Archive for November, 2016

Why RELTRAD Sucks: Contesting the Measure of American Religion

I've got you now, Bunny.....

Jesus says: “The Bunny Asked for it”, but of course…..

For the full paper including GSS syntax codes, click here aftertheresurrection-working

Contesting the Measure of American Religion: Darren Sherkat and Derek Lehman
The new generation of conservative Christian incumbents in the field of the sociology of religion prefer their individual and collective identity as “evangelical”—an identity which is not wedded to identification with specific organized religious denominations or families of denominations. However, the adoption of evangelical as an identification is problematic because evangelical is also a sociological concept signifying groups with proselytizing behaviors and soteriological theologies (Weber [1922] 1993; Sherkat 2014). Notably, the identity of “evangelical” will likely also be jettisoned by partisans as it becomes spoiled (as happened with “fundamentalist” and “born again”). Now that “evangelicals” have been identified as the key constituency that helped elect Donald Trump, even sectarian Christians like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore are disavowing an evangelical identity.

Conservative Christian religious sociologists are opposed to the established sociological concept of “sect”–denoting religious groups and movement impulses that claim exclusive access to and understandings of supernatural understandings, rewards and compensators. The concept of sect versus “church” (indicating more universalistic organizations and impulses)  is rooted in nearly a century of sociological research and theorizing from Weber to Stark to the contemporary era. The sect-church-sect cycle of H. Richard Niebuhr is empirically verifiable, and rooted in organizational and demographic processes identified in works by Stark, Bainbridge, Finke, Iannaccone, and others.  Operationalizing religious diversity was a key to the resurrection of the sociology of religion, yet the system now favored by conservative Christian religious incumbents in the field of the sociology of religion instead collapsed the middle—placing moderate Protestant denominations in both the “evangelical” and “mainline” religious categories. This conforms with their narrative of a “collapsing middle” and a culture wars between “orthodox” and by implication “unorthodox” Protestants.

This scheme also ignored the distinctiveness of ethnic and quasi-ethnic denominations, and lumped all African American Protestants together. Worse still, it linked religious participation to “evangelical” identifications among respondents who do not claim a specific Christian identification (Steensland et al. 2000).  Using the RELTRAD mode of classification in General Social Survey samples collected since 2000,  25.3% of the “evangelicals” are misclassified. The misclassified “evangelicals”,  include  liberal Protestants (“other Presbyterians” are .9% of the “evangelicals” in RELTRAD), Lutherans (Missouri or Wisconsin Synod, comprise 6.2% of RELTRAD “evangelicals” ), and respondents with no denominational identification but higher than average religious participation (who are a whopping 18.2% of those classified as “evangelical” in RELTRAD). This huge group of unidentified Christians may well include many in fundamentalist sects, but it also includes people who participate in more moderate megachurches, or even people heavily involved in non-denominational gay churches and other non-traditional liberal churches. There is simply no sociological justification for selecting identifications based on religious participation. For many applications, this is simply selecting on the dependent variable. This coding scheme served to increase the size of the “evangelical” group, while also making them more educated, higher income, and less extreme in political and religious orientations.

We advocate a more sociological operationalization of religious identification for use with contemporary data. In our paper, we provide the full coding scheme for this operationalization applied to GSS data.  Religious identifications should be as specific as analytically possible. Christian denominations in America are marked by a history of unions and schisms which sometimes complicates boundary drawing and often tests the capacity of respondents to accurately place their identifications. Added to that are differences in ethnic history and also of liturgical and ritual practice. Table 1 presents our classification of identification groups, breaks down a few of the groups by even more specific classifications, and compares them on select religious, status, and social orientations.  Our coding scheme avoids conflation with politicized religious identities and facilitates analyses of change over time.

Table 1 shows that Protestant denominations are clearly arrayed in terms of exclusivism, indicated by subscription to biblical inerrancy, and these identifications are salient for structuring political and social values and social status. Liberal universalistic groups and Episcopalians are substantially less prone to believe in biblical inerrancy, participate less frequently in religious services, and have substantially higher levels of educational and income attainment compared to other Protestants—including the moderate Protestants and Lutherans with whom they are often lumped.  Table 1 also shows that Liberals and Episcopalians are significantly more supportive of abortion rights, less patriarchal, and less likely to condemn homosexuality. Sectarian Protestants and Baptists are significantly more likely to subscribe to inerrant beliefs about the Bible when compared to all other groups—and notably the Moderate Protestants and Lutherans. Indeed, while the dominant measure of religious identification places Wisconsin and Missouri Synod Lutherans in the “evangelical” camp, their beliefs about the Bible are much more similar to other Moderate Protestants than to sectarians or Baptists. Notably, people who embrace Christianity but do not specify a denomination fit more with the Moderate Protestants and Lutherans in their religious beliefs and participation, as well as their educational attainment, income, and social values. Baptists and other Sectarians have the lowest incomes and levels of education compared to all other religious classifications. Ethnicity intersects with religion to structure values and social status (particularly among Catholics), however the sect/exclusivist-church/universalist distinction remains for African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans (Sherkat 2014). Obviously, the grouping of denominations will be determined in large part by the sociological question and the size of the sample available—however distinguishing sectarian Protestants clearly is a key for virtually all sociological examinations involving religion, and mixing them with liberal Protestants and moderate Protestants is sociological malfeasance—and the gaggle of conservative Christians who concocted this misclassification did this for their own divine purpose, not for sociological clarity.


