94 posts categorized "Statistics and 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" »

March 01, 2016

How We Know: Opinions and Assumptions vs. Empirical Reality

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you heard people say that they know what causes something or they know why some thing happened? We all do this; it's one of the ways, we make sense of the world around us. We generalize about what we see, based on our experience and on previous knowledge that we remember.

Generalizing is how we understand what we encounter. When we see something new, we evaluate what it might be based on how it looks and how people might be using it.

My favorite example of this is a podium or lectern. When you first saw one, did you know what it was? Did you know how it was used? If it was in an empty room, perhaps not, although you might notice the angled top, how it was placed in the room relative to other things like chairs or desks. If someone uses it, then you have more information to figure that out.

We generalize about people when we encounter them; we often make many assumptions about them, based on their appearance that may or may not convey in accurate information about them. We also do this when encountering new situations.

Continue reading "How We Know: Opinions and Assumptions vs. Empirical Reality" »

February 15, 2016

Get to Know MoE: Why the Margin of Error Matters

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If you are following this year's presidential election at all, you have probably heard about various candidates' poll numbers. While on the surface, polls seem like a simple way of describing who is ahead—if your poll numbers are higher than the other person's, you are "winning"—but unless you understand the margin of error it is easy to misinterpret poll results.

Let's say candidate A is polling at 44 percent among likely voters, and candidate B is polling at 42 percent. Candidate A is clearly ahead in a close race, right? Wrong.

Continue reading "Get to Know MoE: Why the Margin of Error Matters" »

January 22, 2016

Water Wars and Reliable Data: From Bolivia to Flint, Michigan

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

As an undergraduate majoring in Latin American and Latina/o studies, I remember watching a documentary about the Cochabamba protests against the World Bank's push for water privatization in the South American country of Bolivia. During the late 1990s-early 2000s, the country was the poorest in Latin America with 70% of Bolivians living below the poverty line.

Government officials attempted to remedy the economy by following a shock therapy model. This included the implementation of neoliberal reforms, such as halting state subsidies and the privatization of publicly-owned assets. Within Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia, privatization meant transference of the publicly held water system to a private consortium led by the Bechtel Corporation.

Continue reading "Water Wars and Reliable Data: From Bolivia to Flint, Michigan" »

August 13, 2015

The Ethics of Ethnography

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When I was an undergrad, I was a political science major. I did not discover sociology until my junior year when I took a course titled Institutions and Inequalities. It was after taking this course that I knew that I was more interested in studying people than politics. What interested me most in this class were the books we were assigned. I still remember the intellectual excitement I felt when I read three classic accounts of how schools function to reproduce social-class inequality: Learning to Labor by Paul Willis, Ain’t No Makin’ It by Jay McLeod, and Learning Capitalist Culture by Douglas Foley.

Besides the similar topic, what these three books have in common is that they are all ethnographies.  An ethnography is a form of research that entails studying people and their culture by directly observing and often interacting with them (participant observation) while they go about their everyday lives. Ethnographies provide rich descriptions of the lives people live because the researcher is witnessing and usually participating in exactly what is happening. Ethnography is one of the main forms of social research employed by qualitative sociologists.

Continue reading "The Ethics of Ethnography" »

June 16, 2015

Police Killings by the Numbers

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

If there has been one dominant, sociologically-relevant story in the news lately, it has arguably been the treatment of African Americans by the police. From Michael Brown in Missouri to Eric Garner in Staten Island to the McKinney, Texas, swimming pool incident, there is a heightened awareness, an ongoing conversation, and a growing sentiment of anger about how race influences policing.

As increasing attention has been devoted to this social problem, and more questions have been raised about it, there have been calls for greater accountability from law enforcement. In particular, many people want to know how many citizens are killed each year by police officers. Unfortunately, because the United States government does not keep a systematic record of these deaths, this data has been either unavailable or unreliable. That is, until now.

Continue reading "Police Killings by the Numbers" »

May 14, 2015

Probability vs. Certainty

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

In a recent class discussion, we talked about the connection between children who have parents who are incarcerated and the likelihood of future incarceration for those children. One student had trouble understanding how all kids in this situation don’t end up in prison someday. After all, don’t we all just follow our parents’ examples?

Children with parents in prison do have a greater likelihood of getting arrested in the future, for a number of reasons beyond the scope of this post. The real issue that this student needed to understand was the concept of probability, or the notion of how likely an event is to occur.

Continue reading "Probability vs. Certainty" »

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.

Continue reading "The “Starbucks Effect”: Correlation vs. Causation" »

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