Friday, August 12, 2005

Up in the dumps.

An industry that would be rewarded for inefficiency...instead is becoming more efficient.


August 12, 2005
Rumors of a Shortage of Dump Space Were Greatly Exaggerated

Workers at a landfill in Orange County, Calif. - as if tamping down the contents of a wastebasket - regularly pile one million cubic yards of dirt atop a football field-size section of the giant dump. Six months later, the workers scrape the dirt aside and the dump's surface has fallen 30 to 40 feet, making space for yet more trash.

"It's just amazing," said Mike Giancola, deputy director of the county's waste agency.

Orange County's method is part of a remarkable productivity story playing out in the trash business, quietly saving consumers, businesses and municipalities billions of dollars a year. It is an unlikely industry for such a leap in efficiency.

Simply put, operators of garbage dumps are stuffing more waste than anyone expected into the giant plastic-lined holes, keeping disposal prices down and making the construction of new landfills largely unnecessary.

The clearest winner in this development is the City of New York, which exports 25,000 tons of trash a day to other cities and states, making it the waste industry's biggest customer. But the benefits stretch coast to coast and will continue for years to come.

The productivity leap is the second major economic surprise from the trash business in the last 20 years. First, it became clear in the early 1990's that there was a glut of disposal space, not the widely believed shortage that had drawn headlines in the 1980's. Although many town dumps had closed, they were replaced by fewer, but huge, regional ones. That sent dumping prices plunging in many areas in the early 1990's and led to a long slump in the waste industry.

Since then, the industry and its followers have been relying on time - about 330 million tons of trash went into landfills in the United States last year alone, according to Solid Waste Digest, a trade publication - to fill up some of those holes, erase the glut and send disposal prices skyward again. Instead, dump capacity has kept growing, and rapidly, even as only a few new dumps were built.

How could that be? Waste companies and municipalities have fit much bigger dumps than originally permitted onto existing acreage, piling trash deeper and steeper, and vastly expanding permitted capacity. They are burying trash more tightly, so that each ton takes up less space, increasingly using giant 59-ton compacting machines guided by global positioning systems that show the operator when he has rolled over a section of the dump enough times. They cover trash at the end of the day, to keep it from blowing away, with tarps or foam or lawn clippings instead of the thick layers of soil that formerly ate up dump capacity.

Some operators are blowing water and air into landfills to hasten rotting and thus the shrinkage of buried garbage piles, creating more capacity.

Each practice is fairly prosaic, and many operators have yet to adopt the improved methods, but taken together the waste industry is in the early stages of the kind of increase in efficiency more typically seen in technologies like computer chips and turbines that generate electricity.

A well-run dump, tightly packed and using minimal dirt as cover, can hold 30 percent or so more trash than a poorly run site, said Thomas M. Yanoschak, a senior project manager at Camp Dresser & McKee, an engineering firm that advises waste sites. "Operators are much better now," he said.

The change is shown in the published disposal records of the three largest waste haulers - Waste Management, Allied Waste Industries and Republic Services - which combined handle more than half the nation's trash. In the last four years, they buried 882 million tons of waste. But the remaining permitted capacity of their combined 410 dumps did not shrink. It expanded over those four years by more than one billion tons. The three companies now expect expansions of another 1.8 billion tons. At that level, their combined capacity could handle the nation's trash sent to dumps for about 26 years.

Smaller companies and municipalities possess huge capacity, too. Taken together, the oversupply is a damper on prices. The nation's average gate rate, the price dumps post publicly, has lagged inflation, rising just 21 percent from 1992, when the original disposal glut first became widely known, to last year, climbing to $35 a ton from $29, according to Solid Waste Digest. Most businesses pay haulers directly for disposal. Many consumers pay through property taxes.

At $35 a ton, the 330 million tons buried nationally cost $11.6 billion. (Actual prices are typically lower than gate rates.) Had rates merely kept pace with inflation, disposal in dumps would average $39 a ton, or a collective $12.9 billion a year. And the annual cost would be $16.5 billion had prices, as widely predicted years ago based on an expected shortage, hit $50 a ton.

