Public Interest vs Public Research

Slate Star Codex has up an interesting post up about a survey he conducted on sexual harassment by industry. While he admits there are many limitations to his survey (it was given to his readers), the data is still interesting and worth looking at.  He has a decent overview of why some surveys yield low numbers (normally by asking “have you been harassed at work?”) and some high (by asking specific questions like “have you been groped at work?”), that actually serves as an interesting case study for how to word survey questions.  Words like “harassed” tend carry emotional weight for people, so including them in surveys can be a mixed bag.

Anyway, data questions aside, I was a little fascinated by something he said at the end of his post that caught my interest “This may be the single topic where the extent of public interest is most disproportionate to the minimal amount of good research done.”

His complaint is that for all we hear about certain industries being rife with sexism and harassment (and those two terms frequently being conflated), he couldn’t find much real research on which industries were truly the worst.

I think that’s a really interesting point, but it got me wondering what other public interest questions don’t have much research behind them. My first thought was gun research. While not technically banned, back in 1996 an amendment went through that cut the CDC budget by the amount they had previously been spending on firearm research and included a rule that federal dollars couldn’t be spent “to advocate or promote gun control”. This comes up every time there’s a shooting like Parkland, and people are looking to overturn it. While I’ve mostly heard gun control advocates talk about this, it’s interesting to note that not all the pre-Dickey amendment research cast guns in a bad light. Reason magazine recently put up an article highlighting how little we know about how often guns are used for self-defense purposes, and how the CDCs last numbers put it at much higher than I would have thought (1.5% of Americans per year).

I’m curious if people can think of other topics like this.

One thought on “Public Interest vs Public Research

  1. Just to confuse things further: In discussing this with a 30something rather stridently feminist woman I work with, she noted that it is also important to her that the men around her generally “get it” more than men in other fields. Even if her personal risk is greater (She thinks, though she has fielded only unfortunate comments here, and believes there is a pervasive sexism in hiring and promotions), the cultural comfort of having plenty of men who agree with her in principle is important, compared to when she worked in other jobs in Red States and felt invalidated. I admit this angle never occurred to me.

    Being “among one’s own” may be worth more than I thought.”


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