Normative Sociology

Excellent post by Joseph Heath:

The whole “normative sociology” concept has its origins in a joke that Robert Nozick made, in Anarchy, State and Utopia, where he claimed, in an offhand way, that “Normative sociology, the study of what the causes of problems ought to be, greatly fascinates us all”(247). Despite the casual manner in which he made the remark, the observation is an astute one. Often when we study social problems, there is an almost irresistible temptation to study what we would like the cause of those problems to be (for whatever reason), to the neglect of the actual causes. When this goes uncorrected, you can get the phenomenon of “politically correct” explanations for various social problems – where there’s no hard evidence that A actually causes B, but where people, for one reason or another, think that A ought to be the explanation for B. This can lead to a situation in which denying that A is the cause of B becomes morally stigmatized, and so people affirm the connection primarily because they feel obliged to, not because they’ve been persuaded by any evidence.

Let me give just one example, to get the juices flowing. I routinely hear extraordinary causal powers being ascribed to “racism” — claims that far outstrip available evidence. Some of these claims may well be true, but there is a clear moral stigma associated with questioning the causal connection being posited – which is perverse, since the question of what causes what should be a purely empirical one. Questioning the connection, however, is likely to attract charges of seeking to “minimize racism.” (Indeed, many people, just reading the previous two sentences, will already be thinking to themselves “Oh my God, this guy is seeking to minimize racism.”) There also seems to be a sense that, because racism is an incredibly bad thing, it must also cause a lot of other bad things. But what is at work here is basically an intuition about how the moral order is organized, not one about the causal order. It’s always possible for something to be extremely bad (intrinsically, as it were), or extremely common, and yet causally not all that significant.

I actually think this sort of confusion between the moral and the causal order happens a lot. Furthermore, despite having a lot of sympathy for “qualitative” social science, I think the problem is much worse in these areas. Indeed, one of the major advantages of quantitative approaches to social science is that it makes it pretty much impossible to get away with doing normative sociology.

Incidentally, “normative sociology” doesn’t necessarily have a left-wing bias. There are lots of examples of conservatives doing it as well (e.g. rising divorce rates must be due to tolerance of homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births must be caused by the welfare system etc.) The difference is that people on the left are often more keen on solving various social problems, and so they have a set of pragmatic interests at play that can strongly bias judgement. The latter case is particularly frustrating, because if the plan is to solve some social problem by attacking its causal antecedents, then it is really important to get the causal connections right – otherwise your intervention is going to prove useless, and quite possibly counterproductive.

He goes on to discuss four reasons why people are attracted to normative sociology 1) they want to have a causal lever so they blame what they think they can change 2) they don’t want to blame or appear to blaming the victim so they avoid some explanations in favor of others 3) confusing correlation and causation 4) a metaphysical desire for bad things to have big and bad effects.

Addendum: My review of Heath’s book, Enlightenment 2.0.


HBD-sphere files in, time to party!

Can't wait for more SJC's like you to come in and tell people how to think!

What does SJC mean?

I believe it may be Sailer's attempt at renaming "SJW"

nevermind, that was "Social Media Justice Warrior" instead of SJW

saucy jewish chick?

Straussian Journalist Cowen?

Yet another deadly trap in the cognitive minefield ( I'll be mindful and see if I can catch myself doing it.

Of course, in a world with multiple causes, this could be very subtle. For example, when there's a mass shooting, does it happen because there are too many guns so the shooter was able to get access to one, or because there are too few guns and the victims were not able to deter the shooter or quickly diffuse the situation? Clearly both are at play, but which one you emphasize depends strongly on which side of the political spectrum you identify with. The relevant policy question is which effect outweighs the other on the margin as you add or subtract gun regulation.

The history of mass shootings in this country is quite thin for the period prior to 1966. It really is a recent phenomenon, which widespread gun ownership is not.

24 hour media saturation and copy cats. Undeniably it lets everybody know your name.

15 minutes of fame.

People need to understand that almost anything in the News cycle that is an apparent individual risk factor (mass shootings, terrorism of all kinds, plane accidents, etc. ) are so rare that their have no significant risk to individuals. Driving to the store for a bag of chips is a million times more individual risky (fast mortality/injury risk from the car, slow health risk from the chips).

If we just decided to call the guy "mass-killer 150618" there would be less of that.

I don't think this latest case was out for fame.

Good observation. You could add an additional item to Heath's list, I think, that is a little more cynical: "allows me to blame/denigrate my political opponents."

You state that "Clearly both are at play", but I have never heard of a mass shooting that was prevented by armed citizens. Perhaps you are falling prey to precisely the sort of fallacy that he refers to?

but I have never heard of a mass shooting that was prevented by armed citizens.

Because armed citizens prevented it from turning into a 'mass' shooting, ergo it gets reported in the local papers and that's it.

Art, citation needed. If some crazed asshole with an assault rifle went somewhere to shoot up a place and after 1 or 2 kills got shot by an armed citizen or even a cop, that story would be national news and probably a movie starring Jake Gyllenhall. So no, that doesn't happen.

This has literally happened not even two months ago. Two islamists tried to shoot up a anti-islam art gallery, the only damage they caused before being shot down dead (by a cop, not a civilian) was shooting a guard in the leg.

Very cool, I stand corrected....although that is the UK, so maybe it still stands that it hasn't happened in the US.