Dennis Pantano, chief operating officer at Regus Industries, a regional waste company based in West Seneca, N.Y., and a former executive at a national waste company, said he had expected "at least $45 to $50" by now. Instead, he said, "In Ohio we're still beating our heads against each other to get $18, $20 a ton - $25 in western New York. It really hasn't gone up in 10 years. That's obviously because of capacity."

Environmental regulations, which many feared would cause a disposal shortage, actually helped encourage the glut. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, passed in 1976 but put into effect over more than a decade, requires that liners be used to protect groundwater and that systems to extract water and methane be installed. The cost of all that forced thousands of small dumps to close and encouraged huge new landfills that could pile trash hundreds of feet deep to maximize the return on investment.

A 10,000-ton-a-year dump would cost $83 a ton to operate, estimates Solid Waste Digest, while a 300,000-ton-a-year site's cost would be $14 a ton. Dumps taking a million or more tons a year have even lower per-ton costs.

So, new replacement landfills were on average 25 times the size of the small ones that were closing, according to Solid Waste Digest. And even though the 8,000 dumps in 1988 fell to fewer than 1,800 today, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, capacity ballooned. Transfer stations, where trash is emptied from local collection trucks and reloaded onto bigger long-haul trucks or onto trains for transport to a dump, now number 3,700 nationally, a vast network extending the reach of giant disposal sites.

The nation's 25 biggest dumps, which are beginning to resemble operations in other more efficient and consolidated industries, account for about 24 percent of total capacity, Solid Waste Digest estimates, and that concentration will probably continue. Already, the Republic Services landfill in Las Vegas has more than 200 million tons of space, as does Waste Management's site in Arlington, Ore. And a desert site yet to begin accepting trash, owned by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, can hold more than 600 million tons, or enough to take 20,000 tons a day for 100 years.

Also, investment in railroad cars and containers for trash, still in its infancy, could further reduce transport costs and smooth out pricing disparities among regions. At present, disposal prices in the Northeast average about 2.5 times the cost to dump in the arid and little-populated Western states.

Owners of a recently built 210 million-ton-capacity landfill in Idaho are proposing to use barges to ship much of Hawaii's trash to the West Coast and transport it by rail the remaining distance. Idaho Waste System's gate rate is just $16.50 a ton, said Grant Gauthier, a vice president, and its permit has no daily limit. The company is seeking to expand its permit to 420 million tons, even though it currently takes in just 800 tons a day.

If the glut depresses prices, why do waste companies keep expanding their dumps? One reason, for the companies with publicly traded stock, is an accounting rule. Companies must write off, or depreciate, their landfill investments based on the percentage of a site's capacity filled up each year. A dump costing $100 million to build, filled 10 percent, would require $10 million of depreciation, reducing pretax profit by that amount. They set aside funds for post-closing environmental monitoring on a similar as-used schedule.

So, the more capacity that can be permitted at each dump, the less depreciation and other costs recorded per ton, lifting reported profits. Waste Management, of course, suffered an accounting scandal in the late 1990's, in part over landfill accounting, and was forced to take a $3.5 billion charge against earnings to clean up its books.

Once glamour stocks, waste companies have mostly been mediocre performers in recent years and the growing glut could prolong their problems, especially as municipalities and other major customers become more aware of the oversupply.

Indeed, the City of New York does not have a disposal problem. Initial bids to handle the trash hauled by the city for 20 years include per-ton prices at dumps in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia of the mid-$20's to the mid-$30's, said Harry Szarpanski, assistant sanitation commissioner.

The problem is transportation. Shifting from trucks to rail and barges to reduce traffic, New York is taking on huge costs to develop a network of new transfer stations. That could increase prices to $90 a ton or so, Mr. Szarpanski said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Economic sociology.

If societies are not efficient, how in the world can markets be?


Market share

Economists have long used their tools to analyze social phenomena. Now sociologists are learning to stop worrying and love -- or at least study -- the market.

By Virginia Postrel | July 24, 2005

ECONOMISTS HAVE LONG been famous (or notorious) for plunging into such seemingly non-economic topics as crime or marriage. Beginning in the 1960s, University of Chicago economist Gary S. Becker brought economic theory to bear on family life, discrimination, education, and addiction, arguing that incentives, rational choices, and competitive pressures shape all sorts of behavior. He got a Nobel Prize for his efforts.

