Thursday, May 31, 2012

Using Indirect Survey Techniques to Measure Zombie Outbreaks?

Zombies are now a common topic of discussion. In fact, the data we have available from Google Trends (for the phrase "zombie attack") strongly suggest an increasing risk of zombification across the world:

 However, academic research on zombies is limited (i.e,. non-existent), mainly because of the lack of high quality data. For those interested in studying zombies, I refer readers to Andrew Gelman's paper (co-written, apparently, by the great zombie film director George Romero) on how to measure zombie outbreaks via indirect survey techniques. You can find his article here. Even if you're not interested in zombies, his paper offers some good ideas on how to sample difficult-to-reach populations more generally.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Promising Future of Mathematical Sociology

I'm now an occasional blogger at Permutations, the official blog of the Mathematical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association. You can read my blog post here, in which I outline why I think global trends in information technology and the meta-theroetical foundations of sociology provide conditions for a promising future for sociology in general and mathematical sociology in particular.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

90+ Two-Minute Videos on R

I highly recommend Anthony Damico's excellent two-minute videos on programming in R. You can find the full list of 90+ videos here. This is the first of the series, which tells you how to download and install R:


More generally, Anthony's video collection is another reminder of the immense sociological benefits that come from sharing educational materials and expert knowledge in the style of the Khan Academy.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Global Online Conference on Statistics

The Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education is hosting a global online conference titled "eCOTS: Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics." You can view the full program here. It only costs $15 to register and participate in the online conference. For at least the past five years I've thought that conferences are obsolete in many respects, so I'm delighted to see this conference developed. By not having a physical place, with food, beverages, and equipment, not to mention lodging and transportation costs, the costs of attendance are much lower, thus enabling more and more people to learn and contribute to knowledge production. (Of course, we'll still want some conferences for face-to-face socialization!)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

I've Converted to R Full-Time

It's been over four years that I've been using both R and Stata, but as of last week I've become an R convert. For several years I had conducted statistical analyses in R (since many complex models can only be programmed in R), but I used Stata before and after the analyses. In essence I'd merge and clean data sets in Stata, call R from Stata for the statistical analyses, export R objects into Stata, and then use Stata's graphics utilities to display the results. This setup quickly unraveled last month when I began merging and recoding data in R, which  is much aided by John Fox's fantastic "car" package.

The problem is that if you want to do Bayesian analysis or graph modeled coefficients (or work with complex data structures more generally), then R is much easier than Stata due to the object-oriented programming environment. It's unbelievably liberating to be able to save vectors, matrices, data frames, and so on from multiple data sources and manipulations in the same conceptual space. Additionally, R has fantastic graphics capabilities (3-D plots, rotating hyperplanes, social network graphs, and so on), offers excellent tools for analyzing and displaying so-called big data (for example, check out the "tabplot" command from Google), and is (frankly) a fun, intuitive programming language. If you need additional reasons to be an R convert, keep in mind that R is completely free, open-source, and extensible, with over 5,300 statistical packages (as of April 2012).

Friday, May 04, 2012

Complex Sociotechnical Systems

In a fascinating, informative talk, the interim director of the Engineering Systems Division at MIT makes the case for a new field of study on complex sociotechnical systems. I ask a question near the end of the video, pointing out that the core concepts of the proposed new field are in fact those endemic to sociology: mixed methods, open systems, social change, and so forth. You can watch the full video here.