Posts tagged ‘ASA’

Maybe a reason it would have been better to keep ASA in Chicago

| Gabriel |

Matt Wray was interviewed today on the Freakonomics podcast to talk about his research on suicide in Las Vegas. My first thought was that his skillful redirection of the Hungary question demonstrates a good return-on-investment for RWJ’s media training. My second thought was to wonder how worried should I be that half the discipline will be visiting this desert oasis of self-murder this August. Let’s work out the math of the expected mortality, shall we?

About 85 Americans kill themselves a day, which out of a population of 300 million works out to a daily personal risk of 2.8*10^-7. Wray et al SSM 2008 estimates that the odds-ratio doubles during a visit to Vegas, which implies a daily risk of 5.6*10^-7. ASA usually has an attendance of about 4000 people, each of whom we can assume stays for about four days. This works out to 16,000 person-days, at a risk of 5.6*10^-7 per day, which works out to an expected 0.009 suicides. Of course, we have to account for the baseline risk had we all stayed home and presented papers via Skype, so the excess mortality is something like 0.0045 suicides. Another way to put this is that we could expect a single excess sociologist’s suicide if we were to hold ASA in Vegas every year for the next two centuries.

This blood will be on your hands, ASA!!! *

—————————
* For the benefit of people with no sense of humor and who extend the whole “civility” thing to ASA governance debates, I should be explicit that I’m kidding about this.

April 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm 6 comments

Thanks Kate

| Gabriel |

Most of you who would care about this have already seen it, but I just wanted to say publicly that ASA Secretary Kate Berheide has done a great job of providing a breakdown of the ASA’s finances.

Her report is in several pieces so I’ll give links to each of them:

  • The cover letter
  • Revenues and expenses broken out as much as possible by program. [I am particularly impressed by this one as it both must have been the most challenging to write and it goes the furthest towards helping us imagine counterfactual sets of priorities. It’s still a hard issue to get a handle on, but I think Kate made it as clear as it possibly could be. Note that the fact that dues are only a minority of revenues means that any change up or down in expenses has an outsize impact on dues].
  • The ASA’s need for more revenues and an explanation of what services have been cut recently and which would be restored.
  • Comparison to AAA and APSA. [Note that Kate leaves out AEA but is candid about this right up front on the basis of AEA having a somewhat different model in several different ways and in particular being a quasi-publisher. FWIW, AEA makes about $3 million in licensing fees as compared to about $2 million for ASA. My back of the envelope calculations are that this explains about half the gap in dues.]

These reports go a long way towards illuminating the ASA’s finances and why the leadership has proposed a substantial aggregate increase in dues revenue. Different people may differ about the merits of the dues increase but thanks to Kate we now have a much clearer picture of what’s at issue. I particularly appreciate how quickly she put the reports together and how open and gracious she was about considering what kinds of information would be useful to the membership.

April 25, 2011 at 3:29 pm

ASATransparency.org

| Gabriel |

As discussed before on this and other blogs, the ASA leadership has put a measure on the April/May ballot to increase the dues. The justification provided in Footnotes is extremely misleading by giving most of its attention to questions of distributional impact to the point that a reader could be forgiven for not noticing that it is a strictly monotonic hike for employed sociologists in all income brackets. What the leadership has not provided the membership is a justification of why the ASA should be the most expensive social science professional society, with the proposed dues being roughly two or three times as expensive as AEA and 10-20% more expensive than AAA or APSA. Basically, what services are we getting for the money and do we as a membership really support such expenses? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t, but certainly it’s a question we should take seriously.

Although I am personally optimistic that the ASA will gather and disseminate such information over the next year or so, this is information that the membership needs before voting on the dues hike. Whether or not we expect that on having such information that we would probably support or oppose the dues hike, we can all agree that at the present we lack sufficient information to make an informed decision. As such I urge my fellow ASA members to read and sign the petition at asatransparency.org that demands a better justification for the dues hike rather than just letting the ASA expand through a fit of absence of mind.