More recently, ''Freakonomics" coauthor Steven D. Levitt, another University of Chicago economist, has earned a place on the best-seller list by popularizing his more empirical work on such sociological topics as the structure of crack gangs and the spread of popular baby names. Levitt says he's ''enthralled by the tools of economics, but never by the questions."

While economists continue to probe into social life, a growing academic subfield known as economic sociology is doing just the opposite--bringing tools and concepts from sociology to bear on the economy. We cannot understand how people earn, spend, and invest their money, economic sociologists argue, unless we understand social relations. If, as economists contend, incentives and choice are everywhere, so are social conventions and personal connections.

''The economy is social. It's a set of social relations. The economy is as social as a family or religion," says Viviana A. Zelizer, a Princeton University sociologist who studies how cultural attitudes and consumption patterns influence each other.

A leading figure in economic sociology, Zelizer is sharply critical of the dichotomy she calls ''hostile worlds," which juxtaposes ''a world of rationality, efficiency, and impersonality, on one side" with ''a world of self-expression, cultural richness, and intimacy on the other--with contact between the two worlds inevitably corrupting both of them." Real human beings, she argues, don't divide their rational and emotional, or personal and commercial, lives that way.

So, contrary to both the simplified models of some economists and the anti-commercial zeal of many social critics, she and other economic sociologists argue that the marketplace and social relations aren't separate spheres. They're completely entangled.

Consider the homeowner who is remodeling his kitchen and hires his secretary's nephew as a contractor, or the startup company in a major city that gets a loan from a tiny bank hundreds of miles away in the founder's rural hometown. From hiring to investment, our economic decisions are shaped not just by financial interests but by relationships, history, and emotional bonds.

. . .

In some ways, economic sociology is as old as sociology itself, dating back to Max Weber, Karl Marx, and Emile Durkheim. Until recently, however, modern sociologists who ventured into economic topics usually stuck to peripheral areas like work and family life or non-financial motivations for work.

Over the past decade, economic sociologists have instead gone to ''the heart of the capitalist enterprise--firms and markets," says Richard Swedberg, a Cornell sociologist and the coeditor of ''The Handbook of Economic Sociology," first published in 1994. (A significantly revised second edition, with articles on topics ranging from the sociology of money and credit to the ethnic economy, was recently published by Princeton University Press.)

Most sociology departments now offer courses in economic sociology, which were nearly unheard of 10 or 15 years ago. Business schools are snapping up Ph.D.s, offering salaries twice those of sociology departments.

Adventurous economists are starting to pay attention. The Winter 2005 issue of Journal of Economic Perspectives led with a special section of four articles on economic sociology. In the introduction, Robert Gibbons, an economist at MIT's Sloan School of Management, argues that economic sociology offers new variables for economists to include in their own models of organizations and markets. In predicting wages, for instance, economists might include not only individual characteristics like education or experience but social relations. A well-connected person might expect higher pay than someone with similar skills but a narrower range of contacts.

Sociologists still tend to think economists' rational-choice models are too simplistic, while economists tend to regard sociology as an unrigorous hodgepodge. But, says Peter Dougherty, director of Princeton University Press, ''The current state of relations is much warmer and more engaged and interactive than it's ever been."

Not that the frontier between the two disciplines has become an entirely friendly one. In his introduction, Gibbons acknowledges that ''some economists (and some sociologists!) perceive economic sociology as an attack." The field has grown in part by offering an often vehement critique of neoclassical economics. Many sociologists like the idea of an intellectual insurgency against a discipline that enjoys significantly higher status. ''Within sociology, you can get a lot of mileage from making effective critiques of economics," notes Ezra Zuckerman, an economic sociologist at MIT's Sloan School.

Economic sociology isn't just the latest form of economist bashing, however. Its rapid growth represents a significant intellectual shift in the field, away from the idea that modern economic exchange is a sort of social pollution that destroys social relations, and toward a more neutral stance.

Sociologists have ''commonly portrayed the market ... not as a created set of social relations but as a pervasive, corrosive, disembodied Presence, spreading like carbon monoxide," wrote sociologist Charles Tilly of The New School for Social Research in a 1988 introduction to one of Zelizer's articles.

