Tag Archives: media

Naomi Wolf and sharing our lanes

Bruce Stokes / https://flic.kr/p/dMG983

The other day, in response to the Naomi Wolf situation, I tweeted in response to Heather Souvaine Horn, an editor at the New Republic:

After which she invited my to submit an essay to the site. It’s now been published as: Learn the Right Lessons from Naomi Wolf’s Book Blunder: Expertise matters. But lane-policing is counterproductive.

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Fox News took my quotes out of context and added wrong information

Following up on Part 1, discussed here, Parts 2 and 3 of the Fox News series on demography and social change also featured quotes from me. Part 2 used a reasonable quote in a reasonable way, but Part 3 did not.

Part 2 is a good teaching lesson in sky-is-fallingism, a Fox News signature. As they’ve done before, they literally start with a 1950s TV show as if it were historical footage, and then proceed to the chaotic now.

“If Tommy suddenly woke up today, he’d be an aging Baby Boomer, receiving benefits from a Social Security trust fund that is more than 2 trillion dollars in debt. He might be tending to his aches and pains with medical marijuana, now legal in 33 states. He might see his childhood friends are legally married [showing gay male weddings] while almost half the mommies in the U.S. are not.”

Cut to racial minority students in UCLA gear. Etc. The most extreme cut is between the Heritage Foundation person saying, of Democrats, “We’re the party of government, and that way if we have voters attached to government programs they’re going to stick with us,” before, literally, cutting to archival Mao and Stalin footage, with the voice-over:

“That, while the hard lessons of socialism — 70 million dead in China, 20 million dead in the Soviet Union — that happened during Communism, are often neglected in colleges, now focused on social justice curricula.”

Great stuff, good for teaching. Anyway, my quote in the piece is just saying young people nowadays don’t like to be lectured about traditional values. They just frame it like that’s a bad thing. Here it is:

Part 3 is where they misused my quotes, in two places. The episode is about how low fertility leads to immigration, which creates chaos and causes populism. Plenty wrong in here, but I’m just focusing on my beefs. First, on immigration, they say:

“Europe’s accommodation of refugees fleeing ISIS and the civil war in Syria, has proved a bridge too far.”

Philip Cohen: “Immigration poses challenges to the dominant culture. It’s obviously politically fraught.”

Cut to rioting footage. Narrator: “From Greece to Italy, Germany, France, and the Nordic countries, clashes have erupted. Nationalist politicians are forcing a reckoning with multiculturalism.”

According to my own recording of the interview, however, what I said immediate after, “It’s obviously politically fraught,” was this:

“On the other hand, there’s a great pent-up demand for immigration. There are plenty of people who want to come here. The immigrants who come here tend to be the better off, more highly skilled and educated people from the countries that they’re coming from, contrary to some stereotypes, so they end up strengthening the U.S. economy even as they improve their own wellbeing. So if you can get over all the challenges and conflict that sometimes comes along with rapid immigration, what you end up with is an answer to the population [problem].”

Lesson learned. Not surprising they didn’t use my pro-immigration other hand. I should have anticipated that better and made the other hand the only hand in my comment. However, they had invited me to discuss Millennials and marriage, so I wasn’t prepared for immigration.

The piece has distracted tangents into robots in Japan and the one-child policy in China. I also wasn’t prepared for the one-child policy on that day, but I always have a take ready on that. Here’s what I said, according to my recording:

“One thing to know about China is the birthrate had fallen a lot before the one-child policy. So even if you like the idea … [they interrupted to say they had bumped the focus, so I should start my answer again] …One thing that’s important to realize about China is that population growth had already slowed a lot before the one-child policy started, so they really didn’t need the one-child policy to slow down population growth. And it was quite draconian. It went against what most people wanted for their families. The implementation of it was very repressive. It included forced sterilization, and abortion, and very harsh penalties for people who had extra children. So it was really a human rights disaster.”

