Skip to content
 

Spin

Yesterday all the past. The language of effect size
Spreading to Psychology along the sub-fields; the diffusion
Of the counting-frame and the quincunx;
Yesterday the shadow-reckoning in the ivy climates.

Yesterday the assessment of hypotheses by tests,
The divination of water; yesterday the invention
Of cartwheels and clocks, the power-pose of
Horses. Yesterday the bustling world of the experimenters.

Yesterday the abolition of Bible codes and hot hands,
the journal like a motionless eagle eyeing the valley,
the chapel built in the psych lab;
Yesterday the carving of instruments and alarming findings;

The trial of heretics among the tenure reviews;
Yesterday the theoretical feuds in the conferences
And the miraculous confirmation of the counterintuitive;
Yesterday the Sabbath of analysts; but to-day the struggle.

Yesterday the installation of statistical packages,
The construction of findings in available data;
Yesterday the evo-psych lecture
On the origin of Mankind. But to-day the struggle.

Yesterday the belief in the absolute value of Bayes,
The fall of the curtain upon the death of a model;
Yesterday the prayer to the sunset
And the adoration of madmen. but to-day the struggle.

As the postdoc whispers, startled among the test tubes,
Or where the loose waterfall sings compact, or upright
On the crag by the leaning tower:
“O my vision. O send me the luck of the Wilcoxon.”

And the investigator peers through his instruments
At the inhuman provinces, the virile bacillus
Or enormous Jupiter finished:
“But the lives of my friends. I inquire. I inquire.”

And the students in their fireless lodgings, dropping the sheets
Of the evening preprint: “Our day is our loss. O show us
History the operator, the
Organiser. Time the refreshing river.”

And the nations combine each cry, invoking the life
That shapes the individual belly and orders
The private nocturnal terror:
“Did you not found the city state of the sponge,

“Raise the vast military empires of the shark
And the tiger, establish the robin’s plucky canton?
Intervene. O descend as a dove or
A furious papa or a mild engineer, but descend.”

And the life, if it answers at all, replied from the heart
And the eyes and the lungs, from the shops and squares of the laboratory
“O no, I am not the mover;
Not to-day; not to you. To you, I’m the

“Yes-man, the associate editor, the easily-duped;
I am whatever you do. I am your vow to be
Good, your humorous story.
I am your business voice. I am your career.

“What’s your proposal? To build the true theory? I will.
I agree. Or is it the suicide pact, the romantic
Death? Very well, I accept, for
I am your choice, your decision. Yes, I am Science.”

Many have heard it on remote peninsulas,
On sleepy plains, in the aberrant fishermen’s islands
Or the corrupt heart of the city.
Have heard and migrated like gulls or the seeds of a flower.

They clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch
Through the unjust lands, through the night, through the alpine tunnel;
They floated over the oceans;
They walked the passes. All presented their lives.

On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot
Inquiry, soldered so crudely to inventive Emotion;
On that tableland scored by experiments,
Our thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our fever

Are precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond
To the medicine ad, and the rumors of multiple comparisons
Have become invading battalions;
And our faces, the institute-face, the multisite trial, the ruin

Are projecting their greed as the methodological terrorists.
B-schools are the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom
As the ambulance and the sandbag;
Our hours of blogging into a people’s army.

To-morrow, perhaps the future. The research on fatigue
And the movements of packers; the gradual exploring of all the
Octaves of embodied cognition;
To-morrow the enlarging of consciousness by diet and breathing.

To-morrow the rediscovery of romantic fame,
the photographing of brain scans; all the fun under
Publicity’s masterful shadow;
To-morrow the hour of the press release and the Ted talk,

The beautiful roar of the audiences of NPR;
To-morrow the exchanging of tips on the training of MTurkers,
The eager election of chairmen
By the sudden forest of hands. But to-day the struggle.

To-morrow for the young the p-values exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the revisions and resubmissions
Through the journals on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of rejection,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary criticism;
To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral blog post and the boring listserv.

To-day the makeshift consolations: the shared retraction,
The cards in the candlelit barn, and the scraping concert,
The tasteless jokes; to-day the
Fumbled and unsatisfactory link before hurting.

The stars are dead. The editors will not look.
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and
History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.

P.S. See here and here for background.

23 Comments

  1. Eric Blair says:

    There is one other thing that undoubtedly contributed to the cult of statistical significance among the research intelligentsia during these years, and that is the softness and security of life in the scientific establishment itself. With all its injustices, science is still the land of habeas corpus, and the overwhelming majority of scientists have no experience of violence or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not at all easy to imagine what a despotic régime is like. Nearly all the dominant researchers in psychology belonged to the soft-boiled emancipated middle class and were too young to have effective memories of sacrifice. To people of that kind such things as purges, secret meetings, summary firings, tenure denial without review, etc., etc., are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow confirmationist reasoning because they have no experience of anything except liberalism. Look, for instance, at this extract from the poem above:

    To-morrow for the young the p-values exploding like bombs,
    The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
    To-morrow the revisions and resubmissions
    Through the journals on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

    To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of rejection,
    The consious acceptance of guilt in the necessary criticism;
    To-day the expending of powers
    On the flat ephemeral blog post and the boring listserv.

