How to Gang Up on a Gang Scholar

I am of course biased by my respect for Sudhir Venkatesh and his pathbreaking approach to sociology (even more here), but this Times article about him feels more like an oppo dump* than reportage. Venkatesh is a low-key guy so I don’t envision him squawking back at the Times, but he did respond here

(*HT: @ChrisLHayes)

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  1. VBinNV says:

    I’m curious as to why Venkatesh chose to squawk back at all and why he chose bwog.com and not on a more widely-read website such as, I dunno, freakonomics.com. As many bwog commenters note, his rebuttal is weak.

    “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”

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    • RGJ says:

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  2. NS says:

    well, andrew gelman has some revealing thoughts about the ISERP controversy, and he is none too happy:

    “Sudhir [Venkatesh] also writes that he is “deeply troubled that someone within the University’s administration selectively leaked private documents to the media. It is hard to have full confidence in the integrity of the University’s processes when things like this occur.” I have no idea who leaked the documents—as noted above, before seeing this in the newspaper I’d only heard rumors that there had been an investigation—but, from my perspective, $240,000 of missing funds of which only $13,000 has been returned, that’s more “deeply troubling” than a leak. It’s also a bit disturbing that a person who, at best, can’t keep track of hundreds of thousands of dollars, was in charge of an institute whose main function is to keep track of outside funding. I’m not so good at bookkeeping either; that’s why I rely on the people at Iserp to help me with such things.”

    http://andrewgelman.com/2012/12/241364-83-13000-228364-83/

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    • RGJ says:

      “”"but, from my perspective, $240,000 of missing funds of which only $13,000 has been returned, that’s more “deeply troubling” than a leak. “”"”

      whaaa? How is that statement even vaguely truthful? There weren’t “missing funds” there was questionable tertiary drill down documentation. Could most peoples personal taxes withstand such an audit

      It would be nice if academic grants came with a accounting staff and office manager, but they rarely do — it would have cost more than the lousy 250k.

      This is academic jealousy hidden behind a naive reporter who cherry picked lukewarm criticsm and buried the defenders.

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      • TOR says:

        None of this speaks to a central grievance of Andrew Gelman’s, which is that Venkatesh broke funding commitments to other faculty during his directorship of ISERP. If SV is so cavalierly making use of funds for his own pet film projects, while telling other Columbia professors “No Mas” – don’t you think his colleagues have a right to be irate with his terse equivocations and lack of transparency regarding his management of university funds? And to suggest that any such complaint would be motivated by envy for Venkatesh’s public stature is a complete bunch of hogwash. Gelman himself is the author of “popular” books, and he writes for the most popular political science blog on the web (i.e Monkey Cage) after Nate Silver’s. Stop spin doctoring around the facts instead of addressing Gelman’s actual complaints:

        “When Sudhir was in charge of Iserp, he told us that they were out of money and would not be able to honor existing commitments. Or, to be more precise, that things that I considered commitments were not actually so because they had only been transmitted orally, and that more generally Iserp was broke and could not support research in the way that we had expected. I was pretty angry about that, but when Sudhir informed me that he was suddenly stepping down as head of Iserp to work on a project with the Justice department, I assumed that he was better suited to be a researcher than an administrator and I offered him statistical help with his DOJ project if he ever needed it. I figured he was back on the research track and that this was better for all concerned. I don’t think I’d be a very good administrator myself, so I just figured Sudhir had been over his head. I’ve only seen him once since, it was a year or so ago at a sociology seminar, but we were sitting in different areas of the room and I had to leave early, so we did not get a chance to speak.

        When I later heard that hundreds of thousands of dollars were missing, that put a different spin on the story. I had heard rumors of an investigation but I’d never known that there was an official document, dated Aug 4, 2011 (nearly a year and a half ago!) detailing $240,000 of questionable expenses including $50,000 for fabricated business purposes. If, as Sudhir is quoted as saying in the news article, he’s only paid pack $13,000 of this, I assume more will happen. It’s not clear why the university would pay a salary to someone who still owes them over $200,000.”

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      • RGJ says:

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      • TOR says:

        Well Shamus Khan is an untenured faculty member of SV’s department, and he also has a book that SV blurbs. Does that mean we should take SK’s defense of SV less seriously as well? He is after all, the originator of the whole “envy” meme you’ve been parroting . . .

        And there’s a particular episode outlined in the NYTimes article regarding SV’s accounting methods that speaks directly to Gelman’s main complaint:

        “And $8,911 that Professor Venkatesh was supposed to pay to a colleague for a study they collaborated on somehow failed to make it into that colleague’s account. Professor Venkatesh told auditors the colleague had failed to do the work, a claim that auditors determined to be untrue.”

        If the audit committee itself has determined what he says is not true regarding his failure to meet specific funding commitments, why should anyone take him at his word about his management of ISERP funds? If he has nothing to hide, then he should offer a more detailed account of what he did with the funds . . .

        and a B&N sales rank of 74,796 for SV’s “Gang Leader for Day” is just as meaningless as 319,969 for “Red State, Blue State” . . .

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  3. Nate says:

    200k+ hmmm… I think I understand why the tuition rate has risen 5 times the rate of inflation since 1983.

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