Where’s the Noise Coming From? How Joscha Legewie Used Big Data to Learn More About the Everyday Tensions Faced by New Yorkers

What can big data teach us?  Assistant Professor Joscha Legewie discusses how he used statistical analysis to find out the times and neighborhoods where New Yorkers complained the most.

Assistant Professor Joscha Legewie is a sociologist whose research explores questions related to education, social inequality, and ethnic relations. In 2011, to better understand the conditions under which conflict among New Yorkers emerges, Legewie studied data from 7.7 million time and geo-coded 311 service requests to determine the times and neighborhoods where people complain about their neighbors.
You use what you call ‘quasi-experimental research designs’ to understand sociological behavior.  Can you explain that method to us?

Quasi-experimental research designs try to imitate traditional experimental designs or randomized control trials usually when experimental data is not available. There are many situations in which it is invisible to conduct an experiments. Some of my work, for example, focuses on the effect of extreme violence against police officers on the subsequent police treatment of residents and particularly minority groups in pedestrian stops.

Designing an experiment to address this question is hard and faces clear ethical challenges. As an alternative, I use an quasi-experimental design or a natural experiment. This design compares police stops right after with similar stops right before certain events such as the shooting of a police officer. This design relies on the exogenous nature of many events and allows me to examine whether the pattern of stops changed after incidents of extreme violence against police officers and whether there is a race specific pattern to this response. Another advantage is that quasi or natural experiments often use data from real-world settings.

In 2011,  you looked at New York City neighborhoods to try to figure out who complains the most about their neighbors.  How did you go about that study?

My work relies on data from 7.7 million time and geo-coded 311 service requests to examine when and where New Yorkers complain about their neighbors making noise, blocking the driveway, or drinking in public. The study tries to understand the conditions under which conflict between neighbors emerges. 311 is a centralized non-emergency telephone number, Internet platform, and smart phone application that allows city residents to file a request for or complain about issues as diverse as birth certificate services, fallen tree removal, or broken heating.

These service requests provide a unique opportunity to get fine-grained information about everyday life tensions between neighbors. It is an interesting example of how social scientist can use “big data” to address new questions or work with information on an entirely new scale. But these new data sources also have limitations and raise privacy concerns. They are generally not designed for social science research and lack important information. The 311 data, for example, does not include information on the identity of the caller so that my work can only study patterns across neighborhoods and over time.

So, tell us, who complains the most?

New Yorkers filed 42,896 noise complaints about neighbors in 2011, about 117 per day. Manhattan is clearly ahead of the other boroughs with 16,082 noise complaints in 2011 (37%) followed by Brooklyn with 12,162 complaints (28%). The difference is even more pronounced when you consider that Manhattan is substantially smaller: In Manhatten there are 10 complaints per 1,000 residents compared to 4.8 in Brooklyn.

The map gives a more detailed view showing the number of complaints per 1,000 residents across census tracts in NYC. Some areas around Midtown Manhattan stick out with a very high rate of complaints.  But it’s also interesting to see that the rate is higher in some of the gentrified parts of Brooklyn such as Williamsburg.

Some of these patterns reflect relations to neighborhood characteristics that have played an important role in research on urban communities. We find, for example, less complaints in neighborhoods with concentrated disadvantage—i.e. a higher poverty and unemployment rate, lower educational attainment, and more households that receive public assistance.

This pattern might reflect that citizens in disadvantaged communities are less likely to contact a city agency. But residential mobility also plays an important role. We observe more complaints in neighborhoods with fewer homeowners and many residents who recently moved into the neighborhood.

Presumably, this residential instability undermines friendly relations between neighbors so that residents are more likely to call 311 instead of knocking on someones door.

***  Note on references: The two working papers “Racial Profiling in Stop-and-Frisk Operations: How Local Events Trigger Periods of Increased Discrimination” and “Contested Boundaries: Explaining Where Ethno-Racial Diversity Provokes Neighborhood Conflict” (together with Merlin Schaeffer) are available from Joscha Legewie (joscha.legewie@nyu.edu).

Felix Cavaliere and John Sebastion at Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions on September 9th

Felix Cavaliere

Felix Cavaliere and John Sebastian will be the featured guests at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU on September 9th.

Cavaliere and Sebastian will discuss their five-decade careers as musicians, songwriters, and performers with Phil Galdston, NYU faculty songwriter-in-residence and master teacher in songwriting.

