Weekly Link Roundup – Pan Social Science Edition

This title might be a bit misleading, as it’s been a few weeks.. make it a month.. since my last roundup. Hopefully, I’ll get back in the swing of things now that the semester is in full bloom. Today we have some nerdy entries, followed by bests-of from around the social sciences.

The Intersection of Nerdy and Academic

  • Dan Nexon’s Interstellar Relations Syllabus. Duck of Minerva is truly a wonderful source for academics who also love Science Fiction. If I were in DC, I would take that class.
  • Teaching STS with “A Fist Full of Quarters”. Science studies blog Installing (Social) Order wins the award for nerdiest academic post, though, with this lesson plan for using the acclaimed documentary about Donkey Kong high scores as a teaching tool for science studies. I had not realized how much of the high score controversy had an STS flavor of establishing the facticity of the claim – was the video edited, was the machine in good working order, etc.
  • Best of the PoliSci Blogosphere

  • Obama’s Jewish Problem (The Monkey Cage).
    A 5-point decline among Jews says little about Jews if there’s been a 5-point decline among basically every other demographic group. The fixation on a trend among one group is doubly misleading because it gets your mind thinking about explanations idiosyncratic to that group. So with Jews, it’s because of Obama’s alleged dovishness on Israel. With Latinos, it’s because he hasn’t pushed comprehensive immigration reform. With working-class whites, it’s because he’s too elitist. And so on.

  • Best of the Soc Blogosphere

  • Neurology vs. Psychiatry (via SocImages). As usual, Soc Images finds a fascinating graph that brings up as many questions as answers. In this case, the image shows the proportion of hits for different mental disorders that appear in psychiatry vs. neurology journals.
  • Best of the Econ Blogosphere

  • Minimum Wage Laws and the Labor Market: What Have We Learned Since Card and Krueger’s Book Myth and Measurement? (via RortyBomb). A fantastic recap of the debate about whether increases in the minimum wage cause unemployment in the decade and a half since Card and Krueger’s famous book that argued that there was little or no relationship. Lots of insights into modern economics in general, as well as this particular debate.
  • Best of the Anthro Blogosphere

  • David Graeber: On the Invention of Money – Notes on Sex, Adventure, Monomaniacal Sociopathy and the True Function of Economics. Ok, to be fair, I don’t read that many Anthro blogs (I welcome suggestions in the comments!). But this post by Graeber is simply fantastic. Graeber has a new book on the history of debt and the origins of money, and the book has received some criticism from economists wedded to a particular understanding of the origins of money (particularly, that money emerged to solve the coincidence of wants problem in a barter economy). Graeber draws on exhaustive anthropological evidence to show that this understand is improbably at best: most societies use informal, but highly routinized, systems of debt to solve that problem and did so for thousands of years without inventing money. Rather, modern money arose to solve problems for organizations, like large temples, that needed to pay people for their labor and such. I am looking forward to reading the book, but for now the (somewhat lengthy) post is very satisfying. Here’s one pulled quote:

    Economists always ask us to ‘imagine’ how things must have worked before the advent of money. What such examples bring home more than anything else is just how limited their imaginations really are. When one is dealing with a world unfamiliar with money and markets, even on those rare occasions when strangers did meet explicitly in order to exchange goods, they are rarely thinking exclusively about the value of the goods. This not only demonstrates that the Homo Oeconomicus which lies at the basis of all the theorems and equations that purports to render economics a science, is not only an almost impossibly boring person—basically, a monomaniacal sociopath who can wander through an orgy thinking only about marginal rates of return—but that what economists are basically doing in telling the myth of barter, is taking a kind of behavior that is only really possible after the invention of money and markets and then projecting it backwards as the purported reason for the invention of money and markets themselves. Logically, this makes about as much sense as saying that the game of chess was invented to allow people to fulfill a pre-existing desire to checkmate their opponent’s king.

  • Humor, Fake News, and so on

  • Society for the Preservation of Gaps in the Literature. A humorous manifesto (?) for a society aimed at saving the literature from rampant gap-filling, with a reasonable punchline: “Rather than filling gaps in the literature one of the great accomplishments of serious research is to create gaps in the literature by debunking the nonsense of the past.”
  • U-M president admits graduate school is Ponzi scheme (via The News of Ann Arbor). While entirely fake (the site is a local Onion-style affair), the story is pretty funny and painfully close to true:
    Asked why graduate students entering those programs have been so slow to figure out the lack of job prospects, she replied: “We wondered about that ourselves. PhDs in areas like art history or romance languages are historically unemployable—they may have other reasons for wanting the degree. But we did wonder why our economists have been so slow to grasp this. Theoretically these are smart young people.”

  • Meta-Infographic. Finally, to end this link round-up, a “meta-infographic” via Andrew Gelman which accurately summarizes the majority of infographics on the web (original on flickr here).
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