Category Archives: Science and the scientific method

Some Pointers on How to Catch the Dubious Use of Statistics

A long standing pet peeve is how the use of figures has been fetishized in political discourse and in our society generally, to the point where many people too easily swayed by argument that invoke data (I discussed this phenomenon at length in the business context in a 2006 article for the Conference Board Review, […]

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The Empirical Shift in Economics

What’s at stake: Rather than being unified by the application of the common behavioral model of the rational agent, economists increasingly recognize themselves in the careful application of a common empirical toolkit used to tease out causal relationships, creating a premium for papers that mix a clever identification strategy with access to new data.

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John Helmer: Amazing Pentagon Weapon Penetrates Putin’s Brain Before He Was Born – President Reagan’s Brain Secret Confirmed, With Poroshekno’s and Nuland’s

If you’ve read The Men Who Stare at Goats, you already know that the defense establishment has a peculiar fondness for funding quackery. But this is still a doozy.

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Happiness and Satisfaction Are Not Everything: Improving Wellbeing Indices

Yves here. I’m using this post as an object lesson in what is right and wrong with a lot of economics research to help readers look at research reports and academic studies more critically. That often happens with post VoxEU articles; they have some, or even a lot, of interesting data and analysis, but there’s often some nails-on-the-chalkboard remarks or a bias in how the authors have approached the topic. Readers, needless to say, generally pounce on these shortcomings.

Here, the authors take up a legitimate topic: are surveys on wellbeing asking the right questions?

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Facebook Users Regularly Treated Like Guinea Pigs

A new Wall Street Journal story probes the frequency and casualness with which Facebook ran experiments with the explicit aim of manipulating users’ emotions. Some commentators pooh poohed the concern about the study, saying that companies try influencing customers all the time. But the difference here is that manipulation usually takes place in a selling context, where the aims of the vendor, to persuade you to buy their product, are clear. Here, the study exposed initially, that of skewing the mix of articles in nearly 700,000 Facebook subscribers’ news feeds, was done in a context where participants would have no reason to question the information they were being given.

While the controversial emotions study may have been Facebook’s most questionable study, it is the tip of an experimentation iceberg.

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The Crapification of Biomedical Research

An urgent warning from PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

In the context of such progress, it is remarkable that even the most successful scientists and most promising trainees are increasingly pessimistic about the future of their chosen career. Based on extensive observations and discussions, we believe that these concerns are justified and that the biomedical research enterprise in the United States is on an unsustainable path.

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