Inequality and social change, 2022 pontification edition

Someone paid me to talk about social trends for an hour. To get your month’s worth, I recorded my end of the conversation, cut out some of the dumber parts, and then tried out Happy Scribe to transcribe it, which cost a few dollars. The lightly edited text is below.

And you can listen to it on your holiday drive or doing the dishes. Sped up a little (I sound smarter and less boring that way) and with some editing, it’s 30 minutes. Here’s the Soundcloud link:

Here’s the text:

Fast and slow, unequally

I think my two overarching things are one, sort of a disjuncture between fast and slow. A lot of things have slowed down, but things have slowed down very unequally. So you have relatively rich people staying home all day while life goes by at the same speed on their phones, and at their jobs. And I think that just widens the gap in perceptions of how people see and understand the world.

And the second thing is really widening inequality. Inequality is very foundational to what’s happening socially right now. Even if you’re only looking at one person, the inequality affects that person because it affects their social context. So inequality is a property of groups but it affects everybody’s experience. This feeds into all kinds of other polarization that we have, just growing differences in perception and experience, which are increasingly sort of unstable or unpredictable.

In the olden days, when it took six months to get information from between Europe and North America, things that happened six months ago were only happening now. And then instant communication means the whole world is happening at the same time. That’s a very new experience for us. So time is perception of time and place is foundational. We have to get used to the size of what just happened. If we had something like a 40% drop in people moving around last spring – nothing like that has happened in modern times. So even if we get down to just 5% or 10%, that would have been huge on the previous scale. So even if there’s a large reduction in the pandemic effect, we’re still dealing with disruptions on a historic scale, even if things moderate quite a bit. I think we’re still looking at a quite different landscape when it comes to things like how people relate to their work, their physical spaces and other things, also, as far as sense of risk.

A lot of it depends on the pandemic. Some things are already certain — global travel is going to be disrupted. If all you do is go between two countries in Europe for vacation, maybe not so much, but business travel, travel to poor countries, it’s going to be radically disrupted regardless of what happens at this point with the pandemic. So that’s already sort of written in.

Families

Family life. I think you can say some aspects have become more intense. Time together has increased. Some aspects have become less intense. So time together with extended family has been decreased. So I would expect certain things to follow from that, like people prioritizing family oriented leisure. If you couldn’t see your grandparents for the last two years, then your next vacation. Very well, maybe to visit your grandparents instead of going to Euro Disney.

And so that will change people’s priorities. Short term priorities. As far as making up for things they lost, people are getting together to have graduation parties for the graduations they missed. So there’s a big backlog of things weddings, baby showers, things that are celebrations or things that people consider to be milestones or life events that they don’t want to just lose. If you lost a breakfast at your favorite restaurant, you don’t have to make that up. But if you lost your grandmother’s 80th birthday party, that might be something that you do make up. So I think there’s a lot of catch up to be done that we’ll see in social life.

That relates actually to the inequality issue. To some degree, the first evidence we saw the sort of supply chain issues that are beguiling us so much now in the US were actually construction related things like lumber that started right away. And that’s when we realized that people were rich.

People who were staying home were renovating their homes a lot already in the pandemic, which seems sort of counterintuitive, like, normally, that’s something you do during economic good times and so on. But then we saw real estate prices going up. So we see that for people whose incomes were not disrupted, their consumption didn’t decline. And in fact, it may have shifted to be more active in some respects, especially in the home sphere. People investing in improving their homes and furnishings

Take me and my home office. I mean, I painted the wall green — by the time I painted the wall green that means I was thinking about a semipermanent situation in my house. So this used to be the guest room. Now it’s the office.

That’s very minor. But that’s indicative of the sort of the changes that people made that have their own momentum and some of them become permanent.

Fear and uncertainty

So people becoming more home oriented seems somewhat inevitable, but also the fear and uncertainty. It’s very unpredictable what that does. But I think it’s inevitable that we’ll have more. I don’t know if you remember, there was sort of a meme in 2020 that was sort of like, oh, how could this year get any worse? And then the joke was like, 2021 is the same. And I think part of that is just coping with the reality of a baseline shift in risk of catastrophic things.

So now climate change events that are unambiguously attributable to climate change are more frequent just over the last few years. Maybe it’s just our consciousness to some degree, but it certainly is the perception that, oh, this is going to change. Oh, this is the erosion of democracy. This is the fear of global health crisis.

People already talking about things like the next pandemic. I heard today that they’re changing the way the doors work on the buses in our city to allow people to enter from the rear, which was a problem during the pandemic because they wanted people to enter from the rear so that the bus driver wouldn’t have to face everybody and have risk. Well, they said on the news today, it also will be helpful in a future public health crisis to make this change. Well, we never cared that much about preparing for public health crisis before, so now we do.

Polarization and culture wars

I think what both the mask and the vaccine things show us — which are both such ridiculous issues to have culture wars over — I think what it shows us is that we’ll do it over anything. So even if we don’t continue to have politically polarized, culturally divisive conflicts over masks and vaccines, we’ll find the next topic.

That’s a reality that we have to anticipate beyond the pandemic. I think barring an extreme evolutionary development by the virus itself, we’re not going back to this sort of mass death event of the early pandemic. But again, if we realize how much our baseline has shifted, even if we’re making 5% to 10% adjustments, it’s still huge. And I think the people’s sense of what they would call ontological security, like the sense that I know how the world works, is disrupted.

And I think the polarization and cultural war stuff that we see is partly reaction to that. It always was partly reaction to social change. It always was, oh, some people saying, Why do you have to change the society so much? Why do we need the Internet? Why do we need affirmative action? Why do we need immigration? Why can’t we just have the world the way it used to be? So to the extent that social change is accelerated, then the culture war stuff inevitably will be, too.

