Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Two Americas: Not the John Edwards Kind

Black Political Analysis links to an Ebony article that asks whether there are still "Two Americas?" It looks like the article is only in the print edition, but this isn't the first "Two America's discussion we've had in this country. Thanks to the 1968 Kerner Commission report that popularized this concept.

While the idea of "two Americas" was salient in 1968, I wonder of what use it has today. While it does reinforce the still significant "barriers to entry" for African-Americans when compared to other ethnic groups in American society, it has the distinct disadvantage of further "othering" Black America. While this "othering" makes sense of some cultural and political levels, it reinforces the idea of a "black culture" that downplays the cultural diversity within the black experience. Black Political Analysis makes the valid point that racial and ethnic groups choose to lead separate lives:

I'm talking about are the number of blacks and whites who prefer racial/ethnic homogeneity. Think about the school lunch cafeteria, the bus, parks, movie theater, etc....blacks with blacks, whites with whites, Asians with Asians. As long as Americans choose this, there will always be separate Americas.

This is undeniable, but I am inclined to believe that group affinity is not the same as group exclusiveness. The end of "separate Americas" will come when individuals from different racial and ethnic groups become more adept at cultural switching, or the ability to engage with a wide range of people in their own contextual contexts. What props up this "two Americas" idea is the distinct lack of empathy people have for those who are not like them. It's particularly startling to see the number of Whites who think that racism is a thing of the past. The recent Gallup poll is startling in this regard. To me, that's not an issue of Whites wanting to be with other Whites, it's an issue of an unwillingness to want to put yourself in someone else's shoes. You don't have to give up the feelings of closeness and affinity one has to their own reference group to understand that others are of worth.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Multiculturalism and Social Pyschology

Mayjel Verkuyten has an interesting review of the social psychology literature on multicutluralism in the Oct 2007 edition of Social and Personality Psychology Compass. Exposure to multicultural framings increases the majority group's opinion of minority groups but also downplays intergroup differences and provides challenges for people who are low identifiers with their ethnic groups. Here's the key quote in his piece:

a focus on groups and group differences is understandable and, to a certain extent, useful, for example, for improving intergroup relations. It can, however, also lead to a situation in which these identities become overwhelming or unidimensional and society, out-groups and in-groups oblige people to place this particular identity in the forefront of their minds and make it central in their behaviour.

Personally mose of my students, being good neo-liberals, love the idea of an "identity free for all" and have little tolerance for the idea of focusing on group identity. This isn't surprising since majority students have little to worry about in terms of the loss of cultural identity. A pedagogical challenge is to get them to focus on group difference to begin with.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Diversity 2.0

I'm giving a talk this Friday to the annual Vocation of a Lutheran conference in Decorah, Iowa. The title of the talk is Diversity 2.0. The talk will explore the changing nature of diversity in an increasingly "wired" society. I'll post the presentation slides in the next day or two.

The talk will look at diversity and how it relates to Aristotle's three forms of knowledge. The crux of the talk is that we're moving from a primary rationale for diversity based on episteme (epistemological knowledge) or techne (technical knowledge) to one based on prhonesis or wisdom, for lack of a better term. This is so because as the network society evolves, access to epistemological and technical knowledge can be acquired on-line but wisdom still requires the face-to-face interactions with diverse others. More soon :-)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Los Angeles Hate Crimes

According to this Los Angeles Times article, hate crimes are up in the city of Los Angeles for nearly all identity groups. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission found that hate crimes in the city rose 28% over the past year to 763 incidents. The majority of these crimes is minority-to-minority (Latino on Black or Black on Latino) rather than majority on minority:

What we're seeing is the democratization of hate crimes," said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. "We're not only seeing a diversification of victims but also increased diversification of offenders.

On its face, this is more evidence for people with nationalist impulses to advocate for reducing immigration. Los Angeles is perhaps the world's most global city. this vast melding of culture and peoples is destined to create tensions. But the bulk of these incidents appear to be gang related. It seems that many of the Latino on Black hate crimes reported are associated with an increased collaboration with White Supremacist gangs in prisons. How much of this is related to class issues and battles over turf and how much is really driven by racial animus?

Friday, July 25, 2008

What is a Knol?

Howard Rheingold points to an blog post on Google's Knol , an ad-driven Wikipedia where posters get a cut of the advertising revenue on the site. Google touts the knol as an "authoritative article about a specific topic" but where is the authority going to come from? If it's from the number of hits acquired, then isn't that popularity rather than authority? Their site allows you to "provide credentials" but its legitimacy seems to depend on an honor system. It's an interesting idea, but the charm of Wikipedia is is non-hierarchical framework. What happens to the wisdom of the crowds when there's a profit motive involved? And how can I get paid for writing about the median voter theorem?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Viva Obama, Viva!

