07 January 2014

Nominalism and PolSci Humour

The oh so droll 'Is Political Science Meant for Every Tom, Dick, or Harriet? The Role of First Names and Middle Initials as Predictors of Academic Success' by A Wuffle and Kristine Coulter in (2013) 47(1) PS: Political Science & Politics 173-176 comments that
We take advantage of the data set compiled by Masuoka et al. (2007, PS: Political Science and Politics 40 (1): 361–66) on lifetime citation counts of political science faculty at PhD granting institutions in the United States to look for “lucky names,” that is, names parents can give babies that predispose them toward scholarly success in political science. Seeking to test an hypothesis offered by Wuffle (1972, PS: Political Science and Politics (Summer): 290), we also briefly look at the importance of middle initials for citation success in political science.
The authors note that
A Wuffle is an associate to professor. As far as s/he is aware s/he is the only person in political science with a single letter first name. (There is no period after the A.) Because Facebook will not allow what they insist on regarding as an initial to be used as a first name, A Wuffle's Facebook cognomen is Aismyfirstname Wuffle.
They go on to comment
Why are some successful and others not? Many scholars look to biological features that are given cultural meaning, for example, gender (Guinier, Fine, and Balin 1997; Monroe et al. 2008), good looks (Rosenberg et al. 1986), height (Hensley 1993; McCann 2001; Sorokowski 2010; Wilson, 1968; Young and French 1996), or race (Arrow 1998). Here, our interest will be in the determinants of citation counts, which have been found to be an important determinant of academic salaries in political science (Grofman 2009). We use the large data set compiled by Masuoka et al. (2007a, b) on lifetime citation counts of political science faculty at PhD-granting institutions in the United States ca. 2005. Unfortunately, variables such as good looks, height, and race are not found in the Masuoka et al. (2007a, b) data set, although we can approximate gender by using gender coding of first names. Moreover, as everyone knows, the most important predictor of success in any area is “luck,” but we found no plausible way to properly operationalize this variable.
In the light of these methodological limitations, we take our inspiration for choice of the key independent variable to predict citation success in political science from the art of naming, or “Nameology,” as this branch of scientific astrology is properly named. With the notable exception of Cash's (1969) definitive musical monologue on the importance of baby names for the formation of gender identity, the science of naming was remarkably neglected in the social sciences until Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in their magisterial work, Freakonomics (2005), demonstrated the insights that could be gleaned from studying the evolution of racial and class preferences for baby names as a Veblenian race to distance oneself from the Jones's.
The direct inspiration for this article, however, was the intention of the first-named author's long-time officemate to teach a graduate course whose working title was “The Importance of Being Gary,” using the seminal contributions to the discipline of Gary Cox, Gary Jacobson, and Gary King as a means of giving students an appreciation of first-rate political science methodology and research design. The potential for such a course suggested that mothers/fathers who wished their (male) babies to grow up to be political scientists should consider giving them this auspicious first name. But, perhaps there are other Garys who do not publish as often or as well, but one tends only to remember the Garys who do? It was that question that led to this article. But, in the interests of comparative research, as the article has evolved, we go well beyond “Gary” studies. 
In the remainder of this article, drawing on the Masuoka et al. (2007a, b) data set of lifetime citation counts of political science faculty at PhD-granting institutions in the United States ca. 2005, we examine citations according to first name. There are 3,743 names in this data set. First, we compare all names with at least 20 instances, of which there are 29, to see if there are some that appear statistically distinct in their mean per year citation counts from the overall average of 6.7 citations per year. In particular, we check to see if “Gary” has an unusually high mean citation count. Then, we look to see if those whose first names match those of recent past presidents have a distinctive citation profile. Also we check whether sets of first names with Christian religious significance, such as the four authors of the Gospels (“Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and “John”), or famous names from the Old Testament (“Abraham,” “Isaac,” and “Jacob”), have an unusually high citation count relative to the entire data set. Next, to check for gender effects, we take advantage of a natural experiment involving paired comparisons of matched pairs involving similar first names (e.g., Paul and Paula), and we also compare some famous mixed gender pairings (e.g., Jack and Jill). Finally, to deal with potential confounding effects, we check to see whether those with middle initials or middle names have any citation advantage, and we look to see if those with first letters of their first name toward the end of the alphabet appear penalized relative to those with letters closer to the front.
They conclude
Our inspiration for this essay was the apparent citation success associated with the name “Gary.” But, like all too many political scientists, we failed to adequately take into account interaction effects, such as those associated with the interdependence of first name and last name. On the one hand, we now see the importance of not just being named “Gary” but also being named either “Cox,” “Jacobson,” or “King.” On the other hand, using coarse inexact pairwise matching techniques, we did find that, for large enough samples, men with certain first names do seem to be more cited than women with very similar, or frequently associated, first names. Thus, we see our work as definitely having further advanced the science of Nameology.
Wuffle - author of works such as 'Should you brush your teeth on November 6, 1984?: A rational choice perspective' [PDF] and 'The pure theory of elevators' - has a homepage here.

On a more serious note 'Children's Nomenclatural Adventurism and Medical Evaluation study' by Francis R Willis, Stephen L Adams, Sarah Doyle, Ian J Everitt, Michael Lovegrove, Jennie Slee, Annie Sparrow and Judith Willis in (2009) 45(12) Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 711–714 reports a correlation between 'junk names' and and the likelihood of inpatient admission following presentation to a paediatric emergency department.