And I can also add this is geopolitical, which is really not my area. But some of this is stoked by conflict between countries. So like the Russian intervention and the US political system — there are just opportunities for people to make mischief deliberately. Once we have exposed this vulnerability, once we expose that we’re prone to turn anything into a culture war, then it’s easy for anybody to take advantage of that, whether it’s companies with simple commercial objectives or countries with massive geopolitical ambitions.

One of the irrationalities about people react how people react to the virus is that they tend to be more afraid they’ll catch the virus from people who are not like them. So people don’t wear masks around their neighborhood, although they might when they leave the neighborhood. I think that perception is just sort of other people are more scary.

Diversity and social change

The race and ethnic equity and diversity issues become wrapped up in whatever else is going on. The fact that the Black Lives Matter protests were so enhanced during the Pandemic year was not an accident because it was a sense of things being a dramatic change and uncertainty, and people not liking the people have had enough.

So I think that continues. I do think there are generational changes in that which we haven’t yet grappled with. You can see this a little bit with how different young people’s attitudes are about gender and gender identity to older people, how fast something so fundamental shifted that a large portion of young people have a very different attitude toward gender identity than five years ago.

Generational change is very important. And if we think about how this has changed during the pandemic times, I think it had to do with how old you were when the pandemic came. And so how you were affected. Kids who were in school and had to switch school at home will be permanently affected. We don’t know exactly how much, but the impacts on academic achievement have been pretty dramatic in the US and very unequal. So low income and minority kids lost more reading and math and science development than richer kids. And that’s in an amount that would have shocked us before. And you can get some of that back. But you can’t get that all back.

I think if you look at the mental health data on young people, just a phenomenal crisis in terms of depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation. Young people’s mental health is in trouble. I see it in my students, and we see it in the data. And so that stays with them to some degree that experience stays with them forever. But in terms of cultural shifts, like the kind of things people think about with generational change, or are they more progressive? Are they more open minded?

Are they becoming more entitled, more spoiled and all those issues? I think a lot of that is really just age related, not generational. It’s old people thinking, kids these days. But there are some things that change.

The baby boom generation, especially in the US, was a generation that experienced change more than over the course of their lives more than other people. So if you were born in the you were born into that stereotypical 1950s family, those people are the people who destroyed that in their own lives. So just in the course of one generation, they were born in the 1950s family, and then they created the 80s family.

They’re getting older. So they get more conservative in some sense. But they’ve changed the way we do old age things that old people do now that the baby who brought us include divorce, include coming out as transgender, being more willing to adopt other kinds of family forms, like cohabitation, like living apart together, the whole attitude towards sex at older age. Those things came from that generation. And those things are young people can look forward to moving into that kind of old age. It’s harder to see what today’s young people are going to bring into older ages.

Demographic change

So what I said before about giant change, slipping back into just very large change, I think maybe what we see. So the overall birth rate decline in the US in 2020 was about 4%, which is the biggest one year change in 50 years. So that was crisis response.

But we’re still seeing lower birth rates. We already were seeing lower birth rates. So it’s a question of how the pandemic merged with existing trends. And here I’ll go back to the slow thing. Demographic things all slowed down except death, birth slowed down, marriage, divorce even slowed down and migration, at least immigration migration within countries.

Even if those things head back towards normal, the shifts that we saw were pretty big. If you look sort of between November and February, that four-month period birth rates were probably down in the US more like 10%. So half a year of a 10% decline is a very big ripple, no matter what.

And you can’t get that back. That’s the way birth rates work is even if you can’t have more babies born last year, no matter what you do. Even if birth rates come back. And I think probably what we’re going to see with birth rates is a combination of some births that we make a distinction between quantum and tempo, between births that are permanently lost and birds that are delayed. And there’s a relationship between them. If all young people together decide not to have a baby this year, and then they all decide that they will do it next year, some of them won’t.

So there’s a relationship between delay and total and total decline that we’ll definitely see. So birth rates are going to be down. And so that means population growth so slow. That means populations will continue to age. And even if it’s a short term effect, it’s contributing to the longer term trend in that direction in all developed societies, for sure.

When we look at the other demographic things like marriage and divorce, it’s the kind of thing where you could see a rebound that makes up for those things. I think when housing prices go down, it’s harder to divorce because you have to sell your house to divorce. On the other hand, high house prices give certain people opportunities. Okay, so if there’s, like, a roaring 20s reaction and we’re all thrilled and excited when this is all over, you could see a rebound of certain things like marriage. But so far, there’s no sign of that. We had a huge decline in 2020, and it’s come back a little bit, but it has nothing to make up. So we lost a lot of marriages, maybe forever.

And then when it comes to migration, in terms of the wealthy societies, immigration was the only hedge against population decline. And if the culture turns more against immigration, either because of racism and nativism or because the pandemic prohibits travel and stuff, then that means that our ability to respond to population decline is reduced.

So population decline seems pretty inevitable in the rich countries being accelerated by these events.

Policy and economics

Well, I do think there’s a possibility on health, a good possibility that this whole thing in the US pushes us more in the direction of paying attention to public health and maybe even access to health. I was really intrigued that everybody assumed that COVID related testing and vaccination, of course, would be free. There’s no reason that COVID stuff should be free, but cancer treatment is not. It’s just that it happened so fast and we had to deal with it. It’s sort of like we learned how important healthcare is.

So, of course, Americans, no offense, are terrible at learning lessons, but it’s possible some people there’s possibly positive direction, positive change in some of that area. We’ll understand the public responsibility for things like healthcare. I am afraid that for personal relationships and romantic relationships and families, it’s mostly damage. So even if there’s sort of silver linings and people come to appreciate the good things in life and so on, those are all rebound effects from trauma and so they don’t overcome the bad things. I don’t see that happening anyway.

So if you think about the vulnerability and fear and heartache and all those things, I don’t know, I guess I think people will overreact will overreact to things in positive and negatively. So if you’re trying to predict people’s behavior, it probably gets harder and riskier. Well for white collar and middle class people. Certainly a shift. The working at home is not going away.

