May 24, 2011

“Why does dubious social science keep showing up in medical journals?”

Filed under: Economics, Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:08

William Easterly and Laura Freschi have determined the decision tree for publishing crappy social science research:

Aid Watch has complained before about shaky social science analysis or shaky numbers published in medical journals, which were then featured in major news stories. We questioned creative data on stillbirths, a study on health aid, and another on maternal mortality.

Just this week, yet another medical journal article got headlines for giving us the number of women raped in the DR Congo (standard headline: a rape a minute). The study applied country-wide a 2007 estimate of the rate of sexual violence in a small sample (of unknown and undiscussed bias). It did this using female population by province and age-cohort — in a country whose last census was in 1984.

We are starting to wonder, why does dubious social science keep showing up in medical journals?

The medical journals may not have as much capacity to catch flaws in social science as in medicine. They may desire to advocate for more action on tragic social problems. The news media understably assume the medical journals ARE vetting the research.

H/T to Tim Harford for the link.

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