So much for the idea of a un-mendable black-brown rift in the American polity. The newly released 2008 National Survey of Latinos has Obama besting Mccain by 66% to 23% among Latino voters. This is far better than Kerry did in 2000.

The study goes on to find that the Latino party ID gap between Democrats and Republicans has grown to 39% (65% Democrat to 26% Republican). This widening gap along with favorable conditions for Democrats makes the increasing closeness of this race even more puzzling. At this point in their elections, Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis had double digit leads. I guess this is the black tax writ large!

It appears that if Obama does lose this election it won't be because of any "black-brown tensions," which means my Google reader won't be filled with superficial analyses of Obama's "Latino problem." That alone calls for a Mariachi!

or for those Latinos from the East Coast:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Diversity and Information Overload

One of the more interesting aspects of Carr's Atlantic article and the responses in and is the effect this has on inter-group, inter-cultural relations. This is Carr's main point

What the Net may be doing, I argue, is rewiring the neural circuitry of our brains in a way that diminishes our capacity for concentration, reflection, and contemplation.

Carr is suggesting this is happening mechanistically as if the irresistable draw of the web leaves us no choice in the matter. There are global driving forces which make us want to be insatiable Netizens. As we proceed through what Mauel Castells calls a "network society" we fear being excluded from its nodes. In a response to Carr, W. Daniel Hills attributes our desire for connectedness to globalization:

Fast communication, powerful media and superficial skimming are all creations of our insatiable demand for information. We don't just want more, we need more. While we complain about the overload, we sign up for faster internet service, in-pocket email, unlimited talk-time and premium cable. In the mist of the flood, we are turning on all the taps.

We are now trying to comprehend the global village with minds that were designed to handle a patch of savanna and a close circle of friends. Our problem is not so much that we are stupider, but rather that the world is demanding that we become smarter.

I think this is a better way of thinking about our relationship to information. Our desire to know the world around us is being outstripped by the increasing ease with which we can know it. The response to this is not an inability to reflect, but a desire to respond in real time to a rapidly evolving network of places, events and relationships.

This need to be "in the network" leads us towards what Douglass Rushkoff in his entry calls "thin-slicing" information. I admit to being a thin slicer, scanning headlines and RSS feeds to pull out nuggets of wisdom that I believe make me not only smarter, but a better global citizen. But does knowing superficially about what's going on in Rangoon, Geneva and Buenos Aires make me a better person? Am I really engaging with these "others" in a meaningful way? Larry Sanger says no:

To be limited to Twitter-sized discourse ultimately means that we will never really understand each other, because all of our minds are complex and in that way “cathedral-like.” It is extremely difficult to understand other people, unless you take a long time to study what they say. If we do not understand each other in our full and deep individual complexity, we will be invisible to each other, and ultimately incapable of real human society.

Carr suggests that Google's business model is dependent upon my believing that a "thin slicing" approach to the web is leaving me better off.

The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.

My great concern is that this is how we begin to view diversity, as a collection of disconnected experiences that define our consumer selves. In other places, I've called this "menagerie diversity" or a diversity built upon an "appreciation of the other" rather than based upon actual engagement and collaborative work with the other. The great irony is that, as Hills points out, we are closer to each other than ever before, but at the same time we've never been further.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Googlephobia is Making me Stupid

Lots of people are jumping on the "Google-phobia" train these days. The general argument is that the constant flow of information is making it impossible for us to sustain attention, reflect or maintain long term relationships. In the Sunday Times Online, Bryan Appleyard summarizes, and seems to sympathize with this line of argument. This summary of Nicholas Carr's info-dystopic article "Is Google Making us Stupid" highlights why we should be afraid, very afraid:

Instead he now Googles his way though life, scanning and skimming, not pausing to think, to absorb. He feels himself being hollowed out by “the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self – evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the ‘instantly available’”.

I'm with Carr that the main challenge of any knowledge worker today is to quickly sort out the wheat from the chaff. But it amuses me when writers presume that reflection is a depleting resource. As if we were all awash in the ability to be introspective and reflective and that the "big-bad-web" is sucking us dry. Reflection has always been limited to those with the maturity to cultivate it in the face of more alluring alternatives. Why is Facebook use any different than watching "Happy Days" (BTW has anyone gone back and reflected on how much that sit-com sucked? Wow!) Distraction is distraction and some are more likely to succumb to it than others, no matter how alluring.

