Posts tagged ‘satire’
| Gabriel |
(To be sung to the tune of “The Irish Rover“)
On the fourth of July two thousand and six
We plotted density, kernel
We had a parsimonious theory of cliques
To place in the grand flagship journal
In a flurry of chalk, we saw why the nodes so flock
It worked well as community detector
Then we worked out the specs, it had twenty-seven x
We’d specified the Control Vector
We had quadratic of time spent looking for work
We had dummy sets for SIC,
We had three million county-level fixed effects,
We’d a linear spline for distance from Rome
Homicides per hundred thousand!
We had eight million versions of former English colony
All dumped into the Control Vector
There was MLE (iteration four thousand three),
There was Poisson in lieu of a log
There were R libraries that never would work
And instruments nobody believed
There was the psych subject pool, they were drunk as a rule
And Huber-White to solve all problems
And the OECD, if that you can believe
Was the source for half the Control Vector
We were in review round seven when the funding ran out
And the department’s budget was cut
And all our FTE were reduced down to three
Just meself and some deadweight old nuts
Then the server crashed, what can you do with that?
The hard drives were turned right over
Hard crash on the ground, and no backup to be found
That was the last of the Control Vector
| Gabriel |
CLT never faileth: but whether there be speculations, they shall fail; whether there be talking heads, they shall cease; whether there be punditry, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we expound in part. But when the election actually happens, then that which is observed in sample shall generalize to the population. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish ideas that polls were deliberately biased. For now we see as through a homophilous social network; but then directly observe the population: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as my secret ballot remains unknown. And now abideth parameter, error, CLT, these three; but the greatest of these is CLT.
| Gabriel |
By a pretty wide margin (almost twice as many pageviews as the runner-up), Code and Culture‘s most popular post to-date was last year’s “Towards a sociology of living death.” If you speak French, also see some more good zombie sociology abstracts (on RCT and Bourdieuian) from Denis Colombi. I figured it was worth revisiting this between it being Halloween and the premiere of Walking Dead on AMC (which is based on a really good comic book and looks to be really good itself). Unfortunately, I could only think of one more entry to add to this literature:
Post-Marxism. Marx himself (in Die Nichtheilige Lebenstot) emphasized the question of under what conditions zombiekind would go from being a class of itself to a class for itself, but most later Marxists have agreed with Hall and Romero’s critique that it is meaningless to talk about class consciousness for entities that lack consciousness of any kind. Rather post-Marxists prefer to follow the question first elaborated in Gramsci’s Quaderni del Cimitero as to understanding the partial class autonomy of zombies as reflected in the dichotomy between traditional (i.e., hegemonic and slow-moving) and organic (i.e., anti-hegemonic and fast moving) zombieism. However as Boyle and Karabel noted, ascribing any appreciable socio-economic-political agency to zombies qua zombies (whether organic or traditional) is effectively indistinguishable from simply treating zombies as a class of their own with real class power to reshape society (specifically, into an apocalyptic hellscape).
| Gabriel |
And now I will describe in a figure the enlightenment or unenlightenment of our nature — Imagine human beings living in a school; they have been there from childhood, having their necks and legs chained. In the school there is a computer, and between the computer and the prisoners an LCD display. Inside the computer are databases, who generate various tables and graphs. “A strange parable,” he said, “and strange captives.” They are ourselves, I replied; and they see only the shadows of the images which the computer throws on the LCD; these they give names like “variables” and “models.” Suppose now that you suddenly send them out to do field work and make them look with pain and grief to themselves at the human subjects; will they believe them to be real? Will not their eyes be dazzled, and will they not try to get away from the light to something which is already in machine-readable format with a well-documented codebook and a reasonably good sample design and response rate?
| Gabriel |
Matt at Permutations links to a critique of the famous zombie epidemiology paper. The original paper was your basic diffusion model, which assumes spatial homogeneity, and as people like to do to these kinds of models, the critique relaxes that assumption. Specifically the new model assumes a gradient of areas that are relatively favorable to humans, perhaps because of resource stocks, terrain that’s easily defensible with a rifle, etc. The new model then finds that the equilibrium is not total apocalypse, but a mixed equilibrium with substantial depopulation with few zombies and a relatively large number of humans.
Being both the world’s foremost expert on the sociology of zombies and a diffusion guy, I feel obliged to weigh in on this. The new model adds a parameter of “safe areas” but assumes that “safeness” is exogenous. However, if the Romero movies have taught us anything, it’s that the defensive resources are only effective if they aren’t sabotaged by the internal squabbles of humans. (If you’re not familiar with Romero’s movies, think of what Newman from Seinfeld did in “Jurassic Park”). Thus you’d have to add another parameter, which is the probability in any given period that some jackass sabotages the defensive perimeter, steals the battle bus, etc. If such sabotage eliminates or even appreciably reduces the “safe area” efficacy then human survival in the “safe areas” is contingent on the act of sabotage not occurring. If we assume that p(sabotage) is 1% in any given month, then the probability of sabotage occurring at least once over the course of two years is 1-.99^24, which works out to 21%. That’s not bad, but if we assume a p(sabotage) per month of at least 2.9% then there’s a better than even chance that we’re fucked. Having a dim view of human nature, I don’t like those odds.