Economic sociology is now normalizing relations between sociologists and the modern marketplace. Its scholars, like those in any field, come in all varieties, of course, and none are cheerleading for any and all market behavior. But leading-edge economic sociologists generally accept contemporary commerce as a complex human endeavor worthy of analysis without condemnation.

These researchers are ''trying to understand what is driving economic behavior, what is driving the structure of markets, where the system comes from," says Mark Granovetter, chair of the Stanford sociology department and one of economic sociology's most influential researchers.

Many scholars date the contemporary origins of economic sociology to Granovetter's 1985 article, ''Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness." There, he argued that economic behavior and economic institutions are always ''embedded" in social relations. This argument took on not only economics but the dominant sociological view: that the modern economy has become ''an increasingly separate, differentiated sphere," as the calculating pursuit of gain replaces social connections.

As Granovetter and the scholars who have followed in his wake have pointed out, people are quite comfortable mingling the social and the commercial. And without social ties, they argue, the modern economy would not only be less humane but often less efficient.

. . .

So what do economic sociologists actually study?

Granovetter made his name, and got his doctorate at Harvard, with research on how people found jobs. He assumed they used social connections. But when he asked survey respondents whether a friend had told them about their current job, he repeatedly got a surprising response. No, respondents would say, ''not a friend, an acquaintance"--an old college friend, a former colleague, someone they saw only occasionally.

''It is remarkable that people receive crucial information from individuals whose very existence they have forgotten," Granovetter wrote in a 1973 article, ''The Strength of Weak Ties." New information, about jobs or anything else, rarely comes from your close friends, he argued, because they tend to know the same things, and the same people, you know. Your friends may want to help you find a job, but your acquaintances can help you, because they're the people with information about openings you haven't already heard of.

''Weak ties" are your connections to people who don't know each other and who do know other people you don't know. These are ''the channels through which ideas, influences, or information socially distant from [someone] may reach him."

Today, studying social connections, or ''social networks," is the hottest field in economic sociology. Focusing on a particular network--the connections between venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, say, or between directors and producers in Hollywood--lets researchers examine the social context of economic decisions.

Unlike economists, who tend to see networks as substitutes for firms or markets when legal institutions aren't working, sociologists emphasize how pervasive, powerful, and normal these informal ties are. ''Networks are the relational structure of social and economic life," write Laurel Smith-Doerr of Boston University and Walter W. Powell of Stanford in the ''Handbook"'s chapter on the subject.

Economic success often depends on striking the right balance between weak and strong ties. Smith-Doerr and Powell cite research that ''found that having a personal network characterized mainly by kinship and other homogeneous ties was more detrimental to entrepreneurs starting a small business than being female," even though gender is a more obvious ''outsider" status.

A close network may sound warm and supportive, but it can become dangerously insular, cutting off a person or an organization from important ideas or resources. At the same time, close ties build trust, reducing the cost of doing business and improving communication, especially on matters that can be awfully hard to explain.

Take style, for instance. Dress designers can rely on long-standing vendors to understand when a skirt doesn't fall right, even when the dress has followed the pattern. ''If we have a factory that is used to making our stuff, they know how it's supposed to look," a designer told Brian Uzzi, an economic sociologist at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.

Uzzi finds that businesses do best when they find a ''bliss point," combining just the right mix of arm's-length and ''embedded" relationships. Strictly economic relations bring in new information, while more personal connections are better at solving specific problems. In looking for bank loans, small businesses find out about interest rates and new loan structures by shopping the market, but they get customized deals from the aptly named ''relationship managers" at their existing banks.

''What my work showed was that really neither approach, in its purest form really works best," says Uzzi ''If people are purely rational and atomistic, they underproduce. If people care entirely about community and ignore what market signals are giving out, they don't do well. Those that do best are those that find a balance."

. . .

Balance is also the challenge for economic sociologists. Some younger scholars want the field to lose its ''excessively confrontational posture towards neoclassical economics," as MIT's Zuckerman put it in a journal article last year. There are plenty of interesting questions to keep both disciplines busy, and neither economics nor sociology alone can explain how real human beings manage their economic and social lives.

''Most people are trying to maximize economic goals and social goals at the same time. It's not like on Monday they try to maximize their wealth and on Wednesday they try to maximize their social status. It's all mixed up together," says Granovetter.

