Sexual Harassment in Anthropology

A preliminary survey of 98 women and 23 male anthropologists finds 30% have been verbally abused whilst carrying out field work. A further 63% of women and 39% of men have faced sexualised comments in the field and 21% of women have been physically harassed – mostly by senior researchers in their field team. The study is being extended as more field researchers come forward and share their stories. One of the study’s researchers, Professor Kathryn Clancy, says that as more people complete the survey, it is apparent that sexual abuse in the field is more common, but women researchers do not speak up fearing the consequences on their academic careers:

“Taken together, these factors result in a particularly vulnerable population of victims and witnesses powerless to intervene. As a discipline, we need to recognize and remedy that an appreciable non-zero number of our junior colleagues, particularly women, are having to endure harassment and a hostile work environment in order to be scientists.”

Debt Amongst American Youth: Mixed Economic Outcomes

The Pew Research Centre reports that the proportion young people who own homes went down to 34% in 2011 compared to 40% in 2001. Also in 2011, only 66% of people aged 25 years or younger owned or leased a car compared to 73% of young people in 2001.

Good news is that credit card debt is down to 39% in 2010, in comparison to 50% of youth who had credit debt in 2001. Bad news is that student loan debt rose from 34% in 2007 to 40% in 2010. Then again, debt trends are mixed, as the median debt for young people is now $14,102, which is around $1,000 less than in 2007. These patterns reflect a shift in economic priorities after the recession as well as broader changes in society that include delayed marriage, which impacts on household formation and spending. 

Sociology Conundrum: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Close up of a chicken's head with its eyes seemingly accusingly with the title Sociology Conundrum -Which Came First the Chicken or the Egg

Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords says, 'which came first the chicken or the egg?'Sociology text books often use the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” conundrum to socialise students about the structure versus agency debate. That is, do societies shape individual choices, or do individuals have power and influence over the way in which societies are organised?

John Macionis and Ken Plummer talk about this as a classic question that relates to the way we see history: as the outcome of human action. How does the education system work? We need to understand not just the laws that make education mandatory, but also the legislators who provided the legal framework for how teachers are accredited, for the topics and texts that make up the curriculum, how exams are then tallied across the state, and thus impact on the educational, economic and health outcomes of every young person. This is the ‘chicken before the egg’ argument. You can’t have an educational system (or society) without individuals making decisions that determine the outcomes and mobility of others. Continue reading Sociology Conundrum: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

Dire Need for Senior Social Science Advisors

On the dire need for senior social science advisors in the UK:

“The Government scrapped the post of Chief Social Science Advisor in 2010, dividing the work between two officials, who have other roles. At present there is no senior social scientific advisor, and very few of the 20 or so departmental scientific advisors are qualified social scientists with detailed knowledge of the research community and a standing with them… Without this role, no government can be fully informed about the best policies to reduce crime, ensure social mobility and cohesion, run our cities, protect our countryside, get people to take climate change seriously, and much more.”  

Gender and the Rise of the White British Middle Class

The rise of the White British middle class had its origins in the servitude of “wayward girls.” A new BBC series based on the book by Pamela Cox (in turn based on her PhD) examines domestic service in Britain between the 1840s and 1940s. In the 19th Century, “respectable” jobs were scarce for White working class women who wanted to escape farm work and so they opted for domestic service, which consisted of up to 17 hours work daily. Cox says:

“Service was vital to the social reproduction of labour and class power… Middle class enterprise was one of the main engines of economic growth. Middle class household structure and reputation was inseparable from that enterprise – and servants were, in turn, vital to the maintenance of those household structures and reputations.”

Science Confirms Literature is Good for Your Brain

zeezeescorner: This is great for lovers of literature and critical thinking, and especially for Jane Austin fans:

By asking a test group of literary PhD candidates to read a Jane Austin novel inside of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, a Stanford researcher has found that critical, literary reading and leisure reading provide different kinds of neurological workouts, both of which constitute “truly valuable exercise of people’s brains.”

