[Air-l] overstated media inference from fine study

Ericka Menchen Trevino emtrevino at gmail.com
Sat Jun 24 15:59:32 PDT 2006

Thanks for sharing this. I think it's a good example for an
introductory course if you want to show the importance of academic
sources and the difference between academic research and journalism.
-Ericka Menchen Trevino

On 6/24/06, Barry Wellman <wellman at chass.utoronto.ca> wrote:
> Re the Washington Post story below (and a similar USA Today story):
> To my mind, it's an interesting case of media distortion.
> The good news: the accounts are based on a high-quality survey (US General
> Social Survey)  by first-class reseachers (Lynn Smith-Lovin & Miller
> McPherson) + Matthew Brashaers whom I don't know, in sociology's leading
> journal, American Sociological Review. I was a referee on this paper, btw,
> and revealed myself at appropriate time to the authors.
> The study replicates one stimulus Q from the General Social Survey 20
> years ago about who do you have to discuss important matters with. It
> finds a mean of about 2 in 2004, down from 3 in 1984 (or was it 1985)?
> Here's the problem:
> Based on this, the 2 newspapers have created a huge social isolation spin
> on this, when it's well known that people have lotsa ties, not just 2 or
> 3. See our data from Pew Internet, Connected Lives study) + lotsa others.
> Indeed, altho we are not as parallel as the US GSS, comparing Connected
> Lives (3rd East York study, 2004) with the second East York study (1979
> data) shows more active ties now, both intimate and significant ties.
> Thus the media spin is a huge inferential leap from a decline in the
> super-core ties to saying Americans are socially isolated.
> If you read further in the Washington Post and USA Today articles, you'll
> see me quoted as suggesting that we now have more ties -- and more contact
> with ties -- but that relationships are differentiated. In other words,
> the relative decline in discussion partners shouldn't be generalized to
> either absolute isolation or even growing isolation.
> Of course, YMMV.
>  _____________________________________________________________________
>   Barry Wellman         Professor of Sociology        NetLab Director
>   wellman at chass.utoronto.ca  http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman
>   Centre for Urban & Community Studies          University of Toronto
>   455 Spadina Avenue    Toronto Canada M5S 2G8    fax:+1-416-978-7162
> Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2006 13:56:00 -0400
> From: Richard Forno <rforno at infowarrior.org>
> Subject: [Air-l] Americans and social isolation
> It would be interesting to see how this fits into the whole "being alone
> together" argument within a technology context....for example, someone who
> doesn't want to be around people but who socializes happily in a MMORPG
> environment or spends hours upon hours on AIM or IRC.
> Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says
> The Number of People Who Say They Have No One to Confide In Has Risen
> By Shankar Vedantam
> Washington Post Staff Writer
> Friday, June 23, 2006; A03
> Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades
> ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom
> they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline
> of social ties in the United States.
> A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss
> personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated
> in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest
> circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.
> The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly
> fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral
> part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic
> benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people
> appear to suffer alone.
> ---
> http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/22/AR2006062201
> 763_pf.html
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