Mid-December Links: Sandy Hook Analysis and Etc.

A mix of the funny, academic, and political. This edition is slanted heavily towards academic reflections on the shootings in Sandy Hook, along with a bit of silly as a Unicorn Chaser.

Post-Sandy Hook Reflections and Analysis

  • Treat Mass Killings as an Epidemiological Problem (via EconJeff). The piece summarizes two of the clearest recommendations following the shootings: media coverage of mass killings should diminish the portrayal of shooters as anti-heroes, and in fact should mention the shooters as little as possible, and the US needs better gun control laws – but mostly to stop non-mass shootings, which are much more common (and more common in the US than our peer countries).
  • A Broader-based Approach to Shootings. Sociologist Chris Uggen offers evidence for five useful points to keep in mind in response to the shootings, summarized here:

    1. The focus on mass shootings obscures over 99 percent of homicide victims and offenders in the United States.

    2. The focus on mass shootings leads to unproductive arguments about whether imposing sensible gun controls would have deterred the undeterrable.

    3. The focus on mass shootings obscures the real progress made in reducing the high rates of violence in the United States.

    4. The focus on mass shootings exaggerates the relatively modest correlation between mental illness and violence.

    5. The focus on mass shootings leads to high-security solutions of questionable efficacy.

    Points one, two and five dovetail nicely with the Telegraph article. Point four addresses the other big discussion that seems to have taken over the internet in the past few days: the role of mental illness and the identification and treatment of mentally ill youth in particular.

  • Assault Death Rates in America: Some Follow-Up. Sociologist Kieran Healy visualizes comparative data for the US and other OECD countries to show just how violent the US is in comparison. This post offers details about the data and the choices in the comparison, the two original posts were written this Summer in response to a different shooting, and the second contains an interesting breakdown by state within the US.
  • F*&k Freedom. Political scientist Brian Rathburn calls malarkey on the absolutist argument that having guns itself should be an inviolable right and reminds us that living in society is all about balance.

    In the wake of the Connecticut shootings and in light of the hints dropped by Obama at the vigil for the victims, it seems we should be prepared for a debate in the coming weeks and months between those who advocate greater gun control to protect innocent lives and those who make a competing moral claim that such regulations infringe on the more important right to bear arms, which is supposed to be part of a general value of freedom. But that’s bullshit. Human beings with a moral compass who live in any kind of society do not have total freedom. Never have and never will. Total freedom is incompatible with any notion of morality, whether liberal or conservative, and makes collective living impossible.

  • And finally, via Max M, an essay written in 2009 by Susan Klebold, mother of one of the Columbine shooters: I Will Never Know Why. It’s really moving and sad, and I think offers a better window into discussions around mental illness and isolation than the very raw discussions of the recent shooting (noting again that each time is different, so to speak).
  • Alright, let’s move on from the excessively depressing…

    Other Academic Links

  • Dan Little has had some excellent blog posts of late. I especially enjoyed New Metaphors for the Social, and its discussion of various taks on assemblage theory. One big takeaway includes letting go of the strong unity of the individual:

    The self is not a unified center of consciousness and will, but rather a loose and contingent collage of psychological, physiological, and neurophysiological processes; that the impression of a unified self is a post-facto illusion; and that acting, thinking individuals are coalitions of a heterogeneous and often conflicting group of cognitive, emotional, and practical processes.


  • Bruce “Security Theater” Schneier reviews Harvey Molotch’s new book, Against Security.

    The common thread in Against Security is that effective security comes less from the top down and more from the bottom up. Molotch’s subtitle telegraphs this conclusion: “How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger.” It’s the word ambiguous that’s important here. When we don’t know what sort of threats we want to defend against, it makes sense to give the people closest to whatever is happening the authority and the flexibility to do what is necessary. In many of Molotch’s anecdotes and examples, the authority figure—a subway train driver, a policeman—has to break existing rules to provide the security needed in a particular situation. Many security failures are exacerbated by a reflexive adherence to regulations.