“Felix Cavaliere and John Sebastian have both written songs that span generations and genres,” said Ron Sadoff, chair of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions and director of its songwriting program. “Their extraordinarily rich and living bodies of work are indelibly embedded in our culture.”

Felix Cavaliere, with his frequent collaborator, Eddie Brigati, created a remarkable catalog of chart-topping hit singles and albums for their band, The Rascals. Following successful covers of “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” and “Good Lovin’,” Cavaliere co-wrote all of the band’s best-known songs, including “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “Groovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Girl Like You,” “A Beautiful Morning,” and “People Got to Be Free.”  In addition to their phenomenal record sales, The Rascals are considered the best ‘blue-eyed soul’ group to come out of the 1960s. Felix is a highly-regarded solo artist and performs in reunion tours with all four original Rascals.

John Sebastion

John Sebastian founded The Lovin’ Spoonful with his musical partner, Zal Yanovsky. Although the band’s repertoire was initially focused on updated versions of blues, folk, and jugband tunes, Sebastian soon proved to be a composer/lyricist of remarkable range and ingenuity. What followed was an amazing string of songs, including “Do You Believe In Magic?” “Younger Girl,” “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?,” “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” “Daydream,” “Summer In The City,” and “Younger Generation.” During this run, the Spoonfuls placed their first seven singles in the Top 10 and their first nine in the Top 20. Sebastian’s solo career has spawned such notable successes as “She’s A Lady,” “Rainbow All Over Your Blues,” “Welcome Back,” and appearances at Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festival. He continues to write, record, and perform, with a distinct focus on jugband music.

“We are fortunate at the Songwriters Hall of Fame to have a lot of depth in terms of songwriting talent,” said SHOF Chairman Jimmy Webb. “Not only do Felix and John stand tall in a land of giants, they’re outstanding instrumentalists and profoundly impactful vocalists, as well. And their range of experience will make this a notable event.”

Launched in 2011, the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions were established to bring to the NYU community the great songwriters who have inspired music creators and music lovers, alike. An in-depth interview (including a Q&A with students) leavened with performance and demonstration, the Sessions are curated and moderated by GRAMMY-nominated songwriter and producer Phil Galdston. Previous sessions have featured Jimmy Webb, Glenn Frey, Nile Rodgers, Valerie Simpson, and the late Hal David.

“We’re very fortunate to have Felix and John join us for a once-in-a-lifetime joint Master Session,” said Galdston. “Our students will have an extraordinary opportunity to benefit from the insight into the art and craft of music-making and the reality of a career in the business of two people who have been recognized by the Songwriters, Rock’n’Roll, and GRAMMY Halls of Fame. In addition, they represent R&B and folk, two of the most important strands of New York-based music that were woven into the rock and pop that swept the world.”

The Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU are held at The Provincetown Playhouse, 133 MacDougal Street, between West 3rd and West 4th streets. For more information about the Songwriting Program at NYU Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/songwriting.

About The Songwriters Hall of Fame:

The Songwriters Hall of Fame celebrates songwriters, educates the public with regard to their achievements, and produces a spectrum of professional programs devoted to the development of new songwriting talent through workshops, showcases, and scholarships. West Coast educational activities are held at The GRAMMY Museum, which hosts the permanent Songwriters Hall of Fame Gallery, and at the University of Southern California. Visit the Hall at http://songhall.org/ for more information.


Rodney Benson of Department of Media, Culture, and Communication Wins Tankard Book Award

Rodney Benson has been awarded the 2014 Tankard Book Award by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) at its annual meeting in Montréal.

Benson is an associate professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and an affiliated faculty member of NYY;s Department of Sociology. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Benson’s book, Shaping Immigration News: A French-American Comparison, received the Tankard Award to honor scholarship that, according to AEJMC, “breaks new ground in the field of journalism and mass communication” research.

The book, published in 2013 by Cambridge University Press, compares immigration news coverage in the U.S. and France from the early 1970s through the 2000s, drawing on detailed text and image analysis and nearly 100 interviews with journalists in Paris, Los Angeles, and New York. Benson uses the comparative case study to draw broader conclusions about journalistic practices and performance in the two countries. According to Cambridge University Press’s description of the book, Benson “challenges classic liberalism’s assumptions about state intervention’s chilling effects on the press, suggests costs as well as benefits to the current vogue in personalized narrative news, and calls attention to journalistic practices that can help empower civil society.”

Shaping Immigration News has already received praise from a range of leading sociologists and media scholars.