Oops, that was the US. Even cooler. Happy to be wrong about this one.

Texas clocktower massacre?

I like this post a lot, with the exception of one line:
"people on the left are often more keen on solving various social problems" - I don't see this as true at all. People on the left are indeed keen on solving social problems. But the only people on the right who aren't are the almost infinitesimal portion of the population who actually walk the walk of libertarianism. The rest of the right is highly engaged in solving social problems by trying to cure homosexuals; by campaigning against immorality in the movies or bad language on TV; by keeping black people out of white areas; by refusing to recognise the existence of transsexuals; etc., etc.
I don't see any political bias at all in this particular cognitive fault. But I do agree with Heath that it would be great if we could get causal relations right more often.

The rest of the right is highly engaged in solving social problems by trying to cure homosexuals; by campaigning against immorality in the movies or bad language on TV; by keeping black people out of white areas; by refusing to recognise the existence of transsexuals; etc., etc.

Example #650,000 toward the thesis that the portside fancies that the caricatures they create in their head are a reality.

Reparative therapy and twelve-step programs for homosexuals are the issue of a small cohort of the mental health trade, localized evangelical ministries, and a small Catholic apostolate. This is not a project of people politically engaged; politically engaged people may be congenial toward this crew (for example, not acceding to efforts by the gay lobby to have them legally suppressed), but it is not a particular project of the politically engaged.

Anti-obscenity laws are a good thing. The trouble is, that technology has frustrated them. About the only thing you can do is keep the most graphic manifestations (e.g pole dancing) out of your neighborhoods. You may not understand this, but serious conservatives do, and discussion of obscenity is uncommon even on Catholic and evangelical sites, much less secular Republican ones.

Strange as it may seem to you, restrictive covenants on real estate have not been enforceable in court for more than 60 years. If you fancy it's a political object of any extant strand of any dimension, you're too ignorant to be commenting on public affairs.

No one denies that 'transexuals' exist. They deny that it is ethical for physicians and surgeons to play to the fantasies of such people or that it is prudent for institutions to do so either.

Regarding transsexuals, it's more one of definition.

A left-wing definition of a transsexual is a person of one gender with a body of another gender.

A right-wing definition of a transsexual is a person of one gender who thinks they should be another gender.

And so, to the left wing, the right wing denies the existence of the transsexual, because the right wing definition places primacy on the body and not the mind of the person, while the left wing does the opposite.

the right focuses on what "is" and not what we *think* it "is"

Thus the importance of religion over temperature records.

You have a talent for snotty non-sequiturs.

That's all right, I'll forgive you if you can't follow how the statements are related. Let me explain.

HL stated that the right focuses on what "is" and not what we think it "is". However, the right is known for religiosity (used strongly in its arguments against homosexual rights). Religion, however, does not meet the test of empirical evidence, but represents a series of social constructs decided upon by individuals and is considered a matter of faith. Therefore, it is a focus on the right about what we think it is, and not what it is.

Similarly, the right wing platform (in the United States, in any case), denies climate change as a result of human activity. However, empirically, the evidence is clear that it is. Admittedly, the right will say again and again that there isn't a scientific consensus, but there is. There really is. Here is another case where the right focuses on what we think it is, and not what it is.

We can conclude, therefore, that the right does not focus on what is, but instead chooses a focus on what is, or what we think it is, depending on what story they want to tell.

That's okay. The left pulls the exact same bullshit. Both sides lie to themselves to maintain mood affiliation.

Right, because gays are sick sinners who learned It from other sick sinners. No one "is" gay.

"The trouble is, that technology has frustrated them. About the only thing you can do is keep the most graphic manifestations (e.g pole dancing) out of your neighborhoods." What does it have to do with "campaigning against immorality in the movies or bad language on TV"? It is a non-sequitur. Anti-obscenity, anti-drugs, anti-murder, anti-anything else laws have always been frustrated, i.e. some people manage to commit crimes and they may even evade punishment It is like saying that, because Johnny gets away selling his friends Ritalin, WalMart must be allowed to sell crack and get tax breaks for that. We are not talking about Amonymus or Youtube user sluttygirl_123, we are talking about megacorporations supposedly subjected to American laws. The plain truth is, Conservatives (in some instances, fortunately) just don't have the votes to get their way in this matter.

Even libertarians are keen on solving social problems--just not the same ones that Progressives are keen on solving.

Yes but would a politician in a Red Staate get elected if he denounced reparative therapy? Maybe now but not 10 years ago. Until recently, for every practitioner there were 10 more who would want it for a family member who came out of the closet. Otherwise who would they have treated?

"people on the left are often more keen on solving various social problems" should read 'people on the left are often keen to seek power and money by claiming to be able to solve various social problems'.

Some people on each side are keen on solving problems.

But much more people on each side are more interesting in winning than in succeeding.

"one of the major advantages of quantitative approaches to social science is that it makes it pretty much impossible to get away with doing normative sociology." You are joking, right? It may make it more easy to see, or less pervasive. But still quite possible, alive, and not that hard.

"Incidentally, normative sociology doesn’t necessarily have a left-wing bias." I am sure that every reader of this blog will agree that it has the exact opposite bias that they themselves have ;). For some people, problems are caused because things changed too little, for others because things changed too much.

