SocArXiv highlights for April

Welcome back for a second round of monthly SocArXiv highlights. This is a way to call out a handful of the many papers that were posted in April, focusing mostly and sociology and reflecting my totally idiosyncratic tastes. Some are working papers or forthcoming articles; some are preprints of recently published work. All are freely available via OSF.

Disclaimer: I make no claim to peer review or to evaluation of the papers here. Read it yourself before you cite!

The Price of an Uncertain Promise: Fair Value Accounting and the Shaping of Bank Counterparty Risk Valuation Practices

Taylor Spears

This paper, which lies at the intersection of social studies of finance and institutionalism/field theory, is a fascinating look at how the adoption of fair value accounting by the Financial Accounting Standards Board affected the financial modeling practices used by banks. Consistent with MacKenzie (2011), the paper finds competing and conflicting valuation processes within and across organizations, and that the new standards tipped the balance in favor of a set of practices aligned with financial economics. The paper does a really nice job of showing how institutional and sociomaterial explanations can be complementary, and that both are needed to understand this kind of change.

Cultural Meanings and the Aggregation of Actions: The Case of Sex and Schooling in Malawi

Margaret Frye

This paper was published in ASR last year, but it went up on SocArXiv this month, so fair game. Maggie Frye does great and original work linking cultural accounts and demographic data. By moving between empirical evidence on sexual behavior and school-leaving, and student/teacher accounts of why sexual relationships cause girls to leave school, Frye produces a compelling account of how causal narratives — even inaccurate ones — influence actions in ways that have population-level effects.

Two from the sociology of science:

Men Set Their Own Cites High: Gender and Self-citation across Fields and over Time

Molly King, Carl Bergstrom, Shelley Correll, Jennifer Jacquet, Jevin West

and

The Matthew Effect in Science Funding

Thijs Bol, Mathijs de Vaan, and Arnout van de Rijt

The findings of these two papers may not be shocking, but both provide important new evidence of the effects they describe. The King et al. paper, published in Socius last year, shows that men cite their own work 70% more than women, and that these numbers have not changed over the last fifty years. The Bol et al. paper, published this year in PNAS, shows that early career researchers just above the funding threshold of a major European grant accumulate twice as much funding over the next eight years as those just below it. The practical takeaway, though, is that part of the gap happens because initially unfunded applicants subsequently apply for fewer grants, not only because successful applicants are more likely to be funded down the road. So women, cite your own work, and rejected grant applicants, keep on trying.

Can Cultural Consumption Increase Future Earnings? Exploring the Economic Returns to Cultural Capital

Aaron Reeves and Robert de Vries

Just yesterday a graduate student asked me if anyone had looked at whether Lauren Rivera’s finding about the cultural matching that goes on at elite firms applies to other occupational settings. I said I didn’t know of work that did (though tell me if I’m wrong!), and then I ran into this paper, forthcoming in the British Journal of Sociology. While it doesn’t look at matching per se, it does examine whether cultural consumption predicts future earnings, upward social mobility, and promotions. (Answer: yes.) This seems like an area that is ripe for interesting work and where relationships are likely to vary a great deal across industry, occupation, and location.

Okay, that’s it for this time. Keep on posting your working papers and preprints to SocArXiv and I’ll keep on sharing — at least as much as I can.

Submitted a paper for an ASA section award? Submit it to SocArXiv and be eligible for a SOAR award too

If you’ve submitted a paper to be considered for an American Sociological Association section award – including a graduate student award – consider submitting it to SocArXiv as well. Any paper that is uploaded to SocArXiv by April 30 and wins a 2018 ASA section award will, upon letting us know, receive a supplementary SOAR (Sociology Open Access Recognition) award of $250 in recognition of your achievement. Support open access, gain recognition, and win money all at the same time!

Here’s how it works: You upload your paper to SocArXiv by April 30. If it’s a published paper, check your author agreement or the Sherpa/ROMEO database to see what version, if any, you’re allowed to share. Once you find out you’ve won a section award, email socarxiv@gmail.com to notify us. We’ll send you a check for $250, as well as publicizing your paper and officially conferring a SOAR award. That’s the whole deal.

Sharing your paper through SocArXiv is a win-win. It’s good for you, because you get the word out about your research. It’s good for social science, because more people have access to ungated information. And now, with SOAR prizes for award-winning papers, it can be good for your wallet, too.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What happens if I submitted a paper, but don’t notify SocArXiv it’s won a section award?

