Common sense

by John Quiggin on November 15, 2004

Kieran complains that

When you’re a Sociologist like me, and your field has no credibility, people just assume you’re stupid and don’t bother sending you their Final and Completely True Theory of X in the first place. On the other hand, it does invite people to assume the answer to any problem you are studying is simply obvious common sense.

But sociology is a victim of its own success here. All of the big insights of sociology, from its beginnings in the 19th century up to 1950s work like that of Erving Goffman are indeed common sense, not because they were already known, but because they have been incorporated into the intellectual baggage of everyone in Western societies, educated or not. No one, for example, would be accused of talking academic jargon if they raised the problem of “peer group pressure” at their local school, or made a reference to ‘social status’.

[click to continue…]

Galloway libel

by Daniel on November 15, 2004

Lots of fun and games coming out of the Telegraph / George Galloway libel trial, so I thought I might as well dig up the second ever post I did on CT, handicapping the race a bit. I’m not sure that I’ve got much to add to that post, to be honest; even the links seem to still be alive. The Telegraph is going for a defence of qualified privilege, and Galloway isn’t trying to suggest that the documents were fakes, so it is likely to all turn on the question of whether the Telegraph’s journalism at the time was “responsible”. In which case, my guess is that much will depend on the judge’s interpretation of a Telegraph editorial at the time which contained the phrase “there is a word for taking money from a foreign power … treason”. Charles Moore’s trash-talking of Galloway during the period when he thought GG wasn’t going to sue might also come into the equation. My guess is that Galloway wins, but wins small as he is in large part the author of his own misfortune by cuddling up to Saddam so much. A bit disappointing for free speech fans, because it maintains the irritating state of affairs arising from Times vs Reynolds; while the House of Lords has hung out the tantalising prospect of a generalised public interest defence, nobody has actually won a case on one yet.

50% plus one

by Henry on November 15, 2004

“Mark Schmitt”:http://markschmitt.typepad.com/decembrist/2004/11/im_not_going_to.html comments on how the Republicans in Congress have increasingly opted for getting the bare minimum vote necessary to pass legislation – 50% plus one. He notes that he’s “sure there is a whole body of political science literature on this question, and the rational choice model that dominates the field would probably predict exactly this behavior.” He’s right – the body of work in question is called minimum winning coalition theory. What’s interesting is that this theory is based on the hypothesis that politicians are only interested in divvying up the spoils of office – i.e. that they have no substantive interest in policy. Rational choice social scientists predict that actors may form wider coalitions than the minimum winning ones to pass legislation when they are genuinely interested in policy outcomes. Cue “Sam Rosenfeld”:http://www.prospect.org/weblog/archives/2004/11/index.html#004793:

bq. There’s a mentality in the Republican leadership that if a significant number of Democrats support a bill somehow it’s tainted. …“Part of it goes back to the K Street thing, where they want to be able to say to their funders that the only people who can deliver anything for you are Republicans.” If House Republicans can make their Democratic counterparts irrelevant to the process of passing the nation’s laws, they can make them irrelevant to big political contributors.

Looks to me as though this particular hypothesis is getting some strong empirical support.

Pet Theories

by Kieran Healy on November 15, 2004

One of the advantages of not being a philosopher — and, in particular, not being a metaphysician — is that you don’t get emails like this:

Dear “Mrs Paul”:http://www.u.arizona.edu:~/lapaul,

may I offer you a final (as I think) ontological argument and ask your disproof on it? I’d be very thankful to you for answer.

Sincerely yours,

etc.

I imagine “Brad DeLong”:http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/ gets similar stuff on why gold is the One True Measure of Value, and “Jaques Distler”:http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ has a folder of proofs that String Theory was Anticipated by the Ancients. When you’re a Sociologist like me, and your field has no credibility, people just assume you’re stupid and don’t bother sending you their Final and Completely True Theory of X in the first place. On the other hand, it does invite people to assume the answer to any problem you are studying is simply obvious common sense.

How best to support Israel

by Henry on November 15, 2004

Now that Arafat is dead, it’s at least possible that Israel and the Palestinians will recommence negotiations. One important question is how the US can best try to encourage peace. During the election campaign, both Kerry and Bush tried to make clear their unconditional support for Israel. However, on one reasonable reading of the situation in the Middle East, promises of unconditional support may not be in Israel’s best interests.

[click to continue…]