“normative economics” has the same problem.

current "quantitative approaches" to all social science are largely subjective and deceptive.

for example, the wide abuse of statistical-significance to allegedly demonstrate causation is a major scandal worldwide.

quantifying subjective information does not make it objective.

the wide abuse of statistical-significance to allegedly demonstrate causation is a major scandal worldwide.

No, causation is inferred (commonly tentatively) from significant variables nestled in the context of other variables and theory. No scandal in that.

Bingo. It's often the label on the number that is faulty, and not the number itself. Lies, damn lies and statistics, and most of all labels.

There are lots of examples of conservatives doing it as well (e.g. rising divorce rates must be due to tolerance of homosexuality, out-of-wedlock births must be caused by the welfare system etc.)

No there aren't, but academics have to tell these lies to get a hearing among other academics. The 'bribe theory' of the connection between welfare payments and bastardy is a popular conception, not an academic one. Charles Murray was a promoter of the idea (then partially repudiated it) and Thomas Sowell has indicated he thinks it reasonable (without exactly endorsing it). Neither one is a sociologist by training, though Murray's research programme is more or less sociological. I think you'd have to rummage to find a social researcher who fancies that divorce rates are rising (IIRC, marital attrition rates peaked ca. 1979) or to locate an argument which attributes that to social attitudes toward homosexuality. You likely would find opinion pieces which attribute the fragility of family life generally to culture and find the disposition toward sexual deviance to be an aspect of that culture, but that's a different assertion, as Heath has no excuse not to know.

"rising divorce rates must be due to tolerance of homosexuality": I laughed at that. It's not often that someone can invent a proposition so daft that I have never heard some chump make it.

You've never heard in the endless and futile conservative opposition to gay marriage that allowing gays to marry weakens the 'institution' of marriage?

You've never considered the possibility that there is a distinction between mangling matrimonial law further than it already has been and 'social attitudes' toward homosexuals?

Non sequitur. I have considered that plenty (and don't subscribe to your framing). I simply found it remarkable that dearieme would laugh at that phrase for its sheer 'daft'ness when in fact it gets asserted all the time.

in fact it gets asserted all the time.

It does not get asserted. You simply do not understand just what is being asserted.

Wrong again, Art.

I agree. I hear this argument a lot in conservative circles.

As for the link between welfare and illegitimate children, while I do hear it in the "bribe" form, I more often (or more convincingly) hear it in the "moral hazard" form. I would find it hard to deny a link between making it financially more palatable to raise children without a father and raising children without a father; it clearly has an effect on how strenuously people avoid pregnancy with a partner who's not that likely to hang around.

"out-of-wedlock births must be caused by the welfare system" -If there isn't a convincing relationship, I guess there would be no progressives arguing that welfare reducing measures hurts single mother's ability to feed their children.

Best example isn't racism but the vast set of problems in adulthood supposedly attributable to bad upbringing or bad family life. Psychological triggers, stress vulnerability, loose morals, sexual dysfunction, OCD, lack of discipline, acting out, criminality, and so many other behaviors are blamed on childhood home life. As Bryan Caplan and Judith Rich Harris have documented, none of those things is caused by home life.

But we know that childhood is important and many of us reason that therefore a deficient childhood must lead to lifelong failure or other lifelong consequences. It's ever enough that a bad childhood is bad for its own sake; insidious consequences must ensue somehow. Otherwise causality is morally deficient.

Anyway causality is morally deficient. Childhood unhappiness short of disease or malnutrition is just unhappiness. There are no long term consequences. I have adapted to the evidence by valuing children for their own sake and not as instrumental pre-adults but it's a big change from our culture's normative sociology.

I've posted more on this below, but I think the most socially destructive example is overweight/obesity. The idea that insufficient access to healthy foods is what causes high rates of overweight/obesity among the poor is something that sounds fantastic but that has virtually zero evidence behind it. Almost all the evidence points to the causal mechanism being the other way around. (Strongest driver of poverty/obesity link is women w/ low BMI pair with men with high incomes - Here is a great summary of the findings:

This would all be harmless, if it wasn't for the fact that the government has spent billions to try to improve access to healthy foods in poor communities with almost no success in curbing the overweight/obesity problem. You could make a strong case that the fight against obesity is one of the worst performing government policies on an ROI basis. It is a perfect example of normative sociology leading to disastrous public policy.

"insufficient access to healthy foods": about 15 years ago the British Medical Journal carried a paper that did a wonderful demolition job on the "food deserts" zealotry. The researchers did the work by walking around noting the foods they could see on sale. It didn't, of course, stop the Guardian pushing the line.

+1 for anon and owen

By your logic, parents shouldn't even bother to parent because it makes no difference.

Why don't you try to sell that one to the masses?

Bryan Caplan does try to sell that. Kind of misguided IMO but he does try. His thesis which he claims is supported by data is that parenting above common sense basics (providing a clean, safe, nutritious home) has no effect on how your kids turn out. Personally I think he goes too far, but I appreciate his attempt to counterract the hysterical overparenting memes out there.

There's a reason Dr. Caplan's social thought has been described as 'applied autism'.

Considering how much autism has doubtless helped us in hard sciences and investing (i.e. the guy Michael Lewis profiled in The Big Short), the strategy may be self-recommending.

You are just making Owen's and Heath's point. Quantum mechanics is pretty difficult to "sell to the masses" but it happens to be true.

Some people have a strong intuition that parenting techniques have huge impacts on their children. That intuition can and should be subject to empirical testing. And so what if it is wrong? Is it really that bad if we are left telling parents that they should be good to their kids so that their kids are more likely to visit and return their phone calls in 25 years?

