etc.

I recently discovered a blog sponsored by the Consortium of Social Science Associations. The Why Social Science blog seeks to “to share the benefits and contributions of federally-funded social and behavioral science research with the public and encourage its widespread use for tackling challenges of national importance.” The latest entry — “Because Social Science Helps Us Enhance Diversity in the Interest of Positive Societal Outcomes” — was penned by a graduate school classmate, Dr. Jean Shin!

“Who among us has not experienced the silent embarrassment of struggling to push open a door, only to realize it is clearly marked ‘Pull’? Or perhaps you’ve puzzled over an unfamiliar faucet, or been flummoxed by a light switch that defies logic.” So begins a Pacific Standard article about “Norman Doors,” beautifully designed but dysfunctional objects. See a bad door design video for additional information; the video references a 99% Invisible podcast about Norman Doors.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted an interesting article, “Can Social Science Tell Us How Much Gerrymandering is Too Much?” The article examines how social science research might impact pending Supreme Court arguments in the case Gill v. Whitford [No. 16-1161], which could have major political implications. For the article the Chronicle interviewed Philip Rocco, an assistant professor of political science at Marquette University. The author closes the interview with, “should we hold out hope that social science can really making a meaningful difference in some of these intractable problems we have in society?” Professor Rocco responds:

Social science begins with what people used to refer to as the social question. And especially in the early 20th century, there were a lot of examples where social scientists were working not to dictate the problems of society from on high, but working kind of in collaboration with people both in government and in social society, actors from philanthropies and labor-oriented interests, and large stakeholders, to solve social problems.

When social scientists extensively collaborate with others we can productively tackle contemporary social problems such as gerrymandering.

The National Parks Service has issued a report about the Reconstruction Era that followed the U.S. Civil War. According to a Pacific Standard article about the report, “a new initiative by the National Parks Service seeks to designate sites for their historic significance in the Reconstruction era. It’s a bold and vital move for an agency that has only recently begun to seriously address the racial complexities of the Civil War.” Indeed!

The Stanford University Tomorrow’s Professor e-newsletter recently examined the nature of the social sciences. In “What is Social Science?” Rom Harré — Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University — is interviewed by Nigel Warburton, co-author (with David Edmonds) of the book Big Ideas in Social Science. Harré and Warburton compare and contrast the social sciences with the physical sciences in a fascinating discussion.

Today is September 11, 2017, the 16th anniversary of the New York City and Washington D.C. terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. The Pacific Standard website has an interesting article about cable news re-broadcasts of their original coverage.

Pacific Standard recently published an article on improving U.S. Presidential election primaries. The author poses a provocative proportion: “How to improve the primary process? Make it less democratic. It sounds counterintuitive—and would be a hard sell—but making the way the two major political parties nominate candidates less traditionally democratic could also make it more open to compromise and negotiation.” Specifically, he argues that we should:

  1. Make the primaries and caucuses proportional rather than winner-take-all;
  2. Shorten the time between the first and last primaries and caucuses so that candidates who aren’t necessarily winning in fundraising might still make it to the end; and
  3. Make contests less about the candidates and more about the delegates. This could include unbinding delegates from the voters’ choices.

Very interesting!

The August 11, 2017 Google Doodle is about the 44th anniversary of the birth of hip hop. The doodle is interactive: one is invited to experiment with scratching and mixing records on two turn tables [just two turntables, though, not two turntables and a microphone]. I must admit that I spent a little too much time playing with it today! I also reminisced about my earliest experience with hip hop: with other 7th grade kids I improvised my own lines to raps by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five…I think that one of my lines was “Like Melle Mel I’m here to say, all the pretty girls come my way!” I didn’t pay much attention to hop hop again, however, until rooming with a high school buddy in my first year of college. At one time Charles Isbell maintained an online hip hop reviews page, but now he’s too busy with administration, as he’s the Executive Associate Dean and Professor in the College of Computing at our undergraduate alma mater, Georgia Tech. I wonder how many other deans out there were hip hop heads back in the day…

The New York Times“Economic View” section is “a column that explores life through an economic lens with leading economists and writers.” The March 17, 2017 entry has an interesting twist, as it asks, “What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?” Author Neil Erwin notes:

[A]s much as we love economics here — this column is named Economic View, after all — there just may be a downside to this one academic discipline having such primacy in shaping public policy.

They say when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And the risk is that when every policy adviser is an economist, every problem looks like inadequate per-capita gross domestic product.

Another academic discipline may not have the ear of presidents but may actually do a better job of explaining what has gone wrong in large swaths of the United States and other advanced nations in recent years.

Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to.

Erwin discusses a 1967 proposal by then Senator Walter Mondale to create a White House Council of Social Advisers to compliment the Council of Economic Advisers. As a sociologist I’d be happy to see my disciplinary colleagues on the new council. As a social sciences dean I should state that other disciplines should also be represented! Regardless of membership, it is doubtful that the Trump White House would entertain the possibility of a White House Council of Social Advisers [or Advisors; I prefer the -or vs. -er spelling]. Perhaps this idea can be revived when the 46th president takes office….

Democracy in the United States is currently in rough shape, as declining trust and increasing inequality make it harder for citizens to find common ground. Michael Neblo is an Ohio State University political scientist who argues that bringing more individuals into the political discussion could reverse the process, and this increased discussion could be facilitated by the Internet. The Pacific Standard magazine recently conducted an interview with Professor Neblo. The interview concludes with, “I think there is room for angry protest in a democracy. If you think the Affordable Care Act is crucial legislation, by all means get out there and show them how angry you are at the prospect of it being dismantled. But there should also be room for civil, substantive discussion.” Indeed!