In the piece, however, they used the part about forced sterilization and the human rights disaster, but didn’t use where I said, “they really didn’t need the one-child policy to slow down population growth” — and replaced it with voice-over that said, “overpopulation compelled the Communist government to force a one-child policy on the populous.” So they took out something true and added something false.

To see how wrong that it, here is the trend in total fertility rate (births per woman) from 1960 to 2016. This shows how much birth rates had come down in China under policies that promoted smaller families along with women’s healthcare, education, and employment, by the time China implemented the one-child policy in 1980:

china-1980-tfr

I put India and Nigeria on the chart to show how successful China already was relative to other large, poor countries with high fertility in the 1960s. There was no demographic justification for the one-child policy, and the fact that it became draconian and repressive is a clue to how out of step it was with the family lives of the Chinese people.

The reason this matters is not particularly important for the Fox News piece, but it’s very important to understand that progress on reducing fertility is better achieved through empowerment and development than through command and repression. Now that we’re seeing countries interested in increasing fertility, this is important historical context. (Here’s a good review article by Wang Feng, Baochang Gu, and Yong Cai [paywalled | bootlegged])

Anyway, regardless of the implications, it just goes against accuracy and honesty to remove true information for false information.

Anyway anyway, here’s Part 3:

 

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Appearance on Fox News Channel explained

Recently I was invited to be interviewed by Fox News Channel for “a series of stories about changing demographics and how they’re impacting politics, policy, and our culture.” Specifically, the producer said they wanted to interview me about “your recent research on millennials and marriage and divorce rates.”

This raised the recurring question faced by responsible academics: Should I appear on Fox News? For those of us who love attention, it’s hard to say no, but I did consider saying no. I figured the segment would be a right-slanted take, but also hoped that since it was for a news program, rather than an opinion program, it might be moored to reality, and I thought I might have a chance to interject something useful, or at least true. (This differs from my previous appearance, with Tucker Carlson.) Whether to differentiate at all between news and opinion on FNC is an interesting question in itself.

So I did it, and it aired yesterday. Since I lent it legitimacy I should also correct the errors they made. Comments below the video:

Here are some comments and corrections. First, the beginning is just a fear-of-change narrative:

“As we head into 2019 you may look back and think about how much has changed, not just in the past year, but in your life. And it’s not just you. America’s population, our culture, it is all changing.”

It’s setting viewers up for doom, where change is ominous out of control, the audience tearing down that precedes the build up of the authoritarian leader. Anyway, that’s to be expected, along with the boilerplate right-wing statements about marriage, women, welfare, and single mothers, which I won’t detail here.

They never did ask me about my research on marriage and divorce, but we did talk about fertility. So then he says:

“The US is facing a demographic crisis that JFK could not have imagined: A fertility rate of 1.8 percent. That means the US is not producing enough to sustain its population.”

Don’t ask what JFK has to do with this. But the fertility rate is not “1.8 percent,” it’s 1.8 projected births per woman, and it’s not a demographic crisis.

In the interview, I tried to focus on inequality and insecurity in every answer, figuring that was the angle they might let into the piece. This is what they ended up using:

“The reasons behind these demographic changes are complicated. [Philip Cohen:] One of the reasons people have fewer children is because they’re unsure about the future. They’re unsure about the costs of raising those children, especially the costs of education. And the student loan debt is a huge crisis that everybody knows about.”

I’m happy with this, a true statement, not distorted or taken out of context. The chyron they put below me is bad, however: “Lower U.S. Fertility Rates Creating Society Upheaval.” “Upheaval” is a strong word, but in any event the causality is reversed: social instability is driving lower U.S. fertility rates. Whatever effects falling fertility will have on society, they’re not here yet anyway.

Then immigration:

“The US is compensating for lower fertility rates with another demographic change: an increased reliance on immigration.”

The US doesn’t exactly have a policy of responding to falling fertility by welcoming immigrants. But it’s true that immigration is buttressing the US from the potential effects of slower population growth. In the last 25 years the immigrant share of the labor force has increased from 12 percent to 19 percent. That is pretty clearly the solution — if we need one — to falling population growth. But this quote from Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution is ridiculous:

“In the case of the right, they want people to work more cheaply than native-born citizens. And on the left they want a further argument, or an agenda for big government.”

