21 March 2010


I went through a pile of Social Network Theory stuff this week. It was an accident. Some dude on the internet wrote a spoof paper "How many zombies do you know?" which had a spoof reference list. Except one of the references was a gold mine.

Zheng, Salganik, & Gelman "How many people do you know in prison? Using overdispersion in count data to estimate social structure in networks".

The paper is not easy to read closely. From Zheng et al's reference list I found solutions to a couple of problems which have been bothering me. How to deal with being stigmatized being the biggie. I am going on sabbatical. The timing of this is chosen by my employer, which is axing ten percent world wide, axing twenty percent in my pay grade, axing my project, and axing my position. Within my field which has funded my fortune are folks who are going to view me as possessing the stigma of being laid off. Thirty-eight percent of them will, to be precise.

It turns out this problem has been exhaustively researched by sociologists and psychologists. The earliest cite I found was Osgood and Richard, "From yang and yin to and or but" from 1973. Osgood apparently coined the description "golden section" after the golden ratio in ancient Greek geometry. 1 : .616 which are the proportions of the edifice of the Parthenon, for example. There is a trove of material on google scholar with many examples and themes. The most interesting of which is that we may even have an essential brain circuit for sorting whatever we encounter in our environment, such that we find 62 percent of it appealing at a subconscious lever and 38 percent of it unappealing.

Stigma is specifically analyzed within this paradigm in Raskin, Harasym, Mercuri, and Widrick, "Construing stigmatized identities: a golden section study". The most stigmatized are the homeless and the mentally ill. They are looked down upon even more harshly than criminals. Criminals are of only slightly lower status than politicians. It was not clear whether we should laugh or cry about this last finding. I did neither but merely noted it.

The quantities appear vulnerable to book cooking and perhaps it is all a complete cockup of bias and circular reasoning. To me it makes intuitive sense about much which I find interpersonally puzzling. It is useful to me to consider that those 38 percent looking down on me are biologically determined and irrelevant to my self, person, employability, &c. Even if it is fictitious, it is be a useful fiction. And I have reams of research to back me up. Science.

I also read a couple of papers by the sociologist Nan Lin. Professor Lin has done Social Network Theory analysis around the old proverb: "it isn't what you know; it is who you know", quantifying social capital. For my occupation schmoozing is of little relevance. It is better to have some competence in it than a complete lack, but beyond a certain small ante it really does not matter. If I skim The Economist weekly and know some Houston restaurants I am good to go. These guys have no interest in tunas with good taste, but they appreciate it if you can give them a pointer for how to find some tuna that tastes good.

One of my severance benefits is consulting service from a headhunter firm. They are collecting a small fee to help me polish my resume and refine my interviewing skills, then they plan to collect another fee once they succeed in facilitating my passage into the maw of some hypothetical next employer. I do not think I am going to give them the time of day. According to Nan Lin and his colleagues' meticulous research, my list credentials is basically it. My credentials are fine. If I want another job I am not going to have trouble finding one. I am not sure yet that I do want another job.

One troubling comment in one of Lin's papers did not seem essential to his claims, but was more like editorializing on us who work for a living. He wrote we invariably have a value or an ethic that any time spent not working is wasted. I am going to take a minimum six months off. I will use the time quite usefully.

I also read a Social Network Theory analysis of how sex transmitted diseases transmit. If you are curious how all those people we know got the herpes, you can find it in ghoulish detail in Kretzschmar and Morris, "Measures of concurrency in networks and the spread of infectious disease". It is worth reading. One of the papers I did waste time on was a Social Network Theory analysis of how facebook and twitter became internet behemoths. If you see me writing about my brand, please ignore it. Lastly a sad true fact: I do know one person in prison.

No comments:


Please see paragraphs 8.4, 8.5 in the Google Terms of Service document!

About Craig

My photo
Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.