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To Fellow Soc Networkers:
Miller McPherson and Lynn Smith-Lovin have just posted a correction to
the 2004 GSS network name-eliciting question based, in turn, on Tom
Smith's scouring of the original data and procedures, which was
stimulated, in turn, by questions I have raised about the original
results. Miller and Lynn focus on the 41 cases now known to be
mis-coded. I have, however, much broader concerns about the validity of
the results. I have a paper which should be posted on my web site by
noon, Eastern time. The abstract of the paper and the link are below.
Hopefully, many members of the ISNA can join in solving this puzzle,
The 2004 GSS Finding of Shrunken Social Networks: An Artifact?
ABSTRACT: In 2006, McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Brashears (MS-LB)
reported that Americans’ social networks had shrunk precipitously from
1985 to 2004. They found that respondents to the 2004 General Social
Survey (GSS) provided dramatically fewer names when asked to list the
people with whom they discussed important matters than respondents to
the 1985 GSS had given to the same question. Critically, the percentage
of respondents who provided no names at all increased from about 10
percent in 1985 to about 25 percent in 2004. In this memo, I present
anomalies found in the 2004 GSS network item which strongly imply that
this dramatic increase in apparent social isolation is an artifact. I
speculate that the artifact may be the result of random error. With as
yet no complete explanation for these anomalies, scholars at this time
should draw no inference from this GSS question as to whether American
social networks changed substantially from 1985 to 2004 – they probably
did not – and should be cautious in using the 2004 network data.
LINK: The paper should be found by noon EDT as the first item listed on
the publications page of my web site below.
Claude S. Fischer, Professor
Department of Sociology
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1980
510-642-4772; -4766; (fax) -0659
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