Route sociology majors can go: data analyst

I try to remind my students in Statistics and Social Research that there is a need in a lot of industries for people who can collect and analyze data. I was reminded of this when I saw an obituary about a sociologist who had gone on to become a well-known medical data analyst:

A professor in the Department of Health Services at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, [E. Richard] Brown founded the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research in 1994.

One of the center’s major activities has been the development of the California Health Interview Survey, the premier source of information about individual and household health status in California. It has served as a model for health surveys for other states.

Brown was the founder and principal investigator for the survey, which produced its first data from interviews with more than 55,000 California households in 2001. Information from the survey, which has been conducted every two years, has been used by policymakers, community advocates, researchers and others.

And working with important data can then lead to public policy options:

“The single thing that makes Rick stand out in this field is that he had an extraordinary capacity to use evidence about the public’s health and strategize and advocate to turn that evidence into the best policy and action,” said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

In 1990, Brown was co-author of California’s first single-payer healthcare legislation. He also co-wrote several other healthcare reform bills over the last two decades…

He also was a full-time senior consultant to President Clinton’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform and served as a senior health policy advisor for the Barack Obama for President Campaign — as well as serving as an advisor to U.S. Sens. Bob Kerrey, Paul Wellstone and Al Franken.

We need more people to collect useful data and then interpret what they mean. These days, the problem often is not a lack of information; rather, we need to know how to separate the good data from the bad and then be able to provide a useful interpretation. While some students may prefer to skip over the methodological sections of articles or books, understanding how to collect and analyze data can go a long way. Additionally, learning about these methods and data analysis can help one move toward a sociological view of the social world where personal anecdotes don’t matter as much as broad trends and looking at how social factors (variables) are related to each other.

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