    The second stanza is intended as a sort of thumb-nail sketch of a day in the life of a ‘good party man’. In the morning a couple of falsified hypotheses, a ten-minutes’ interlude to stifle ‘bourgeois’ remorse, and then a hurried luncheon and a busy afternoon and evening blogging and distributing quips. All very edifying. But notice the phrase ‘necessary criticism’. It could only be written by a person to whom criticism is at most a word. Personally I would not speak so lightly of criticism. It so happens that I have seen the careers of numbers of criticized men and women — I don’t mean criticized in peer-reviewed publications, I mean having their work directly challenged. Therefore I have some conception of what criticism means — the terror, the hatred, the howling relatives, the post-mortems, the blood, the smells. To me, criticism is something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Meehls and Simonsohns find criticism necessary, but they don’t advertise their callousness, and they don’t speak of it as criticism; it is ‘correction’, ‘extraction’, or some other soothing phrase. Mr Gelman’s brand of amoralism is only possible, if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of replicationist thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot. The warmongering to which the scientific intelligentsia gave themselves up in the period 2011-6 was largely based on a sense of personal immunity.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Related to my comment below: George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair.

    • Anoneuoid says:

      >”In the morning a couple of falsified hypotheses”

      The main problem is that it’s the same hypothesis being falsified over and over though. Other than that misunderstanding, this is a nice post.

      One other thing, I think researchers should take these critiques more as a helpful warning, it isn’t going to be the journalists and politicians that get thrown under the bus when public faith in scientific institutions finally collapses due to ineptness. To be fair, it could continue for quite awhile in that state, something like “Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”. Or just think of the centuries when the best and brightest devoted their time to discussing theology.

    • Wonks Anonymous says:

      “Warmongering”? Is that a reference to “methodological terrorism”? So much of this reads as parody.

  2. Heh heh… this works all too well. Bravo.

    “Exiled Thucydides knew
    All that a speech can say
    About Democracy,
    And what dictators do,
    The elderly rubbish they talk
    To an apathetic grave;
    Analysed all in his book,
    The enlightenment driven away,
    The habit-forming pain,
    Mismanagement and grief:
    We must suffer them all again.”

  3. dl says:

    A bold play to be the first-ever to hold the title “Professor of Political Science, Statistics, and Poetry”!
    The first comment isn’t bad, either.

  4. jrc says:

    “Your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of research and criticism are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear uncertainty more and more. Uncertainty and change.” – Valerie Paul

    “It is not to be thought that the life of academics is sunk in uncertainty and lost as if in doubting. There is no doubting. For doubt is a thing that is swallowed up in print, and print and publishing are the very life of the academic.” – Jake Bonhomme

    “Gelman, who led last year’s expedition to the Social Psychology region of the Garden of Forking Paths, and UC Berkeley colleague Leif Nelson, also said that a re-examination of 3,000 research papers published across the social sciences showed evidence of having been p-hacked.” – The Austin Daily Hipster, June 13, 2017

  5. Serious Lee says:

    Self indulgent to the max.

  6. Thomas says:

    Great work, Andrew! I love this sort of exercise.

    • Andrew says:

      Thomas:

      What was amazing in this case was how few of the lines of the original poem needed to be altered to fit this new context.

      • Thomas says:

        I had an experience like that back in 2008:

        The financial products of America
        go crazy–
        high rollers from Wall Street

        or the ribbed west end of
        Newport
        with its private docks and

        valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
        old names
        and promiscuity between

        devil-may-care men who have taken
        to derivatives
        out of sheer lust of profit–

        and young slatterns, bathed
        in filth
        from Monday to Saturday

        to be tricked out that night
        with gauds
        from imaginations which have no

        peasant traditions to give them
        character
        but flutter and flaunt

        Gucci bags succumbing without
        emotion
        save numbed terror…

        &c…

        No one
        to witness
        and adjust, no one to drive the car

  7. Ethan Bolker says:

    Bravo.

    For an encore, try Howl: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/howl-parts-i-ii

    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
    starving hysterical naked,

  8. Keith O'Rourke says:

    “I have spent most of last year claiming an effect was surely positive and the rest of the year arguing the actual direction was never important.”

  9. Keith O'Rourke says:

    “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are just looking for statistical significance stars.”

    OK, I’ll stop.

  10. SirLipton says:

    Sure, poems are so vague that you can easily switch out words and they still work. But imaging you’d be able to replace significant with non-significant effects or negative with positive effects in a research paper and it wouldn’t change the conclusion!

    • I’m not sure this is so easily done (well). I have seen many poems badly adapted; the effort was so overwrought and cutesy that it destroyed both the original and the effect. In this case, Andrew did it so sparingly (and precisely) that it worked.

      Also, Auden’s poem is not vague; it could not be adapted to just any situation. There is an affinity here.

  11. Martha (Smith) says:

    I couldn’t resist tweaking one of my favorite quotes:

    And what you thought you came for
    Is only a shell, a husk of “significance”
    From which the effect breaks only when it is replicated
    If at all. Either you had no effect
    Or the effect is beyond the constant you figured
    And is variable in reality.

  12. Martha (Smith) says:

    Ah, someone recognized (or found) the source of the original!

    • If you’re referring to the Eliot, Four Quartets has been one of my favorite poems since high school (which was a few decades ago)! I was dissatisfied afterwards with my little tweak, but that just goes to show (or suggest) that it isn’t as easy as it looks….

Leave a Reply