Joel Best

Joel Best is Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Damned Lies and Statistics, Flavor of the Month, Stat-Spotting, and Everyone's a Winner and coauthor of The Student Loan Mess.
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In this sequel to the acclaimed Damned Lies and Statistics, which the Boston Globe said "deserves a place next to the dictionary on every school, media, and home-office desk," Joel Best continues his straightforward, lively, and humorous account of how statistics are produced, used, and misused by everyone from researchers to journalists. Underlining the importance of critical thinking in all matters numerical, Best illustrates his points with examples of good and bad statistics about such contemporary concerns as school shootings, fatal hospital errors, bullying, teen suicides, deaths at the World Trade Center, college ratings, the risks of divorce, racial profiling, and fatalities caused by falling coconuts. More Damned Lies and Statistics encourages all of us to think in a more sophisticated and skeptical manner about how statistics are used to promote causes, create fear, and advance particular points of view.

Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues: missing numbers are relevant but overlooked; confusing numbers bewilder when they should inform; scary numbers play to our fears about the present and the future; authoritative numbers demand respect they don’t deserve; magical numbers promise unrealistic, simple solutions to complex problems; and contentious numbers become the focus of data duels and stat wars. The author's use of pertinent, socially important examples documents the life-altering consequences of understanding or misunderstanding statistical information. He demystifies statistical measures by explaining in straightforward prose how decisions are made about what to count and what not to count, what assumptions get made, and which figures are brought to our attention.

Best identifies different sorts of numbers that shape how we think about public issues. Entertaining, enlightening, and very timely, this book offers a basis for critical thinking about the numbers we encounter and a reminder that when it comes to the news, people count—in more ways than one.
This collection of focused essays is directed at several levels of students of social problems. It is accessible to the uninitiated, who are not familiar with the constructionist literature, and aimed at those who are not particularly interested in subtle theoretical and empirical issues of concern to academics studying social problems from constructionist perspectives. Some readings focus on the construction of problems by scientists and other professionals; others examine the work of social activists, mass media, and social service personnel. Among the topics included are studies of social inequalities and individual deviance; a comparison of the images of social problems in the United States with those in other countries; and an examination of the importance of politics and power in constructing public images of social problems.

Constructionist perspectives have become the leading theoretical approach for sociology and allied fields in studying social problems. Yet constructionists' impact on the teaching of social problems has been far less dramatic. Undergraduate courses on social problems are often subject to a theoretical barrage of eclectic perspectives. Just as the first social problems textbooks did almost a century ago, textbooks continue to present a series of unrelated chapters, each devoted to a particular social problem. Social Problems is an effort at systematic analysis rather than random thought on the subject.

Social Problems presents detailed case studies demonstrating how constructionist perspectives can actually be applied to understand particular social problems. While these articles can be read alone, the editors have organized these selections to correspond with the chapter topics in the second edition of Donileen Loseke's Thinking about Social Problems, an accessible introduction to constructionist approaches. At the same time, some instructors who use this edited collection might wish to provide their own mix to the selection process. Many of the contributions make multiple points and so reasonably could be used to illustrate other basic texts or classic studies in the field of social problems.

Donileen R. Loseke is professor of sociology at the University of South Florida. Joel Best is professor and chair, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware. He has also served as an advisory editor for Aldine in the area of social problems.
This illuminating investigation uncovers the full dimensions of the student loan disaster. A father and son team—one a best-selling sociologist, the other a former banker and current quantitative researcher—probes how we’ve reached the point at which student loan debt—now exceeding $1 trillion and predicted to reach $2 trillion by 2020—threatens to become the sequel to the mortgage meltdown. In spite of their good intentions, Americans have allowed concerns about deadbeat students, crushing debt, exploitative for-profit colleges, and changing attitudes about the purpose of college education to blind them to a growing crisis.

With college costs climbing faster than the cost of living, how can access to higher education remain a central part of the American dream? With more than half of college students carrying an average debt of $27,000 at graduation, what are the prospects for young adults in the current economy? Examining how we’ve arrived at and how we might extricate ourselves from this grave social problem, The Student Loan Mess is a must-read for everyone concerned about the future of American education.

