Jimmy Kimmel helps show what happens when Christmas gift-giving norms are broken

A recent Jimmy Kimmel bit titled “I Gave My Kids a Terrible Present” exposes what happens when Christmas gift-giving norms are violated:

Judging by YouTube comments, some view the tears as an indictment of children’s materialism at Christmas. Others, including the playfully sadistic parents in some of the videos, just think it’s funny…

Some viewers have equated the tantrums of some of the children with greediness. But Lisa Wade, an assistant professor of sociology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, argued that while some children appear greedier than others, all are reacting to a perceived break in social rules about gifting.

“Because social rules are so complicated, when kids are little, they’re really trying to learn them, so they take them very seriously,” she said…

Some critics have called the videos cruel, as they did in November when Mr. Kimmel invited parents to pretend they had eaten all their kids’ Halloween candy. (That montage has more than 25 million YouTube views.) But, as Dr. Wade noted, learning to take a joke is another crucial social skill.

Are these the sort of sociological insights and life lessons one should share with someone else’s kids? After seeing the horrified and tearful reactions of some of these kids, would this easily get IRB approval?

Also noteworthy: giving young kids opposite gender gifts is very problematic. This hints at how quickly kids are socialized into gendered roles.

Brit Derren Brown to test four sociology (?) theories on TV

If you search for YouTube videos of the famous Milgram Experiment, you’ll run into an interesting recreation on the BBC hosted by Derren Brown (see part one of three here). When I’ve showed this to students, they tend to ask why a TV performer gets to perform this experiment but no university IRB would likely allow this. I don’t know the answer to this. But, Brown is back with a new show where he is going to test four more sociological theories:

His new show, The Experiment, will see Brown trying out four sociological theories on unsuspecting citizens.

The performer said: “Three of them are relatively dark, looking into the darker side of human behaviour, and one of them is rather positive and jolly. The first one is called The Assassin.”…

He explained: “It’s whether or not it’s possible to hypnotise somebody to kill, to carry out an assassination. This is based on the testimonies given by political assassins who say they were brainwashed by the CIA.”

Some of the theories have their origins in academia, while some of them are developed by Brown himself. Which is even more concerning.

So perhaps this isn’t terribly sociological and is more entertainment/conspiracy theory. What would it take to get an American host to replicate some famous or intriguing sociological experiments on TV? What about things like the Ultimatum Game and how the results can differ across groups and cultures? Instead, we are stuck with weaker shows like What Would You Do. A show that could demonstrate that sociological studies are both intriguing and beneficial for society could go a long way toward boosting the image of the discipline.

Lack of protection for confidentiality in oral histories

Sociologists and other researchers can offer confidentiality in consent forms but whether this promise would stand up in court is another question:

Researchers who conduct oral history have no right to expect courts to respect confidentiality pledges made to interview subjects, according to a brief filed by the U.S. Justice Department on Friday.

The brief further asserts that academic freedom is not a defense to protect the confidentiality of such documents.

With the filing, the U.S. government has come down firmly on the side of the British government, which is fighting for access to oral history records at Boston College that authorities in the U.K. say relate to criminal investigations of murder, kidnapping and other violent crimes in Northern Ireland. The college has been trying to quash the British requests, arguing that those interviewed as part of an archive on the unrest in Northern Ireland were promised confidentiality during their lifetimes…

Many historians have been backing Boston College in the case. Clifford M. Kuhn, a historian at Georgia State University who is a past president of the Oral History Association, filed an affidavit on behalf of Boston College in which he said that if Britain’s request is granted, the field of oral history could be damaged.

This is part of a long-running battle involving researchers and courts. Some of this is covered in the 2000 piece “Don’t Talk to the Humans.” When I’ve used this particular article in class, students always ask why researchers don’t have the same legal rights regarding confidentiality that journalists have.

Whenever these sorts of cases pop up, it always seems like we get the slippery slope argument: if they start with oral histories, how long until there is no confidentiality in other forms of research? In the meantime, we’ll have to see whether this goes beyond just this one brief.

h/t Instapundit

Considering the ethics of adopting children to study them

An ethicist look at three scenarios to help sort out the difference between studying one’s biological vs. adopted children:

Ethics has a bizarre blind spot around parents and children. For no justifiable reason that I can discern, we deem it perfectly tolerable for a parent to decide unilaterally to raise their child genderless or under the Tiger Mother or laissez-faire method of parenting, but horror at the idea of someone “testing” one of these parental styles on a child. Recall, there is no test to become a parent, no minimum qualification or form of licensing. In fact, if you are so irresponsible as to unintentionally have a child you do not want and cannot support, you have more of a right (and obligation) to rear that child than a stranger with the means and desire to give that child a better life…

I would like to test this reproduce-rearing correlation with a thought experiment. The details of the thought experiment appear below the fold, but the conclusion is as follows: it would be ethically permissible for a scientist to adopt a large group of children and then perform specific, non-harmful, nature-vs-nurture social experiments on those children…

After running through three scenarios, here is the conclusion:

Therefore, if it is morally permissible for parents to independently decide how to raise their children in regards to gender, it should be morally permissible for a team of scientists to conduct a rigorous experiment with their own adopted children on the impact of rearing on gender and sexual preferences.

I imagine an IRB would have a very difficult time approving a formal proposal for this.

Several other methodological issues come to mind:

1. There could be issues of objectivity: how do we know parents of either biological or adoptive children could “objectively” observe their own kids? This may be a bigger problem in some disciplines than others: ethnographies, for example, utilize participant observation which parents would certainly be a part of. But even then, there are concerns about the researcher becoming too immersed in the setting of the study and losing an outsider’s point of view. Scenario #3 simply suggests that sociologist parents would make “unbiased observations.”

2. How could an experimenter be sure that results from adopted (or even biological) children are the result of the treatment rather than prior experiences and behaviors? Experiments try to isolate the effects of treatments but adopted children could have numerous confounding factors from their pre-adoption days.