Photo by boltron- via
Photo by Nate Bolt via

If you’ve ever taken a survey, you know what it’s like to feel limited in giving an opinion: a simple “agree” or “disagree” doesn’t always capture the complexity of opinions; a few blank lines may leave too much room for you to be clear in your response; or maybe you don’t have an instant opinion when probed about a given subject, but you heard your mom talking about it, you feel forced to pick a side, and you quickly regurgitate her opinion.

These are only a few reasons sociologist Herbert Gans warns that “public opinion polls” can’t live up to the name. As he points out in an article from the Nieman Journalism Lab:

If poll results can be interpreted as opinion, they are pollster-evoked or passive opinions. They are not the active opinions of citizens who feel strongly about, or participate in some way in the debates about forthcoming legislation or a presidential decision.

Gans explains the differences between “answers” and “opinions,” and suggests that the media start informing its audiences on this subject. He also believes that the media should start offering more context around public opinion poll results to illustrate what the public is actually thinking. As it stands, communications to elected officials or involvement in town-hall meetings and demonstrations may be far more representative of a given community’s “opinion” than poll results.

Just gotta find the gold one… Photo by takingthemoney via
Just gotta find the gold one… Photo by takingthemoney via

It’s been decided! The winner of the March 2013 TSP Media Award for Measured Social Science goes to:

Anthropology Inc.,” Graeme Wood, The Atlantic.

Wood explains that corporations are seeking the help of social scientists to understand the qualitative dynamics of consumer behavior. To illustrate, Wood delves into one strategy consulting company’s struggle to understand consumers’ needs in China:

“We find that these objects have meanings, not just facts,” Madsbjerg says, “and that the meaning is often what matters.” So to sell a personal computer in China, for example, what matters is the whole concept of a “personal” computer, which is culturally wrong from the start. “Household objects don’t have the same personal attachment [in China as they do in America]. It has to be a shared thing.” So if the device isn’t designed and marketed as a shared household object, but instead as one customized for a single user, it probably won’t sell, no matter how many gigahertz it has.

TSP author Andrew Wiebe wrote a citing on this article which outlines the problem-solving Absolut Vodka did with the help of anthropologists. To see more examples of how social scientists are helping unearth consumer insights, check out Wood’s article—a lengthy, but fascinating read.

As we say often, the choice of each month’s TSP Media Award is neither scientific nor exhaustive, but we do work hard to winnow our favorite nominees. And, while we don’t have the deep pocketbooks to offer enormous trophies or cash prizes, we hope our informal award offers cheer and encouragement for journalists and social scientists to keep up the important (if not always rewarding) work of bringing academic knowledge to the broader public.

A Showtime ad for Gigolos.
A Showtime ad for Gigolos.

Women watch porn and go to strip clubs. They also pay for sex. Sociologist Kassia Wosick from New Mexico State University says this reality is now becoming part of the television canon, making it more “real” for the rest of society. Shows like HBO’s Hung and Showtime’s Gigolos revolve around women as sexual consumers. In an interview with Las Cruces Sun, Wosick explains her motivation:

I wanted to do research like this as opposed to just going out and asking women about their experiences to see the way the media constructs this, because media is essentially supposed to be a reflection of our everyday lives….

Still, we might ask, is this what women want to watch or what they’re given to watch? Through content analysis and focus groups, Wosick has found that women do feel connections with the shows. The racy viewing might be exactly what they need to chip away at a taboo of sexual consumerism and enjoy some the same pleasures that men are allowed—in fact, the images might be empowering and support egalitarianism:

Women participating as sexual consumers challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality, which I argue is key in equalizing gendered power dynamics within society.

Just gotta find the gold one… Photo by takingthemoney via

We are stoked to announce February’s winner of the TSP Media Award for Measured Social Science:

A New Explanation for the Racial Gap,” Kevin Hartnett, Boston Globe’s Brainiac blog.

