the bigfoot-black swan continuum of behavioral science

Jason Mitchell uses the example of “black swans” to argue that there is a fundamental asymmetry between positive and negative findings in psychology experiments, such that positive findings are the only meaningful findings and negative findings should not be published. The idea is that no matter how many white swans you observe, you don’t know if black swans exist; whereas if you observe one black swan, you know they do (full quote at bottom).

The problem: findings from behavioral science experiments aren’t like being able to hold a black swan by the neck and shout to everyone, “See! I told you they existed!”

Instead, you are presented with papers in which you have to trust researcher reports of what they did to produce a finding that an observed swan was darker than would be expected under the white-swan null (p < .05).

In this respect, positive experimental findings are somewhere on a continuum between Bigfoot and black swans. Continue reading

why so much psychology?

(Zeroth in a series) I’ve been interested in the sociology of psychology ever since my dissertation, but the recent dramas in social psychology have made this interest, like Tinder at the Olympic Village, “next level.” (Also, I’ve a genuinely remarkable advisee, David Peterson*, whose dissertation involves a multisite lab ethnography of psychology, and even though we’ve got nine thousand miles between us we’ve been corresponding on this issues quite a bit.)

I’m just explaining here what’s going on if you ever wonder, “Why does Jeremy talk so much about psychology?” Also, I worry that a lot of my concern about psychology appears like it’s strictly methodological, but a lot of the methodological critique adds up to a dire substantive point that I think sociologists should be extreme concerned about-but that’s a teaser for another post.

For now, let me link to one of the latest turns in the drama: a post by a Harvard psychologist arguing strongly against the value of replication at all, by as far as I can tell unwittingly following Harry Collins’s experimenter’s regress all the way to a sort of anti-replicationist fundamentalism. Continue reading

life gamification project: how we earn points

(Second in a series.) I said my beloved and I are having a good run with a system where every day our goal is to score 100 points. How do we get points?

Our core idea: instead of making any big resolutions, we provide small incentives for doing things that we’d like to do more often. Right now, I have 67 different ways that I can earn points. More, in fact, once you break everything down. I am not making this up.

Here are some of the non-work related things I can get points for: Continue reading

the lgbt movement did not, it turns out, tone it down

“Groups Debate Slower Strategy on Gay Rights” was the title of this 2004 NY Times article that I just discovered in my file drawer.* In which the author describes a bedraggled and frustrated LGBT movement just weeks after George W. Bush had been elected to his second term.

In the past week alone, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian advocacy group, has accepted the resignation of its executive director, appointed its first non-gay board co-chairman and adopted a new, more moderate strategy, with less emphasis on legalizing same-sex marriages and more on strengthening personal relationships…

One official said the group would consider supporting President Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program.

While the article quotes two academics, George Chauncey and Jonathan D. Katz , who disagreed with a sharp, “They are, of course, completely wrong,” the most interesting tiff is among politicians: Continue reading

your dissertation is as important as your dog.

I just wrapped up a two week course for graduate students on effective and engaging teaching in the social sciences and humanities. The first day of class, as we talked about issues we’d like to cover over the session, one student asked how to ensure that teaching doesn’t take up all her time so that she can actually finish her dissertation.

I outlined my core belief when it comes to teaching (don’t reinvent the wheel) and a handful of strategies I had discovered worked well for work-life balance in general: have a strict schedule and clearly outlined goals, and be sure to block out time for your non-student self.* I made an off-hand remark about how, in my research on graduate students, I found that students with children were much better at all three of those things than students without, but particularly the last one, because they felt they had a good excuse for “turning off” their grad student role.

The student who originally asked the question piped up, “Oh, I get that. I’m great at calling it a day to go take care of my dog.” I asked her to pretend, for just a moment, that her dissertation was as important as her dog. If she could stop herself from writing too many comments on her students’ papers or tweaking the reading list again or over-preparing for the next day’s lectures because she knew she had to go home to take her dog out, surely she stop herself from doing all those things because she had to take care of her own research.

Bottom line: Setting aside time for your research while you’re teaching isn’t neglecting your students, it’s taking care of you and your career (and ensuring you can still afford dog food when you finish your PhD).

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*It can be tough, because of all the immediate reinforcement that teaching and the classroom provides, but as Jeremy illustrates, anything (including research or ones dissertation) can be turned in to a game that offers similar psychological incentives.

