So I am preparing to teach quantitative analysis of social media data using R, the open source language for statistical programming. I usually do anything code-related in Emacs, because I already know how to use Emacs and you can do everything code-related in Emacs and I don’t want to install and learn the quirks of loads of different IDEs. But that argument won’t make sense from the point of view of my students, firstly because they won’t need to do everything code-related, they’ll just need to create R notebooks, and secondly because they don’t already know how to use Emacs, and learning how to use Emacs is hard because Emacs is weird.
I read a lot of academic articles in journals across several disciplines, and most of them are pretty good. I also peer review a lot of manuscripts for journals across several disciplines. Most of those are not so good. Here’s a quick explanation of the difference. If you don’t have much experience of writing up primary empirical research for publication and you’re trying to figure out what’s required, this might help you.
Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in September 2015, and (following a vote of no confidence and a leadership challenge) re-elected to the same post in September 2016. In February this year, many of those who had re-elected him expressed disappointment at his effectively unconditional support for Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s invocation of the Article 50 process to leave the European Union; perhaps to placate them, Corbyn subsequently called for a demonstration in support of those who would suffer the most from EU withdrawal, but then failed to turn up. Part of the public rationale for Corbyn’s three-line whip on the Brexit vote was that if the party opposed it, then that might lead to a loss of support in predominantly working class constituencies in the North and the Midlands that had voted Leave by large margins: constituencies such as Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central, where the party nevertheless went on to lose vote share in by-elections later the same month. But despite all this — despite Brexit, which Labour Party members and voters had overwhelmingly voted against, and despite what was arguably the worst by-election performance for an opposition party since the late 19th century (see O’Hara 2017) — Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour Party are still for the most part Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour Party, and they’re not going anywhere — and neither, therefore, is the man himself. Asked whether Corbyn’s continued leadership of the party was a good thing, the answer from sidelined Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, was pragmatic: ‘It doesn’t matter; that is the situation’ (interviewed in Walker 2017). This impasse will not endure forever: Prime Minister Theresa May has called for an early General Election, and Corbyn (who has been asking for one since December last year) has given his support. But in the six weeks that we have left until the Labour Party is overwhelmingly (and perhaps irreparably) crushed, it may perhaps be worth reflecting on how it got into this appalling mess.
Findings from a recent opinion poll were repeatedly shared on Labour Party-affiliated social media groups over the last weekend. The poll was commissioned by researchers at Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End Institute, and asked people in London both about their voting intentions and about how well they felt that seven particular politicians were doing in their current jobs. Social media users commonly focused on the politicians’ net job approval ratings: that is, the percentage of people saying that each politician was doing well in his/her job minus the percentage of people saying that each politician was doing badly in his/her job. The seven politicians in question were the leaders of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats, and Ukip (i.e. Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May, Caroline Lucas, Tim Farron, and Paul Nuttall, respectively), plus the Mayor and the ex-Mayor of London (i.e. Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson, again respectively). If you are not fortunate enough to spend a little part of each week staring at the slow motion car crash that is political social media, you may also have come across the same poll in newspaper reports that similarly focused on the finding that ‘Jeremy Corbyn has a worse personal approval rating even in London than every other major party leader, including Ukip’s Paul Nuttall’ (Peck, 2017).
Yesterday, I was talking to a dissertation supervisee about what’s expected in the obligatory literature review. I had a similar conversation last week. I realised a little while ago that you can’t get a literature review right if you don’t know why you’re being required to do it – and that the point of doing a literature review is slightly obscure. This morning when I walked into my office and saw my notes still on the whiteboard, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to set down my thoughts on the matter somewhere slightly more permanent. Hence this blog post.
It’s basically just three lists of questions that you should probably think about answering for every single item of literature (article, book, chapter, etc) that you review. They’re the same regardless of whether you’re an undergraduate, master’s, or PhD student, and they should apply to pretty much any discipline that I’m aware of. Which list you use for each item of literature depends on why you’re reviewing the item in question, but thinking about which list is most appropriate should help you to figure that out if you’re not sure. By the time you come to actually submit your work, you’ll probably want to cut down what you wrote depending on how interesting the answers to the questions actually turned out to be. However, it will help you enormously if you’ve got them all written out in full in a draft somewhere.
Labour’s performance in recent by-elections has been — shall we say — a little weak. As Glen O’Hara (2017) observes, ‘[g]overnments have increased their by-election vote share only seven times since 1970’, but two of those occasions were last month, which was ‘the first time the Government has seen its vote rise in two simultaneous by-elections since 1954’. Who is to blame? Some point the finger at Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair for selling out the interests of the working classes — as supposedly represented by the party’s ‘hard left’ wing, until recently led by the late Tony Benn — and chasing the middle class vote instead. But this version of events rests on a misunderstanding of the Labour vote: Theo Bertram’s (2017) analysis shows that the Labour Party has only won General Elections when the proportion of skilled workers voting Labour rose and the proportion of skilled workers voting Conservative fell (yes, this happened under Blair; the opposite happened under Corbyn).
Bertram’s much smarter than me, but his argument is based on opinion polls, which not everybody appears to respect. For that reason, I thought I’d create some charts showing shares of the actual vote in strongly working class constituencies. Hmm, how about Copeland (formerly, Whitehaven) and Stoke-on-Trent Central?
Over the last few months, I’ve often heard that polls can’t be trusted. In particular, I have heard that they can’t be trusted because each one usually involves study of only about a thousand individuals. I have even heard that argument from a retired quantitative linguist.1 So I’ve put together this essay in order to explain how polls work, why a random sample of a thousand should usually be considered sufficient, and why the results should be treated as informative even though they do not enable us to predict precise numbers of votes (which is a particular problem when the results are going to be close — because then, precise numbers can make all the difference).
This is the approximate text of a short talk I was invited to give at the Cultural Value Scoping Workshop organised by Patrycja Kaczyńska at Edinburgh College of Art on 18 January 2017
I’ve been asked to talk about what we’ve learnt about the ‘transactions’ underpinning ‘cultural ecosystems’ as part of this discusion on whether scholarship on cultural value has been advancing. I’m really glad about that – especially about the word ‘transaction’, because one of the principal things that I think we’ve learnt is that, while the metaphor of ‘ecology’ can be useful, the reality of cultural production in our society is fundamentally economic.
There’s much to be said about the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and the US’s decision to elect Donald Trump as president: above all, that we have in neither case seen a simple victory of ‘right’ over ‘left’. Leading conservatives in both countries had opposed the result that ultimately came to pass, and in both countries, the result was followed by a stock market fall, indicating that investors expected the supposedly ‘right wing’ option to be bad for business.
But for now I’d like to observe some important transatlantic similarities in the demographics of the winning and losing sides.
I’ve decided to introduce two new genres of writing to this blog: the ‘meta-tutorial’ and the ‘proto-tutorial’.