101 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

March 22, 2017

Don’t Ask an “Expert:” Read the Research

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I regularly get emails from high school students that I have never met, typically asking for help for an assignment where they are supposed to interview an “expert” about a topic of their choosing. The emails often contain a long list of questions that I cannot respond to due to time constraints.

I realize that these students have no control over the assignments that their teachers give them—although I have sometimes wondered if the emailed questions are meant to avoid actually doing some reading—and I can easily gripe about how those of us from the twentieth century never had this option, short of writing a letter if we could somehow find an address.

But the more I think about these kinds of emails, the more I think about the problems with assignment itself. Asking an “expert” is a poor way to learn about social science, which is based on examination of empirical evidence, not from the pronouncements of experts. Unless the students are taking a journalism class, interviewing someone seems like a missed opportunity to learn more about research.

Continue reading "Don’t Ask an “Expert:” Read the Research" »

March 08, 2017

Thinking Beyond the Case Study

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Case studies are singular examples that seem to illustrate a phenomenon. Textbooks would be dull without them, and journalists often use interviews to add color to their stories. But case studies can become so alluring, and seem to illustrate interesting patterns so well that they can encourage us to draw conclusions without further investigation.

Take the case of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, in 1964. Her case gained notoriety because there were purportedly dozens of witnesses to the attack who did not call the police. This led researchers to study something they called the bystander effect, positing that the more people who observe an event take place, the less likely they are to take action because they presume that someone else will.

Continue reading "Thinking Beyond the Case Study" »

December 26, 2016

Main Points: What I Want My Students to Learn

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

I start every class by posting a list of key points I want students to learn that day. We often start by recalling the main points from the previous class, so that students can understand the continuity between topics.

As another semester ends I have been thinking about the main points that I want students to learn, regardless of the topic of the class. Sometimes it is important to take a step back and ask ourselves, “what does this mean, anyway?” (I guess if you ask yourself this question you are already starting to think like a sociologist.)

Here are some of the lessons I hope that my students take from my classes:

Continue reading "Main Points: What I Want My Students to Learn" »

September 26, 2016

Are Social Scientists Anti-Social? How to Test Hypotheses

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A colleague recently posed this question while we chatted after a social event. She thought it was particularly interesting that sociologists, of all people, might not be the most social bunch at a gathering.

Of the small group engaged in this informal discussion, we considered this idea and searched for examples in support. We each agreed that we tended to be more on the introverted side, needing downtime to recharge after having lots of social interactions. I mentioned that one of my favorite activities is taking a walk while listening to a book (listening to books is the primary way I use my smart phone—not for texting, talking, using social media or otherwise interacting with others).

Another colleague agreed and said that he would spend every day reading if he could, and we agreed that we wouldn’t be in academia if we didn’t all like to read, an activity that requires someone to be comfortable withdrawing from social interactions for at least a little while. Others in the conversation thought about their other friends in academia and thought they would probably also be less social.

Continue reading "Are Social Scientists Anti-Social? How to Test Hypotheses" »

June 06, 2016

The Compassionate Sociologist

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Is there a connection between sociology and compassion? Do you know of any sociologists who explicitly and unabashedly frame their work in the context of compassion? Do you consider yourself a compassionate sociologist?

For years, I've been mulling over these questions and thinking about the connection between sociology and compassion. I've been wondering if it's possible to study people and society without caring deeply for the people and the society you are studying. In other words, are sociology and compassion undeniably linked?

Continue reading "The Compassionate Sociologist" »

May 25, 2016

Suicide Rates: Percentages and Rates, Age and Gender

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report on suicide rates, finding that suicides in the United States had increased by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014. Like most people, I learned of this report after reading upsetting headlines about this increase. My local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times reported that "US Suicides Have Soared Since 1999."

As sociologists, we learn to look at the original data to get the real story beyond the headlines. What do the data tell us? Is it the same story as being told in news reports?

Continue reading "Suicide Rates: Percentages and Rates, Age and Gender" »

May 02, 2016

Polling Methods

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Are polls getting less reliable? Some say so. Our changing technology, including social media and the 24-hour news cycle, can have an effect on opinions and behavior. People who hear that a candidate already has a good lead might change their opinion or not show up to vote. On the other hand, some estimates of the error rates of polls suggest that they are somewhat stable as pollsters change their methods to adapt to society's dictates.

Or are polls still pretty accurate, taking the pulse of the people? Some say so. If the difference between opinions is huge, then a poll can certainly pick that up. However, if opinions are just a few points apart, polls may not be able to show those differences accurately.

Continue reading "Polling Methods" »

April 28, 2016

Mindfulness and Methodological Confusion

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

You have probably heard of the word mindfulness. The term is so commonplace these days that the only people who may not have heard about it are the ones who are practicing it diligently in some remote cave in the Himalayas. As I wrote about in a previous post, there is a prevailing sentiment that we are in the midst of a mindfulness revolution. From podcasts and apps to weekend retreats and self-help books, mindfulness is definitely in the moment (pun intended).

The popularity of mindfulness has also taken off among academic researchers. According to the American Mindfulness Research Association (AMRA), the number of academic publications on mindfulness has increased over 2,000% in the past 15 years from a mere 22 articles in 2000 to well over 500 articles in 2014 (although the actual number of research articles may be larger).

Continue reading "Mindfulness and Methodological Confusion " »

March 09, 2016

Social Networks, Interlocking Directorates, and the Power Elite

Christopher andrewsBy Christopher Andrews

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Drew University

Social network analysis involves studying social structures through the use of networks and graphs, allowing sociologists to visualize and measure properties of the ties that connect individuals, groups, or organizations. Rooted in the formal sociology of Georg Simmel (e.g., dyads vs. triads), anthropology (e.g., kinship diagrams), social psychology (e.g., group dynamics), and mathematical sociology, social network analysis has been used to study friendship and acquaintance networks, terrorist organizations, criminal drug markets, disease transmission, and sexual relationships, just to name a few examples.

How does it work?

Continue reading "Social Networks, Interlocking Directorates, and the Power Elite" »

March 04, 2016

Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Are you part of a subculture, or a group that is a subset of the larger culture that has distinct values, norms, and practices? Chances are good you are and might not even be aware of it, because we become adept at switching between different groups and behaving accordingly, similar to what linguists call "code switching."

Sometimes the norms, values, and practices of a subculture become very apparent when we are new to a group; some people have a difficult time adjusting to a new group, sometimes experiencing culture shock when moving to a new region, attending college far from home, or even beginning a new job in an unfamiliar field.

Author Wednesday Martin describes the process of acclimating to a new subculture in her memoir, The Primates of Park Avenue, about her move from Manhattan's West Village to the Upper East Side, a journey of just a few miles but what she describes as inhabited by a significantly different subculture.

Continue reading "Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange" »

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