  • The Oatmeal’s State of the Web (Winter 2012) reflects on Reddit’s victory over Digg and the hopes for Google Fiber. Very funny, if a bit gruesome, like much of the Oatmeal.
  • There’s been a lot of critical reaction to a proposed new University of California logo and its.. toilet bowl? aesthetic. My favorite remains this.

    Let’s hope the next edition finds a happier subject to obsess about, like why Peter Jackson is making nearly nine hours of 3d, 48 fps movie out of a single slim novel

  • Occasional Link Round-Up: D.C. Edition

    I’m currently finishing up a whirlwind social visit to DC, so posting has been a infrequent. There have been some excellent posts in blogosphere writ large though, so I thought it was time for another link round-up!

    Best of the Econ Blogopshere

  • And now I’m forced to like retail clinics a little. The Incidental Economist documents a recent positive experience with a retail health clinic and notes:

    “For strep throat, which accounted for 15 million patient visits in 2006 alone, retail clinics seem like a pretty good idea. While I still believe in the medical home and the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and continuity of care, I’m sure there are more examples of where they work as well.”

  • Chart of the day, Morgan Stanley bailout edition. Felix Salmon shows in one chart what a lender of last resort does in a crisis.
  • The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin. A long-ish piece in Wired which is a nice summary if you haven’t been following the story of Bitcoin. Also useful for thinking about what money “really” is and how important different kinds of trusts are to money’s functioning. Perhaps useful for an undergrad econ soc class.
  • At Top Colleges, Anti-Wall St. Fervor Complicates Recruiting (NYTimes Dealbook). While the thrust of the story is that Wall St. has gotten much less popular on Ivy campuses, my takeaway was this stat:

    At Harvard, only 17 percent of last year’s class planned to go into financial services after graduation, according to a survey of graduating seniors, compared with 25 percent in 2006, before the crisis.

    So, down a fair bit but.. still 17%!

  • Best of the Soc Blogosphere: Omar 2, Everyone Else 0.

  • Three ways of talking about the variables that you don’t care about. Omar of OrgTheory posted two excellent, medium-length think pieces in the last few weeks. The first concerns “control variables” and why we usually shouldn’t use that term, with interesting thoughts about different modes of thinking about what we are actually doing when we “control” for X1..Xn. In teaching a research methods course, I struggled with this language and my students’ attempts to employ it, and this post was an excellent quick summary of my frustrations.
  • One way of specifying the agency problematic. Post #2 from Omar takes on one of the most contentious debates in the history of social theory: agency vs. structure. Omar offers an interesting new take on how to define agency (as the freedom of actors to imagine a world different from the one they inhabit) that is very interesting, and highlights some of what that debate is all about. My past forays into this field are here and here.
  • Best of the PoliSci Blogosphere

  • Partisanship in Everything: Views of Godfather’s Pizza. The Monkey Cage shows how opinions of Herman Cain’s pizza company have become partisan over the course of 2011.
  • Lamentably common misunderstanding of meritocracy. Andrew Gelman has an excellent summary of the inherent tensions in meritocracy.

    I am bothered when pundits such as Zingales set up a self-contradictory ideal which conflates accidents of birth, talent, achievement, success, riches, and power—not to mention “hard work” and “virtue.” We all know that these traits don’t always go together in the real world, but it’s also a mistake to think that they could all go together.

  • Most Shattering of My Faith in Academia

  • Annals of Interesting Peer Review Decisions. Crooked Timber reports on the efforts of two psychologists to publish a study that failed to replicate supposed ESP findings … partly on the grounds that they may have used their ESP powers to influence the results of the experiment.
  • Best of the Funnies

  • The Ryan Gosling meme has exploded. The first one I saw, which remains one of the best, was feminist Ryan Gosling. But since then we’ve had Biostatistics Ryan Gosling, Public History Ryan Gosling, Librarian Ryan Gosling, and Development Ryan Gosling, among countless others. Look for your favorite or make your own! Unfortunately, not every exemplar seems to get that the meme works best when Gosling is using jargon to say something sweet, not something pervy.
  • Tradition. xkcd plots the most popular Christmas songs by decade of release and offers this pithy theory of tradition: “An ‘American tradition’ is anything that happened to a baby boomer twice.”
  • Best Academic Advice Not Written by Fabio

  • The degree is the job: a modest proposal for the PhD. We all love Fabio’s excellent Grad School Rulz, but he’s not the only source for excellent advice on grad school. hook & eye offers this useful approach to thinking about a PhD:

    If you want to do a PhD, you should do one. But! Only under this condition: you treat it like the first job of your career.

