SRAS

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Societal Research Archives System at eclectic

TO BE EDITED

Societal Research Archives System: Data and Codebooks

The Index to Cross-Cultural Samples published in 1966 and the Compendium of Coded Materials from Cross-Cultural Literature (1967) were done to assess the quality of cross-cultural data and the overlaps in sampling. In 1967 I was invited to attend the HRAF (Human Relations Area Files) conference on Cross-Cultural Research, Feb 9-10 along with Driver, Eggan, Janda, Kobben, Murdock, Naroll, Spiro, Textor, Udy and Whiting. Summary of a Conference Discussion on Cross-Cultural Research. Cross-Cultural Research 2: 63-69 - formerly Behavior Science Notes). All of my work (SRAS1968.pdf White 1968, reprinted 1970, reissued 1973) was done prior to planning and compiling with G. P. Murdock the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (see SCCS Bibliography). The SRAS data were made available to colleges, universities and high schools in New England between 1970 and 1990 as one of the main computerized databases under Dartmouth college president John G. Kemeny's project IMPRESS (Interdisciplinary Machine Processessing for Research and Education in the Social Sciences), run by sociologist James Davis. These data formed the basis of the Maximum Extensibility for Comparative Analysis (MECCA) system (see MECCA Codebooks and datafiles). Here is a quote from John Kemeny (JOHN KEMENY SPEAKING p 86) quoting Jim Davis further down about project IMPRESS:


    this building has just had a vast effect in making this an even more outstanding institution. The other was the impact of computing, and somehow as one sitting in the audience instead of speaking about this and being able to listen to a review of all the ways that the computer has affected Dartmouth College, I found it a terribly exciting event, as I found it terribly exciting to meet these young men I used to know as undergraduate students and finding them in key positions in major companies and major educational institutions all over the country. But I thought I would make an attempt at giving you some feeling of how widely the computer has affected an educational institution. Incidentally, this was the tenth anniversary of our Time-Sharing System. I always get the credit for it, but that's only because Tom Kurtz never takes credit for anything at all. The dream was Tom Kurtz's. Tom had the dream that every student at Dartmouth College should have an opportunity to learn how to use a computer, not because it was a technological tool, but because Tom was convinced, as was I, that for better or worse, computers will have an enormous impact on the lives of all of us, and that the very nature of a liberal arts education is to understand those major forces that will influence our lives so that we can try to control them, so that they will have a beneficial effect on our lives and not a harmful one. The dream was clearly impossible at the time Tom dreamed it, and when he persuaded me to go along with it and eventually persuaded the Board of Trustees, it was very lucky that neither Tom nor I nor the students who worked on the system knew that the dream was impossible, because a year later it became a reality. It sometimes helps to be terribly ignorant in that we did not know just how difficult the task was. Tom and I sort of laid down the general framework, and then we had about fifteen students around, most of them undergraduates, and we told them they had three months to complete this project. If we had not been so terribly ignorant, we would have known that we should have had a team of twenty professionals working three years on the project. Instead, we picked an undergraduate and said, "You have three months," and when that student took three months and a week, we got terribly angry at him for not working hard enough.
    I don't know if you fully realize what Dartmouth undergraduates can achieve--whether it's in a student art show, in the Outing Club, or in computing--if you really give them an opportunity to work on something they know is worthwhile. If they know that something is worthwhile, they care deeply about it, even if they don't get any credit for it. I have found that students work vastly harder in spite of all the nasty things that people say--they do grub for grades, but that's a different phenomenon, the game there is to achieve the minimum level of work required to receive an A. They work much harder for the things they get no credit whatsoever for than for the things they do get credit for. Those students worked all night and a couple of them came close to flunking out of Dartmouth College, but I have to say that none of them ever did--although one did get a two-year suspension, but he is the one now who has the biggest job in one of the best-known companies in the country! I think, if I understood it correctly from what he described, one of the best-known companies more or less set up a separate small research division for him because he would never fit into any normal organization or structure.
    It was terribly exciting to see these students many years later. It was also terribly exciting just to hear recounted how that dream came true. The obvious things we were after were first, that students would understand what computers are about. Secondly, quite clearly in mathematics and science courses, the computer gave an opportunity, as one of our faculty members described in Chicago, to get away from the absolutely ridiculously stupid problems we used to give in mathematics and freshman physics courses. I like to use mechanics as an example, where I had a terribly exciting mechanics course as an undergraduate--that's the theoretical part of it. Newton's Laws are some of the most exciting things you can study. On the other hand, if you then have to go and do homework problems on what happens when you toss a rock up in the air or what happens when a ball rolls down an inclined plane, or one billiard ball hits another billiard ball, you totally destroy the nature of the mechanics course. That's not what Newton was after. Newton was after understanding how the heavenly bodies behave, and he solved the problem. The difference is not knowing more physics, the difference is that the computation to apply Newton's Laws to celestial motion or a rocket trip to the moon is a mess. It happens to be a total and awful mess--but that's what computers are for. So now as a standard exercise, students will in a freshman physics course work out the orbiting around the earth or a rocket trip to the moon.As a matter of fact, I learned a great deal at the Chicago presentation; students now go beyond that, they invent gravitational laws different from the ones in our universe, and they have to plot, i.e., have the computer draw pictures, as to what orbits would look like in a different gravitational field--and this is in a freshman physics course!
    Let me switch to the social science Project Impress. Here I have to quote a very distinguished faculty member who used to be chairman of our Sociology Department--unfortunately we lost him to the largest social science research center in the country. Incidentally, he still rents computing time from Dartmouth College; I guess at the University of Chicago, you can't get anything nearly as good! The reason he does this is because there is a system available to social scientists. I am going to quote him on the following. When he said that sociology used to be taught as follows: "You went into a sociology class and the lecturer told you what the truth was, then the students took it all down and then they went to another sociology class, where the lecturer again told them what the truth was, which just happened to be the opposite of what the first lecturer said, and then the student was told to do research to find out which of the two lecturers was right. The way the student did research was to go to the library and look up a book written by a third sociologist, who also told you what the truth was. In no case did the student ever have an opportunity to check on the facts himself. And the reason that he couldn't do it was not because it's so terribly hard, but in order to get any feeling about sociology you need data bases with millions of pieces of information. This was so expensive and so inaccessible that only a few leaders in the field ever got their hands on the original data and everybody else had to take their word for it. But today, in freshman sociology, every single student goes through that exercise of going to original data bases and second-guessing the faculty members." This was another area where there has been an enormous impact.

