Quotulatiousness

August 29, 2015

We need a new publication called The Journal of Successfully Reproduced Results

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

We depend on scientific studies to provide us with valid information on so many different aspects of life … it’d be nice to know that the results of those studies actually hold up to scrutiny:

One of the bedrock assumptions of science is that for a study’s results to be valid, other researchers should be able to reproduce the study and reach the same conclusions. The ability to successfully reproduce a study and find the same results is, as much as anything, how we know that its findings are true, rather than a one-off result.

This seems obvious, but in practice, a lot more work goes into original studies designed to create interesting conclusions than into the rather less interesting work of reproducing studies that have already been done to see whether their results hold up.

Everyone wants to be part of the effort to identify new and interesting results, not the more mundane (and yet potentially career-endangering) work of reproducing the results of older studies:

Why is psychology research (and, it seems likely, social science research generally) so stuffed with dubious results? Let me suggest three likely reasons:

A bias towards research that is not only new but interesting: An interesting, counterintuitive finding that appears to come from good, solid scientific investigation gets a researcher more media coverage, more attention, more fame both inside and outside of the field. A boring and obvious result, or no result, on the other hand, even if investigated honestly and rigorously, usually does little for a researcher’s reputation. The career path for academic researchers, especially in social science, is paved with interesting but hard to replicate findings. (In a clever way, the Reproducibility Project gets around this issue by coming up with the really interesting result that lots of psychology studies have problems.)

An institutional bias against checking the work of others: This is the flipside of the first factor: Senior social science researchers often actively warn their younger colleagues — who are in many cases the best positioned to check older work—against investigating the work of established members of the field. As one psychology professor from the University of Southern California grouses to the Times, “There’s no doubt replication is important, but it’s often just an attack, a vigilante exercise.”

[…]

Small, unrepresentative sample sizes: In general, social science experiments tend to work with fairly small sample sizes — often just a few dozen people who are meant to stand in for everyone else. Researchers often have a hard time putting together truly representative samples, so they work with subjects they can access, which in a lot of cases means college students.

A couple of years ago, I linked to a story about the problem of using western university students as the default source of your statistical sample for psychological and sociological studies:

A notion that’s popped up several times in the last couple of months is that the easy access to willing test subjects (university students) introduces a strong bias to a lot of the tests, yet until recently the majority of studies disregarded the possibility that their test results were unrepresentative of the general population.

The bad news about good news

Filed under: Economics, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Strategy Page, an explanation for why most people think the world is going to hell, despite the facts pointing in all kinds of positive and hopeful directions:

One of the ironies of the post-Cold War world is that most people get the impression that things are getting worse and worse while for the majority of people on the planet life is getting better. Worldwide poverty and death rates are plummeting while income and reported (via opinion surveys) satisfaction are way up. Many major diseases (like tetanus and polio) have nearly been eliminated and malaria, the disease that has killed more people than any other throughout history, is in decline because of medical advances. War related deaths have been declining since World War II ended in 1945 and that decline continued after the Cold War eliminated most communist governments in 1991. Why do most people think otherwise? You can blame the mass media and their most effective marketing tool; FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

Mass media first appeared in the mid-19th century with the development of the steam press, which made cheap-enough-to-reach-a-mass-audience newspapers possible. Editors quickly learned that FUD sells best. Politicians, rebels, and even advertisers found that FUD was a very effective tool to grab attention and change attitudes. Put another way, excitement sells, and the best way to excite readers is to scare them.

Modern terrorism, based on using murderous mass attacks on the public to trigger a flurry of media coverage, came out of this. The 19th century anarchists, followed by the Bolsheviks (communists), several fascist movements (like the Nazis), and many others, all used this media proclivity to jump on terrorist acts in order to scare readers into buying more newspapers, or supporting some extremist cause or another. The terrorists got the publicity and attention they wanted, which sometimes led to acquiring political power as well.

Radio appeared in the 1930s and this made it even easier to reach literate as well as illiterate populations. Combining radio and FUD allowed communism and fascism to spread far and fast in the 1930s. The sad fact is that this situation is not unknown among journalists. Many of them have been complaining about it for over a century. No one has been able to come up with a solution. Good news doesn’t sell. And the pursuit of scary headlines that do has created a race to the bottom.

It’s probably rational for mass media outlets to concentrate on the vivid, shocking bad news … because it grabs the attention and sells more newspapers and encourages more people to watch video reports. Good news? Well, it’s nice to hear, but it’s neither urgent nor compelling (except cat videos on YouTube, of course). You might like to hear it, but it’s not urgent and compelling … you can catch up on that anytime. A flood? An earthquake? A breaking story about a hostage situation? You’ll pay attention whether you want to or not. And that sells newspapers and gets ad revenue for networks.

