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Clinical trials are broken. Here’s why.

Someone emailed me with some thoughts on systemic exertion intolerance disease, in particular, controversies regarding the Pace trial which evaluated psychological interventions for this condition or, should I say, set of conditions. I responded as follows: At one point I had the thought of doing a big investigative project on this, formally interviewing a bunch […]

Further criticism of social scientists and journalists jumping to conclusions based on mortality trends

[cat picture] So. We’ve been having some discussion regarding reports of the purported increase in mortality rates among middle-aged white people in America. The news media have mostly spun a simple narrative of struggling working-class whites, but there’s more to the story. Some people have pointed me to some contributions from various sources: In “The […]

You can read two versions of this review essay on systemic exertion intolerance disease (chronic fatigue syndrome)

Julie Rehmeyer wrote a book, “Through the Shadowlands: A Science Writer’s Odyssey into an Illness Science Doesn’t Understand,” and my review appeared in the online New Yorker, much shortened and edited, and given the title, “A memoir of chronic fatigue illustrates the failures of medical research.” My original was titled, “Systemic exertion intolerance disease: The […]

Why they aren’t behavioral economists: Three sociologists give their take on “mental accounting”

Nina Bandelj, Fred Wherry, and Viviana Zelizer write: Rather than retreat to disciplinary corners, let us begin by affirming our respect for the generative work undertaken across a variety of disciplines. We’re all talking money, so it is helpful to specify what’s similar and what’s different when we do. . . . In this post, […]

Sparse regression using the “ponyshoe” (regularized horseshoe) model, from Juho Piironen and Aki Vehtari

The article is called “Sparsity information and regularization in the horseshoe and other shrinkage priors,” and here’s the abstract: The horseshoe prior has proven to be a noteworthy alternative for sparse Bayesian estimation, but has previously suffered from two problems. First, there has been no systematic way of specifying a prior for the global shrinkage […]

Night Hawk

Sam Harper writes: Not sure whether you saw the NYT story a couple of days ago about the declining prospects for democracy in rich countries (based on a recently published paper by Roberto Foa (University of Melbourne) and Yascha Mounk (Harvard). This graph, showing differences in the fraction of individuals reporting that it is “essential” […]

Bigshot psychologist, unhappy when his famous finding doesn’t replicate, won’t consider that he might have been wrong; instead he scrambles furiously to preserve his theories

Kimmo Eriksson writes: I am a Swedish math professor turned cultural evolutionist and psychologist (and a fan of your blog). I am currently working on a topic that might interest you (why public opinion moves on some issues but not on others), but that’s for another day. Hey—I’m very interested in why public opinion moves […]

My unpublished papers

My oldest unpublished paper dates from my sophomore year in college. I can’t remember the title or all the details, but it was a solution to a differential-difference equation. The story of how it came about is here. A couple years after figuring out the proof, I wrote it up and submitted it to a […]

The upcoming NBA hackathon: You’ll never guess the top 10 topics . . .

Jason Rosenfeld writes: We’re hosting our second annual NBA Hackathon this September. This year, there will be two tracks, basketball analytics and business analytics. Prizes include a trip to NBA All-Star 2018 in Los Angeles and a lunch with NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver. Any help spreading the word among your students and beyond is greatly […]

Statisticians and economists agree: We should learn from data by “generating and revising models, hypotheses, and data analyzed in response to surprising findings.” (That’s what Bayesian data analysis is all about.)

Kevin Lewis points us to this article by economist James Heckman and statistician Burton Singer, who write: All analysts approach data with preconceptions. The data never speak for themselves. Sometimes preconceptions are encoded in precise models. Sometimes they are just intuitions that analysts seek to confirm and solidify. A central question is how to revise […]

From Whoops to Sorry: Columbia University history prof relives 1968

I haven’t had much contact with the history department here at Columbia. A bunch of years ago I co-taught a course with Herb Klein and some others, and the material from that class went into my book co-edited with Jeronimo Cortina, A Quantitative Tour of the Social Sciences. More recently, I’ve had some conversations with […]

Turks need money after expensive weddings

Josh Miller points to this: “We offered mTurk workers $0.50–$0.75 to complete the survey.” Why would someone who spent $20k+ on their wedding be filling out a survey on mTurk? Maybe things didn’t turn out so well? Josh continues: I didn’t read the paper or the empirical section, just the abstract and I quickly looked […]

What is a pull request?

Bob explains: A pull request (PR) is the minimal publishable unit of open-source development. It’s a proposed change to the code base that we can then review. If you want to see how the sausage is made, follow this link. If you click on “files changed”, you’ll see what Sean is proposing doing with the […]

Maternal death rate problems in North Carolina

Somebody named Jerrod writes: I though you might find this article [“Black moms die in childbirth 3 times as often as white moms. Except in North Carolina,” by Julia Belluz] interesting as it relates to some of your interests in health data and combines it with bad analysis and framing. My beef with the article: […]

“The Null Hypothesis Screening Fallacy”?

[non-cat picture] Rick Gerkin writes: A few months ago you posted your list of blog posts in draft stage and I noticed that “Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli. Not.” was still on that list. It was about some concerns I had about a paper in Science ( After talking it through […]

“Furthermore, there are forms of research that have reached such a degree of complexity in their experimental methodology that replicative repetition can be difficult.”

[cat picture] Shravan Vasishth writes: The German NSF (DFG) has recently published a position paper on replicability, which contains the following explosive statement (emphasis mine in the quote below). The first part of their defence against replicability is reasonable: some experiments can never be repeated under the same conditions (e.g., volcanic eruptions etc). But if […]

No, I’m not blocking you or deleting your comments!

Someone wrote in: I am worried you may have blocked me from commenting on your blog (because a couple of comments I made aren’t there). . . . Or maybe I failed to post correctly or maybe you just didn’t think my comments were interesting enough. . . . This comes up from time to […]

Plan 9 from PPNAS

[cat picture] Asher Meir points to this breathless news article and sends me a message, subject line “Fruit juice leads to 0.003 unit (!) increase in BMI”: “the study results showed that one daily 6- to 8-ounce serving increment of 100% fruit juice was associated with a small .003 unit increase in body mass index […]

Again: Let’s stop talking about published research findings being true or false

Coincidentally, on the same day this post appeared, a couple people pointed me to a news article by Paul Basken entitled, “A New Theory on How Researchers Can Solve the Reproducibility Crisis: Do the Math.” This is not good.

Let’s stop talking about published research findings being true or false

I bear some of the blame for this. When I heard about John Ioannidis’s paper, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False,” I thought it was cool. Ioannidis was on the same side as me, and Uri Simonsohn, and Greg Francis, and Paul Meehl, in the replication debate: he felt that there was a lot […]