So a more elaborated model would not only have to add in parameters for spatial heterogeneity, but also human sabotage. The two probably interact in that the higher the probability of sabotage, the more important it is to have many small resource islands rather than one big resource island. This may have policy implications in terms of how and where we stockpile resources in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
| Gabriel |
UCLA has created a “report bias” website where you can file a report about “Any demeaning, derogatory or otherwise offensive behavior directed toward any individual on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or other group characteristics.” Now given that sociologists study issues like race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other group characteristics, and it’s at least conceivable that we might have research findings on these issues that people might consider to be “demeaning, derogatory or offensive” this might seem like a threat to our academic freedom. Fortunately this isn’t a problem in practice because (as section “D” of the ASA code of ethics will tell you) sociologists are scrupulous respecters of dignity and worth who don’t tolerate any form of bias.
I’m just glad I don’t teach classical theory because I really don’t see how I’d be able to lecture about Weber’s ideas of contrasting thrifty Calvinists and decadent Catholics or Durkheim’s ideas about suicidal Lutherans (let alone his very serious attempts to grapple with 19th century racial phrenology) or Marx’s thoughts on “the Jewish Question”.
| Gabriel |
| Gabriel |
In the 16th century the Norman aristocracy paid to have the Rouen Cathedral renovated so they could eat butter during Lent (this is back when the Catholic church had a hardcore vegan Lent of the style still practiced by the Ethiopian church). More recently, my fellow members of the new class have taken to paying third world peasants to remain third world peasants in order to assuage our guilt about using air travel. In a perfect demonstration that if it was a good idea before Martin Luther, then it remains a good idea now, the Vatican has gone carbon neutral. Of course this isn’t very hard for a 108 acre country whose main carbon emission is some pope smoke every decade or so.
Anyway, the latest innovation in the logic of indulgence is the bad code offset. As regular readers of this blog know, it’s going to take code purgatory at least a few centuries to compile my soul. I’m hoping to avoid most of that by diverting some of my grant money to buy a few thousand lines of code offset.
| Gabriel |
Goddess, sing of the sublime and funky love of Brother West,
celebrated, hyped, that cost Harvard many grad students,
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Summers lord of Cambridge and brilliant Brother West
Professor Hopkins, priestess of MIT,
approached the scholars to move up her daughter’s defense date,
and send her onto the job market, then flourishing
at private schools with reckless investments,
and at state schools with tax windfalls.
The king dismissed her, “Never again, old bitch,
let me catch you west of Beacon Street!
The girl–I won’t give up the girl. Long before that,
old age will overtake her in my office, in Littauer Hall,
far from the grad housing, slaving back and forth,
at the computer, forced to co-author my papers!”
Hopkins was terrified and nearly fainted. She obeyed the order,
taking the T back to Kendall Square.
Moving to a safe distance she called the New York Times,
“Hear me Gray Lady! Voice of the conventional wisdom,
who strides central Manhattan sacrosanct.
If ever I got back to you with a quote when you were on a deadline,
Pay the scholars back–your op-eds for my tears!”
Nine days the barbs of the pundits rained down through the scholars.
On the tenth day Brother West called the tenured faculty to muster.
Once they’d gathered, crowding the faculty senate,
the poetical Brother West rose and spoke among them:
“Scholars, now we are humiliated, I fear our prestige is lost,
how can we ever recruit grad students, or junior faculty,
when we can scarcely show our faces at cocktail parties!
Conventional wisdom is enraged because the king spurred Hopkins,
he refused to let his grad student defend,
he refused to write a letter of recommendation,
That is why the pundits send us pain and will send us more,
not til we send the girl to the job market,
and create a hundred new diversity initiatives,
then we can calm the pundits, and only then appease them!”
Summers–furious, his aspy heart filled to the brim,
“Now, again, the pundits’ wrath,
assume for the sake of argument,
it is brought on by my keeping the girl.
Indeed, I want her in my lab! I rank her
higher than my faculty co-authors.
But I am willing to let her defend, even so,
if that is best for all. What I really want
is to keep our US News ranking,
not see us displaced by Yale.
But I shall raise our rankings again,
by meeting regularly with the university professors,
to see that they are still writing scholarly works,
and not just recording mediocre pop music,
or appearing on television.”
A dark glance
and the headstrong philosopher answered him in kind: “Shameless–
armored in shamelessness–always shrewd with arrogance!
