Conference on Brain Injury and Trauma, Georgia Tech

I'm thrilled to have been invited to talk about my work on football, brain injury, and CTE at Georgia Tech this coming March. Looking forward to seeing colleagues, especially Jennifer Singh and Vanderbilt's own PhD, Kate Pride Brown, there. 

New bioethics articles

The American Journal of Bioethics family of journals has an interesting and unusual practice. They post "target articles" for the community to read, and then accept "Open Peer Commentary" them. Then, the whole kit and caboodle is published together. It's a nice way to start a dialogue. It's also a nice way to increase journal impact factor, since each commentary necessarily cites the target article.

In any case, I have two such peer reviewed papers. One is forthcoming, the other is soon to be out in print but you can find it online. 

The forthcoming one is with my colleague and all around super genius Patrick Grzanka, well known for his scholarship in intersectionality and on his work in LGBTQ issues in counseling psychology. In this piece, we tackled the issue of racism in medicine and biomedical research:

Grzanka, Patrick R. and Daniel R. Morrison. Forthcoming. “Post-Racial Fantasies and the Reproduction of Scientific Racism.” American Journal of Bioethics.

In this piece, I filled in an important gap in a target article with my own original research on patient experiences of deep brain stimulation:

Morrison, Daniel R. 2017. “The Missing Empirical Studies of DBS Recipients’ Views of Self.” American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 8(2):126-128.

New job

I have joined the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University, and I have two roles. The first is Senior Lecturer in Sociology, the second is Special Assistant to the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education. The Sr. Associate Dean is also a sociologist, C. André Christie-Mizell, an excellent person to work with. You can find information about him here

In my day-to-day, I still teach in the Honors Program on ethics and practices of care, and I also help faculty and departments work on their courses and curricula. Learning more all the time. 

Citing Oneself in an Article for Peer Review

Like many colleagues, I review lots of manuscripts for journals. Probably too many, but that's another issue.

I want to think in public about the role of self-citations in double-blind articles for peer review. I'm going to assume the following about these articles, which are all ingredient in the previous sentence:

1. the author(s) are known to the editor and journal staff.

2. the author(s) unknown to the reviewer (or the reviewer is uncertain of the author's identity)

3. the reviewer(s) are unknown to the author(s)

Let's say I'm writing an article about deep brain stimulation and I want to cite previously published work in an article blinded for peer review. If I write (Author, date) as a citation, then this indicates at least two things to the reader:

1. The author has published something in this area -- it might be a peer reviewed journal article or scholarly book.

2. The author is building on his/her extant research in this area 

Both of the above imply that the author is an expert in the field. Might it be that this kind of self-citation actually lends a degree of credibility to the author's paper that is unwarranted? 

There is another option. One could self-cite without drawing attention to the fact. I could write, "Morrison (2014) reported" without writing, "As my previous research has demonstrated (Author, 2014)..." Isn't the former better, especially for those reviewers who do not have a great deal of familiarity with all the authors in a particular field of subfield?

Perhaps the phrase "do not have a great deal of familiarity with..." in the above paragraph is naive, but I review submissions all the time from authors who seem to be outside the US, wishing to publish in US-based journals. And so this is a real issue for me. Perhaps I'm not as well informed as I should be, but there you go. 

SKAT Newsletter out; revised intro article

I happily serve as a member of the communications committee for the Science, Knowledge, and Technology section of the ASA, SKAT

One  of the most important tasks is to develop three newsletters per year, and with the help of section chair Scott Frickel and two council members, Jennifer Singh and Tony Hatch, I and my fellow committee members share the work.

I wrote most of the following after consulting with Scott Frickel, and the parts at the end, especially the quotes, didn't make the final cut. I take full responsibility for the text below and post it here for those who would like to read more.

Knowledge and Expertise after the Election

by Dan Morrison 

By now, everyone recognizes that Donald J. Trump is President-elect here in the United States. This makes Joe Waggle’s contribution regarding science policy under Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, and Green administrations both an artifact of pre-election history and an important document on what might have been. We do know that Mr. Trump garnered over 270 electoral votes and thus will be the next President.

As Waggle recognizes, we do not know much about what science policy under a Trump administration will look like except to the extent that any decisions will be made with an eye towards economic competitiveness and market dominance. We do know that his pick to oversee the EPA transition from President Obama to Trump is a well-known denier of the overwhelming consensus on climate. Should Myron Bell take the top job at EPA, this choice has potentially devastating consequences for the recent Paris Climate Accord.

Based on our many discussions with colleagues in the immediate post-election period, we think it is likely that those who rely on federally funded research institutions such as the NSF, NIH, NEH, and others, are experiencing a profound level of anxiety. Those with “soft-money” jobs are concerned that their grants will be either cut, or that funding for their granting agency will be slashed to such an extent that future work is in peril. There are just too many unknowns at this point. Past Republican-controlled Congress sessions have voted to cut funding for political science. We think that the incoming administration is likely to finance its other priorities by reducing or eliminating several federally funded research programs, with the possible exception of research aimed at protecting national security or increasing economic competitiveness.

