What Three-Strikes Laws Teach Us About Governance

March 2nd, 2012 by Rio

Robert Nash Parker has proven that the three-strikes policy has not had any effect on crime rates, and has only resulted in further problems. These include but are not limited to far greater expense of jailing and feeding a larger criminal population and some absurd miscarriages of justice where people have gotten prison sentences vastly disproportionate to their crimes.  Some of Parker’s analyses are still questionable (he compares California and Washington states’ rates of imprisonment without taking into account differences in SES and other factors) but the general premise seems to be valid: The three strikes law has not improved the situation, only caused more problems.

The question I raise, is will anyone care? Will legislators, even ones who bother to read the works of and learn from academics, actually roll back a law? It seems to go against the nature of governments to reverse laws and policies, even when they are proven to be useless and harmful.  So perhaps, the lesson we should learn from this, is that most laws should be temporary.  Any law that gets voted into existence should come with a trial period.  At the end of the trial period it should be evaluated to see if it has produced the desired outcomes, undesired outcomes and unexpected outcomes (both positive and negative).  Based on study a vote should be held about whether the law should be continued or not.

Who should do this analysis? Sociologists! Of course! ;-)


Soon doctors will know sociology!

March 2nd, 2012 by Rio

This is exciting: According to this article starting in 2015 would-be doctors taking the MCATs will have to take sections that include sociology and psychology.  Why? Because it has finally occurred to someone that part of treating a patient is understanding their social context.  There are many examples of this, ranging from understanding why certain cultural-religious groups consider cancer to be an embarrassing illness and conceal it to listening to how trends change among teenagers.

I applaud those who write the MCAT for deciding to include this section.  Patients are not units in a vacuum, their context is truly important for continued health.  


What are Government Programs Again?

February 23rd, 2012 by Rio

This article “Moochers Against Welfare” contains a paragraph that I find fascinating:

Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

It appears that people haven’t actually stopped to learn what government programs are. It appears that we have a classic case where many individuals believe that there other people who are getting free money from the government for no good reason, while they, these individuals, are only getting what they are due… But not from the government?

I truly do wonder what people think Social Security and Medicare are if they are not government programs. Are they perhaps programs that are run by a private corporation in these people’s minds?


Abstinence and School Performance, is there a Link?

February 23rd, 2012 by Rio

Sociologist Kenneth Ferraro argues that teaching “abstinence education” in schools in Indiana has resulted in a higher scores and better performance on standardized math tests in those school.  After evaluating 42 schools, Ferraro compares schools with and without this specific type of education called PEERS, where high school students came and talked with students in 6th to 8th grade about the value of remaining abstinent.  The schools with PEERS had better overall academic results.
This finding stands in curious contradiction to the many studies that have shown conclusively that abstinence only sex education has no effect on teen pregnancy or teen sexual activity, whereas comprehensive sex education reduces the rate of teen pregnancy and may slightly reduce the rate of sexual activity.  If, in fact, abstinence only programs have no effect sexual activity, why would they miraculously have an effect on the ability to do math?  Unless I’ve missed something, abstinence education does not come with complex formulas or problem solving homework.

This leaves us with several possibilities:
1. Ferraro is lying, or somehow “cleaning” the data in a way that voids the results.  I actually don’t think that is the case.  I am guessing the Ferraro’s data is valid, but that he might be measuring the impact of something other than the abstinence message.
2. The regular interaction with high school students who show that they care about these younger students is having a positive affect on students which translates as better grades.  My guess, having just read about the study and not being involved directly, is that the very fact that these younger students were given extra attention and support has helped them be more motivated to do well in school.  If this is true, it is a fantastic finding.  It means that we might be able to set up large scale programs were high school students spend time with middle school students and give them attention and help.
3. Some other factor that we are not seeing at this moment. We are missing some information here.  Were these schools participating in other programs?  Along with the PEERS program, was there some other remedial tutoring occurring?

As it currently stands, the outcome of this study is a little suspect.  I’m hoping more information and follow-up is provided.


Jeremy Lin; Sociology of Race & Sports

February 18th, 2012 by Rio

Sociology of sports is a growing field, and becomes much richer with the incorporation of other streams of sociology, such as the study of race issues.  This opinion piece highlights the experience of being an Asian-American in the field of basketball, a field that is dominated (per the author) by White and African Americans.  There is also some discussion of the hazing that Asian soldiers have experienced, which is an important topic as well, but I am going to focus on the element of sports and race.

Are there sports that are more ethnic for any reason other than socialization? Professional baseball seems to have a high percent of  Latino/Hispanic players, especially as compared to other sports. Professional hockey is almost a joke in how blindingly white both the playing arena and the players are.  American football (which I think should be called handegg since it is played primarily with the hands and the item looks like an egg, not a ball) seems to fall into the White-Black spectrum that Liu refers to when discussing basketball. Cricket, which came out of the UK, seems to be played now primarily by Indians and Pakistanis (which goes into the area of sports and nationalism, another fascinating topic).

In my observation, the only sport that seems to have a universal representation ethnically speaking is soccer (known to the rest of the
world as football).  There have been successful and important players of  many shapes and colors.  Perhaps other sports leagues should aspire to the universality that soccer exhibits?