And it’s very class skewed. It’s not only related to income and status, but it’s highly correlated and it’s not changing. I mean, it’s not going all the way back.

So that’s very big. When we talk about the great resignation and people quitting their jobs again. Remember the scale, if we have a 10% increase in unemployment for a few months, that’s extreme. And we shouldn’t expect that to ever happen again. So if a few million people quit their jobs in anger, that might be a one-time thing. But if quitting your job in anger becomes even 5% more likely in the coming years, that’s very noticeable from a business perspective. And so I think some of that continues inevitably. So I think it fits into the pattern of diversity where we will see some people happy, attached, risk averse stay in their jobs. And some people fed up disgruntled, unable to accept frustration, will quit their jobs. And if the baseline is nobody quit their job and you can’t quit your job less than zero amount.

So if the experience diverges, it shows up as a rising average, because even if some people love their jobs more, they can’t quit their jobs less than zero. So inevitably we have more people quitting their jobs, even if what’s driving that is just a greater unpredictability to work. So if you’re expecting your employees to stick around, you’re going to have more of them quitting anyway. Yes, definitely more people quitting with technology and Zoom and all that. And like this, more work being outsourced and including geographically. So that is going to include international call centers and all that stuff that was already happening. People reading your chest X ray in India and all that is only going to happen more and more.

One thing I did want to mention is that global travel being reduced changes people’s perspective on things, even if not everybody travels globally between countries, those that do have a disproportionate impact, even if it’s only middle class or rich people who travel to other countries for vacations.

Those people have more impact on the culture than poor people. And so the loss of that and the fact that the pandemic is diverging between rich and poor countries means that travel is not coming back the way it was, and that’s bad for our attitudes, our open mindedness, our cultural integration, like all those things, are undermined by the loss of global travel, which I think we’re going to have for quite a while.

Youth power

If you look at in the US when we had was that rash of school shootings and that generation very short generation, a few years of young people who are super into gun control and were great activists and brilliant spokespeople or like Greta Thornberg with the climate change.

These things maybe are ephemeral, like they come and go. But on the other hand, I would expect young people’s progressive, not everybody, but like a large portion of young people doing progressive things dramatically. I think that will only continue. And that’s great, mostly that’s for the good, even if it increases kind of generational conflict, generational conflict, probably in the long run, is a positive thing. Young people are usually more right than old people.

So climate change inevitably will be a huge part of that. But I don’t know what they’ll do next, whether it’s gender, race, climate change or whatever. But I think don’t expect that permanent presence of a surprising group of young people suddenly showing up and doing something dramatic. So I expect that to keep happening unpredictably. And I think that’s definitely good.

Socialism

I think part of what happens as the Cold War fades is that the label doesn’t mean anything doesn’t have carries no negative connotation with young people anymore.

There’s no socialist country or society that is creating a negative example right now. Nobody really believes that China is Communist or whatever that doesn’t register with people who want more redistributive policies. So they don’t think, oh, no, we’ll become China if we raise taxes on Mark Zuckerberg. So to young people, that’s nonsensical to old people that still carries weight. But yes, and go back to the question of scale.

We spent a few trillion dollars on infrastructure. I think the idea of raising taxes 10% on rich people and redistributing that wealth will seem very, not shocking to young people. And so I do think that continues. And whether or not that actually becomes policy. I don’t know.

But I do think that the baseline has shifted on what’s an acceptable amount of economic disruption because doing things on a very large scale is not surprising. We just sent every kid home for over a year. So they’re not going to be shocked at the idea of a 10% tax increase on rich people, which would be totally revolutionized to welfare state in the US.

But in terms of stimulus and infrastructure, they’re pretty big. If they get the second one passed, then that could become baked in as new normal, a higher degree of infrastructure spending which us desperately needs. People do not realize. Americans have been very slow to realize how badly our infrastructure was failing. And I think Biden was very smart. And the Democrats were very smart to package all this other social stuff as infrastructure like elder care and prescription drugs and all that stuff.

Even if that doesn’t radically change people’s ideology in some ways, even if they just successfully spend that money, it will have a large effect. So that does mean things like Internet and airports and things like that could be improved, which are positive, even if they don’t, even if they’re not exciting on social media. I do think those things are pretty big. It’s not gone. It turns out the people who said Trump was just a symptom of a larger problem were right.

Trumpism

And so even if Trump died today, I don’t think it’s not going away. And what it means in politics is virulent racist nationalism is probably increasing. It means respect for democratic norms is less stable or secure than in the past.

And that also increases. And it means in terms of my kind of work, like social science and science in general, it means the science denialism, the undermining of the scholarship fascism like to tell us the authoritarians want to undermine truth itself. They don’t want us to be able to have a discourse that has any rational basis. And I think that continues when you look at the politicians. One thing the Democrats still haven’t learned is that explaining to the public that the Republicans are hypocrites doesn’t hurt them. They don’t care, the public doesn’t care, and the politicians don’t care. So that just increases. And in Europe, the far right nationalism has the added feature of being related to conflict between countries, especially Russia. And so it just continues to be stoked. So I think that’s bad.

And it continues. And in terms of democratic values such as they are, I think it’s quite bad.

Technology

I think a lot of the way technology gets into our heads is usually unconscious. And so one of the reasons why people are so angry at Silicon Valley and social media companies and things is because they always seem to know where we’re going before we get there. And it’s partly because they build us the ramp to get to the next place we’re going. So when Facebook introduced the Like button, nobody realized that that was going to change the way the Internet works for everybody.

So things like that keep happening. I don’t put much stock in the Mark Zuckerberg Metaverse at the moment, but on the other hand, I do think the people who will determine that are not us.

So the way we cope with these changes is by using technological tools. On the other hand, we’re stuck using the tools they give us. And I think that’s sort of true if you look at the smart technologies, the Internet of things, the things that connect everything to each other. I think people don’t realize how much of that capacity is becoming already part of our regular lives.