We may well be in an era of retrenchment. But we may also be in an era that is ready for sociological analyses of expertise and knowledge. Our area of the discipline may be more important than ever. We have studied the rise of new professions, the creation of academic disciplines, and the construction of expertise. Sociologists of science and knowledge have been active for decades in investigating how expertise is legitimated, and the links between legitimation and power. What might we do within the public sphere to advocate for justified beliefs without turning to naïve positivism?

Related to the problem of expertise is the problem of low-information, or active ignorance. In a 2008 article for Sociology Compass, Robert Evans wrote:

… how are we to understand decision-making in the absence of information? This problem is particularly acute for the political sphere where a disinterested or uninformed public can undermine the legitimacy of democratic institutions based on mass participation (228).

I, Morrison, have been reflecting on the earliest sociologists in America, the Atlanta and Chicago schools, seeking inspiration for what may be a difficult four years for those of us who would foster democratic values and want America to become America for all. The words of Langston Hughes still ring out:

O, let my land be a land where Liberty

Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,

But opportunity is real, and life is free,

Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

-excerpt from “Let America be America Again” by Langston Hughes. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

W.E.B. DuBois wrote in his The Souls of Black Folk, “Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched, --criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led,--this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society” (1903: 45-46). We think that as scholars and (if this is you, reader), as citizens, we have a great deal of responsibility moving ahead. We must take up that responsibility and defend our society and our institutions, including our colleges and universities as sanctuaries for critical reflection and action. The philosopher and pragmatist John Dewey once wrote:

Society exists through a process of transmission… this transmission occurs by means of communication of habits of doing, thinking, and feeling from the older to the younger. Without this communication of ideals, hopes, expectations, standards, opinions, from those members of society who are passing out of the group life to those who are coming into it, social life could not survive… Unless pains are taken to see that genuine and thorough transmission takes place, the most civilized group will relapse into barbarism and then into savagery (1916: 3).

As always, we have much to do, and several SKAT section members have written extensively about these issues. We are thinking specifically of scholars such as Alondra Nelson, Ruha Benjamin, and Tony Hatch. 

Let us begin the work. We offer this newsletter, SKATology, our section blog (, our facebook group and Twitter presence (@ASA_SKAT) as platforms for members to share their thoughts and reflections. We welcome your submissions to a SKAT sponsored “Resource Hub” for information regarding science policy under the coming administration. We also welcome short submissions that track the local impacts of policy change. We are in desperate need of resources that can be widely shared with members of the public, policy makers, and journalists who wish to understand the sociology of expertise, the social structure of ignorance, and the impacts of science policy on society.



Dewey, John. 1916. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan.

Evans, Robert. 2008. “The Sociology of Expertise: The Distribution of Social Fluency.” Sociology Compass 2: 281-298. 

Hughes, Langston. 1994. “Let America be America Again.” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, eds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 

Sociological Perspectives Editorial Board

I've joined my second editorial board, this time Sociological Perspectives. As you may know, I've been contributing to the Pacific Sociological Association Annual Meetings since 2012 and am looking forward to continued engagement with this great group of sociologists, activists, students, and community leaders. 

This appointment seems to follow from years of work with the Ethnographer's Circle, a group devoted to the development of sociological theory and theorizing through ethnographic and qualitative methods.

I've just received my first manuscript to review, so I better get to work.



New Chapter in a great, expensive, book

I'm pleased to report that my chapter with Monica J. Casper has been published in a great edited volume on the NFL, called Football, Culture, and Power, edited by David Leonard, Kimberly George, and Wade Davis. It's a great read, cover to cover, and I'm so happy to have worked with Monica on this. For those of you with book budgets, it's now discounted.

New Appointment: Lecturer in Sociology

It's been a few days (ahem, longer) since I've posted. But, I have some important-ish news. 

I've been appointed Lecturer in sociology at my graduate department, here at Vanderbilt University. I'm obviously thrilled and humbled. No teaching duties as of yet, but I do hope that eventually I'll be able to teach and class and have more sustained interaction with the faculty and undergraduates majoring in sociology. I think it's important to raise the next generation of sociologists right! And by right, I mean with an intersectional lens on social structures and inequalities.

By the way, it's important to specify that this appointment is at Vanderbilt University, because the University and the Medical Center have officially divorced (that is, become different legal corporations). The effects of this change are still being interpreted by faculty and staff. As far as I can tell, things have not changed much for faculty. For staff, on the other hand, things are different, starting with benefits (don't ask me for specifics, I can barely decipher basic HR-speak). 

The change has got me thinking about the ways that the university has become an ever more corporate entity, as eccentricities and inefficiencies (like tenure for scholars who teach and conduct research in unpopular, but still important, fields). Is this simply neoliberalism finding a new and comfy home in higher education, where highly paid managers can streamline and "synergize" operations and efforts? 

What getting a degree in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis has done for me

I sometimes surprise people by telling them that I have five degrees total: 2 BAs, 2 MAs, and a PhD. They often wonder what the "other" MA is in, since one is clearly in sociology. 

