We need cover ideas, and we need them now!

Our publisher is putting together our new book (no, not Red State, Blue State, I’m talking about our next book, A Quantitative Tour of the Social Sciences), and we need a cover design. Now. Any ideas? Free book to the person with the best idea. And anybody with a particularly good idea, I’ll take to lunch. (Or maybe Jeronimo, my coeditor, will take you to lunch if you’re in Houston…)

Some background: The book has sections on history, economics, sociology, political science, and psychology, and each section has a different author (or set of authors). It’s not a statistics book; rather, it’s a set of discussions and case studies, giving the reader (most likely a student of one of the social sciences) a sense of how to think like a historian, economict, sociologist, etc. It’s based on a course I created for our Quantitative Methods in Social Science program at Columbia. Anyway, there will be plenty of time for book promotion later; now, I’m just trying to give you enough information to come up with a good cover design for us.

Here’s the table of contents:

I. Models and Methods in the Social Sciences (Andrew Gelman)
1. Introduction and overview
2. What’s in a number? Definitions of fairness and political representation
3. The allure and limitations of mathematical modeling: Game theory and trench warfare
Further reading

II. History (Herbert Klein and Charles Stockley)
1. Historical background of quantitative social science
2. Sources of historical data
3. Historical perspectives on international exchange rates
4. Historical data and demography in Europe and the Americas
Further reading

III. Economics (Richard Clarida and Marta Noguer)
1. Learning from economic data
2. Econometric forecasting and the flow of information
3. Two studies of interest rates and monetary policy
Further reading

IV. Sociology (Seymour Spilerman and Emanuele Gerratana)
1. Models and theories in sociology
2. Demographic explanations of social disturbances in the 1960s
3. Studying the time series of lynchings in the South
4. Attainment processes in a large organization
Further reading

V. Political Science (Charles Cameron)
1. What is political science?
2. The politics of Supreme Court nominations: the critical role of the media environment
3. Modeling strategy in congressional hearings
Further reading

VI. Psychology (E. Tory Higgins, Elke Weber, and Heidi Grant)
1. Formulating and testing theories in psychology
2. Some theories in cognitive and social psychology
3. Signal detection theory and models for tradeoffs in decision making
Further reading

VII. To Treat or Not to Treat: Causal Inference in the Social Sciences (Jeronimo Cortina)
1. The potential-outcomes model of causation; propensity scores
2. Some statistical tools for causal inference with observational data
3. Migration and Solidarity
Further reading

21 thoughts on “We need cover ideas, and we need them now!

  1. the obvious route would be a picture of an old steamer trunk with ornate stickers (in the style of 1920s and 30s resort stickers) for each of the social sciences.

    for something less obvious, how about finding a stock photo of a tour group in a place relevant to social science but that you would never normally expect a tour group to be in.

    Or a picture of researchers (in sterotypic lab coats) at the mall or disneyland.

  2. Hello Andrew, why don't you use a part of William Turner's "Dido building Carthage or the Rise of the Carthaginian Empire" (1815)? It's a great painting and – at least to my knowledge – not overused in a social science context. It contains scenes that correspond to every chapter in your book (except maybe the chapter on models and methods) and it simply looks great.

  3. Five spheres (or 2-dimensional snapshots) that portray concentration of data or activity for each of the 5 substantive fields in the book. Only 2-3 of the chapters you listed seem to contain global data to make such concentration patterns, but you can always use other research from the field to make similar graphs. For example: the political science globe can use comparative data on democratic intensity.

    Inspiration: http://cds.gmu.edu/images/climate.gif

    Thus, this setup portrays that we are in a similar gig as the common physical sciences with how we attempt to understand, model, and visualize the world. They also may appear intuitive to the casual browser (“oh, I know this, red means more”). You may have to include title labels (either the fields – economics, psychology) or label the graph with what is actually there (Exchange rates 1920, Democratic concentration, social disturbances, etc.).

  4. The title and description brought to mind a cartogram of the globe showing something(s) of current interest in the social sciences… and if it were a mosaic comprising faces from people around the world, it could be quite compelling.

