88 posts categorized "Statistics and Methods"

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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