You will only receive a SOAR award if you let SocArXiv know at socarxiv@gmail.com by August 31, 2018 that your paper has won an ASA section award.

  1. What if I upload my paper after I win the section award?

Any papers uploaded by April 30, 2018 are eligible. We welcome later sharing of papers, but they will not be eligible for SOAR awards.

  1. Does the version submitted to SocArXiv have to be identical with the version submitted to the ASA section?

The versions must be reasonably similar but do not need to be identical. For example, if you upload to SocArXiv a pre-copyediting version of your published paper that you have permission to share, but send the award committee the published version, you are still eligible for the award.

  1. I’d love to upload my paper, but my copyright agreement doesn’t allow me to. What do I do?

First, you may still have the right to upload some version of the paper, even if it is not the final published version. Check the Sherpa/ROMEO database for the preprint policies of many academic journals. If you really can’t share any version, you are unfortunately not eligible for a SOAR award. But keep in mind for next time that copyright agreements can often be edited or amended. You don’t have to give away your rights to your work.

  1. I am a graduate student submitting a paper for a graduate student section award. Am I still eligible?

Yes, absolutely. ASA section awards for graduate student papers are also eligible for SOAR.

  1. I am submitting my paper for an award in another disciplinary association. Am I eligible for SOAR?

At present SOAR awards are limited to papers recognized by ASA sections. However, we are always interested in building partnerships with other organizations and disciplines. Please reach out to us at socarxiv@gmail.com if you are interested in developing a similar program for your organization.

 

Committee on Publication Ethics offers supportive preprint recommendations

copelogo

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has released a discussion document on preprints. It offers a useful synopsis on the context and rationale for preprints, as well as some common challenges and ethical issues.

I hope journals and publishers will read and follow their guidance here. In particular the ethical notes that:

  • Preprints are generally not considered “publications,” so the papers can be submitted to journals.
  • However, preprints do establish “precedence,” so they should be cited by authors who are aware of them.

COPE doesn’t go so far as to recommend that journals accept preprinted papers, but they urge journals to make their policies explicit:

As the preprint landscape continues to evolve, journals may also wish to raise awareness of preprints among their editorial teams, authors, reviewers, and readers via editorials, webinars, etc. Clear policies in author and reviewer guidelines will not only clarify expectations but also provide a framework for handling submissions consistently.

As we note on our FAQ page, American Sociological Association journal policy allows consideration of papers that have been publicly posted, as long as they are not peer-reviewed:

ASA authors may post working versions of their papers on their personal web sites and non-peer-reviewed repositories. Such postings are not considered by ASA as previous publication.

By our accounting, the top sociology journals all currently allow prepublication archiving of papers.

The COPE advice for authors is also good. In short:

  • Be aware of preprint server and journal policies.
  • Read your copyright agreements.
  • When posting preprints, follow standard ethical practices for research integrity and author attribution.

Our advice goes further, advising researchers to: post papers on SocArXiv or another preprint server, publish in journals that permit distribution of papers before and after publication (we provide DOI linking to facilitate discovery and metrics), use unrestricted licenses to maximize distribution of your work, and link your papers to publicly available research materials (here’s a basic tutorial).

SocArXiv highlights for March

SocArXiv has been up and running for a year and a half now, and has accepted well over 2000 papers to date. Although you can follow the SocArXiv bot on Twitter to see what’s coming down the transom, and this page provides a running feed of the latest papers and abstracts, it’s a lot to follow – last month more than 200 papers were uploaded.

Toward the end of making this firehose of research a bit more manageable, I (Beth Popp Berman, member of the SocArXiv steering committee) thought I’d start to do a little curating. The intent at this point is to do this once a month, though clearly it could be a weekly feature.

Highlighted below are a handful of intriguing papers posted to SocArXiv recently. Selection criteria are totally idiosyncratic – sociology-centric and based on what looks intriguing to me, with some eye toward broader appeal. If you’re interested in helping to curate on a monthly basis, perhaps with a focus on a particular subfield, email me at epberman@albany.edu.

Disclaimer: I make no claim to peer review here or even to close reading of the papers to evaluate quality; some have been published and gone through peer review while others are working papers.

