85 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

April 24, 2015

The “Starbucks Effect”: Correlation vs. Causation

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Earlier this year, several news organizations reported on a study that found that homes near a Starbucks increased in value at a rate higher than others during a fifteen year period. Did Starbucks cause this larger rise in home values?

The headlines seemed to suggest it had: “What Starbucks Has Done to American Home Values,” “Living Near a Starbucks Might Double Your Home’s Value” and “Starbucks Increases Neighborhood, Home Values”—all imply that the presence of Starbucks led to the increase in home value.

This story caught my eye for a number of reasons. While I’m not a coffee drinker, a new Starbucks just opened down the street (okay, about two miles down the street, so not that close) but if its presence further increased our home values that would be a plus. But more to the point, it drew my attention as a sociologist. The headlines seem to confuse causation with correlation, assuming that one variable had a direct impact on the other, rather than coinciding with a number of other factors that come along with the decision to open a new Starbucks.

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April 08, 2015

Measures of Central Tendency

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you taken a statistics course? Don’t wait too long if you are procrastinating. Mastering that material helps with other classes and in life.

One of the key concepts within statistics is measures of central tendency: mean, median, and mode. Each one tells us about how the data, for one variable or concept, cluster together although each are calculated differently.

The mean is the numerical average. You’ve probably already been calculating means —also known as averages. Add up however many scores or values in your data and divide by how many you have.

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December 30, 2014

Kung Fu Sociology

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

With a title like Kung Fu Sociology you are probably wondering what this post is about. Here are some possibilities to consider:

  1. The contributions of sociologists from Asia and the Far East
  2. An analysis of the sociological dimensions of martial arts training
  3. A sociological review of the Kung Fu Panda movies
  4. A reflection of a quote from a recently deceased French sociologist

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July 03, 2014

Red Card! The Exclusion of Sports in Sociology

Peter_kaufman Richard Bente photoBy Peter Kaufman and Richard Bente          

Do you have World Cup fever? We do! With one thrilling game after another, and with enough drama and agony for a Shakespearean play, this quadrennial sporting event has once again reached a fevered pitch (pun intended). As the single biggest sporting event in the world, with people from all corners of the globe following it, the World Cup is unparalleled in its scope, influence, and reach. Unfortunately, there is one location where the World Cup has yet to be discovered: introductory sociology textbooks.

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June 03, 2014

Smoking and Education

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

People with higher levels of education are less likely to smoke cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 just 5.6 percent of those 25 and older with graduate degrees smoked—compared with nearly half (49 percent) of those with GEDs. More education correlates with less cigarette smoking across the educational spectrum: 25.1 percent for high school graduates, 23.3 percent of who attended college but earned no degree, and just 11.1 percent of those with bachelor’s degrees smoked.

Why such a consistent difference?

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May 01, 2014

Interpreting Research Results: Probabilities, Not Certainties

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you heard some research results reported lately? Did they mention that some people “are” something more than others rather than some people are “more likely” than others to do or be that something?

When academic research results are reported in the press, we must take care to ensure that the findings are interpreted accurately.

Rarely (if ever) in research will all in one group exhibit the same behavior or opinion. There really are no findings  that are true 100 percent of the time; there are always variations when it comes to actual human beings.

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January 27, 2014

What to study? Bingo vs Monopoly

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I was asked to have a conversation with students about how I picked my research topic. It’s an old question, and the answer is often a mix of factors. Sometimes sociology books include an introduction or appendix on choosing a research project but often they do not. I’ll put it in rather unconventional terms: You’re either a Bingo researcher or a Monopoly researcher.

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December 09, 2013

Sketches in Qualitative Research

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

Although it’s not a problem for every sociologist, accurately and affectively describing people in their settings is a challenge for ethnographers. We’re not particularly trained in writing, yet our credibility and reliability often rests upon crafting word-pictures of people in situations.

This opening from Paul Cressey’s 1932 book, The Taxi-Dance Hall, is a good description of a scene:

The patrons are a motley crowd. Some are uncouth, noisy youths, busied chiefly with their cigarettes. Others are sleekly groomed and suave men, who come alone and remain aloof. Others are middle-aged men whose stooped shoulders and shambling gait speak eloquently of a life of manual toil. Sometimes they speak English fluently. More often their broken English reveals them as European immigrants, on the way toward being Americanized… The girls, however, seem much alike. They wear the same style of dress, daub their faces in the same way, chew their chicle [gum] in the same manner, and—except for a few older spirits—all step about with a youthful air of confidence and enthusiasm. But one soon perceives wide differences under the surface… . (p. 4-5).

Nice description of a setting, right?

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September 19, 2013

Comedians and Sociological Questions

Headshot 3.13 cropcompress

By Karen Sternheimer

No matter what your comedic taste, most stand-up comedians have one thing in common: their jokes are based on observations of human behavior.

Their observations sometimes ring true, or at least entertain others by the conclusions they may draw. Because of the context, comedians can sometimes push the envelope regarding the rules of polite social behavior. Of course they may offend some—maybe a lot of people—in the process.

Comedians are interesting to think about sociologically; what topics do they focus on? What conclusions do they draw?

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September 16, 2013

Failure is an Option: Lessons from Mitty and Sports Journalism

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I recently saw the trailer for an upcoming Christmas movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Ben Stiller. It is a remake of a classic 1947 film about a mild-mannered man who daydreams about his own fantastical successes and journeys. As an undergrad I often felt assigned books were daydreams too. I would read old ethnographies and then envision myself as the noble researcher: diving into unknown worlds and becoming a member of some group or tribe. Early on, I had no idea how troubling this idea really was.

As a grad student I read a lot of qualitative research with a more trained eye, preparing to embark on my own research, and saw the same storylines of participant-observers struggling to be accepted as members of the groups they study. Sometimes, ferreted away in an appendix, there will be admissions that the ethnographer didn’t quite fit.

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