The text of the petition is reproduced below but you need to visit asatransparency.org to sign it:

We the undersigned sociologists1 hereby register our concern with the ASA leadership’s recommendation that the membership vote for a significant aggregate dues increase. (See the March issue of Footnotes for the recommendation and rationale.)2 We urge ASA members to vote against the proposed dues increase unless the ASA leadership presents a cogent explanation that specifically addresses why a substantial increase in total dues beyond the usual cost of living increase is warranted.

The published rationale argues that ASA dues should be more progressive. Like the ASA leadership, we support progressivity in the distribution of dues payments across the ASA membership. But what of the aggregate size of those payments? As shown inTable 3 of the Footnotes article, the proposal increases dues in every income bracket for employed sociologists.3 The new proposal does much more than just redistribute the dues burden in a more progressive way. It will also generate a substantial amount of new revenue, and the ASA has offered no explanation for why this is needed.

We believe that such a large aggregate increase in dues should be explained to members, before any vote, by a clear account of what more the ASA will be doing or why it needs to raise funds beyond a cost of living increase to continue existing services. This explanation must be specific about the services to be funded by additional dues revenue, and distinguish services that need additional dues funds from those that generate enough revenue on their own to break-even or make a profit. The explanation should also compare dues and services offered by peer organizations like APSA, AEA, and AAA, and provide a compelling explanation of why ASA leadership proposes dues that are higher.4

Unless the ASA leadership provides a compelling justification that meets these criteria before the May elections, we urge ASA members to vote against the new dues schedule.

 


 

Notes

1. “Sociologists” includes both Ph.Ds and graduate students in sociology, as well as other social scientists who engage in sociological research or teach sociology.

2. http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/mar11/dues_0311.html.

3. The proposal holds student dues steady and decreases dues for unemployed members by twenty dollars (http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/mar11/table3_0311.html), yet it appears the aggregate increase in other categories is far greater than what would be needed to simply balance this decrease for unemployed members.

4. For a comparison of current and proposed ASA dues with other social science organizations, see “A Comparative Look at ASA Membership Costs and Benefits“.

OK, now that you’ve read it, go to ASAtransparency.org and sign the thing.

April 7, 2011 at 4:35 am

Reply to Yesterday’s Comment

| Gabriel |

In the comments to a previous post, Don raised a series of points about the reform process and the nature of ASA governance. This seemed to be most directly in response to OW, who had her own response immediately below Don’s comment. Ezra and I also had some thoughts, which are largely similar to OW’s in emphasizing that we intend no animus and see the issues as largely structural. Since this is a reply to a public comment and largely concerns procedural issues of the nature of debate about the ASA, Ezra and I decided to post it publicly instead of sending it in a private e-mail.

Dear Don:

First, we’d like to thank you for your service to the discipline. We are sure that during your four years as treasury-secretary, you made many sacrifices and had to deal with all kinds of challenges, and obviously your motivations in taking on the job and working so hard at it were based on the purest of intentions. Indeed, it is our view that the ASA’s funding shortfall (if that is an accurate characterization for the rationale for the dues increase) is not a result of impure motivation but of an organization that has become institutionalized in such a way that it is not sufficiently transparent and inclusive. Individuals within such an organization – whether they be staff members or elected officers – may be capable, diligent, and having the best of intentions, but what they are up against is much bigger than themselves.

It is of course true that this manner of raising criticisms is somewhat unruly and the rules are unclear. For instance, is it right or wrong to use pseudyonyms? What to do about the fact that the questions come up here, there, and everywhere on different blogs?  We can imagine that from your perspective it can feel like playing whack-a-mole.

However please consider the situation as an organization theorist: do you really prefer a system in which concerns are channeled via private notes to the ASA president? We think it is not healthy for people to confine their concerns to “going through the proper channels” as isolated complainants. Rather, people who perceive a problem need to caucus amongst themselves to develop a common understanding of the problem and solutions to it. Sometimes they may discover that there are compelling answers for their concerns (for instance, the ASA has now provided a useful account about the interest-rate swap). At other times, they may collectively develop a more thorough understanding of issues that were not apparent at first (such as that journals are a profit center for the association, or that one of the main reasons the ASA is expensive is because it has adopted a mission of raising the public profile of the discipline), and these issue are then raised as policy issues for the membership to consider. As you noted, the ASA has an elected leadership; we would add that another positive externality of caucusing is to recruit informed, motivated candidates.

