Monday, 13 July 2015

Fun in the Sun

Saturday was gloriously sunny. Just the weather we needed for  St Margaret's Fair.
 A one minute stroll down our road to the park and there it was. All sorts of people enjoying themselves,  eating, taking  a little drink, kids having a great time, winning coconuts, buying bric-a-brac, dancing to local bands playing "Born to be Wild" and pretending they were at the Hollywood Bowl. Going home happy. What more can you want really?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

100 years ago

Walking to and from work over the past few weeks has been a sobering experience. Many of the houses in our neighborhood have small laminated placards attached to their front wall telling you about the men that lived there 100 years ago. All of them were killed in WW1 or died shortly thereafter from disease, illness or accident. Their names are on the war memorial in the local parish church and this was the starting point for a little local history investigation. The result is a very nice web-site called 66 men of Grandpont 1914-18.

Remembrance can be little more than a formal act of piety. Seeing their photographs, knowing where they lived and learning a bit about their pre-war lives somehow makes the enormity of their sacrifice much more humbling.

The best expression of remembrance that I know is Eric Bogle's The Gift of Years.

How to get rid of poverty; redefine it.

Here is a nice post from Stewart, Burchardt, Hills and Vizard about the current government's approach to dealing with child poverty. Truly the nasty Right has so much influence in the Conservative Party that it no longer bothers to even try to disguise its vileness. 

And while this goes on what does the Labour Party do? Fiddle while Rome is burning. The only person putting up even a squeak of effective parliamentary opposition is Harriet Harman. The rest of her party seem to be  back with the baggage train squabbling among themselves.

Friday, 3 July 2015

A little light in a murky place

This is a little teaser: more will follow in due course, probably in the late Autumn.

One of the things that irritated  me about the GBCS was the seemingly endless delay in making the data available for replication. Well, eventually it emerged, and as I've remarked before, the documentation  is quite an eye opener. There are a few unfortunate typos in it which may throw the less dedicated off the scent, but with a bit of perseverance and a clue from someone in the know (thanks, you know who you are) I've been able to reconstruct almost exactly what they did (the main problem was in trying to guess the exact specification of the model they fitted - what seems to those at the theoretical heights like petty detail not worth mentioning  is actually quite important to us knuckle dragging under-labourers).

I'm not going to tell you everything I've discovered right now. For the moment I'm going to take the GBCS  7 class model at face value (let's not think about the missing 8th class -  I like to call them the New Socialites). I'm not going to make any remarks about the logic of the inductive procedure; I'm simply going to accept the outcome of their data mining model fitting and say: OK, if you believe in that, then, on the basis of your own data you must accept the following implications.

I've ignored the GBCS data itself and what follows is based entirely on the weighted GfK survey data which I've treated 'as if' it is a probability sample. Disregarding the GBCS data has no consequences since it contributes no information to the parameter estimation. In examining the relationship between the GBCS classes and other variables I've used the so called three-step method (ML for nominal variables, BCH for continuous variables). This is important  because the modal category assignment procedure used in most (all?) of the Savage et al. papers seriously underestimates the relationship between the classes and external variables.

The first thing I'm curious about is how the GBCS classes are related to the NS-SECs. The latter play something of the role of the albatross to the GBCS ancient mariner. They are always there, lurking in the background, and the mariner has an itchy trigger finger. However, so far I've not discovered anything in the public domain that displays the relationship. So here we go (click on the pictures to make them readable):

Now I'm not so naive as to think that I could get away with this. I can just hear the chuckles in the Boulevard St Houghton: oh dear, what a quaint piece of anglo-empiricism!

 What we need, of course, is to bring out the full 'relational' nature of the dinks-bumps with a bit of correspondence analyses, so here is a CA bi-plot of the same data.

What it shows is that the GBCS classes and the NS-SECs are clearly empirically related to each other but that there are two groups of GBCS classes which are pretty homogenous in terms of their NS-SEC profiles.

The Established Middle Class (EMC) and the Technical Middle Class (TMC) look much the same in NS-SEC terms, as do the  New Affluent workers (NAW) and the Traditional Middle Class (TMC)

Though the NS-SECs don't distinguish these pairs clearly, other things do, as you'll see in a moment.