  5. Maybe the cover could consist of important/nice statistical graphics? I have in mind the Cholera maps of the 19th century, Fischer's graphs of real and nominal interest rates (or graphs of inflation and unemployment in different periods, or whatever), something from Political Science (not too familiar with that literature).

  6. I think quantitative part should be emphasized by using a picture of someone gathering data. For example, some old photo from census promotion with layperson answering questions.

  7. How about a stitched-together panorama of a social image, like an urban street scene, with different "effects" for each of the photos, like a sepia one, one in negative, b/w, etc. This would depend on clean execution, but it implicitly gets at the language people use to describe different thoeretical perspectives (i.e. lenses), without getting all allegorical.

  8. When I looked at the table of continents, I imagined something like the Newyorkistan cover of the New Yorker but with different islands for each field (history island, economics island, etc) floating in the "Sea of Statistics." The different landmarks on the islands could then be used to highlight (and poke a little fun at) some of the quantitative traditions in each field. The psychology island could have the "Leaning Tower of ANOVA," the political science island could have "The Prisoner's Dilemma Trench," and the sociology island could have the "Temple of the Diennial Census." A cover like this could be a lot of fun to create (each author writes his or her own landmarks), help people from each discipline feel like they're part of an inside joke ("We do use ANOVAs way too much!"), and a bit of levity could make the interdisciplinary nature of the book a little less daunting to prospective readers.

    Whatever you end up doing, I look forward to picking up a copy whenever it is published.

  9. I enthusiastically second James' Newyorkistan idea. The inside jokes should lead to word-of-mouth sales.

  10. I'm thinking of something that unites beauty, society, and statistics into a single image.

    I really suggest checking out the photography of Alexy Titarenko. It creates a view of the moving city as a statistical blur. Patterns are evident, but the particular motion of an individual is gone.

    If I come up with another idea, I'll let you know.

    I think this image is my favorite.

  11. Inspiration:


  12. I suggest a picture of Pamela Anderson in a tight bikini measuring her bust size…

    By the looks of magazine covers at the airport, it would appear this should sell a lot.

    Besides, you might also see her as a stand up for academic prima donnas and their love hate relationship with measurement.

    PS I hope you have an expensive taste for restaurants. Another meal at Chiplote would kill me.

  13. I think it's a real shame Geography was left out. It certainly a social science, certainly deeply involved with quantitative methods, and certainly has something different to say than the other disciplines because of its very explicit concern with spatial data.

    Can I ask why you didn't include Geography? It's not that usual for it to be excluded from the mainstream social science like this, and I'm just wondering what process behind it was.

    Anyway, you probably shouldn't use a map for your cover!

  14. Make the book look as though it was plastered with bumper stickers (similar to Chris Albon's idea), each with a surprising statistic from the different disciplines. Or postcards if you prefer to have catchy images. Another idea would be to have a line of people caught on an angle (for perspective) with statistics from the different disciplines tied to a few randomly selected people in the line. The statistics can be fun or serious, but nonetheless thought provoking (unexpected correlations, surprising results, etc.).

  15. Rock bands tour too, so how about an homage to the Beatles or the band of your choice. Two popular tour images would include

    A take off of the Magical Mystery Tour cover

    A picture of the authors crossing the street like the Abbey Road cover

  16. You could use the technique of "a large picture composed of smaller pictures" like here:


    The difference would be that you construct an image of a statistical graph or formula — out of pictures of social scenes.

    Or you can do the reverse — you can construct a picture of a social gathering out of small pictures of formulas.

    I think that some software for automatic this task exists.

  17. One idea is to convey through a visual that even in natural and social world there exists pattern that can be quantified. Best example is of a Fibonacci sequence which while being a pure mathematical series is found in abundance in nature – such as branching in trees, arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruitlets of a pineapple,the flowering of artichoke, an uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone, sea shells.

    Visual could be any one of the above natural examples along with the mathematical expression.

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