Category "Social Science"
September 26, 2005
Urie Bronfenbrenner, visionary
September 26, 2005, 1:53 PM EDT
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Urie Bronfenbrenner, a Cornell University professor emeritus who helped found the national Head Start program, died at his home Sunday from complications from diabetes, the school announced Monday. He was 88.
The Russian-born Bronfenbrenner _ who was credited with creating the interdisciplinary domain of human ecology _ was widely regarded as one of the world's leading scholars in developmental psychology and child-rearing.
In 1979, Bronfenbrenner developed his groundbreaking concept on the ecology of human development _ the study of human beings and how they interact with their environments. His work led to new directions in basic research and to applications in the design of programs and policies affecting the well-being of children and families both in the United States and abroad.
Earlier in his career, Bronfenbrenner _ along with developmental psychologists Mamie Clark and Edward Zigler _ helped spur the creation of Head Start, the federal child development program for low-income children and their families. Some 20 million children and families have participated in Head Start since its inception in 1965.
Before Bronfenbrenner, child psychologists studied the child, sociologists examined the family, anthropologists the society, economists the economic framework of the times and political scientists the structure. Bronfenbrenner viewed them all as part of the life course, embracing both childhood and adulthood.
Cornell colleague Stephen Ceci, a professor of human ecology who worked closely with Bronfenbrenner for nearly a quarter-century, said Bronfenbrenner's "bioecological" approach to human development shattered barriers among the social sciences and forged bridges among the disciplines.
"Urie was the quintessential person for spurring psychologists to look up and realize that interpersonal relationships, even the smallest level of the child and the parent-child relationship, did not exist in a social vacuum but were embedded in the larger social structures of community, society, economics and politics, while encouraging sociologists to look down to see what people were doing," said Melvin L. Kohn, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, who studied under Bronfenbrenner some 40 years ago.
In his later years, Bronfenbrenner warned that the process that makes human beings human was breaking down as disruptive trends in American society produced ever more chaos in the lives of America's children.
"The hectic pace of modern life poses a threat to our children second only to poverty and unemployment," he said. "The signs of this breakdown are all around us in the ever growing rates of alienation, apathy, rebellion, delinquency and violence among American youth."
Born in Moscow, Russia, in 1917, Bronfenbrenner came to the United States at age 6. He received a bachelor's degree from Cornell in 1938, completing a double major in psychology and music. He later received an M.A. at Harvard followed by a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1942.
After graduation, he was inducted into the Army where he served as a psychologist. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1948.
He held many honorary doctoral degrees from American and European universities. The American Psychological Association annually gives an award for "lifetime contribution to developmental psychology" in Bronfenbrenner's name.
He was the author, co-author or editor of more than 300 articles and chapters and 14 books.
At his death, Bronfenbrenner was the Jacob Gould Sherman Professor Emeritus of Human Development and of Psychology at Cornell University. In 1993, Cornell renamed its Life Course Institute after Bronfenbrenner.
A memorial service organized by his family is planned for Oct. 8. A service for the Cornell community will be announced later, the school said.
He is survived by his wife, Liese; six children, including Kate, who is the director of labor education research at Cornell.
Copyright © 2005, The Associated Press
Category "Social Science"
May 16, 2006
The Cycle of Life
I just finished teaching Human Development across the Lifespan in Family Contexts. Itâ€™s a whirlwind tour of the human lifespan, from conception to death â€“ womb to tomb. Itâ€™s a very demanding course because of its sheer breadth. Out of all the possible things I could discuss in the 60 hours I have with the students, and out of all the possible things they could read â€“ whatâ€™s most important?
The array of students in the class adds further demands. This term, I had the range from PSEO students (high school students earning college credit) to graduating college seniors â€“ and majors ranging from family social science and child psychology to art, mechanical engineering, and architecture. Where to begin?? How to pitch such a class to satisfy such diverse studentsâ€™ needs?
One reason I like the course is because it challenges me professionally to think of the interconnectedness of life across the human life course and the role that families and relationships play in development. Iâ€™ve also enjoyed the opportunity to learn about topics that have become more salient since I last taught developmental courses â€“ especially about brain development and the biological bases of behavior. (The latter topic takes me back to my graduate student roots in behavioral genetics, which is very exciting.) I have also taken the opportunity to think in â€ścase studyâ€? terms about what specific conditions can teach us about human development. This semester, we spent some quality time on 3 â€śAâ€™sâ€? â€“ autism, ADHD, and Alzheimerâ€™s.
Autism may be due in part to the failure of the brain to prune (selectively destroy) the too-many synapses that are normatively generated during infancy. We are learning a lot about Alzheimerâ€™s from The Nun Study, a research project whose participants are the women from a religious community whose health and psychological histories have been well-documented for many years and who have all agreed to donate their brains to science after they die (since Alzheimerâ€™s cannot be definitively diagnosed except by autopsy.)
