Plus ça change…

June 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

From Hubert M. Blalock, Jr., “The Real and Unrealized Contributions of Quantitative Sociology.” American Sociological Review 54: 447-460. 1989.:

… one finds a large number of journal articles that briefly discuss the measurement of selected variables, that also admit to the probability of errors, but that then effectively announce to the reader that the subsequent empirical analysis and related interpretations will proceed as if there were absolutely no measurement errors whatsoever!

This is but one illustration of the more general point that methodological ideas are adopted when it is relatively easy and costless to do so, but that they are resisted or totally ignored when it is to the investigator’s vested interest to do so.  There is also the related tendency to attempt to substitute sophisticated data analysis techniques for inadequate data collection procedures, which are of course far more costly and time consuming. (p. 450)

The Disgruntled Sociologist notes with some despair that this has not changed much at all over the past 22 years. In fact, the tendency to deploy fancy techniques has increased as it has gotten easier and easier to do so.  (Yes, this is your fault, Stata.) And ironically, while data collection has — thanks to on-line data sources — in many respects gotten easier, TDS detects little improvement in the creativity applied to data collection. The vast majority of graduate students today are looking to download their dissertation data.

Blalock then goes for the kill (pp. 457-458):

Sociology is not a high-quality discipline. Over at least the past three decades our undergraduate and graduate applicants have consistently scored near the very bottom on standardized tests, not only with respect to quantitative reasoning scores but verbal reasoning scores as well. [Followed by a long list of examples: undergrad curricula, graduate training, promotion criteria, journal standards.]

Finally, our professional associations, and especially the ASA, also need to face the quality question head on.  In the early 1970s, when I first served on ASA Council, “quality” was a dirty word suggesting elitism and an attempt to impose orthodoxy. I even encountered instances where potential journal editors were passed over because it was argued that their standards would be too demanding!  …

In the end, ASA policies are influenced rather heavily by those whom we elect to office, particularly those elected to Council and the Publications Committee.  I am not too optimistic that “politics” within the ASA will change dramatically over the coming years. If not, it will remain for our leading departments to take our quality problem much more seriously than we have in the past.

Sigh. It would appear that Blalock’s pessimism was well-warranted.


“The domestic governing body of sociology”?

June 5, 2011 § 3 Comments

The Disgruntled Sociologist has been perusing the ASA’s amicus brief (pdf) in the Wal-Mart case – subject of so much lively debate over on orgtheory and scatterplot about whether the ASA was right to file the amicus brief, whether it was a good amicus brief, whether sociology was under attack in the Wal-Mart case, etc.  (Yes, TDS peruses such things just for kicks.)

This post is not meant to relaunch those debates. (For the record, TDS’s answer to all three questions is no.) Instead, TDS wishes to highlight the following intriguing sentence from page 6 of the amicus brief (emphasis added):

The domestic governing body of sociology is the American Sociological Association (ASA) which organizes professional conferences, establishes rules and norms for professional researchers, publishes the discipline’s flagship journal and several specialty journals, and defines the discipline.

(Andy Abbott and others may wish to dispute the bit about the flagship journal, but let us leave that aside.)

What does “domestic governing body of sociology” even mean? In what sense is sociology being governed? And which king or queen granted the ASA this charter?

And the ASA “defines the discipline”? Funny, TDS would have thought that sociologists define the discipline through their work – for better or worse. Does this mean that the ASA has a checklist somewhere that can be used to determine whether someone is really a sociologist?

Guess that large (and growing) share of sociologists who are not members of the ASA are guilty of practicing without a license. Oh, the horror.

Seriously, it is quite horrifying that the ASA would include such a description of itself in a legal brief.


April 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

Randall Collins, the sitting president of the ASA, has responded to the organizers of the petition calling on the ASA to increase its transparency regarding its finances, and the (putative) need for a dues increase. That’s great: when the top elected official of the leading professional association, and a prominent theorist in his own right, weighs in, one can hope for the start of the kind of constructive dialogue that would make everyone happy.

Umm, no.

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Shocked: Who’s in Control?

April 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Gary Alan Fine is right

Members would be shocked to learn that PubComm approved the contract with Sage without having been allowed to read that very contract on which they voted.

Holy crap. The Disgruntled Sociologist is, indeed, shocked.  And TDS is pretty cynical.

Read the whole set of comments from Fine. How utterly depressing.

Petition for ASA Transparency

April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

There is now a petition to the ASA requesting increased transparency surrounding the proposed dues increase.

Go to to sign it.

When you fill out the form, you will be sent an email to confirm.  Remember to click on the link.  Your email will not be used for any other purpose.

TELL YOUR FRIENDS!  A big number will make a big difference.

Someone really should produce these…

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Lovely merchandise after the jump, courtesy of Fabio Rojas:

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March 31, 2011 § 4 Comments

Gabriel Rossman’s post about the ASA job bank is an important one. Particularly important is the question of why the job bank should be treated as a profit center for the ASA. There is a hint of hypocrisy in the whole enterprise, for while the job bank is treated as a profit center, the proposed dues increase is rationalized by the statement that “ASA provides professional public goods … [It] provides timely information on the job market for sociologists and brings potential employers and employees together.” One of these things is not like the other.

The case of the job bank is striking, because in the modern day and age, it is trivially easy to perform the same function.  Herewith a challenge to young, enterprising sociologists: set up a competing on-line job bank. Heck, colonize a portion of Craigslist. The main challenge is getting employers to send you their listings. (Job-seekers will find you.) But since you can offer a much lower price — if you get volunteer labor, the price could be zero — it is hard to see why they would resist.  There is no way this costs anywhere close to $200/month per ad.

Progressivity and the Mathematical Inevitability of Increased Dues

March 31, 2011 § 3 Comments

There is a bit of a discussion in the comments in response to Don Tomaskovic-Davey’s dicussion of ASA finances here and on scatterplot.  Don’s response is worth taking seriously since – as former Secretary of the ASA – his is the closest we have yet gotten to an official response to some of our concerns. So The Disgruntled Sociologist is surfacing it from the depths of the comments.

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A member’s response

March 30, 2011 § 19 Comments

In response to the last post relating the ASA Executive Director’s response to member inquiries, TDS received the following comment.  With permission of its author, it is reproduced in full here.  Worth reading in full.

It appears you may have been influenced by some highly inaccurate recent blog postings on the web. The elected leadership of the association is preparing accurate information so that members will not be mislead by some bloggers who have misread the ASA tax forms [snip – cc]. NONE of these are true.).

So it would appear that membership dues are supporting a Ministry of Truth? Sigh…

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Moves towards greater transparency?

March 30, 2011 § 5 Comments

In response to recent posts, The Disgruntled Sociologist received the email below from another lapsed member who has been receiving emails from the ASA asking him/her to re-up.  In response to the standard mass email, TDS’s correspondent wrote to the ASA to learn more about issues of transparency. Below is the response from the ED:
It appears you may have been influenced by some highly inaccurate recent blog postings on the web. The « Read the rest of this entry »