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

How to approach a social science research problem when you have data and a couple different ways you could proceed?

tl;dr: Someone asks me a question, I can’t really tell what he’s talking about, so I offer some generic advice. Joe Hoover writes: An issue has come up in my subsequent analyses, which uses my MrsP estimates to explore the relationship between county-level moral values and the county-level distribution of hate groups, as defined by […]

An interview with Tina Fernandes Botts

Hey—this is cool! What happened was, I was scanning this list of Springbrook High School alumni. And I was like, Tina Fernandes? Class of 1982? I know that person. We didn’t know each other well, but I guess we must have been in the same homeroom a few times? All I can remember from back […]

Surgeon promotes fraudulent research that kills people; his employer, a leading hospital, defends him and attacks whistleblowers. Business as usual.

Paul Alper writes: A couple of time at my suggestion, you’ve blogged about Paulo Macchiarini. Here is an update from Susan Perry in which she interviews the director of the Swedish documentary about Macchiarini: Indeed, Macchiarini made it sound as if his patients had recovered their health when, in fact, the synthetic tracheas he had […]

Should we talk less about bad social science research and more about bad medical research?

Paul Alper pointed me to this news story, “Harvard Calls for Retraction of Dozens of Studies by Noted Cardiac Researcher: Some 31 studies by Dr. Piero Anversa contain fabricated or falsified data, officials concluded. Dr. Anversa popularized the idea of stem cell treatment for damaged hearts.” I replied: Ahhh, Harvard . . . the reporter […]

“Retire Statistical Significance”: The discussion.

So, the paper by Valentin Amrhein, Sander Greenland, and Blake McShane that we discussed a few weeks ago has just appeared online as a comment piece in Nature, along with a letter with hundreds (or is it thousands?) of supporting signatures. Following the first circulation of that article, the authors of that article and some […]

One more reason I hate letters of recommendation

Recently I reviewed a bunch of good reasons to remove letters of recommendation when evaluating candidates for jobs or scholarships. Today I was at a meeting and thought of one more issue. Letters of recommendation are not merely a noisy communication channel; they’re also a biased channel. The problem is that letter writers are strategic: […]

Something I noticed about this college admissions scandal

Most of the parents are roughly my age! William McGlashan, 55 . . . Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53 . . . Elizabeth, 56, and Manuel Henriquez, 55 . . . Jane Buckingham, 50 . . . Gordon Caplan, 52 . . . Marcia Abbott, 59 . . . Robert Zangrillo, 52 . . . Stephen […]

(back to basics:) How is statistics relevant to scientific discovery?

Someone pointed me to this remark by psychology researcher Daniel Gilbert: Publication is not canonization. Journals are not gospels. They are the vehicles we use to tell each other what we saw (hence “Letters” & “proceedings”). The bar for communicating to each other should not be high. We can decide for ourselves what to make […]

Good news! Researchers respond to a correction by acknowledging it and not trying to dodge its implications

In a letter to the Journal of Nursing Research, Brown and Allison write: We question the conclusions that a health promotion model “was highly effective for gaining healthy life behaviors and the control of BMI of the participants” in an article recently published in The Journal of Nursing Research (Fidanci, Akbayrak, & Arslan, 2017). The […]

Our hypotheses are not just falsifiable; they’re actually false.

Everybody’s talkin bout Popper, Lakatos, etc. I think they’re great. Falsificationist Bayes, all the way, man! But there’s something we need to be careful about. All the statistical hypotheses we ever make are false. That is, if a hypothesis becomes specific enough to make (probabilistic) predictions, we know that with enough data we will be […]

New estimates of the effects of public preschool

Tom Daula writes: You blogged about Heckman and the two 1970s preschool studies a year ago here and here. Apparently there are two papers on a long-term study of Tennessee’s preschool program. In case you had an independent interest in the topic, a summary of the most recent paper is here, and the paywalled paper […]

If you want to measure differences between groups, measure differences between groups.

Les Carter points to the article, Coming apart? Cultural distances in the United States over time, by Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica, which states: There is a perception that cultural distances are growing, with a particular emphasis on increasing political polarization. . . . Carter writes: I am troubled by the inferences in the paper. […]

The bullshit asymmetry principle

Jordan Anaya writes, “We talk about this concept a lot, I didn’t realize there was a name for it.” From the wikipedia entry: Publicly formulated the first time in January 2013 by Alberto Brandolini, an Italian programmer, the bullshit asymmetry principle (also known as Brandolini’s law) states that: The amount of energy needed to refute […]

One more reason to remove letters of recommendation when evaluating candidates for jobs or scholarships.

This is just one more sexual harassment story, newsworthy only in the man-bites-dog sense. But it reminded me of something that gets discussed from time to time, which is that we should stop using letters of recommendation to evaluate candidates for jobs or scholarships. Here’s a list of hoops that people recommend you jump through. […]

Science as an intellectual “safe space”? How to do it right.

I don’t recall hearing the term “safe space” until recently, but now it seems to be used all the time, by both the left and the right, to describe an environment where people can feel free to express opinions that might be unpopular in a larger community, without fear of criticism or contradiction. Sometimes a […]

A ladder of responses to criticism, from the most responsible to the most destructive

In a recent discussion thread, I mentioned how I’m feeling charitable toward David Brooks, Michael Barone, and various others whose work I’ve criticized over the years, because their responses have been so civilized and moderate. Consider the following range of responses to an outsider pointing out an error in your published work: 1. Look into […]

Storytelling: What’s it good for?

A story can be an effective way to send a message. Anna Clemens explains: Why are stories so powerful? To answer this, we have to go back at least 100,000 years. This is when humans started to speak. For the following roughly 94,000 years, we could only use spoken words to communicate. Stories helped us […]

“The Book of Why” by Pearl and Mackenzie

Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie sent me a copy of their new book, “The book of why: The new science of cause and effect.” There are some things I don’t like about their book, and I’ll get to that, but I want to start with a central point of theirs with which I agree strongly. […]

Did she really live 122 years?

Even more famous than “the Japanese dude who won the hot dog eating contest” is “the French lady who lived to be 122 years old.” But did she really? Paul Campos points us to this post, where he writes: Here’s a statistical series, laying out various points along the 100 longest known durations of a […]

What to do when you read a paper and it’s full of errors and the author won’t share the data or be open about the analysis?

Someone writes: I would like to ask you for an advice regarding obtaining data for reanalysis purposes from an author who has multiple papers with statistical errors and doesn’t want to share the data. Recently, I reviewed a paper that included numbers that had some of the reported statistics that were mathematically impossible. As the […]