared next to each other in Feedly, my RSS reader, demonstrated this.

The first was a Sociological Images post discussing the social construction of fruits and vegetables. In short, though things ranging from tomatoes to bell peppers are scientifically classified as fruits, we socially categorize them as vegetables. Furthermore, in 1893 the Supreme Court sided with public perception over scientific classification in determining that imported tomatoes should be taxed as vegetables.

The second post was from Small Pond Science about paradigm shifts and the need to overcome some accepted scientific assumptions in order to make new discoveries. As Terry McGlynn notes, “Doubt correct dogma, you’re an ignoramus. Doubt incorrect dogma and show that you’re right, you’re a visionary.”

As a bonus, the post next to the Small Pond Science post was about another group of people questioning their assumptions. This time it was ethnographers in sociology. Social scientists and physical scientists aren’t that different after all.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links that will make you question your assumptions via your news feed.

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It is common for posters on various academic forums to note how they wish they had been on the job market in the 1990s or 1980s or 1970s or, basically, any time that is not now. These people long for the days of yore when one publication would get you a job and two would get you tenure (though a penis and white skin were probably required for both). (Actually, somebody should make a time travel movie where a graduate student from the present goes back to the 1970s to get a job at an R1 and then grows old and becomes the “dead wood” that graduate students in the present wish would retire so that they could get jobs.)

Anyhow, Elizabeth Popp Berman’s travels into the LBJ archives reveal that not everything was different back in the olden days. In the papers of Donald Turner she finds that he complained about grading, publications, and alcohol. Combined with Tolkien’s complaints about teaching, we have evidence that professors have been whining for over 70 years!

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about grading, publications, and alcohol via your news feed.

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Rachel at Rogue Cheerios, like others before her, responds with a qualified “no.” She also asks some important questions that prospective graduate students should answer and argues that soul searching should occur before grad school, not during or after it. In my experience it is easy to let academia supersede our other interests and much harder to try to figure out if there is a place in our lives for academia alongside our other goals.

For the last 12 years I have lived in places because they housed the academic institutions that would have me, but this is not the way that life has to be. In fact, I recently congratulated one graduate school colleague for deciding to live in a particular geographic area (job market be damned!) and another for quitting a tenure-track job in order to be nearer to those he cared about. These are hard choices and there is no wrong time to make them, but knowing that you are not, in fact, willing to move across the country once for graduate school and again for a job that may or may not materialize is a good way to determine that grad school may not be for you.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed.

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Following up on the idea of publicly-accessible Federally funded research, Fabio at Orgtheory has posted a poll. Go take it.

As a bonus, you can use the poll as an example of how not to write survey questions in your Research Methods courses this semester.

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Over the past few days a new study of Northwestern University by David N. Figlio, Morton O. Shapiro, and Kevin B. Soter and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research has been making the rounds. The study, discussed at The Atlantic, Inside Higher Ed, Orgtheory, and Tenured Radical, among others, finds that students learn more in classes taught by adjuncts than in those taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty. A lot of the people reporting on this study talk about the fact that adjuncts are being paid solely to teach so it may not be surprising that they do a better job of it than those who are also supposed to publish, serve on committees, publish, and publish.

What I have not seen anybody address for certain (and what I have not been willing to pay $5 to access the article to find out myself) is whether the “adjuncts” in the study included graduate students. Beyond the other potential problems with the study (such as using student grades to indicate greater learning), the answer to this question is crucial to interpreting the findings, since graduate students, like tenured and tenure-track faculty (and, as some point out, many adjuncts), also have many other competing expectations and are not just “paid to teach.”

If anybody has access to the full version of the paper I would love to know the answer to this.

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Fabio’s post at Orgtheory today about academic phase transition, in which academics go from being in low demand to being in high demand very quickly, made me think about the experiences of one of my acquaintances from grad school in the publication gauntlet and, to a lesser extent, my own recent experiences.

Quite a few years ago at ASA I was talking to an acquaintance who had graduated and started working at a liberal arts school where he was about to go up for tenure. He was somewhat concerned because the school did not clearly define what the publication expectation was for junior faculty. At the time, he had published one peer reviewed article since starting his job and the official word of the administration was that junior faculty did not need at least two publications but that they did need more than one.

A few years later I was wondering if he had been able to get the necessary (but not required) second publication and checked his profile on the school’s web page. He had published two papers in the year he went up for tenure and two more in the year after receiving tenure. Checking his profile today he has published at least one paper in every year since.

