Posts by author:
Or “I thought Science was a serious peer-reviewed publication…”
A study published today in Science by Facebook researchers using Facebook data claims to examine whether adult U.S. Facebook users engage with ideologically cross-cutting material on the site. My friend Christian Sandvig does an excellent job highlighting many of the problems of the piece and I encourage you to read his astute and well-referenced commentary. I want to highlight just one point here, a point that in and of itself should have stood out to reviewers at Science and should have been addressed before publication. It concerns the problematic sampling frame for the study and how little prominence it gets in the publication (i.e., none, it’s all in the supplemental materials).
Sampling is crucial to social science questions since biased samples can have serious implications for a study’s findings. In particular, it is extremely important that the sampling methodology be decoupled from the substantive questions of interest in the study. In this case, if you are examining engagement with political content, it is important that sampling not be based on anything related to users’ engagement with politics. However, that is precisely how sampling was done here. I elaborate below, but in sum, although the study boasts 10 million plus observations, only seen in the supplementary materials is the fact that only a tiny percentage (single digits) of Facebook users were eligible to make it into the sample in the first place. These are folks who explicitly identify their political affiliation on the site, i.e., people who probably have a different relationship to politics than the average user. They are also relatively active users based on another sampling decision, again, something confounded with the outcome of interest, i.e., engagement with political materials.
Not in the piece published in Science proper, but in the supplementary materials we find the following:
All Facebook users can self-report their political affiliation; 9% of U.S. users over 18 do. We mapped the top 500 political designations on a five-point, -2 (Very Liberal) to +2 (Very Conservative) ideological scale; those with no response or with responses such as “other” or “I don’t care” were not included. 46% of those who entered their political affiliation on their profiles had a response that could be mapped to this scale.
To recap, only 9% of FB users give information about their political affiliation in a way relevant here to sampling and 54% of those do so in a way that is not meaningful to determine their political affiliation. This means that only about 4% of FB users were eligible for the study. But it’s even less than that, because the user had to log in at least “4/7 days per week”, which “removes approximately 30% of users”.
Of course, every study has limitations. But sampling is too important here to be buried in supplementary materials. And the limitations of the sampling are too serious to warrant the following comment in the final paragraph of the paper:
we conclusively establish that on average in the context of Facebook, individual choices (2, 13, 15, 17) more than algorithms (3, 9) limit exposure to attitude-challenging content.
How can a sample that has not been established to be representative of Facebook users result in such a conclusive statement? And why does Science publish papers that make such claims without the necessary empirical evidence to back up the claims?
Can publications and researchers please stop being mesmerized by large numbers and go back to taking the fundamentals of social science seriously? In related news, I recently published a paper asking “Is Bigger Always Better? Potential Biases of Big Data Derived from Social Network Sites” that I recommend to folks working through and with big data in the social sciences.*
Full disclosure, some of my work has been funded by Facebook as well as Google and other corporations as well as foundations, details are available on my CV. Also, I’m friends with one of the authors of the study and very much value many of the contributions she has made to research.
[*] Regarding the piece on which I comment here, FB users not being nationally-representative is not an issue since the paper and its claims are only concerned with Facebook use.
There is no shortage of stories about how uncomfortable things can be for women in tech, how hard it is for women to be taken as seriously as men, etc. Well, here is the nth installment of that saga. I attended GOR, the General Online Research conference, a couple of weeks ago hosted at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences. When I walked in, I was greeted by several women wearing the following T-shirt:
I found this rather curious. Why would the T-shirt for the staff/volunteers of a research conference on Internet use measurement and behavior have this word on it? I’m not so dense as to not get the GOR part, but it seemed completely out of place. Soon I started looking around the room for a male staff member, because I couldn’t help but wonder whether he would be wearing the same shirt. What do you think, dear reader? After the jump, I show you what the male volunteers were wearing.
Lots of nice little details in this. How would you part the sea for a Rube Goldberg Passover Seder machine?
If you’re looking for a humanist feminist Haggadah, the one I compiled in 2001 is still available. To this day I get emails about people coming across it and finding it helpful, which is nice to know.
In a few weeks, I will be heading to Southern Germany to explore some small towns in that region and parts of Austria. I am skipping bigger cities like Stuttgart and Munich, opting for visiting castles and villages in the countryside. The following towns are currently on my itinerary after having done some reading on the area: Baden-Baden, Alpirsbach, Tubingen, Hohenzollern Castle, Lichtenstein Castle then Schongau, Hohenschwangau Castle, Linderhof Palace then into Austria to Innsbruck, Salzburg, Hallstatt and Mauthausen. I welcome recommendations on where else to go especially en route from one cluster to the next or within the clusters I have highlighted on the map.
I would also appreciate suggestions on whether train, bus or car would be best for the various sections. I know there are great train systems in Germany and Austria, but from the reading I’ve done so far, it sounds like trains are not always convenient for what’s of interest here.
