Monday, May 27, 2013

Assorted links

1. Cool pictures of old plane crashes.

2. A very Ann Arbor story involving obsessive house construction and opinionated neighbors.

3. I agree with Tyler that this is provoking and well worth reading.

4. What academic statisticians make.

5. Are banks more moral than porn stars?

#1 via the agitator. Hat tip on #5 to Charlie Brown.

Frontiers of academic research: metal music studies

Check out the Society for Metal Music Studies and read an interview with a metal studies sociologist.

A taster from the interview:
Q: What, in your view, is the dividing line between “metal” and “rock”?
A: Metal is one louder. 
I guess that means metal goes up to 11.

Great stuff.

Hat tip: a speaker at this conference.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Has Obama jumped the shark?

Leno, Stewart and Borowitz too.

On the bells in the Bell Tower at Michigan

Peer review follies


A growing interest in and concern about the adequacy and fairness of modern peer-review practices in publication and funding are apparent across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Although questions about reliability, accountability, reviewer bias, and competence have been raised, there has been very little direct research on these variables.

The present investigation was an attempt to study the peer-review process directly, in the natural setting of actual journal referee evaluations of submitted manuscripts. As test materials we selected 12 already published research articles by investigators from prestigious and highly productive American psychology departments, one article from each of 12 highly regarded and widely read American psychology journals with high rejection rates (80%) and nonblind refereeing practices.

With fictitious names and institutions substituted for the original ones (e.g., Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential), the altered manuscripts were formally resubmitted to the journals that had originally refereed and published them 18 to 32 months earlier. Of the sample of 38 editors and reviewers, only three (8%) detected the resubmissions. This result allowed nine of the 12 articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected. Sixteen of the 18 referees (89%) recommended against publication and the editors concurred. The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.” A number of possible interpretations of these data are reviewed and evaluated.

Gated version of the full paper here.

Hat tip: John Bound

Saturday, May 18, 2013

CDC takedown

Forbes provides a most excellent take-down of the CDC's input into the campaign to privatize alcohol sales in Pennsylvania.

The only thing missing is a mention of the fact that even if privatization does increase the negative consequences associated with excessive alcohol use, it might still (and perhaps easily) pass a social cost-benefit test. Increased consumption means more utils that have to be weighed against any bad consequences that do emerge.

The public health profession needs to get better at separating science from Sunday school.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Assorted links

1. DEA sadism.

2. A time series of satellite maps of Ann Arbor via Google.

3. Electronic coaching for students at Michigan.

4. The McDonald's of the future.

5. Did Notre Dame "chicken out" of its football series with Michigan?

Beer league hockey without the beer?

Sad days in Canada, eh.

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Book: The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov

I picked The End of Eternity up at the bookstore at Boston Logan Airport last week. It turns out that if you get past all the rubbish at the front of the store, there is actually some pretty good stuff in the back. And the ladies who were running it last Sunday were eager to talk about books.

As one might expect given the author and an original publication date of 1955, this is classic science fiction. There is an intricate plot, big ideas, time travel paradoxes (paradoxii?) and all the rest. It is, as one would expect from the genre, a bit short on beautiful prose and rich, multidimensional characters. Because it is old, and you can almost feel yourself brushing the dust off as you read, you get the added fun of seeing what Asimov gets right and gets wrong in his implicit predictions about technological progress. 

Overall, great fun if you are into this sort of thing. There is a reason they are reprinting this in 2013.

Recommend for science fiction sorts.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A comic about fathers in honor of mother's day

Hat tip: Charlie Brown

Seminary Co-op Grand Re-opening

The Seminary Co-op has its grand re-opening today in Hyde Park.

What seems to be missing from the new location is opportunities to hit your head, which were plentiful indeed in the old location in the basement of a seminary (hence the name). This was always a memorable part of the shopping experience for me.

Causal follies: The Atlantic on Citizen Schools

The Atlantic writes about a very PR-friendly program in which corporate employees teach after regular school hours in middle schools serving disadvantaged students.

Sounds great. Surely someone has evaluated it in some serious way, as the article indicates that it is expanding around the country. What does the Atlantic writer offer up on this score?

First, we learn that students in the program are self-selected:
Citizen Schools now serves about 5,000 middle school students each year across eight participating states, and the program documents lasting effects for its participants. Kids who have gone through Citizen Schools in middle school are less likely to be absent from high school, and graduate from high school at a rate 20 percent higher than their peers.
No causality there. Is there anything else? Well, there is this bit:
Michael Andrew says he knows participating in the program had a positive effect on him. When he was a fourth- and fifth-grader in Boston, he was one of the earliest enrollees. Now, he’s a 24-year-old graduate of Syracuse University who works at AllianceBernstein in information technology. And he’s back with Citizen Schools, this time as a volunteer.
That would be an anecdote, which is to say a participant evaluation with n = 1. The literature provides no real support for such participant evaluations.

Now, the sad fact of the matter, is that there is no way for the reader to be sure that there is not a serious evaluation out there that the Atlantic reporter missed (or did not know to look for) or whether this is really all the literature offers in the way of support for the program. Either way, a disappointment.


Assorted links

1. Happy birthday itunes. Somehow it seems like both more and less than a decade.

2. Library porn from the UM alumni association.

3. A bibliographic essay on Margaret Thatcher from the FT

4. An excellent post on the market for apples from Alex at MR

5. The Village Voice watches the Client List with a real sex worker.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reinhart and Rogoff

My thoughts on the Reinhard and Rogoff coding error:

1. I liked the piece by Greg Mankiw.

2. I liked the piece by cyniconomics, which was linked to on MR.

3. I liked the piece by my colleagues  Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers 

4. Journalists and other economists need to have a reasonable prior here. The Journal of Money, Credit and Banking replication exercise, summarized in this (gated) American Economic Review article and now more than two decades old, probably provides the best evidence. The authors of the summary article conclude "our findings suggest that inadvertent errors in published empirical articles are a commonplace rather than a rare occurrence."  Some enterprising journal should repeat the exercise so that priors can be updated.

5. It seems to me professional courtesy that if you replicate someone's paper that has gotten a lot of media attention, and you find something that is likely to draw more media attention, you should send your findings to the authors first and give them a week or two to digest and respond before going to the media yourself. My understanding is that the UMass-Amherst folks did not do this. In my view, they should have.

6. My final (and quite serious) suggestion is that Dan Hamermesh write one of his famous, and very useful, advice papers on the topic of the professional etiquette of replication. Economists do not replicate as much as they should. Part of that is too-low rewards, but part of it is also, I think, that things may go sour in a very public way, as they have in several high profile replications in recent years. Perhaps a formal statement of norms of good behavior in this domain would clarify expectations all around and also encourage more social pressure on both the replicators and the replicated to behave in ways that enhances the scientific credibility of the discipline.

Thanks to Miles Kimball for some encouragement.