Popular Posts

Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Reaction to latest UCAS application figures

Here is my first take on the UCAS figures released today for the 2012 round of university applications. I've done some quick and dirty work on the numbers  supplied by the Guardian. This is nothing more than a first pass, it takes the data at face value and it says nothing whatsoever about whether increased fees have differentially put off different types of potential applicants. It also does nothing to control for the size of the 18 year old birth cohort - which is obviously important. If we look at applications to all universities, on the basis of the Guardian figures alone, it looks like the average change in the 2012 figures compared to the 2010 base is -0.72% ie a decline of less than 1%. It's important to use the 2010 base because in 2011 students obviously anticipated fee rises and were less likely to take a 'gap year'. Using the Guardian data we can also see if the magnitude of the percentage change across universities is related to average fee levels. Data on the latter are missing for quite a few cases so all the usual cautions apply. However, on the basis of what data there are, it looks like the answer, at the institutional level, is no and this is true whether or not you adjust for bursary provision and fee waivers. Here is a very rough and ready graph of the relationship. The regression slope is essentially flat and the slope coefficient is non significant (but actually positive!).

I've broken all the rules about making nice graphs, but I'm pushed for time at the moment. It will be interesting to see if a rather different story emerges when somebody is able to look at these data more carefully.


I notice that several of our 'leading' departments now have slick advertising videos on their web pages. Nothing surprising about that. As I've observed before, once blowing one's own trumpet gets a foothold then the Devil take the hindmost. What is perhaps a bit more surprising is how easily sociologists adopt the locutions of management speak. For instance here is a gem from one of the promos:
"...students gain a wide variety of employability skills and one of these can be exampled by the research project..."
Excuse me, but since when has to use or make an example become a verb? I example, you example, she examples.... If we translate this into English it is obvious that the first part is banal while the second part (even if you add in what follows the ellipsis) is meaningless:
...students learn things that may be useful in the workplace (I would hope so); an example of this is the research project... (what about it? In what way is this an example of a skill that students have learned?).
OK, I'm being a tad pedantic, but this sort of thing is insidious. Consider, for example, how to make, create or state a theory became a verb in sociologyspeak. Now all you have to do to dismiss any inconevnient empirical fact is to utter the magical incantation: "Your article/paper/sentence (tick whichever is applicable) is undertheorized." This phrase absolves the utterer from ever clearly stating what the actual deficiency is. It is in most cases the equivalent of shouting bugaboo!

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Anyone care to have a go at translating this sociological gem into something resembling the English language?

"There is much to unpick here about how particular classed, racialised and gendered (young) bodies come to be (re)positioned and (re)inscribed within regenerated city-scapes. Urban ‘disadvantaged’ youth become objects of a particular luminosity, encoded as future-oriented, agentic subjects who stand for the city’s pride, hope, diversity and multiculturalism."

There is indeed much to unpick here... among the more minor, why the scare marks around 'disadvantaged'? Is this meant to be ironic? Is the author saying the youths are not disadvantaged?

I'll spare the author's blushes unless they insist on attribution.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Why journals do not contain a record of continuous scientific progress

The inimitable Ben Goldacre has ferreted out a useful early example of a discussion of publication bias. Fifty years on and my impression is that things are not greatly improved in some disciplines. Add publication bias to the belief on the part of some editors of sociology journals that their organs are part of the entertainment business and you have the perfect recipe for the reproduction of blah blah.

Monday, 9 January 2012


I've been too busy  to post for a while and the horizon doesn't look  much clearer but hope springs eternal. For the moment here is a link to a comment on the economic crisis which is  as insightful as any I've read and a good deal more succinct.