So even if it’s just your watch knows what your phone knows what your computer knows, what your thermostat knows what your car is doing, those things. It’s unpredictable, like we don’t realize we need those things, but we’re going to get used to them more and more. And the way that they make people want those things is by sort of the quantification of self. So like your watch tells you your calories and your steps that you’re breathing and your heart rate and also your consumer confidence and your insurability that stimulates people’s competitive thinking and their sense of responsibility sort of what they would call neoliberalism: if you fail, it’s your fault. The more people believe that, the more they want stuff like a daily score.

I think if the people trying to sell this technology are going to have figured this out, that you do it in the sense of giving people the illusion of control and self improvement and all that, that’s what people think they want. So you want your car to tell you that you haven’t taken enough steps today and they don’t realize that that involved that technologically.

What that means is that everything has to communicate with everything else. So they’ll tell us what we need and then we’ll demand it.

The bottom line

I still think it’s inequality. I mean, we were already upset about inequality, the people who were concerned. But even if you’re not upset about inequality, what it does is it widens the gap in perception and experience.

We’ve said before, if inequality increases crime and crime increases fear, then inequality is bad for rich people, too. It makes them afraid and anxious. And that’s maybe metaphorical. But I think it’s really true. So the divergence in perception is just large.

And I think you see it in sort of what Andy Slav at the public health expert, called in his book, the room service lockdown. Some people were locked down and some people were delivering them things. And I think Bob Dylan said in the whole world, like some of us are prisoners and some of us are guards.

It’s polarization in the literal sense of just extreme differences in experience. And so that undermines all kinds of social things. But I also think it just becomes a source of stress. And I think it contributes to the mental health problems. Honestly, if you interact with people that have a very different perception of life than you, it’s just harder to relate to them. And people are social, and they need to relate to each other. And so the widening gulf in experience between different groups just makes social life more tense and more difficult. And so I’m sorry to have my main social trend to be so negative. But I do think it is mostly negative. And that’s then to the extent that good things happen, it’s in response to that.

I’m optimistic about young people, that’s always the potential. But I do think that the underlying thing that we’re reacting to is the shift. Inequality, not just economic but in difference in experience and perception.

Basic self-promotion

Five years ago today I wrote a post called “Basic self promotion” on here. There has been a lot of work and advice on this subject in the intervening years (including books, some of which I reviewed here). So this is not as necessary as it was then. But it holds up pretty well, with some refreshing. So here is a lightly revised version. As always, happy to have your feedback and suggestions in the comments — including other things to read.


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Present yourself. PN Cohen photo: https://flic.kr/p/2hyYzqs.

If you won’t make the effort to promote your research, how can you expect others to?

These are some basic thoughts for academics promoting their research. You don’t have to be a full-time self-promoter to improve your reach and impact, but the options are daunting and I often hear people say they don’t have time to do things like run a Twitter account or write for blogs and other publications. Even a relatively small effort, if well directed, can help a lot. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s fine to do some things pretty well even if you can’t do everything to your ideal standard.

It’s all about making your research better — better quality, better impact. You want more people to read and appreciate your work, not just because you want fame and fortune, but because that’s what the work is for. I welcome your comments and suggestions below.

Present yourself

Make a decent personal website and keep it up to date with information about your research, including links to freely available copies of your publications (see below). It doesn’t have to be fancy. I’m often surprised at how many people are sitting behind years-old websites. (I recently engaged Brigid Barrett, who specializes in academics’ websites, to redesign mine.)

Very often people who come across your research somewhere else will want to know more about you before they share, report on, or even cite it. Your website gives your work more credibility. Has this person published other work in this area? Taught related courses? Gotten grants? These are things people look for. It’s not vain or obnoxious to present this information, it’s your job. I recommend a good quality photo, updated at least every five years.

Make your work available

Let people read the actual research. For work not yet “published” in journals, post drafts when they are ready for readers (a good time is when you are ready to send it to a conference or journal – or earlier if you are comfortable with sharing it). This helps you establish precedence (planting your flag), and allows it to generate feedback and attract readers. It’s best to use a disciplinary archive such as SocArXiv (which, as the director, I highly recommend) or your university repository, or both. This will improve how they show up in web searches (including Google Scholar) indexed for things like citation or grant analysis, and archived. You can also get a digital object identifier (DOI), which allows them to enter the great stream of research metadata. (See the SocArXiv FAQ for more answers.)

When you do publish in journals, prefer open-access journals because it’s the right thing to do and more people can read your work there. If a paper is paywalled, share a preprint or postprint version. On your website or social media feeds, please don’t just link to the pay-walled versions of your papers, that’s the click of death for someone just browsing around, plus it’s elitist and antisocial. You can almost always put up a preprint without violating your agreements (ideally you wouldn’t publish anywhere that won’t let you do this). To see the policies of different journals regarding self-archiving, check out the simple database at SHERPA/RoMEO, or, of course, the agreement you signed with the journal.

I oppose private sites like Academia.edu, ResearchGate, or SSRN. These are just private companies making a profit from doing what your university and its library, and nonprofits like SocArXiv are already doing for the public good. Your paper will not be discovered more if it is on one of these sites.

I’m not an open access purist, believe it or not. (If you got public money to develop a cure for cancer, that’s different, then I am a purist.) Not everything we write has to be open access (books, for example), but the more it is the better, especially original research. This is partly an equity issue for readers, and partly to establish trust and accountability in all of our work. Readers should be able to see our work product – our instruments, our code, our data – to evaluate its veracity (and to benefit their own work). And for the vast majority of readers who don’t want to get into those materials, the fact they are there increases our collective accountability and trustworthiness. I recommend using the Open Science Framework, a free, nonprofit platform for research sharing and collaboration.

Actively share your work

In the old days we used to order paper reprints of papers we published and literally mail them to the famous and important people we hoped would read and cite them. Nowadays you can email them a PDF. Sending a short note that says, “I thought you might be interested in this paper I wrote” is normal, reasonable, and may be considered flattering. (As long as you don’t follow up with repeated emails asking if they’ve read it yet.)

