From the monthly archives:

May 2005

Fun with Amazon images

by Eszter Hargittai on May 26, 2005

It may be a bit geeky of me to admit this, but I find the following quite fun/funny. A Peanuts and Charles Schulz enthusiast figured out how the book images are generated on Amazon’s Web site. He has documented it in detail so now we can all create our own images. (It looks like he’s not the first one to play with this, but his discussion of the various options seems more comprehensive than others’ so it’s worth a pointer.) I thought I’d display one of my favorite cartoons with a twist. Enjoy! (Or be amused that some of us do.:) [thanks]

As per Nat Gertler’s ethical considerations listed on the right side of the page linked above, I would like to note that the discount percentages in the image above are being used in a purely decorative fashion and do not reflect any offers on Amazon’s site.

AUT boycott overturned

by Chris Bertram on May 26, 2005

The AUT boycott of Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities in Israel was overturned at today’s special meeting of AUT council. BBC report “here”:

Lessig and the Choir

by Kieran Healy on May 25, 2005

A long article in New York magazine about “Lawrence Lessig’s participation in a lawsuit”: against “the American Boychoir School”: A teacher at the school molested boys during the 1970s and Lessig, a former head boy at the school, was one of the victims. He’s now arguing the case in front of the New Jersey Supreme Court. The crux of the lawsuit is whether the school can be held responsible for the actions of its abusive employees. (They’ve settled cases in the past.) I remember seeing the American Boychoir tour bus around Princeton quite regularly. The place is is just down the road from campus. The school is arguing that it is in no more responsible for the actions of the abusers it employed than it would be for employee “stopping in a bar after work and slugging someone in the mouth. ‘Is the company responsible?’ [the school’s lawyer] asks. ‘No. Why not? Because they’re not acting within the scope of employment.'” That seems like a weak analogy. In this case the employee was in a position to repeatedly abuse his victims in virtue of his role and the authority it carried. The school’s defence seems to come perilously close to arguing that it can’t be held responsible for _any_ illegal action that a teacher perpetrated on a pupil, because of course illegal actions are not within the scope of the teacher’s employment.

I don’t know about the legal merits, of course, but on the basis of their past experiences, together with the evasions and blame-the-victim insinuations from the school’s President and its chief lawyer, it’s easy to see how the litigants’ could have a desire to raze the institution to the ground.

Disciplinary boundaries

by Henry Farrell on May 25, 2005

Eszter’s “post”: on physicists, sociologists and network theory has given rise to some interesting responses, and the beginnings of a broader distributed discussion on what disciplinary boundaries mean. Maybe it’s time to tie these threads back into a knot, entangle them further with some arguments from Susanne Lohmann on the functions and problems of academic disciplines, and see how people choose to unravel it all. (warning – lengthy extracts below fold).
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by Chris Bertram on May 25, 2005

One of the best comebacks ever, dead and buried at half-time, “Champions of Europe….”:

Cross-ideological conversations among bloggers

by Eszter Hargittai on May 25, 2005

This weekend I’ll be at the annual meetings of the International Communication Association meetings in New York. All of the members from my research group will be participating in the conference and we’ll be reporting on several of our projects. Sunday midday we will present a poster summarizing some preliminary findings from our project on cross-ideological conversations among bloggers. I thought I would give a little preview here.

Cass Sunstein in his book talks about the potential for IT to fragment citizens’ political discussions into isolated conversations. Borrowing from Negroponte, he discusses the potential for people to construct a “Daily Me” of news readings that excludes opposing perspectives. Sunstein argues that for democracy to flourish, it is important that people continue to have conversations with those in disagreement with their positions. However, he is concerned that with the help of filtering out unwanted content people will fragment into enclaves and won’t be exposed to opinions that challenge their positions. The book is an interesting read, but it does not offer any systematic empirical evidence of the claims.

I have been working on a project this past year with Jason Gallo and Sean Zehnder on empirically testing Sunstein’s thesis. We are doing so by analyzing cross-linkages among liberal and political blogs. You may recall that about two months ago Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance came out with a report on “The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election”. My first reaction was one of panic. Here we had been working on our project for months and someone else came out with the results first. However, a closer read made me realize that our project has some unique elements. And if nothing else, seeing that project has made us more careful and critical in our work showing that more research in an area can be fruitful, because hopefully it inspires the agenda to move forward in a productive manner.

[I updated this image on June 1 when I realized the right graph wasn’t displaying exactly what I had described it as.]

