The Status Syndrome

by Harry on December 14, 2004

A while ago Chris reported that Michael Marmot was the star of one of the Priority in Practice conferences that Jo Wolff has been organizing. Marmot’s book The Status Syndrome has now been out for a few months, and lives up to Chris’s billing: even for those who were aware of the Whitehall studies and have been thinking through their significance for how to think both about egalitarianism in theory and social policy in practice will find it a very valuable read. Bill Gardner, who guested here in the week before the election, has an initial post reviewing the book at his excellent Maternal and Child Health site, and promises more. A taste:

bq. Marmot’s fundamental empirical finding is that there is a social gradient in health, that is, when you group people according to their places in social hierarchies, you find better health and greater longevity in each successively higher class. His classic work studied the British civil service. He placed civil servants into four grades: administrators who set policy, executives who carry it out, clerical staff, and support personnel. There was a four-fold greater mortality rate from ages 40-64 for support personnel versus administrators. This was a large effect, and much larger than the difference in mortality rates related to conventional measures of social class. Why should the gradient in mortality be larger within one organization than within society as a whole? In Marmot’s view, the British civil service organization chart allowed him to measure individuals’ control over their own lives and their subjection to the control of others more precisely than conventional measures of social-economic status.

bq. Marmot argues that the principal explanation for the status syndrome is not relative income, not higher rates of health-risk behaviors among the lower classes, and not status-related differences in genes. Income, heath-related behavior, and genes are all important determinants of health, but their effects are largely independent of the effect of your place in the social hierarchy and only partially explain the social gradient. What matters is autonomy:

bq. for people above a certain material threshold of well-being, another sort of well-being is central. Autonomy – how much control you have over your life – and the opportunities you have for full social engagement and participation are crucial for health, well-being, and longevity. It is inequality in these that plays a big part in the social gradient in health. Degrees in control and participation underlie the status syndrome.

Excessive Snarkiness

by Henry on December 14, 2004

A couple of days ago, I got into a bit of a “back-and-forth”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002980.html with Stephen Bainbridge about his interpretation of a Jonathan Chait piece. While I still think that he should have been more generous in his interpretation of Chait, I was less generous still in my response, and believe on reflection that I owe Prof. Bainbridge an apology. God knows, a bit of snarkiness here and there enlivens discussion in the blogosphere, but it also tends to drive out proper argument in favour of the venting of spleen on both sides. I think we could have had a proper argument here. My bad.

Buying blue

by Eszter Hargittai on December 14, 2004

I was interviewed for a Chicago Tribune piece about the new Web sites that have spurred up encouraging people to buy blue.[1] The idea is to get people to spend money in the stores of companies whose political action committees and employees support Democratic candidates and causes. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s completely unclear whether: 1. people’s purchasing behavior is that connected to their political ideology; 2. the blue side will use the compiled information more than the red side (after all, the information can also be used to boycott companies instead of supporting them). Regardless, it is certainly interesting to see where people are channeling their political frustrations.. and how quickly news has spread of these sites.
[Accessing the article requires registration. Bugmenot may be worth checking.]

fn1. I’m glad to see that the reporter quoted me in the right context, which is not always a given. Unfortunately, she got my departmental affiliation wrong. My primary appointment is in the Department of Communication Studies.

Let No-one Else’s Work Evade Your Eyes

by Henry on December 14, 2004

The _Chronicle of Higher Education_ isn’t a newspaper that you would normally associate with traditional investigative journalism. However, when it does investigate, it does a pretty good job; it’s just put up the “report”:http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i17/17a00802.htm of an investigation into plagiarism where it names and shames four academics who look to be guilty on all charges. A cultural geographer who seems to have committed extensive serial plagiarism, including writing an article which had “several paragraphs that appear to be copied from a Web site on surf music.” A historian who was found guilty of plagiarism by the American Historical Association – but whose current employer seems to be unaware of the fact. Another historian who appears to have copied extensively from an obscure 1960’s book. And a British international relations scholar who copied five pages of the introduction to his book directly from an article in the well-known journal _International Studies Quarterly_. “Another article”:http://chronicle.com/prm/weekly/v51/i17/17a01401.htm (behind the Chronicle’s paywall) talks about a senior scientist (a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and member of the President’s Council on Science and Technology) who appears to have copied large chunks from an article written by one of his proteges without permission (something which I suspect is pretty common in many fields). As the _Chronicle_ reporters suggest, this is almost certainly symptomatic of a wider problem.

bq. While this article delves into a few cases we uncovered, our reporting suggests that what we found is not exceptional. Indeed, an editor at History News Network receives so many tips about purported plagiarism that he now investigates only those involving well-known scholars. A professor at Texas A&M International University was bombarded with hundreds of e-mail messages after writing about being plagiarized. Many of them were from graduate students and professors who believed that they, too, had been victims.