Social media

If you’re reading this, you probably use at least basic social media. If not, I recommend it. This does not require a massive time commitment and doesn’t mean you have to spend all day doomscrolling — you can always ignore them. Setting up a public profile on Twitter or a page on Facebook gives people who do use them all the time a way to link to you and share your profile. If someone wants to show their friends one of my papers on Twitter, this doesn’t require any effort on my part. They tweet, “Look at this awesome new paper @familyunequal wrote!” (I have some vague memory of this happening with my papers.) When people click on the link they go to my profile, which tells them who I am and links to my website.

Of course, a more active social media presence does help draw people into your work, which leads to exchanging information and perspectives, getting and giving feedback, supporting and learning from others, and so on. Ideally. But even low-level attention will help: posting or tweeting links to new papers, conference presentations, other writing, etc. No need to get into snarky chitchat and following hundreds of people if you don’t want to. To see how sociologists are using Twitter, you can visit the list I maintain, which has more than 1600 sociologists. This is useful for comparing profile and feed styles.

Other writing

People who write popular books go on book tours to promote them. People who write minor articles in sociology journals might send out some tweets, or share them with their friends on Facebook. In between are lots of other places you can write something to help people find and learn about your work. I still recommend a blog format, easily associated with your website, but this can be done different ways. As with publications themselves, there are public and private options, open and paywalled. Open is better, but some opportunities are too good to pass up – and it’s OK to support publications that charge subscription or access fees, if they deserve it.

There are also good organizations now that help people get their work out. In my area, for example, the Council on Contemporary Families is great (I’m a former board member), producing research briefs related to new publications, and helping to bring them to the attention of journalists and editors. Others work with the Scholars Strategy Network, which helps people place Op-Eds, or the university-affiliated site The Society Pages, or others. In addition, there are blogs run by sections of the academic associations, and various group blogs. And there is Contexts (which I used to co-edit), the general interest magazine of ASA, where they would love to hear proposals for how you can bring your research out into the open (for the magazine or their blog).


For more on the system we use to get our work evaluated, published, transmitted, and archived, I’ve written this report: Scholarly Communication in Sociology: An introduction to scholarly communication for sociology, intended to help sociologists in their careers, while advancing an inclusive, open, equitable, and sustainable scholarly knowledge ecosystem.

The blog’s decade

Blogging is dead. Long live the blog!

At 268,000, visits to this blog are now down 37% from the peak year of 2015. At the same time, this year I had the fewest number of new posts, just 39. On the other hand, this year I had 25 million impressions on Twitter. Whatever that means.

decade-stats

In my case, and probably many others, the role of the blog has changed with the growth of Twitter. A lot of what the blog did was provide an immediate outlet for daily chatter and work in progress thoughts, a way to get feedback, check in with colleagues, learn new things and meet new people. That’s a lot of what I use Twitter for now, more efficiently (if more noisily).

The other squeeze on the blog is the imperative to do open science more systematically, for which I use the Open Science Framework to post data and code — in projects, which may include multiple files, and quick files for single documents. And of course I use SocArXiv for more formal working papers, reviews, and preprints (mine are here).

So what is the role of the blog? It’s the place for official news and announcements about new work — including notifications of stuff I’m publishing elsewhere — longer arguments, and informal work. It’s a way for people to subscribe to my news via email (it also goes on Facebook, which a lot of sociologists use).

In several talks I have tried to illustrate the total information strategy in something like this pentagulation:

pentagulate

For a wider perspective, I also wrote a report on Scholarly Communication in Sociology, which is intended especially for grad students and early career scholars.

I’m happy to hear suggestions (on any platform) for how to handle communication strategy.

Book aside

The tricky relationship between platforms and different media came home to roost in my book, Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible. That book was inspired by the success of this blog, which is what enticed University of California Press to consider it. Unbeknownst to the vast majority of my readers on other platforms, I worked pretty hard on it, selecting the best blog posts, and then combining, updating, and adding to them to make a collection of essays, with data. I don’t know how successful the book is compared with other academic books generally, but, with almost no marketing beyond my social media platforms, it has generated basically no buzz for me (media, invitations, etc.). That’s in contrast to working papers, tweets, and blog posts, which continue to bring in wider attention. I know other people have done amazing blog-to-book projects, but this experience definitely showed me that the successful translation is far from automatic. Live and learn! Maybe in the long run the book will be what persists from the first decade of this blog.

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!

We won our First Amendment lawsuit against President Trump

unblocked

Federal judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled yesterday that the president is violating our First Amendment rights when he blocked me and six other plaintiffs for disagreeing with him on Twitter. The details and decision are available here. Congratulations and deep appreciation to the legal team at the Knight First Amendment Institute, especially Katie Fallow, Jameel Jaffer, Alex Abdo, and Carrie DeCell (sorry for those I’m missing).

I described my participation in the suit and my tweets last year here, and the oral arguments in March here.

Judge Buchwald’s introduction to the decision is great:

This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, “block” a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States. The answer to both questions is no.

She went on to issue declaratory relief, meaning she told the president he’s breaking the law, rather than injunctive relief (an order to act), writing:

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803), and we have held that the President’s blocking of the individual plaintiffs is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President and [social media director Dan] Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional.

That remains to be seen, of course (I’m still blocked at this writing).

Here are a couple of snippets of analysis.

From Wired:

“In an age when we’re seeing so many norms broken by government regarding free speech, this is an important and right decision,” says [Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland]. “It sends a message that we’re not going to destroy free speech norms.”

[David Greene, a senior staff attorney and civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation] says he hopes the ruling warns other elected officials who are blocking constituents on social media to stop. “We routinely get a ton of people complaining to us about similar practices,” he says. “I hope they take it as a message that you have to stop doing this.”