As to the issue of insulting the staff or officers, we certainly do not want to make ad hominem attacks and we have strived to avoid it. However there is the danger that too strenuous efforts to avoid giving offense will mean never criticizing strategies or policies. Doing so would create the danger of excessive status quo bias and possibly create structural rachet mechanisms. For instance, can we never question the necessity of the ASA providing a service lest the staff member who provides that service take offense?  And is it wrong to criticize a past decision lest the people responsible for it take offense?

Please consider in this regard: We can’t recall the last time that an ASA officer was elected on a reform ticket, or any kind of platform that involved criticism of how previous administrations have done things. In fact, we’re pretty sure that this has never happened.  There are a whole bunch of reasons that we think this has never happened, but we will refrain from offering them here.  Rather, we would just ask:  if we were to design a membership organization, wouldn’t we prefer one in which reform candidates have at least some possibility of existing, and in which the members are encouraged to gather in public spaces and debate the policies and practices of the organization?  The answer is obvious, and we apply it in every other organization or government in which we participate.  And if that is the answer, the ASA leadership should try to get past the feeling that they are being personally attacked, and realize that the firestorm of criticism is a very productive development for the organization, which should be channeled to reform the system. The first step in doing so is to provide (to the members as well as the leadership) a clear picture of how much the ASA spends on various services, how much it brings in through various revenue streams, and how this compares to peer organizations.  Having done so,we will all have a clearer picture of how the ASA works and whether it would be preferable to increase its revenues, decrease its ambitions, or some mix of the two.  And in this kind of environment, we can be confident that we will also make more productive uses of our resources such that we might realize our ambitions for sociology while using less of our members’ resources.

Yours,

Gabriel Rossman and Ezra Zuckerman

April 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm 9 comments

Regressive Aspects of the ASA Leadership’s T&T Policy

| Gabriel |

There are two big ironies about the ASA leadership’s preferred framing of the monotonic dues hike as being about a progressive fee structure rather than an increase in aggregate revenues. The obvious irony is that nobody has challenged the basic idea of a progressive fee structure or even a revenue-neutral bracket adjustment. What we have challenged is the aggregate increase in revenues and the lack of transparency in explaining why the ASA needs more money despite already being much more expensive than AEA.

The less obvious irony is that us aggrieved blogger types have proposed other reforms to make ASA more progressive and didn’t hear anything back from the leadership. The last time us bloggers got angry at ASA it was about treating the job bank as a profit center. ASA charges departments $200/month to be listed in the job bank, even if it’s a cross-disciplinary search. Not only that, but it discouraged the use of section listservs to circulate job announcements. That is, the ASA seems to view the job bank less as a service to the membership than as a fief bringing in rents and in this understanding alternative flows of job market information constitute something like tax evasion.

One obvious consequence of this set of policies is that while soc departments will just suck it up and pay hundreds of dollars for the ASA’s version of Craigslist, cross-disciplinary searches (area studies, various ethnic studies programs, comm studies, b-schools, etc.) that might be open to hiring sociologists can hardly be expected to pony up $200-$800 over the course of a search to attract PhDs from just one of the several disciplines they are interested in. This means sociologists don’t get these jobs. We can be even more specific and say that it is the younger and/or poorer sociologists who would be most interested in these openings and are most hurt by ASA’s high job bank fees. That is, current ASA policy of nickel-and-diming departments has a regressive incidence on the membership. The bloggers’ interest in revoking or relaxing this policy would mean relatively greater reliance on dues (which have always been progressive) and relatively less reliance on job bank fees that have an indirect regressive incidence on our weakest members. Net result, the total “tax and transfer” system of ASA is less progressive than it appears and that we proposed to make it through reforming the job bank.