Before passing on to that however, one final comment about the NS-SECs and the GBCS classes. Look at the first column of the table. This shows the distribution of the GBCS Elite: two thirds of them are located in the NS-SEC categories Lower Managers and Professionals and "below". This is, to say the least, odd. Think of the implications of this for the sleight of hand worked in the recent Sociological Review Special Issue on the Elite where the top  NS-SEC categories were used interchangeably with the GBCS Elite category.

But let's move on. Next up is a table that contains some information about how the GBCS classes are related to a bunch of other social and demographic stuff. Same estimation strategy as before.

I'll leave you to rummage through this treasure chest pretty much on your own. But before I go I'll just make 4 points:

Point 1. Look at the uncertainty around the estimates of the percentages in each class! I think it really matters whether the "Elite" is 2 % or 12% of the population, likewise whether the "Precariat" is 9% or 19%.

Point 2. The "Traditional Working Class" is old, retired, disabled and female! Live long enough and you'll end up there.

Point 3. The "Emergent Service Workers" are youngsters who are single or living alone in rented accommodation. More than a 10th of them haven't yet finished their education.

Point 4. The "Elite" live in London and the South-East, they are married and our best guess is that at least half of them are female. So much for the glass ceiling. In GBCS land the sisters have broken through. Or is something a bit wrong here?

There is endless fun to be had with these data as the full horror emerges, but that's all for now. See you again around November...

Friday, 19 June 2015

When is a myth not a myth?

This is a place marker because with exam marking and other stuff to do I can't write at length just now. You'll have to believe me that I really did intend to write no more here about the Great British Class Survey. I'll have to remind myself that in future I shouldn't make rash promises. The thing is that the target keeps getting bigger and bigger as the guys and gals over at GBCS feel compelled to say more and more daft things as they attempt to rewrite history.

One could just shrug one's shoulders and say "whatever" but  to do so would amount to giving up on British quantitative empirical sociology. I should say that sometimes I feel  like doing just that, but then I tell myself I would have no right to expect things to get better. In any case I simply don't think people should be allowed to get away with claiming things that  aren't true or, even if unintentionally, highly misleading. Those involved with the GBCS are not small fry. Some of them are extremely influential in British sociology. They do know better or if they don't they should.

So what provoked these thoughts? It was the latest Sociological Review Blog post by Daniel Laurison: Three Myths and Facts About the Great British Class Survey in which he employs casuistical skills worthy of the Jesuits to argue that that the GBCS has been misunderstood by its critics and that in consequence various myths about it have passed into common currency.

My take on this is that two of the three are not myths at all and that the substance of these is essentially correct. To convince you I would have to make a much more careful argument than I have time to write down at the moment. But I can give you a flavour of where I'll go when I have more leisure.

Myth 2 as stated by Laurison is that the GBCS team "proposed their seven new classes to take the place of all heretofore existing measures in class analysis, especially the NS-SEC."

You can immediately see the sophistry coming out in this. Taking it literally I can indeed find no statement in what the GBCS team have written to the effect that their class scheme should "take the place of all heretofore existing measures in class analysis". But this is just a rhetorical dodge. 

The first GBCS article  starts off with a page and a half of criticisms (pp. 221-223) purporting to show that the NS-SECs are deficient in all sorts of ways. Never mind that almost everything that is said is either half-baked or in some cases just factually wrong the GBCS  people persuade themselves that the NS-SECs are just not up to the job (though they never really say what the job is). This seems to be an important reason for developing their own approach to measuring social class. 

The obvious thing to ask is: why would you bother to develop something new if you didn't think it was better than what already exists? What is the point of difference for its own sake? You wouldn't purposely try to invent something that was worse than whatever exists and surely if you thought it was better you would want people to use it in preference to what went before. To now say  that there was no intention or attempt to discredit the NS-SEC scheme or indeed all occupation based ways of measuring class is to invite utter incredulity. 