So, with no further ado:

The Emotional Labor of Surveillance: Evidence from the Fast Fashion Retail Industry

Madison Van Oort

This ethnography- and interview-based paper looks at just-in-time scheduling, biometric scanners, and point-of-sale metrics as forms of worker surveillance at two major “fast fashion” retailers. It details the ways these technologies shape work practices and require new kinds of emotional labor—the “emotional labor of surveillance.” I saw Van Oort present research from this project at ASA last year and it was fascinating – there is lots of room to understand how new technology is yet again restructuring the workplace through new forms of discipline than in turn produce their own resistance.

Exposure to Opposing Views can Increase Political Polarization: Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Experiment on Social Media

Christopher Bail, Lisa Argyle, Taylor Brown, John Bumpus, Haohan Chen, M.B. Fallin Hunzaker, Jaemin Lee, Marcus Mann, Friedolin Merhout, Alexander Volfovsky

This large-scale experiment got a lot of attention on (surprise) social media when it was posted a couple of weeks ago. Following a survey, authors randomly assigned Democratic and Republican Twitter users to follow a bot that would periodically tweet messages from the “other side”. After a month, they surveyed respondents again, finding that Republicans became substantially more conservative after following a liberal Twitter bot, and Democrats became slightly (but insignificantly) more liberal. Make of that what you will, but it’s interesting experimental evidence.

The Rise of the Randomistas: On the Experimental Turn in International Aid

Kevin Donovan

Speaking of experiments, this paper recently published online-first in Economy and Society looks at how randomized controlled trials became a newly dominant form of knowledge in international development. Promoted as a means of securing epistemic certainty, RCTs have reconfigured both development economics and international aid itself, yet still fail to achieve the closure hoped for by their proponents. This intriguing paper, part of a not-yet-published issue on evidence-based policy, builds on the work of scholars like Monika Krause and Gil Eyal to understand how networks of expertise are produced and maintained.

Leaving the Financial Nest: Connecting Young Adults’ Financial Independence to Financial Security

Megan Doherty Bea and Youngmin Yi

As someone with an interest in student loans and their effects, I found this paper on young adults and their reliance on family support intriguing. Clearly the ability of parents to continue to assist young adults is a difficult-to-measure but important mechanism for the reproduction of inequality. Using PSID data, this paper uses group-based trajectory analysis to identify four latent classes of young adults: consistently independent, quickly independent, gradually independent, and consistently supported. The consistently independent group, with lower average socioeconomic status, reports more financial worry and has a greater chance of being in poverty. This approach seems very promising for better understanding the mechanisms through which intergenerational advantage is transmitted and reproduced.

Too Many Papers? Slowed Canonical Progress in Large Fields of Science

Johan S. G. Chu and James Evans

Finally, and appropriate to the project of sorting through lots of papers, this short working paper uses a very large dataset (57 million papers and a billion citations) to look at how scientific fields develop as the number of papers in them grows large. Increasing size leads to “ossification” of the literature rather than increased citation of new papers, suggesting that new ideas may have trouble gaining hold as readers, overwhelmed by the literature, focus on canonical texts. This intriguing evidence could be interpreted in a number of different ways, and will doubtless generate debate over which story best fits the empirical citation patterns.

There’s lots of good stuff out there – I easily could have highlighted several times this number of papers! Again, if you’re interested in helping curate interesting work on SocArXiv, please let me know – with more people, and different tastes, we could conceivably do something a little more systematic here.

Grand challenges for open scholarship

MIT Libraries’ Grand Challenges will help set a research agenda for the development of open scholarship.

scihubinabox
In his keynote address, Joi Ito showed a picture of a briefcase holding the contents of Sci-Hub (tens of millions of papers), en route to India, where they may end up being legally distributed to teachers and students.

MIT Libraries just hosted a Grand Challenges summit on Information Science and Scholarly Communication. It comprised three 1.5-day workshops on (1) scholarly discovery, (2) digital curation and preservation, and (3) open scholarship (described here). The director of MIT Libraries, Chris Bourg, is on SocArXiv’s steering committee, and I was invited to participate in the open scholarship workshop, so we were well represented (participant list).