August 20, 2015

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 4 of 6 – “Unreal Estate”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital— shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

August 18, 2015

QotD: The Friend

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

One of the most mawkish of human delusions is the notion that friendship should be eternal, or, at all events, life-long, and that any act which puts a term to it is somehow discreditable. The fact is that a man of active and resilient mind outwears his friendships just as certainly as he outwears his love affairs, his politics and his epistemology. They become threadbare, shabby, pumped-up, irritating, depressing. They convert themselves from living realities into moribund artificialities, and stand in sinister opposition to freedom, self-respect and truth. It is as corrupting to preserve them after they have grown fly-blown and hollow as it is to keep up the forms of passion after passion itself is a corpse. Every act and attitude that they involve thus becomes an act of hypocrisy, an attitude of dishonesty … A prudent man, remembering that life is short, gives an hour or two, now and then, to a critical examination of his friendships. He weighs them, edits them, tests the metal of them. A few he retains, perhaps with radical changes in their terms. But the majority he expunges from his minutes and tries to forget, as he tries to forget the cold and clammy loves of year before last.

H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 13: The Friend”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

August 14, 2015

QotD: When “the science” shows what you want it to show

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To see what I mean, consider the recent tradition of psychology articles showing that conservatives are authoritarian while liberals are not. Jeremy Frimer, who runs the Moral Psychology Lab at the University of Winnipeg, realized that who you asked those questions about might matter — did conservatives defer to the military because they were authoritarians or because the military is considered a “conservative” institution? And, lo and behold, when he asked similar questions about, say, environmentalists, the liberals were the authoritarians.

It also matters because social psychology, and social science more generally, has a replication problem, which was recently covered in a very good article at Slate. Take the infamous “paradox of choice” study that found that offering a few kinds of jam samples at a supermarket was more likely to result in a purchase than offering dozens of samples. A team of researchers that tried to replicate this — and other famous experiments — completely failed. When they did a survey of the literature, they found that the array of choices generally had no important effect either way. The replication problem is bad enough in one subfield of social psychology that Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter to its practitioners, urging them to institute tougher replication protocols before their field implodes. A recent issue of Social Psychology was devoted to trying to replicate famous studies in the discipline; more than a third failed replication.

Let me pause here to say something important: Though I mentioned bias above, I’m not suggesting in any way that the replication problems mostly happen because social scientists are in on a conspiracy against conservatives to do bad research or to make stuff up. The replication problems mostly happen because, as the Slate article notes, journals are biased toward publishing positive and novel results, not “there was no relationship, which is exactly what you’d expect.” So readers see the one paper showing that something interesting happened, not the (possibly many more) teams that got muddy data showing no particular effect. If you do enough studies on enough small groups, you will occasionally get an effect just by random chance. But because those are the only studies that get published, it seems like “science has proved …” whatever those papers are about.

Megan McArdle, “The Truth About Truthiness”, Bloomberg View, 2014-09-08.

August 12, 2015

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 3 of 6 – “Built for Change”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital — shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

QotD: The Relative

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The normal man’s antipathy to his relatives, particularly of the second degree, is explained by psychologists in various tortured and improbable ways. The true explanation, I venture, is a good deal simpler. It lies in the plain fact that every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself. They exhibit his qualities in disconcerting augmentation or diminution; they fill him with a disquieting feeling that this, perhaps, is the way he appears to the world and so they wound his amour propre and give him intense discomfort. To admire his relatives whole-heartedly a man must be lacking in the finer sort of self-respect.

H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 12: The Relative”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

August 5, 2015

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 2 of 6 – “The Low Road”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital — shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

July 29, 2015

How Buildings Learn – Stewart Brand – 1 of 6 – “Flow”

Filed under: Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 10 Jun 2012

This six-part, three-hour, BBC TV series aired in 1997. I presented and co-wrote the series; it was directed by James Muncie, with music by Brian Eno.

The series was based on my 1994 book, HOW BUILDINGS LEARN: What Happens After They’re Built. The book is still selling well and is used as a text in some college courses. Most of the 27 reviews on Amazon treat it as a book about system and software design, which tells me that architects are not as alert as computer people. But I knew that; that’s part of why I wrote the book.

Anybody is welcome to use anything from this series in any way they like. Please don’t bug me with requests for permission. Hack away. Do credit the BBC, who put considerable time and talent into the project.

