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Archive of posts filed under the Sociology category.

The Trumpets of Lilliput

Gur Huberman pointed me to this paper by George Akerlof and Pascal Michaillat that gives an institutional model for the persistence of false belief. The article begins: This paper develops a theory of promotion based on evaluations by the already promoted. The already promoted show some favoritism toward candidates for promotion with similar beliefs, just […]

A lesson from the Charles Armstrong plagiarism scandal: Separation of the judicial and the executive functions

[updated link] Charles Armstrong is a history professor at Columbia University who, so I’ve heard, has plagiarized and faked references for an award-winning book about Korean history. The violations of the rules of scholarship were so bad that the American Historical Association “reviewed the citation issue after being notified by a member of the concerns […]

Hey, here’s a new reason for a journal to reject a paper: it’s “annoying” that it’s already on a preprint server

Alex Gamma writes: I’m interested in publishing in journal X. So I inquire about X’s preprint policy. X’s editor informs me that [Journal X] does not prohibit placing submitted manuscripts on preprint servers. Some reviewers may notice the server version of the article, however, and they may find the lack of anonymity so annoying that […]

The puzzle: Why do scientists typically respond to legitimate scientific criticism in an angry, defensive, closed, non-scientific way? The answer: We’re trained to do this during the process of responding to peer review.

[image of Cantor’s corner] Here’s the “puzzle,” as we say in social science. Scientific research is all about discovery of the unexpected: to do research, you need to be open to new possibilities, to design experiments to force anomalies, and to learn from them. The sweet spot for any researcher is at Cantor’s corner. (See […]

Why are these explanations so popular?

David Weakliem writes: According to exit polls, Donald Trump got 67% of the vote among whites without a college degree in 2016, which may be the best-ever performance by a Republican (Reagan got 66% of that group in 1984). Weakliem first rejects one possibility that’s been going around: One popular idea is that he cared […]

“However noble the goal, research findings should be reported accurately. Distortion of results often occurs not in the data presented but . . . in the abstract, discussion, secondary literature and press releases. Such distortion can lead to unsupported beliefs about what works for obesity treatment and prevention. Such unsupported beliefs may in turn adversely affect future research efforts and the decisions of lawmakers, clinicians and public health leaders.”

David Allison points us to this article by Bryan McComb, Alexis Frazier-Wood, John Dawson, and himself, “Drawing conclusions from within-group comparisons and selected subsets of data leads to unsubstantiated conclusions.” It’s a letter to the editor for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, and it begins: [In the paper, “School-based systems change […]

How does probabilistic computation differ in physics and statistics?

[image of Schrodinger’s cat, of course] Stan collaborator Michael Betancourt wrote an article, “The Convergence of Markov chain Monte Carlo Methods: From the Metropolis method to Hamiltonian Monte Carlo,” discussing how various ideas of computational probability moved from physics to statistics. Three things I wanted to add to Betancourt’s story: 1. My paper with Rubin […]

How is science like the military? They are politically extreme yet vital to the nation

I was thinking recently about two subcultures in the United States, public or quasi-public institutions that are central to our country’s power, and which politically and socially are distant both from each other and from much of the mainstream of American society. The two institutions I’m thinking of are science and the military, both of […]

Now, Andy did you hear about this one?

We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to now. We tried to reach beyond the emptiness but neither one knew how. – Kiki and Herb Well I hope you all ended your 2017 with a bang.  Mine went out on a long-haul flight crying so hard at a French AIDS drama that […]

I’m with Errol: On flypaper, photography, science, and storytelling

[image of a cat going after an insect] I’ve been reading this amazing book, Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography, by Errol Morris, who, like John Waters, is a pathbreaking filmmaker who is also an excellent writer. I recommend this book, but what I want to talk about here is one particular […]

Your (Canadian) tax dollars at work

Retraction Watch links to this amazing (in a bad way) article by “The International Consortium of Investigators for Fairness in Trial Data Sharing” who propose that “study investigators be allowed exclusive use of the data for a minimum of 2 years after publication of the primary trial results and an additional 6 months for every […]

Learning from and responding to statistical criticism

In 1960, Irwin Bross, “a public-health advocate and biostatistician . . . known for challenging scientific dogmas” published an article called “Statistical Criticism.” Here it is. A few months ago, Dylan Small, editor of the journal Observational Studies, invited various people including me to write a comment on Bross’s article. Here’s what I wrote: Irwin […]

Can’t keep up with the flood of gobbledygook

Jonathan Falk points me to a paper published in one of the tabloids; he had skepticism about its broad claims. I took a look at the paper, noticed a few goofy things about it (for example, “Our data also indicate a shift toward more complex societies over time in a manner that lends support to […]

“The Billy Beane of murder”?

John Hall points to this news article in Businessweek by by Robert Kolker, “Serial Killers Should Fear This Algorithm,” and writes: I couldn’t help but think that you should get some grad students working on the data set mentioned in the article below. Meanwhile this story got picked up by the New Yorker, although without […]

Stranger than fiction

Someone pointed me to a long discussion, which he preferred not to share publicly, of his perspective on a scientific controversy in his field of research. He characterized a particular claim as “impossible to be true, i.e., false, and therefore, by definition, fiction.” But my impression of a lot of research misconduct is that the […]

We need to stop sacrificing women on the altar of deeply mediocre men (ISBA edition)

(This is not Andrew. I would ask you not to speculate in the comments who S is, this is not a great venue for that.) Kristian Lum just published an essay about her experiences being sexually assaulted at statistics conferences.  You should read the whole thing because it’s important, but there’s a sample paragraph. I […]

Two steps forward, one step back

Alex Gamma writes in with what he describes as “an amusing little story” from two years ago: When Deaton & Case published their study, and after your re-analysis had uncovered the missing age-correction, I’ve pointed out this issue to several news blogs that reported on the study, but were not aware of the problem (only […]

A reporter sent me a Jama paper and asked me what I thought . . .

My reply: Thanks for sending. I can’t be sure about everything they’re doing but the paper looks reasonable to me. I expect there are various ways that the analysis could be improved, but on a quick look I don’t see anything obviously wrong with it, and the authors seem to know what they are doing. […]


I’m getting my computer repaired and so will be offline for a few days, won’t be reading or sending email or reading blog comments. The blog will auto-post, though, one per day, with already-scheduled material: “How to Assess Internet Cures Without Falling for Dangerous Pseudoscience” Ed Jaynes outta control! A reporter sent me a Jama […]

Loss of confidence

This fascinating post by David Weakliem documents declining confidence in political institutions: and the news media: and some other institutions: As Weakliem writes: So far, confidence in everything has declined. You could offer specific explanations for each one, but the fact that it’s so widespread suggests that the declines reflect a general mood of dissatisfaction. […]