As Bryan Caplan and Judith Rich Harris have documented, none of those things is caused by home life.

Bryan Caplan is an economist who applies (well or ill) economists' tools to the study of political life. Judith Rich Harris is a lapsed textbook editor. Neither are likely candidates for being able to generate seminal research on child development or the sociology of family life.

5) People seek status and aligning themselves with moral theories signals to others with the same mindset that they are deserving of status. I.e. people want to signal their obedience to their moral group. On the other hand, "causal groups," if any such thing even exists, are likely much less cohesive and so the gains from signaling alliance to them are less significant.

5) People seek status and aligning themselves with moral theories signals to others with the same mindset that they are deserving of status.

That's really all that's left of portside politics, or that and feeding various client groups. You have a few wonks like Harold Pollack, but that's it.

The difference is that people on the left are often more keen on solving various social problems,

Different social problems. The 1.3 million abortions per year is a social problem they do not give a damn about. Wretched inner city crime and general disorder is of no interest either; they are merely excuses to hire social workers and schoolteachers and redistribute more income; actually addressing these problems requires employing people and methods that the portside despise and would never do on their own initiative. The 1.6 million bastard births they are indifferent to as well, as they are to the seven-digit quantum of divorce decrees.

I don't know why I'm feeding you, but here goes...

Above, you note that there are not a lot of examples of conservatives doing it as well ("No, there aren't,"). However, in this comment you lay out several social ills you think need solving and that you wish the left would care more about.

This appears hypocritical.

It 'appears hypocritical' to someone who could not make sense of either point. My first point was that the examples he supplied for 'normative sociology' conducted by 'conservatives' are spurious. My second point is that the right and the left have a different conception of what constitutes and interesting social problem.

Thanks. I assumed you would tell me that I was too stupid to understand and you didn't let me down.

No, I told you you did not understand me. It is not difficult to understand me. You care not to understand me. For reasons of your own.

Come now Art democrats are concerned about wretched inner city crime and general disorder. They claim they are caused be discrimination, a lack of high paying jobs, inequality and insufficient funding of schools.

I definitely agree that normative sociology is all around us but racism is a tricky example simply because it's tough to measure. How do you build an empirical study that quantitatively measures the subconscious racist biases of an individual? How do you truly understand the experience of someone of another race without actually being that race?

Rachel has shown us all how. Blessed be she.

It's definitely tricky to measure, but that fact in itself does not license it's use in widespread explanation.

If it is that hard to measure how serious a problem is it?

No question it's a huge problem generally. I'm more saying it's tough to measure effects of A on B in a very specific case, the effect of racism on x.

I dunno. He lost me when he claimed that sociologists simplistically assert that "racism" is the cause of social ills. "Racism" or "history of racism" usually functions as a shorthand for the concrete economic, political and social disadvantages that were imposed on African-Americans by white Americans for centuries as well as continuing patterns of discrimination. These things were not imagined as explanations for the ills suffered by African-Americans but are well-observed data points. Maybe sociologists and historians should speak with more precision but Heath is attacking a strawman.

but are well-observed data points.

"Racism" is not a datapoint, nor are "concrete economic, political and social disadvantages" (though they might be dummy variables and such). The effects of these things are inferred from other data (on income, for example).

Great link, Alex. Your previous review left me on the fence about buying his book, but this link sealed the deal.

people want 'normative sociology' for all those stupid reasons 1-4 AND 5) They are good bayesians. Lacks of direct evidence should not be confused with unwillingness to make a judgement. It is only when we have good evidence that we ignore or fail to look for evidence that 1-4 really become a problem.

another way of putting this: It isn't bad that the mode of your distribution tilts towards racism, just that you underestimate the variance.

Tl;dr Straussian-We shouldn't rush to blame political assassinations at black churches at racism? What is the purpose of posting this article? Help us out here.

His point exactly.

I assumed it was related to the Alice Goffman kerfuffle

That's what I thought, too. The City Journal review mentions that Goffman briefly discusses the group of people in that neighborhood that weren't law breakers, held steady jobs, and mostly hung out with each other and played video games. What would have been illuminating is a compare/contrast between that group and the group Goffman lived with rather than what Goffman's book actually ended up being about. The latter kind of book, though, might possibly maybe end up having conservative-tinged conclusions, so clearly that was off the table as a possible route of inquiry.

"I routinely hear extraordinary causal powers being ascribed to “racism” — claims that far outstrip available evidence."

One assumes that he somewhere provides evidence of this. Or perhaps this claim is just intended as an example of normative sociology?

I think Heath is conflating scholarship with popular opinions. His examples are standard Internet post-and-comment opinions, but he criticizes serious academic work on that basis. He would be more convincing if he provided some examples that match his claims.

You could say 'popular opinion', but 'non-professional opinion'. The 'populace' in question would largely be made up of articulate bourgeois opining outside their mundane expertise. Academic administration, general faculty, journalists, and consumers of magazine reporting and public broadcasting, &c. Quantitative sociologists might have similar sympathies, but wagers on the table would be very careful how they put it.

"articulate bourgeois opining outside their mundane expertise" - love the irony of this phrase being presented by Art Deco

Love the irony of you attempting to twit me for that from the inside of a comment box.

