Research at Disney

If the talk about a shortage of faculty positions is dispiriting, articles like this are energizing. Data science has emerged as a hopeful and interesting alternative to academic social science. But one of the biggest drawbacks has to be that many data science positions are shaped so exclusively by computer science, engineering, or some other area of science that isn’t primarily social. Those areas of work are great, integral and critical, but the result of the skew is that descriptions of “data science” can lose sight of the real human behavior and social phenomena behind the data being analyzed. Continue reading


The Value of Reproducible Research: Sometimes the response matters more than the results

Yesterday I followed a tweet to a post by Jason Lyall responding to apparently widespread criticism of a new survey in Afghanistan done by the Asia Foundation. The post was the first I’d heard of the survey or of the response to it, so I don’t know anything more about the criticism than what Jason wrote, or much about the nature or arguments of the criticism. But the post did link to one criticism in particular, from Sarah Chayes, a journalist turned NGO-founder and regular ISAF-hired expert on Afghanistan. The general approach taken in her critique seems illustrative of something I find very valuable about systematic and reproducible research and analysis: it facilitates productive and progressive (though perhaps not always intentionally so) responses. Continue reading

Another Downside to the Current Journal System

One day I imagine I’ll have a paper that isn’t rejected for publication. When that happens, in the joy of adding a journal-title to my CV, perhaps I’ll wave goodbye to my days of fierce antipathy towards journal conglomerates. In the meantime I’m going to continue to embrace the journal-corporation hating. The system, after all, seems increasingly stupid. Continue reading

Feeling Ineffective … Needing the “Haqqani network”

One of the things I dislike most about being in academia is the feeling of creeping complacency. I don’t feel it very often – that’s why it’s ‘creeping’ – but when I do it’s painful and soul-frustrating. Working for the military was where I felt least complacent (despite the numerous other downsides), so perhaps it’s not surprising that the things that make me feel most complacent typically have to do with the military and irregular warfare. The current situation in Afghanistan should be enough in itself to make anyone stop and think whether such a situation is really necessary and whether there isn’t anything that could be done about it. 326 members of the international coalition have died in Afghanistan so far this year; 3,021 Afghan civilians died in 2011; suicides among US troops have been averaging one a day in 2012; the Dept. of Veteran Affairs estimates 18 veterans are committing suicide every day. All this is an ongoing and overlooked tragedy. But it’s not the overall tragedy that makes me feel complacent. For me and for most people it’s about as outside the bounds of being influenced as is the weather. No, what makes me stop and feel terribly complacent are the errors in thinking about social phenomena in Afghanistan that policy-makers and military analysts continue to make, and that social scientists seem incapable of helping correct (…perhaps because we’re often not so immune to them ourselves). Continue reading

Trying to figure out why I don’t want to call myself a data scientist

I want to change my LinkedIn profile a little. [EDIT: Already changed it based on stuff I wrote here…I guess I should have archived the old one for reference.] The last time I really made any major profile updates was when I was applying for my current job.  Now, I sort of like my summary – it’s a story about a non-traditional briefing I gave to a British colonel, a fuller version of which I used in my cover letter. That story was apparently interesting enough that my current employers told me after I was hired that it had caught their attention, but it doesn’t really reflect the full range of what I currently do and is too focused on my government work experience. The same is true of the ensuing description of my abilities, and the description of my current job responsibilities needs to be updated. Continue reading