Historic note: this was one of the first television productions made entirely in digital — shot digital, edited digital. The project wound up with not enough money, so digital was the workaround. The camera was so small that we seldom had to ask permission to shoot; everybody thought we were tourists. No film or sound crew. Everything technical on site was done by editors, writers, directors. That’s why the sound is a little sketchy, but there’s also some direct perception in the filming that is unusual.

Camille Paglia on the parallels between Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Slate, David Daley talks to Camille Paglia about the similarities between the former President and the former entertainer:

Right from the start, when the Bill Cosby scandal surfaced, I knew it was not going to bode well for Hillary’s campaign, because young women today have a much lower threshold for tolerance of these matters. The horrible truth is that the feminist establishment in the U.S., led by Gloria Steinem, did in fact apply a double standard to Bill Clinton’s behavior because he was a Democrat. The Democratic president and administration supported abortion rights, and therefore it didn’t matter what his personal behavior was.

But we’re living in a different time right now, and young women have absolutely no memory of Bill Clinton. It’s like ancient history for them; there’s no reservoir of accumulated good will. And the actual facts of the matter are that Bill Clinton was a serial abuser of working-class women – he had exploited that power differential even in Arkansas. And then in the case of Monica Lewinsky – I mean, the failure on the part of Gloria Steinem and company to protect her was an absolute disgrace in feminist history! What bigger power differential could there be than between the president of the United States and this poor innocent girl? Not only an intern but clearly a girl who had a kind of pleading, open look to her – somebody who was looking for a father figure.

I was enraged! My publicly stated opinion at the time was that I don’t care what public figures do in their private life. It’s a very sophisticated style among the French, and generally in Europe, where the heads of state tend to have mistresses on the side. So what? That doesn’t bother me at all! But the point is, they are sophisticated affairs that the European politicians have, while the Clinton episode was a disgrace.

[…]

So have the times and standards changed enough that Clinton would be seen as Cosby, if he was president today?

Oh, yes! There’s absolutely no doubt, especially in this age of instant social media. In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology. No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized – “Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written – in fiction or plays or movies. Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.

So I say there is a big parallel between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton–aside from their initials! Young feminists need to understand that this abusive behavior by powerful men signifies their sense that female power is much bigger than they are! These two people, Clinton and Cosby, are emotionally infantile – they’re engaged in a war with female power. It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power – and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.

Now, in order to understand that, people would have to read my first book, Sexual Personae – which of course is far too complex for the ordinary feminist or academic mind! It’s too complex because it requires a sense of the ambivalence of human life. Everything is not black and white, for heaven’s sake! We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac – a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.

July 24, 2015

QotD: The personality of Kaiser Wilhelm II

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations. He was an extreme exemplar of that Edwardian social category, the club bore who is forever explaining some pet project to the man in the next chair. Small wonder that the prospect of being buttonholed by the Kaiser over lunch or dinner, when escape was impossible, struck fear into the hearts of so many European royals.

Wilhelm’s interventions greatly exercised the men of the German foreign ministry, but they did little to shape the course of German policy. Indeed it may in part have been a deepening sense of impotence and disconnection from the real levers of power that fired up Wilhelm’s recurring fantasies about future world wars between Japan and the USA, invasions of Puerto Rico, global jihad against the British Empire, a German protectorate over China and so on. These were the blue-sky scenarios of an inveterate geopolitical fantasist, not policies as such. And whenever a real conflict seemed imminent, Wilhelm pulled in his horns and quickly found reasons why Germany could not possibly go to war. […] Wilhelm could talk tough, but when trouble loomed he tended to turn and run for cover. He would do exactly that during the July Crisis of 1914. “It is a curious thing,” Jules Cambon, French ambassador in Berlin, observed in a letter to a senior official at the French foreign ministry in May 1912, “to see how this man, so sudden, so reckless and impulsive in words, is full of caution and patience in action.”

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

July 11, 2015

“They sought to be ‘hypersexual’ or ‘pansexual’ because they never quite understood what it meant to be ‘sexual'”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

George Fields wonders why “progressives” have such an adversarial relationship with ordinary life:

Many months ago, as I was wandering about the state of Indiana, a certain woman from Wisconsin advised me that “if one had nothing nice to say, he ought say nothing at all.” Being an introspective type, I took this to heart and determined to never write another article again.