It’s true the right wants immigrants to help keep labor costs down. The idea that the left wants immigrants to bolster the argument for big government is just idiotic. This is creating a narrative where the system/swamp/Washington is destroying the culture.

Finally, the conclusion brings it back to fear of change:

“These demographic changes help to partly explain the resurgence of socialism in the United States. A Gallup poll from August found that young adult Americans are more positive about socialism – 51 percent – than they are about capitalism – 45 percent. That’s a 12-point swing in only two years.”

I have no idea how you connect “these demographic changes” to the (excellent) rise in positive perceptions about socialism. But the 12-point change in two years was only in young adults’ (age 18-29) attitudes toward capitalism. During that time their attitude toward socialism declined as well, so the gap went from -2 to +6, or an eight-point swing. Here’s the trend from Gallup:

capsoc

In conclusion, I got to say something I wanted to say, and it added something to the piece they wouldn’t otherwise have included. Whether that makes it worth participating in this I can’t say.

The segment above was the first of three. I discuss the other two here.

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I read dozens of books this year and the resulting list will surprise and delight you

I am wrapping up a 12-month sabbatical leave from my professor job, which means I didn’t teach or go to a lot of meetings on campus, and instead got to spend more time on the other parts of my job (at home, in loungewear), and try some new things as well.

At the beginning of the year I decided to read more books, and used Goodreads to set a reading goal of 42 (one per week, less 10 for slower books). One goal was to improve my Twitter-degraded attention span [just spent 5 minutes randomly flitting around, now I’m back], or at least expose myself to the feeling of having a longer attention span. And honestly, it was great. I hope this made me more of a book reader forever.

So this year, my year-end book post is about books I read, rather than just books that came out this year. Feel free to make suggestions for gift books in the comments (including your own!). Also, feel free to judge me for anything about this list.

Trump Era

I read a series of books processing Trump and Trumpism. I really liked The Death of Truth (2018) by Michiko Kakutani, which I reviewed here:

Kakutani is a great writer, and this little book of 11 chapters in 170 small pages flies by. Since she left the New York Times, where she was book critic for many years, her Twitter feed has been a chronology of political crisis and social decay under Trump; reading it all together induces anxiety at the pace and scale of the descent, but also, surprisingly, some optimism that the situation remains decipherable with the tools of intellectual incision that Kakutani wields so well.

dtsw

In that review I juxtaposed Kakutani’s intellectual rigor with Jonah Goldberg’s cartoonish simulacrum of erudition in the deeply awful Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy (2018). I reviewed that latter book in some depth in an essay titled “How conservatism makes peace with Trump.” I wrote:

Unfortunately, I found the book to be an extended screed against leftism with but a few pages of anti-Trump material grafted in here and there, which ultimately amounts to blaming leftism and immigration for Trump. And that might sum up the state of the anemic conservative movement. Goldberg’s own weak-kneed position on Trump is not resolved until page 316, when he finally concludes, “As much as I hold Trump in contempt, I am still compelled to admit that, if my vote would have decided the election, I probably would have voted for him” (316). In the end, Goldberg has charted a path toward a détente between his movement and Trump’s.

The Goldberg essay proved quite popular (almost 1200 downloads on SocArXiv) after a Twitter thread listing some of his errors took off:

Anyway, Kakutani pairs nicely with another small book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (2018) by philosopher Jason Stanley. He described 10 features of fascist politics, drawing from Nazi Germany and contemporary Hungary, Poland, India, Myanmar, and connecting them to Trumpism. I see Kakutani and Stanley as setting out framing for the moment, in light of history but without facile parallels. Having read these, for example, made Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House (2018), which wasn’t very insightful, more interesting to read.