As much as we like to think that we come out of graduate school as fully-formed academics, I suspect that for most people this process is not complete when they receive their Ph.D.s. Personally, it took years before I was able to settle into my current position where I am able to balance teaching and service with getting a bit of research done.  Although my publication productivity has been relatively low up to this point, I hope that I am on the cusp of an academic phase transition of my own.

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As if academic false consciousness wasn’t bad enough at our institutions and among graduate students, it appears that it is also present at academic journals. Last week, Olderwoman at Scatterplot posted about receiving a packet of five reviews of the same article, stating:

Although five was over the top and freaked me out, it has become pretty common now for me as a reviewer to get a packet with four reviews. No wonder we regular reviewers are feeling under the gun. The old calculation of two or even three reviews per article has gone by the wayside. The pressure for fast turnaround and the high turn-down or non-response rate among potential reviewers has led editors to send out articles to extra reviewers in the hopes of ending up with at least the minimum two or three.

But this is a death spiral. As a frequently-sought reviewer I get at least four requests a month, sometimes as many as eight, and I used to get more before I got so crabby.  When I was young and eager, I was reviewing an article a week [and thus, by the way, having a huge influence on my specialty area], and I know some people who are keeping that pace. But at some point you burn out and say “no more.” I, like all other frequently-sought reviewers I know, turn down outright the requests from journals I don’t know for articles that sound boring, and then save up the other requests and once a month pick which articles I want to review. So the interesting-sounding articles from good journals get too many reviewers, while the boring-sounding articles from no-name journals get none. If journal editors respond to the non-response by reviewers to boring-sounding articles by sending out even more reviewer requests per article, our mailboxes will be flooded even more and the non-response rate and delayed-response rate by reviewers will go up even more. Senior scholars are asked to review six to eight (or more?) articles per month. You have to say no to most of the requests.

And then we have the totally out of hand R&R problem. I think it is completely immoral to send an R&R to ANY new reviewers. I know a young scholar with a perfectly good paper who is now on the 4th (!!!!) iteration of an R&R from ASR. Not because she has not satisfied the original reviewers, but because the editors keep sending each revision to a new set of reviewers in addition to the original reviewers and, of course, the new reviewers have a different perspective and a new set of suggestions for the paper, some of which cover ground that was gone over in one or more of the previous revisions. Not to mention the problem that R&R memos are now longer than the original articles!!  We are no longer a discipline of article publishing, we are turning into a discipline of R&R memo-writing.

She proposes several ground rules that she thinks would help the problem and that reminded me a bit of Gary Fine’s discussion of similar problems as editor of Social Psychology Quarterly.

Fabio followed her post with one of his own, talking specifically about ASR and the number of R&Rs that are given:

This issue has arisen with respect to the American Sociological Review, the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association. The ASR has been giving R&R’s to many submitted articles, much more than average, and they are soliciting many reviews per article. It has also been sending articles through multiple rounds of revisions, leading to articles being held at the journal for years. Since they seem to accept to same number of articles per year (about 40), that implies that the multiple rounds of revision do not lead to publication for many authors. Here is my response to that post:

I am asking the American Sociological Review to curtail this practice. In writing this, I have no personal stake in this matter. I do not have any papers under review, nor has the ASR accepted my previous submissions. I only write as a member of the profession, senior faculty at a top 20 program, a former managing editor of an ASA journal (Sociological Methodology), former associate editor of the American Journal of Sociology, occasional board member for various journals, author, and reviewer.

The inflated R&R policy is damaging sociology in a few ways. First, by continually R&R’ing papers that have little chance of publication, the ASR is “trapping” papers that may be perfectly suitable for specialty journals or other outlets. Thus, inflated R&Rs keep good research out of the public eye for years. You are suppressing science.

Second, inflated R&Rs damage the reputation of the ASR itself. The goal of a flagship journal is to be very picky. When people hear that a paper has been invited for revision, they believe that the editors think that the paper is of great merit and wide relevance. Inflated R&Rs undermine that perception.

Third, you are damaging people’s careers. By trapping papers, you preventing papers from being resubmitted to other journals that can help their careers. Also, R&R invitations are often seen as signs of intellectual progress, especially for doctoral students and junior faculty. By lumping together strong and weak papers, you are debasing the “currency” of the R&R. When people see “R&R at American Sociological Review,” they no longer know what to think and that pollutes the junior level job market.

Fourth, you are wasting precious time. Reviewers are usually full time faculty who teach, mentor graduate and undergraduate students, do administrative work, conduct research, and have full family lives. Thus, when you ask for a fourth reviewer, or a invite a paper for a third round of R&R, you are taking up many, many scarce resources.