In her brief summary, TSP author Erin Hoekstra describes the sociological study from Hartnett’s blog which tests the causes of today’s white-black wealth gap. The findings? Around 27% of the wealth gap is caused by middle-income blacks who are offering informal loans to their family members in need rather than investing that money.

As we’ve said before, the choice of each month’s TSP Media Award is neither scientific nor exhaustive. We do work hard to winnow our favorite nominees.  And, while we don’t have the deep pocketbooks to offer enormous trophies or cash prizes, we hope our informal award offers cheer and encouragement for journalists and social scientists to keep up the important (if not always rewarding) work of bringing academic knowledge to the broader public.

1303_Cover_Race-227x300The lead article in the most recent Philadelphia Magazine, “Being White In Philly” by Robert Huber, has—to put it politely—spurred a lot of talk. Huber devotes his article to sharing the “true” voice of white people scared to speak their minds about the many struggles they face living among Philadelphia’s black residents. Since publication, Huber has been told in numerous venues that his piece ignores personal and institutional histories of racism, has an ugly, discriminatory core, and essentially perpetuates bigotry. Is Brotherly Love dead?

Charles Gallagher, chair of race and ethnic relations at LaSalle University, commented on Fox 29 News that indeed, everybody talks about race, whether privately or publicly. But, Gallagher says, Huber’s article only focuses on the opinions of white residents in a mixed neighborhood. What about people from minority groups? White residents across neighborhoods of varying segregation? Are there no “white voices” that enjoy living in a heterogeneous city? As a sociologist, Gallagher emphasizes that, beyond being offensive, Huber’s piece generalizes where it has no grounds to do so: there is no single voice of white Philadelphians.

Steve Volk, a colleague of Huber’s, crafted his response on one of The Philly Post’s blogs. In it, Volk dismantles the original piece to reach a refreshingly blatant conclusion:

[Huber] seems to miss the obvious here, which is that if white Philadelphians would like to be able to address race without being labeled “racist,” they should avoid saying racist things.

We all love when our partners help out around the house, but the type of tasks we’re doing might affect our sex lives. A recent study by Sabino Kornrich and her colleagues found that married, heterosexual men who do traditionally masculine chores, like mowing the lawn and taking out the trash, reported more frequent sex than those who tackle traditionally feminine chores, like cleaning. The findings imply that heterosexuals are essentially “rewarded” for sticking closely to socialized gender roles.

He might want to think about this. Photo by Heather Harvey via

But what about the married men who enjoy cooking and shopping? Ultimately, a couple’s sex life depends on the happiness and satisfaction in the relationship. There are plenty of couples that don’t divvy up their chores along rigidly gendered lines and still manage to be sexually fulfilled. The dealbreaker, even Kornrich says, is when the man doesn’t play any part in the script—masculine or not.

“Men who refuse to help around the house could increase conflict in their marriage and lower their wives’ marital satisfaction,” Kornrich said.

“Earlier research has found that women’s marital satisfaction is indeed linked to men’s participation in overall household labor, which encompasses tasks traditionally done by both men and women.”

This Chinese park sign forbids prostitutes (along with superstitious activities, kite-flying, and feudalism), but says nothing about mistresses. Photo by Yendor Oz via

Providing sexual services in exchange for money is illegal in many parts of the world, “oldest profession” or not. And where prostitution is legal, it is often not regulated, leading to a whole new set of problems. On the other hand, being a long-term, extramarital lover may be frowned upon, but it’s generally not illegal. Sociologist and sex researcher Li Yinhe argues (as reported by the online edition of the South China Morning Post) that if mistresses and prostitutes are in the “same supply-chain”—that is, they essentially provide the same service—then prostitution should be decriminalized. In her talk at a “Love and Culture” forum, Li went on to discuss modern marriage, which she also sees in socio-economic terms:

…[T]he sociology professor said that judging from its current form, [marriage] would soon break away from its “shackles” and become more “free”… “The reason we had marriage was [traditionally] to bear children and allow each generation to inherit private property,” she said.

“If there are other uses for property and less cohabiting couples raising children, then the institution of marriage is likely to become extinct,” she added.