Silvio Waisbord of George Washington University writes: “Benson has amassed powerful evidence showing why globalization does not make journalism homogeneous across borders…This book should be of interest to scholars interested in understanding the possibility for multiperspectival and critical journalism in democratic societies, as well as continuities and changes in fluid news systems. Benson has produced a sophisticated, elegant, and evidence-packed cross-national analysis that will be a go-to reference for comparative media research.”

Paul DiMaggio of Princeton University writes: “Comparing the experiences of France and the United States for explanatory leverage, the author of this fine book identifies and tracks the prevalence of alternative frames and authorized spokespersons in immigration news over four decades – and in so doing demonstrates how institutional differences in the journalistic field refract coverage of events and debates in striking and often unanticipated ways.”

AEJMC, the national association of journalism and mass communication scholars and media professionals, established the Tankard Book Award in 2007 in honor of communication scholar James W. Tankard, Jr.


Sex Differences in Swallowing Function Attributed to Height, Finds Steinhardt Study

Variations in swallowing can be traced back to a person’s height, according to a study by Sonja Molfenter, an assistant professor at NYU Steinhardt.  Molfenter’s findings, reported in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, explain previously reported differences in swallowing function between women and men.

Swallowing function is commonly disrupted by conditions including stroke, brain injury, head and neck cancer, and spinal cord injury. The gold-standard assessment of swallowing function involves a radiographic imaging technique called videofluoroscopy, which allows real-time visualization of swallowing function. The extent of movement of various structures and tissues involved in swallowing can be measured using this technique.

Previous research had demonstrated distinct sex differences in swallowing function; men have displayed greater extent of movement than women. Thus, data and treatment targets have differed between the two sexes.

Molfenter of the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, studied the swallowing of 20 healthy adults (10 females and 10 males). The participants were stratified by height, and performed several tasks that were measured using videofluoroscopy.

The results showed variations in swallowing function among participants that could be explained by the height of the individual, likely explaining why sex differences have been observed in the past. The study also investigates methods for normalizing height in videofluoroscopic imaging and proposes ways to control for these differences in a clinical setting.

Photo:   © iStock/Remains


Books From Our Faculty: Helen Nissenbaum on the Value of Play in Digital Games

Does Angry Birds have a code of ethics? Does it have values?

Yes, says Helen Nissenbaum, a professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and Computer Science, and co-author Mary Flanagan.

Their new book, Values at Play in Digital Games (The MIT Press, 2014), presents a framework for identifying moral and political values in digital games. It also serves as a guide to designers who seek to implement values in the concept and design of their games.

The authors believe that games express and embody human values, providing a compelling arena in which we play out our beliefs and ideas.

They base their theory on three premises: that societies have common values, that technologies such as digital games embody ethical and political values, and that those who design digital games have the power to shape players’ engagement with these values.

The authors use the term “conscientious designer” to describe someone who commits to considering values when designing games. Texts by “conscientious designers” who have put Values at Play into practice are woven into the book, offering a real-world perspective on the design challenges involved.

In the case of Angry Birds, Nissenbaum and Flanagan highlight action, interspecies differences, and destruction as values found in the game.

The authors last word is a question:  “What if the game were modified to support the value of creativity instead of destruction?”

-Rachel Harrison



Freedom Summer: Robert Cohen on the Lasting Legacy of the 1964 Push to Register Black Voters

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In 1964, less than 7% of eligible African-Americans in Mississippi were registered to vote.

Under the leadership of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a mixed race group of more than 800 young volunteers recruited from college campuses around the country traveled to Mississippi that summer to register black voters there.

Risking violence and arrest, they also set up Freedom Schools to educate and empower African-American students for social change.

Before they even arrived in the South, while the group was still training in Ohio, three volunteers—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner—were abducted and murdered by Klansmen.Their bodies were found on August 4, 1964.

In this video marking the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, Steinhardt history and social studies professor Robert Cohen, author of Rebellion in Black and White: Southern Student Activism in the 1960s and Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s, discusses the challenges SNCC faced as well as the lasting legacy of this historic effort by an inter-racial coalition.


Farmer’s Market Vouchers May Boost Produce Consumption in Low-Income Families Finds Study Led by Carolyn Dimitri

Vouchers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets increase the amount of produce in the diets of some families on food assistance, according to research led by Carolyn Dimitri, an associate professor in Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Heath.