And of course, those kids, with their newfangled "facespace" and "mybook" can't be bothered to read a book because they are all "text-a-twittering" each other. To wit:

The hyper-connectivity of the young is bewildering. Jackson tells me that one study looked at five years of e-mail activity of a 24-year-old. He was found to have connections with 11.7m people. Most of these connections would be pretty threadbare. But that, in a way, is the point. All internet connections are threadbare. They lack the complexity and depth of real-world interactions. This is concealed by the language.

Join Facebook or MySpace and you suddenly have “friends” all over the place. Of course, you don’t. These are just casual, tenuous electronic pings. Nothing could be further removed from the idea of friendship.

As if somehow young people didn't understand this. If they are so distracted, then why the greatest resurgence in youth civic engagement in three decades? Trust me, I don't mean to swing too far in the opposite direction. I've assigned many a book chapter in class only to get blank stares back, but is that the internet's fault?

Let's say that it is. Then what that means is that the professor doesn't have a monopoly on the dissemination of knowledge. If a student is curious about a concept, he/she can get their "Wikipedia on" and evaluate that against what I am saying. What this means for academia is that we've got to work much harder to be relevant. Instead of bemoaning why students aren't reading War and Peace how about developing a clearer rationale for why they should?

It's true that our students are less interested in empirical knowledge and more interested in "knowledge they can use." But this is a far cry from being disengaged or stupid. Many of our young people want to be relevant, to make positive change in the world. The Web provides an unprecedented array of tools to do that. Reflection not necessary. Of course, War and Peace might help them develop a mature belief system that can enhance their understanding of how the world should change, or whether it should change at all. But that takes work and has always been painful. Anyone try to read War and Peace pre-Internet? How about Moby Dick? The Sound and the Fury had me banging my head against the wall. And I didn't even have ESPN

Update:, which I'm starting to fall deeply in love with (in a platonic way) has a forum on Carr's article.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kitty Immigration

Thanks to The Sanctuary, a great blog new blog I found on immigration issues, for this link to The Pinky Show's oddly mesmerizing take on the immigration issue. Pinky is a kitten with a mission to speak truth to power! Stick it to the Lou Dobbs-man, Pinky!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Neutering of Social Science

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UCLA historian Russell Jacoby asks a great question:

How is it that Freud is not taught in psychology departments, Marx is not taught in economics, and Hegel is hardly taught in philosophy?

In his view, their absence reflects a conformity in academic thought:

Perhaps those disciplines have come to prize a scientistic ethos that drives away unruly thinkers. Or maybe they simply progress by sloughing off the past.

No doubt that the bias towards positivism in the social and behavioral science has driven out interpretive approaches (Freud) or theories that are deemed unfalsifiable and/or tautological (Marx). But I think it reflects a larger reticence on the part of academic to directly engage issues of social power.

Admittedly, it's a bit overdrawn to suggest that Marx doesn't register in the social sciences. It's true that Marx has pretty much vanished from political science, but there are some prominent neo-Marxists in other parts of the social sciences. People like Harvey Molotch, Erik Olin Wright, and (David Harvey). come to mind.

Jacoby asks at what cost does this purging come:

The divorce between informed opinion and academic wisdom could not be more pointed. If educated individuals were asked to name leading historical thinkers in psychology, philosophy, and economics, surely Freud, Hegel, and Marx would figure high on the list. Yet they have vanished from their home disciplines.

Here I think he's on to something. What good is an "academic wisdom" that has strayed so far down the track of emulating the "hard" sciences by emphasizing theory testing through quantification that it fails to connect to "informed opinion." I don't discount this type of social science, but I do find it problematic when social scientists degrade efforts to view problems contextually. Jacoby succinctly points out the effects of an ahistorical, acontextual social science:

Economics looks more and more like mathematics, in which the past vanishes. Sometimes it even looks like biopsychology. A recent issue of the American Economic Review includes numerous papers under the rubrics of "Neuroscientific Foundations of Economic Decision-Making" and "Cognitive Neuroscientific Foundations of Economic Behavior." But can we really figure out today's economic problems without considering whence they came?

I get why a mathematical turn is alluring. It provides a comfortable veneer of certainty. Viewing the world through equations and models is a convenient way to eliminate the messiness of the social world. But the emphasis on developing "grand universal theories" falls short when the social world is a moving target. The permanence of great thinkers like Freud, Marx and Hegel in ancillary disciplines is no remedy for this problem. As Jacoby accurately points out:

Instead of confronting recalcitrant thinkers on their own terms, the new disciplines slice them up. Freud turns into an interpreter of texts, Hegel into a philosopher of art, and Marx into a cinema theorist. That saves them from oblivion, but at the price of domestication. Freud no longer excavates civilization and its discontents but merely unpacks words. Hegel no longer tracks the dialectic of freedom but consoles with the beautiful. Marx no longer outlines the movements of capital but only deconstructs the mass spectator.