Semitism: Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump (2018), by Jonathan Weisman, made a good addition to the contemporary fascism collection. It’s a personal reflection and description of alt-Right anti-Semitism, and a call for Jewish solidarity with other groups targeted by Trump and his movement, especially those with fewer institutional defenses. For both me and Weisman, the explosion of anti-Semitism inspired by Trump’s campaign and presidency reinforced our sense of both Jewishness and American otherness. Like me, only much more, Weisman was also the victim of anti-Semitic social media pile-ons when he spoke out against Trump. I never seriously considered myself a minority in America, or applied a consciously Jewish identity to my work, but there are a lot of anti-Semites around, and they think I’m neither White nor American.

hostnation

In the wake of all this, I found myself staring at this picture from 1920s Poland of my great-great-grandparents, the Patinkins, with their grandaughter, my grandmother’s cousin (later the wife of my grandmother’s brother). And I grew my beard longer.

chai gittel and grandparents

Anyway, the Trumpism book series was kicked off by We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (2017), by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which is a brilliant and wrenching retelling of Coates’ own career as a journalist through the arc of Obama’s presidency, the era that made Coates a household name and also, now seemingly inevitably, birthed Trumpism.

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The Women’s March, January 21, 2017. PNC photo.

It’s hard to believe I read Coates in the same year as Rebecca Traister’s excellent new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (2018). Although Traister does a good bit of history, especially about women’s suffrage, labor, and civil rights, it’s a post-2016 election book, inspired by the Women’s March in particular. The books is a dense but powerfully written treatise on all the ways women’s anger makes the world better — and its suppression is a mechanism of patriarchy. It was written fast, and you can read it fast, moving back and forth between 1848 and 2018, Trump and #MeToo, with interesting dives into intrafeminist debates about sex, intersectionality, and other topics.

tncrtlk

In the category of feminist debates, but no longer about Trumpism, I also liked Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (2017) which was quite polarizing in feminist sociology circles. Even if you don’t buy her account of the excesses of campus feminism and the overreach of Title IX bureaucracy, you have to at least wrestle with it. Kipnis herself overreaches a little, in my view, but I agree that much of the rape-culture talk on campus is disempowering for women — even though rape culture is real. (Incidentally, Kipnis didn’t like Traister’s book, and I didn’t agree with her review.)

Sociology

In April I wrote a review essay titled, “Public engagement and the influence imperative,” for Contemporary Sociology.  The essay covered The Public Professor: How to Use Your Research to Change the World (2016), by M. V. Lee Badgett; The Social Scientist’s Soapbox: Adventures in Writing Public Sociology (2017), by Karen Sternheimer; and Going Public: A Guide for Social Scientists (2017), by Arlene Stein and Jessie Daniels. All three books had good advice for using your research to reach more people and different audiences. In the essay I pressed for more reciprocal engagement, in which our “audiences” help shape the research itself.

publicsoccovers

In the sociology of population section of the American Sociological Association, I was on the award committee that gave the book prize to The Genome Factor: What the Social Genomics Revolution Reveals about Ourselves, Our History, and the Future (2017), by Dalton Conley and Jason Fletcher. The book is excellent as an introduction to contemporary genetic analysis of social traits, which is completely taboo among many social scientists but is still real and not all bullshit. Conley and Fletcher offer compelling explanations of what current techniques can reveal and what they can’t (including race). For the non-expert social scientist, they also offer a review of the history of genetic analysis, from the now-discredited quests for target genes (e.g., the “warrior gene”), to twin studies, to polygenic scores, which use genome-wide analysis to generate propensities for both biological and social traits.

Also on the sociology shelf, I finally read Elizabeth Popp Berman’s 2012 book, Creating the Market University: How Academic Science Became an Economic Engine. It’s one of those books in sociology where the substance of the research is important an interesting even if you don’t know anything about the theories or disciplinary debates that comprise the immediate context for the book. Why did universities and researchers generally start to pitch themselves as primarily drivers of economic growth? The answer is important, and it’s in this excellent book. (Beth is a friend and colleague in the SocArXiv project.)