  • Adventures in Statistical Graphics

  • 40 Years of Boxplots. Flowing Data links to an excellent, short forthcoming piece on the history of the humble boxplot, one of the few statistical graphical innovations of the last few decades to get widespread acceptance. The underlying article is recommended for at least a quick skim.
  • Correlation or Causation? A fantastic set of parody charts showing off how easy it is to make bad claims of causality with time series data. Personal favorite, “Did Avas Cause the U.S. Housing Bubble?”
  • The Internet is a Nerdy, Nerdy Place

  • Anti-Star Trek: A Theory of Posterity. Peter Frase of CUNY Sociology wrote this post a year ago, but I just saw it recently. Noting that Star Trek’s universe is a classless utopia premised on free energy and replicators, he asks, “Given the material abundance made possible by the replicator, how would it be possible to maintain a system based on money, profit, and class power?” In other words, are those conditions sufficient for eliminating capitalism? His answer is a quite convincing no. Using strong IP law, corporations could maintain a new form of capitalism. Highly recommended and relevant to contemporary debates.
  • Occasional Link Round Up

    By popular demand*, on account of Google Reader messing with its sharing features, I bring you another installment of the occasional link roundup. The categories, as usual, are determined entirely ad-hoc.

    Best of the Econ Blogosphere
    The past couple weeks, the econ blogosphere has been afire with discussions of central banks targeting nominal GDP (NGDP) in flavor of inflation. If you are interested, check out the Economist’s blog, or Brad DeLong, Christina Romer in the NYT, etc. I have to follow this stuff professionally, but so far the whole debate has not produced a post interesting *and* comprehensible enough to highlight here. Instead:

  • A Topological Mapping of Explanations and Policy Solutions to our Weak Economy. (via RortyBomb) A very helpful mapping of the otherwise messy current policy debates. The key diagram is here:
    via RortyBomb

  • Has the US Defense Department killed a million Americans since 2001? John Quiggin puts opportunity cost logic to work to a very serious end.

    So, since 9/11, US defense spending has been chosen in preference to measures that would have saved 1.5 million American lives. That’s not a hypothetical number – it’s 1.5 million people who are now dead but who could have been saved. I think its fair to say that those people were killed by the Defense Department, or, more precisely, by the allocation of scarce life-saving resources to that Department.

  • Best of the PoliSci Blogosphere

  • Larry Bartels is blogging on The Monkey Cage, which is super exciting. Here’s his post on economic forecast models and Barack Obama’s election chances: The President’s Fate May Hinge on 2009.
  • Andrew Gelman has an excellent critique of a recent economics journal article on traffic congestion. The paper finds that adding lanes to highways doesn’t alleviate congestion, more people drive to fill up the roads, so we shouldn’t bother adding more lanes to fight congestion. Gelman out econs the economists, and replies:

    To which I reply: Sure, if your goal is to curb traffic congestion. But what sort of goal is that? Thinking like a microeconomist, my policy goal is to increase people’s utility. Sure, traffic congestion is annoying, but there must be some advantages to driving on that crowded road or people wouldn’t be doing it, right? (Just to be clear: I’m serious here. This is not intended to be some sort of parody of economic reasoning. I do believe that people venture out in traffic for a reason.)

