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Archive of posts filed under the Miscellaneous Science category.

This one’s for the Lancet editorial board: A trolley problem for our times (involving a plate of delicious cookies and a steaming pile of poop)

A trolley problem for our times OK, I couldn’t quite frame this one as a trolley problem—maybe those of you who are more philosophically adept than I am can do this—so I set it up as a cookie problem? Here it is: Suppose someone was to knock on your office door and use some mix […]

The turtles stop here. Why we meta-science: a meta-meta-science manifesto

All those postscripts in the previous post . . . this sort of explanation of why I’m writing about the scientific process, it comes up a lot. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the research process, rather than just doing research. And all too often I often find myself taking time […]

“The Moral Economy of Science”

In our discussion of Lorraine Daston’s “How Probabilities Came to Be Objective and Subjective,” commenter John Richters points to Daston’s 1995 article, “The Moral Economy of Science,” which is super-interesting and also something I’d never heard of before. I should really read the whole damn article and comment on everything in it, but for now […]

Alexey Guzey’s sleep deprivation self-experiment

Alexey “Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors” Guzey writes: I [Guzey] recently finished my 14-day sleep deprivation self experiment and I ended up analyzing the data I have only in the standard p < 0.05 way and then interpreting it by writing explicitly about how much I believe I […]

Baby alligators: Adorable, deadly, or endangered? You decide.

Yeah, I know, yet another post about baby alligators . . . can’t we find anything else to write about around here? Lizzie points us to this tabloid news article which she files under the heading, “why we need priors in climate change biology”: Why baby alligators in some spots could be 98% female by […]

Get your research project reviewed by The Red Team: this seems like a good idea!

Ruben Arslan writes: A colleague recently asked me to be a neutral arbiter on his Red Team challenge. He picked me because I was skeptical of his research plans at a conference and because I recently put out a bug bounty program for my blog, preprints, and publications (where people get paid if they find […]

2 perspectives on the relevance of social science to our current predicament: (1) social scientists should back off, or (2) social science has a lot to offer

Perspective 1: Social scientists should back off This is what the political scientist Anthony Fowler wrote the other day: The public appetite for more information about Covid-19 is understandably insatiable. Social scientists have been quick to respond. . . . While I understand the impulse, the rush to publish findings quickly in the midst of […]

They want open peer review for their paper, and they want it now. Any suggestions?

Someone writes: We’re in the middle of what feels like a drawn out process of revise and resubmit with one of the big journals (though by pre-pandemic standards everything has moved quite quickly), and what’s most frustrating is that the helpful criticisms and comments from the reviewers, plus our extensive responses and new sensitivity analyses […]

“Curing Coronavirus Isn’t a Job for Social Scientists”

Anthony Fowler wrote a wonderful op-ed. You have to read the whole thing, but let me start with his most important point, about “the temptation to overclaim” in social science: One study estimated the economic value of the people spared through social-distancing efforts. Essentially, the authors took estimates from epidemiologists about the number of lives […]

Resolving the cathedral/bazaar problem in coronavirus research (and science more generally): Could we follow the model of genetics research (as suggested by some psychology researchers)?

The other day I wrote about the challenge in addressing the pandemic—a worldwide science/engineering problem—using our existing science and engineering infrastructure, which is some mix of government labs and regulatory agencies, private mega-companies, smaller companies, university researchers, and media entities and rich people who can direct attention and resources. The current system might be the […]

My talk Wednesday at the Columbia coronavirus seminar

The talk will be sometime the morning of Wed 6 May in this seminar. Title: Some statistical issues in the fight against coronavirus. Abstract: To be a good citizen, you sometimes have to be a bit of a scientist. To be a good scientist, you sometimes have to be a bit of a statistician. And […]

Conway II

Following up on our post on John “Game of Life” Conway, Paul Alper points us to this informative obituary by Siobhan Roberts: John Horton Conway was born on Dec. 26, 1937, in Liverpool, England, the third child and only son of Cyril and Agnes (Boyce) Conway. His father, an autodidact, had left school at age […]

John Conway

Around 25 years ago I was at a conference at Princeton, in whatever building housed the math department at the time. One of the sessions looked like it would be kinda boring, so I took a stroll down the hallway and came to a lounge, a cozy little place of the sort that you’ll see […]

Given that 30% of Americans believe in astrology, it’s no surprise that some nontrivial percentage of influential American psychology professors are going to have the sort of attitude toward scientific theory and evidence that would lead them to have strong belief in weak theories supported by no good evidence.

Fascinating article by Christine Smallwood, “Astrology in the age of uncertainty”: Astrology is currently enjoying a broad cultural acceptance that hasn’t been seen since the nineteen-seventies. The shift began with the advent of the personal computer, accelerated with the Internet, and has reached new speeds through social media. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center […]

Let’s do preregistered replication studies of the cognitive effects of air pollution—not because we think existing studies are bad, but because we think the topic is important and we want to understand it better.

In the replication crisis in science, replications have often been performed of controversial studies on silly topics such as embodied cognition, extra-sensory perception, and power pose. We’ve been talking recently about replication being something we do for high-quality studies on important topics. That is, the point of replication is not the hopeless endeavor of convincing […]

The value (or lack of value) of preregistration in the absence of scientific theory

Javier Benitez points us to this 2013 post by psychology researcher Denny Borsboom. I have some thoughts on this article—in particular I want to compare psychology to other social science fields such as political science and economics—but first let me summarize it. Preregistration and open science Borsboom writes: In the past few months, the Center […]

Woof! for descriptive statistics

Gary Smith points to this news article in the Economist, “WOOF, CAKE, BOOM: stocks with catchy tickers beat the market,” which reports: In a study published in 2009 by Gary Smith, Alex Head and Julia Wilson of Pomona College in California, a group of people were asked to pick American public companies with “clever” tickers. […]

Junk Science Then and Now

Many years ago, Martin Gardner wrote a book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, featuring chapters on flat earth and eccentric astronomy theories, UFO’s, alternative physics, dowsing, creationism, Lysenkoism, pyramid truthers, medical quacks, food faddists, ESP, etc. The Wikipedia page summarizes Gardner’s book as follows: Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science […]

As usual, I agree with Paul Meehl: “It is not a reform of significance testing as currently practiced in soft-psych. We are making a more heretical point than any of these: We are attacking the whole tradition of null-hypothesis refutation as a way of appraising theories.”

Javier Benitez sends along the about quote from Meehl’s 1990 article, Appraising and Amending Theories: The Strategy of Lakatosian Defense and Two Principles that Warrant It: I wish that Shalizi and I had known about that Meehl article when we were writing this. When we wrote that article, we were thinking about Bayesian statistics and […]

Different challenges in replication in biomedical vs. social sciences

Summary – In biological sciences, it might be reasonable to expect real effects to replicate, but carrying out the measurement required to study this replication is difficult for technical reasons. – In social sciences, it might be straightforward to replicate the data collection, but effects of interest could vary so much by context that replication […]