I was invited read, for an author-meets-critics session, The Triple Bind of Single-Parent Families: Resources, Employment and Policies to Improve Well-being (2018, also free), edited by Rense Nieuwenhuis and Laurie Maldonado. The book contains a series of comparative demographic studies related to the “triple-bind” experienced by single mothers in many countries: resource disadvantage, inadequate employment, and weak supportive policies. Specialized, but if this is for you, it’s very good.

In response to an invitation to participate in a meeting on Israeli demography and the environment, I read The Land Is Full: Addressing Overpopulation in Israel (2016), by Alon Tal (who organized the symposium). The book is really interesting. I wrote about the whole thing at some length, with graphs and photos from my eye-opening trip, and audio of my talk, here.

cfbnat

Not sociology, but sociological, I rate highly I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street (2017), by Matt Taibbi. It’s an in-depth investigation into the killing of Eric Garner by New York City police, including much of his life and community, in the context of larger processes such as community policing, stop-and-frisk, mass incarceration, and urban redevelopment — and how that all led to the gaping wound of injustice after his death.

Also sociological, and recommended, is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (2018). It’s an irreverent takedown of various wellness fads, but also preventative screenings, and the quest for longevity itself. In the process, she digs back into her microbiology roots to explore the self-destructive tendencies of our own cellular programming, which make an internal mockery of our futile attempts to forestall the inevitable. A very 2018 book.

Finally, in the category of truly terrible sociology, I put Mark Regenerus’s book, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy (2017). From my review:

Cheap Sex is an awful book that no one needs to read. The book is an extended rant on the theme, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” wrapped in a misogynist theory about sexual exchange masquerading as economics, and motivated by the author’s misogynist religious and political views.

Last and not quite least, I read Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016). Parts of it were interesting, but on the whole I just never found the qualities that made it so original or insightful or important as to justify the phenomenon it became. Not worth it.

mtbemrjd

Fiction

You didn’t make it all this way to read my thoughts on fiction, so I’ll just say that books are a medium, a category of experience, and mixing in fiction affected the quality of the whole project. So I read some classics I never read before, like Go Tell It on the Mountain, by James Baldwin, and The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. I read the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French, which are on the literary side of murder mysteries; as well as a handful of Michael Connelly novels and the one Carl Hiassen novel I had missed. Lucky Jim, a 1954 academic satire by Kingsley Amis, is great if you like that sort of thing (which I do — ask me about my novel in progress.) Finally, I loved The Humans, by Matt Haig, which is funny and dark and thought-provoking.

Before the end of the year I need to finish Becoming, by Michelle Obama (sigh); Trans Kids: Being Gendered in the Twenty-First Century, by Tey Meadow; and a couple more novels.

Whew!

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Breaking Millennial divorce drop news explained

[With updates as new stories come in.]


Millennials are fun to disparage.

Phones and selfies are all that they cherish.

And what’s par for the course, they have ruined divorce.

‘Cuz Millennials hang on to their ______.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, 9/29/18

The divorce paper I posted two weeks ago, “The Coming Divorce Decline,” suddenly took off in the media the other day (blog post | paper | data and code). I’ve now written an op-ed about the findings for The Hill, including this:

I am ambivalent about these trends. Divorce is often painful and difficult, and most people want to avoid it. The vast majority of Americans aspire to a lifelong marriage (or equivalent relationship). So even if it’s a falling slice of the population, I’m not complaining that they’re happy. Still, in an increasingly unequal society and a winner-take-all economy, two-degree couples with lasting marriages may be a buffer for the select few, but they aren’t a solution to our wider problems.

Here’s my media scrapbook, with some comment about open science process at the end.

The story was first reported by Ben Steverman at Bloomberg, who took the time to read the paper, interview me at some length, send the paper to Susan Brown (a key expert on divorce trends) for comment, and produce figures from the data I provided. I was glad that his conclusion focused on the inequality angle from my interpretation:

“One of the reasons for the decline is that the married population is getting older and more highly educated,” Cohen said. Fewer people are getting married, and those who do are the sort of people who are least likely to get divorced, he said. “Marriage is more and more an achievement of status, rather than something that people do regardless of how they’re doing.”