  • Best of the Stats Blogosphere

  • Andrew Gelman’s Statistical Lexicon. Gelman gets two this week because he’s that good. This is an older entry, updated frequently, with handy links to explain Gelman’s statistical pet peeves. Highly recommended for all social scientists: reading these posts will make you feel smarter and spot all manner of statistical chicanery. For example, “The statistical significance filter: If an estimate is statistically significant, it’s probably an overestimate.”
  • Best Long Essay on Politics and Economics

  • The Romney Economy (via NYMag). A long essay on Romney’s history in business, and how Bain Capital reshaped corporate America. Features quotes from prominent economic sociologists! Don’t delay, read it now!
  • Best Commentary on Commentary

  • The AV Club’s Nathan Rabin visits the Jersey Shore academic conference:

    Perusing the schedule for the recent Jersey Shore Academic Conference at the University of Chicago, a strange thought hit me: I worried that I didn’t know enough about the theories of French philosopher Michel Foucault to be able to really understand a series of talks about Jersey Shore.

    The post ends with a little meta-restraint that is beautifully put:

    The Jersey Shore conference was devoted to obsessive, intense, highly informed analysis and commentary about something most people find utterly unworthy of thought, let alone intense or rigorous intellectual contemplation. There’s a phrase for that outside the Jersey Shore Academic Conference: It’s called The Internet, or more specifically, The A.V Club.

    At the end of the Jersey Shore Academic Conference, the question wasn’t, “Are we thinking about Jersey Shore too much?” It was, “Dude, are we thinking about Jersey Shore enough?” An academic conference about the Jersey Shore Academic Conference would be taking the whole thing a little too far, though.

  • Tales of Google NGrams

  • “Very Unique” is on the rise. Sorry.
  • Strangest #OWS-related link

  • Best Econ Humor

  • Greece Offers to Repay Bailout With Giant Horse (via the Borowitz Report). Onion-style, the title really says it all.
  • Best Interdisciplinary Humor

  • How Academics Call Something Boring (via SMBC). Suggestions for Sociology include: “That’s common sense,” “That’s just journalism,” or my favorite, “That’s descriptive.”
  • Best Nerd Humor

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 8 plots. A twitter feed with amazing fake plots for the unfilmed 8th season of TNG. A sample:

    ‎”Riker finds a spider in his shower, immediately detaches the saucer section.”
    “A sentient nebula chases the ship, which has nowhere to hide, because usually it would be in a nebula. Data adopts a dog, snake, and parrot.”

  • * Popular demand, in this case, means one person asked about it.

    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).
  • Weekly Link Roundup: Debates, Downgrades and Discworld

    Or, “Dan Hirschman reads the internet so you don’t have to.”

    Best of the Econ Blogosphere

  • The Difference Between S&P and Moody’s (Felix Salmon). A very clear and helpful explanation of the different ratings philosophies of S&P and Moody’s. Key takeaway: S&P only cares about probability of default while Moody’s cares about expected losses. Hence the difference approach to US debt – our probability of default (in the technical sense) went up, even though the expected loss is still very low to negligible.
  • Best of the Soc Blogosphere

  • How Economists, Political Scientists, Sociologists and Anthropologists see each other. OrgTheory’s Omar has put together a fun chart showing how we social scientists demonize or lionize each other.
  • Tales from the Culture Wars?

  • A Washington State Indian Tribe Approves Same-Sex Marriage (NYTimes). A heartwarming story about a small tribe that approved same-sex marriage.
  • Politics

  • The Economist live-blog of the Republican Debate. For me, there are two things that make most hard to watch political events worthwhile: The Daily Show/Colbert Report and The Economist live-bloggers. A few sample lines:

    ‎9:07: Asking Ron Paul how he would calm the markets is like asking John Wilkes Booth how he would improve theatergoers’ viewing experience.
    9:55: I have never been as sure of anything as Michele Bachmann is of everything.
    ‎10:39: Tim Pawlenty’s hand gestures are exactly the same as those of the Tin Man, pre oil-can.