How for instance is this compatible with Professor Savage making public utterances to the effect that occupational based schemes are becoming less useful because over time they explain less between occupation variance in earnings (or income)? As I've pointed out before this is just factually incorrect and Professor Savage, to judge by the citations he makes, has read the research that shows this to be the case, so he can scarcely say that he was unacquainted with the facts. Did he misspeak? Or is he just of the opinion that the facts don't matter (when they are inconvenient). I think he owes it to us to come out from the shadows and enlighten us.

And then there is Myth 3. This according to Laurison is: "Because the GBCS is not a random-sample or representative survey, it cannot be used to say anything worthwhile about class (or anything else) in the UK". Again the same tactic, create a straw man kind of statement that is so extreme it is easy to discredit.

Do I think any useful empirical knowledge has come out of the GBCS? I sincerely believe that none has. Might some be produced in the future? It is certainly possible and I've even suggested in print what I think  a sensible way would be to make the best of a decidedly bad job. Are the GBCS team likely to produce that knowledge? Well on their showing so far it looks unlikely. In fact they seem to be in a state of denial. I can't interpret this statement from Laurison in any other way: "Multiple regression and related methods can essentially help ‘control’ for the skews. While the mean value of any variable in the GBCS is almost certainly different from that for the population as a whole, the relationships between variables will often be similar." 

Only Daniel  under very special circumstances which are unlikely to hold in the case of the GBCS. Jim Heckman got a Nobel Prize for showing why sample selection bias is a matter of both the slopes and the constant and what, in some circumstances,  you can do about it.

It's actually very easy to run a simulation to show how severe the impact can be. This morning it took me about 30 seconds to grab some STATA code from the web to sample from a population with a known correlation structure, adapt it to mirror the structure of the GBCS data collection strategy and calculate what happens when what you observe involves selection on unobsevables. Thirty years ago, if not quite rocket science, it was at the cutting edge of social science and now I teach it routinely to my MSc students in the compulsory Research Design course. I can assure you that " the relationships between variables" was most definitely not similar. What my MSc students get apparently LSE sociology faculty don't. Perhaps with all the riches gleaned from the REF they should engage in some in service training.

And finally, what are we to make of the puff put out by Penguin about the forthcoming GBCS book? After losing six of the classes for the SR special issue, the seven classes are back again: "The book presents the ideas and facts behind their new conceptualization of class: a new British class system composed of seven classes" What about the inconvenient 8th that they admit to in the documentation deposited at the UK Data Archive? Did it get forgotten at the back of the cupboard? Or like an unwanted child has it been put up for adoption?

Monday, 15 June 2015

Ken Loach - In Conversation

If your have an hour to spare you could do a lot worse than spend it watching Ken Loach in conversation with Cillian Murphy.

I was lucky enough to hear him once when he was a guest at the annual LSE SCR Dinner. He talked for 10 minutes or so about his career and then took questions for more than an hour. It was absolutely spell-binding. Modesty, simplicity, humanity and idealism  One of the giants of British cinema who has had to struggle to get almost all of his movies into production and in some cases fight again to get them distributed and shown.

Friday, 12 June 2015

GBCS - shades of Gray

You can now read the published version of my final salvo against the Great British Class Survey which is out today in the latest (special) issue of the Sociological Review.

Getting into print has been a strange experience not least because of the extensive evasive action taken by some of the principal targets. Notable was the complete rewrite of one paper after I had already written my critique of it.

The final oddity is that, without informing me,  between the draft I received and the final published version, the authorship of one of the papers I agreed to comment on has mysteriously changed. I'm astounded to see that what I had been led to believe was a paper written by Sam Friedman and Mark Taylor is now credited to Sam Friedman, Daniel Laurison and Andrew Miles.

A peccadillo no doubt, but readers of my piece may wonder why on earth I refer to an apparently non-existent contribution by Friedman and Taylor. For F&T you need to read FL&M. Sorry, but not my fault, and particularly unfortunate for Mark who should no longer be associated with the piece.

A final observation: enough shells, not only from myself but from others too, hit the GBCS's magazine to send it to the bottom, but the captain and the crew make no effort to reply. 

Mute,  inglorious,  and buried without an elegy.