Turtles all the way down

I can see how it would also apply to positive explanations. For example, "I'd gladly pay a higher price to keep the mom-and-pop shop in business" implies that if everyone did so, then we may potentially have a more humane alternative to the "cutthroat" market. But if everyone really paid higher prices "gladly," then at best, all we'd accomplish is nominal inflation, and at worst, productivity would decrease substantially.

So, he is asserting without evidence that other people assert things without evidence.

Just a brilliant post. Another area where you see this normative sociology garbage is obesity research. For example, the idea that fat shaming *increases* rates of obesity is a laughable concept that completely ignores laws of incentives and basic economics. Yet, idiots, like those on reddit, love to cite a particular extremely poor study (the methodology is comical) that backs their ideology. Fat shaming *feels bad* and so it must *be bad*.

Well, it does not follow that fat shaming causes obesity (I'm quite positive it doesn't), but fat shaming does add stress to obese individuals. That stress does not translate into a push against obesity--it's just stress.

So... fat shaming doesn't help. Why keep doing it?

Shaming does help, how else are you to know you're fat and that your consumption choices are anti-social.

Are you implying that the rate of punishment has no effect on curbing behavior? That's insane and you know it.

Not sure how came to that conclusion from what I wrote

HL...he must have clicked the wrong button. He was replying to IVV, I'm sure.

Huh? I would define antisocial as being a busybody sticking their nose into other people's affairs for the purpose of moral preening.

Because removing a huge disincentive to socially destructive behavior is a really bad idea?

You have to prove that the impact of stress has a greater effect than the disincentive from shaming. I don't buy that.

The only countries that have strong middle class purchasing power yet very little obesity are the ones where being overweight is openly ridiculed (Southern European countries and Asian countries). This is not a coincidence

That's pretty weak evidence for "fat shaming works and people should engage in it". I would think that basic respect for persons trumps whatever marginally socially destructive behavior that they are engaging in, particularly when that social harm is incredibly indirect (presumably, you're talking about healthcare costs or something like that).

"That’s pretty weak evidence for “fat shaming works and people should engage in it”."

Except, that should be the default view since that's how incentives work. It should be disproven, if anything (also good luck getting academics to publish a paper proving fat shaming works, especially in America).

"incredibly indirect (presumably, you’re talking about healthcare costs or something like that)."

You are utterly delusional if you think those are the only costs

"incredibly indirect"

healthcare expenses are nearly 20% of GDP. 12$ for every hour worked in america. the poor, most likely to be obese, can't even earn enough to pay for their expected cost of healthcare. it is quite direct.

Healthcare expenses are 20% of GDP for a variety of reasons, obesity being one but not remotely the largest one. Sounds like an excuse just to embrace personal disgust with fat people.

Very true, but there's certainly a hell of a correlation.

Looks like a vague correlation between first world countries, which obviously spend more on healthcare because they are wealthier, and the trend that Anglophone countries tend to be fat (particularly the US).

Southern European countries have strong middle class purchasing power?

Also, do Southern European and Asian countries fare better than Anglophone and Northern European countries? Are they better places than the latter because of their lack of obesity?

"Also, do Southern European and Asian countries fare better than Anglophone and Northern European countries? Are they better places than the latter because of their lack of obesity?"

You and I both know that its impossible to tease out solely the effects of obesity here.

I'm fairly certain of a few things though:

All other things equal, men would be happier in a society that consumed less calories (to a certain point obviously).

Women, on the other hand, probably would be *unhappier* in a society that consumed less calories.

The latter being why we will never get any real action towards curbing our population of overweight individuals. And why we have redefined "normal" to include overweight.

On average, the marginal utility of the *other* gender being in shape/thin is greater than the marginal utility of food consumption for men but NOT for women.

Right, no need to bring in empirical research when "not being an asshole" is a good enough reason to never fat shame someone.

Right, no need to bring in empirical research when “not being an asshole” is a good enough reason to never shame someone for smoking.

You seem to take a great interest in what people do to themselves during the course of their own personal lives.

Do go on. I'd love to read an exhaustive list of bad health choices that you, personally, would like to use humankind's innate fear of humiliation to correct.

If other people's choices affect me negatively, I have every right to try to get them to stop making those choices. Why do some people find this so hard to understand?

Anon, it's because "they drain my resources" is just a cover for the real negative effect, namely, "they're ugly to look at and I bet they're smelly too."

No, the real negative effect is that they shrink my dating / marriage pool considerably through a feedback loop where overweight people believe it is OK to be overweight because everyone else is overweight.

"American women have gotten fatter as it has become more socially acceptable to carry a few extra pounds, according to a new study."

"Heiland and Burke's "social multiplier" theory offers a potential reason why: As Americans continue to super-size their value meals, the average weight of the population increases and people slowly adjust their perceptions of appropriate body weight. Given that these changes in perception may come about gradually, Heiland and Burke suggest the nation's battle of the bulge may extend into the future."

"The researchers also looked at self-reports of women's real weights and desired weights. In 1994, the average woman said she weighed 147 pounds but wanted to weigh 132 pounds. By 2002, the average woman weighed 153 pounds but wanted the scales to register 135 pounds, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System."

I have no reason to hide my true intentions.

Dude, if you can't attract what you're looking for, the problem is you, not them. You don't need a larger dating pool (and definitely not a larger marriage pool, you're still stuck with only one wife at a time), you need to be able to attract what you're interested in.