Hard facts about the student loan crisis:

• Student loan debt is rising by more than $100 billion every year.
• Among recent college students who are supposed to be repaying their loans, more than a third are delinquent.
• Because student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, the federal government misleadingly treats student loan debt as a government asset.
• Higher default rates, spiraling college costs, and proposals for more generous terms for student borrowers make it increasingly likely that student loan policies will eventually cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
Random Violence is a deft and thought-provoking exploration of the ways we talk about—and why we worry about—new crimes and new forms of victimization. Focusing on so-called random crimes such as freeway shootings, gang violence, hate crimes, stalking, and wilding, Joel Best shows how new crime problems emerge and how some quickly fade from public attention while others spread and become enduring subjects of concern. Best's original and incisive argument illuminates the fact that while these crimes are in actuality neither new, nor epidemic, nor random, the language used to describe them nonetheless shapes both private fears and public policies.

Best scrutinizes the melodramatic quality of the American public's attitudes toward crime, exposing the cultural context for the popularity of "random violence" as a catch-all phrase to describe contemporary crime, and the fallacious belief that violence is steadily rising. He points out that the age, race, and sex of homicide victims reveal that violence is highly patterned.

Best also details the contemporary ideology of victimization, as well as the social arrangements that create and support a victim industry that can label large numbers of victims. He demonstrates why it has become commonplace to "declare war" on social problems, including drugs, crime, poverty, and cancer, and outlines the complementary influence of media, activists, officials, and experts in institutionalizing crime problems. Intrinsic to all these concerns is the way in which policy choices and outcomes are affected by the language used to describe social problems.
The myths and truths of teen's sexual behavior.Winner of the 2015 Brian McConnell Book Award presented by the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research To hear mainstream media sources tell it, the sex lives of modern teenagers outpace even the smuttiest of cable television shows. Teen girls “sext” explicit photos to boys they like; they wear “sex bracelets” that signify what sexual activities they have done, or will do; they team up with other girls at “rainbow parties” to perform sex acts on groups of willing teen boys; they form “pregnancy pacts” with their best girlfriends to all become teen mothers at the same time. From The Today Show, to CNN, to the New York Times, stories of these events have been featured widely in the media. But are most teenage—or younger—children really going to sex parties and having multiple sexual encounters in an orgy-like fashion? Researchers say no—teen sex is actually not rampant and teen pregnancy is at low levels. But why do stories like these find such media traffic, exploiting parents’ worst fears? How do these rumors get started, and how do they travel around the country and even across the globe? In Kids Gone Wild, best-selling authors Joel Best and Kathleen A. Bogle use these stories about the fears of the growing sexualization of childhood to explore what we know about contemporary legends and how both traditional media and the internet perpetuate these rumors while, at times, debating their authenticity. Best and Bogle describe the process by which such stories spread, trace how and to where they have moved, and track how they can morph as they travel from one medium to another. Ultimately, they find that our society’s view of kids raging out of control has drastic and unforeseen consequences, fueling the debate on sex education and affecting policy decisions on everything from the availability of the morning after pill to who is included on sex offender registries. A surprising look at the truth behind the sensationalism in our culture, Kids Gone Wild is a much-needed wake-up call for a society determined to believe the worst about its young people.
Critics often warn that American schools are failing, and that our students are ill-prepared for the challenges the future holds, and may even be "the dumbest generation." We can think of these claims as warning about a Stupidity Epidemic. This essay begins by tracing the history of the idea of that American students, teachers, and schools are somehow getting worse; the record shows that critics have been issuing such warnings for more than 150 years. It then examines four sets of data that speak to whether educational deterioration is taking place. First, data on educational attainment show a clear trend: more students are getting more education. Second, standardized test scores suggest that American students are performing somewhat better; certainly most test scores do not indicate that students are getting worse. Third, measures of popular knowledge also show evidence of improvement. Fourth, there is clear evidence that IQ scores have been rising. In other words, the best available evidence fails to support claims about a Stupidity Epidemic. The essay then turns to exploring several reasons why belief in educational decline is so common, and concludes by suggesting some more useful ways to think about educational problems.

The goal of this new, unique Series is to offer readable, teachable "thinking frames" on today’s social problems and social issues by leading scholars, all in short 60 page or shorter formats, and available for view on http://routledge.customgateway.com/routledge-social-issues.html

For instructors teaching a wide range of courses in the social sciences, the Routledge Social Issues Collection now offers the best of both worlds: originally written short texts that provide "overviews" to important social issues as well as teachable excerpts from larger works previously published by Routledge and other presses.

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