September 30, 2013

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, September 2013

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Betsy Sinclair, The Social Citizen: Peer Networks and Political Behavior
Introspectively, it seems pretty obvious that our political behavior and attitudes are influenced by our friends and family; this is an attempt to document and quantify that influence, in the context of modern American politics. Sinclair looks at influence on going to the polls, on donating to campaigns, on who we vote for, and on party identification.
The evidence on voter turnout is experimental: randomly encouraging one person to vote makes those in the same household, who were not experimented on, more likely to vote themselves. This has the same compelling logic as any good experiment: manipulating A makes B move, so there must be some mechanism connecting A to B.
For donations, candidate choice, and party identification, Sinclair's evidence is observational, from surveys. These studies generally do not, in fact, collect social networks, but rather rely on people reporting on attributes of their networks and their friends and family, or even proxying social networks by demographic information about neighborhoods. What Sinclair reports here is intuitively plausible, but all of it is vulnerable to confounding due to homophily. I don't have a better idea about how to address these problems in observational studies, and Sinclair and her co-authors have done about1 as well as anyone could have with this data, but it's still only suggestive.
[1]: Assume for the sake of argument that every attribute on which people are homophilous is accurately measured by the survey and included in the regression. To support the sort of strong scientific interpretation that Sinclair (reasonably!) wants to give the regression results, we'd also have to know that the functional form of the regression was well-specified. This is can be checked, but apparently wasn't. (This lapse is no less serious for being so very common.) I also think there is a logical error in the discussion of the panel data on candidate preferences (pp. 95ff). I see no reason why homophily couldn't lead to voters selecting friends who will respond similarly to what happens during a political campaign, which would tend to make their vote choices increasingly aligned. ^
(Disclaimer: Prof. Sinclair was kind enough to invite me to a conference she organized on this subject earlier this year. I should maybe also mention that I'm happy with how this book cites my work.)
Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
A really magnificent biography of a remarkable American, by a great scholar coming from a viewpoint close enough to be sympathetic but distant enough to be sharply critical.
Tarquin Hall, The Case of the Missing Servant: From the Files of Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator; The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing; The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken
Mind candy: humorous murder mysteries from contemporary India, principally Delhi.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; The Beloved Republic; Networks; Commit a Social Science

Posted at September 30, 2013 23:59 | permanent link

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