Hot or not

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Over on the Crooked Timber site (where a group of political scientists hang out), Henry Farrell reports in a 1/22/09 piece entitled "Hotties and Notties":

In 2006, James Felton, Peter T. Koper, John Mitchell and Michael Stinson conducted research that sought to establish, inter alia how perceived hotness of professors affected their RateMyProfessors evaluations for teaching quality. As part of this exercise, Felton et al. ranked (Table 2 in their paper) the relative hotness quotients of 36 different academic disciplines. My estimable colleague John Sides prepared a nice graph of the Felton et al. data (see below).

(Political Science is in red for the obvious reason. Farrell was pleased to see that his discipline ranked so high. And noted the low ranking of Economics with glee.)

(Hat tip to James Wimberley.)

Linguists will of course be disappointed to see that our discipline was not one of the 36 in the Felton et al. study. But then Classics, Astronomy, and Physics were also disregarded (as were Dance, Photography and Cinema, Art History, and a number of other programs you could think of). The list of disciplines clearly wasn't made up ahead of time, but emerged from what students reported in web-based evaluations of teaching (which is why you get Humanities, Social Science, and plain old Science, in addition to specific disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences — plus Not Specified).

I haven't been able to get hold of the Felton et al. paper (without paying for it), and I doubt that my time would be well-spent examining its methods. Here's Farrell on the subject:

I'm glad to say that we actually have Real Social Scientific Data1 that we can bring to bear on [the question of whether academia in general, or political science in particular, is a sexy profession].

1 Real Social Scientific Data is a term of art here, meaning 'statistics that are sufficiently entertaining and gratifying2 that I really don't want to look at them too hard.' This understanding of data is very commonly applied in the public sphere of learned debate although it is, perhaps surprisingly, rarely spelled out in explicit terms. I note in passing that some commenter at the Monkey Cage wants to control for differences in sex ratios between professors and students and similar irrelevant persnickets. All I want to say to this pedant (whom I suspect to be a jealous chemistry professor or denizen of a similarly low-ranked discipline) is political science is number 5! Suck on it.

2 In a collective rather than individual sense (I don't imagine that I'm pulling my discipline's score up).

[Update 1/27: I've now looked at the Felton et al. paper and can shed some light on some of the details. The list of disciplines was indeed derived from student reports, but with various changes made "due to limited data": Health Science and Medicine were combined; Women's Studies and Ethnic Studies were combined; Physics became part of Science; Architecture became part of Engineering; and Film became part of Communications. Meanwhile, Business faculty were divided, wherever possible, into Accounting, Business Information Systems, Economics, Finance, Management, and Marketing. The analysis is based on ratings for 6,852 faculty from 369 American and Canadian institutions, using only faculty with at least 20 posts on 9/13/03.

Students supply ratings to RateMyProfessors on a voluntary basis. They are asked to give ratings on Easiness, Helpfulness, Clarity, Overall Quality, and Hotness. On the last factor, the student can judge a faculty member as "hot" or "not hot", contributing +1 or -1, respectively, to that teacher's raw score, which is then converted to a percentage score, ranging from a low of -100% to a high of +100%. The score for each discipline is the average of the scores for faculty members in that discipline, given in the relevant table as a decimal fraction. 

These disciplinary scores are all negative, ranging from a low of -.332 (Chemistry) to a high of -.062 (Languages). Faculty members as a group are not particularly hot.

Felton et al. were primarily interested in correlations. They noted "strong positive correlations between Quality and Easiness and between Quality and Hotness" and concluded that "these self-selected evaluations from cast considerable doubt on the usefulness of in-class student opinion surveys for purposes of examining quality and effectiveness of teaching."]


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