Justin Wolfers wrote recently about the level of interaction between economics and other social sciences. In particular, he wonders why economic work is not well represented in a list of the books most cited in social science research. It’s a good question: I find many of the tools and techniques developed by economists are useful in my works studying political phenomena, and I do cite economic research.
One particularly thoughtful commenter on Wolfers’ post notes that economics combines the controversy of addressing everyday issues with the general inaccessibility of chemistry. This conflict may make some people resist the conclusions of economists, ie. strong prior + incomprehensible evidence = small amount of updating.
Continue reading ‘The better the question, the worse the answer’ »
Today I got up, finishing a decision I started last night about how much to sleep before today. I will choose my attire to fit the weather and strike the right tone in the classes I will teach. I will go to work and spend the day at work making optimal decisions about how to allocate my time and effort considering my immediate goals, teaching effectively and preparing for an experiment, and longer term goals like getting along with my peers and building my tenure packet. I will come home along a route that balances safety, convenience, fuel economy, and curiosity. I will talk with my wife, play with my daughter, read to my son, all with an eye toward building both their individual lives and my relationships with them. I may make a few allocation decisions about improving our house or saving for retirement. I will decide whether to work out tomorrow morning, then begin the decision about how much to sleep before tomorrow.
Continue reading ‘You’re Asking the Wrong Question, Fortunately’ »
A recent exchange at the excellent Cheap Talk focused on how the uselessness of the United States’ recent promise not to nuke other states who comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Continue reading ‘All Theorists are Normative (or run that risk)’ »
I recently sat through some great grad student presentations. Most of those presenting empirical results made a common mistake: they kept way too many digits in their presented results. There are two problems with showing more digits than necessary: false certainty and lack of clarity. The extra certainty is certainly false because we know how accurate the estimated coefficients are: that’s exactly what the standard errors tell us! Extra digits reduce clarity by cluttering up an already hard-to-read table with extra, unnecessary information.
Continue reading ‘Figuring significance significant figures’ »
Computational modeling and simulation have many similar things in common. They both involve using computers, they both use encoded descriptions of how things work, they both “run” one or (usually) many times. The easiest way to see how they differ is to note their very different goals.
Continue reading ‘Computational modeling is not: simulation’ »
I came across the book Panicology, where “Two Statisticians Explain What’s Worth Worrying About (and What’s Not) in the 21st Century”. The back cover chastens the reader:
More Americans have been killed by lightning or by peanut allergies than by terrorist attacks.
I’ve read this comparison in different forms many times; it is true, but misleading.
Continue reading ‘Terrorism is not Lightning or Peanut Butter’ »
As a mathematician-turned-social-scientist, I have first-hand experience with the traps a physical scientist can fall into when trying to explain how people act and interact. This is the first of many posts in which I will describe my favorite error, which I have come to call “The Engineer’s Fallacy”. Rather than define it straight away, I will start with a recent example making it’s way around the mediascape.
Continue reading ‘The Engineer’s Fallacy’ »