Many poorer and less educated Americans are opting not to get married at all. They’re living together, and often raising kids together, but deciding not to tie the knot. And studies have shown these cohabiting relationships are less stable than they used to be.

Fewer divorces, therefore, aren’t only bad news for matrimonial lawyers but a sign of America’s widening chasm of inequality. Marriage is becoming a more durable, but far more exclusive, institution.

The Bloomberg headline was, “Millennials Are Causing the U.S. Divorce Rate to Plummet.” Which proved irresistible on social media. I didn’t use the terms “millennials” (which I oppose), or “plummet,” but they don’t fundamentally misrepresent the findings.

Naturally, though, the Bloomberg headline led to other people misrepresenting the paper, like Buzzfeed, which wrote, “Well, according to a new study, millennials are now also ‘killing’ divorce.” Neither I nor Bloomberg said anyone was “killing” divorce; that was just a Twitter joke someone made, but Buzzfeed was too metameta to pick up on that. On the other hand, never complain about a Buzzfeed link, and they did link to the paper itself (generating about 800 clicks in a few days).

Then Fox 5 in New York did a Skype interview with me, and hit the bar scene to talk over the results (additional footage courtesy of my daughter, because nowadays you provide your own b-roll):

The next day Today did the story, with additional information and reporting from Bowling Green’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research, and Pew.

The Maryland news office saw the buzz and did their own story, which helped push it out.

An article in Atlantic featured an interview with Andrew Cherlin putting the trends in historical context. Rachelle Hampton in Slate tied the divorce trend to a Brookings report showing marriage is increasingly tied to higher education. On KPCC, AirTalk hosted a discussion with Megan Sweeney and Steven Martin. On Wisconsin Public Radio, Stephanie Coontz widened the discussion to put changes in marriage and divorce in historical perspective.

Rush Limbaugh read from the Bloomberg article, and was just outraged: “Now, who but deranged people would look at it this way?”

How anybody thinks like this… You have to work to be this illogical. I don’t know where this kind of thing comes from, that a plummeting divorce rate is a bad sign for America in the left’s crazy world of inequality and social justice and their quest to make everybody the same. So that’s just an example of the… Folks, that is not… That kind of analysis — and this is a sociology professor at the University of Maryland. This is not stable. That kind of thinking is not… It’s just not normal. Yet there it is, and it’s out there, and it’s be widely reported by the Drive-By Media, probably applauded and supported by others. So where is this coming from? Where is all of this indecency coming from? Why? Why is it so taking over the American left?

The Limbaugh statement might have been behind this voicemail I received from someone who thinks I’m trying to “promote chaos” to “upend the social order”:

I had a much more reasonable discussion about marriage, divorce, and inequality in this interview with Lauren Gilger in KJZZ (Phoenix public radio).

The Chicago Tribune editorial board used the news to urge parents not to rush their children toward marriage:

This waiting trend may disturb older folks who followed a more traditional (rockier?) path and may be secretly, or not so secretly, wondering if there’s something wrong with their progeny. There isn’t. Remember: Unlike previous generations, many younger people have a ready supply of candidates at their fingertips in the era of Tinder and other dating apps. They can just keep swiping right. Our advice for parents impatient to marry off a son or daughter? Relax. The older they get, the less likely you’ll be stuck paying for the wedding.

The Catholic News Agency got an expert to chime in, “If only we could convince maybe more of them to enter into marriage, we’d be doing really well.”

I don’t know how TV or local news work, but somehow this is on a lot of TV stations. Here’s a selection.

Fox Business Network did a pretty thorough job.

Some local stations added their own reporting, like this one in Las Vegas:

And this one in Buffalo:

And this one in Boise, which brought in a therapist who says young people aren’t waiting as long to start couples therapy.

Jeff Waldorf on TYT Nation did an extended commentary, blaming capitalism:


Open science process

Two things about my process here might concern some people.