''We need theories that will actually give us some closure on how people do all these things together," he says. ''I think that's the big challenge in social science for the 21st century--to understand how those things all fit together."

Virginia Postrel ( is the author of ''The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness."

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What's the word?

APA Volume 19: No. 4, April 2005

Rumor and Gossip Research
by Ralph L. Rosnow and Eric K. Foster

Ralph L. Rosnow is Thaddeus Bolton Professor Emeritus at Temple University, where he served as a faculty member in the Psychology Department from 1967-2001. He has also taught at Boston University and Harvard University. He is the author or coauthor of more than two dozen books and many journal articles and chapters. His most recent books are (with Robert Rosenthal) People Studying People (W. H. Freeman, 1997); Beginning Behavioral Research (Prentice Hall, 5th edition, 2005); (with Rosenthal and Donald B. Rubin) Contrasts and Effect Sizes in Behavioral Research (Cambridge University Press, 2000); and (with Mimi Rosnow) Writing Papers in Psychology (Thomson Wadsworth, 7th edition).

Eric K. Foster received his PhD in social psychology from Temple University. His dissertation focused on gossip at a systems level using social network analysis. He is a Study Director at Temple's Institute for Survey Research, which conducts social, educational, and epidemiological studies. He is also an adjunct assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Popular and media interest in rumor and gossip never seems to wane, but psychological research on rumor has been cyclical and that on gossip has, until recently, been dormant (Foster, 2004). World War II saw a burst of interest in the psychology of rumor and rumor control. Seminal work was done by Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman (1947), the impetus for which was their concern about the damage to morale and national safety caused by menacing rumors spreading needless alarm and raising extravagant hopes (p. vii). There was some formative research in the following decade (e.g., Back, Festinger, Kelley, Schachter, & Thibaut, 1950; hachter & Burdick, 1955) and then a period of quiescence. Another cycle of interest is evident in the late-1960s and 1970s, starting with the publication of sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani's (1966) book, the Kerner et al. (1968) report on civil disorders, and Milgram and Toch's (1969) essay on collective behavior, followed by other books written from a sociological or psychological perspective (Morin, 1971; Knopf, 1975; Rosnow & Fine, 1976). More recently, there has been another spate of books on rumor and gossip (Fine & Turner, 2001; Goodman & Ben-Ze'ev, 1994; Kapferer, 1990; Kimmel, 2004; Koenig, 1985; Levin & Arluke, 1987; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1998; Turner, 1993). There has also been a flurry of research and conferences focused on these and related forms (e.g., Fine, Heath, & Campion-Vincent, in press), though there continues to be more theory and speculation than empirical research. Nonetheless, there have been empirically grounded insights.

We should distinguish between rumor and gossip, as each appears to function differently in its pure state. Rumors have been described as public communications that are infused with private hypotheses about how the world works (Rosnow, 1991), or more specifically, ways of making sense to help us cope with our anxieties and uncertainties (Rosnow, 1988, 2001). On the other hand, as Wert and Salovey (2004b) noted, "almost as many functions of gossip have been argued as writers to write about gossip" (p. 77). More than rumor, gossip tends to have an "inner-circleness" about it, in that it is customarily passed between people who have a common history or shared interests. Popular usage defines gossip as "small talk" or "idle talk," but gossip is hardly inconsequential or without purpose (e.g., Gluckman, 1963; Goodman & Ben-Ze'ev, 1994; Rosnow & Georgoudi, 1985; Sabini & Silver, 1982; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1998). For example, it has been theorized that gossip played a fundamental role in the evolution of human intelligence and social life (Dunbar, 2004; Davis & McLeod, 2003) and that it continues to play an active role in cultural learning (Baumeister, Zhang, & Vohs, 2004) and as a source of social comparison information (Suls, 1977; Wert & Salovey, 2004a). To be sure, it is often noted that rumor and gossip can also be undeniably aversive and problematic—currently illustrated, for example, in the way that rumor and gossip have generated resistance to medical efforts to deal with HIV and AIDS (e.g., Smith, Lucas, & Latkin, 1999; Stadler, 2003).

