Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Sociology category.

Updates of bad forecasts: Let’s follow them up and see what happened!

People make bad forecasts, then they move on. Do the forecasts ever get fixed? Do experts learn from their mistakes? Let’s look at three examples. 1. The economist who kept thinking that the Soviets were catching up Paul Samuelson: Yes, the above graph was from 1961, but “in subsequent editions Samuelson presented the same analysis […]

Which experts should we trust?

In a comment on our post, “Expert writes op-ed in NYT recommending that we trust the experts,” commenter DCE writes: Perhaps this post can have a follow-up on “How do I choose which experts to believe?” While broadly, Pigliucci’s “Nonsense on Stilts” offers some good discussion, there is the real issue of ulterior motives in […]

The history of low-hanging intellectual fruit

Alex Tabarrok asks, why was the game Dungeons and Dragons, or something like it, not invented in ancient Rome? He argues that the ancient Romans had the technology (that would be dice, I guess) so why didn’t someone thing of inventing a random-number-driven role-playing game? I don’t have an answer, but I think we can […]

“Which, in your personal judgment, is worse, if you could only choose ONE? — (a) A homosexual (b) A doctor who refuses to make a house call to someone seriously ill?”

Old polls are the greatest. From the Harris 1969 Changing Morality Survey: How many people knew a gay person? The gay penumbra was pretty small back then. Only something like 12% of the population said they knew a gay person. Or maybe 12% is a lot; I’m not quite sure how to think about this […]

Negativity (when applied with rigor) requires more care than positivity.

Tyler Cowen writes: Avoid criticizing other public intellectuals. In fact, avoid the negative as much as possible. However pressing a social or economic issue may be, there is almost always a positive and constructive way to reframe your potential contribution. This also will force you to keep on thinking harder, because it is easier to […]

Male bisexuality gets Big PNAS Energy

Do flowers exist at night?—John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch I have very little to say here, except to let you all know that the venerable PNAS has today published a paper (edited by Steven Pinker) letting use know that male bisexuality exists. Here it is: Robust evidence for bisexual orientation among men (The paper […]

Can the science community help journalists avoid science hype? It won’t be easy.

tl;dr: Selection bias. The public letter Michael Eisen and Rob Tibshirani write: Researchers have responded to the challenge of the coronavirus with a commitment to speed and cooperation, featuring the rapid sharing of preliminary findings through “preprints,” scientific manuscripts that have not yet undergone formal peer review. . . . But the open dissemination of […]

“Sorry, there is no peer review to display for this article.” Huh? Whassup, BMJ?

OK, this is weird. Yesterday we reported on an article with questionable statistical analysis published in the British Medical Journal. This one’s different from some other examples we’ve discussed recently (Surgisphere and Stanford) in that the author list of this recent article includes several statisticians. One way to get a handle on this situation is […]

Conflicting public attitudes on redistribution

Sociologist David Weakliem wrote recently: A Quinnipiac poll from April 2019: “Do you support or oppose raising the tax rate to 70% on an individual’s income that is over $10 million dollars?” 36% support, 59% oppose A CNN poll from February 2019: “Would you favor or oppose raising the personal income tax rate for those […]

The “scientist as hero” narrative

We’ve talked about the problems with the scientist-as-hero paradigm; see “Narrative #1” discussed here. And, more recently, we’ve considered how this narrative has been clouding people’s thinking regarding the coronavirus; see here and here. That latter example is particularly bad because it involved a reporter with an undisclosed conflict of interest. But the scientist-as-hero narrative […]

Statistical controversy on estimating racial bias in the criminal justice system

1. Background A bunch of people have asked me to comment on these two research articles: Administrative Records Mask Racially Biased Policing, by Dean Knox, Will Lowe, and Jonathan Mummolo: Researchers often lack the necessary data to credibly estimate racial discrimination in policing. In particular, police administrative records lack information on civilians police observe but […]

New England Journal of Medicine engages in typical academic corporate ass-covering behavior

James Watson (not the racist dude who, in 1998, said that a cancer cure was coming in 2 years) writes: About a month ago, when the infamous Lancet hydroxychloroquine/chloroquine paper was still “real science” (i.e. in the official scientific record), we decided to put extra pressure on the authors by writing an open letter to […]

Who were the business superstars of the 1970s?

Last month, we said: Who are today’s heroes? Not writers or even musicians? No, our pantheon of culture heroes are: rich men, athletes, some movie and TV stars, a few politicians, some offbeat intellectuals like Nate Silver and Nassim Taleb . . . I guess I should also add social media stars like whoever is […]

This one quick trick will allow you to become a star forecaster

Jonathan Falk points us to this wonderful post by Dario Perkins. It’s all worth a read, but, following Falk, I want to emphasize this beautiful piece of advice, which is #5 on their list of 10 items: How to get attention: If you want to get famous for making big non-consensus calls, without the danger […]

“Why do the results of immigrant students depend so much on their country of origin and so little on their country of destination?”

Aleks points us to this article from 2011 by Julio Carabaña. Carabaña’s article has three parts. First is a methodological point that much can be learned from a cross-national study that has data at the level of individual students, as compared to the usual “various origins-one destination” design. Second is the empirical claim, based on […]

Resolving confusions over that study of “Teacher Effects on Student Achievement and Height”

Someone pointed me to this article by Marianne Bitler, Sean Corcoran, Thurston Domina, and Emily Penner, “Teacher Effects on Student Achievement and Height: A Cautionary Tale,” which begins: Estimates of teacher “value-added” suggest teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student learning. Prompted by this finding, many states and school districts have adopted value-added […]

No, there is no “tension between getting it fast and getting it right”

When reading Retraction Watch, I came across this quote: “There is always a tension between getting it fast and getting it right,” said Dr. Marcia Angell, another former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. “I always favored getting it right. But in the current pandemic, that balance may have shifted too […]

Retraction of racial essentialist article that appeared in Psychological Science

Scene 1: It all started for me on 2 Jan when I received this email from Keith Donohue in Fargo, North Dakota: I am a longtime reader, and I am curious about your reaction to an (in press) journal article that I recently came across. . . . The paper is “Declines in Religiosity Predicted […]

“The Intellectuals and the Masses”

I just read “The Intellectuals and the Masses,” a book from 1992 by the literary critic and English professor John Carey. I really liked the book, and after finishing it I decided to get some further perspective by reading some reviews. I found two excellent reviews online, a negative review in the London Independent by […]

MIT’s science magazine misrepresents critics of Stanford study

I’m disappointed. MIT can and should do better. I know MIT is not perfect—even setting aside Jeffrey Epstein and the Media Lab more generally, it’s just an institution, and all institutions have flaws. But they should be able to run a competent science magazine, for chrissake. Scene 1 Last month, I received the following query […]