Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nobody wants sociologists

All they have to offer is opinion, and hack opinions at that. I taught for 12 years in a major sociology school and there was a lot of expertise in the writings of Karl Marx there but not much else

For sociologists who want to see social science influence public policy, these should be heady times. The president of the United States is someone who isn’t afraid of being called an intellectual and who worked at and lived near a top university for years. His late mother was an anthropologist. He likes to talk to experts.

But the mood in many sessions here at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association was one of just a bit of hurt and disappointment. With a few exceptions, sociologists aren’t getting called by the White House -- and if many imagined that calls from Washington in the last administration might land them in Guantanamo Bay, this time around, they want to be called.

Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, described watching the news in December, as the economy was in a free fall and Barack Obama, as president-elect, was naming people to key positions in his administration. From the social sciences, he said, it was “the same old cast of characters,” and that means economists.

Obama’s election had brought “a sense of possibility,” but “as a sociologist I was pissed off,” he said. "I have economist envy on a good day and worse things on a bad day,” he said.

Based on his frustrations, he circulated an e-mail to fellow sociologists that led to discussion here of a proposal to create a “council of social science advisers” as a new federal board to conduct research and provide perspectives that are missing from policy circles. The ASA's Council discussed the idea Wednesday and "affirmed the general principle behind the proposal and authorized the ASA executive office to explore the feasibility of this or other initiatives to broaden social science input into U.S. Policy development," according to an association spokesman.

As sociologists here noted, there is a already a Council of Economic Advisers. And there is the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group that could theoretically include social scientists, but the only one on the council now is, you guessed it, an economist (and he may be on the board as much for being president of Yale University as for his economics work).

Jerry Jacobs, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said “on the one hand, the president can ask anyone for advice" -- criminologists, public health experts and others. "It's not that the president is short of advice, but there is a lack of legitimized and organized social science at the highest levels of policy formation.”

“Even in a tremendously sympathetic administration,” Jacobs said, “it is hard to ignore” that within the social sciences, economists have the access. “For me, the agenda [of pushing for a new social science council in the White House] “is figuring out what we need to do to get ourselves a seat at the table.”

Sociologists speaking here stressed that their concern was not ego or a desire to work in Washington, but a sense that key issues related to the economy, health care, education and other subjects would benefit from some of their ideas to balance out those of the economists.....

More here

Leftist Britain's abolition of selective schools has given a free run to the children of the wealthy

Selective schools gave bright working class kid a chance at reaching the top. Now they languish in mundane occupations. So much for the pursuit of equality

Leading professionals are becoming less intelligent, researchers said yesterday. Lawyers, doctors, accountants and bankers were all cleverer a generation ago, a study found. The startling conclusion was reached by academics looking into social mobility. They wanted to find out why those born into poor families in the 1970s were much less successful than those born in the 1950s.

The research found that as poor children in the 1970s lost the chance of a good education - often blamed on the abolition of grammar schools - they were not able to reach the top professions. Instead, the places were filled by those from wealthier families - who were not always as naturally gifted.

The researchers from Bristol University based their findings on IQ tests taken by ten and 11-year-olds as part of two major surveys into the lives of children born in 1958 and 1970. They found a decline in IQ among those in the best-rewarded and highest-status professions between the two generations. It means professionals now in their 50s are likely to be brighter than those in their late 30s.

Ratings from the tests give someone of exactly average intelligence a score of 100, with broadly average intelligence running from 90 to 109. Between 110 and 140 is regarded as superior intelligence.

It found that lawyers born in 1958 had IQs about 10.5 per cent above the average when tested as children - in the superior bracket. But those born in 1970 had IQs nearer to 7.5 per cent above the norm, putting them into the average bracket. Similarly, accountants from 1958 were nearly 10 per cent above average, but only 6 per cent above average in 1970. Bankers' IQs fell from 7.5 per cent above average to 6.5 per cent, while university lecturers dropped from 9 to 7.5 per cent above average. Doctors were 12.5 per cent above average in 1958, but 11 per cent above average in 1970.

A handful of professions showed that the 1970 generation were at the same level or more intelligent than their older colleagues. These tended to be those of lesser status, with less clearly laid out career paths, or with more egalitarian traditions. They included nursing, science, engineering, art and journalism.

However, the researchers - led by Lindsey Macmillan from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University - offered a crumb of comfort to those who worry about whether their GP is up to the job. 'Somewhat reassuringly,' the study said, 'doctors and scientists and other medical professionals exhibit the highest IQ test scores over time.'

Labour has consistently blamed the fall in social mobility on universities shutting out youngsters from less wealthy backgrounds. But critics say the problem lies with comprehensive schools that fail to help poor pupils develop and achieve good grades. They point out that the major difference between the two generations born in 1958 and 1970 is that the former were educated in the era of grammar [academically selective] schools.


Dim British science teachers

Four out of five trainee science teachers have fewer than 2 A levels. If you were bright, why would you want to teach in a chaotic British "Comprehensive"?

Four in five students training to be science teachers on undergraduate courses have fewer than two A levels, says a report, and only 58 per cent of all students on undergraduate teaching courses have two A levels or more.

Last year there was a dropout rate of about 40 per cent between the final year of teacher training and taking a post in a state school, while a further 18 per cent left the profession during their first three years of teaching. There has also been a steady decline in the number of men teaching in secondary schools and only one in seven primary school teachers is a man — a figure that has not changed since 1998.

The report, the Good Teacher Training Guide, says that there is a wide variation in the grades achieved by entrants to teacher training, according to discipline. For those who entered teacher training after taking a degree, 42 per cent had a 2:1 or better in maths, 43 per cent in modern languages and 47 per cent in science. This compared with 61 per cent in geography, 78 per cent in history and 90 per cent in classics. “For those at the bottom [of the chart], filling places was evidently a struggle,” the report says. “Besides maths, this was true of modern languages and science, where the availability of biologists masks the shortage of physicists.

“It appears there are two cycles. In one, there is competition for training places, high completion and the successful are snapped up by schools. “But in the other, places are difficult to fill, the relatively low entry qualifications are associated with high dropout from courses, and there is a poor conversion rate of trainees to teachers. “This is the situation in core subjects like maths, science and modern languages.”

The report added: “It is extraordinary that we have to train almost double the number of teachers as are actually needed. “A contributory factor to the dropout, which we have highlighted in this report, is the poor qualifications of those recruited. “Raising entry qualifications, therefore, would seem to be a way of reducing waste. But if potential trainees do not come forward in sufficient numbers then the providers cannot select and qualification levels will remain low.” [Wow! You figured that!]

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, co-wrote the report. He said: “These figures must be a cause for concern. Teacher trainees in crucial subjects seem under-qualified and the training process seems very wasteful. No one would, I think, suggest that having a good grasp of one’s subject is not a very important aspect of teacher quality.”


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