The workshops focused on defining core challenges and proposing a research agenda to address them in a 7- to 10-year time frame. This builds on MIT’s Task Force of the Future of Libraries report, among other efforts. The organizers and participants will produce a report on this agenda in the next few months; we’ll report back.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight one of the recommended readings, a paper by Micah Altman (the libraries’ director of research) and Marguerite Avery, “Information wants someone else to pay for it: Laws of information economics and scholarly publishing.” It’s an excellent introduction to the problem of markets in scholarly publishing, very approachable for social scientists interested in the political economy of what the jargon calls the “scholarly communication ecosystem.”

In general, the trends in scholarly communication are more, more and more. In 2011, the value of the market in 2011 was estimated to be $23.5 billion. But there is one area in which the trend is “less” and that is in market competition. Although the number of publications and journals is expanding at approximately three percent a year, and the market is expanding at four percent, the number of mergers and acquisitions over the past three decades have dramatically decreased the diversity of and competition among publishers. Today, following the recent merger of MacMillan and Springer, the market is dominated by a handful of companies: Pearson, Reed Elsevier, Springer, Taylor & Francis, Thomson/Reuters and Wolters Kluwer. These companies happen to be the top four publishing companies globally as well. And this is the culmination of a long-term trend: over the last three decades, there has been dramatic consolidation in the scholarly publishing industry. Profit margins are commensurately high, with some credible estimates of Elsevier’s profit margin as high as thirty-seven percent. Thus far, there are no signs that the general expansion of the content, contributors, and audience for scholarly outputs has countered this decline in competition.

The paper offers explanations for this failure of market competition, concluding:

Even in the long run, economic theory itself predicts that left to the market, too little knowledge will be created, too little used, and access to too much of what is available will be controlled by a small group of distributors.

They further caution that openness itself — especially defined only as free-to-read, does not a guarantee a system of “robust, sustainable scholarly communication.”

We may reach the point when the small number of for-profit companies that control academic publishing are able to describe their publishing output as “open access,” while simultaneously cementing their control over knowledge.

Finally, Altman and Avery offer a list of the “affordances” offered by current academic publications — the uses that different groups or institutions expect from them — and propose using new technology to unbundle these tasks, rather than presume they will remain bundled in the current, relatively ancient system of publication. This is a useful exercise for imagining future scholarly communication systems. Here is their table of affordances:

Table 1 from Altman & Avery 2015: DOI 10.3233/ISU-150775

One of my goals for the next year is assembling a curriculum on academic publishing, suitable for beginning social scientists and others interested in learning how this system works, the better to change it. This paper, and the work coming out of the MIT Grand Challenges summit, will be on the list. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments, or send them to me at pnc@umd.edu.

SocArXiv media spotlight: Excess mortality in Puerto Rico

People walking in flood waters in Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017.
Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017. Puerto Rico National Guard photo by Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos.

A paper by Alexis Santos and Jeffrey T. Howard, posted on SocArXiv, has received wide media attention, highlighting some of the advantages of using SocArXiv. The paper, “Estimates of excess deaths in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria,” was posted as a preprint before peer review.

The abstract reports a “descriptive finding” on excess deaths following Hurricane María for September and October. Using historical data from the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics system, the authors estimated expected deaths for each month. Then, using statements from the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, they compared the number of deaths for September and October 2017 to those from previous years, taking variability into account. The difference between their estimates of actual deaths in 2017 and the high-end estimates for those months was 518 deaths for September and 567 deaths for October. They conclude that mortality on the island “may exceed the current official death toll by a factor of 10.”

The preprint has been cited and linked from articles in the New York Times, Vox, and Huffington Post, and other media sources. As of December 10 it has been downloaded from SocArXiv 1,333 times (and viewed in the browser window many more times than that).

Santos, who goes by @AppDemography on Twitter, is an active public scholar who previously posted a paper on SocArXiv about possible climate change effects on life expectancy in Europe.

This is a good best-practices story for several reasons.

  • There is an urgent need to understand the impact of the hurricane on Puerto Rico. The paper is not peer-reviewed, but it is ready to be distributed widely. The methods are clear and transparent. The media reporting now permits other scholars the opportunity to read and react to the paper publicly. It now appears the Santos and Howard estimates are in line with other calculations, and the paper contributes to an emerging consensus about the storm’s impact.
  • By posting the paper on SocArXiv and sharing it with the media from there, Santos was able to provide a persistent link to an open paper, time-stamped and linked with his profile page (which includes links to his ORCID ID, Google Scholar, and other accounts).
  • In addition to the persistent link on SocArXiv, the paper has a DOI associated with it. The Google Scholar link takes readers directly to the SocArXiv version, and is now recording citations to the paper. SocArXiv also preserves and makes availale the version record for the paper.
  • As a project on the Open Science Framework (which each SocArXiv paper automatically becomes), the paper may be easily associated with supporting documentation and research materials.
  • Finally, if the paper in some later version is published in a journal, the authors will have the opportunity of providing a forward-linking DOI on the SocArXiv page, so that readers will be directed to the journal site.