Mark Fisk: 1965-2106



My old friend Mark Fisk died Tuesday after a somewhat short struggle with brain cancer. I really wasn’t expecting this. Mark was an exceptionally kind and thoughtful person, and he was always healthy and never did anything to harm himself (or others…).

I first met Mark in seventh grade. I had just been moved up a grade and was in all the smart kid classes. David Wright and I were planning on building an atomic bomb (just for shits and giggles) and David had some plans (real ones, I don’t know where he got them). Mark used to roll his eyes at us and say, “why on earth would you even want to do that.” Mark had a mix of inquisitive condescension mixed with a cup of sympathy  and maybe two tablespoons of empathy that was undeniable.

Mark and I played on the same soccer team for several years. The first year we sucked. I was an asshole. We actually had some good players and we just weren’t working right. Mark called me out, in his typical way. It was my fault. I was supposed to be the team leader, and instead I was the team asshole. Nobody else could have done it. We started to click and for the next three years we vied for the league championship.

I became a neer-do well while Mark continued on his path to success in life. I woke up sometime before senior year and realized I wasn’t going to graduate from high school. By some fluke I wound up in a few “honors” type courses with Mark and his good friend Kelly Dancer (who is also gone...). Mark immediately welcomed me back into the fold of the geeky smart kids who were going somewhere–but always in his way. His look. That picture above captures it. “Are you really back?” “I know you can do it, but will you?”

After graduating from Dartmouth Mark became a minister in the Unity Church. He helped kids, mostly. A good liberal Protestant, who just wanted to make the world a better place and help people. He helped me a lot. I wish I could have seen him again.

Stranger in a Strange Land


Tulsa Icon Leon Russell has died. I’ll never forget him. He defined the line between genres of American music while at the same time producing in virtually every dimension–including disco with his production of and collaborations with the GAP Band.

I only saw Leon a few times performing live, both times in Nashville. When I was in Tulsa I was a kid and he was a recluse. My most vivid memories of meeting him were when he was married to Mary McReady and they used to sometimes come into the Spudder restaurant on Sundays, where I worked as a busboy (The Spudder was the only place open on Sunday that dared to sell booze in a dry town). He was quiet. Thankful, and completely unpretentious.

Leon meant a lot, and probably many things, to everyone who grew up in Oklahoma at that time. Going to a rock and roll concert often meant being confronted by mobs of redneck racists afterwards, and constant police harassment that didn’t apply to the country music fans with their Confederate flags. Leon Russell stood as a defiant image. Unquestionably Tulsa’s greatest musical talent, and Tulsa’s only serious direct connection to the global rock and roll scene (JJ Cale tried, but never made the break), Leon Russell didn’t have to say shit to let you know where he stood. He was among the first, if not the first, artist who acknowledged to importance of African American music for the development of Rock and Roll (and all of the blues….). His example was key for many stars like Eric Clapton and Elton John.

But I know where he came from. I’m from there, too. And, especially this week, as Oklahomans overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, I feel like a stranger in a strange land…..

Iranianredneck's Weblog

Cuts to Social Security and Medicare are now considered politically mainstream. Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin are just nudging out a guy whose name means a “frothy mix of lubricant and excrement” for the Republican nomination, and their great hopes are for the entry of a secessionist from Texas or a couple of guys who wear magic underwear. Children are being denied school breakfasts and lunches because plutocrats don’t want to concede tax credits for moving jobs to other countries, and fascists and members of the Military Industrial Complex don’t want to give up their multi-billion dollar contracts. My 90 year old, WW-II veteran uncle died in fear of having his social security and medicare cut. He hoarded food and refused to spend any money–thinking that nothing would be there for him. America is gone.

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Fucked like a Bunny!!!

I've got you now, Bunny.....

I’ve got you now, Bunny…..

Well, so much for my non-shit poll based prognostication about the US elections, turns out I did no better. I forgot about my publication showing that radical conservatives were the most likely to refuse to cooperate in surveys.  Ah, such it is, voter turnout is the key and Hill the Shill couldn’t muster the enthusiasm of anyone, while old, white racialists were all about their last stand. And so it goes.