What are your favorite places in this region? What are the must-see attractions, the good places to stay, the not-to-miss restaurants? I am going through several books and diving deep into TripAdvisor, but CT readers often have unique angles on things so I thought it was worth an ask.
Clicking on the map will take you to the corresponding Google Map where you can zoom in and move around.
I’m delighted to introduce Juliet Sorensen who is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern Law School’s Center for International Human Rights. Instead of annotating her CV here, I’d rather share how we met. The Public Voices Fellowship is an initiative of The OpEd Project whose mission is to get more under-represented voices onto oped pages. In 2013-14, both Juliet and I participated in the program at Northwestern. Over the course of the academic year, we attended four day-long workshops with 18 fellow Northwestern faculty members to learn about the ins-and-outs of writing and getting published oped articles, an activity that is definitely different from writing scholarly articles, but also from writing blog posts (although not necessarily that different from the latter). Juliet was one of the most productive members of our group having published nine pieces during the fellowship and more since. Given the topics she covers, I thought she would bring an interesting perspective to Crooked Timber so we invited her to guest blog with us, which she kindly agreed to do.
- I seem to remember more events from our deportation in 1944-45 than from many of the subsequent years. But these memories are like still pictures to me rather than a continuous movie. It is probable that some things that I seem to remember are merely a reflection of what others have told me. I vaguely remember that between our triple-decker beds at the camp there was a little space that mother converted into a “home” consisting of a small stand with some belongings. There was a small container, which I now imagine to be of the size of a very small glass. Once my mother got hold of some butter, which filled this container. She asked us to decide whether to eat it all at once or make it last for a while. I was for saving it, and this made quite a story in our camp, the lager, because everybody knew that I was hungry all the time.
In the camp, I cried day and night, especially night, and my crying kept everybody awake. This I do not remember, but I had to listen to comments about this for many years by survivors from the lager. If they recognized me, they would tell me immediately about their predicaments due to my crying. Mother must have gone through additional suffering because of my crying. She must have felt sorry for me and for her fellow inmates, too. When I hear a child crying in a bus, on board an airplane during a long flight, or similar situations, I have great understanding for the child and its mother.
Excerpted from my father István Hargittai’s book Our Lives: Encounters of a Scientist posted here in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. My father was three years old when he was in the camp described above.
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, I am posting some photos I took at the MLK Memorial in DC when I visited there last Fall. There is no shortage of critical commentary about the memorial from when it was dedicated a few years ago. I wasn’t aware of these when I visited, which is probably a good thing as it would have tainted my visit, not necessarily justifiably as far as I’m concerned. (If you feel you must add your critical thoughts in the comments, I just ask that you try to be original.)
I admit that it wasn’t a particularly targeted visit on my part. I was in town for a conference and had an afternoon to roam the city. I had been walking for hours (winding my way back from the Thomas Sweet in Georgetown to the Mall) and found myself walking on Independence Ave SW when I spotted signs to the MLK Memorial. Once I saw the signs, I knew I wanted to see it.
I was lucky in the timing of my visit. It was early evening on a weekday, 9/11 to be precise. There was almost no one else around. This made a difference as I found the place perfect for contemplation. I entered from the northwest, which worked well as I appreciated walking through the rocks not knowing exactly what to expect.
After looking at MLK’s figure and taking in the scene of the Jefferson Memorial that is in the statue’s line of sight, I walked from quote to quote and reflected on each, especially given the Ferguson events still fresh in memory. I was able to do all of this almost in solitude. The early evening light added to the mood.
If you can, I recommend visiting early evening or perhaps early morning on a weekday when you may have the place mostly to yourself. Be sure to give yourself time, it wouldn’t have been the same had I felt rushed.
- Nature has an editorial about why investment in the social sciences must accompany investments in the sciences.
If you want science to deliver for society, through commerce, government or philanthropy, you need to support a capacity to understand that society that is as deep as your capacity to understand the science. And your policy statements need to show that you believe in that necessity.
To many readers of CT, this is unlikely to be a particularly surprising statement, but one need only glimpse at the comments that follow to appreciate how controversial the idea seems to some.
- The New Yorker has a long piece about the sociologist Howard Becker and his work about what it means to be a “deviant.” Certainly if you’re a sociologist, it is unlikely that you would not have encountered his work at one time or another during your training at minimum thanks to his helpful tips on how to write as a social scientist.
- The Pew Research Center has an interesting new position of “Director to lead the creation of the Pew Research Center Labs.”
- The new open-access journal Social Media + Society is now ready for submissions (submission fees waved for now).
