March 10, 2008


Every once in a while, El Cabrero teaches an off campus sociology class. When we discuss methods of conducting research, I always try to emphasize that there are a lot of valid and interesting ways of doing it.

The method of conducting experiments is a mainstay of psychology but is less common in sociology. The value of experiments is that they are done in a tightly controlled manner, which is also their drawback, since everyday life is pretty messy. Still, some truly ingenious experiments have shed light on many aspects of social life.

Some of the most interesting have been inspired by real life situations. Some examples of this are Stanley Milgram's classic if controversial experiments on obedience to authority and Solomon Asch's studies of conformity. (Search this blog for posts on these topics.)

One horrific situation that prompted some enlightening experiments was the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York. As most people heard the story, more than 30 people saw or overheard the attack, which was repeated three times for more than 30 minutes. Yet it was widely reported that no one intervened or called the police until it was too late.

The event was sensationalized in the media. The headline in the New York Times at the time was "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police" and this was the opening line:

For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.
Recent investigations of available data have suggested that it wasn't quite that clear cut. As USA Today reported a while back,

As it turned out, there were two attacks, not three. The prosecutor in the case later said only a half-dozen witnesses were ever found. Others have suggested that calls to the police were made (and ignored), and that the fatal second assault occurred in a location visible to almost no one.
Some who have investigated the details suggest the tragedy as it is generally recounted has become something of a parable of the Bad Samaritan and that the story has taken on a life of its own. Still, it is undeniable that people often fail to intervene when terrible things happen.

More on this and the research it inspired tomorrow.

HAPPINESS AND THE ECONOMY is the subject of this interesting NY Times piece. As you may have guessed, the economy today isn't conducive to a whole lot of it and research suggests that economic growth alone is not a valid measure of well being, especially in a time of rising inequality.

SPEAKING OF AN UNHAPPY ECONOMY, the recent drop in nationwide job numbers doesn't bode well.

MORE ON "THE SURGE IS WORKING" dogma can be found in this Gazette-Mail editorial.

IF IT DOESN'T ROT, DON'T EAT IT is the advice of author Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. I don't think he meant that you have to wait till it does, however.

BIG RED TRUCK. Here is an op-ed by yours truly on my short and inglorious career as a volunteer fire fighter.



Anonymous said...

CFD FF MJM liked the firefighter article. He said it was right-on. (CFD doesn't officially remove cats from trees either, happens.)
They're all good guys. I loved working for them for 22 of my 30 years with the city.

Anonymous said...

(Don't know how that above post got to be anonymous.....must have clicked too soon...anyhow, you know who I am.)

El Cabrero said...

I'm glad it was well-received--I didn't want to reveal too many of our secrets!

Maybe firefighters should come up with a tee shirt that says "Cats happen."

What do you think?