What he's getting at is that social science has lost what C. Wright Mills refered to as the "Sociological Imagination" or the ability to help develop "informed opinion" on the contemporary problems of the day. This abdication of responsibility is troubling. I'm astounded, for instance, by how few academics blog. If anyone has something useful to say about the great issues of the day it would be social scientists, but most of those voices are silenced by traditional demands to publish or perish.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Annual Review Lavender Bubble Bath

The new issue of Annual Review of Political Science is out, the best friend of lit review creators and syllabus constructors everywhere. Here are three articles that I'll be reading in a nice lavender bubble bath:

1) Hutchings, J. "Results from Experimentation: Racial Priming in Political Campaigns."

2) McClain, P. "Evolving Racial Identity in American Politics."

3) Ward, M "Application of Network Analysis to Political Problems."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Polls vs. Intrade

Ben Smith at Politico notes today that while Obama only has a slight lead in the polls, he has a commanding lead in the betting markets. On Intrade, Obama leads McCain by 66.7 % to 29%. What to make of this discrepancy? The betting markets seem to be putting little stock into the so called "Bradley effect." If you went out and polled most race scholars, you'd probably get a more skeptical assessment of Obama's chances of winning.

I'm pretty torn in my own view. All of the conventional metrics suggest a Democratic blowout in November (poor economy, better candidate, two Republican terms, superior energy and organization on the Obama side). But the other part of me thinks the betting markets are getting it wrong vis-a-vis Obama's chances.

Case in point, a new Gallup Poll finds significant differences on issues of racism and discrimination towards minorities. Whites (63% of them) are satisfied with how Blacks are treated, while only 35% of Blacks share the same optimism. I think this explains, in part, Obama's under-performance in the latest polling (he leads by about 4% on average). The lingering effects of "Wrightgate" has left a hint of black grievance in the minds of those who are inclined to think that social policy is unfairly skewed away from white people.

This suggests to me that any whiff of black grievance that sticks to the Obama campaign in this election is going to drive poll numbers down. I think we will be innundated with a "black grievance frame" come September. I can almost hear Sean Hannity claiming that Obama is a surrogate for Al Sharpton and wants to make "slave reparations" his first act in office, or maybe it's making Kwanzaa a federal holiday.

I still think the conditions favor him, but there is a race effect. The question is whether that effect is large enough to change the outcome.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JibJab Returns!

I've been wondering when this year's JibJab video was coming. Wait no more!
Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

Not as many laugh out loud moments as the great 2004 Kerry-Bush video sung to This Land is my Land. This one is sung to The Times they are a Changing. I particularly like Obama on what looks like a Unicorn and Mccain as a George C. Scott in Patton crossed with Brando in Apocalypse Now. I don't love the bit of moralizing about campaign spending at the end. Downer!

Good stuff!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This is Not Your Grandfather's Presidential Nominee

Anybody who criticizes Obama for tacking swiftly to the center needs a reality check. We are in the framing stage of the campaign. Obama is keenly aware that he hasn't yet been put into a box by the public. If he's not incredibly proactive about his "Americanness" then he's in for a world of trouble. Check out this video of West Virginia voters before the Democratic primary.

We can cast this off as a distinctly Appalachian problem, but that's sticking out heads in the sand. Obama is fighting what Robert Putnam calls hunkering. Putnam finds that when confronted with diversity, people generally revert by withdrawing. This is still a majority white country and Obama's people are well aware that if he can't lower the hunkering instinct among a large segment of undecided whites, he's got an uphill climb.

Case in point is Noam Scheber post on Bill Carter's New York Times Article how comedians are finding it difficult to make fun of Obama. Carter notes that absence of a "comedic take" on him. Carter eventually taps into the core of the problem. He speculates that it's largely due to sensitivity about making fun of race. Scheiber astutely points out that this should be a major concern for Obama. Here is the money quote:

the problem for Obama is that people tend to vote for a presidential candidate they feel personally comfortable with. If people aren't comfortable with humor about Obama--if they're reluctant to laugh at him for fear of being thought racist, or of crossing some line of political correctness--then some of them probably aren't comfortable with him, period.