The study, which appears online in Food Policy, suggests that farmers market vouchers can be useful tools in improving access to healthy food.  This finding validates a new program created by the Agricultural Act of 2014, or farm bill, that incentivizes low-income families to buy produce at farmers markets.

“In terms of healthy food options, farmers market incentives may be able to bring a low-income person onto the same playing field as those with greater means,” said Dimitri, the study’s lead author.

Economically disadvantaged families tend to consume diets low in fruits and vegetables, partially due to poor access to healthy food and their inability to pay for it. Farmers markets may help fill in gaps in communities commonly referred to as “food deserts,” which lack access to fresh, healthy food.

One in four farmer’s markets in the U.S. accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. In recent years, several local governments and nonprofit organizations have augmented federal food assistance by offering vouchers to use at farmers markets. The vouchers increase the value of food assistance when used to buy fruits and vegetables at markets.

While most food assistance programs fail to address nutritional quality  – for instance, SNAP benefits can be used to buy ice cream and soda – farmers market incentives can only be used on fresh produce, increasing their potential to improve consumers’ diets.

To assess the effect of farmers market incentives on those receiving food assistance, Dimitri and her colleagues enrolled 281 economically disadvantaged women in their study, recruiting participants at five farmers markets in New York, San Diego and Boston. The women were all caring for young children and received federal food assistance through SNAP or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

The researchers collected demographic information and surveyed the participants throughout the 12-16 week study to learn about their food shopping habits and fresh vegetable consumption. Each time participants shopped at the farmers market, they received up to $10 in vouchers to be used toward purchasing fruits and vegetables. The women matched the amount of the farmers market vouchers with cash or federal food benefits.

Despite incentives, retaining participants was a challenge, suggesting that factors other than incentives influence farmers market shopping habits. A total of 138 participants completed the study, which is consistent with retention rates for similar studies. Women who were older, visited food banks and lived in “food deserts” were the most likely to drop out of the study.

For those who completed the study, more than half reported consuming vegetables more frequently at the end of the study. Participants with low levels of education and those who consumed little fresh produce at the beginning of the study were the most likely to increase the amount of produce in their diets.

“Our food choices are very complex, and issues with food security won’t be solved with a single program,” Dimitri said. “Even though not all participants increased their consumption of produce, our study suggests that nutrition incentives are a promising option that can help economically disadvantaged families eat healthier diets.”

Additional research is needed to understand why produce consumption did not increase among nearly half of the participants, despite their increased purchasing power, and determine what measures can be taken to engage the vulnerable group that dropped out of the study.

While farmers markets are good sources of healthy food, the researchers noted that relying on them exclusively for food security is problematic, as markets are usually open on limited days and closed in the winter.

Dimitri’s co-authors in the study are Lydia Oberholtzer of Penn State; Michelle Zive of University of California, San Diego School of Medicine; and Cristina Sandolo of the Wholesome Wave Foundation. The data collection was funded by Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit organization working to improve affordability and access to fresh, locally grown food.

Photo:  Vouchers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets increase the amount of produce in the diets of some families on food assistance, according to research led by Carolyn Dimitri of NYU Steinhardt. © benstevens/iStock


Looking for Shakespeare: A Summer Camp for Thespians, Literati, and Aspiring Actors

Teenagers from across the country took part in Looking for Shakespeare, a summer arts program.

Slow down, people,” director Jonathan Jones implored his young cast during a recent rehearsal in Pless Hall’s Black Box Theatre. The adolescent actors—seventeen 13- to-18-year olds selected by audition to participate in Steinhardt’s annual Looking for Shakespeare workshop—had just finished an energetic run-through of the second act of Twelfth Night, which they’ll be performing July 24-26.

That’s the play is about a pair of twins who, having been separated in a shipwreck, find themselves embroiled in intertwining love plots built around some cases of cross-dressing and mistaken identity.  Its second act is the source of the often-quoted line: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

In this run there’d been a few hiccups—a dropped line here, a missed cue there, and some confusion over the best method for peering out from behind a piece of scenery—but with more than a week left to polish scenes, the precocious thespians had soldiered on with poise and élan befitting veteran performers.

Over the course of this four-week program each summer, an ensemble made of theatrically inclined teenagers from all over the country (and sometimes the world) work with a director and a dramaturg to develop an original Shakespeare production. This year’s Twelfth Night is a musical adaptation with vaudeville-inspired song-and-dance numbers.