The Democratic Party ignored its only sources of dynamism and spat in the face of Black Lives Matter activists and young people and people seeking redress from the growing and enormous inequalities in the US. That USED to be the constituency of the Democratic party. But, instead, they did every trick in the book to ensure that Hill the Shill beat Bernie—-advancing the only candidate in the entire nation that couldn’t defeat the orange buttplug who is now our President Elect. Awesome, DNC operatives!. Great Job. Good thing you all have trust funds and don’t  have to actually work for a living.

Why Hillary Will Win Big: Unskewing Nate Silver with Social Science Methods 101



Because nothing is more important than made up numbers.

Because nothing is more important than made up numbers.

Everyone is on edge at the prospect of Donald Trump assuming the Presidency, but it ain’t gonna happen. Trump is the candidate of a declining minority of US voters. Over half of  US voters are women, and the majority will vote Clinton. Depending on turnout, roughly 20% are African American or Latino, and way over 80% or those will vote Clinton. About of quarter of Americans hold a college degree, and the majority of them will vote for Clinton. This is a much better indicator of who will win than any of the bullshit non-scientific polls that are the fascination of the media, the public, and even supposedly educated social scientists.

Why do the “polls” show what they do? Well, we need to unskew them using our basic understanding of undergraduate social research methods. We know that estimates of population parameters require a random sample taken from the target population—or, I guess we used to know this but now this has become contested knowledge since shitbag scumfucks have started bullshit polling firms and taken over the AAPOR. Gauss is rolling in his grave. But, let’s just start with the reality of these polls from a production standpoint. Hands on research methods. Let’s get our fingers dirty and lick them off.

The standard “poll” conducted by our many for-profit consulting, media, and “research” firms currently have no formal sampling frame. They MAY randomly select respondents, but they will have 1500 or 750 or however many respondents by 9pm on Monday. The average response rate of these polls is likely under .1% that is point one percent. The “top” polls from places like Pew are probably under 1% for originally targeted respondents. They simply move on to the next household.

Second, the interviews are now all conducted by minimum wage workers or are robocalls—or worse, they are internet surveys. The quality of data obtained by these “polls” is worse than exceptionally low.

Third, many of the “polls” don’t even use random samples, but idiots who sign up to be respondents for all kinds of surveys and get paid for it. Do you really think the average American would do such a thing? No. Do you think these cheetos eating morons will be disproportionately for Trump? Duh? The people who sign up for such bullshit are often the same people who think that Hillary parachuted into Benghazi to burn down the embassy.

Fourth, What kind of fucking moron answers their phone when someone from an unknown number calls? Are you fucking kidding? The problem with the response rate issue is that non-response is, on its face, systematic. Young people and educated people don’t answer the phone for a stranger. Busy working class people, African Americans and Latinos….they may even be being charged if they answer some bullshit call. If the caller ID doesn’t say “mom” or “spouse” or “friend” or “kid” nobody picks up on that shit. Who does? People like my mom, god love her, elderly people who think when the phone rings you must answer it. And, she has a landline, which most of these polls sample from exclusively. Paranoid psychotics who wonder who got their phone number, they answer the phone. Normal people don’t answer the phone. If Hill didn’t have a huge elderly female following, she’d be down by 10 points in these bullshit polls.

So, go vote. And, don’t worry. Our worries will come later when the Ted Nugent types start shooting at us. Make sure to remove your “I’m with Her” bumper sticker, remember the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Trump, which means your friendly neighborhood cop is probably a fascist.

Research Ethics and Dual Standards

Nice Bunny

Nice Bunny

I have in the past been an unwilling subject of research, or so I very much believe. It is important for other researchers and scholars in general to reflect on this as an issue in the ethics of social research. In all of my experiences–and I believe there were at least six—I was targeted because I was department chair or DGS for an experiment about admissions to graduate school or acceptance of post-docs. In each case, it probably cost me a half hour of my time dealing with the administrative details—if someone says they intend to come to my humble university and all they need is acceptance, I still have to contact a deanlet, clear that I can get them some space, and a library card and shit.

What was really a bunny fuck was that some of the fake post-docs actually sounded kind of interesting. Gee, you do ethnic conflict in China? You have your own funds? All you need is approval? I’m on it!  When I got the third request to do a similar post-doc (and after the first two somehow never showed up in Carbondale….) I finally figured it out. I’m being played by bullshit social psychologists investigating “discrimination” or some shit….There were no Chinese post-docs seeking to study ethnic conflict while safely ensconced in Carbondale. Instead, some dipshit in Cambridge or Vancouver was sending me fake requests because I had been identified as a department head.

What really irks me is that my own students at my humble university actually have to get human subjects approval for analyzing public access data like the GSS. And, somewhere in a parallel universe researchers at some universities don’t even have to get permission to experiment on people like me–when it costs me real time and effort. I had an office ready for the first person…..