The answer is "Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis" which is a very fancy phrase for higher education administration. My particular focus was on student affairs, which means that I spent a lot of time thinking about student development, and learning student development theory in addition to organizational behavior and the history of higher education. 

It turns out that nearly all of this is useful in my current work coordinating a sequence of two, never-taught-before courses on the ethics of care. We are placing students in fieldwork sites, teaching them qualitative research methods (sociology here) and we are asking them to create proposals for on-campus projects that might apply what they have learned about caring and care theory. This is where the student affairs part comes in. I can say some things about where students are developmentally, and the kinds of student affairs professionals that might be able to speak to the issues students raise in their proposed projects. And because I taught in a liberal arts college whose students are not unlike those at Vanderbilt, I can speak with some authority on student cultures.

All this to say: the detours aren't distractions from your goal, they are the journey towards your goals. 

New content on the ASA SKAT webpage

One of the things I really enjoy doing is working with the SKAT Publications Committee. 

I've had the opportunity to review Science, Knowledge, and Technology content from the Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology (TRAILS), and to interview the area editor for Science and Technology within Trails, Dr. Alecia Anderson from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A link to that interview is linked above. 

It's been great to contribute to the conversation about teaching the sociology of science, technology, and knowledge. 

Please contribute to TRAILS. I have. The discipline needs you. 

Two book reviews forthcoming

I've got book reviews coming out in two publications soon. The first is coming out in Contemporary Sociology; the second in Symbolic Interaction.

I can say more later, but I want to just write a bit about how book reviewing is awesome.

First, you get a new book. At no cost to you.

Second, you get to learn a lot about something in the relatively short time it takes to actually read the book.

Third, you get to formulate your thoughts about the book and really dissect its argument, thinking about structure, and offering some kind of evaluation, pro, con, or neutral.

I really enjoy this kind of thing, even if writing the reviews is time consuming. 

Clinical Ethics, the normative, and the sociologist

In my new role as clinical ethics trainee, I've been reading a lot about normative theory, or ethical theory. That is, theories that answer the question: how do we determine what is right? 

Mostly, sociologists studiously avoid this question, as we are taught that sociology is not a normative discipline, but rather an empirical one that has to do with creating theories that explain real things that happen when people do whatever it is that they do. 

Simply put, what is "right" and what is "wrong" are not valid considerations for the sociologist, because sociology simply describes what "is" and the social forces that made it so. 

This often works for the rhetoric of science, and it's great for those making political claims that their evidence, and their theory explaining that evidence, are objective, value-free, and thus neutral and trustworthy. Unfortunately, I think this stance fails for several reasons. First, scientists are never disinterested, and we don't expect them to be. No cancer researcher is neutral on cancer -- they want to eradicate it as it causes clear harm. I expect that most all researchers who study the social sources of inequality have a similar view, although many would not expect to eliminate all inequality in social and personal life. For them, it's the degree of inequality and the unfair (value judgment!) distribution of rewards and punishments that is the problem. You can see how there is both a moral or value judgment embedded in the question.

There is also an implicit view of human nature in this view of inequality. I think it goes something like this: There is a range of natural human variation in socially valuable traits that may or may not be developed, given social and material conditions at any given point in time for any particular person. The degree to which any individual human person develops to their maximal potential is a joint product of both this natural variation and the specific social and cultural context(s) in which the person develops, including any systemic social inequalities often structured around race, class, gender, sexuality, and other matters of personal and social identity. 

Along with this view is the unstated belief that human persons should have access to the social and material resources to achieve their full potential. For shorthand's sake, and to follow Christian Smith on this (see his book To Flourish or Destruct), I'll call that access human flourishing.

Am I wrong here? Enlighten me.

Hand-offs in the hospital, errors, and malpractice suits -- and nearly 2k deaths

Another smart article from STAT on a recent study of nearly 2,000 deaths that might have been prevented with better communication. The article also introduces a tool for handoffs. Probably more importantly, there is a key piece about creating a culture of interpersonal safety in communications where everyone feels entitled to speak up. Check it out here

Mid-Career Doctors and the "death conversation"

Excellent short article in STAT news (you should follow them) about why doctors are so bad about telling their patients they are dying. It's here

I haven't been doing clinical ethics consulting long enough to witness many of these conversations, but they are certainly difficult and often intense. As a sociologist, I'm interested in how people frame such conversations, and the role of clinical ethicists in shaping those framings, and in turn the outcomes. As the author argues, there is much that could be done, but there is a difference between the possible and the reasonable/acceptable.

Graphene might be the next DBS material

According to this brief, and really cool article from Vice, untreated graphene does not interfere with ongoing neuronal activity in a mouse model brain culture. One problem with brain implants is that they can cause scarring in the brain, and if this occurs, then the tissue buildup could degrade the implant's capacity to deliver electric currents reliably. This would in turn reduce the effectiveness of implants like Deep Brain Stimulation. 

The full article is in ACS Nano. So go read it there!