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June 15, 2015


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Continue this good work. I hope your points will continue to attract more and more attention.


I am 98% with you. You have made a persuasive and damning case that AG either committed a serious crime, or falsified her account, and that her discipline thought either was just fine. And yet, IMHO there is a slight sense in spots that this has become personal, and emphasis on some matters--what happened at the hospitals, say--distracts from clearer and stronger points.


Fascinating. Keep up the pressure, the story here just doesn't make sense. Not sure exactly what's going on, but I wonder if she's spent some time in that chopper with Brian Williams?

old school

I don't know the truth of all matters here, but I do know this:
1. Debates and posts like this are what tenure is for, and those who seek to get rid of it forget the bullying that can happen if you do. Lubet is at Northwestern, but the weight being thrown around here would surely coax someone at Podunk U. into silence, if it hasn't already.

2. The idea of awarding "dissertation of the year" to a dissertation that no one can read seems awfully ridiculous.


There is nothing "personal" or "mean" about Lubet's criticism of Goffman's book. I've seen comments in other places also call his behavior as "bullying". If the sociology considers this to be an over the top, harsh or bullying review of her methods... then the whole field is suspect. Which is basically what Lubet is saying in this piece.

Philip Cohen

In response to this situation I have proposed a rule change so that that ASA Dissertation Award is only granted to students who make their dissertations available:

silent majority

Many sociologists, including ethnographers, began questioning OTR immediately after its publication. However, sociology is a very hierarchical discipline. Since her arrival at Princeton, Goffman has been a darling of of the elite of the discipline. As you have learned, any criticisms have been met with hostility and dismissal. Sociologists with less standing who dared to discuss the books many faults face charges that we were motivated by envy. We needed someone outside of Sociology to step forward. Many thanks.

Bernie Burk

This is a courageous and unstintingly fair examination of a range of deeply disturbing practices. Keep it up, Steve.

Michelle Meyer

HL -- Charges that replicators/fact-checkers are second-string bullies with no research agendas of their own are not unique to sociology. Read the piece I co-wrote with Chabris not quite a year ago in Slate for an example from psychology, and read The Case of the Amazing Gay-Marriage Data: How a Graduate Student Reluctantly Uncovered a Huge Scientific Fraud for an example from political science (omitting URLs to avoid spam trap).

Similarly, re: her suggestion that her work could be fact checked by comparing her claims to goings-on in other cities, cf. debates (especially in social psychology) about direct versus conceptual replication.

On the IRB angle, it's not clear to me that Goffman destroyed her notes even with its "tacit assent." Although she told the Chronicle, in the article you link to, that "IRB requirements" led her to destroy her notes, she told WHYY, which you also link to: "Princeton, where she completed her graduate work, requires researchers to keep their field notes for three years after publication, she said. After that time, she decided it was a safer bet to dispose of the notes so authorities couldn't subpoena information on her subjects, who were shielded with fake names." Needless to say, an IRB rule that researchers retain their raw data for at least three years is not the same thing as an "IRB requirement" that notes be destroyed after that time has passed.

That said, yes, IRBs do sometimes direct researchers to destroy raw data when that data poses significant risk to subjects, as her does. Zach Schrag recently reminded me that DOJ requires data destruction for some of the sensitive work it funds, for example. And there is also an ongoing, high profile mess of a case out of Boston College involving oral historians' struggle to maintain their promises of confidentiality to their IRA subjects in the face of subpoenas. So it's entirely possible that an IRB directed Goffman to destroy her notes. Aside from the business where Goffman may or may not have furthered the violence in 6th Street, data privacy is probably the biggest risk to these subjects (and likely also explains why she received an exemption from depositing her dissertation in the library).

On the other hand, the ASA ethics code discusses several methods of protecting subject data, including pseudonyms, destruction of identifiers, and keeping data under lock and key and limiting data sharing (otherwise, sociologists are expected under the ASA code, which is incorporated by reference in the ethics requirements for publication in the Am. Soc. Rev.'s, where Goffman published a version of her work, to be ready and willing to share data with other researchers). The ASA ethics code does not, if I recall correctly, discuss wholesale destruction of notes. Moreover, part of her research, reported in her ASR article and, I believe, in OTR, includes a survey of all homes in 6th Street (with an apparent 100% response rate!), and although that should have required its own IRB review--data collected included welfare status--I'd be more surprised if an IRB ordered that raw data destroyed, specifically.

In any case, for those of us who study the black boxes that are IRBs, or try to, it would be nice to know whether destruction of her notes was a specific IRB order or something she did on her own steam.

I'm also wondering exactly what IRB review, if any, her work received. The research--which involved not only subjects engaged in illegal activity but also minors--began during her undergrad years at Penn. Did the Penn IRB really greenlight this potentially risky work by an undergrad (famous parents or not)? If not, did the Princeton IRB pretend the research had just begun (IRBs having no power to retroactively review research)?