Our work has focused on addressing two questions. First, we are interested in seeing the extent to which liberal and conservative bloggers interlink. Second, we want to see what kind of changes we may be able to observe over time. Sunstein’s thesis suggests that we would see very little if any cross-linking among liberal and conservative blogs and the cross-linking would diminish over time. We go about answering these questions using multiple methodologies. We counted links and calculated some measures to see how insular the conversations are within groups of blogs. We also did a content analysis of some of the posts in our sample. We continue to work on this project so these are just preliminary findings.
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I think I’m going to be sick.

by Maria on May 25, 2005

But first. The Economist’s new venture is “an inspirational lifestyle magazine which instead of helping readers make decisions in their professional life, helps them do the same in their personal life”.

“Take white-collar boxing – the latest stress reliever for Wall Street and City elite. Tired of punching a bag at the gym, they have now moved on to punching each other in front of a paying audience. If smacking around your colleagues doesn’t sound appealing, how about brushing up on your space travel tips so you can be first in line to book your space flight? If all that sounds too strenuous, check out the dos and don’ts of selecting massage therapy. Other articles include the latest on gadgets, health innovations, luxury items and how to order your own bespoke car.”

I suppose they forgot the first rule, that we don’t talk about fight club. And also the part about status-seeking through rampant consumerism being a bit of a trap. Especially if you just acquire the same crap everyone else has. Which you will if you buy this magazine. Worth noting if you’re one of today’s busy global managers and hoped Intelligent Life would give you an executive summary of all that culture stuff.


by Harry on May 25, 2005

The arrival of Andrew Adonis in government has so far gone uncommented upon here, so I feel entitled to say something, however belatedly. Adonis’s presence at #10 made the Education portfolio a poisoned chalice for at least the whole of the second term. Because Number 10 was always interfering in policymaking, no Education Secretary (even Charles Clarke) could pursue his or her own agenda with confidence. Not only were they constantly being second-guessed and scrutinized, but even when they put forward their own initiatives no-one affected could be sure whose they were, or whether, if they truly belonged to the Secretary, they would reach fruition. It seemed to me that Estelle Morris (who was Secretary of State most of the time I lived in the UK) was always in an untenable position. The portion of the Queens Speech on Education has Adonis’s name written all over it.

Ruth Kelly should be delighted, therefore, to have Adonis in her team.

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Academic bestsellers

by Henry Farrell on May 25, 2005

David Greenberg had two “interesting”: “articles”: last week about the gap between academic and popular history, and how to bridge it. This suggests an interesting question. Which academic books are fit for human consumption? Or, to put it less polemically, which books written for academic purposes deserve, should find (or in some cases have found) a more general readership among intelligent people who are either (a) non-academics, or (b) aren’t academic specialists in the discipline that the book is written for. Nominations invited. To start the ball rolling, I’m listing three (fairly obvious imo) contenders myself.

bq. E.P. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class. A classic, which reads more like a novel than a piece of academic history, rescuing organizers, sectaries, pamphleteers and gutter journalists “from the enormous condescension of posterity.” Moving, smart, and wonderfully written.

bq. Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty. A stunningly simple idea, worked out to its logical conclusions – it creates a new vocabulary for understanding how social institutions work.

bq. James Scott, Seeing Like A State. Libertarians will like the critique of state-led social engineering, but be discomfited by Scott’s account of the totalizing effects of markets. Traditional social democrats and socialists will have the opposite set of reactions. Both should read it (as should anyone else interested in the intersection between political theory and real life).

European politics

by Henry Farrell on May 24, 2005

Interesting times for the European Union’s constitutional project. The French are looking “decidedly wobbly”: on the new European constitution, which they vote on next Sunday. The Dutch, who will be voting soon after, appear to be strongly opposed. This all sounds dreadful for pro-Europeans. However, I’m going to make two predictions. First, the unexceptionable one – I don’t think that the constitution has much chance at all of being ratified. If it somehow gets over the French hurdle, it’s going to come a cropper at the British one. Then the risky one – I reckon that the European Union may be on the verge of acquiring real political legitimacy for the first time, exactly and precisely because of the vociferous debates which are starting to get going.
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Store Wars

by Eszter Hargittai on May 24, 2005

Learn the ways of the farm with the help of Ham Solo, Chewbroccoli, C3Peanuts, Tofu D2, Obi Wan Cannoli, Cuke Skywalker, Lord Tader and Princess Lettuce. [thanks]


by Kieran Healy on May 23, 2005

Via “Brian Leiter”: I see that the very smart “Kieran Setiya”: now has a blog. Kieran is a moral philosopher at the “University of Pittsburgh”: We were in graduate school at Princeton at the same time, where each of us was known as “the other Kieran” to different portions of our semi-overlapping social network. At least, I’ve always assumed _both_ of us were designated as such at various times –maybe I just routinely came in second.