The first is promoting research that hasn’t been peer reviewed. USA Today was the only report I saw that specifically mentioned the study is not peer reviewed:

The study, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, has been submitted for presentation at the 2019 Population Association of America meeting, an annual conference for demographers and sociologists to present research.

But, when Steverman interviewed me I emphasized to him that it was not peer-reviewed and urged him to consult other researchers before doing the story — he told me he had already sent it to Susan Brown. Having a good reporter consult a top expert who’s read the paper is as good a quality peer review as you often get. I don’t know everything Brown told him, but the quote he used apparently showed her endorsement of the main findings:

“The change among young people is particularly striking,” Susan Brown, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University, said of Cohen’s results. “The characteristics of young married couples today signal a sustained decline [in divorce rates] in the coming years.”

For the story to be clear enough to become a news event, the research often has to be pretty simple. That’s the case here: what I’m doing is looking at an easily-identified trend and providing my interpretation of it. If this has to be peer-reviewed, then almost anything an academic says should be. Of course, I provided the publicly verifiable data and code, and there are a lot of people with the skills to check this if it concerned them.

On the other hand, there is a lot of research that is impossible to verify that gets reported. Prominent examples include the Alice Goffman ethnographic book and the Raj Chetty et al. analysis of confidential IRS data. These were big news events, but whether they were peer reviewed or not was irrelevant because the peer reviewers had no way to know if the studies were right. My conclusion is that sharing research is the right thing to do, and sharing it with as much supporting material as you can is the responsible way to do it.

The second concern is over the fact that I posted it while it was being considered for inclusion in the Population Association of America meetings. This is similar to posting a paper that is under review at a journal. Conference papers are not reviewed blind, however, so it’s not a problem of disclosing my identity, but maybe generating public pressure on the conference organizers to accept the paper. This happens in many forms with all kinds of open science. I think we need to see hiding research as a very costly choice, one that needs to be carefully justified — rather than the reverse. Putting this in the open is the best way to approach accountability. Now the work of the conference organizers, whose names are listed in the call for papers, can be judged fairly. And my behavior toward the organizers if they reject it can also be scrutinized and criticized.

Although I would love to have the paper in the conference, in this case I don’t need this paper to be accepted by PAA, as it has already gotten way more attention than I ever expected. PAA organizers have a tough job and often have to reject a lot of papers for reasons of thematic fit as well as quality. I won’t complain or hold any grudges if it gets rejected. There’s a lot of really good demography out there, and this paper is pretty rudimentary.

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Legal risks in reporting on academic sexual harassment

gossip

Gossip, according to Google Images

This is on the nuts and bolts of reporting sexual harassment.

Last fall my colleague Liana Sayer and I offered to help people report on sexual harassment in academic sociology (other posts on this: #MeToo). Although we have corresponded with a number of people, we have yet to make any public reports. One reason for that is legal risk.

The first advice I got from a number of people was to get a lawyer, and to get libel insurance. I did both of those things (libel turns out to be a kind of personal injury, like hitting someone in your car, so you can get covered for it under an umbrella policy).

After attending a media law conference (long story), and having gathered enough evidence to consider moving ahead with publication in one case, I spoke to several lawyers, and eventually retained Constance Pendleton, a media law expert and partner at Davis Wright Tremain. Here is some of what I learned from speaking with her.

First, if the case involves harassment within one workplace (school), it may be better to go through the official reporting procedure rather than making a public case, at least from the perspective of protecting the accuser. This involves lawyers and documents, which is good. However, for reasons I mentioned here, that often doesn’t work. And that process often ends with a promise of confidentiality that shields the harasser from public exposure (a key institutional goal of many university sexual harassment officers).

Second, the risk of getting sued as an individual is high. We don’t have a lot of experience in the current context with lawsuits against accusers, but the cases that have come forward have often involved major investigations by big organizations, not individuals publishing accusations on their blogs. So it’s hard to know how they will play. However,  even the cost of “easily” winning a case is likely to be a lot, something in five figures. And in the process, the accuser you are trying to protect could be forced to testify, or at least produce an affidavit, even if you have kept them anonymous in the story. Truth is a defense against libel, but if your true statement is “someone told me this,” you can still be found responsible if you can’t prove that what the person told you is true, or if it can be shown you acted maliciously in reporting it.