Ten years ago, Northwestern Law School professor James Lindgren played one of the key roles in unmasking a fraudulent book by Emory professor Michael Bellesiles, Arming America, which argued that private gun ownership was rare during colonial and Revolutionary periods and that wide scale ownership of firearms did not occur until much later. This book was highly praised by (also Northwestern professor) Gary Wills as a powerful antidote to the propaganda of the NRA. The book received the Bancroft Award from the Columbia history department, the highest prize of the profession.

When the book first came under criticism from a non-academic historian, Clayton Cramer, the best and brightest of academic historians closed ranks around Bellesiles. Only when Lindgren joined the fray did it become undeniable that most of the book was a total fabrication. Right now, we are still at the point where the giants of the sociology profession are letting us all know that this is how research is done and that anyone criticizing Goffmann is just trying to avert their eyes from the inequality and racism that permeates American society.

I'm sympathetic to old school's comments above about the role that tenure can play in attacking the powerful in an academic discipline but when the original critics who brought this matter to wider attention including to Lubet feel the need to post their doubts anonymously, it's hard to argue that tenure protects those in a weak position from bullying or blacklisting.


Yes, please continue. And do not allow the ad hominems of some of Goffman's defenders to deter you. These are serious, serious problems in the field.

I think Duneier is being more cagey than candid, too, and might have crossed a line himself. If he is truly interested in helping verify her claims, he will be forthcoming in answers to questions like: 1. Who among the pseudonyms did he meet? (Did he meet "Chuck" or "Mike"?) 2. Did he ever go with Goffman to "6th street" and see her 4/5 block radius? 3. Which claims made by Goffman were repeated by people he interviewed? 4. Did Goffman ever talk to him about being questioned by both federal and local law enforcement, as she claimed happened?

Some other questions: Can anyone find even a few people in Philadelphia who can attest to being arrested in a maternity ward?


It is only thanks to your courage and steadfastness that serious problems in this book and the field are coming to light. Thank you, thank you, thank you for not being cowed by those who have tried to silence your thoughtful criticisms.


A question for Professor Lubet (forgive me, i'm not trained in this area) - isn't it illegal to destroy your hard drive and shred your notes in order to avoid being subpoenaed for them by law enforcement? As I recall, a guy was recently prosecuted for destroying some kind of fish (literally, fish) because that was spoliation or obstruction of justice or something, and the case went all the way to the supreme court. It's not as sexy as conspiracy to murder, but isn't this also a separate crime that AG has openly confessed to committing? There's no academic freedom exception to "spoliating" evidence, right? And then wouldn't Princeton's IRB be culpable, too?


The defense of her by fellow sociologists no doubt has something to do with the fact that she is Erving Goffman's daughter


Has anyone noted the parallel between this situation and that of Dolezal? It is not even clear that Goffman lived in the neighborhood she - allegedly - studied. And if that is the case then the backbone of the defense of her work collapses as it is largely based on the privilege we ought to accord to a white woman who goes to live in a dangerous black area to engage, Margaret Mead like, in "immersion ethnography."


It should be noted that sociologists are not universally defending OTR or Alice Goffman. There is division, even among ethnographers. Critiques focus on both the ethical and methodological issues in OTR and as well as on her theoretical engagement (or not) with race and marginalization. This division was one of the reasons Goffman was not offered a position at UCLA, where she had a job talk. She may have the support of some faculty, such as Jack Katz, but many are quite critical of her work. Hopefully this growing public scrutiny will improve sociology by shedding light on the need for more transparency.

Dave Garrow

Steve, like Jim Lindgren before him some years back, deserves tremendous kudos for his work on this. Katz's behavior reeks of self-interest, given his role in the series that published Goffman's book. The non-availability of a dissertation should be viewed as a serious scandal on the part of Princeton. I hadn't made previously made the "Erving" connection, & it's yet another sad commentary on academia if supposedly "progressive" sociologists give favored treatment to someone based upon who their parents were....


"Which “residents in the neighborhood” could she possibly be talking about? Surely she could not mean the working people, parents of children, block club members, community activists, and young students of the 6th Street community "

Nah, don't you know everyone in 6th street is just a one dimensional stereotype? Thug, victim, pimp, ho? You can tell by comparing the differences in her description in Aisha's neighborhood near Penn (where she did live for most of the 6 years in question) and the 6th street neighborhood scenes, which read like an etended poorly written episode from Homicide or the Wire, where she "lived" at most for 3-6 months.


Steve's doing a great job. There's one additional point about the dissertation. Goffman's supervisor, Duneier, stated that "I feel confident in the research that I supervised as an adviser and that our committee approved at Princeton." This sentence, which seems artfully constructed, refers to the dissertation ("that our committee approved at Princeton") and not to the book or to Goffman's research in general. Because we cannot see the dissertation, Duneier's endorsement is effectively meaningless.


Ask Mitchell Duneier for a copy of the diss. He should have it.

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