When ASA eliminates its regressive job bank policy, then I’ll take the leadership seriously about how it would be progressive to adjust the dues structure upwards for the top-earning members but downwards for nobody. Until then I’ll assume that it’s just an organization that doesn’t know that there’s no shame in being a humbly efficient membership service organization and so it seeks all possible sources of revenue — whether they be progressive dues or (indirectly) regressive job bank fees — to finance its K-Street fantasies.

March 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm 12 comments

ASA’s K-Street Condo Delenda Est

| Gabriel |

I just renewed my ASA membership, mostly so I could vote no on the progressive fee structure essentially monotonic fee increase above and beyond recent COLA increases. This is a matter of principle to me — I’m not presenting at ASA this year so (even over the long-run) it would have been cheaper for me to just let my membership lapse this year. In the short-run we need to resist this fee increase as well as counter-productive nickel-and-diming like charging departments $200 a month to place job listings (including multi-disciplinary positions) in the job bank.

Obviously though these revenues are being spent on something so in the long-run we need to pare back the ASA to a less Quixotic ambitious organization. Economists seem to be pretty happy to pay less than us and get more journals in the bargain. The most important step is to get the ASA out of downtown DC, home to some of the country’s most expensive commercial real estate and high cost-of-living for skilled labor. I hear there’s a vacancy in the Nashville office building where AEA is based.

See also Kieran, Jenn, Jeremy, and most of all The Disgruntled Sociologist.

On a tangent, every time I renew my membership it agitates me that I have to check-off my ascent to the ASA Code of Ethics. It strikes me as a violation of academic freedom and intellectual honesty that my association considers it unethical to have unpleasant things to say about ascriptive groups. (Or are we allowed to say unpleasant things so long as we don’t, as is otherwise encouraged, draw policy conclusions from them?) As someone who mostly studies organizations rather than individuals this doesn’t directly affect me and I certainly hope that social reality conforms to the high egalitarian standards of Part D of the Code of Ethics, but I think we should allow for the theoretical possibility that a researcher acting in good faith could have research findings that paint some ascriptive group or other in a negative light.

March 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm 5 comments

An approximate rant

| Gabriel |

<rant>

In response to the first amendment case US v Stevens, Eugene Volokh comments on the majority’s statement that hunting videos are “several orders of magnitude” more popular than crush fetish videos. [This is important because the law at issue was motivated by fetish videos which are obscenity, but was drafted by Congress and used by prosecutors to also apply to non-obscene content]. Volokh presents the results of a reader poll he did recently showing that about a third of lawyers don’t know what “order of magnitude” means and on this he counsels that it might have been better for SCOTUS to say “more than a thousand times greater.” Given that a lot of lawyers don’t understand the phrase, Volokh is probably right for that audience. [It’s worth noting that Volokh himself is hardly innumerate, having earned a BA in math and computer science at the age of 15].

Similarly, the ASA Style Guide says that “order of magnitude” is too wordy and it’s better to use the word “ten.” I’m generally sensitive to the problem of wordiness (for instance, see Mark Twain’s fisking of Cooper) however the problem with the ASA’s advice is that “order of magnitude” does not mean “ten” but something more like “about ten.”

OK, so why not just say “about ten”? Because people will ignore the “about.” In a comment thread discussion I noted that even people who know better tend tend to reify point estimates. For instance, the advertising market is sensitive to measured changes in audience size that are well within the margin of error for audience surveys (Napoli 2003). What I like about the phrase “order of magnitude” is that unlike “ten,” or even “about ten,” the term makes it impossible to ignore the error bars.

The reason I agree with Volokh as regards to lawyers but disagree with ASA as regards to sociology is that lawyers can be forgiven for having priorities other than appreciating the uncertainty inherent in numbers but this should be a core issue for people who aspire to be scientists and if it isn’t then why the fuck do we bother making statistics a requirement at both the undergrad and grad level?

</rant>

July 5, 2010 at 2:41 pm

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