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.

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“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.

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