From the Mercury News:

“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from suppressing speech on the basis of viewpoint,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the institute, in a statement Wednesday. “The court’s application of that principle here should guide all of the public officials who are communicating with their constituents through social media.”

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law at UC Berkeley, agrees.

“The judge followed clear law: A government official cannot give selective access of this sort,” Chereminsky said.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Knight staff attorney Carrie DeCell said the organization was pleased with the decision, but expects the White House to appeal. “Twitter is a new communications platform, but First Amendment principles are foundations,” DeCell said. “Public discourse is increasingly taking place online.”

DeCell said the case could have implications for all public officials using social media — not just Trump’s account. “The reasoning in the court decisions, we think, should inform public officials’ activities on our social media pages throughout the country,” she said.

My co-plaintiffs have also written on the decision. See Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter Poza in Daily Kos:

Public officials are relying on social media more and more to communicate to constituents. As that shift accelerates, it’s imperative that courts recognize that the First Amendment protects against viewpoint discrimination in digital public forums like the @realdonaldtrump account just as it does in more traditional town halls. An official’s Twitter account is often the central forum for direct political debate with and among constituents, a tenet of democracy.

and Holly Figueroa O’Reilly in the Guardian:

Twitter is as public a forum as a town hall meeting. By blocking people who disagree with him, he’s not only blocking our right to petition our government and access important information, but he distorts that public forum by purging critical voices. It’s like a senator throwing someone out of a town hall because they held up a “disagree” sign.

The New York Times also did a piece on other people Trump blocked (the public doesn’t know how many such people there are), one of whom called the decision “incredibly vindicating.”

I agree. The decision is a breath of democracy fresh air.

Review essay: Public engagement and the influence imperative

publicsoccovers

I have written a review essay at the invitation of Contemporary Sociology. Here’s a preprint version on SocArXiv: https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/v27xk/.

This is the abstract. Feedback welcome!

Public engagement and the influence imperative

Abstract: A review essay discussing three advice books for social scientists. Sociologists, in responding to the imperative to make their work more influential, must go beyond doing “public sociology” to embrace doing sociology “in public” (Healy 2017). Rather than using public engagement primarily for publicity – to make our research matter – we should use engagement to help us do research that matters in the first place. Next, I caution that the drive to be professionally rewarded for public intellectualism is fraught with conflicts that may be irreconcilable. To be a public intellectual today requires being both public in one’s intellectual life and intellectual in one’s public life, and for academics in the era of the “market university” (Berman 2011), trying to get paid for that leads to a neoliberal trap. Finally, I argue for a move beyond personal strategies toward the development of the open scholarship as an institutional response that ultimately may be responsible for sociology’s survival.

Here is the SocArXiv citation:

Cohen, Philip N., 2018. “Public Engagement and the Influence Imperative”. SocArXiv. April 7. doi:10.17605/OSF.IO/V27XK.

How I engaged my way to excellent research success and you can too

kid on string phone in front of computer screen
Kid photo CC from MB Photography; collage by pnc.

Too often sociologists think of social media, or online communications generally, primarily as a way of broadcasting their ideas and building their audience, instead of as a way of deepening their engagement with different people and perspectives. You see this when academics start a twitter account right when their book is coming out. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s very limited. A crucial part of being a public scholar, public intellectual, or a public sociologist, etc., is reading, listening, and learning through engagement, and digital communication can enhance the metabolism of that process. Especially important is the chance to learn from people you don’t normally interact with. For all the complaints about social media bubbles, some true, social media also offers huge efficiencies for meeting and learning from new people.

As I’m writing an essay about this, I thought of my work on divorce as an example. So here’s that thread, condensed.

A divorce story

In 2008 I was teaching an undergraduate Family Sociology course at the University of North Carolina, and included a section on divorce based on other people’s research. I was also developing a proposal for my own textbook, which at the time framed family structures and events, including divorce, as consequences and causes of inequality. I was reading research about divorce along with many other family issues that were outside of my formal training and experience (the closest I had come to a family demography or family sociology course was a seminar on Gender, Work & Family in grad school).

Then in 2009, I wrote a post on my pretty new blog criticizing something bad the Brad Wilcox had written about divorce. I was trying to be newsy and current, and he was claiming that the recession was lowering divorce rates because hard times pulled people together. We didn’t yet know what would happen in the recession. (In the comments, Louise Roth suggested it would take time for divorces “caused” by the recession to show up, which turned out to be true.)

I kept on that path for a while, criticizing Wilcox again for similar work in 2011. By then — prompted by the combination of my reading, the blog debates, and the news coverage around families and the recession — I was working on a paper on divorce using the American Community Survey. I presented it at a demography meeting in the summer of 2011, then revised and presented it at the Population Association of America the following spring. I blogged about this a couple more times as I worked on it, using data on state variation, and Google searches, each time getting feedback from readers.

A version of the paper was rejected by Demography in the summer of 2011 (which generated useful reviews). Although now discredited as not peer-review-publishable (which no one knew), my commentary on divorce and the recession was nevertheless featured in an NPR story by Shankar Vedantam. Further inspired, I sent a new version of the paper (with new data) to Demographic Research, which also rejected it. I presented on the work a couple of times in 2012, getting feedback each time. By August 2012, with the paper still not “published,” I was quoted describing my “divorce/recession lull-rebound hypothesis” in New York magazine.

The news media pieces were not simply my work appearing in the news, in a one-directional manner, or me commenting on other people’s research, but rather me bringing data and informed commentary to stories the reporters were already working on. Their work influenced my work. And all along that news coverage was generating on- and offline conversations, as I found and shared work by other people working on these topics (like the National Center for Marriage and Family Research, and the Pew Research Center). Looking back over my tweets about divorce, I see that I covered divorce and religion, disabilities, economics, and race/ethnic inequality, and also critiqued media coverage. (Everything also got discussed on Facebook, in a smaller semi-private circle.)

