A Problem with Today’s Widespread Celebrity Culture

A defining feature of life today is we have a lot of celebrities. We live in a world of information, and much of that information is about specific people. We have celebrities in just about every area of life ranging from broad areas, such as entertainment, sports, and government to more obscure tasks such as noodling catfish (i.e., is catching them by hand) and baking cakes.

Think about it. How many people do you know a lot about via the media even though you’ve never met them? Quite a few, I’d wager. And if you want to learn about someone, it’s usually pretty easy on-line.

There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, but it can cause a problem in how we evaluate our own lives. Celebrities are often known for doing something really well, and we naturally gravitate toward those celebrities who are experts in areas that we’re interested in ourselves. As I blogged about last week, we understand ourselves, in part, through processes of self-comparison.

The problem arises when [Read more...]

Where We Find the Most Bad Statistics

It’s my impression that the greater the social significance of a topic, the more inaccurate statistics will be created for and used about it. Why? 1) The more significant a topic, the more people will measure it, so there will be more statistics about it anyway. 2) The greater the significance, the more people will have incentive to either create or use misleading statistics that best represent their perspective.

Graphically:

My Faulty Moral Standards (Which I’d Like to Think are Better than Yours)

I’ve been thinking about personal standards lately, and one of the people I know with the highest standards about anything is UConn Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma. Here’s a story to illustrate. A couple weeks ago the team was playing West Virginia—a physically tough Big East opponent, and UConn was up by a comfortable margin. West Virginia’s center got the ball in the low post, and UConn’s center, Stefanie Dolson reached around and batted away from her, to one of UConn’s guards for an easy layup at the other end. As Dolson ran by the UConn bench, Auriemma chewed her out. Why? Because from his view on how basketball should be played, Dolson shouldn’t have given up the low-post position in the first place.

Auriemma has a clear vision of how the game should be played, and he won’t settle for anything less. It doesn’t matter if the team is up 50 points (which happens regularly) or down 10 points (which happens less regularly). As a result, he’s a hall-of-fame coach, Olympic coach, and has a winning percentage of 86%. (His teams have lost 6 games in the last four years). He wants his teams to play to a standard, not the situation. As a result, they have not lost to an unranked opponent since 1999! (In fact, I’m sure that my blogging colleague Jerry Park at Baylor will agree with me that UConn WBB has the best team this year).

When it comes to morals, which may even be more important than UConn basketball, I spend a lot of time watching the scoreboard. By that I mean that while I ascribe to high moral statements, when push comes to shove, I’m usually pretty happy if I’m doing better than other people or if things are going well in general.

Social psychologists explain this in terms of [Read more...]

Why I’d Rather Do Research than Publish

For whatever reason I get stuck at the same point with many of my papers–right before a submission (or resubmission) to a journal. From a rational perspective, this makes no sense in that a little extra work will get the manuscript to a journal where it might be published. In thinking about why I have this tendency, I realized that what I enjoy about sociological research happens *before* submission to a journal–formulating the ideas, analyzing the data, and putting together in draft form. From there out it’s just work. The problem is that the professional rewards don’t start until *after* journal submission (and acceptance).

Here’s a graph that illustrates what I mean:

I love research because I’m very curious about the world, but when it comes to getting things out the door, then it’s more just plain-old-discipline.

Sigh.


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