Sudhir Venkatesh Responds to the Freakonomics Community

Dear Freakonomics readers,

A profile of me and my work appeared in the N.Y. Times yesterday. There were two story angles: how I conduct my research and allegations of questionable financial dealings in which I was involved. I wrote a formal statement to the Columbia University student paper and online blog, but you are also my community, so let me address you directly.

Three years ago, at my request, I began working with Columbia University on an internal initiative to develop greater clarity and transparency of an institute that they had asked me to direct. Together, we systematically reviewed grants management and research procedures as we sought to establish new, higher standards of reporting and accountability. Part of that review included the grants managed by my position. An audit was conducted, it was completed, and ethically I felt it was my responsibility to pay back $13,000 in previously reimbursed expenses for which my own recordkeeping did not meet these new standards. That matter is closed, and has been for over two years.

Adventures in Ideas: Conversation With Al Norman, Author of Occupy Walmart

Perhaps some of you have been following the debates in various cities (e.g., New York, Chicago) over big retail stores that land in their backyard. I enjoy reading about attempts to regulate economic activity because I believe it raises a central contradiction of American society: phrased as a question, how much regulation is necessary to maintain the free market? Maybe this is not a contradiction, but a perennial challenge. Two areas seem ripe for inquiry: The need to monitor big financial institutions and the limitations that some want to impose on mega-retailers who crowd out the little mom & pop establishments.

Regarding the second issue, I came across a book I thought might interest you. Al Norman has been writing critically about the retail chain Walmart for some time. He brings his insights and passion together in a book called Occupy Walmart. Below is a brief Q&A.

The Verdict Is in: Sociology and Political Science Deserve the Hatchet

Last week, I asked Freakonomics.com readers “Which Social Science Should Die?” The results are in. Thank you for your clear-eyed, sober judgment. Recall that some of you answered in the comments (see previous link) and others visited the on-line poll (which is still open). As of this writing, more than 1,200 votes have been registered. 

And the winner -- er, “LOSER”(!) is: 

Let’s Kill Off Sociology and Political Science!

As you can see from the chart below, nearly 50 percent believed that college/university presidents should eliminate sociology. Nearly 30 percent thought poli sci should be shuttered. [Editor's note: it is perhaps not surprising that Freakonomics readers wouldn't vote to eliminate economics.]

Adventures in Ideas: Which Social Science Should Die?

Freakonomics Readers,

I’d like to enlist you in a debate that, to date, is mostly occurring within the academy.

Imagine that, in order to respond both to budgetary pressures and calls for greater relevance of the American academy, College & University Presidents are re-examining their social science disciplines. They have decided to eliminate one major discipline. In your opinion, which of the following is no longer as relevant to the mission of research and education, and should be eliminated as a consequence?

“AI: Adventures in Ideas”: Getting to “Yes (I’ll Participate in Your Survey)”

Freakonomics readers may know that I’m not the most qualified person to talk about using surveys. My first attempt -- asking street gang members “How does it feel to be black and poor? Very bad, bad, good, …” -- was met with laughter, disbelief and, scorn. (I suppose it was all uphill from that point!)

A basic question social scientists confront is: Why would you want to participate in our survey? Interviews can be long and boring; who wants to sit on the phone or stand on a streetcorner answering questions? A few bucks may not be worth the time. In fact, you have likely already perfected methods of avoiding telemarketers and sidewalk interviewers. From a data standpoint, your skilled avoidance is our problem: the views of respondents can differ from non-participants. From political races to consumer habits to opinion polls ... we love numbers, and we need participation to get an accurate reading.

Introducing "AI: Adventures in Ideas," a New Blog Series from Sudhir Venkatesh. Episode 1: Going Solo

This is the first installment of a new Freakonomics.com feature from Sudhir Venkatesh.  Each AI: Adventures in Ideas post will showcase new research, writing, or ideas.

A new book is garnering significant attention. In Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU, looks at a growing trend in contemporary adulthood: living alone. How we live, Klinenberg argues, is shifting, and it could be one of the most important developments of the last half-century.

Privilege: How Society's Elite Are Made

Columbia sociologist Shamus Khan went back to teach at his alma mater, the prestigious St. Paul's School, nine years after graduating. He's written a book about how society's elite are brought up, and what behaviors they carry through life.

2009 Hate Crime Report

The F.B.I. released its 2008 data on hate crimes in the U.S. The figures suggest that American hatred is on the rise, but not my much: only about 2 percent. The highest upticks occurred for hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation (up 11 percent) and religion (up 9 percent).

Feeding the Local Shark

I wrote a book on the underground economy a few years ago. For about a decade, I observed activity in Chicago’s South Side — our current president’s backyard. I was surprised to learn about the importance of “creditors” — otherwise affectionately known as “loansharks” — who operated an informal lending network in the area. (These […]

Got Clawbacks? Thugz on the Bailout

Dear Secretary Geithner, I’ve been out of touch. Sorry. I spent the last month on grand jury duty, putting Manhattan’s poor minorities behind bars. I needed a little time to recover. As promised, this is the first in a series of friendly dispatches. Advice, if you will. Learned counsel. Wisdom from the streets (as opposed […]