Biased in favor of your null hypothesis

February 27, 2010

Another great post on orgtheory.  I think the takeaway is that when it is really hard to prove something conclusively people fall back on their personal and disciplinary biases.  Rafe Stolzenberg has more than once reminded me how economists’ strong theory is a double-edged sword.  Economists need to be reminded that even if the data you’re currently analyzing can’t reject every possible rational choice model doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take alternative models seriously.  In fact, placing such a heavy burden of proof on alternative models seems quite irrational to me.


Free will and mathematical models

February 19, 2010

Where does free will fit into mathematical models? This question has come up quite a bit in my graduate networks seminar, where my students and I have been reading a lot of work by Bruce Mayhew. The reason for the question isn’t difficult to find: Mayhew, more than most scholars, argues very strongly against the invocation of individual will or decision making as an explanatory variable. Indeed, he sometimes mocks such accounts as boiling down to, “People do things because they want to,” which is a rather unsatisfying explanation for things. Yet, at the same time, this seems to lead unavoidably to the conclusion that people don’t do things because they want to, but because they are impelled to by forces beyond their control. And who wants to live life believing that?

Fortunately, this particular dilemma is fairly easily resolved. And that’s at least in part because pretty much all of us already agree with Mayhew- we just don’t realize it yet.
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Inflationary Expectations

February 18, 2010

WASHINGTON—The U.S. economy ceased to function this week after unexpected existential remarks by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke shocked Americans into realizing that money is, in fact, just a meaningless and intangible social construct…

Keep reading it at the Onion, but don’t expect a reference to W.I. Thomas.

Exploratory vs. Confirmatory Data Analysis

February 17, 2010

Seth Roberts vs. Andrew Gelman

In most respects they are actually in agreement (e.g. both think that visualizing data deserves more attention than it often gets) but Andrew focuses on points of disagreement (e.g. do statisticians drastically overvalue difficult but less useful research).  Highly recommended.

The Point

February 16, 2010

My friend Etay Zwick is one of the editors of a year old journal called The Point:

The Point is a Chicago-based print journal publishing rigorous but accessible writing about contemporary life. The journal is published twice-yearly and available for order online and in select bookstores. The website features selected content from the magazine, as well as some original articles.

The editors use the words “rigorous” and “accessible” differently than I do, but I definitely think the content is interesting.  They’ve even gotten huge names like Martha Nussbaum and Slavoj Zizek to contribute.  Check it out!

facebook has a soul?*

February 10, 2010

i genuinely hope to get back to more (semi-)regular blogging here soon. But, in the meantime, in case you haven’t seen this one yet – here‘s a wild potential data release that may interest some of you. (ht BW)

*it’s highly possible i saw this same title in someone else’s mention of this elsewhere today. but if so, i can’t for the life of me recall where.

Quantum Psychology?

February 10, 2010

Let me be frank; I think “The conjunction fallacy and interference effects” (ungated version) is a horrible misuse of math and indicates an embarrassing failure of peer review.

The author, Riccardo Franco, introduces a parameter that does doesn’t have any foundation in the phenomena it is trying to explain, nor is it shown to aid in modeling.

Please tell me I’m missing something.

What?  You’ve never heard of the conjunction fallacy? It is yet another cognitive bias studied by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.  They gave people the following problem (quoting from Wikipedia):

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Which is more probable?

  1. Linda is a bank teller.
  2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

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Assorted Links

February 2, 2010

Don’t trust the public use micro sample of the census for research on older Americans.

New standards for hiring and tenure?

Tiny Sketch of French Sociology.

Gently regulating academics’ speech with the bully pulpit?