Welcome to the reluctant criminologists

You found our repository for sharing course material and ideas. Congrats! Or condolences. Anyway, in this first post, we discuss our motives and aims for this site.

Jon Brauer and Jake Day


March 10, 2023

Reluctant criminologists logo

Why are we doing this?

First, this site is intended primarily as a central repository for conveniently sharing our course material and preliminary ideas with students and colleagues. It allows us to simply point people to a website rather than sending large html files via email or proliferating dropbox links. If it serves only this purpose effectively, we will be happy.

Second, this site is a direct consequence of our recent efforts to re-tool our approaches to doing science. We think this site will serve as evidence for how much we have learned - and likely as even stronger evidence of how much more we have yet to learn.

Of course, this begs the question: Why have we been re-tooling our approaches to science? Well, answering that question requires a longer conversation with multiple threads, and we anticipate weaving some of those threads into our future blog posts. For now, it may be clear from our posted materials that we are motivated to act in response to increasing concerns about replication failures across multiple scientific disciplines and awareness of subsequent reforms. We are also motivated by the perception that our academic disciplines of sociology and criminology, with some exceptions, may be lagging behind other fields like psychology in self-reflection on these important issues and widespread adoption of potentially effective reforms. Likewise, we are moved by our own experiences with reproducing high-profile work and attempting to raise awareness through the traditional academic peer-review publication process about concerns regarding underpowered null hypothesis significance tests and common misinterpretations of null findings from such tests.

It is also fair to say that this site is indicative of early-mid-career crises of sorts brought on by other factors such as post-tenure malaise and serious reflections about what we are doing with our limited time in the aftermath of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, the initial idea for the blog emerged during the height of the pandemic in a long email thread between Jon and Jake. In a somewhat typical exchange, Jake was asking Jon to explain a relatively complex statistical topic (e.g., latent variable modeling in SEM vs. multilevel modeling). Jon was sharing resources, summarizing debates, and explaining issues that have been published on the topic across disparate statistical literatures over the years. Jake thought putting these types of discussions into a blog might be beneficial for multiple reasons. First, rather than burying this writing in emails, others might also appreciate such reviews or tutorials if they were available in a free, public-facing blog. Second, Jon seemed reluctant to write traditional academic articles on such topics since, from his perspective, they would be redundant - the reviews and debates are already out there, you just need to go read them (often in other fields). Meanwhile, Jon was receptive to the idea of a blog; he thought Jake should write more, and a blog might be a good way for both of them to spill ink and “try out” ideas under a critical public eye while perhaps even helping some students and colleagues along the way. So, here we are.

How we were inspired by Charles

The name of our site pays homage to our late mentor and friend, Dr. Charles R. Tittle. It is meant to be a cheeky reference to his chapter entitled “Reflections of a Reluctant but Committed Criminologist” in Gilbert Geis and Mary Dodge’s Lessons of Criminology (pp.23-45).

This is one of our favorite pieces written by Charles. Our perspectives on the field of criminology and criminal justice were heavily shaped by Charles and are thus quite comparable to the views he presents in that chapter. Here is how that chapter starts (p.23):

“I didn’t intend to become a criminologist. Rather, happenstance led me to investigate certain sociological problems that resulted in my being labeled a criminologist (Tittle, 1991). After a while the reactions of others had the effects that symbolic interactionist theory would predict - I began to think of myself as a criminologist, although one with a larger allegiance. In fact, one of the first conclusions I drew as a criminologist is that criminology ought not be thought of as a discipline. Disciplines have unifying perspectives; criminology does not. Criminology is an umbrella term encompassing diverse studies of crime and crime-relevant phenomena undertaken from many disciplinary points of view. It makes sense to speak of an economic perspective, a political perspective, a historical perspective, or a sociological perspective. It makes no sense to speak of a criminological, a criminal justice, or a criminal perspective (at least not in an academic context). In my mind, the best criminology is done by those with a firm grounding in some discipline, or by those with an appreciation of several different disciplines, the insights of which are then brought to bear on criminological issues.”

The chapter then proceeds to introduce several lessons that Charles learned throughout his illustrious career, which he later summarized as follows (pp.40-41):

  1. Criminology is not a discipline but a topical area dependent on a variety of disciplines and that criminological knowledge is best pursued and dispensed within the context of a liberal arts education
  2. Our methods of identifying and recruiting new scholars must be improved
  3. Evidence concerning most important issues having to do with crime and crime-relevant phenomena is weak; success requires that we commit ourselves to a long-range mission of improving that situation
  4. Things are more complicated than our extant theories show, calling for improved theories specifying contingent and interactive effects
  5. The most effective criminology demands that we be aware of and committed to the goal of developing general explanatory schemes refined through test and feedback
  6. Science is the best model to follow in developing criminological knowledge
  7. Weak science, which is likely to continue to characterize criminology for some time, is hardly a basis for policy
  8. The barriers to, and distractions from, good scientific criminology, especially the widespread practice of ad hoc work and the intrusion of personal biases and larger ideologies, must be countered
  9. Civility within the scholarly community is necessary for maximum collective effort

If you are interested in learning more about some of Charles Tittle’s intellectual contributions, check out our blog post on the topic, which contains comments delivered in a tribute panel for Charles at the 2021 American Society of Criminology annual meetings. To be clear, as we also note on our About page, we were inspired by Charles but he did not endorse this project in any way; in fact, he likely would have thought it was a waste of time better spent contributing in more traditional ways to scientific theory development and testing. We think it’s safe to say that we are both more “reluctant” and less “committed” criminologists than Charles was.

But really, why are we doing this?

If we have a loftier aim for our site, it is to answer the call expressed in Charles’ lessons above by contributing modestly to the advancement of scientific criminology. In other words, this site is an attempt to help improve upon, even if just a little, what we perceive are systemic shortcomings in our respective fields.

Of course, we are not alone - scholars raise similar concerns in other social scientific disciplines, including psychology, marketing, and evolutionary anthropology to name a few. Likewise, we benefit immensely from the contributions in blogs and bookdown projects shared freely for the collective good by so many people from various disciplinary perspectives working within and outside academia. We encourage you to check out our favorite links post for some excellent examples. Our hope is that this site might offer a comparable (derivative, bargain-basement) version that enriches conversations in our fields about how we can collectively strengthen our science through concerted efforts to improve our theories and the methods we use to generate knowledge about them.

In our own academic careers and scholarly pursuits, we continually try to improve our understanding of philosophies of science, substantive theories of crime and deviance, and quantitative methods used to test social scientific theories. Rather than solely bothering seemingly uninterested authors about these issues in the reviews we write for journals (we both now sign our reviews but the editors often take our names off), we thought we might as well put our thoughts out in public and subject them to criticism. Of course, we recognize the most likely outcome is that our thoughts, like in many of the reviews we write, will simply be (justifiably?) ignored. But we expect our own thinking on these matters will be strengthened by forcing ourselves to write them down and, ideally, by then accounting for your feedback.

So welcome to our blog! We’ll try to keep the navel gazing to a minimum from here on out.



BibTeX citation:
@online{brauer and jake day2023,
  author = {Brauer and Jake Day, Jon},
  title = {Welcome to the Reluctant Criminologists},
  date = {2023-03-10},
  url = {https://reluctantcriminologists.com/blog-posts/[1]/welcome-blog.html},
  langid = {en}
For attribution, please cite this work as:
Brauer and Jake Day, Jon. 2023. “Welcome to the Reluctant Criminologists.” March 10, 2023. https://reluctantcriminologists.com/blog-posts/[1]/welcome-blog.html.

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