  • Discworld’s Terry Pratchett on Death and Dying (via NPR). Beloved fantasy author Pratchett is dying of Alzheimer’s, and has taken up the cause of legalizing assisted suicide. A sad story, but an important one.
  • Fake News

  • All roads to Michigan Stadium set for construction via The News of Ann Arbor, a newish fake news site. Their work is excellent, but much more specific to A2 (or similar college towns) that the Onion. This story was particularly chilling as it took me a few minutes (and the 4th paragraph) to remember that it was fake news.
  • Nerdy

  • Fashion It So: The Most Toys (3.22). Fashion It So is a tumblr blog that critiques the fashion of Star Trek: The Next Generation episode by episode. This week’s was a pretty good example of a hilarious site.. if you’re a big ST:TNG fan and enjoy critiques of the form: “There must be a wormhole holding this thing together, because this outfit is definitely from two different quadrants, amirite or amirite?”
  • Patrick Rothfuss Reread. Accomplished (and excellent) SF/F author Jo Walton is re-reading Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear” and doing detailed, chapter by chapter analysis and interpretation. It’s impressive to watch an author critique and (mostly) praise another, and to see the details of Rothfuss’ amazingly rich web of stories and allusions. Recommended for anyone who has read and enjoyed the first two books of Rothfuss’ trilogy and is eager for the third.
  • Weekly Link Roundup: Inaugural Edition

    In the past, I haven’t posted a lot of links in this blog (especially without substantial commentary). I’m going to try posting a set of links of the coolest things I’ve seen on the interwebs for a few weeks and see how it goes. If nothing else, it will serve as an easier way for me to keep track of all those links. I’m sure I’ll play around with the categories as I go along.

    Best of the Econ Blogosphere

  • S&P and the USA (Paul Krugman). There were many posts in the last 24 hours about S&P’s downgrade of the US to AA+, but I thought Krugman put it best: “In short, S&P is just making stuff up — and after the mortgage debacle, they really don’t have that right. So this is an outrage — not because America is A-OK, but because these people are in no position to pass judgment.”
  • Academic

  • Myths About Fair Use (via Inside Higher Ed): “Reassure your publishers that you can use that film still, magazine cover, advertisement or cartoon (if, of course, it’s in service of your scholarly argument, not a mere decoration), without licensing it. And be persistent; you may be the first academic they’ve met who knows your fair use rights.”
  • Tales from the Culture Wars?

  • Putting an Antebellum Myth to Rest: “Though slaves could not marry legally, they were allowed to do so by custom with the permission of their owners — and most did. But the wedding vows they recited promised not “until death do us part,” but “until distance” — or, as one black minister bluntly put it, “the white man” — “do us part.””
  • The Evolution of the Hipster (via YouTube). One part Foucauldian genealogy, one part Lamarckian evolution, with a touch of Hegelian dialectic thrown in. Told by puppets.
  • Vonnegut Library Donates Copies Of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ To School District Where It Was Banned (via HuffPo). It’s 2011, can we stop banning Vonnegut already? Also, it’s interesting how Vonnegut is portrayed as a war hero. I wonder how he’d feel about that.
  • Politics

  • Wisconsin Democratic voters targeted with Koch-funded absentee ballot notices advising them to vote 2 days after the recall election (via BoingBoing). About as gross an electoral strategy as you can get.
  • The most hilariously effective signs supporting gay marriage. Personal Favorite: “I liked it but I couldn’t put a ring on it.”
  • Humor

  • Obama Turns 50 Despite Republican Opposition
  • Drunken Ben Bernanke Tells Everyone At Neighborhood Bar How Screwed U.S. Economy Really Is (both via The Onion, which has been on fire the past few weeks.)
  • Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus: In honor of Shark Week, the most amazing clip from the monster movie of the same name.
  • This is how every government organization should tweet (via MSNBC): A list of funny tweets from the Australian census that come close to justifying Twitter’s existence.
  • Fiction

  • The Other Large Thing: A delightful short story by SF author John Scalzi.
  • Nerdy

  • Tonight (D&D Song). This song is far prettier than it has any right to be, and makes me a bit sad I’m not at Gen Con this week.