Paul Ricoeur has died

by Henry Farrell on May 23, 2005

Via “Russell Arben Fox”: I see that Paul Ricouer has died at the age of 92. “Le Monde”:,1-0@2-3230,36-652552@51-633431,0.html, the”Telegraph”:;sessionid=BBIWUSDSJHP2RQFIQMGSM54AVCBQWJVC?xml=/news/2005/05/23/db2301.xml&site=5 and “Guardian”:,3858,5199672-103684,00.html have obituaries. In addition to Ricoeur’s direct philosophical legacy, he had a very substantial indirect influence on the social sciences through Clifford Geertz, whose arguments about culture and its study are informed by Ricoeur’s hermeneutics.

Update: As “Scott McLemee”: points out, it’s already Tuesday, and

bq. nobody in the American media has insulted Ricoeur yet. What’s going on? Have our pundits lost their commitment to mocking European intellectuals and the pointy-headed professors who read them?

Is something wrong? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Steven Levitt Seminar – Introduction

by Henry Farrell on May 23, 2005

Steven Levitt’s work is familiar to many _Crooked Timber_ readers. He’s a “professor”: in the University of Chicago’s Economics Department, a winner of the John Clarke Bates medal, the editor of the _Journal of Political Economy_, and the author of a “rather terrifying number”: of peer-reviewed articles. He’s also just co-authored a book with Stephen J. Dubner, a _New York Times_ journalist who wrote a “widely cited profile”: of Levitt last year. _Freakonomics_ is currently Number Two on the _New York Times_ bestseller list, and Number One on the _Wall Street Journal_’s business bestsellers list. In addition to all the above, Steve and his co-author have just started a “blog”: centered on the book, and will soon start writing a monthly column for the _Times_. We asked Steve a while back whether he would be prepared to participate in a Crooked Timber seminar on freakonomics, economics, and the social sciences; he very kindly agreed, and you see the result before you. We’re also grateful to have the participation of two non-CT regulars. “Tyler Cowen”: is a professor at George Mason University; he blogs at “Marginal Revolution”: and still puts in an occasional appearance at “the Volokhs”: “Tim Harford”: writes the “Dear Economist” column for the _Financial Times_. His first book, _The Undercover Economist_, is coming out in November 2005.

“Kieran Healy”: argues that Levitt and Dubner’s use of the term “incentives” covers a multitude, and examines the relationship between freakonomics, economics, and the social sciences. “John Quiggin”: argues that Levitt’s work is driven unflinchingly by the data, and that it provides evidence that even if incentives work, they don’t work in the ways that their designers might have expected. “Henry Farrell”: supplements Healy’s and Quiggin’s arguments with a comparison between Levitt’s work and Gary Becker’s agenda for a unified economic approach to human behaviour. “Tyler Cowen”: draws out some hypotheses from Levitt’s joint work on the economics of crack cocaine. “Tim Harford”: examines why so few people try to popularize economic thinking. Finally, “Steve himself”: responds to all the above.

As with our Mieville seminar, we expect that the main discussion will take place in comments to Levitt’s reply post. Feel free, however, to comment on individual posts if your comment seems more germane to a specific post or point made therein. As always, please be polite; unnecessarily offensive comments are likely to be deleted.

This seminar is available for reproduction under a Creative Commons license. For those who prefer to read printed text, a PDF is available “here”:

Update: Have changed the timestamp on these posts to keep them on the main page for a couple of days longer.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

A Wealth of Notions

by Kieran Healy on May 23, 2005

I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes a little at first. Behold the Freakonomist! “Politically incorrect in the best, most essential way,” said the blurb. A “rogue economist,” who goes out of his way in the first few pages to say he is “afraid of calculus” and doesn’t know how to do theory. Amazing! Incidentally, he trained at Harvard and MIT, was at the Harvard Society of Fellows, won the John Bates Clark medal and teaches at the University of Chicago. Now there’s a sociologically interesting kind of maverick. If only my own fear of calculus had propelled me towards the same peripheries. But this is unfair. Steven Levitt does first-class work that’s reliably provocative in the most productive sort of way. The packaging of the book — the silly title, the song-and-dance to make Levitt himself seem a little, well, freakish — seems mostly the result of getting a journalist and a marketing department on board and turning out the goods a little too fast. The product is a bit thin. But the underlying material is terrific.

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