Hunkering people....this is not your grandfather's presidential nominee.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Obama is not the "Hang in There" Kitten

I might have serious issues with the cover, but Ryan Lizza's piece in the New Yorker is quite good. I do have one issue with the story. Lizza seems to weave of theme throughout his piece of Obama as a calculating, sometimes cocky, ambitious pol. I don't get why this is news to anyone. Were we of the mistaken impression that the kitten from the "hang in there" poster was running as the Democratic nominee. What I personally like about Obama is that his penchant for cultural frame switching. Here's a passage that best charachterizes Obama's principal strength as I see it:

Chicago is still a city of villages, and Obama was adept at gliding back and forth between the South Side, where he campaigned for votes, and the wealthy Gold Coast, the lakefront neighborhood of high-rise condominiums and deluxe shopping, where he raised money.

This adaptability, I think, makes for a better overall learner. I'd like in a leader of the free world the ability to process vast amounts of information and adapt to changing circumstances. I don't know if anyone's ever tested this, but persons of a multicultural background, might have an edge in this regard because they are less bound to one set of cultural stereotypes. Their borderland status might encourage an affinity for and desire to connect with more than oune cultural group. Here's Lizza discussing his early efforts to connect with Black audiences.

Obama, who hadn’t shown any particular gift for oratory in the race, now learned to shed his stiff approach to campaigning—described by Preckwinkle as that of an “arrogant academic.” Mikva told me, “The first time I heard him talk to a black church, he was very professorial, more so even than he was in the white community. There was no joking, no self-deprecation, no style. It didn’t go over well at all.”

Personally, I think this is what excites many of the latte-sippers, of which I county myself proudly. We might be poised to elect our first multicultural president. it will test a lot of views that people have about the benefits of being cross-cultural in terms of policy outcomes. Time will tell.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

No Cost Castrations, Cybertizzies, and Now this!

Obama is certainly experiencing the crucible of presidential electoral politics. On one hand the venerated Jesse Jackson wants to perform a no-cost castration. On the other, the netroots are in a "cyber-tizzy" over Obama's singing of the FISA bill. Now he has to shake the mainstream media's gleeful exploitation of the "Muslim/ Black-radical meme." This New Yorker cover from Ben Smith's Politico blog highlights how the MSM can use the flimsy justification that the public's belief in "the Muslim thing" is an interesting cultural pheonomenon and thus worthy of treatment.

Of course, if you're going to talk about it, you need a controversial cover because, well, you have to sell magazines. It's a sleazy turn in the coverage of presidential politics. The New Yorker has decided to racialize the Obama's because a small sliver of the U.S. population thinks he's a Muslim. They've given the darker forces of our culture a new laptop screen background.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Happy Flu!

So the web is supposed to be this great collaborative space. But in reality, there are a whole lot of blogs that exist on "cyberislands." How we make sense of this vast archiapelago of disparate blogs? While Google Analytics provides some useful tools, the Happy Flu project allows you to visually see the creation of networks on the web. The project asks participants to post an evolving HTML code on your URL which will then place you as a node on the network, as seen here.

This is an interesting way to visually track your cybernetwork.

The resource we are offering you to spread is unique : the Happy Flu visualizer tracks its own diffusion. This means that when you post it on your own blog or website, in a couple of minutes you will appear on the applet. You will be linked to the place you first saw the resource and, even better, everyone spreading the resource from your page will be linked to you. This involves a lot of happy magic. We think it could be fun to build the biggest possible diffusion tree, don't you?

I got this link from the Complexity and Social Networks blog. A great blog BTW for keeping up with the latest on network analysis, particularly in Political Science....Help me keep the cyber chain letter going :-)

Increased Support for Immigration

I'm not sure what to make of this latest finding from Gallup that finds fewer Americans support reducing immigration than they did at the same point in time last year. According to the survey. The percentage of respondents who supported a decline in immigration rates was equal to the percentage that believed is should stay at the present rate.

What's puzzling about this finding is that the conventional wisdom is that anti-immigrant sentiment is typically more pronounced during periods of economic decline and less virulent during times of economic prosperity. Indeed, if you look at the chart below, you find that support for reducing immigration rates increased during the early part of the 1990's when the economy was in recession and decreased with the economic upturn of the late 1990's.

Why has support for reducing immigration declined during a period of economic decline? Gallup says:

One reason anti-immigration opinion has diminished somewhat may be that immigration has receded as an issue this year as Americans have focused on the struggling economy and record-high gas prices.

But that's not consistent with past history. It could be that the demographic increase in Latinos in the U.S. would drive support for immigration. But these attitudes change only slightly when the data is broken down by racial and ethnic group.

Are we coming to some sort of sophisticated understanding of the effects of globalization? Are we experience a backlash to the backlash of anti-immigration sentiment post 9-11? A recalibrating of our attitudes towards the rest of the world?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The End of Theory II has a wonderful symposium on reactions to Chris Anderson's Wired article on The End of Theory.. What strikes me from reading the symposium is the lack of regard for inductive methodologies as "science." The presumption is that, what Richard Fenno called, soaking and poking, is something new in the world of science. Traditionally in my discipline, it has always been thought of as a prelude to the real work of hypothesis testing.

