Saturday, 10 November 2007

Fame, of a sort

ICPSR apparently has a new brochure they’re sending out to potential donors to the Warren Miller Scholars Fund, featuring a lengthy quote from yours truly. It’s always a real honor to be mentioned alongside one of the giants who laid the groundwork for modern public opinion and voting research, the basic concepts from whose work (along with that of his collaborators like Philip Converse and others who worked in the same era like V.O. Key and Anthony Downs) permeate pretty much everything I do as a teacher and a scholar, and it’s always a big challenge to measure up to that comparison.

In retrospect, maybe that’s the quote I should have given them for the brochure. Live and learn.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Stats stuff

I’ll pitch a couple of items from the Harvard Social Science Statistics Blog worth mentioning.

First, Sebastian Bauhoff plugs a number of summer quantitative methods programs. My overall review of ICPSR would be more positive than his, but as he mentions much depends on the courses you choose: Charles Franklin’s MLE class is generally a subject of rave reviews, and I can personally vouch for Bill Jacoby’s class in scaling and Doug Baer’s class in latent variable structural equation modeling (LISREL models). I’ve also heard that the advanced MLE course has vastly improved since I took it in 2001 (when it batted around .500 while rotating four instructors). Other advanced classes that seem to get good reviews include Jeff Gill’s Bayesian class and the simultaneous equations class. Historically I know time series and categorical data analysis were somewhat hit-and-miss; the latter was regarded as excellent when taught by Jeremy Freese, but I’m told it has gone downhill since.

Second, James Griener expresses concern that people may start applying statistical models willy-nilly to explaining lower-court decision-making, on the basis that decisions are not iid but instead controlled largely by precedent. Certainly sticking circuit court opinions in as the dependent variable in a logit would be stupid without paying some serious attention to the error structure. But that hardly forecloses interesting analysis.

Also, my vague applied notion of the ideal-point model is that items (decisions) are not actually believed to be iid (there is at least one latent variable explaining them, so by definition they are not truly independent of each other), so I don’t think using an item-response theory model would be problematic—however, you’d certainly end up recovering a “respect for stare decisis” dimension in addition to the ideology dimension(s) you recover from the Supreme Court, which might actually help contribute to interesting substantive debates.

Monday, 25 September 2006

Life as a Method(olog)ist

Jeff Gill perceives some salutary changes in the labor market for political methodologists:

Last Fall I counted 51 faculty methods jobs posted in political science. I paid close attention because I was on a relevant search committee. This was particularly interesting because equilibrium in past years was about five or so. Right now there are 39 methods jobs posted (subtracting non-tenure/tenure track positions). Now some of these are listed as multiple fields, but one has to presume that listing the ad on the methods page is a signal.

Apparently we have US News and World Report to thank for fundamentally changing the labor market by making methodology the fifth “official” field of the discipline. A number of (non-methodologist) colleagues believed that I must be exaggerating since an order of magnitude difference seems ridiculous. Actually, it turns out that I was underestimating as Jan Box-Steffensmeier (president of the Society for Political Methodology and the APSA methods section) recently got a count of 61 from the APSA. I think their definition was a little broader than mine (perhaps including formal theory and research methods jobs at undergraduate-only institutions).

So an interesting question is how quickly does supply catch up to demand here? My theory is that it will occur rather slowly since the lead time for methods training seems to be longer than the lead time for other subfields. This is obviously good news for graduate students going on the market soon in this area. I’m curious about other opinions, but I think that this is a real change for the subfield.

I concur in part and dissent in part.

I am less convinced that we can attribute this change to US News (although I’m not one of those academic US News haters) than simply to the broader market: people with superior methods training are more likely to get jobs than those who don’t have it, which means that methods training is more important at the graduate level—and increasingly the undergraduate level too. The booming enrollments at the ICPSR Summer Program, including from top-ranked schools that traditionally considered their own methods training sufficient for graduate students, are indicative of this trend as well.

As far as the supply-demand equilibrium works, I think there is a perception out there (perhaps unfair) of the existence of a methods clique—one, that if it exists, I am decidedly not a part of. Thus far, in-clique supply seems to have been sufficient to satisfy demand; we—and perhaps during this hiring season I—shall see whether this continues to be the case. My perception is that high demand is somewhat illusory; several unfilled methods jobs in the past two years have not reappeared, suggesting that filling these jobs is less of a priority than one might think.

The broader issue is a question of definition: what is a “methodologist”? As someone who generally doesn’t live to maximize my own likelihood functions, I’d self-identify as an applied method0logist at best—and certainly don’t consider methodology my primary field of inquiry; tools are great, but I gravitate toward more substantive questions.

As for why Gill thinks “research methods jobs at undergraduate-only institutions” shouldn’t count, I really wouldn’t hazard a comment. But I do think that if he wants to increase the supply of methodologists, getting more undergraduates (particularly at BA-granting institutions like liberal arts colleges) in the pipeline early so they can do advanced work out of the gate at the graduate level would seem to be a key part of the strategy.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Another good cause to give cash to

The good folks at ICPSR are trying to build up the endowment for the Warren Miller Scholars Fund, which provides a small stipend and free tuition for the ICPSR Summer Program in Quantitative Methods for the Social Sciences to one or two promising grad students and junior faculty every year; thus far, there have been eight recipients of Miller scholarships, including myself in 2001. There’s more info starting on page 10 in the Fall 2005 ICPSR Bulletin; you’ll find a scintillating quote from yours truly plugging the fund.

Tuesday, 13 September 2005

The quants are now taking over the blogosphere, too

New to “Chris’s blogroll” (distinguished from the “Active blogroll” on a basis I’m not entirely sure of, and probably a vestige of SN’s brief life as a group blog): Charles Franklin’s Political Arithmetik and the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science’s blog, both of which I first became aware of via Paul Brewer.

Can a blogospheric Perestroika movement be far behind?

Incidentally, I’ve had the distinction of having been taught by Prof. Franklin (albeit for only four days, during the Advanced Maximum Likelihood Estimation course at ICPSR in 2001), at a time when he was sporting a beard and looked like the spitting image of my father.

Saturday, 10 September 2005

One of those “Is the pope” questions

Paul Brewer asks Are Political Scientists Boring? Duh. Anyone who’s been to ICPSR knows that sociologists have all the fun.