By 2014 I finally got the paper — now with even newer data — published in a paywalled peer-reviewed journal, in Population Research and Policy Review. This involved writing the dreaded phrase, “Thank you very much for the opportunity to revise this paper again.” (Submitted October 2012, revision submitted August 2013, second revision submitted January 2014, final revision April 2014.) The paper, eventually titled, “Recession and Divorce in the United States, 2008-2011,” did improve over this time as new data provided better leverage on the question, and the reviewers actually made some good suggestions.

Also in 2014 the descriptive analysis was published in my textbook. The results were reported here and there, and expanded into the general area of family-recession studies, including this piece in the Conversation. I also developed a method of projecting lifetime divorce odds (basically 50%), for which I shared the data and code, which was reported on here. Along the way I also did some work on job characteristics and divorce (data and code, working paper). When I posted technical notes, I got interesting responses from people like economist Marina Adshade, whom I’ve never met.

slide from presentation on open scholarship
From my presentation, “The open scholarship media strategy for maximum success.”

So that’s an engagement story that includes teaching, the blogosphere and social media, news media, peer-reviewed publishing, conference presentations and colloquium talks. I did research, but also argued about politics and inequality, and taught and learned demography. It’s not a story of how I used social media, or the news media, to get the word out about my research, although that happened, too. The work product, not just the “publications,” were all public to varying degrees, and the discussions included all manner of students, sociologists, reporters, and interested blog or Twitter readers, most of whom I didn’t know or wouldn’t have met any other way.

So I can’t draw a line dividing the “engagement” and the “research,” because they weren’t separate processes.

Trump Twitter suit argued in federal court

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My showing how I’m blocked by Trump on Twitter. Photo by Miesha Miller.

With updates.

Yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute and the Department of Justice argued the lawsuit against President Trump and his staff for blocking us on Twitter, in which I’m a plaintiff.

After the two-hour hearing, just like in Law and Order, the news media met us with cameras and microphones as we came down the stairs of the courthouse, and I realized I hadn’t prepared what I would say. The first questions focused on a suggestion by the judge that Trump should just mute his critics on Trump instead of blocking us. Was this the solution? I hadn’t had time to consider it carefully, and we haven’t received any kind of settlement offer. So I said this:

Honestly I don’t know if muting is really the solution. But if all they really care about, which they say, is that he just doesn’t want to hear from us, then he would mute, but obviously he wants to suppress our speech. Obviously he doesn’t want us to be participating in the forum. He wants to look out at the world on Twitter, and see that everybody agrees with him and everybody thinks he’s great – and the fact is that’s not true – and that’s why he blocks us. He literally blocks us so that we won’t be seen to be expressing our views against him, and I think that’s outrageous and I’m glad that it’s apparently illegal.

Here are a few media links.

Columbia Journalism Review: In downtown New York, a First Amendment fight over Trump’s tweets

“I never thought he would block me. I tweeted at him all the time,” Cohen told CJR outside court. He’d just watched attorneys from the Knight First Amendment Institute tell a federal judge that in blocking Cohen because he didn’t like his tweet, the president had engaged in unconstitutional discrimination based on viewpoint. The Knight Institute, which is based at Columbia University, is representing Cohen and six other plaintiffs—a surgeon, a comic, a musician-activist, two writers, and a police officer—in a bid to qualify Trump’s Twitter as a public forum; part of a broader push to protect the First Amendment from a president who clearly does not respect it.

New York TimesJudge Floats Idea to Settle @realDonaldTrump Twitter Blocking Case

A federal judge in Manhattan had plenty of questions for lawyers representing a group of Twitter users who sued President Trump in July after he blocked them on the social media service. And she had even more for the government.

The seven users, who had been blocked by the @realDonaldTrump account after criticizing the president, were joined in the lawsuit by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Their lawyers claimed that Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed is an official government account and that blocking users from following it was a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Lawyers from the Department of Justice insisted that the Twitter feed was not, in fact, a public forum. Furthermore, they argued, no one had been meaningfully excluded from it.

Courthouse News, with the courthouse steps statements:

New York City Fox 5 news, with some followup interviews:

Agence France Press, published by Daily MailTwitter-blocked by Trump? Judge hears ‘free-speech’ case

Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, said he was summarily blocked in June 2017 after he reacted to a Trump tweet by replying with a photo of the president superimposed with the words “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian”.

“At first I was kind of proud, like ‘oh he cares about me,'” Cohen said.

“But then very quickly I realized that a lot fewer people were seeing my tweets and my political efficacy, my ability to speak to my fellow citizens, was impaired by that. And I think that’s not the way our government should act.”

New York: The Newest Frontier in Jurisprudence is Trump’s Twitter Feed

What’s private catharsis for the rest of us can be rightly seen as government retaliation when it’s a public official who goes on a blocking spree.

And a photo by Scott Matthews:

pnc courthouse steps 3-8-18
Photo by Scott Matthews.

These are just a few clips, mostly my scrap-booking for the day. I’ll write more later. Read all the case documents and statements, including those of the other plaintiffs, from the amazing Knight First Amendment Institute here.

Breaking: Trump has terrible judgment

Say what you want about his decrepit values, noxious personality, and authoritarian political views, but we should all be able to agree Trump has terrible judgment. Also that he doesn’t care about little people. And a lot of people who like him are deplorable.

This time, the story behind the story.

On Monday night Trump pulled himself away from MLK reverie long enough to notice that CNN was doing a show about his daughter, Ivanka. He saw someone praising her on Twitter and copied his message. He wrote:

djtgoodspine

The Daily News captured the original tweet, by Lawrence Goodstein (drgoodspine) revealing that Trump had lowercased “Great” and added a comma after it, but failed to notice that the good Dr. Goodstein got Ivanka’s Twitter handle wrong.

drgoodspine

Hilarity ensued, and the story focused on how the real @Ivanka responded by telling him to pay attention to climate change.

