Saturday, November 07, 2015

To Be a Sociologist, Firmly Grasp the Difference Between "Most" and "All"

For years I have told students what I call the Number One Rule of Sociology:

We make generalizations about groups which do not necessarily apply to each individual in the group.

Often people err in treating a true group generalization as if, to be true, it has to apply to each person in the group.  Since this is almost never the case, they dismiss the possibility of generalizing about groups at all.  Yet group generalizations are essential in dealing with a world of strangers.

Recently I thought up a shorter version of this rule, or perhaps it is the prerequisite to the Number One Rule.  To be a sociologist, you need a firm grasp on the difference between Most and All.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Brain Surgeons Don't Have to be Widely Informed

Ben Carson is a famous brain surgeon, but he has rather fanciful views (to put it nicely) about many other things. 

In response to the controversy over his belief that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, a friend on Facebook asked if this meant that a once intelligent man was losing his mind.  I offered, respectfully, that surgeons are very well informed about one thing, but this is no guarantee that they are well informed, or even thoughtful, about anything else.

This prompted a respected brain scientist to offer a useful perspective:

Medical School and residencies (particularly the 6-7 years required for neurosurgery) are designed to build specific skill sets and a pretty focal knowledge base. They're generally the antithesis of the classic liberal arts arc. They don't encourage breadth. In fact, I'd say that neurosurgical training is likely to select for individuals who: 1) aren't deeply thoughtful--or even curious--about how the great, big world works, outside of neuroanatomy and its associated pathologies; and 2) are supremely confident and certain about what they do know (a necessity if one is going to cut into brain tissue). It's actually pretty easy to understand how, if anything, such training could reinforce the sort of willful ignorance expressed by Ben Carson. Contrary to the oddly popular stereotype, you don't need to be a super-genius with extraordinary powers of intellectual synthesis to be a neurosurgeon. In fact, such qualities would probably get in the way.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Happy Successful Prevention of Terrorism Day!

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November" ...

Today is the day when the British celebrate their success in preventing the religious terrorist Guy Fawkes from blowing up the government.

Whether in 1605 or today, we can all celebrate our successes in preventing anti-government terrorism.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Gleanings from the Kentucky Election

The election was mostly disappointing in our household.  There are some silver linings, and some ironies that I note by the light of the next day.

Governor-elect Bevin ran on an anti-government platform, especially against the federal government. He promised to dismantle Kentucky's health insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion.  He says he will not "throw people off their health insurance," but instead shift them to the federal health insurance program.  This, ironically, will expand the reach of the federal government.

All Republicans and Tea Partiers ran against President Obama, especially the "coal-killing" Environmental Protection Agency.  Four years from now, when Gov. Bevin''s term ends and Pres. Obama is long gone, it will be clear that the natural-gas boom, not environmental regulations, has been the real threat to the coal industry.

Attorney General Jack Conway gave a very gracious concession speech after losing the governor's race - certainly the best speech I ever heard him make.  He promised, as a good Democrat, to be at the service of the new governor.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, the de facto leader of the Democratic Party now, gave a fine and curious speech about not letting the other party paint Democrats as any less Christian or moral.

Kentucky has elected a black person to statewide office for the first time in Lieutenant Governor-elect Jenean Hampton.

And Danville will finally get a new Representative in the Kentucky House after 13 years of inaction by Mike Harmon, the Auditor-elect.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Black Women Want the Top Corporate Jobs More Than Other Women Do

Black women seek the top jobs more than women of other races.

This is such an interesting finding.

I think it reflects the fact that black women have been primary breadwinners in most black families for a generation. This is especially true among poor and working-class families.  Now, though, we have a whole generation of black women mostly raised by single mothers.  Many of those young women have educated and worked themselves into the management class.  They are a big part of the pool of black women in the higher levels of business.

So, while there are very few black women in C-level corporate jobs now, I expect that rate will rise faster than will the rate of women of other races in the top-money jobs.