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Slashdot and the Social Sciences

porcupine8 (816071) writes | more than 4 years ago

User Journal 1

Argh. I know that if you are reading this, you are probably some kind of scientist or engineer, if not by trade then at least in mindset.

You are probably not a social scientist. I am. There are not many of us on Slashdot. So please, take a moment and let me explain a bit about our work to you:

Argh. I know that if you are reading this, you are probably some kind of scientist or engineer, if not by trade then at least in mindset.

You are probably not a social scientist. I am. There are not many of us on Slashdot. So please, take a moment and let me explain a bit about our work to you:

It's true, correlation does not imply causation. However, not every SS study is a correlative study. There actually are ways to measure causation. Even ones that don't require a perfectly randomized full experiment, which is very hard to do when dealing with human subjects and nearly impossible to do if you're trying to find out how things work in the real world rather than how they work within a particular laboratory setup. There are many methodological and statistical techniques for piecing apart the likelihood of a correlation pointing to causation.

In addition to that, plenty of studies that do not measure causation don't claim to be. Now, the press release put out by their university might. The random blogger who posted about it might. But that doesn't mean that the authors actually claimed to find causation with methodologies that can only find correlation. Generally, that kind of thing gets mentioned in the peer review process.

So please, the next time you see a psychology/behavioral/education/other social science study on Slashdot, do not automatically cry "Correlation does not imply causation!!" without even reading the paper or understanding their methodologies or what they actually did or did not claim. And REALLY do not use this as your entire justification for declaring the study completely illegitimate. You just sound like a creationist who has wandered into a discussion of evolution and yelled "But what about entropy???"

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1 comment

Scientific press in general is crap (1)

snowgirl (978879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31338286)

It's surprising how much crap gets missed when things get simplified. For instance, when a preliminary 2nd hand smoke study came out, the paper itself said that it found no statistically significant causation of lung cancer among those exposed to 2nd hand smoke, yet the press for it states, "2nd hand smoke causes cancer, and don't let them tell you otherwise."

(I'm aware that there are more recent studies that have found a causal link, I'm not discussing them, and they're irrelevant to my point.)

It seems like the press and media in general just love to create sensationalist headlines (they're after ratings after all) and of course they have to dumb everything down for their audience, but since the paper has to be dumbed down to explain it to them in the first place, it tends to be a two-tier telephone game before joe blow even hears about any of this stuff... :(

It's sad. I totally respect the social sciences though. Yeah, they might be abstractions of more "applied sciences" or whatever, but sciences are just abstractions on top of philosophy and math... and we're on slashdot here for gods' sake. Don't we all deal with computers, where we have to deal with layers of abstraction from day one?

I applaud you and your comrades for expanding our knowledge of topics that chemistry, physics and all the "hard sciences" would never be able to explain... because it would be like trying to measure a football field with a micrometer length ruler.

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