I haven’t seen any media focus on Goodstein, apparently because he deleted his account right away. But I happened to notice it in time, and screen-grabbed a few tweets. The point of my showing them is: Trump has no idea what he’s doing or how it affects real (little) people, and doesn’t care anyway. Secondarily, the guy is awful and any reasonable public figure would want nothing to do with him – at least as he represented himself on Twitter – and certainly wouldn’t give him a platform of millions on Twitter. (I didn’t notice how many followers Goodstein had, but I remember thinking it wasn’t many.)

I didn’t save all of his tweets, but I got a few that I considered representative, because it was immediately apparent that a lot of what he did on Twitter was call people assholes, including President Obama, “Norm” Chomsky, and a lot of journalists, often by juxtaposing their face with a picture of an asshole. Take a look (click to view individual images):

 

Who cares? I don’t care about Goodstein. He claims to have spent a year treating 9/11 victims in New York, and for all I know he’s a good chiropractor. So he loves Trump – not surprising given what an unpleasant person he seems to be. The point is about Trump’s bad behavior. Some Trump fans live for a retweet from the great Tiny Hands. Maybe Goodstein did, too. But he apparently wasn’t really prepared for that big of a spotlight to shine on his nasty asshole-screaming habit (or maybe he was fine with it and it was a Trump goon squad that made him shut it down to prevent embarrassment – to Trump.)

And who shouts to millions of people without the slightest consideration of the context and content of what they’re shouting? Trump has had worse tweets, and done many much worse things, but his platform is actually still growing, and the power he has is increasing. He should not treat individuals like this. Before he turns someone’s life inside out, someone should check it out. Can the person handle it? Do they want to? Obama has had some wonderful moments with random citizens, but I don’t think they started with him landing Marine 1 on their lawn with the press pool and no advance people.

Finally, there are potential security implications, obviously, when a president acts so impulsively. One thing to notice is that Goodstein’s handle, @drgoodspine, was snapped up by someone, and they now have a potentially damaging platform as well, as Trump’s tweet is still out there.

Anyway, I just wrote this to help keep the record of bad judgment complete, seeing that no one was reporting it.

No paper, no news (#NoPaperNoNews)

nopapernonews

In the abstract, the missions of science and science reporting align. But in the market arena they both have incentives to cheat, stretch, and rush. Members of the two groups sometimes have joint interests in pumping up research findings. Reporters feel pressure to get scoops on cutting edge research, research that they want to appear important as well as true — so they may want to avoid a pack of whining, jealous tweed-wearers seen as more hindrance than help. And researchers (and their press offices) want to get splashy, positive coverage of their discoveries that isn’t bogged down by the objections of all those whining, jealous tweed-wearers either.

Despite some bad incentives, the alliance between good researchers and good reporters may be growing stronger these days, with the potential to help stem the daily tide of ridiculous stories. Partly due to social media interaction, it’s become easier for researchers to ping reporters directly about their research, or about a problem with a story; and it’s become easier for reporters to find and contact researchers to cover their work, and for comment or analysis of research they’re covering. The result is an increase in research reporting that is skeptical and exploratory rather than just exuberant or exaggerated. Some of this rapid interaction between experts researchers and expert reporters, in fact, operates as a layer of improved peer review, subjecting potentially important research to more extreme vetting at just the right moment.

Those of us in these relationships who want to do the right thing really do need each other. And one way to help is to encourage the development of prosocial norms and best practices. To that end, I think we should agree on a No Paper No News pact. Let’s pledge:

  • If you are a researcher, or university press office, and you want your research covered, free up the paper — and insist that news coverage link to it. Make the journal open a copy, or post a preprint somewhere like SocArXiv.
  • If you are a reporter or editor, and you want to cover new research, insist that the researcher, university, or journal, provide open access to its content — then link to it.
  • If you are a consumer of science or research reporting, and you want to evaluate news coverage, look for a clear link to an open access copy of the paper. If you don’t see one, flag it with the #NoPaperNoNews tag, and pressure the news/research collaborators to comply with this basic best practice.

This is not an extremist approach. I’m not saying we must require complete open access to all research (something I would like to see, of course). And this is not dissing the peer review process, which, although seriously flawed in its application, is basically a good idea. But peer review is nothing like a guarantee that research is good, and it’s even less a guarantee that research as translated through a news release and then a reporter and an editor is reliable and responsible. #NoPaperNoNews recognizes that when research enters the public arena through the news media, it may become important in unanticipated ways, and it may be subject to more irresponsible uses, misunderstandings, and exploitation. Providing direct access to the research product itself makes it possible for concerned people to get involved and speak up if something is going wrong. It also enhances the positive impact of the research reporting, which is great when the research is good.

Plenty of reporters, editors, researchers, and universities practice some version of this, but it’s inconsistent. For example, the American Sociological Association currently has a news release up about a paper in the American Sociological Review, by Paula England,  Jonathan Bearak, Michelle Budig, and Melissa Hodges. And, as is now usually the case, that paper was selected by the ASR editors to be the freebie of the month, so it’s freely available. But the news release (which also only lists England as an author) doesn’t link to the paper. Some news reports link to the free copy but some don’t. ASA could easily add boilerplate language to their news releases, firmly suggesting that coverage link to the original paper, which is freely available.

Some publishers support this kind of approach, laying out free copies of breaking news research. But some don’t. In those cases, reporters and researchers can work together to make preprint versions available. In the social sciences, you can easily and immediately put a preprint on SocArXiv and add the link to the news report (to see which version you are free to post — pre-review, post-review, pre-edit, post-edit, etc. — consult your author agreement or look up the journal in the Sherpa/Romeo database.)

This practice is easy to enforce because it’s simple and technologically easy. When a New York Times reporter says, “I’d love to cover this research. Just tell me where I can link to the paper,” most researchers, universities, and publishers will jump to accommodate them. The only people who will want to block it are bad actors: people who don’t want their research scrutinized, reporters who don’t want to be double-checked, publishers who prioritize income over the public good.

#NoPaperNoNews