What I’m Reading: March 2018

I’ve talked about salami slicing before, but Neuroskeptic has found perhaps the most egregious example of “split your data up and publish each piece individually” ever. An Iranian mental health study surveyed the whole population, then split up their results in to 31 papers….one for each Iranian province. They also wrote two summary papers, one of which got cited in each of the other 32. Now there’s a way to boost your publication count.

Also from Neuroskeptic: the fickleness of the media, and why we can’t have nice replications. Back in 2008, a study found that antidepressants worked mildly better than a placebo with a Standard Mean Difference of .32 (.2 is small, .5 is moderate). In 2018, another meta analysis found that they worked with a Standard Mean Difference of .3. Replication! Consistency! We have a real finding here! Right? Well, here are the Guardian headlines: 

Never trust the headlines.

In another interesting side by side, Scott Alexander Tweeted out the links to two different blog post write ups about the new “growth mindset” study. One calls it the “nail in the coffin” for the theory, the other calls it a successful replication.  Interesting to see the two different takes. The pre-print looks like it was taken down, but apparently they found that watching 2 25 minute videos about the growth mindset resulted in an average GPA boost of .03. However, it looks like that effect was higher for the most at risk students. The question appears to be if that effect is particular to the “growth mindset” instruction, or whether it’s really just a new way of emphasizing the value of hard work.

Also, close to my heart, are critical thinking and media literacy efforts backfiring? This one covers a lot of things I covered in my Two Ways to Be Wrong post. Sometimes teaching people to be critical results in people who don’t believe anything. No clear solution to this one.

I also just finished The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse. Lots of interesting stuff in this book, particularly if you’re a parent in the child rearing years. One of the more interesting chapters covered building a reading list/bookshelf of the all time great books throughout history and encouraging your kids to tackle them. His list was good, but it always irks me a little that lists like these are so heavy on philosophy and literature and rarely include foundational mathematical or scientific books. I may have to work on this.



3 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: March 2018

  1. The Great Books series (wikipedia article) includes math and science works.

    I grew up with the series in the living room, and I read a fair fraction of them. I’m a physicist, and sometimes work on an interesting math problem for fun. But when I was growing up, I was a lot more interested in reading Shakespeare than Euclid, and Machiavelli than Copernicus. And Rabelais, of course.

    For clarity and interest, Asimov’s books (Realm of Numbers etc), or Gamow’s, were way better.


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