As this class ends and I have greeted a number of my students as they walked across the stage in the last commencement ceremony of the College of Human Ecology (1900 â€“ 2006), my own â€śhuman development practicumâ€? has awaited me. At one end of the lifespan, my second grandchild ... and first girl (!), Meredith Heller Grotevant, was born Friday, May 12. Her statistics: born at 3:20 pm; 6 lbs, 12 oz.; 19.5 pounds. Mother and baby both came through it with flying colors and father is so proud! (I havenâ€™t heard much about little brotherâ€™s reaction yet.) At the other end of the lifespan, my father has needed some new medical interventions that necessitated my travel to his home and retirement community. They donâ€™t call my age group the â€śsandwich generationâ€? for nothing.
Category "Social Science"
June 13, 2006
What's Your Number?
I had a conversation with a graduate student last week during which I found myself constructing a scale of expertise in quantitative methods. I've thought about it some more and think it has some interesting ramifications for how we teach methods and statistics, how we train graduate students to be prepared for the job market, and how we select consultants for grants, all of which I do. I'm sharing it here as a work in progress and would be interested in comments and refinements.
In the quantitative spirit, I think of this type of expertise on a quasi-interval scale (more than ordinal but less than interval) from 0 - 5.
A person rated as a 5 on this scale is a methodological and/or statistical innovator. He or she thoroughly understands the math and statistics behind the computer programs and may indeed develop new methods and techniques for solving problems. He or she may also write software to make these techniques available. Here, I'm thinking of a person like Bengt Muthen from UCLA who is a statistician par excellence, develops computer software to make the statistics available and also understands the substantive needs in the field. Or Dave Kenny, who for years has pioneered in developing techniques for analyzing data at the level of the couple and the family.
A person rated as a 4 has strong statistical and methodological skills, but isn't involved in developing new methods or approaches. This person's interests may be more methodological than substantive. (I am not making a value judgment about which is better, since both are essential to progress in the field.) This person may regularly read journals like Psychological Methods or may contribute to special issues of journals that focus on methodology. This is the kind of person who can make strong methodological contributions to a research team as a stats consultant.
A person rated as a 3 has strong understanding of statistics and methods, but is more comfortable with techniques that are tried and true - he/she isn't innovating and isn't choosing to stretch by constantly learning new techniques. However, this person's knowledge is solid and he/she understands key issues and controversies in the field (e.g., data imputation, advantages of latent variable techniques vs. more traditional methods, issues involved in working with couple and/or family-level data, etc.) This person can write syntax for programs such as SPSS, SAS, and STATA and understands what the software does behind the "clicky-boxes." His/her interests are probably more about the substantive issues in the field than about the methodological ones; the methods are a means to an end.
A person rated as a 2 has some understanding of statistics, but generally feels that they are a "black box" - in other words, how they work is mostly a mystery. There is an emerging understanding of how the different statistical methods are related to each other. He/she may be comfortable using drop-down menus to generate analyses in SPSS, for example, but may not be able to generate the syntax that would correspond to the analyses. This person may be quite comfortable with a very limited range of approaches. Once out of his/her comfort zone, this person may feel quite insecure. The substantive issues in his/her field are the primary interest.
A person rated as a 1 on this scale may be able to generate an analysis but probably doesn't understand what the computer software is actually doing and is vulnerable to making mistakes in terms of assumptions, input, and data interpretation. When asked to explain basic statistical concepts, there may be some major points of confusion.
A person rated as a 0 on this scale has a layperson's understanding of statistics and methodology - no specialized training in these fields.
How might this quasi-interval scale apply to the preparation of graduate students? My assumption is that most students entering a masters program in family science have had some undergraduate preparation in methods and statistics, even though they may have learned things by rote and don't remember much. They would probably be at the 1 to 1.5 level. The goal for master's training would be approximately 2.3, where students are definitely comfortable with a range (albeit limited) of techniques. The goal of doctoral training would be to move them as close to a "3" as possible, and possibly beyond. My assumption is that entry level Assistant Professor positions in Research I institutions would be looking for about a 3.5 in terms of expertise. An ideal department would have several faculty comfortably at the 4 level, and a very fortunate department would have someone at the 5 level either in the department itself or psychologically nearby.
So what's your number?
Apart from your self-evaluation, I'd be interested in your thoughts about this scale. I will be teaching the master's level quantitative methods course again next spring and may use this in the class to give students a sense of the range of expertise in the field and help them identify their personal goals for developing quantitative expertise.
Category "Social Science"
July 12, 2006
The Excitement Builds....
The excitement is building ... almost 20 of us from the University of Minnesota are heading to Norwich England this weekend for the Second International Conference on Adoption Research. Personally, I'm very excited, for several reasons.
The adoption research community is small and highly specialized. Adoption researchers are found in psychology, social work, family science, public health, psychiatry, pediatrics, sociology, history, and related fields ... but our total numbers are small, and so our regular disciplinary scientific meetings usually only have a handful of adoption researchers. At ICAR2, we'll all be together for a glorious week of stimulating presentations and discussions.