Cool Disney Channel answer IVV, but I live in a world where supply/demand plays a role in markets.

Your comment would be right at home on Reddit though, I take it you're a frequent poster?

Anon, you must have me confused with someone else. I never said that you don't have a right to try to get people not to be fat. (Although, good luck with that.) No, my question was about what your total list of of such characteristics was.

My follow-up question was going to be why you think this sort of thing negatively affects you. From the sounds of it, it's because you're under the impression that fatties find you attractive. And your corrective adjustment is to shame them.

I can't imagine why your dating pool is shrinking.

"From the sounds of it, it’s because you’re under the impression that fatties find you attractive."

I'm fascinated on how you got that from my comment. I'm purely talking about the supply/demand effects of increased female BMI on the marriage and dating markets. The effects of sex ratio on the aforementioned has been studied extensively, I don't really understand how this is much different.

If 10 men and 5 women are stuck on an island, you would agree the men would be less happy than if there were 10 women, correct? Why is it so hard to extrapolate this to a city or nation-wide population? Seems like there's a whole lot of normative sociology going on in this thread, if you ask me.

So that's twice I've asked and twice you've decided not to answer my question. Third time's the charm? Other than weight, what is your complete list of characteristics you would like to use shame to attempt to correct in others?

And I wasn't engaging in normative sociology, I was engaging in witty rejoinders. Rumor has it, women love a guy who can make 'em laugh.

Humor: Just one of many tools at your disposal that stand a greater chance of expanding your dating pool than shaming people who aren't already in it.

The more you know.

Are we advocating a society without shame? What would such a society look like?

"what is your complete list of characteristics you would like to use shame to attempt to correct in others?"

I don't know and I don't really care to sit down and think about this right now.

"Humor: Just one of many tools at your disposal that stand a greater chance of expanding your dating pool than shaming people who aren’t already in it."

It's funny that you're accusing me of dodging the point when you're doing the exact same (and at the same time attacking my masculinity - what great debating techniques we have here). I could be the funniest person in the world, it's irrelevant. The fact that the average American woman is significantly heavier than 20-30 years ago means that, on average, men are much worse off. The American male, on average, will date/marry someone much more unattractive than if he was of the same age 20-30 years ago. You can personally attack me as much as you want (you seem to be having a lot of fun doing it!), this fact remains, and it is almost entirely driven by our society's acceptance of the overweight, which is strongly driven by the fact that it is taboo in our society to shame the overweight (as opposed to societies like South Korea, Japan, etc.).

Anon, I'm not dodging any issue. Our conversation began when I asked you a question that you "don't really care to" answer. Fine - but how does that oblige me to entertain your theories about the supply-side problems you're having in your social life? My initial impression when I asked my question the first time is that you seemed a little too preoccupied by this. You've only managed to reaffirm that impression.

If you think the societies in Japan or South Korea are better for your personal life, I know about 178 million people who agree with you. Why not try your luck there? I'm serious. If your shrinking dating pool is as much of a concern for you as you've lead me to believe, then the obvious solution for you would be to immerse yourself in a pool more to your liking.

Successful people don't bemoan their societies for having provided suboptimal conditions for success. No, successful people identify where they'll have the best odds, and concentrate their efforts there. Many, many people find their partners while living abroad - myself included - and you can, too. But in order to succeed, you need a more proactive attitude. "Gee, my society is going the wrong direction" will at best help you find a mate who is equally pessimistic, but that doesn't seem like a bond that will last you through good times and bad...

Anyhoo, best of luck to you.

HL - I make a point never to advocate any sort of society. But I do advocate for individuals' practicing good ethical behavior, and according to my ethics, deliberately making people feel ashamed of themselves is not as good as leaving people alone to live their own lives. Your ethics may vary. I can only really advocate mine.

RPLong is crushing this part of the thread.

Anon: men have bulked up just as much as women, so the fatties can pair off and your targets have a smaller supply to chase as well. Your odds are unchanged (if you aren't a fatty yourself).

It is true that the culture is more accepting of obesity, otherwise how are the following movie stars? - Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson, Jonah Hill, Jack Black....

A few things:

You can't seem to help but personally attack me in every response. Really says a lot about you (and your supposed moral opposition to shaming).

For the millionth time. It does not make any difference at all if I have 7 dates a week with 7 different women. The fact remains that, because women as a whole are significantly more overweight than 20-30 years ago, those 7 women are, on average, going to be less attractive than 20-30 years ago.

"Successful people don’t bemoan their societies for having provided suboptimal conditions for success. No, successful people identify where they’ll have the best odds, and concentrate their efforts there."

What if I've identified that advocating for the shaming of fat people provides me better return on effort than packing up and moving to a completely foreign country? Since i have zero moral opposition to shaming those that are involved in socially destructive behavior (especially ones that directly affect myself), wouldn't i go for the optimal strategy?

msgkings - men's physical attractiveness doesn't play nearly as large of a role in their overall attractiveness to women as vice versa. This is evolutionary biology 101.

ANon - 'what you've indentified' is really incorrect. And yeah I know the evopsych thing but in the real world which you claim to be talking about, chicks don't really like fatties either. They just are willing to overlook it more. So again, if you can stay thin you are more attractive because there are fewer of your type for the ladies to chase.

Hmmm msgkings, I wonder then why a man's income is a stronger correlate to his wife's BMI than his own BMI.