Allport and Postman called their most far-reaching assertion "the basic law of rumor." It declared that rumor strength (R) will vary with the importance of the subject to the individual concerned (i) times the ambiguity of the evidence pertaining to the topic at hand (a), or R ≈ i × a. The basic law of rumor was not empirically grounded in any rumor research, but was adapted from the earlier work of Douglas McGregor (1938) on factors influencing predictive judgments (Rosnow, 1980). One difficulty with the basic law of rumor was that the factor of "importance" was elusive and not easy for researchers to operationalize. Also of concern was that the basic law of rumor ignored the emotional context of rumor. Based on subsequent research findings, Rosnow (1991, 2001) proposed a modified theory in which rumormongering is viewed as an attempt to deal with anxieties and uncertainties by generating and passing stories and suppositions that can explain things, address anxieties, and provide a rationale for behavior. At a molar level, we can usually distinguish between two types of rumors (Rosnow, Yost, & Esposito, 1986), those invoking hoped-for consequences (wish rumors) and those invoking feared or disappointing consequences (dread rumors), but finer distinctions within each category have been described as well (e.g., DiFonzo & Bordia, 2000). Another addendum is that people have a tendency to spread rumors that they perceive as credible (even the most ridiculous stories), although when anxieties are intense, rumormongers are less likely to monitor the logic or plausibility of what they pass on to others (Rosnow, 2001).

These modifications of the classical view of rumor have implications for how potentially damaging rumors may be effectively combatted (DiFonzo, Bordia, & Rosnow, 1994; Fine & Turner, 2001; Kimmel, 2004) and have recently served as a stepping stone for other researchers' innovative work. For example, Chip Heath, Chris Bell, and Emily Sternberg (2001) have been exploring how rumors and urban legends thrive similarly on information and emotion selection. They have developed the thesis that rumors and urban legends are subsets of what biologist Richard Dawkins (1976) called memes, reasoning that there is a cultural analogy between ideas that compete for survival and biological genes.

As another recent illustration, Air Force Captain Stephanie R. Kelley (2004), for her Master's thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School, did a content analysis of 966 rumors collected in Iraq from a weekly feature in the Baghdad Mosquito. Proceeding from the idea that rumors serve as a window into people's uncertainties and anxieties, she identified fears inhibiting cooperation with U.S. counterinsurgency efforts and formulated ideas for improving Coalition information campaigns. That rumors might be projections of societal attitudes and motivations goes back to the classic work of Robert H. Knapp (1944), who sorted through a large collection of World War II rumors printed in the Boston Herald's "Rumor Clinic" column and collected through the auspices of two mass circulation magazines, The American Mercury and Reader's Digest. Knapp settled on three categories of rumors: pipe-dream rumors, bogies or fear rumors, and wedge-driving rumors.

Social psychologists Nicholas DiFonzo, at Rochester Institute of Technology, and Prashant Bordia, at the University of Queensland in Australia, have collaborated in another significant program of research on rumor and rumor control (and are putting the finishing touches on a book to be published by the APA). Their work has largely focused on the sensemaking aspect of rumors at the individual level, exemplified by a series of studies exploring how rumors are embedded with stable cause attributions that affect perceptions and predictions in systematic ways (DiFonzo & Bordia, 1997, 2002). Whereas traditionally the dynamic of rumor was studied employing a one-way communication paradigm resembling the telephone game, these researchers have studied it in rumor discussion groups (Bordia, 1996; Bordia & DiFonzo, 2004; Bordia, DiFonzo, & Chang, 1999; Bordia & Rosnow, 1995), for example, a chat group discussion of a rumor in cyberspace over a 6-day period. They have uncovered systematic patterns in both the content and level of individual participation, consistent with the theoretical idea of rumormongering as a collective, problem-solving interaction that is sustained by a combination of anxiety, uncertainty, and credulity (Bordia & Rosnow, 1995).