 

gamify your life!

GamificationSixWeekScores

(our last six weeks of scores under our life-gamification system)
Continue reading

the real facebook power: agenda setting

Did everyone have a chance to read Noah Grand’s post on the Facebook issue? He posted a link in the comments, but I am afraid it will be buried. Noah has a background in journalism, so his post compares Facebook to other news outlets.

He brings up an excellent point about the bigger problem behind the Facebook issue. It’s not that users’ emotions were manipulated, but rather that Facebook’s News Feed algorithm has the power to deem what kinds of news are important:

“Facebook Manipulates Users’ Emotions” is a great headline that prompts people to think of a lot of nightmare scenarios. However, the emphasis on stealthy, subtle emotional manipulation makes it hard for people to understand the most powerful and plausible effect of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm: the ability to influence which topics we think are worthy of debate.

Read the whole post here.

a/b for every/body!

An offhand Twitter comment reminded me of Google+ and its Circles feature, which allows you to very easily separate friends into different groups and post different updates to particular groups. Facebook has similar capacity where you can put your friends in categories.

Here’s an idea: Facebook should start making amends by implementing a feature where anyone can randomly assign their friends to two categories: “treatment” and “control”, or “A” and “B”. Then anyone can try different status updates and see how they differ in the responses and “likes” that you get. You could either reshuffle after each status updates, or conduct entirely alternate personas and lives. Point is, why should Facebook get to have all the fun? WE CAN ALL DO CREEPY EXPERIMENTS AND MANIPULATE ONE ANOTHER.

(I’m being facetious. Well, actually, it would be cool if— No, that’s me being facetious again.)

#tbt: the dirty secret of analyzing survey data

analytic-goldilocks-diagram-from-2004

I posted this drawing on my blog over ten years ago. IT IS STILL TRUE.

#tbt: literary aside about that facebook experiment

A sociology professor plays a prominent role in a 1960s short story about what we might imagine to be the end point if Facebook’s understanding of how to manipulate user moods continues to advance.

two problems with the facebook study debate

Like much of the sociology blogosphere, I’ve been following the debate over the recent Facebook emotion study pretty closely. (For a quick introduction to the controversy, check out Beth Berman’s post over at Orgtheory.) While I agree that the study is an important marker of what’s coming (and what’s already here), and thus worth our time to debate, I think the overall discussion could be improved by refocusing the debate in two major ways.

Continue reading

elite sport as model phenomenon

I’ve been interested in the interdependence of biological and social processes for a long time now, without nearly as much to show for it as I’d like. The empirical work in this area has a long way to go, but it’s as plain to me that as much of the problem is conceptual: the point where sociology has the potential to be the best social science is always in terms of the big picture, and the big picture for biological and social interdependence is extremely difficult to think or theorize effectively about.

Of course a big hurdle is the ugly history of using biological arguments for social injustices, as whatever steps one tries to take here so morally and politically freighted that it feels like trying to theorize through a minefield. It’s not like you can be a sociologist and just spitball ideas about this stuff in a seminar.
Continue reading

known issues with this blog

1.  That gray bar below the banner.  It would be the menu if we were a blog that had separate “about” and other pages.  I do not know how to get rid of it.  Soon, it will drive me to weep; shortly thereafter, it will drive me insane.

Continue reading

warning: this blog may explode

Because of how we are using WordPress.com instead of actual WordPress, annoying aspects to this template cannot be fixed without me blowing up the template entirely. If this happens, the blog will look entirely denuded until I successfully put a new template over it.

This is your only warning. It’s enough of a task that I can’t bear actually to commit to doing or plan for. Instead, if and when, it will be something I embark on spontaneously, in a fit of feeling Finally Fed Up.

the manilow problem for the facebook study

I love this song!  I FEEEL SAD WHEN YOU’RE SAD / I FEEL GLAD WHEN YOU’RRE GLAD. But wait: isn’t that what that Facebook experiment found?  Or at least “I express sad when you express sad / I express glad when you express glad”?

Now consider now a statement from one of the authors of the Facebook study: “we found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses is.”

Wait, what? How do we get to a world where conventional wisdom would say that seeing the display of an emotion suppresses expressing an emotion rather than encourages it? Has conventional wisdom never been to a karaoke bar?

It’s a common cycle in behavioral science: commonsense to counterintuition and back again. Continue reading

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