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Archive of posts filed under the Sociology category.

Migration explaining observed changes in mortality rate in different geographic areas?

We know that the much-discussed increase in mortality among middle-aged U.S. whites is mostly happening among women in the south. In response to some of that discussion, Tim Worstall wrote: I [Worstall] have a speculative answer. It is absolutely speculative: but it is also checkable to some extent. Really, I’m channelling my usual critique of […]

Transformative treatments

Kieran Healy and Laurie Paul wrote a new article, “Transformative Treatments,” (see also here) which reminds me a bit of my article with Guido, “Why ask why? Forward causal inference and reverse causal questions.” Healy and Paul’s article begins: Contemporary social-scientific research seeks to identify specific causal mechanisms for outcomes of theoretical interest. Experiments that […]

“I thought it would be most unfortunate if a lab . . . wasted time and effort trying to replicate our results.”

Mark Palko points us to this news article by George Dvorsky: A Harvard research team led by biologist Douglas Melton has retracted a promising research paper following multiple failed attempts to reproduce the original findings. . . . In June 2016, the authors published an article in the open access journal PLOS One stating that […]

Ethics and statistics

For a few years now, I’ve been writing a column in Chance. Below are the articles so far. This is by no means an exhaustive list of my writings on ethics and statistics but at least I thought it could help to collect these columns in one place. Ethics and statistics: Open data and open […]

p=.03, it’s gotta be true!

Howie Lempel writes: Showing a white person a photo of Obama w/ artificially dark skin instead of artificially lightened skin before asking whether they support the Tea Party raises their probability of saying “yes” from 12% to 22%. 255 person Amazon Turk and Craigs List sample, p=.03. Nothing too unusual about this one. But it’s […]

What’s powdery and comes out of a metallic-green cardboard can?

This (by Jason Torchinsky, from Stay Free magazine, around 1998?) is just hilarious. We used to have both those shake-out-the-powder cans, Comet and that parmesan cheese, in our house when I was growing up.

An efficiency argument for post-publication review

This came up in a discussion last week: We were talking about problems with the review process in scientific journals, and a commenter suggested that prepublication review should be more rigorous: There are lot of statistical missteps you just can’t catch until you actually have the replication data in front of you to work with […]

Temple Grandin

She also belongs in the “objects of class Pauline Kael” category. Most autistic people are male, but Temple Grandin is the most famous and accomplished autistic person ever.

Data 1, NPR 0

Jay “should replace the Brooks brothers on the NYT op-ed page” Livingston writes: There it was again, the panic about the narcissism of millennialas as evidenced by selfies. This time it was NPR’s podcast Hidden Brain. The show’s host Shankar Vedantam chose to speak with only one researcher on the topic – psychologist Jean Twenge, […]

Frustration with published results that can’t be reproduced, and journals that don’t seem to care

Thomas Heister writes: Your recent post about Per Pettersson-Lidbom frustrations in reproducing study results reminded me of our own recent experience that we had in replicating a paper in PLOSone. We found numerous substantial errors but eventually gave up as, frustratingly, the time and effort didn’t seem to change anything and the journal’s editors quite […]

Some U.S. demographic data at zipcode level conveniently in R

Ari Lamstein writes: I chuckled when I read your recent “R Sucks” post. Some of the comments were a bit … heated … so I thought to send you an email instead. I agree with your point that some of the datasets in R are not particularly relevant. The way that I’ve addressed that is […]

How can you evaluate a research paper?

Shea Levy writes: You ended a post from last month [i.e., Feb.] with the injunction to not take the fact of a paper’s publication or citation status as meaning anything, and instead that we should “read each paper on its own.” Unfortunately, while I can usually follow e.g. the criticisms of a paper you might […]

Individual and aggregate patterns in the Equality of Opportunity research project

Dale Lehman writes: I’ve been looking at the work of the Equality of Opportunity Project and noticed that you had commented on some of their work. Since you are somewhat familiar with the work, and since they do not respond to my queries, I thought I’d ask you about something that is bothering me. I, […]

Only on the internet . . .

I had this bizarrely escalating email exchange. It started with this completely reasonable message: Professor, I was unable to run your code here: Besides a small typo [you have a 1 after names (options)], the code fails when you actually run the function. The error I get is a lexical error: Error: lexical error: […]

Josh Miller hot hand talks in NYC and Pittsburgh this week

Joshua Miller (the person who, with Adam Sanjurjo, discovered why the so-called “hot hand fallacy” is not really a fallacy) will be speaking on the topic this week. In New York, Thurs 17 Nov, 12:30pm, 19 W 4th St, room 517, Center for Experimental Social Science seminar. In Pittsburgh, Fri 18 Nov, 12pm, 4716 Posvsar […]

“Men with large testicles”

Above is the title of an email I received from Marcel van Assen. We were having a discussion of PPNAS papers—I was relating my frustration about Case and Deaton’s response to my letter with Auerbach on age adjustment in mortality trends—and Assen wrote: We also commented on a paper in PNAS. The original paper was […]

The role of models and empirical work in political science

Bill Kelleher writes: I recently posted a review of A Model Discipline, by Clarke and Primo on My review is entitled “Why Physics Envy will Persist,” at As you likely know, they are critical of the widespread belief among political scientists in the hypothetical-deductive method. As part of my review of the book, […]

Can a census-tract-level regression analysis untangle correlation between lead and crime?

Daniel Hawkins pointed me to a post by Kevin Drum entitled, “Crime in St. Louis: It’s Lead, Baby, Lead,” and the associated research article by Brian Boutwell, Erik Nelson, Brett Emo, Michael Vaughn, Mario Schootman, Richard Rosenfeld, Roger Lewis, “The intersection of aggregate-level lead exposure and crime.” The short story is that the areas of […]

How effective (or counterproductive) is universal child care? Part 2

This is the second of a series of two posts. Yesterday we discussed the difficulties of learning from a small, noisy experiment, in the context of a longitudinal study conducted in Jamaica where researchers reported that an early-childhood intervention program caused a 42%, or 25%, gain in later earnings. I expressed skepticism. Today I want […]

How effective (or counterproductive) is universal child care? Part 1

This is the first of a series of two posts. We’ve talked before about various empirically-based claims of the effectiveness of early childhood intervention. In a much-publicized 2013 paper based on a study of 130 four-year-old children in Jamaica, Paul Gertler et al. claimed that a particular program caused a 42% increase in the participants’ […]