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

“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 […]

Statistics controversies from the perspective of industrial statistics

We’ve had lots of discussions here and elsewhere online about fundamental flaws in statistics culture: the whole p-value thing, statistics used for confirmation rather than falsification, corruption of the pizzagate variety, soft corruption in which statistics is used in the service of country-club-style backslapping, junk science routinely getting the imprimatur of the National Academy of […]

How scientists perceive advancement of knowledge from conflicting review reports

Kevin Lewis pointed me to this article. It seemed kinda familiar, I took a look at the abstract, and I realized . . . I reviewed this article for the journal! Here was my referee report:

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 […]

Coronavirus: the cathedral or the bazaar, or the cathedral and the bazaar?

Raghu Parthasarathy writes: I’ve been frustrated by Covid-19 pandemic models, for the opposite reason that I’m usually frustrated by models in science—they seem too simple, when the usual problem with models is over-complexity. Instead of doing more useful things, I wrote this up here. In his post, Parthasarathy writes: Perhaps the models we’re seeing are […]

“I don’t want ‘crowd peer review’ or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “It’s just too burdensome and I’d rather have a more formal peer review process.”

I understand the above quote completely. Life would be so much simpler if my work was just reviewed by my personal friends and by people whose careers are tied to mine. Sure, they’d point out problems, but they’d do it in a nice way, quietly. They’d understand that any mistakes I made would never have […]

“America is used to blaming individuals for systemic problems. Let’s try to avoid that this time.”

I like this news article by Aviva Shen: In normal times, policing has been America’s primary response to a host of societal ills that cannot be solved by punishment. Homelessness, mental illness, violence, racism, poverty, and toxic masculinity are all fed through the criminal justice system, rather than getting addressed in any meaningful way, never […]

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 […]

Noise-mining as standard practice in social science

The following example is interesting, not because it is particularly noteworthy but rather because it represents business as usual in much of social science: researchers trying their best, but hopelessly foiled by their use of crude psychological theories and cruder statistics, along with patterns of publication and publicity that motivate the selection and interpretation of […]

Stasi’s back in town. (My last post on Cass Sunstein and Richard Epstein.)

OK, I promise, this will be the last Stasi post ever. tl;dr: This post is too long. Don’t read it.

And the band played on: Low quality studies being published on Covid19 prediction.

According to Laure Wynants et al Systematic review and critical appraisal of prediction models for diagnosis and prognosis of COVID-19 infection  most of the recent published studies on prediction of Covid19 are of rather low quality. Information is desperately needed but not misleading information :-( Conclusion: COVID-19 related prediction models for diagnosis and prognosis are […]

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 […]

Breaking the feedback loop: When people don’t correct their errors

OK, so here’s the pattern: 1. Someone makes a public statement with an error, an error that advances some political or personal agenda. 2. Some other people point out the error. 3. The original author refuses to apologize, or correct the error, or thank people for pointing out the error, and sometimes they don’t even […]

“Are Relational Inferences from Crowdsourced and Opt-in Samples Generalizable? Comparing Criminal Justice Attitudes in the GSS and Five Online Samples”

Justin Pickett writes: You’ve blogged a good bit on MTurk, weighting, and model-based inference. Drawing heavily on your work (Gelman, 2007; Gelman and Carlin, 2002; Wang et al., 2015), Andrew Thompson and I [Pickett] just published a study that largely confirms your concerns about MTurk (and opt-in samples), but that also emphasizes the promise of […]

100 Things to Know, from Lane Kenworthy

The sociologist has this great post: Here are a hundred things worth knowing about our world and about the United States. Because a picture is worth quite a few words and providing information in graphical form reduces misperceptions, I [Kenworthy] present each of them via a chart, with some accompanying text. This is great stuff. […]

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 […]

You don’t want a criminal journal… you want a criminal journal

“You don’t want a criminal lawyer… you want a criminal lawyer.” — Jesse Pinkman. In what sense is it a “blood sport” to ask someone for their data? That’s our question for the day. But it’ll take us a few paragraphs to get there. 1. A case of missing data Jordan Anaya points us to […]

Conditioning on a statistical method as a “meta” version of conditioning on a statistical model

When I do applied statistics, I follow Bayesian workflow: Construct a model, ride it hard, assess its implications, add more information, and so on. I have lots of doubt in my models, but when I’m fitting any particular model, I condition on it. The idea is we take our models seriously as that’s the best […]

The Paterno Defence: Gladwell’s Tipping Point?

“We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly. . . . The Tipping Point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” — Malcolm Gladwell, 2000. Gladwell’s recent book got some negative reviews. No big deal. […]