And by saying they are "willing to overlook it more" just prove my point?

Do you honestly deep down inside think that women find a flat stomach on men as important to attractiveness as vice versa? If so, you are pathetically delusional.

Do you honestly think women DON'T find a flat stomach attractive? You're going too far (as so many do on the net). Yes, women tolerate fatties more than men. But that does not = women don't care about it. If you can stay thin while the men around you are balooning up, congrats, you are more attractive to women on that axis. Now you don't have to be quite as rich and charming as the increasingly fat dudes you are competing with.

"Do you honestly think women DON’T find a flat stomach attractive?"

Way to twist my words. I never said nor implied that. BUT as soon as you accept that men find relatively lower BMI more attractive in women than vice versa (which I believe you're finally admitting), then you're accepting that increased overall societal body fat is more detrimental to men than women. That's simple logic. So thanks for agreeing with me.

You're welcome, Anon. I can see why you are worried about your dating situation.

Ooh look another personal attack, the sign of someone who's losing an argument. You must also come from the esteemed Reddit school of debate

Anon, I'm puzzled by what you felt was insulting in my last comment? The worst thing I think I may have said to you was that you needed a more proactive attitude to be successful in finding a partner. I can see how you'd disagree, but I'm not sure why you'd call it an insult. And I certainly don't see why you'd suggest that it was an effort to shame you.

But you said, "It does not make any difference at all if I have 7 dates a week with 7 different women," and in fact that isn't true. If you have 7 dates a week with 7 different women, then I don't see evidence of a shrinking dating pool. At best we could say that your dating pool is shrinking, but that its shrinking is a non-binding constraint for you.

You just changed your argument, is all. You started by suggesting that obesity is causing your quality of life to diminish because your dating pool is shrinking. Now you're suggesting that the real problem is that your dates are getting less attractive.

That's important because you've just revealed that IVV was exactly right when s/he said, "it’s because 'they drain my resources' is just a cover for the real negative effect, namely, 'they’re ugly to look at.'"

Now we've made short work of your entire argument, I'm afraid.

Then there's the part where you claim that you think you have a better chance of finding a partner by advocating for behavior that people in your dating pool find objectionable than you do moving into a pool where people do not find that same behavior objectionable. I'm not sure how to make sense of that claim, since it seems to suggest that people in your dating pool prefer to be treated objectionably. I grant you that this is possible, but only if your dating pool looks very different from that of most other people.

Anon, you are never going to get a lady to like you by arguing her into it. Lighten up, dude.

"You started by suggesting that obesity is causing your quality of life to diminish because your dating pool is shrinking. Now you’re suggesting that the real problem is that your dates are getting less attractive."

I'm confused, do you seriously not understand how one would follow from the other....?

I guess I made the mistake in thinking that commenters on an economics blog would understand the basics of market forces.

Anon, you also seem to be misunderstanding the 'market forces' in the dating world. I do agree with you that women tolerate fat better than men, so I guess it's true that as all people (men and women) get fatter this will bother men more in aggregate. However, you have not engaged by point that if you personally can remain thin, then your attractiveness in the dating market will be greater than it was due to the same thing, the rise in obesity. I assume you are not asserting that only women are getting fatter, it's both genders. So the market is changing thus: women are getting fatter so men have fewer hotties to chase. Men are getting fatter so women have fewer hotties to chase. Women don't care as much about fat, but they do care, ergo thin guys are increasingly desirable. So if you are thin, the changing market helps you and harms you in roughly equal measure.

Also, your assertion that shaming fat ladies is a better strategy for you than moving somewhere with a lot fewer fat ladies is kind of laughably false. You're casting your rod into a lake saying 'man this sucks, all the fish in this lake taste like shit, I think I'll shame them into being tastier fish' when there's another lake you can go to where there's a lot more fish to your liking.

And if you pick a poor country like, oh, say, the Phillipines, you might do just fine.

msgkings, would your attitude towards me change if I told you I had a girlfriend? Well, my argument would not change. If I was the same age 30 years ago, my girlfriend 30 years ago would most likely be more objectively physically attractive than she is now. This is true, on average, for the entire American male population. Yes, it's a terrible thing to say, but the entire point of this thread, and of the OP article is that the truth isn't always the most comfortable answer.

I eagerly await your next personal attack.

"So if you are thin, the changing market helps you and harms you in roughly equal measure. "

How you can come to this conclusion from the entire preceding paragraph is absolutely baffling. Given the difference men and women place on thinness as a measure of attractiveness, it is literally impossible for the change to harm and hurt in equal measure. Take some time and think about that. I can wait.

No, Anon, my attitude towards you stems from our interaction here, since I have no way of knowing if you have a girlfriend. May I ask why you think we should shame fatties if you have already found someone that you are happy with? Or is that a 'personal attack' (where's the eyeroll emoji?)

Why not mention something about heart attack risk, and leave behind the shaming which primarily serves to make you feel worthwhile by putting people down (also known as bullying).

2 points:

1. Hahahahaha, come on, really? Pointing out heart attack risk is not a good way to nudge the overweight. Humans are extremely poor at weighing long-term consequences of actions. Heart attack risk is one of the longest term consequences there is. Again: Societal shaming works, and works extremely well. I would argue that it is one of the very *few* things that works in this case.

