Friday links: replicability vs. citations, EcoEssays, and more (UPDATED)

Also this week: should Canadian unis go back to in-person teaching in the fall, Twitter vs. science, Po-Shen Loh interview, a fraud about fraud, funk vs. Hanson, and more.

From Jeremy:

Alex Usher argues that Canadian universities should stop fooling around and just announce that they’re going to go back to normal in-person teaching in the fall. Well-argued; draws on the relevant data, and directly addresses all the objections I’ve seen.

NCEAS seems to have tidied up their website, and made their old “EcoEssay” series easily accessible again. If you don’t know these essays, you should totally check them out. They date from the early years of NCEAS. They’re by various ecologists, reflecting on the state of ecology at the time and how NCEAS might improve it.

Following up on various high-profile replication efforts in psychology and social science over the last few years, Serra-Garcia and Gneezy find that papers that failed to replicate are cited more often than those that replicated. Further, replication failure hasn’t changed how, where, or how often, those papers are cited. Should these results bother you? I guess it comes down to how fast you think scientists could or should change their choices of which topics to write about, and how they write about them, in the face of new evidence. As an outsider to psychology, it sure seems to me that, yeah, there are some big topics that psychologists ought to just completely stop researching, teaching, or writing about, except as a cautionary tale. Social priming, for instance. But it’s easy for me to talk–it’s not as if it’s my entire research program that’s at stake! Now I’m wondering: what’s the fastest that any large scientific field has ever completely changed direction? Are there any historical examples of a field as large as social psychology totally changing direction within, say, a decade or less?

Sticking with psychology, here’s Daniel Nettle arguing that psychology’s replication crisis ultimately is down to too many psychologists dressing up what are really “natural historical” studies as theory-testing studies. Reminded me of Brian’s classic post in praise of exploratory statistics.

Adversarial collaborations to test alternative theories of consciousness. We’ve talked about adversarial collaborations often in the past (for instance). I think that adversarial collaborations are worth doing if they lead to studies that wouldn’t have been done otherwise, and that will settle the scientific dispute in the eyes of bystanders. Because settling the dispute in the eyes of the collaborating adversaries is usually too much to hope for.

Interesting remarks from Nate Silver and Matt Yglesias on how the scientific consensus on Twitter, which tends to get reported in the media, often doesn’t reflect the real scientific consensus. And here’s Zeynep Tufekci on the same topic. This sounds right to me. But not being on Twitter myself, and not working on any scientific topic in which the media would ever take any interest, I’m not sure I’m the best person to judge. Curious to hear comments from others who know more than me. UPDATE: Here’s an interview with epidemiologist Julia Marcus on this topic (and also about other things). Early in the pandemic, she was active on Twitter and writing for The Atlantic, but later pulled back. It’s a very good interview, you should read it. Fascinating insights drawn from her experiences with the HIV epidemic, and also personal stories that will resonate with many of you. /end update

I wish I had thought to do a poll on this:

In contrast to David Fisher, I’m surprised that “a comprehensive review” wasn’t by far the most popular answer. (Note: I agree with David that you ought to include the original theory among your citations.)

A bit late to this, but here’s an interesting interview with Po-Shen Loh, the coach of the US International Math Olympiad team. Includes comments on teaching math, improv comedy, and more.

I’m very late to this, but it’s quite good. Tell me again how planes manage to fly?

A new book shows that conman Frank W. Abagnale Jr., the inspiration for the movie Catch Me If You Can, did not in fact commit most of the frauds he claimed to have committed. That is, his main con was claiming to be a conman. Now I’m curious if there are precedents for this in other domains of life. Has anybody ever lied about committing scientific fraud, just to gain notoriety?

Having seen Jurassic Park, I feel like “paleontology” should be in the lower right rather than the upper right. 🙂 And I assume “macroecology” is off the scale on the right. 🙂

If you needed a reminder that nobody’s perfect, here you go:


And finally, no disrespect to Hanson, but this funk version of “MMMBop” crushes the original like, um, a thing put in a very powerful crushing machine:

Have a good weekend. 🙂

9 thoughts on “Friday links: replicability vs. citations, EcoEssays, and more (UPDATED)

  1. WRT that softball video: that’s why cricket was invented, none of these complex rules….

    More seriously, WRT to opening up universities to face-to-face teaching, it seems to me to be too early to make any decisions. This statement ignores the precautionary principle:

    ‘We still don’t know the effects of variants, maybe we’ll see another spike and this whole “done in August” thing is wrong. It’s possible. But so far there’s limited evidence that any of the major vaccines are ineffective against any of the new variants, so this seems more hypothetical than anything.’

    That already feels out of date given the latest news on variants of variants, relative effectiveness of vaccines for variants, etc:

    • “softball”

      That’s a great troll. In part because you’re British and so I’m only 95% certain you’re trolling. I have to let it go, because there’s a 5% chance that you actually might not know the difference between softball and baseball. 🙂

      “That already feels out of date given the latest news on variants of variants”

      Yes, I think that’s the strongest argument against that piece. I don’t know that I’d frame it in terms of the precautionary principle, just because I think that framing is unhelpful when we’re faced with competing risks and unknowns. But point taken.

      • 100% trolling like some Scandinavian mythical beast….. 🙂 I’m getting into practice as we’re moving to Denmark in August.

  2. Daniel Nettle has a long standing interest in Life history theory from evolutionary ecology [ see his Google Scholar Profile] and has quite recently published 2 papers on the use [ rather ,misuse] of LHT by psychologists. Using a broad citation analysis he shows that psychologists rarely actually test LH predictions, and mostly just use LHT to motivate their questions. But they almost always frame the comparisons as predictions from LHT; Perhaps because it sounds ‘more scientific’ to do so. The 2 papers are available through his GS Profile, and well worth reading.
    There are several other critiques of how psychologists misuse LHT, and one by Steve Stearns is quite worth the read[ see his GS profile]

    • There definitely are fraudsters (in science and other domains) who commit fraud out of laziness. But there are also examples of people working really hard at fraud. In political science, think of Michael LaCour, who put a *lot* of effort into keeping up appearances. I saw more than one knowledgeable person remark that, given how hard LaCour was working to maintain his fraud, he could’ve just done the study he claimed to have done! And in his book Lying For Money, Dan Davies notes that financial frauds naturally tend to snowball. You have to keep committing more and bigger financial frauds to cover the tracks of your previous frauds. One consequence of this snowball effect is that financial fraudsters are often relieved to be caught. Because they end up so far in over their heads, working so hard to continually cover their tracks.

      • Note that I don’t think scientific frauds are subject to the “snowball effect” Davies identifies. Just using that example to illustrate that there are some hard-working fraudsters in the world.

  3. Just speaking generally, I’m not confident about scientists’ (or anyone’s) ability to correctly anticipate the indirect political and sociological side effects of scientific investigations.

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