Empirical gossip research has not coalesced into a mainstream approach. Most researchers are in accord that the term can apply to both positive and negative aspects of personal affairs and that, depending on the point of view, it can have positive or negative social effects. An early factionalism was reflected by the opposing views of Gluckman (1963), who maintained that gossip served the interests of the group, and Paine (1967), who countered that gossip was a tool wielded by individuals for personal advantage. Wilson, Wilczynski, Wells, and Weiser (2000), using evaluations of gossipy vignettes, showed that gossip that upheld group norms tended to reflect better on the gossipers (and more harshly on the targets) than self-serving gossip did. Studies have also focused on individual differences in gossip use, perception, and vulnerability (e.g., Davis & Rulon, 1935; Jaeger, Skleder, & Rosnow, 1998; Litman & Pezzo, 2005; Nevo, Nevo, & Derech Zehavi, 1993; Radlow & Berger, 1959).

In a forthcoming chapter (Foster & Rosnow, in press), we use social network analysis (SNA) to explore how the structure of the network—the links among all the members—can affect the potency of gossiping behavior. The SNA approach simultaneously takes into account the density of the network and the positions of individuals within it to predict how gossip will affect influence and group coherence. We found that denser networks are less vulnerable to social fragmentation from gossip. However, this effect is moderated by "gatekeepers" who tend to position themselves along unique social bridges between other network members. Disintermediating, that is, increasing the density of social connections around gatekeepers, is expected to decrease negative effects of gossiping and to assist in improving norm coherence. Thus, the structure of the gossip network, as much as the content, can contribute to collegiality and understanding as well as to inequality and conflict.


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Monday, August 08, 2005

Revealed to be petulant children.

An "instant-message interview"?

Raising a wee bit of concern that these folks are the self-appointed stewards of the world's information?


August 8, 2005

Google's Chief Is Googled, to the Company's Displeasure


Google says its mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." But it does not appear to take kindly to those who use its search engine to organize and publish information about its own executives., a technology news Web site, said last week that Google had told it that the company would not answer any questions from CNET's reporters until July 2006. The move came after CNET published an article last month that discussed how the Google search engine can uncover personal information and that raised questions about what information Google collects about its users.

The article, by Elinor Mills, a CNET staff writer, gave several examples of information about Google's chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, that could be gleaned from the search engine. These included that his shares in the company were worth $1.5 billion, that he lived in Atherton, Calif., that he was the host of a $10,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Al Gore's presidential campaign and that he was a pilot.

After the article appeared, David Krane, Google's director of public relations, called CNET editors to complain, said Jai Singh, the editor in chief of "They were unhappy about the fact we used Schmidt's private information in our story," Mr. Singh said. "Our view is what we published was all public information, and we actually used their own product to find it."

He said Mr. Krane called back to say that Google would not speak to any reporter from CNET for a year.

In an instant-message interview, Mr. Krane said, "You can put us down for a 'no comment.' "

When asked if Google had any objection to the reprinting of the information about Mr. Schmidt in this article, Mr. Krane replied that it did not.

Mr. Singh, who has worked in technology news for more than two decades, said he could not recall a similar situation. "Sometimes a company is ticked off and won't talk to a reporter for a bit," he said, "but I've never seen a company not talk to a whole news organization." SAUL HANSELL

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Offshoring manufacturing as a form of hegemony

American manufacturing companies and leaders forced China's hand and produced the Yuan revaluation. Goal was to protect US manufacturing jobs by making Chinese goods less competitive in pricing. At the heart of the arguments was the notion that continued offshoring of US manufacturing jobs would impair long-term US economic leadership. This appears to be a short-sighted view.

In the emerging era, intellectual capitalism is replacing industrial capitalism. The former is superior to the latter in a number of ways, but most importantly, intellectual capital is far more nimble that industrial capital, which cannot be redeployed quickly in the fast-changing economic landscape. Think of it as the US forcing the third world to turn their resources (labor, capital, energy, equipment) into fixed assets while we are deploying our resources into variable assets. This is a highly advantageous situation for us.

Most economists view the current transition as a sign of deteriorating US leadership on the global economic stage. It's possible, however, that historians will look back at this era as another brilliant move by the great imperial power to hegenmonize the rest of the world by saddling the third world with the detritus of the passing epoch of the industrial age: menufacturing. timing is also perfect. the spoils of the industrial age of the past 200 years are already won by the west. just at the time we are moving on to the higher-value intellectual economy, we are albatrossing the third world with the lower-value industrial economy, which could set-back their progress for a couple centuries while we expand our leadership on the global stage.