In the case of being sued, the things you need are the things a good journalist would want in reporting such a story, such as original documents, contemporaneous records, witnesses, and so on. There is a reason for that: journalists who report this stuff are heading off such lawsuits themselves. But I didn’t fully appreciate some key differences between a citizen journalist and a real news organization. These include the reputation of the news organization, which shields them (practically if not legally) from charges of acting maliciously. Also, they have lawyers already, so it doesn’t cost them as much to defend cases. And they have an interest in defending their reputation, so everyone knows they will fight. Finally, there are some legal protections for revealing information if you do it in the public interest, and that’s an easier case for news organizations to make. (This is my shallow, lay understanding of the situation, not legal advice).

Regardless of my thoughts on procedural fairness, which is hotly debated, these are reasons why I wouldn’t report on rumors alone, or report a case where I didn’t know the accuser’s identity and had no way of verifying the supporting information.

News reality

Given all this, The best thing might be for a news organization to report the story, rather than reporting it independently. I haven’t ruled out the latter course, but it’s much riskier. (And there may be hybrid solutions, such as writing a reported piece as a freelancer for a news organization.) Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, news organizations that are interested in reporting on sexual harassment are getting bombarded with cases to report. They have to choose selectively from among these cases, and the variables involved are beyond my control.

In the case of Michael Kimmel, for example, reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education (paywalledbootlegged), the story includes one accuser who requested anonymity, and one senior sociologist who affirms the existence of rumors, and the charge is unwanted advances and demeaning comments. In this environment, that would not normally be enough to warrant a news story by a major publication, naming the accused. Not very much evidence and not such an egregious case (no reported threats, quid pro quo, or violence). That’s not an excuse, that’s a fact of the media landscape. The difference here is Kimmel is famous, and that he is “delaying” receiving a major award (plus it’s an award for being a feminist). If you brought the same facts and evidence to a news organization, but about a non-famous senior sociologist, you are unlikely to make it past editorial triage.

In summary, the very cases that I most want to expose — the common harassment that occurs between non-famous people all the time in academia — are difficult to work with. Risky for the citizen journalist, but maybe not important enough to jump the line at major news organizations. That said, I still favor public exposure as an approach in this environment, where policies remain weak and formal proceedings are unlikely to produce satisfactory results — but harassers and their employers are on the defensive and much of the public is watching and willing to get involved. And I still want to help. But it’s harder than I thought it would be. Live and learn.

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How conservatism makes peace with Trump

 

Jonah Goldberg telling his Howard Zinn story to John Podhoretz on CSPAN.


I  wrote a long essay on Jonah Goldberg’s book, Suicide of the West. Because it has graphs and tables and a lot of references, I made it a paper instead of a blog post, and posted it on SocArXiv, here. If you like it, and you happen to edit some progressive or academic publication that would like to publish it, please let me know! I’m happy (not really, but I will) to shorten it. There, I pitched it. Feedback welcome.

First paragraph:

This essay is a review of Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy, by Jonah Goldberg (Crown Forum, 2018), with a few data explorations along the way. I read the book to see what I could learn about contemporary conservative thinking, especially anti-Trump conservatism. Opposing Trump and the movement he leads is suddenly the most pressing progressive issue of our time, and it’s important not to be too narrow in mobilizing that opposition. Unfortunately, I found the book to be an extended screed against leftism with but a few pages of anti-Trump material grafted in here and there, which ultimately amounts to blaming leftism and immigration for Trump. And that might sum up the state of the anemic conservative movement. Goldberg’s own weak-kneed position on Trump is not resolved until page 316, when he finally concludes, “As much as I hold Trump in contempt, I am still compelled to admit that, if my vote would have decided the election, I probably would have voted for him” (316). In the end, Goldberg has charted a path toward a détente between his movement and Trump’s.

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