What do you care? Nothing. You didn’t write Race Matters.
And now you threaten to strip me of my dignity–
that I fought for long and hard, working in
theology and philosophy.
No more now–
down go I to Princeton. Better that way by far,
to journey to my doctoral institution on the Acela.
I have no mind to linger here disgraced,
monitored like a miscreant grad student!”
But the lord of men Summers shot back,
“Desert, by all means–if the spirit drives you home!
I will never beg you to stay, not on my account.
Go home with your colleagues and grad students,
lord it over the Jerseymen!
You are nothing to me–you and your overweening agape!”
So Brother West wept and prayed,
the proud philosopher groaned: “You know, you know,
why labor through it all? You know it all so well …
I wrote Race Matters once,
I saw it translated into Japanese, Italian, and Portuguese.
I wrote The American Evasion of Philosophy once,
and it was translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Italian.
My book Democracy Matters was translated into Spanish,
and printed a hundred thousand fold –
there’s also an edition that’s selling in the French-speaking world.
All nineteen of my books are still in print,
with the exception of the two that won the American Book Award in 1993.
But when called to appease the Times,
Summers takes from me my dignity, my autonomy.
But you, Jesus, if you have any power at all,
protect your son! Go to DC, plead with US News and World Report,
persuade them somehow to bring Yale up in the rankings,
to let students choose Yale over Harvard,
to let the scholars see their grants rejected,
let there be nary an NIH R01 at HMS!
So all can reap the benefits of their king–
so even mighty Pinker can see how mad he was,
to disgrace Brother West, the best of the faculty!”
| Gabriel |
In a review essay, Vromen talks about the (whodathunkit) popular book/magazine-column/blog genre of economics-made-fun that’s become a huge hit with the mass audience in the last 5 to 10 years. Although Vromen doesn’t mention it, this can be seen as a special case of the science-can-be-fun genre (e.g., Stephen Jay Gould’s short essays that use things like Hershey bars and Mickey Mouse to explain reasonably complex principles of evolutionary biology.)
Vromen makes a careful distinction from the older genre of economists-can-be-funny (currently exemplified by the stand-up economist), which is really a special case of the general genre of scientists doing elaborate satires of their own disciplines for the benefit of their peers. There is an entire journal of this, but my all time favorite example is a satire of mid-20th century psychology in the form of a review of the literature on when people are willing to pass the salt at the dinner table. Two excerpts from the “references” section should suffice to convince you to click the link and read the whole thing.
- Festinger, R. “Let’s Give Some Subjects $20 and Some Subjects $1 and See What Happens.” Journal for Predictions Contrary to Common Sense 10, 1956, pp. 1-20.
- Milgram, R. “An Electrician’s Wiring Guide to Social Science Experiments.” Popular Mechanics 23, 1969, pp. 74-87.
If you don’t remember what Festinger and Milgram actually did in the 50s and 60s this won’t be funny, but if you do it’s hilarious. Hence, the scientists-can-be-funny genre is a self-deprecating genre for an audience of insiders that simultaneously demonstrates the joker’s mastery of the field and the field’s foibles. In contrast, the science-can-be-fun genre is targeted to a mass audience and is about demonstrating the elegance and power of the field. The former inspires humility among practitioners, the latter awe among the yokels.
One of the interesting things about the econ-made-fun literary genre is that it is largely orthogonal to any theoretical distinction within scholarly economics. The most prominent “econ made fun” practitioners span such theoretical areas as applied micro (Levitt), behavioral (Ariely), and Austrian (Cowen). In part because the “econ made fun” genre exploded at about the same time as the Kahneman Nobel and in part because “econ made fun” tends to focus on unusual substantive issues (i.e., anything but financial markets), this has led a lot of people to conflate “econ made fun” and behavioral econ. I’ve heard Steve Levitt referred to as a “behavioral economist” several times. This drives me crazy as at a theoretical level, behavioral economics is the opposite of applied micro, and in fact Levitt has done important work suggesting that behavioral econ may not generalize very well from the lab to the real world. That people (including people who ought to know better) nonetheless refer to him as a “behavioral economist” suggests to me that in the popular imagination literary genre is vastly more salient than theoretical content.
I myself occasionally do the “sociologists can be funny” genre (see here , here, and here) but these are basically elaborate deadpan in-jokes and I am under no illusions that anyone without a PhD would find them at all funny. I have no idea how to go about writing “sociology can be fun” (this is probably the closest I’ve come) along the lines of Levitt/Dubner or Harford, nor to be honest do I see any other sociologist doing it particularly well. There are plenty of sociologists who try to speak to a mass audience, but the tone tends to be professorial exposition or political exhortation rather than amusement at the surprising intricacy of social life. Fortunately Malcolm Gladwell has an intense and fairly serious interest in sociology and is very talented at making our field look fun.