[2012-Jun-07] Sociology Forecast

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[2012-Jun-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby lightbulb » Fri Jun 08, 2012 8:51 am

Hey everyone,

I have enjoyed Zach's webcomic for years and finally wanted to drop by to show my appreciation. I am particularly a fan of his "graph humour". :lol:

About today's comic. The first panel looks much more like a psychology paper than a sociology paper. First off the assumption that there even is an underlying "human nature" is much more prominent in the more mechanistic and biologistic world view of a larger part of the psychology science community. (at least at the conferences that I attended) Also the study with huge problems of external validity is more of a problem in psychology as well - I've seen countless little research projects in American universities, where they basically just called for a few students from the department, surveyed or experimented with them and then published some paper that later the popular science media will turn into a huge shinding about existential discovery on human nature. Personally I feel this is mostly due to a lot of psychologists insistance on using quantitative studies (like a quantitative survey) where it is either impractical or inappropriate as an effort to further validate the field. I guess a sociologist wouldn't use a survey but rather qualitative interviews with N=6 as an explorative method.

The last panel gives a good impression of a social problem: Luhmann's expectation-expectations (derived from Parson's double contingency).

All in all another well done comic with a bit of scientific background. Keep it up, Zach!
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby Salacious Schoolmate » Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:10 am

good to know
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby Gila Monster » Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:21 am

I think you're supposed to link to the comic you're talking about when you make one these threads. So...

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2634#comic
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby Salacious Schoolmate » Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:38 am

also sometimes we make an effort to make the title of the thread in some way humorous.
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby Kaharz » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:04 am

lightbulb wrote:I guess a sociologist wouldn't use a survey but rather qualitative interviews with N=6 as an explorative method.


Sociologists mainly use quantitative methods. Ideally you do a large sample size quantitative survey and as many qualitative interviews as you can. Usually there isn't funding or time for that though. Due to the small sample size, qualitative studies typically have a poor validity* and due to the superficiality of a quantitative survey, those studies usually have a poor reliability.** Since sociologists are typically trying to generalize to a large population, they tend to stick with quantitative studies. Anthropologists tend to favor qualitative studies as they are usually dealing with small populations. Or at least that was what I was taught when I studied sociology.

*The degree of confidence to which the results from a sample can be applied to the entire population the sample was taken from
**The degree of confidence with which the study will produce consistent results across different random samples**

**These are very general definitions, it is a bit more complicated.
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby Lethal Interjection » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:41 am

On a vaguely related note, I remember that my chem teacher in high school actually had a pretty decent idea about traffic forecasting.
The speed limit on major highways (or freeways, if you prefer) would be variable. During peak times the speed limit would lower, which in his mind would decrease the amount of stupid decisions people would make. People would be forced to slow down and therefore would be able to make better decisions.
Now, 10 years later, I've driven in enough traffic to be a little bit unconvinced that it would make all that big a difference during rush hour. However, I do see it being effective during other peak times (like, for example, when there are big events going on in the city).
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby Knowwhatimsayin » Fri Jun 08, 2012 12:30 pm

Why does sociology get such a bad rep? I hear intellectual chauvinists ridiculing sociology all of the time. But it seems like a lot of people conflate sociological scholarship and the faux-sociology in the culture/lifestyle pages of newspapers and magazines and on blogs, where some dumbass with a byline basically does the same thing portrayed in this comic: expounds on some alleged new trend or insight about humans based on the writer's observations of a handful of friends and coworkers.
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby Kaharz » Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:21 pm

Knowwhatimsayin wrote:Why does sociology get such a bad rep? I hear intellectual chauvinists ridiculing sociology all of the time. But it seems like a lot of people conflate sociological scholarship and the faux-sociology in the culture/lifestyle pages of newspapers and magazines and on blogs, where some dumbass with a byline basically does the same thing portrayed in this comic: expounds on some alleged new trend or insight about humans based on the writer's observations of a handful of friends and coworkers.


That is probably one of the main reasons. When reported in the popular media, most science gets horribly skewed, misinterpreted or overinflated. It just looks a little more ridiculous when it is sociology. A perfectly reasonable study about depression in prisoners gets reported as "Study Finds Prisoners are Depressed" and people just shake their heads at the ridiculousness and say "No shit, I can't believe my tax dollars were wasted on that."

The other problem is that most macro social theory is obviously flawed. Trying to describe general human behavior the world over with a single behavioral theory or set of theories is impossible. Sociologists themselves dismiss much of Durkheim's social theory out of hand. And when a layperson can easily spot holes in your argument, it makes your argument look rather shoddy.

I suspect though that a lot of it is because people don't like being told that large amounts of their behavior is socially programmed. Most people like to think of themselves as individuals and masters of their own destiny. Having it pointed out that a lot of what you do is because it is what you have been told to do chafes a bit. Especially with people who considered themselves to be enlightened and above the common rabble.
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Re: [2012-June-07] Sociology Forecast

Postby lightbulb » Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:31 pm

Gila Monster wrote:I think you're supposed to link to the comic you're talking about when you make one these threads. So...

http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2634#comic


My apologies.

Salacious Schoolmate wrote:also sometimes we make an effort to make the title of the thread in some way humorous.


Oh, I thought it would be the actual title of the comic and I was just too technically illiterate to find the title for that comic. Sorry. More effort next time. I promise. Really. Scout's honour!

Kaharz wrote:
lightbulb wrote:I guess a sociologist wouldn't use a survey but rather qualitative interviews with N=6 as an explorative method.


Sociologists mainly use quantitative methods. Ideally you do a large sample size quantitative survey and as many qualitative interviews as you can. Usually there isn't funding or time for that though. Due to the small sample size, qualitative studies typically have a poor validity* and due to the superficiality of a quantitative survey, those studies usually have a poor reliability.** Since sociologists are typically trying to generalize to a large population, they tend to stick with quantitative studies. Anthropologists tend to favor qualitative studies as they are usually dealing with small populations. Or at least that was what I was taught when I studied sociology.

*The degree of confidence to which the results from a sample can be applied to the entire population the sample was taken from
**The degree of confidence with which the study will produce consistent results across different random samples**

**These are very general definitions, it is a bit more complicated.


It really depends where you look at. To say sociologists mainly use quantitative methods is just as inaccurate as saying they mostly use qualitative research. The point I was trying to make was to say for that type of study or research question you would probably rather use a explorative method (particularly when you can expect a smaller sample size - which for some social phenomena is absolutely fine), which tend to be qualitative in nature. Neither quantitative nor qualitative methodology is better or worse but rather for a single research project you could deem one or the other more appropriate. But qualitative research generally has a worse standing in other science and in society, which makes it harder to find funding (and in turn makes it less popular among sociologists). What you described was the most commonly applied version of triangulation - where qualitative methods get shoehorned and crippled as pretests for the big quantitative survey as to validate some of the assumptions of for instance the answer categories. As I said it really cripples qualitative research as a methodology where in some cases it could be tremendously helpful. As you pointed out, most of the time there is neither the will nor the ressources to even do that.
All in all, as you can see, there is plenty of politics in science as well. Unfortunately. (I suppose rational choice theory could explain a bit of that.. :roll: )
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