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Author: Ash, Michael
Resulting in 1 citation.
1. Sklaroff, Sara
Ash, Michael
American Pie Charts
Civilization 4,2 (April-May 1997): 84-85
Cohort(s): NLS General, NLSY79
Publisher: Library of Congress Associates
Keyword(s): Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI); Data Quality/Consistency; I.Q.; NLS Description; NLSDBA CD-ROM; Socioeconomic Factors; Technology/Technological Changes

Permission to reprint the abstract has not been received from the publisher.

How strange is the national passion to enumerate, gather, question, tabulate. The current information revolution only feeds the habit. Even as critics continue to worry whether CD-ROMs and on-line offerings will "kill" their analog ancestor (the printed word), they have to agree that the technology gives us unprecedented access to large stores of information, like reference works and databases. One of the best examples is the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth CD-ROM, an electronic compilation of just about everything that's worth knowing about Americans born at the end of the baby boom. On paper, the survey data would fill half a million pages, and until recently this kind of information was available only on nine-track tapes, which are played on clunky, expensive reel-to-reel tape players found in the basements of university archives. Today, $20 buys all of the NLSY data on one CDROM. Although the names of the survey participants and other identifying characteristics, li ke their home-towns--have been dropped, the disc paints a fascinating portrait of late-boomer psychology and socioeconomics. The survey began in 1979, when a representative 12,686 people between the ages of 14 and 22 started answering annual questionnaires about everything from income and criminal behavior to how often they order takeout food. (In 1994, the survey became biannual.) Their answers have launched thousands of academic papers, helped shape federal welfare and health policy--and made careers: In 1980, the survey group took an IQ test, which is how Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein became household names. Most of The Bell Curve's data came from the NLSY, although some argue that the authors misinterpreted the numbers. Unlike the census, which takes a snapshot of the entire population at 10-year intervals, the NLSY shows how individual lives unfold. And while the majority of people who use this data are trained professionals, the affordability of the CD-ROM m eans that anyone who's determined enough can engage in a bit of pop sociology at home. On two consecutive Saturday afternoons we did just that. We were able to run the disc (as yet available only in DOS format) on a basic CD-ROM/PC setup, but there are a few other tools we found helpful, like a printer, a statistics program to correlate the data (we used Stata), and, oh yes, an economist (a sociologist or statistician will do). After an hour or two of data extraction and tabulation, we came up with some compelling--if perplexing--findings. Of course, our kind of "data mining" is unacceptable to the serious social scientist (for whom theory should precede rabid cross-tabulation). But how delightful to find that, among the participants who were in the top 20th percentile for IQ, 87 percent lived in homes where someone subscribed to magazines. Even better, the disc lets you search by individual cases, revealing a wealth of characters worthy of a Flannery O'Connor story. Who is this white, male, Irish-American, Baptist, frequent pot smoker who has been married three times and makes $5.83 an hour? Who are these compulsive shoplifters, wealthy redheads, brilliant con artists? Like it or not, they are America. (Condensed from the article.)
Bibliography Citation
Sklaroff, Sara and Michael Ash. "American Pie Charts." Civilization 4,2 (April-May 1997): 84-85.