As the _Chronicle_ suggests, there isn’t any very effective means of policing plagiarism given current structures in the academy. Professional associations are reluctant to take on plagiarism cases, or to publicize them when they do. Individual departments may punish plagiarists, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll take action – and if they do, very often, nobody outside the department in question knows about it. The reluctance to take serious action against plagiarists isn’t a conspiracy – it’s due to a combination of a lack of resources, a reluctance to get involved in controversy, and, perhaps, a feeling of ‘there but for the grace of God …” (it’s every academic’s nightmare to be accused of plagiarism because of carelessness or sloppy footnoting). Yet it means that in practice there’s an implicit tolerance for plagiarism. It isn’t an endemic problem, but it’s a real and persistent one – most working academics will know someone who has been plagiarized at one stage or another. Academics frequently hark back to the idea that they form a sort of guild. If this has any meaning at all, the academy should do better in carrying out the primary job of a guild; policing the behaviour of their members.

Googling Hacks

by Henry on December 14, 2004

“Jefferson Morley”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A63174-2004Dec14_2.html of the Washington Post tells us that:

bq. There was noticeable reticence to pursue certain leads in the story. Annan is the most recognizable figure to catch heat for the scandal that occurred on his watch. But according to the Duelfer report, former French Interior Minister turned businessman, Charles Pascua, received oil vouchers from the Hussein regime that enabled him to sell more than 10 million barrels of oil on the international market. If you enter Pascua’s name in the French language version of Google News, the search engine is unable to find a single mention of Pascua’s name in the French press in the last 30 days.

If he spelled “Charles Pasqua’s name correctly”:http://news.google.com/news?hl=fr&ned=fr&q=pasqua&ie=UTF-8&start=10&sa=N he’d find 101 of them (although in fairness, his main point stands – I could only find 2 that mentioned Pasqua in connection with the UN shenanigans).

Asia by blog

by Chris Bertram on December 14, 2004

A commenter to “one of John Q’s posts”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/002899.html suggested “Asia by Blog”:http://simonworld.mu.nu/archives/cat_asia_by_blog.php, which provides a twice-weekly digest of links to asian blogs. And the same friend who drew that to my attention also recommended “Life in China”:http://www.zonaeuropa.com/lifeinchina.htm , a stunning collection of photographs without commentary.

Betraying the Enlightenement

by Chris Bertram on December 14, 2004

Many across the bits of the blogosphere I read have declared themselves simply bowled-over by “the latest column from the Observer’s Nick Cohen”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,1371935,00.html . Cohen is writing, _inter alia_ in opposition to David Blunkett’s deeply flawed proposal to ban incitement to religious hatred, and one passage in particular has been reproduced in full or in part on at least five blogs (“Harry’s Place”:http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/cat_uk_politics.html#003048 ,
“Normblog”:http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2004/12/the_power_to_sh.html , “SIAW”:http://marxist-org-uk.blogspot.com/2004_12_01_marxist-org-uk_archive.html#110285818716789492 , “Mick Hartley”:http://mickhartley.typepad.com/blog/2004/12/nick_cohen_gets.html , “Melanie Phillips”:http://www.melaniephillips.com/diary/archives/000941.html ) :

bq. MPs didn’t point out that when society decides that people’s religion, rather than their class or gender, is the cultural fact that matters, power inevitably passes to the priests and the devout for whom religion does indeed matter most. To their shame, many on the left have broken with the Enlightenment to perform
this manoeuvre. They have ridden the Islamic wave and agreed to convert one billion people into ‘the Muslims’. A measure of their bad faith is that they would react with horror if this trick was pulled on them, and they were turned into ‘the Christians’ whose authentic representatives were the Archbishop of Canterbury and ‘Dr’ Ian Paisley.

I hope I’m not alone in being considerably less admiring of the passage in question.

[click to continue…]

Unanticipated Google Hacks

by Henry on December 14, 2004

I downloaded “Google Desktop”:http://desktop.google.com/ a couple of weeks ago, and have found it invaluable – it’s greatly superior to the standard Windows search tools. But up until a few minutes ago, I didn’t realize that it could serve as a sort of rough-and-ready backup tool to boot. I loaded up a Word document that I’d been working on recently, and found (as occasionally happens) that most of my work had somehow disappeared, through the vagaries of Windows, or my having pressed the wrong key at some stage or another, or some combination of the two. None of the temporary files were still on my hard drive, so I more or less resigned myself to having to recreate several days work. But then I decided to use Google Desktop search to trawl my hard drive on the off chance that it was still in existence somewhere – and discovered that Google creates and retains several caches of all Word documents that you are working on, so that you can go back and see earlier versions, and, if necessary, cut and paste old material that has somehow gone missing back into your document. It’s not an ideal solution (you lose formatting etc) – but it beats the hell out of having to rewrite something that you had already spent a lot of time on.