Taking Notes on Readings/Papers

4531792759_89882afbe4Here’s something I’ve meant to share for a while now. I use Zotero to manage things I read (articles, books, conference papers, etc.), but what follows is applicable to any similar software. I keep notes on everything I read, and over the years this has evolved into something quite structured (a template in fact). The fact that it is structured is quite useful when I come back to a paper after a while. Here’s the template:

Research question:
Dependent variable:
Explanatory variable:

Obviously, not all papers will have something for each heading. While the heading research question is rather innocuous, unfortunately it’s not always as easy to fill in as it should be. The dependent variable is the quantity of interest; under explanatory variable I include the main explanations. I tend to include control variables here, too, although in brackets.

Data describes the data sources, such as the survey used, the countries covered, population covered, N; experts, ABM, or even “data free”, whatever seems the most adequate description. Method is for methodological details. While usually we are more interested in the results rather than how they were obtained, a quick glance at the methods (and data) can be really helpful in determining how much weight I want to give a particular result.

The heading mechanism is often challenging to fill in, simply because many papers do not state them explicitly, or because the theory section is not tightly connected with the empirical part. I’m not lamenting here; I guess I’m guilty of this, too…

Often my interest is in the results section, where I summarize the main findings. The heading notes takes everything else, namely free notes.

The whole things is (deliberately) rather flexible, but it helps with two things: (1) read papers with some focus, (2) have notes in a format that allow me to retrieve relevant information more quickly (here the advantage of a database over Anki, but obviously only when things can be found).

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Labour Competition = Negative Attitudes towards Foreigners

A basic premise in the work on attitudes towards foreigners/immigrants is that negative attitudes are a reflection of unwanted labour force competition. Often this is simplified to individuals with lower levels of education showing negative attitudes towards foreigners/immigrants. Things aren’t that simple, though: a plumber will not directly compete with a bricklayer.

Marco Pecoraro and I have had a closer look and examined the occupational concentration of foreigners: the share of foreigners in a particular occupation. This way we give full consideration to the segmented nature of the labour market, and capture the share of foreigners/immigrants relevant for labour force competition.

There is a negative association between the share of foreigners in one’s occupation and positive attitudes to equal opportunities for foreigners. At the same time, there is a positive association between the share of recently arrived foreigners and positives attitudes to equal opportunities. This suggests that workers are at the same time wary of competition with foreigners and welcome their contribution to overcome labour shortages. Labour force competition does appear to affect attitudes, but in a nuanced way.

Women in Regional Legislatures

There’s much research on the representation of women in national legislatures. Why is it that in some countries there are many women in parliament, and in others women are almost absent? Research points to aspects of the electoral system, and particularly to (cultural) attitudes about the role of women in society more generally.

If attitudes are such a strong predictor, we would expect them to play a role on a smaller scale, too: in regional legislatures. I have considered the proportion of women in the cantonal parliaments in Switzerland, and found no association with any of the variables I have tested. With cantons dominated by Protestants and others by Catholics, there appears to be enough variation, but alas it doesn’t fit…

Do I simply need better variables to capture relevant attitudes, are second-order elections exempt from the mechanisms suggested for national elections (why?), or is our theory lacking? With regard to the first, I have tried many variables, including the proportion of Catholics, the traditionally dominant religion of the canton, distance to traditional trade routes, or the years when women gained the right to vote. With regard to second-order elections, there is increasing evidence that this might be the case, like that the European Parliament is somewhat different. This leaves us with the last one: the suggested mechanisms are not specified well enough.

Ruedin, Didier. 2012. “The Representation of Women in National Parliaments: A Cross-National Comparison.” European Sociological Review 28 (1): 96–109. doi:10.1093/esr/jcq050.
———. 2013. Why Aren’t They There? The Political Representation of Women, Ethnic Groups and Issue Positions in Legislatures. Colchester: ECPR Press.
Stockemer, Daniel. 2008. “Women’s Representation in Europe — A Comparison Between the National Parliaments and the European Parliament.” Comparative European Politics 6 (4): 463–85. doi:10.1057/cep.2008.2.

Survival Analysis in R

Peter Dalgaard‘s Introductory Statistics with R is an accessible text full of examples to learn R. In the chapter on survival analysis (chapter 14), the book seems to have become outdated, and a small modification is needed to get the code run:

library(survival) # package for survival analysis
library(ISwR) # for the data in the example
s <- Surv(days, status==1) # creating Surv object
s.fit <- survfit(s~1) # note the ~1 formula
plot(s.fit) # Kaplan–Meier plot

According to the code in the book, the code s.fit <- survfit(s) would work; it doesn’t. We need to specify a formula even in the empty model (compare this to the univariate example on p.253).

It’s a trivial thing, but for the uninitiated R can be a bit daunting, especially when the cookbook at hand fails… and the online help isn’t consulted.

Dalgaard, Peter. 2008. Introductory Statistics with R. Springer.

Illegalized Immigrants

What should we call people without a valid resident permit? Many refer to them as illegal immigrants. This is problematic as people aren’t illegal, their residence without a valid permit is. There are many — well-meant — alternative terms in use: irregular immigrants, undocumented, precarious, sans-papiers, etc.

A more recent addition is the term illegalized immigrants. It shifts the focus from the individual and the outcome to the process. In many situations this is desirable. Unfortunately, it leaves a question unanswered: “made illegal by whom?” The implication is that “the system” is to blame. That can be seen as marxist and importantly glosses over the fact that “the system” is made up of individuals and their actions.

The term deportable takes a somewhat different approach. It highlights the fact that people without a valid resident permit can be deported. Unfortunately it isn’t precise as it does not draw a difference between those who are under immediate threat of deportation, those for whom deportation is a real possibility, and those for whom deportation is a technical possibility (which includes immigrants with valid resident permits).

Deportability as a term seems to avoid the connotations the term illegalized immigrants has, namely that people without valid resident permits are disenfranchised and deprived of their rights. While they certainly do not enjoy the same rights as other residents, we should not forget that an immigrant threatened by deportation are very much part of society in that they have rights to education, rights to healthcare, rights to family, etc. They do not have the same rights, but they are protected by the constitution and basic rights granted.

What I like about the term illegalized immigrants is that it s immediately recognizable when you first come across it, and that it invites you to think a bit. It is no panacea as it lacks clarity. There does not appear to be a term to cover all situations, but then again we should always spell out what we mean rather than hide behind a vague term… people without a valid resident permit who are nonetheless resident…