What strikes me as fascinating is the ability of "computing in the cloud" to hyper-soak and poke. Kevin Kelly uses some interesting examples from Google about this potential.
It may turn out that tremendously large volumes of data are sufficient to skip the theory part in order to make a predicted observation. Google was one of the first to notice this. For instance, take Google's spell checker. When you misspell a word when googling, Google suggests the proper spelling. How does it know this? How does it predict the correctly spelled word? It is not because it has a theory of good spelling, or has mastered spelling rules. In fact Google knows nothing about spelling rules at all.

Instead Google operates a very large dataset of observations which show that for any given spelling of a word, x number of people say "yes" when asked if they meant to spell word "y. " Google's spelling engine consists entirely of these datapoints, rather than any notion of what correct English spelling is. That is why the same system can correct spelling in any language.

In fact, Google uses the same philosophy of learning via massive data for their translation programs. They can translate from English to French, or German to Chinese by matching up huge datasets of humanly translated material. For instance, Google trained their French/English translation engine by feeding it Canadian documents which are often released in both English and French versions. The Googlers have no theory of language, especially of French, no AI translator. Instead they have zillions of datapoints which in aggregate link "this to that" from one language to another.

Once you have such a translation system tweaked, it can translate from any language to another. And the translation is pretty good. Not expert level, but enough to give you the gist. You can take a Chinese web page and at least get a sense of what it means in English. Yet, as Peter Norvig, head of research at Google, once boasted to me, "Not one person who worked on the Chinese translator spoke Chinese. " There was no theory of Chinese, no understanding. Just data. (If anyone ever wanted a disproof of Searle's riddle of the Chinese Room, here it is. )
This is no doubt true when it comes to Social Science where we are notoriously dreadful at prediction. It is not so true for meaning making, science's other core purpose. Here's Bruce Sterling's amusing rejoinder to Kelly's observations which seem to correctly mock the view that theory will become obsolete.
Surely there are other low-hanging fruit that petabytes could fruitfully harvest before aspiring to the remote, frail, towering limbs of science. (Another metaphor—I'm rolling here. )

For instance: political ideology. Everyone knows that ideology is closely akin to advertising. So why don't we have zillionics establish our political beliefs, based on some large-scale, statistically verifiable associations with other phenomena, like, say, our skin color or the place of our birth?

The practice of law. Why argue cases logically, attempting to determine the facts, guilt or innocence? Just drop the entire legal load of all known casework into the petabyte hopper, and let algorithms sift out the results of the trial. Then we can "hang all the lawyers, " as Shakespeare said. (Not a metaphor. )

Love and marriage. I can't understand why people still insist on marrying childhood playmates when a swift petabyte search of billions of potential mates worldwide is demonstrably cheaper and more effective.

Investment. Quanting the stock market has got to be job one for petabyte tech. No human being knows how the market moves—it's all "triple witching hour, " it's mere, low, dirty superstition. Yet surely petabyte owners can mechanically out-guess the (only apparent) chaos of the markets, becoming ultra-super-moguls. Then they simply buy all of science and do whatever they like with it. The skeptics won't be laughing then.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The End of Theory

Chris Anderson has an interesting, if not strange, article in WIRED where he makes the claim that we are arriving at the "end of theory." He make makes the case that massive amounts of data (what he calls the Perabyte era) make the scientific method obsolete. The large volumes of data collection and analysis that lightning fast processing speed and massive storage capacity of modern computing allows, makes pattern matching a much more viable approach to knowledge creating than hypothesis testing.

There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.

While the poor guy is getting shellacked on the comment boards, he's on to something. He probably overstates his case for the natural sciences, but his argument is more telling for the social sciences. If theory, even universal theory, about human behavior is time bound and context dependent, and society is innovating and changing at an exponentially rapid pace, then what good is universal theory?

Bent Flyvbjerg's wonderful book Making Social Science Matter makes a related but different argument about the shortcomings of applying scientific principles to social science. he argues for an emphasis in social science on phronesis, or knowledge on the "art of living," rather than episteme, or knowledge for its own sake. Here's a telling passage from an essay derived in part from his book.

Regradless of how much we let mathematical and staistical modeling dominate the social sciences, they are unlikely to become scientific in the natural sciences sense. This is so because the phenomena modelled are social, and thus "answer back" in ways natural phenomena do not.