We’re delighted to see SocArXiv working as intended!

Authority, openness, and the soft sciences

Photo of water drop splashing
Openness is beautiful but also vulnerable (photo PNC)

At our O3S conference, Tina Fetner said something that struck me, and with her permission I’m elaborating on it here.

Why is open scholarship more advanced, as a movement and as a set of norms, in the non-social sciences? The most important preprint archive is Arxiv, which started in math and physics. The biggest new preprint archive is bioRxiv, for the biological sciences, which is currently adding about 40 papers per day. There are important developments in the social sciences, including of course SocArXiv, but also PsyArxiv for psychology (although they are a pretty sciency social science); but these are still incipient relative to the big archives. And in open access academic publishing, the leader is PLOS (the Public Library of Science) which covers “all areas of science and medicine,” but doesn’t handle much social science (out of 190,000 papers, I count 14% tagged as social science, and 4% are tagged sociology, many of which are about health topics).

Of course not all scientists, or scientific disciplines, are leading the open movement. In chemistry and medicine, for example – and other fields where there is major commercial gain to be made from secrecy – openness is not all the rage.

But in the case of biology, where openness is taking off, could it be that the scientists are more oriented toward scientific processes than social scientists are, and so the issues of reproducibility and transparency are closer to the philosophy of their training? Or that they are more used to collaborating in teams that evolve over the course of their careers, so they are used to sharing? I don’t know, but I’d like to hear suggestions.

We hear you

Tina offered this suggestion: Maybe social scientists – and especially those in the softer social sciences – are reluctant to open up their work because they risk more by engaging with people outside their fields. This might be because our authority is more precarious.

Think about language. When physicists or engineers use language that only they understand, it’s not “jargon,” it’s “technical.” But social scientists are usually talking about things that are meaningful and interpretable to people outside of their disciplines. When sociologists use fancy words they seem obnoxious to lay readers. If a female social scientists refers to how “gender is socially constructed,” or uses the term “neoliberalism,” a dozen men with maybe one undergraduate course in sociology between them will gladly step in to explain why she’s an idiot (and worse). This doesn’t happen to mathematicians. (It also happens to White men much less than it does to women and minority scholars, which works in the average mathematician’s favor.)

When social scientists take their work public – which many of us are extremely keen to do – the risks we face are different from those in the sciency sciences. Our authority is more tenuous the more our work approaches intelligibility to non-experts. And the incentive to attack us increases as our work becomes more critical, and more critical of those with more to lose from our work.

One response to this weaker authority is to lean more heavily on formal legitimacy. Sociologists may be more insistent on formal titles than mathematicians for this reason (again, plus gender and race/ethnicity). And they might be more trepidatious about sharing work widely that has not been peer reviewed, or published by a high status journal or academic publishing house. These are reasonable responses.

It is our mission through SocArXiv to open up the research process and its products. But we know that this goal entails risks, and that those risks are not equitably distributed. We persist despite this recognition not because we discount the risks and concerns, but because we think social science is too important to give up in the face of them.

We want to help

Our approach to openness needs to be flexible and inclusive. It’s good to be tenacious, but not dogmatic. We believe that openness makes our work better, faster, more efficient, and more inclusive. The challenge is to move in that direction without incurring costs that are greater than those benefits. And we think we can do that.

Opening up our work allows us to better build collaborative networks for intellectual, social, and political support. By sharing with each other, we can make the enterprise of social science stronger partly because the work will be better, and partly because we will have a greater pool of shared resources on which to draw in response to the opposition we may face from skeptical or hostile publics. Of course, this is easier said than done, but that’s the basis for our optimism on openness.

That’s why we created SocArXiv, but SocArXiv is not a social movement or a political party; there is no ideological test for entry. It’s a tool and a platform that we can use to make our work better. We want to help you use it to make your work better, too, and we’d love to hear from you how we can do that together.