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June 17, 2015


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Doug Miller

The Slate piece is interesting; haven't read the other yet. It appears that journalism (and yes, even law) has a greater commitment to factual accuracy than sociology (as currently practiced).

Under the regime as described, a dissertation can function like a court document filed under seal, supporting a particular argument or factual thesis. But, as Professor Lubet suggests, that arrangement seems counter to the traditional justification for scholarship: to increase the store of human knowledge and wisdom.

Somewhere else (I think) someone pointed out that, as to an allegation of a crime that Goffman witnessed but was not implicated in, she herself could be subpoenaed, even if she destroyed all her notes. Would she have a privilege? I have not followed all the ins and outs of privilege cases involving journalists like Risen. This doesn't really get at the core of the ethnographic enterprise as described in the Slate piece, but it touches on it.


The articles contradict each other and show there is an easy way to check Goffman's analysis.

Both articles claim her advisor stated that he spoke with a warrant officer with the Philadelphia Police Department. The NY Magazine article claims the warrant officer read "a big chunk of Goffman’s research, discussed her research with Goffman's advisor and mostly endorsed Goffman’s account." The Slate article claims Goffman's advisor tested the plausibility of goffman's claims by running them by "a warrant officer with the Philadelphia Police Department."

Why can't Goffman disclose the name of this warrant officer? If he endorses her account that would settle a great deal.

The stories in Slate and NY Magazine also contradict each other. The Slate story claims its impossible to check Goffman's research because she did such a thorough, effective job of hiding the names of her subjects. In the NY Magazine article, the authors claims he easily and quickly found three of Goffman's subjects.

What's even more incredible about the NY Magazine article is that it claims Goffman met with the author at the behest of her subjects (that he had so easily found from detail in her book). If Goffman was really so concerned about her subjects privacy that she shredded her notes and did not file her dissertation, why would readily meet with the author of a magazine article, thereby confirming that he had actually found the subjects of her research. His notes could easily be subpoena-ed.


I applaud the NY Mag writer for doing some detective work in Philly. I think she did a convincing job of showing that Goffman did in fact spend time with her subjects in the general manner described in the book. However, I am still not convinced that "fact checking" means speaking to a subject's mother and having her vouch for Goffman's credibility. (It's nice to hear, but it doesn't prove that particular passages in the book are 100% accurate.)

Also, the NY Mag writer apparently didn't think to ask if Chuck's mom is getting money from Goffman (who has said that she's sharing proceeds of the paperback sales with 6th Street people.)

Old Guy

I don't know if there is something unusual about this particular dissertation, but dissertations are generally available here:


Having skimmed the follow up pieces in Slate and NY Magazine, I imagine there may be an additional reason for the perpetual embargo at Princeton -- Goffman's concern that the dissertation might, if publicly available, disclose information about her subjects.

This might have been viewed as a risk either because she had less control over the dissertation contents, she and her advisers did not want to hold its submission hostage to these concerns, or because she was concerned that the dissertation would, if put together with a later book, reveal more. (She might also have looked forward to having three to four years to fine-tune her book MS, or discovered problems with the dissertation's disclosures while later engaged in book editing, but I'm not sure of the timing of the embargo decision.) This would be over and above any concern about preempting her book, which I assume is the more common concern. But it might better explain continuing resistance to releasing the dissertation, particularly given the likelihood that it would now be compared and contrasted to her book to an extraordinary degree -- or at least a desire to reserve judgment on that question.

All this is conjecture, and it would be better were it explained. If true, this would still undoubtedly frustrate anyone who would like to exercise independent judgment as to whether disclosure issues were legitimate, but it may be less puzzling. And again, whether this should have given the ASA pause before they issued an award, or was even fully understood by them before issuing the award, or whether they should change their rule going forward, are separate questions . . . but I'd assume they are constrained in this case by their prior agreement.


Could it be that there NEVER EVEN WAS a diss?
Then that ASA award is total utter BS!

By the way, "social" science is not SCIENCE at all.


There is currently pressure being put on ASA to revise their dissertation award policy. Some are calling for Goffman's award to be revoked if she doesn't make her dissertation publicly available. On a related note, I'm surprised that no one has tried to find her undergraduate honors thesis from UPenn. A quick search of the library database yielded no results. But typically these should be available if they have been successfully defended.

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