methodological innovations

In this special edition of Give Methods a Chance, we talk with Chris Uggen to get context and insight to a recent retraction of a political science article in Science and the resulting public discourse around the study under question.

“Outright fraud, where people make up data, is likely to be exceedingly rare–in part because it is not sustainable over a long term. As academics, we rely on our professional reputation. So you might be able to get a paper published, which might even get you a job, but, long term, it just isn’t in anyone’s interest to falsify data.”
– Chris Uggen – 

In this episode, we talk with Devah Pager, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Pager studies institutions affecting racial stratification, including education, labor markets, and the criminal justice system.  Pager’s recent research has involved a series of field experiments studying discrimination against minorities and ex-offenders in the low-wage labor market. Her book, Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago, 2007), investigates the racial and economic consequences of large scale imprisonment for contemporary U.S. labor markets. You can read the study we discuss here.

“It’s a nice blend between experimental methods that are heavily controlled and that isolate a causal mechanism, but it’s an experiment that’s taking place in real world settings. The devil is in the details. Keep in mind that it sounds like a very simple approach, but there are a lot of complexities to carry it out effectively.”
– Devah Pager –

On this episode of the Give Methods a Chance podcast , we are joined by Dr. Andrew Billings. Andrew is the Ronald Reagan Endowed Chair in Broadcasting in the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama. He has authored books on a range of topics including Fantasy Sport and coverage of the Olympic games.  His scholarship has also attracted interest outside academic walls from mainstream outlets ranging from the The Boston Globe to the Los Angeles Times to We talk to Andrew about his use of quantitative content analysis to study traditional and social media coverage of NBA player Jason Collins’ coming out as gay.

“One barrier, and this is certainly true with more and more social media, is that there is an incredible amount of, it is not really negativity, of course there is negativity out there…Coding for sarcasm can be really tricky. And that is the reason we can’t use, with most of the work I do, I can’t send it through a content analysis software program because inevitably it is going to code things differently than the way they come out.”
Andrew Billings – 

Keith N. Hampton is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, School of Communication and Information, and an affiliate member of the Graduate Faculty in Sociology at Rutgers University. His research interests focus on the relationship between new information and communication technologies, social networks, democratic engagement, and the urban environment. Today we discuss his project, “Social Interaction in Public Spaces: A Longitudinal Study.” The goal of this study is to understand change in the social life of urban public spaces over the past 30 years, using visual content analysis.

“This is truly the only way to do a longitudinal study of public space. We can hang out in a public space for months, or maybe even a year, but doing that for two or three decades is simply impossible. So, for any large scale, longitudinal study of urban public spaces, I think this is probably the only method that is available to us.”
– Keith Hampton – 

In this episode, guest host Sarah Shannon interviews Daniel Sui, Chair of the Department of Geography and Distinguished Professor of Social and Behavioral Science at The Ohio State University. Daniel has published extensively on the use of volunteered geographic information as well as the use of social media as a new data source for geographic and social science research. He joins us to share his thoughts on big data, the methodological challenges, and the methodological advantages.

“In terms of the applications of big data, it is limited by only your imagination. That is why big data has attracted interest by industry, government agencies all over the world, and, of course, academics and scholarly researchers.”
Daniel Sui-

In this episode, we talk with Naomi Sugie on using smartphones to collect data from research participants. Naomi is an Assistant Professor of Law, Criminology & Society at the University of California-Irvine. She shares findings from a study of recently released prisoners as they seek for work in Newark, New Jersey.

“Smartphones are exciting data collection tools. They can collect real time data on peoples’ experiences while they are going about their every day lives. Smartphones have their limitations, but they open up a whole new area of research and the ability to just document peoples experiences. They can expand the realm of empirical investigation for researchers to consider questions and ideas we just weren’t able to think about before, using other methods.”
– Naomi Sugie-


In this episode, we talk with David Knoke, Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. We discuss the uses and benefits of network analysis, drawing upon his work on terrorist networks.

Though podcasting is at the heart of our project, we also plan to publish our episodes in a book of edited transcripts, making them even more accessible to students and instructors. You can download the edited transcript here. We’d love to hear your feedback on the multi-delivery format, and plan to release even more of these written versions on the site.


GMAC: We are here to talk about network analysis. If you were to introduce this method to an undergraduate class who had never heard of it, how would you describe it?

DK: If you go into a room full of people and ask how many people are “networkers,” they all raise their hand. They all know about Facebook and LinkedIn. So, intuitively, we all have a sense of social networks. We know who Mark Zuckerburg is. But, what most people don’t know is how to treat networking in a more systematic fashion. And this is what network analysis can do.

For instance, you can look at centrality of a network or do a core/periphery analysis. You can take a set of data and sort it by density clusters – high density, clustered folks who interact with each other, and then a periphery of folks who are less connected among themselves. There’s ego-centric networks, there’s complete networks, and there’s network change over time if you have longitudinal data.

There are many different foci. A classic example is a study of clique of women in the Mississippi Delta in the 1930’s. This study looked at a set of women who went to a series of parties. The question was, which women showed up at which parties? There was two modes: a set of folks, and a set of events.

What has most impressed me – and I’ve been doing this for close to 40 years – is how many different disciplines have been picking up network analysis. Anthropology and Sociology were there in the beginning, in the 1940s, but the real takeoff was the 1970s where a whole series of other disciplines begin to use it, such as Political Science. They even have an annual conference on network analysis. The students who take my course also come from a wide variety of disciplines, coming from departments you wouldn’t think of – like Forestry, Conservation Biology, and Rhetoric. It’s a real multi-disciplinary methodology.

We will use your recent research on terrorist networks as a way to understand how this method works. What were your central research questions?

This project is called “Three Modes of Al-Qaeda.” I ask, what are the lines of authority among a set of actors engaged in violent terrorist activities against Western targets?.

Instead of taking the narrative, historical approach of journalists, I formalized the study of Al-Qaeda by taking a network data collection approach. That meant reading a lot of online documents over a nearly twenty year span. I found 25 operations between 1992-2010 that had Western targets.

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In this episode we speak to Francesca Polletta. Francesca is a professor of sociology at the University of California Irvine. She is the author of It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics and Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements. Francesca has also authored many peer-review articles on social movements, democracy, and culture. Francesca joins us to discuss coding stories from online forums as a way of studying public deliberation.

“We really struggled with figuring out how to be flexible enough to capture what people what people do when they are actually telling stories, which is not to hue strictly to the formal criteria of formal storytelling. While, at the same time, not losing what makes stories interesting, which is that we know when we hear a story in conversation.”
– Francesca Polletta –