When, after giving notes on Act II, Jones and a team of Steinhardt graduate students took some of the cast aside to work on fight choreography,  NYU Stories interviewed three actors to find out about the work that goes into putting up a five-act Elizabethan comedy in just four weeks. Here’s what Liam, 13 (who plays Feste, the clown), Esther, 16 (Maria), and Lauren, 15 (Valentine), had to say about getting into a role—and what real-life teenage romance taught them about Shakespeare.

Liam, 13

What was going on in Act II?

Liam: Why are you all looking at me to answer this? [laughs] The most vital thing that happens is that Maria convinces everyone who goes to Olivia’s house to get drunk and write a letter to fool Malvolio into thinking that Olivia loves him. And in the end Malvolio reads the letter and agrees to do all these ridiculous things.

What have you been doing to get into character?

Lauren: First, our grad students let us break down each of our lines from Shakespeare so that we really understand them. Then they want us to put the character in our shoes. We actually had two people from Broadway come in here and they said as humans we all have all these different sides to us. And acting is really just exploring each of those sides.

Liam: For the physicality of the characters, you can’t just walk on stage like a regular person. No one wants to see you; they want to see your character. So we try to think about how this person would walk. What face would they put on? How do they present themselves?

What do you make of all the cross-dressing in Twelfth Night?

Liam: The point is that sometimes you have to change yourself to get what you want. In Viola’s case it didn’t work out at all, but she thought that she would have had to change herself to suit Orsino.

Esther, 16

Is it tough to keep Shakespeare’s lines straight in your head?

Esther: Not really—I have a slight obsession with Shakespeare. I really love the language, so I don’t have too much more difficulty with it than I would with a normal text.

Liam: I think the hardest part about Shakespeare is trying to internalize it. My director told me a long time ago when he was prepping me for the audition here that you have to understand what’s going on almost in a cartoony way, and understand that your character is actually speaking what for him is regular language.

Lauren: Yeah, if at first you don’t understand what you’re saying, it’s like, how am I supposed to memorize this if I don’t even know what it means?

So if not the language, what is the toughest part about doing this play?

Lauren: Well, we have full-on musical numbers, which is pretty unusual for Shakespeare—not just at the big happy wedding scenes, but all throughout!

Lauren, 15

Esther: Right. Doing Shakespeare is a lot of work. Doing a musical is a lot of work. So doing a musical that’s Shakespeare is a TON of work. Trying to incorporate the music for a lot of kids who came into this not really expecting to do music is pretty difficult.

Liam: Yes. Everyone sings!

Is there anything in Twelfth Night that you’ve been able to connect to your own personal experiences?

Lauren: Oh, definitely the drama aspect.

Esther: Yes, there’s a lot of drama.

Lauren: Like with the boys and the girls and the crushes—

Esther: And who likes who, and “tell me what he said, and oh my god go give him this”—

Lauren: And the popular girl is always like “oh, I don’t want anybody”—

Esther: And the guy is like, “Yo, dude, go tell her I like her. But don’t say that I said I like her, but say I maybe like her and see if she responds….”

Liam: Basically, it’s middle school.

This article first appeared in NYU Stories and was written by Eileen Reynolds.


David Kirkland’s Book on the Literacy of Young Black Men Wins NCTE Award

A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men (Teachers College Press, 2013) by David Kirkland has been awarded the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English from the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE).

In his book, Kirkland, an associate professor of English education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, examines how the identities of young men are shaped by silence on issues surrounding language, race, and masculinity.

Kirkland argues that educators need to understand the social worlds of African-American males to break the school-to-prison pipeline cycle.  The book asks the education community to listen to the voices of black youth to better understand what it means to be literate in a multicultural, democratic society.

Established in 1963 as the Distinguished Research Award and renamed in 1966 to honor the Council’s late president, the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English honors an outstanding work of scholarship or research in language, literature, rhetoric, or pedagogy and learning, published during the previous five years.



Inside Books: Temperament-Based Elementary Classroom Management By Sandee Graham McClowry

“Understanding how children differ in temperament can help teachers to support their academic and social-emotional developments,” writes Sandee Graham McClowry in her new book, Temperament-Based Elementary Classroom Management  (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

McClowry, a professor in Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology, is the creator of INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament, a classroom intervention program, and the principal investigator of the three federally funded studies that tested its effectiveness.

In Temperament-Based Elementary Classroom Management, the author asserts that teachers need to incorporate knowledge about temperament into their strategies for classroom management.  She illustrates how targeted temperament-based strategies succeed where other disciplinary practices have failed.