2. Shaming behavior that is completely changeable is not "bullying".

I was told on Facebook a while back that my questioning of the idea that "shaming" rhetoric is responsible for trans peoples' suicides is exactly the kind of rhetoric that leads to trans people committing suicide. It was a difficult exchange that led to me un-friending my interlocutor. I won't be responsible for anyone's death, and the implication that I could be was damning. I've had suicides in my family.

This kind of intensely emotionally charged approach to social science is depressing (speaking of suicide). And it seems therapeutic/activist discourse, as a legitimate form of debate on the left, is ascendent right now.

You are providing empirical evidence that shaming doesn't work. You are being shamed, and you don't get it, not only that but continue in your shameful attitude.

Which worked better to reduce the smoking rate? Shaming, Health Statistics, Taxes, or banning public smoking?

Kind of all 4 actually...eventually a tipping point happened where it became very uncool to smoke. Not dangerous/sohpisticated/sexy but smelly and sad and uncool. Shame was a part of it for sure, but the shame started AFTER the culture started trumpeting how bad for you it is and started restricting it. It's happening now with obesity actually, I'm somewhat optimistic about it.

Msgkings, I believe you are exactly the type of person that the OP article was written about

No one can stop you from believing anything you want, my friend.

Bypassing this extremely long and pointless discussion about "bullying" and "making people feel bad" bla bla bla.

"Fat shaming" isn't necessarily, or even often, done by people who don't know the people who are fat.

It's "likely" (I don't know, someone ought to look into it) done more frequently by people who know and actually care about the person. I.e., their friends and family.

And they're not doing it to "bully" or make the person feel bad, or make themselves feel better.

Pretty much anyone who has ever had a fat person in their own family has observed this, because everyone who has had a fat person in their family engaged in this behavior precisely because they cared about the person.

Whether it "works" or not is a separate question, which likely depends on a lot of other things.

Very good observation.

As an environmental scientist, the same thing occurs in this field where what "ought to be the cause" becomes the "official cause" even to the point of ignoring possibly more important variables that may not provide the "correct" answer. For an example, the government "biological opinion" on the delta smelts crash in the Sacramento Delta in 440 pages discusses the entire ecology of the Delta and the impacts on the delta smelt for the 70's to present time when the populations did crash. However, they excluded from the analysis the dramatic changes in fish eating bird population that we being suppressed by DDT in the 40's to the 90's (it took decades to work DDT through the system). The cormorants population is a better correlation with the delta smelt populations that the water usage for agriculture. Do a word search for bird or cormorant and you get zero (except for bird island) in all 440 pages, but including cormorant data would have had endangered birds eating endangered fish and the wrong "cause".

The excerpt minimizes racism, which constitutes a microaggression. And Prof. Tabarrok did not give a trigger warning about this microaggression. According to the rules propounded on this site, a Title VI complaint would be in order.

Stop it! You're scaring me!

An excellent post and excellent observations by the author.

You see this in sociology almost too regularly. In fact I dare say, you see nothing but this sort of thing in sociology.

To sociology's defense, however...they really aren't smart enough to do quantitative analyses anyway ;)

Perhaps you overestimate the usefulness of research which does not delve into qualitative factors.

There is room and a place for qualitative research. The vast majority I've encountered, however, is of very poor quality and suffers from the biases the author describes.

I think the author actually under-estimates just how much "poor research" actually leads to these biases. What he is describing there is the result of sloppy thinking, and sloppy research (and I don't say this from a position of "superiority". My own field is regarded as such by economists, and to a large extent they are right. But at least, we acknowledge it and seek to get better).

And in social sciences, sociology is unfortunately at the absolute bottom when it comes to research skills. It's becoming more so, given the quality of the people they recruit. Maybe I shouldn't say all sociology. People who focus on demography or network analysis do a little better, but they are one-trick ponies, and aren't really interested in asking these "big" questions where the biases become pervasive.

I remember I took a PhD seminar in sociology research methods once. I had to take something to fill up my schedule since I had already taken pretty much all the quant classes I could and there was little left. This was a second-year PhD seminar (meaning it was about as high as these people would go, since there's no more classes to take after your second year). I was horrified at what I saw. The poor professor had to explain basic correlations and how to read a basic regression table and what R-squared meant to these people. Second year PhD students!

So to be fair to them, they're not really equipped to challenge their biases, or for anyone in their field to challenge them.

PS: BTW, I love how your review of his book is actually the same critique of biases he describes in his article. I.e., he points out some interesting observations about the state of the world, but assigns causes for them to factors which may actually do the opposite.

I wonder if he realizes that his book can be best described by his own critique of "normative sociology".

What a complicated name for Occam's razor !

This is an insightful way to describe a troubling phenomenon. And judging from the comments above, simply being aware of this source of stupidity does not prevent it.

Good post, but in trying to be balanced you picked bad examples of the right wing doing this. There may be other, better examples. I have never seen anyone attribute the increase in divorce to toleration of homosexuality. I have seen more general comments that such toleration represents part of the lack of respect for marriage, that it will make things worse, that it has made it worse recently, that it will prevent fixing it, etc. But all commenters I have ever read point to a growth in divorce beginning in the 1970's, well before there was general toleration for homosexuality. In the second example, attributing cause is always difficult, and perhaps people overstep. But the co-incidence, the co-occurrence of the rise in out-of-wedlock births with the increase in governmental support of unmarried women with children is statistically clear.

How is "normative sociology" not just another way to call people wrong with more external authority?

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