The study was conducted under the supervision of cognition and neurobiology experts at Stanford, but it is the brainchild of literary English scholar Natalie Phillips, who was interested in figuring out exactly what the value of studying literature is. Aside from the pursuit of literary knowledge and the aspects of culture, history, and the humanities that are tied up in our collected written works, does reading impart any kind of tangible benefit to us as humans?

Science Confirms the Obvious: Literature is Good for Your Brain

Bad Methods Used Against LGBTQIA Families

It seems to me that, rather than trying to answer questions when you don’t have the necessary data to do it, perhaps you should ask different questions. Certainly, we all do the best with the data we can get, but it is never alright to draw conclusions that your data don’t support—and Regenerus’ data simply cannot answer the question he set out to ask. And when your research questions the legitimacy of people’s families—my family—I demand higher research standards.

In Sociology Lens, a blogger named only Amanda critiques the new study by sociologist Mark Regenerus. Regenerus has published a paper arguing that children from heterosexual parents are better off than children raised by lesbian and gay parents. I recently posted that academic research actually shows that this is not true. Studies actually show that children of LGBTQI families are slightly better off than kids from heterosexual families with respect to aspiring to more progressive gender roles. In other respects they are similar, when you factor in class differences.

Amanda notes that Regenerus’ research on gay and lesbian families has produced contradictory findings due to the study’s poorly conceived methodology. Simply put: Regenerus’ methods for data collection do not match his research questions (meaning the methods are invalid). Regenerus defines homosexuality according to anyone who has had a same-sex experience, without taking into account their subjective identities or family experiences. Regenerus has not controlled for the fact that some children from gay and lesbian families are being raised in single parent households. This generally puts any child at an economic disadvantage when compared to dual parent households. Amanda argues Regenerus’ findings are tinged with homophobia, possibly influenced by Regenerus’ ties to the Christian site that hosts his blog.

Sociologists are not above having their politics influence their research interests – including you, me and everyone else. We do not have to agree with one another; however we are trained to make our assumptions explicit and to have our methods match our research questions. I know many sociologists who conduct studies that go against my political and personal beliefs and yet I can engage in useful and challenging discussion because the data and methods warrant attention. Bad science still warrants attention, but for all the wrong reasons. What a shame that Regenerus’ lax methodology will only fuel public fear and misunderstanding, rather than making a contribution to empirically-informed debate.

Read Amanda’s article at Sociology Lens.

Sociology of Science in ‘Sunshine’

It’s also a great piece of writing by Alex Garland actually. He got it absolutely right the way that scientists are taught to behave. The worst thing you can do in science is to guess. You’re taught and you’re trained as a research scientist to know exactly where the edge of your knowledge stops. And then you’re taught to enjoy going exploring the region that you don’t know. But you shouldn’t guess. You should never speak with authority if you don’t really know the answer. And that’s what he did there. I thought it was real insight for Alex to write that. It didn’t come from me, that, it came from Alex.

Dr Brian Cox speaking on the scientific accuracies of the film Sunshine.

Cox explains in the DVD commentary how director Danny Boyle approached him to be a scientific adviser for the film. Cox says that most of the ideas in the movie are scientifically correct or theoretically probable, with only one or two minor errors. Cox says the biggest scientific stretch was actually the central premise of the film: Cox was told that the only thing they could not compromise about was the idea that the sun was dying. Cox discusses how this basic idea is scientifically incorrect. The sun is dying every day but it would take hundreds of millions of years for it to die out and it is unlikely to occur as it is described (vaguely) in the film. Cox had to figure out a way to make this scientific improbability somehow more-scientifically-viable. Cox decided to use the idea of the Q-ball, which is, theoretically, one of the substances that make up dark matter and it may have been part of the cause of the creation of the universe.
Cox says the film balanced entertainment and science well. He points out all the behavioural traits that the actors mimicked from Cox and his colleagues. It’s a really great DVD commentary. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in science or if you’re interested in how films weave scientific theories into pop culture. Also, the quote above is just wonderful. My favourite line is this: And then you’re taught to enjoy going exploring the region that you don’t know. This is a dazzling way to summarise what it means to be a researcher.

Images: 1) Dread Central 2) Sunshine Movie’s Blog 3)