I like garlic and I’m also convinced that it has health benefits. I’d like to make fresh garlic a regular part of my diet. I realized that I’m not traveling at all in January so I will have more say in what I eat than is often the case when I travel. Thus my 31 Days of Garlic challenge was born. I’m fine with repeating approaches, but I’d also like to spice things up a bit (sorry). Will you help me? Do you have some favorite dishes that include fresh garlic or that could include fresh garlic? I’m especially interested in relatively quick and easy recipes (lots of work things coming up in the next few weeks) and ones that don’t involve an oven (as mine needs repair). But I’ll have some downtime as well so don’t hesitate to share trickier ideas.
On the 1st of the year, as is the Hungarian tradition (shared by other cultures), I made lentil soup for good luck. I don’t usually include garlic, but I did press a clove into it and it worked well. The pictured soup is missing a usual ingredient, carrots. I didn’t have any at home, but sauteing some onions, adding various spices, adding the clove of garlic and some sausage resulted in a very yummy dish.
On the 2nd, I added a pressed garlic clove to my tea. It’s a palatable way to have it, certainly the quickest way I know to include it in my diet. A teaspoon of honey is also an important component of that mixture. The particular tea I have on the image is especially good for soothing the throat (or so I was told by someone who works in theater and I’ve found the recommendation helpful).
On the 3rd, I added it to scrambled eggs. The eggs also included onions, fresh mushrooms, rosemary ham and shredded Parmesan. I had it with grape tomatoes, farmer’s cheese and this delicious cornbread. (I highly recommend that cornbread recipe, but I do suggest cutting all ingredients in half as it results in more cornbread than you’ll know what to do with unless you’re serving at least a dozen people.)
What should be next for my 31 Days of Garlic challenge?
I’ll be posting pictures of the dishes/drinks on my Instagram.
No CT posts in 2015 yet? No wishing our readers a Happy New Year? Let’s fix that. With this video, wishing all our readers and commenters (hopefully the latter a subset of the former ;-) much health and happiness in 2015!
In light of changing relations between Cuba and the U.S., I thought I’d post photos of cars I took in Cuba when I was there just over two years ago. The scene was even more amazing than one might expect. Some of the US cars from the ‘50s were in fabulous condition, the result of lots of hard work, no doubt. Others were less glossy, but no less impressive (and certainly functional). Also, having grown up in Budapest in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I got a kick out of seeing Ladas on the street, and even the occasional Polski Fiat.
And then there is the beach.
The very insightful Ethan Zuckerman recently gave a convocation speech at his alma mater, Williams College. While his specific angle was not about this, I read it as a nice call for the importance of international students on campus, and of studying abroad (among other things).
One of the things I’ve learned in my research is that it’s much easier to pay attention to people than to places. If there’s someone you care about who’s from Haiti, if you’ve had the chance to travel there and meet people from Haiti, you’ll watch the news differently. You’ll have a connection to that place, a context for a story you hear. The events will be more real to you because Haiti is more real to you through the people you know there.
It is important though that international student recruitment not be restricted to international students who can pay full tuition. Personally, I remain extremely grateful to Smith College for its generous support of international student financial aid. When I was applying to US colleges from Hungary in the early 90s, it was the only school that came even close to offering enough aid to allow me to study in the US.
By the way, if you haven’t read Ethan’s book Rewire, you should. It’s a quick and very pleasant read with lots of interesting material and important insights on just how not connected we are in meaningful ways despite infrastructural connections.
I have never given my Dad a Father’s Day card until this year. I’m pretty sure the holiday didn’t exist when I was growing up in Hungary, certainly not in popular consciousness. But since I sent my Mom three really cute Mother’s Day cards this year, I thought I’d look for something for my Dad as well. I’m especially proud about having sent my Mom a card on time for once, by the way. Mother’s Day is a week earlier in Europe than in the US, which has gotten me in trouble more than once.
For my Mom, I was able to find some cute cards that were just cute, period. One was more gendered than I would have preferred with its focus on cooking, but given that my Mom is in fact a superb cook (having even published a cook book in addition to her lengthy list of scientific publications), it worked as one of three.
I fired up Etsy to look for something sweet for my Dad. The dog holding a wrench fixing the car made me laugh out loud. The card with all the sports paraphernalia resulted in the same reaction. Then there was the fishing theme and the lawn mower. Oh, and golf. None of these even come close to describing my experiences with my Dad in any way. The extent to which these cards in no way reflect anything I know of my father was at first amusing, but eventually disturbing. Is it really that hard to come up with something cute or funny, or gosh, perhaps even both that doesn’t play into such stereotypes? I can’t be the only person with a father for whom fixing a car or going fishing are not standard activities.
Thanks to some Etsy sellers’ flexibility in what they sell, I did get to ask a card maker to create something that was more about the bond than the activity. Happy Father’s Day to all caring and loving fathers, whether your preferred activity with your child is playing ball, baking a treat or solving the Rubik’s cube.