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Archive of posts filed under the Miscellaneous Science category.

John Bohannon’s chocolate-and-weight-loss hoax study actually understates the problems with standard p-value scientific practice

Several people pointed me to this awesome story by John Bohannon: “Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just […]

Creativity is the ability to see relationships where none exist

Brent Goldfarb and Andrew King, in a paper to appear in the journal Strategic Management, write: In a recent issue of this journal, Bettis (2012) reports a conversation with a graduate student who forthrightly announced that he had been trained by faculty to “search for asterisks”. The student explained that he sifted through large databases […]

Can talk therapy halve the rate of cancer recurrence? How to think about the statistical significance of this finding? Is it just another example of the garden of forking paths?

James Coyne (who we last encountered in the sad story of Ellen Langer) writes: I’m writing to you now about another matter about which I hope you will offer an opinion. Here is a critique of a study, as well as the original study that claimed to find an effect of group psychotherapy on time […]

The connection between varying treatment effects and the well-known optimism of published research findings

Jacob Hartog writes: I thought this article [by Hunt Allcott and Sendhil Mullainathan], although already a couple of years old, fits very well into the themes of your blog—in particular the idea that the “true” treatment effect is likely to vary a lot depending on all kinds of factors that we can and cannot observe, […]

My talk at MIT this Thursday

When I was a student at MIT, there was no statistics department. I took a statistics course from Stephan Morgenthaler and liked it. (I’d already taken probability and stochastic processes back at the University of Maryland; my instructor in the latter class was Prof. Grace Yang, who was super-nice. I couldn’t follow half of what […]

Inventor of Arxiv speaks at Columbia this Tues 4pm

Paul Ginsparg, professor of physics at Cornell University and inventor of Arxiv, is speaking Tuesday 5 May, 4pm in CEPSR 750. Here’s the abstract: I [Ginsparg] will give a very brief sociological overview of the current metastable state of scholarly research communication, and then a technical discussion of the practical implications of literature and usage […]

There are 6 ways to get rejected from PLOS: (1) theft, (2) sexual harassment, (3) running an experiment without a control group, (4) keeping a gambling addict away from the casino, (5) chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, and (6) having no male co-authors

This story is pretty horrifying/funny. But the strangest thing was this part: [The author] and her colleague have appealed to the unnamed journal, which belongs to the PLoS family . . . I thought PLOS published just about everything! This is not a slam on PLOS. Arxiv publishes everything too, and Arxiv is great. The […]

A message from the vice chairman of surgery at Columbia University: “Garcinia Camboja. It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”

Should Columbia University fire this guy just cos he says things like this: “You may think magic is make believe but this little bean has scientists saying they’ve found the magic weight loss cure for every body type—it’s green coffee extract.” “I’ve got the No. 1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat. It’s […]

Imagining p<.05 triggers increased publication

We’ve all had that experience of going purposefully from one hypothesis to another, only to get there and forget why we made the journey. Four years ago, researcher Daryl Bem and his colleagues stripped this effect down, showing that the simple act of obtaining a statistically significant comparison induces publication in a top journal. Now […]

Paul Meehl continues to be the boss

Lee Sechrest writes: Here is a remarkable paper, not well known, by Paul Meehl. My research group is about to undertake a fresh discussion of it, which we do about every five or ten years. The paper is now more than a quarter of a century old but it is, I think, dramatically pertinent to […]

“In general I think these literatures have too much focus on data analysis and not enough on data collection.”

Mike Zyphur pointed me to an article appearing in Psychological Bulletin with a meta-analysis of ovulatory cycle effects: Title: Do Women’s Mate Preferences Change Across the Ovulatory Cycle? A Meta-Analytic Review Authors: Gildersleeve, K; Haselton, MG; Fales, MR Source: PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN , 140 (5):1205-1259; SEP 2014 Abstract: Scientific interest in whether women experience changes across […]

The illusion of the illusion of control

Yesterday we discussed the sad and disturbing career of psychology researcher Ellen Langer, who was was famous (to me) for her 1975 article on the illusion of control, “defined as an expectancy of a personal success probability inappropriately higher than the objective probability would warrant.” And then, in her own research, she herself became subject […]

Ellen Langer: expert on, and victim of, the illusion of control

It all started when Lee Sechrest pointed me to this post by James Coyne. Sechrest wrote: I know you have enough to do, and if you do not get to this…well, no problems. It is a blog by Jim Coyne taking apart a “classic” study in social psychology, originally published in the early ’70s. Implausible […]

James Watson sez: Cancer cure is coming in minus 14 years!

From a recent news article by Laura Helmuth, I learned this amusing fact about DNA-discoverer James Watson: “he told a New York Times reporter 16 years ago that a researcher was ‘going to cure cancer in two years.’” Here’s the link to the NYT story, dated 3 May 1998: Within a year, if all goes […]

Discussion with Steven Pinker connecting cognitive psychology research to the difficulties of writing

Following up on my discussion of Steven Pinker’s writing advice, Pinker and I had an email exchange that cleared up some issues and raised some new ones. In particular, Pinker made a connection between the difficulty of writing and some research findings in cognitive psychology. I think this connection is really cool—I’ve been thinking and […]

How a clever analysis of health survey data became transformed into bogus feel-good medical advice

Jonathan Falk sends a message with the heading, “Garden of forking paths, p value abuse, questionable causality, you name it,” this link to an article in JAMA Internal Medicine, and the following remarks: Unfortunately, I can only see the first page of this article, but it seems to contain all the usual suspects. (a) Forking […]

“The Statistical Crisis in Science”: My talk this Thurs at the Harvard psychology department

Noon Thursday, January 29, 2015, in William James Hall 765 room 1: The Statistical Crisis in Science Andrew Gelman, Dept of Statistics and Dept of Political Science, Columbia University Top journals in psychology routinely publish ridiculous, scientifically implausible claims, justified based on “p < 0.05.” And this in turn calls into question all sorts of […]

When a study fails to replicate: let’s be fair and open-minded

In a recent discussion of replication in science (particularly psychology experiments), the question came up of how to interpret things when a preregistered replication reaches a conclusion different from the original study. Typically the original, published result is large and statistically significant, and the estimate from the replication is small and not statistically significant. One […]

A completely reasonable-sounding statement with which I strongly disagree

In the context of a listserv discussion about replication in psychology experiments, someone wrote: The current best estimate of the effect size is somewhere in between the original study and the replication’s reported value. This conciliatory, split-the-difference statement sounds reasonable, and it might well represent good politics in the context of a war over replications—but […]

Sokal: “science is not merely a bag of clever tricks . . . Rather, the natural sciences are nothing more or less than one particular application — albeit an unusually successful one — of a more general rationalist worldview”

Alan Sokal writes: We know perfectly well that our politicians (or at least some of them) lie to us; we take it for granted; we are inured to it. And that may be precisely the problem. Perhaps we have become so inured to political lies — so hard-headedly cynical — that we have lost our […]