However, I have decided to write at least one more time, provoked by a conversation with my kid sister. Having recently entered a public high school, she has come to enjoy informing me about some of her more eccentric peers. Near the end of the school year, she told me fewer and fewer of her friends were merely normal boys who liked normal girls, or normal girls who liked normal boys. Rather, they identify as a slew of peculiarly novel “sexual orientations.”

Some were, of course, the usual “gay” or “lesbian,” but in addition to these were “demisexuals,” “androsexuals,” and “therians” (which, she explained, are people who are only attracted to individuals who commune with the same spirit animal). One identified as a “panromantic polyamorous asexual non-binary space god.” Upon hearing this, I knew I had something to say, although it is unlikely to be nice. Having heard, however, several episodes of “The Prairie Home Companion,” I am convinced women from Wisconsin are famously kind, so I am sure my friend will forgive me.

I suspect the “space god” is nothing of the sort, but likely the kind of child who did not want to go to the caverns because she was much too busy trying to beat her high score on “Candy Crush Legend.” Meaning, she is likely longing to be “the extraordinary” because she has entirely failed to appreciate the ordinary. This, to any ordinary person of sensible wit, is extraordinary.

To the sane individual, the world is a wonderful thing. At no point in my life have I ever felt compelled to invent novel sexualities, mainly because I am so enthralled with the traditional two. Their complexity and magic never ceases to engage my imagination and bring me pleasure. Indeed, I can not imagine why anyone would critique the symmetrical beauty of “the two sexes.” Yet wherever I look, adversaries are about, seeking to destroy my source of wonderment.

July 8, 2015

QotD: The “voice of command”

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Heinlein had, over the years, developed his own version of Captain — Admiral — King’s “voice of command”:

    The “voice of command” somehow carries with it to the hearer the subconscious knowledge that its owner is used to being obeyed, has the power to require obedience, expects to be obeyed, and does not encompass any possibility of not being obeyed.

With Heinlein it was something more inward, which George Scithers characterized as “quiet persistence and presence of command”. Scithers related an incident he saw at a lunch counter, possibly at this very convention. Heinlein sat down nearby, and there was a paper at the other end he wanted; the waitress didn’t seem inclined to put herself out to get it, but by the time Heinlein was finished with the contest of wills, she got the paper for him — and he tipped her accordingly. It was more attitude than technique, something that came from inside. There was something primal about Heinlein that the fans wanted from him — they came to warm themselves at his fire.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Cogswell 1959-12-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

July 5, 2015

A half-baked theory from John Derbyshire

Filed under: Health, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

How much reality can you stand? John Derbyshire says it’s less than we used to be able to cope with:

T.S. Eliot’s observation that “human kind cannot bear very much reality” is surely up among the half-dozen wisest things ever said about our common nature.

There is, of course, individual variation in how much reality we can bear. I flatter myself by believing I am up toward the high end. I readily admit, however, that I have spent not insignificant portions of my life in a state of self-delusion driven by wishful thinking — a hugely underestimated force in human affairs. Some humility is in order, and not just for me.

There is group variation, too. Speaking generally, and again with much individual variation, the old can bear more reality than the young; men more than women; people in up-against-it professions like medicine or law enforcement more than those in comparatively sheltered occupations; people educated in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) more than humanities majors; and so on.

I am now going to propose a half-baked theory to you.

Theory: In advanced societies, the average amount of reality people can bear has declined across the past few decades.

This, I believe, has something to do with the ever-increasing availability of screen-based entertainment (movies, TV, the internet), something to do with the decline of religion, something to do with the revolution in manners that we call “political correctness,” and something to do with the falloff in violence, as chronicled by Steven Pinker.

There are surely connections there; but which is cause, which is effect, and which mere symptom, I don’t know. That’s why the theory is half-baked.

Illustrations: As we have seen these past few days, the whole zone of “identity” is shot through with barefaced, unblushing denial of reality.

All but a very tiny proportion of human beings are biologically male (an X and a Y chromosome in the genome) or female (two X chromosomes). A person who is biologically of one sex but believes himself to be of the other is in the grip of a delusion. That is what everybody would have said 50 years ago.

Some of those who said it would have followed up with an expression of disgust; some with unkind mockery; some with sympathy and suggestions for psychiatric counseling. Well-nigh nobody would have said: “Well, if he thinks he’s a gal, then he is a gal.” Yet that is the majority view nowadays. It is a flagrant denial of reality; but if you scoff at it, you place yourself out beyond the borders of acceptable opinion.

July 4, 2015

Please support the “Some Asshole” initiative!

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

By way of American Digest, let’s all get behind the “some asshole” initiative:

someasshole

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