I worked closely with Jim Davis and Project Director Ed Meyers in the summer of 1970 to post the SRAS/MECCA data to the new Dartmouth education time-sharing setup at Dartmouth and documented in 1972, with fine tuning by Kurtz. From the tone of Kemeny's later comments you can tell this was an exciting time. I had transferred all my SRAS files to a data tape at the University of Pittsburgh where I was teaching (we had IBM mainframe 360s) and within a year high school and undergraduate students were making discoveries using cross-cultural data from the 46 studies I had keystroked from my travels around the U.S. visiting cross-cultural researchers during my graduate years at Michigan and Columbia, with side trips to Harvard, Northwestern, American University, and elsewhere. My discovery had been that the samples didn't have enough overlap to make the investiment of each individual cross-cultural researcher really cumulative.


In 1967 I had been hired at Pittsburgh by G. P. Murdock and we were working on the SCCS prior to my going to work with Davis and for Kemeny. I was motivated to join Murdock's faculty by my discovery of non-cumulativity of cross-cultural data because of the low overlap of cases in the choice of samples and thus to build with him a truly cumulative database for cross-cultural studies. Many people later thought I must have been a student of Murdock's, which was not the case. We saw the value of cross-cultural studies from very different perspectives. He was an evolutionary functionalist, having been trained by Sumner and Keller at Yale in a cohort 50 years earlier in the century than mine. My interest was in historical dynamics and I had used Murdock's first 1962-65 installments of his Ethnographic Atlas as background for a comparative regional-historical study of the dynamics of adaptation on the Great Plains and in the Southwest after the European disruption and the advent of horse nomadism. I insisted that we do the Galton's problem tests that we published in the 1969 SCCS article, which showed that history, diffusion, and Galton's problem could not be ignored if valid inferences were to be made from cross-cultural studies (HRAF after it was taken over by the Embers have denied this to the present day in 2006, perhaps because Mel Ember had been a pre-1965 student of Murdock's at Yale, and had failed to pay subsequent attention to the latter-day Murdock.)


Working with Jim Davis and others at Dartmouth in 1970 was an exciting time. Paul F. Velleman and some of his student cohort were setting up an interactiving monitoring system for tracking the voting records of congressmen and senators. He and I worked together to document the MECCA manual. These were the first interactive data analysis programs (Vellman 1974).

References


Baker,Clark M., Edward R. Baker, Teresa O. Green. ECPRESS: a mini-IMPRESS. 1974. ACM SIGSOC Bulletin archive 5(4):21-24.
Computing at Dartmouth. [http://www.dartmouth.edu/comp/about/history/timeline/1960s/68/impress.html Project IMPRESS Launched 1968]
Dartmouth 1972 July. The IMPRESS manual. Hanover NH: Project IMPRESS.
Velleman, Paul F. 1971, "MECCA Users Manual", with D. R. White, in The Impress Manual, Project IMPRESS, Hanover, N.H.; 122-164.
Velleman, Paul F. 1974. "Project IMPRESS, Several Perspectives: Interactive Computing and Data Analysis," Behavioral Research Methods and Instrumentation 6:248-253.
White, Douglas R. 1968. [../pub/SRAS1968.pdf Societal Research Archives System: Retrieval, Quality Control and Analysis of Comparative Data]. Social Science Information 7(3): 78-94.
White, Douglas R. 1970. "Societal Research Archives System" (reprint) in R.Naroll and R. Cohen, eds. Handbook of Method in Cultural Anthropology, pp. 676-685. Natural History Press. Reissued 1973 Columbia University Press.

The SRAS Codes and Codebooks

Leaving Dartmouth in 1970 after a summer's work the mag tape that I had brought to transfer the SRAS data had been lost. I discovered recently, however, that I still had machine-readable files, which are the source of this reconstruction of the lost SRAS and MECCA data archives. I am not reprinting all these files, since some have been superseded. I begin with one, and will perhaps add others as time permits. There are few copies left of the codebook, and the coding keys need to be scanned and edited for each file. All the numeric datafiles, however, have been uploaded to the SRAS site on this web site.


7. [7/Tatje.pdf Code]. [7/7NAROLLDV Data]. Social Complexity and Social Development==.

SRAS datafiles