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.
Examining who gives, helps, and advises in Americans’ close networks
Markus Schafer finds that Americans are more likely to receive social support from religious traditionalists in their social networks. I think that studies like this should make us seriously question civil liberties groups that argue the government should never be allowed to provide any kind of aid to religious groups, given the positive externalities they provide (of course, you’d want the laws to be neutral and generally applicable, rather than picking specific religions).
A large literature is currently contesting the impact of religion on prosocial behavior. As a window into this discussion, I examine the close social networks of American adults and consider whether religious traditionalists are more likely than other network members to supply several basic forms of social support. Analysis of the Portraits of American Life Survey reveals three main findings. First, a majority of Americans—religious or not—count at least one perceived religious traditionalist among their close network ties. Second, American adults are more likely to receive advice, practical help, and money from ties identified as religious traditionalists than from other types of ties, a pattern that held among both kin and nonkin network ties. Finally, although perceived traditionalist network members appear especially inclined to assist highly religious people, they nevertheless offer social support to Americans across a broad spectrum of religiosity. Beyond its relevance for debates on religion and community life, this study also proposes a novel strategy to assess prosocial behavior. Asking people to recount the deeds of their network members can reduce certain self-reporting biases common to survey research and helps locate prosocial activity in concrete and meaningful social relationships.
Cultivated Disinterest in Professional Sports
Fantastic article by Benjamin Mako Hill on why highly educated people intentionally disdain sports – and why that’s problematic for an unequal society.
Several years ago, I was at a talk by Michael Albert at MIT where he chastised American intellectuals for what he claimed was cultivated disdain of professional sports. Albert suggested that sports reflect the go-to topic for small talk and building rapport across class and context. But he suggested that almost everybody who used the term “working class struggle” was incapable of making small talk with members of the working class because — unlike most working class people (and most people in general) — educated people systematically cultivate ignorance in sports.
Bethany Bryson, a sociologist at JMU has shown that increased education is associated with increased inclusiveness in musical taste (i.e., highly educated people like more types of music) but that these people are most likely to reject music that is highly favored by the least educated people. Her paper’s title sums up the attitude: “Anything But Heavy Metal”. For highly educated folks, it’s a sign of cultivation to be eclectic in one’s tastes. But to signal to others that you belong in the intellectual elite, it can pay in cultural capital to dislike things, like sports, that are enormously popular among the least educated parts of society.
This ignorance among highly educated people limits our ability to communicate, bond, and build relationships across different segments of society. It limits our ability to engage in conversations and build a common culture that crosses our highly stratified and segmented societies. Sports are not politically or culturally unproblematic. But they provide an easy — and enjoyable — way to build common ground with our neighbors and fellow citizens that transcend social boundaries.
The puzzling decline in violent crime
Claude Fischer of Berkeley analyzes the latest statistics on the decline in violent crime in the United States.
Violent crime went down in America again last year. According to preliminary statistics from the FBI, the number of violent crimes dropped by about 5 percent from 2008 to 2009. Given population growth, that means that the rate of violent crime dropped even more. (So did property crime.)
This is a puzzle because (a) violent crime is more common among the poor; (b) the percentage of Americans who are poor has been trending up since about 2000; and © the economy tanked last year. One would have expected a rise, not a fall, in violent crime.
But this head-scratcher is just part of a larger puzzle – understanding long-term trends in America’s criminal violence.
New York City vs. the world: the case of crime
Scientific American’s Franklin E. Zimring on how NYC beat crime. In contrast to contemporary wisdom, it didn’t involve solving poverty, increasing gentrification, stopping drugs, or raising incarceration rates.
Although the scale of New York Citys success is now well known and documented, most people may not realize that the city’s experience showed many of modern America’s dominant assumptions concerning crime to be flat wrong, including that lowering crime requires first tackling poverty, unemployment and drug use and that it requires throwing many people in jail or moving minorities out of city centers. Instead New York made giant strides toward solving its crime problem without major changes in its racial and ethnic profile; it did so without lowering poverty and unemployment more than other cities; and it did so without either winning its war on drugs or participating in the mass incarceration that has taken place throughout the rest of the nation.