The first ICAR was here in Minneapolis in 1999. Manfred van Dulmen and I co-organized it, with the very dedicated assistance of students and volunteers from our research project. This year's host is Beth Neil, from the School of Social Work and Psychosocial Studies at the University of East Anglia. Beth has gone out of her way to make sure that the conference is scientifically rich and socially enjoyable. She was able to get presenters to submit their papers far enough ahead in order to burn a CD-Rom of all the conference papers, so that people can study them in advance and make plans for conversations they'd like to engage others in. This was quite a coup!
I'm very proud of the 6 graduate students from my project who will be attending and presenting. They have all worked hard and gotten feedback in advance on their papers. The conference should be a good experience for them. I e-mailed Beth today, noting that there's something special about the folks who conduct research in this field. On the whole, it's a very supportive, collaborative, interesting, engaging group. It will be a great week! New blog posts will likely be sporadic or nonexistent until early August.
Category "Social Science"
July 28, 2006
Adoption Research in Leiden
ICAR2 in Norwich was a wonderful experience - there's a strong consensus to that effect! It was powerful and energizing to have so many adoption researchers in the same place at the same time. There were 10 keynote addresses that provided a broad view of the field and probably about 100 papers or posters that filled out the most current research details. There were almost 20 people from Minnesota in attendance: 6 graduate students, 3 co-investigators and an affiliated post-doc from our MTARP project + several folks from the International Adoption Clinic, several from Rich Lee's project, and more.
Following a weekend on the north Norfolk coast, we made our way to Leiden University to meet with Femmie Juffer and her colleagues. Femmie holds an endowed chair in Adoption Studies, one of the few in the world. The centre's work is of the highest caliber. Here is a link to the centre. One of the centre's services is an online searchable data base of adoption research. You can access it from the navigation bar on the left side of their home page. It is a wonderful resource, especially since the searchable data base from the Donaldson Institute is no longer being kept up.
This scene awaited us just about a block or two into town from the Leiden rail station.
We had two sessions at the Adoption Centre at Leiden University with Femmie and her colleagues. On the second morning, Wendy Tieman presented her research (based on her dissertation) from Wave 3 of Frank Verhulst's longitudinal study of adoption in Rotterdam. We had a wonderfully spirited discussion, facilitated by our open time schedule and a room full of people already knowledgeable about the relevant work. Here's our happy group after lunch: Gretchen Wrobel, Femmie Juffer, Wendy Tieman, Rich Lee, and me.
The adoption centre is located in a new university building that is very nicely appointed. On the occasion of the department's 40th anniversary, 40 faculty were each invited to prepare a quilt square to be included on a wall hanging in the foyer. Here are some of the squares; Femmie's is in the first column, third row from the top. You may not be able to make out the detail, but it depicts international adoption between India and the Netherlands.
And what trip to the Netherlands would be complete without Rembrandt? This daunting face stared down at us during an al fresco dinner at the City Hall cafe on our last night here.
And one more beautiful sunset canal scene to close our visit.
Category "Social Science"
March 15, 2009
I discovered a column in the Sunday Boston Globe that gives me a good feeling as a social scientist. It's entitled "Uncommon Knowledge: Surprising Insights from the Social Sciences", by Kevin Lewis. [Click here]
One of today's clips, "The peaceful effect of boys," noted that "the gender of one's children affects one's view of foreign policy." Seems that "households with more boys were more likely to think that the United States should not intervene in other parts of the world and should use diplomacy over military force." The biggest effect seems to be on fathers of boys, who may be concerned that their sons would be drafted. It's a plausible explanation -- however, the U.S. has not had a draft in decades.
In any case, it was fun to encounter this column - it's always good to get some of those initially counterintuitive ideas out there for public exposure..
Category "Criminal Minds"
Category "Social Science"
November 21, 2009
In Praise of Criminal Minds - the show, that isCriminal Minds -- up-to-date now. What a trip!
The show is now in its 5th season, but somehow we hadn't really paid attention to it until this past summer. But once it grabbed hold, it didn't let go. It's fascinating on so many levels. A show hasn't latched on to me like that since "Six Feet Under," which i really miss.
Even though I am a psychologist, it is hard to believe that such twisted behavior exists out there. Of course, watching 106 episodes does tend to give one a jaundiced view of things. On the other hand, the show brilliantly depicts the human side of the principal FBI / BAU characters. They all have their strengths and their vulnerabilities. Most of the time, it's all about business -- but every once in a while a very human glimmer shows through. These are folks you'd trust your life with. I'm glad they're out there protecting us. I hope they are, anyway.
A few times, I found myself shouting at the TV - "NO! Stop! Don't give anyone ideas like that!" Especially in the episode about anthrax contamination of the Metro in DC.
My "favorite" episode (that's really the wrong word for it...) was "Riding the Lightning" - Season 1, Episode 14. The show was powerful at the most elemental level.