This is the guiding principle behind my own thinking about race scholarship. it is much more instructive for use to be guiding our scholarship towards knowledge that enhances the art of living in a multicultural democracy over the quixotic search for some universal law of race relations.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lipinski and Huber on Implicit Racial Appeals

Lapinski and Huber have an interesting article in the latest issue of Perspectives on Politics. In it they challenge Tali Mendelberg's notion of implicit bias. Mendelberg makes the argument that direct racial appeals do not work in contemporary society because of the norm of racial equality. Lapinski and Huber claim that implicit appeals are no more effective than explicit racist appeals among the public. Their case is particularly compelling for less educated voters. For this group, they found that:
For these citizens, explicit appeals therefore do not generate the egalitarian counter-reaction that inhibits racial priming,

This Real News Network video featuring interviews with West Virginia voters before the Democratic primary in that state provides some anecdotal evidence that subtlety in racial appeals is not necessary for some constituents.

What I have less trouble buying wholesale is that higher educated voters are not affected by racial appeals. Their argument for why this is the case is that educated people
already bring their racial resentment to bear in expressing policy opinions on important issues that might otherwise be vulnerable to racialization.

They claim that higher educated people are more likely to "self-prime" or bring racial attitudes into their policy decision-making regardless of they types of appeals made. I'm less inclined to buy this argument. I think the type of issue examined has an impact on how much priming effects matter. I also wonder what effect age has on priming effects.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sounding Black costs 10 percent

This article by Jeffrey Grogger at the University of Chicago highlighted on the Freakonomics blog estimates the cost of "sounding black" to be a 10 percent decline in wages when controlling for other factors. What's impressive about this study is the methodology used to derive the 10 percent figure:

How does Grogger know who “sounds black?” As part of a large longitudinal study called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, follow-up validation interviews were conducted over the phone and recorded.

Grogger was able to take these phone interviews, purge them of any identifying information, and then ask people to try to identify the voices as to whether the speaker was black or white. The listeners were pretty good at distinguishing race through voices: 98 percent of the time they got the gender of the speaker right, 84 percent of white speakers were correctly identified as white, and 77 percent of black speakers were correctly identified as black.

Grogger asked multiple listeners to rate each voice and assigned the voice either to a distinctly white or black category (if the listeners all tended to agree on the race), or an indistinct category if there was disagreement.

It's nice to have an army of graduate students :-) Here are a few interesting findings as described in the Freakonomics blog:

* whites who “sound black” earn 6 percent lower than other whites (as opposed to 10% for Blacks who "sound black."

* blacks who do not “sound black” earn essentially the same as whites.

* sounding "Southern" is almost as bad for your wages as "sounding Black"

These findings seem to reflect where we are in America right now. We are much more open to assimilation but actual cultural integration is still a high hurdle for most Americans. The majority culture is, in large part, prepared to accept those from historically discriminated groups in positions of power and influence as long as they conform to "conventional" society, which included a "normal" way of speaking and acting. hence the consternation amongst elements of the media over "terrorist fist bumps" and angry preachers.

I gave a talk a few days ago about diversity and multiculturalism and the conversation with the group got on to the "Obama is a Muslim" e-mail. I began to discuss the e-mails as a "smear" when one audience member stopped me and said "but he is a Muslim, isn't he?" Of course, five minutes later, that same person was on about how much they hated Obama's pastor.

Because Obama seems so incredibly conventional in his presentation, some people struggle to find a way to put him in the conventional "black" box. I think this is much more the case for older Americans than for younger ones who have grown up accustomed to the idea of full assimilation. But even among the young, the idea of "black speech" is associated with part exoticization and part inferiority. Take for example the frequent derogatory use of the word "ghetto," denoting anything that is run down or in disrepair. Of course, my students say.... "that's not about black people, whites can be ghetto too."

These same students also think that "ghetto is cool" under certain circumstances and at certain times. "Ghetto" is great in the car with the windows rolled up, but not so hot when you are applying for a job.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Obama Outdoors

According to Politico, it looks like Barack Obama will accept the Democratic Party's nomination outdoors at Invesco Field in Denver rather than indoors at the Pepsi Center. I'm impressed by the Obama campaign's ability to innovate. This is definitely an interesting spin on the staid convention format. I think they intend it to be read as Obama "breaking out" of a confining arena to welcome those outside the party (i.e. accepting the nomination outdoors). I think the media will play it this way too.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Obama and FISA

Patrick Ruffini at techPresident has an interesting post about how much credit Barack Obama should recieve for allowing protests to his FISA bill support on his website. It brings up interesting questions about the inherent value of dialogue.

there is a danger that we'll use a superficial semblance of openness to give the Obama campaign a pass on the key issue: whether Obama is actually responding to this protest in any meaningful way. Isn't that the point of having these tools, after all? That the candidate will actually listen and maybe even modify his policies as a result?

