I like to post approx one item per day on this blog, so when multiple things come up in the same day, I worry about the sustainability of all this. I suppose I could up the posting rate to 2 a day but I think that could be too much of a burden on the readers.
So in this post I’ll just tell you everything I’ve been thinking about today, Thurs 14 Apr 2016.
Actually I’ll start with yesterday, when I posted an update to our Prior Choice Recommendations wiki. There had been a question on the Stan mailing list about priors for cutpoints in ordered logistic regression and this reminded me of a few things I wanted to add, not just on ordered regression but in various places in the wiki. This wiki is great and I’ll devote a full post to it sometime.
Also yesterday I edited a post on this sister blog. Posting there is a service to the political science profession and it’s good to reach Washington Post readers which is a different audience than what we have here. But it’s also can be exhausting as I need to explain everything, whereas for you regular readers I can just speak directly.
This morning I taught my class on design and analysis of sample surveys. Today’s class was on Mister P. Jitts led into a 20-minute discussion about the history and future of sample surveys. I don’t know much about the history of sample surveys. Why was there no Gallup Poll in 1990? How much random sampling was being done, anywhere, before 1930? I don’t know. After that, the class was all R/Stan demos and discussion. I had some difficulties. I took an old R script I had from last year’s class but it didn’t run. I’d deleted some of the data files—Census PUMS files I needed for the poststratification—so I needed to get them again.
After that I biked downtown to give a talk at Baruch College, where someone had asked me to speak. On the way down I heard this story, which the This American Life producers summarize as follows:
When Jonathan Goldstein was 11, his father gave him a book called Ultra-Psychonics: How to Work Miracles with the Limitless Power of Psycho-Atomic Energy. The book was like a grab bag of every occult, para-psychology, and self-help book popular at the time. It promised to teach you how to get rich, control other people’s minds, and levitate. Jonathan found the book in his apartment recently and decided to look into the magical claims the book made.
It turns out that the guy who wrote the book was just doing it to make money:
At the time, Schaumberger was living in New Jersey and making a decent wage as an editor at a publishing house that specialized in occult self help books with titles like “Secrets From Beyond The Pyramids” and “The Magic Of Chantomatics.” And he was astonished by the amount of money he saw writers making. . . .
Looking at it now, it seems obvious it was a lark. It almost reads like a parody of another famous science fiction slash self help book with a lot of psuedoscience jargon that, for legal reasons, I will only say rhymes with diuretics.
Take, for instance, the astral spur. You were supposed to use it at the race track to give your horse extra energy, and it involved standing on one foot and projecting a psychic laser at your horse’s hindquarters.
Then there’s the section on ultra vision influence. The road to domination is explained this way– one, sit in front of a mirror and practice staring fixedly into your own eyes. Two, practice the look on animals. Cats are the best. See if you can stare down a cat. Don’t be surprised if the cat seems to win the first few rounds. Three, practice the look on strangers on various forms of public transport. Stare steadily at someone sitting opposite you until you force them to turn their head away or look down. You have just mastered your first human subject.
I’m listening to this and I’m thinking . . . power pose! It’s just like power pose. It could be true, it kinda sounds right, it involves discipline and focus.
One difference is that power pose has a “p less than .05” attached to it. But, as we’ve seen over and over again, “p less than .05” doesn’t mean very much.
The other difference is that, presumably, the power pose researchers are sincere, whereas this guy was just gleefully making it all up. And yet . . . there’s this, from his daughter:
Well, he was very familiar with all these things. The “Egyptian Book of the Dead” was a big one, because there was always this thing of, well, maybe if they had followed the formulas correctly, maybe something . . . He may have wanted to believe. It may be that in his private thoughts, there were some things in there that he believed in.
I think there may be something going on here, the idea that, even if you make it up, if you will it, you can make it true. If you just try hard enough. I wonder if the power-pose researchers and the ovulation-and-clothing researchers and all the rest, I wonder if they have a bit of this attitude, that if they just really really try, it will all become true.
And then there was more. I’ve had my problems with This American Life from time to time, but this one was a great episode. It had this cool story of a woman who was caring for her mother with dementia, and she (the caregiver) and her husband learned about how to “get inside the world” of the mother so that everything worked much more smoothly. I’m thinking I should try this approach when talking with students!
OK, so I got to my talk. It went ok, I guess. I wasn’t really revved up for it. But by the time it was over I was feeling good. I think I’m a good speaker but one thing that continues to bug me is that I rarely elicit many questions. (Search this blog for Brad Paley for more on this.)
After my talk, on the way back, another excellent This American Life episode, including a goofy/chilling story of how the FBI was hassling some US Taliban activist and trying to get him to commit crimes so they could nail him for terrorism. Really creepy: they seemed to want to create crimes where none existed, just so they could take credit for catching another terrorist.
Got home and started typing this up.
What else relevant happened recently? On Monday I spoke at a conference on “Bayesian, Fiducial, and Frequentist Inference.” My title was “Taking Bayesian inference seriously,” and this was my abstract:
Over the years I have been moving toward the use of informative priors in more and more of my applications. I will discuss several examples from theory, application, and computing where traditional noninformative priors lead to disaster, but a little bit of prior information can make everything work out. Informative priors also can resolve some of the questions of replication and multiple comparisons that have recently shook the world of science. It’s funny for me to say this, after having practiced Bayesian statistics for nearly thirty years, but I’m only now realizing the true value of the prior distribution.
I don’t know if my talk quite lived up to this, but I have been thinking a lot about prior distributions, as was indicated at the top of this post. On the train ride to and from the conference (it was in New Jersey) I talked with Deborah Mayo. I don’t really remember anything we said—that’s what happens when I don’t take notes—but Mayo assured me she’d remember the important parts.
I also had an idea for a new paper, to be titled, “Backfire: How methods that attempt to avoid bias can destroy the validity and reliability of inferences.” OK, I guess I need a snappier title, but I think it’s an important point. Part of this material was in my talk, “‘Unbiasedness’: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,” which I gave last year at Princeton—that was before Angus Deaton got mad at me, he was really nice during that visit and offered a lot of good comments, both during and after the talk—but I have some new material too. I want to work in the bit about the homeopathic treatments that have been so popular in social psychology.
Oh, also I received emails today from 2 different journals asking me to referee submitted papers, someone emailed me his book manuscript the other day, asking for comments, and a few other people emailed me articles they’d written.
I’m not complaining, nor am I trying to “busy-brag.” I love getting interesting things to read, and if I feel too busy I can just delete these messages. My only point is that there’s a lot going on, which is why it can be a challenge to limit myself to one blog post per day.
Finally, let me emphasize that I’m not saying there’s anything special about me. Or, to put it another way, sure, I’m special, and so are each of you. You too can do a Nicholson Baker and dissect every moment of your lives. That’s what blogging’s all about. God is in every leaf etc.