“The following needs to be an immutable law of journalism: when someone with no track record comes into a field claiming to be able to do a job many times better for a fraction of the cost, the burden of proof needs to shift quickly and decisively onto the one making the claim. The reporter simply has to assume the claim is false until substantial evidence is presented to the contrary.”

Mark Palko writes: The following needs to be an immutable law of journalism: when someone with no track record comes into a field claiming to be able to do a job many times better for a fraction of the cost, the burden of proof needs to shift quickly and decisively onto the one making the claim. The reporter simply has to assume the claim is false until substantial evidence is presented to the contrary. Yup. This is related to advice I give to young researchers giving presentations or writing research papers: 1. Describe the problem you have that existing methods can’t solve. 2. Show how your new method solves the problem. 3. Explain how your method works. 4. Explain why, if your idea is so great, how come all the people who came before you were not already doing it.…
Original Post: “The following needs to be an immutable law of journalism: when someone with no track record comes into a field claiming to be able to do a job many times better for a fraction of the cost, the burden of proof needs to shift quickly and decisively onto the one making the claim. The reporter simply has to assume the claim is false until substantial evidence is presented to the contrary.”

Statistical behavior at the end of the world: the effect of the publication crisis on U.S. research productivity

Under the heading, “I’m suspicious,” Kevin Lewis points us to this article with abstract: We exploit the timing of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the geographical variation in mortality risks individuals faced across states to analyse reproduction decisions during the crisis. The results of a difference-in-differences approach show evidence that fertility decreased in states that are farther from Cuba and increased in states with more military installations. Our findings suggest that individuals are more likely to engage in reproductive activities when facing high mortality risks, but reduce fertility when facing a high probability of enduring the aftermath of a catastrophe. It’s the usual story: forking paths (nothing in the main effect, followed by a selection among the many many possible two-way and three-way interactions that could be studied), followed by convoluted storytelling (“individuals indulge in reproductive activities when facing high…
Original Post: Statistical behavior at the end of the world: the effect of the publication crisis on U.S. research productivity

Dear Thomas Frank

Dear Thomas Frank Posted by Andrew on 14 January 2018, 5:13 pm It’s a funny thing: academics are all easily reachable by email, but non-academics can be harder to track down. Someone pointed me today to a newspaper article by political analyst Thomas Frank that briefly mentioned my work. I had a question for Frank, but the only correspondence I had with him was from ten years ago, and my email bounced. So I’ll send it here: Dear Thomas: Someone pointed out a newspaper article in which you linked to something I’d written. Here’s what you wrote: Krugman said that the shift of working-class people to the Republican party was a myth and that it was not happening outside the south. . . . Here are some examples: a blog post from 2007; a column in the Times in 2008 (“Nor…
Original Post: Dear Thomas Frank

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 about them, or at least gave them the impression that he cared. The popularity of this account has puzzled me, because it’s not even superficially plausible. Every other presidential candidate I can remember tried to show empathy by talking about people they had met on the campaign trail, or tough times they had encountered in their past, or how their parents taught them to treat everyone equally. Trump didn’t do any of that—he boasted about how smart and how rich he was. And, indeed, Weakliem…
Original Post: Why are these explanations so popular?

A Python program for multivariate missing-data imputation that works on large datasets!?

Alex Stenlake and Ranjit Lall write about a program they wrote for imputing missing data: Strategies for analyzing missing data have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, most notably with the growing popularity of the best-practice technique of multiple imputation. However, existing algorithms for implementing multiple imputation suffer from limited computational efficiency, scalability, and capacity to exploit complex interactions among large numbers of variables. These shortcomings render them poorly suited to the emerging era of “Big Data” in the social and natural sciences. Drawing on new advances in machine learning, we have developed an easy-to-use Python program – MIDAS (Multiple Imputation with Denoising Autoencoders) – that leverages principles of Bayesian nonparametrics to deliver a fast, scalable, and high-performance implementation of multiple imputation. MIDAS employs a class of unsupervised neural networks known as denoising autoencoders, which are capable of producing complex,…
Original Post: A Python program for multivariate missing-data imputation that works on large datasets!?

Incentive to cheat

Joseph Delaney quotes Matthew Yglesias writing this: But it is entirely emblematic of America’s post-Reagan treatment of business regulation. What a wealthy and powerful person faced with a legal impediment to moneymaking is supposed to do is work with a lawyer to devise clever means of subverting the purpose of the law. If you end up getting caught, the attempted subversion will be construed as a mitigating (it’s a gray area!) rather than aggravating factor. Your punishment will probably be light and will certainly not involve anything more than money. You already have plenty of money, and your plan is to get even more. So why not? Yglesias’s quote is about Donald Trump but the issue is more general than that; for example here’s Delaney quoting a news report by Matt Egan regarding a banking scandal: These payouts are on…
Original Post: Incentive to cheat

Benefits and limitations of randomized controlled trials: I agree with Deaton and Cartwright

My discussion of “Understanding and misunderstanding randomized controlled trials,” by Angus Deaton and Nancy Cartwright, for Social Science & Medicine: I agree with Deaton and Cartwright that randomized trials are often overrated. There is a strange form of reasoning we often see in science, which is the idea that a chain of reasoning is as strong as its strongest link. The social science and medical research literature is full of papers in which a randomized experiment is performed, a statistically significant comparison is found, and then story time begins, and continues, and continues—as if the rigor from the randomized experiment somehow suffuses through the entire analysis. Here are some reasons why the results of a randomized trial cannot be taken as representing a general discovery: 1. Measurement. A causal effect on a surrogate endpoint does not necessarily map to an…
Original Post: Benefits and limitations of randomized controlled trials: I agree with Deaton and Cartwright

Nudge nudge, say no more

Nudge nudge, say no more Posted by Andrew on 8 January 2018, 9:17 am Alan Finlayson puts it well when he writes of “the tiresome business of informing and persuading people replaced by psychological techniques designed to ‘nudge’ us in the right direction.” I think that’s about right. Nudging makes sense as part of a package that already includes information and persuasion. For example, tell us that smoking causes cancer, persuade us to reduce or quit, then also provide nudges that make smoking more difficult and make non-smoking more comfortable. But to try to nudge people without informing and persuading them, that seems like a mistake.
Original Post: Nudge nudge, say no more

Robo-lobbyists

Robo-lobbyists Posted by Andrew on 5 January 2018, 8:41 pm Ethan Bolker points to this news item and writes: A couple more clicks after that, and we’re looking at a summarized version of a bill tackling cybersecurity that the software has considered and rendered a judgment on, when it comes to the probability that it will become law. We’re not talking a rough estimate. There’s a decimal: 78.1 percent. It’s good to know that software can be as dumb as humans.
Original Post: Robo-lobbyists

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 which America excels at. We spend the most on science and do the most science in the world, we’ve developed transistors and flying cars and Stan and all sorts of other technologies that derive from the advanced science that we teach and research in the world’s best universities. As for the military, we spend more than the next umpteen countries around, and our army, navy, and air force are dominant everywhere but on the streets of Mogadishu. Neither institution is perfect—you don’t need me to…
Original Post: How is science like the military? They are politically extreme yet vital to the nation