Why we fall for bogus academic research
Even when you have a larger sample, however, the groups are not going to match the average of the whole population every time; by blind luck, sometimes the group will be exceptionally tall, sometimes exceptionally short. Statisticians understand this. But journal editors and journalists do not necessarily exercise appropriate caution. That’s not because journal editors are dumb and don’t get statistics, but because scientific journals are looking for novel and interesting results, not “We did a study and look, we found exactly what you’d have expected before you’d plowed through our four pages of analysis.” This “publication bias” means that journals are basically selecting for outliers. In other words, they are in the business of publishing papers that, for no failure of method but simply from sheer dumb luck, happened to get an unusual sample. They are going to select for those papers more than they should – especially in fields that study humans, who are expensive and reluctant to sit still for your experiment, rather than something like bacteria, which can be studied in numbers ending in lots of zeroes.
~35% of psychology studies surveyed were reproducible
This is completely unsurprising. Why isn’t there a stronger culture of releasing full datasets and full code? Social scientists work primarily with software, rather than manual hand calculations – why not just release their R scripts and Excel sheets? (Answer: because when you do, like Reinhardt and Rogoff, people can call you out on your errors)
What Drives Moral Progress?
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein gives a really straightforward against pure Humean emotivism and the primacy of moral psychology:
But moral psychology does not have to tell the whole story. There is no reason why we cannot have moral psychology and moral philosophy: moral psychology to explain why moral progress is both possible and painfully slow, and moral philosophy to clarify what constitutes moral progress and to push us in the appropriate direction.
We are reasoning, deliberating human beings, and our genes are not the masters of our fate. We should not become so enthralled by the explanatory power of the behavioral sciences that we succumb to the belief that moral progress is predetermined.
Psychology tells a diminished story that leaves out our past moral advances and the hard argumentative work required to expand those advances in the future. Plato would reject this view. So should we.
The effect of scandals on voting decisions
Scott Basinger at the University of Houston did a study looking at the influence of 246 sexual, financial, election, criminal, and political corruption scandals on Congressional elections over the last 30 years. He defined corruption as bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and influence peddling. In other words, corruption involved politician’s abuse of their office, or, in evolutionary terms, the maldistribution of group resources. The other types of scandals involved non-governmental, non-official, personal behaviors such as extramarital affairs (sex), tax evasion (financial), violations of campaign laws (election), and driving while intoxicated (criminal).
He found that voters had a much more negative response to political corruption, the evolutionary evil, than the personal scandals. More specifically, corruption has the largest effect, driving down the vote share of incumbents by 8%, while sexual, financial, and criminal scandals drove it down by 5%. Although small numbers, the effect is 60% larger for political corruption than sexual and other types of scandals. Election scandals had little to no effect.
Why American kids are so spoiled
Fascinating read from Elizabeth Kolbert:
With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority. “Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology, have written. In many middle-class families, children have one, two, sometimes three adults at their beck and call. This is a social experiment on a grand scale, and a growing number of adults fear that it isn’t working out so well: according to one poll, commissioned by Time and CNN, two-thirds of American parents think that their children are spoiled.
The psychology of why smarter people are stupid
Jonah Lehrer in a fascinating New Yorker piece:
The philosopher, it turns out, got it backward. A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology led by Richard West at James Madison University and Keith Stanovich at the University of Toronto suggests that, in many instances, smarter people are more vulnerable to these thinking errors.