104 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

November 06, 2017

The Social Laboratory

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

If you’ve taken a research methods class, you know that some sociologists use the scientific method to conduct research. There are variations to how we employ the scientific method, particularly between quantitative and qualitative studies. While quantitative questions often draw on large datasets, qualitative research often (though not always) requires the researcher to go out and interact with people.

Just as students in the natural and computer sciences research questions in scientific or technical labs, social science students often research their questions in what we can understand as a social laboratory.

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October 30, 2017

Interpreting Numbers in Context

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In the age of big data, one of the most important—and overlooked—skills that training in sociology provides is the ability to interpret numerical data. Being statistically literate is important for so many reasons, not the least being that it ultimately can help you find a job. Even if you aren’t a statistician or data analyst, knowing how to understand numbers can give you a leg up among the math phobic in many professions.

You don’t have to fall in love with equations or mathematical theory to become skilled at interpreting data. The most important thing to keep in mind is that numbers tell a story, and your job as an interpreter of data is to figure out what story they are telling you, and share that story with others.

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April 17, 2017

Learning Sociology through Collaboration

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If sociology teaches us that we learn about our social world, others, and ourselves through social interaction, it stands to reason that a great way to learn about sociology is through interacting with others.

On the most basic level, interactive learning takes the form of class discussions. Many courses require students to conduct research, often through observation, interviews, or surveys, and this is also a good way to learn some of the tools of sociology.

But collaborative learning is more than just talking and conducting research. Collaborative learning involves problem solving with others, where students brainstorm, come up with research questions, seek answers, or work on large projects together.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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