This week’s polar vortex wasn’t just a freak freeze—for some it was deadly. Al Jazeera America reports at least 20 deaths across the United States from the weather, and some cases in which people experiencing homelessness struggled to find cover. Despite orders to keep shelters open 24 hours this week, many lacked access, facing limited space and police harassment for taking their own refuge. This research from warmer times help shed light on the issue.
Why would people experiencing homelessness refuse shelters in some cases? They are often trapped between policies which treat them as criminals for making their own shelter and sick if they seek help.
When the weather gets bad, it feels like us against the world. However, social policy often determines who becomes a “victim” of a natural disaster.

Last week atheist bloggers expressed their frustration when Oprah Winfrey suggested that distance-swimmer Diana Nyad’s atheism wasn’t really atheism. Op-eds from authors in the secular community reminded us that atheists appreciate lots of wonder in the world, and warned about stereotypical views of non-religious people. A few pieces of sociological work can also help explain the weight of her words.

Americans already hold negative opinions about self-identifying atheists, and many say atheists “don’t agree with their vision of American society.”
Oprah’s fame makes her a “moral entrepreneur”— someone with the power to define who the insiders and outsiders are in society. This makes her opinions more likely to influence viewers’ misunderstandings about atheism.

It’s Columbus Day! In 1492 he sailed the ocean blue and—well—historians, sociologists, and even web comic artists have been reminding us for a while now that he didn’t really “discover” America, so much as find the native peoples who were already living there. So, how does the narrative of Columbus day (or any other story in our history textbooks) keep coming up the same way year after year?

Columbus’ voyage isn’t the only historical story we tend to get wrong in the classroom.
These stories aren’t just mistakes, though. They represent political controversies that have raged in the American history curriculum for years.

In a recent report from Al Jazeera America on his first major interview, Pope Francis raises concerns that the Catholic Church needs to change its political priorities if it doesn’t want to “fall like a house of cards.” He argues that the church is focusing too heavily on “narrow” issues like gay marriage and abortion when it should be fostering a more inclusive message. Is this a new and necessary direction for Catholic politics in the United States, or just a flash in the pan?

Pope Francis may be right about church collapse. Many Americans choose not to affiliate with religion for political reasons.
It also isn’t just political. Narrow theological views on issues like gender and sexuality have an effect on who comes to Mass every week.
This isn’t the first shift, though, new leaders and changes in society have a long history of altering the church’s politics.
Plenty of organization for change can emerge from the church’s membership as well. Not all the discontented leave!

A recent report from the New York Times tells us that Washington may be loosening the leash on mortgage lenders, but a range of research from sociologists over the last five years suggests that there were actually multiple problems that led to the 2008 housing crash, and they weren’t all about financial regulation alone.

Modern mortgages arose when homeownership was politically popular.
Politicians often used economic policy to “punt” unpopular political conflict.
Subprime lending didn’t just take advantage of the poor—it was also a racial problem.