Proponents of deliberative democracy herald the inherent value of talk in fostering civic engagement. However, talk if not followed by sustained action can also lead to a dimminishing of interest in politics. Will we run the risk of "talking ourselves to death" online while major social issues go unaddressed? Or does enough sustained talk with the threat of action lead to social change?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Klan was a Pyramid Scheme

01238 magazine has a story on a paper entitled “Hatred and Profits: Getting Under the Hood of the Ku Klux Klan,” by a-list economists Steve Levitt and Ronald Fryer. They find that, in the main, the activity of the clan was more akin to the Elks or Masons than a contemporary terrorist/hate group:
The research sample showed that the average Klan member was better educated and wealthier than the surrounding population. He was also more likely to see the Klan as a fraternity of sorts than as a violent posse. When the two economists uncovered a trove of expense receipts in Pennsylvania, Fryer says, “I thought maybe we’d find something exciting, like rope or guns, but instead they were buying stuff like ice cream.

I haven't read the entire article. I'd take issue with the research as presented in the article if it in any way downplays the incidents of real terrorism and brutality in which the Klan has historically engaged. But the article does highlight some fascinating aspects of how the Klan worked. It appeared that it worked much like modern pyramid schemes:

The Klan was highly effective at one thing, however: making money for its leaders. Rank-and-file members had to pay joining fees, “realm taxes,” and routine costs like robe purchases. Most of this money made its way to the top via an army of “salesmen,” who took their own cut. Levitt and Fryer calculated that in one year, David Curtis Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of Indiana and 22 other states, took home about $2.5 million (in 2006 dollars). “The Klan was able to bundle hatred with fraternity and make a real sell of it,” says Fryer.

Their study reminds us that racial/nativist hatreds can be exploited for both political and economic gain. I wonder if anyone has looked at contemporary nativist groups and examined their organizational and financial structures.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Implicit Bias and Juicy Campus

In preparation for my Race and Politics course this fall semester, I've brushed up on the latest work out there on social desirability bias. The general idea is that we harbor implicitly biased views about other groups that we do not share implicitly lest we run afoul of social norms.

The web can provide a safe space for unleashing these implicit biases. One such place where college students can vent their implicit biases is Juicy Campus. A piece in the latest issue of Radar features the controversy over the site's content. The founder of the site seemed to have innocuous intentions:
We thought people might talk about what happened at some fraternity party last weekend, or to rank sororities. That sort of thing," he insists. "And if you look, you'll definitely find those fun stories. And then there's a bunch more stuff that we didn't realize people would use the site for.
But the site has turned into a dustbin of offensive, unsubstantiated accusations and slurs:
promiscuity, drug abuse, plastic surgery, homosexuality, rape, and eating disorders, along with enough racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic invective to make David Duke blanch—that seems to generate the majority of the page views.
I first heard of this site from a student in my Community Development class last semester. What struck me (perhaps it shouldn't have) is how graphic the comments were on the site. I can remember hearing some pretty graphic stuff in my own college days, but I couldn't imagine the desire to make such comments public. I suppose that is the point, social networking sites make the private immediately public. Devices like cell phones with SMS technologies and sites like Twitter allow you to post your impulses. I wonder how many of the posts on this juicy campus site are infused with alcohol or other drugs. What social networking and participatory culture allows us to do is to be on-line in the moment. But to me the unanswered question is whether is simply captures a moment of unvarnished racism or sexism, or does it encourage the creation of routines that support further exposition of offensive views?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Folksonomy as a Political Methodology in the Study of Race

There has been some good recent scholarship (here and here) in political science challenging the use of the hypothetico-deductive model to explain how race impacts the political process. Traditionally, political scientists have taken race or ethnic identification to logically precede group-based interest-formation and mobilization.

The reality of race and ethnicity is that they are multifaceted, inter-sectional and contextual constructs that cannot be captured through survey research that asks respondents to check a box next to the ethnicity with which they identify.
Attempts by statistical researchers to 'control for third variables'... ignore the ontological embeddedness of locatedness of entities within actual situation contexts." (Emirbayer 1997, 289).
This is true, but then the question remains, how do you validly and reliably study identity in the political process. One interesting approach might be to employ folksonomies to race questions in political science. Rather than asking people to classify themselves according to the controlled vocabulary of the survey researcher, a folksonomy would allow the respondent to use as many self-identifiers they want to describe themselves. You can use social network analysis to group respondents based on the similarity of their self-tagging structures into clusters and then test whether cluster membership is related to a desired political outcome.