Joel Best

Francis Alison Award

Sociology professor Joel Best to receive 2012 Francis Alison Award

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2:38 p.m., May 4, 2012--Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the recipient of the 2012 Francis Alison Faculty Award, the University of Delaware’s highest faculty honor. 

Best — whose research examines “how and why society becomes concerned with particular issues at particular moments in time,” for example, why do people worry about road rage one year and identity theft the next — is widely regarded as the nation’s leading scholar in understanding the social construction of social problems. 

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“Prof. Best is a well-rounded, highly prolific and accomplished scholar, and a most worthy addition to this eminent body of scholars,” said Provost Tom Apple. “He has made a remarkable impact on the field, on his students and on society, as a whole.”

George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, added, “Joel models the rich and varied contributions that we encourage all faculty members to achieve:  a world-class scholar, a devoted but demanding teacher, a committed mentor and an engaged member of the community.”

“Whether it is his analysis of why people fall for fads and fashion, spotting dubious statistics or trends, or challenging the ‘stupidity epidemic,’ Joel’s work debunks and demystifies the conventional wisdom to show both trained sociologists and the public that things are not as they seem with a simple, but elegant brilliance,” one of his colleagues wrote in nominating Best for the award. 

Kirk Williams, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, echoed those sentiments, adding, “Few scholars have successfully blended social scientific acumen and the ability to transcend scientific jargon to inform the public. It is a true and rare skill, resulting in an illuminating discourse of remarkable research.”

For Best, that’s the goal. 

After publishing a series of books — Damned Lies and Statistics, More Damned Lies and Statistics and Stat-Spotting —  which debunked the use of statistical claims and taught readers how to become critical consumers of quantitative information, he frequently received emails and requests from the media, parents, doctors, judges — even Minnesota legislators.

“I like to think that what I’m doing is useful — that it’s not ideas in an ivory tower,” he says.

His two most recent books — The Stupidity Epidemic and Everyone’s a Winner — have respectively examined warnings about education and school quality and the proliferation of awards and honors in contemporary America. 

The irony of the latter book is not lost on Best, who humbly adds that it’s a “real honor to receive this very special award and join such a distinguished group of colleagues.” 

About the Alison Award

Established by the Board of Trustees in 1978, the Francis Alison Faculty Award consists of a $10,000 prize, confers membership in the Alison Society and is bestowed annually to the faculty member who best characterizes the “scholar-schoolmaster,” as exemplified by the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison.

In 1743, Dr. Alison founded the institution that is now the University of Delaware.  His first class of students became distinguished statesmen, doctors, merchants and scholars. Three signed the Declaration of Independence, and one also signed the U.S. Constitution. 

About Joel Best 

Best is the author of 20 books (three of which are in their second edition and six of which have been translated into Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean or Spanish), 80-plus articles and more than 100 shorter pieces that have been cited nearly 4,000 times. 

In addition to his prolific scholarship, he has a strong history of mentorship, including the supervision of doctoral students, several of whom have written award-winning dissertations. In 2004, the graduate students in the sociology and criminal justice department chose Best as the recipient of the Jan Burrows Graduate Educator Award. 

Best received his master's and doctoral degrees in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's in history from the University of Minnesota. He joined the University of Delaware in 1999 and served as chair of the department from 1999-2006. 

Article by Artika Rangan

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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