Olderwoman, Fine, and Fabio all make valid points that need to be addressed by editors as well as their reviewers. More than any of the other instances of academic false consciousness, this seems like something that can be addressed quickly and relatively easily. Let’s do it.

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The ISI journal impact factors for 2012 were recently released, as I found out the other day via Orgtheory, since I don’t pay any attention to things like journal impact factors. I continued not paying attention to them until I saw a post on Facebook pointing out that Teaching Sociology is one of a record 66 journals banned from the list. (In case you’re counting, this post is the third out of the past four that have been inspired by Facebook. I am clearly spending my summer productively.) How does a journal get banned from the list? The previous link states that this occurs “because of excessive self-citation or because of ‘citation stacking’ (in which journals cite each other to excessive amounts).” Last year 51 journals were banned and only 34 journals were banned two years ago, so this seems to be an increasing concern.

Some of the posts about this, including Teppo’s at Orgtheory, state that these journals were banned for trying to manipulate their impact factors, but I’m not sure how much intent can be implied by the banning. Unlike US News rankings, which colleges can attempt to manipulate, editors themselves are not responsible for the citations of the papers in their journals. The very brief document that explains the reason for the bans (called “title suppression” by Thomson Reuters, who is in charge of the impact factors) states on the first page that “Thomson Reuters does not assume motive on behalf of any party,” so it appears that too much self-citation is bad regardless of the reasons.

Teaching Sociology provides an interesting counterpoint to the practice of banning journals from the list. If I write a sociological paper about an issue related to small group processes and publish it in Social Psychology Quarterly, I am likely to cite sources from a wide variety of journals because a wide variety of journals include papers about small group processes. If I write a sociological paper about an issue related to teaching and publish it in Teaching Sociology, however, I am likely to cite sources primarily from Teaching Sociology, since it is one of the only places to publish papers about this topic and, as a result, serves as a sort of unofficial archive of teaching-related publications in the discipline. I am not familiar with any of the other banned journals, but it would be interesting to see how many of them are, like Teaching Sociology, specialty journals that are the primary outlet for publications in their area.

Although I highly doubt that anybody at Teaching Sociology has a malicious intent to game the impact factor system, the high number of self-citations does point to a potential problem with insularity among sociologists who publish about teaching. Even if we cannot find discipline-specific exercises, I am sure that sociologists could find useful information about more abstract practices in the teaching-related journals of other disciplines. Maybe it is time for an interdisciplinary outlet for teaching-related publications. Or maybe there is an interdisciplinary outlet for teaching-related publications and I’m just not aware of it because I’m a sociologist who reads, cites, and publishes in Teaching Sociology.

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As I said last week, what we need is not an ASA bingo, but rather an ASA scavenger hunt. In a scavenger hunt, everybody is free to seek the items on the list in any location and order they choose, making this format perfect for a large conference like ASA. A scavenger hunt also allows for there to be a winner! Thank you to everybody who submitted suggestions. In keeping with previous ASA Bingo cards and their detractors I have tried to create a list that balances cynicism with (hopefully) positive experiences.

Click here to download the 2012 ASA Scavenger Hunt and don’t forget to read the complete rules below.

The 2012 ASA Scavenger Hunt Rules:

  • The 2012 ASA Scavenger Hunt is open to anybody who is attending this year’s ASA conference in Denver. Your status as an undergraduate, grad student, assistant professor, or “famous” sociologist will not affect your chances of winning.
  • Record the dates, times, locations, and/or session numbers for the items on the list between Friday, August 17 and Monday, August 20.
  • Items may be double-counted. This means that if, for example, you attend an 8 am session that includes a paper titled “Farm Sociology: Bringing Cattle Back In” in which every presentation is interesting to you, an audience member asks a question that is actually a statement, the person next to you is sleeping, and the third presenter cannot get his flash drive to work you will have covered items 1-6 on the list.
  • The person who submits a form accounting for the most items will receive $50. The date and time of submission will be used as a tiebreaker.
  • All entries must be submitted to socslac@gmail.com by midnight Eastern time on Tuesday, August 21. Submissions can be scanned, photographed, or typed (except #18).
  • The winner’s name, along with his or her winning entry, will be posted here in order to demonstrate that there was actually a winner and to discourage falsified entries.
  • I will be playing along and will keep you posted on my own progress throughout the weekend. Although this blog is pseudonymous, I promise that I will not declare myself the winner!
  • If you would like to discuss your own progress on Twitter, use hashtag #ASAHunt.
  • Have fun!

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