Policy makers in the US and Europe seized on the paper as proof that cutting stimulus and social programs was a good idea, and proceeded to do so with abandon. Of course, right wingers wanted to cut money to social programs anyway, and would have done so regardless, but the paper was held out as scientific proof that it was a solid plan of action.
I won’t comment on how strange it was that Republicans were interested in science at all, given recent efforts to politicize the NSF and micromanage the grant decision process.
The trouble was that the results presented in RR were shown to be based on the selective use of data. Thomas Herndon, a 28-year-old graduate student, obtained the dataset from RR themselves and couldn’t reproduce the results.
In fact, he found that the only way to accurately reproduce the results in RR’s paper that showed that high debt restrained economic growth was to exclude important cases. When including the missing data, high debt was associated with consistently positive growth, though modestly slowed.
Originally, I took the view that this was a case of sloppy science. RR had a dataset, got some results which fit the narrative they were pushing and didn’t pursue the matter any further. Reading Herndon’s paper, however, I changed my mind.Herdon took the data and did what any analyst would do when starting exploratory analysis, he plotted it (see figure on the right). Debt to GDP ratios and growth are both continuous measures. We can do a simple scatterplot and see if there’s any evidence that would suggest that the two things are related.
To me, this is a pretty fuzzy result. Though the loess curve (an interpolation method to illustrate trend) suggest that there is *some* decline in growth overall, I’d still ding any intro stats student for trying to suggest that there’s any relationship at all. There is no way that RR, both trained PhD’s and likely having the help of a paid research assistant, didn’t produce such a plot.
Noting that the loess curve drops past approximately 120%, I calculated the median growth for each country represented. Only 7 countries have had debt to GDP ratios greater than 120% in the past 60+ years: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the UK and the United States. Out of these only two had (median) negative growth: Belgium (-.69%, effectively zero) and the United States (-10.94%), which has only had a debt to GDP greater than 120% one time. All other countries has positive growth under high debt, even beleaguered Japan. New Zealand can even claim a strong 9.8% growth under high debt. The US, then, is a major outlier, possibly bringing the entire curve down.
As this doesn’t fit their story, RR’s solution was to categorize debt to GDP ratios into five rough classifications, and calculate the mean growth within each group. This is a common trick to extract results from bad data. It’s highly tempting for researchers (and epidemiologists do it far too often), but a bad idea to present it without all the caveats and warnings that should go with it.
I’m not surprised that ideologues such as RR would be so keen to produce the result they did. After all, they published the popular economics work “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly” where they try to suggest that budget policy of the US in 2013 should somehow be informed by the economy of 14th century Spain.
I am, however, surprised that reviewers let this pass. If I would have been a reviewer, I would have:
1) pointed out the problems of categorization, where data doesn’t require it
2) noted that categorizing the data (or even plotting it) tears out temporal correlation. For example, one data point from 2008 (stimulus) may be put in the high debt category, but another from 2007 (crash) in the low debt category. While budgets of one year may have little to do with the budget of another, the economy of one year is likely related to the economy of the previous year.
3) questioned the causal mechanisms behind debt and growth. This is obviously a deep question for economists (and not epidemiologists), but of particular import. When does the economy start to react to debt? I’m pretty sure that there is a lag effect as spending bills tend to space disbursements over the course of the fiscal year.
The RR debacle should be a lesson, not only to economists, but to all scientists. While we may always be under pressure to produce results and hope that those results fit and support whatever position we take, shoddy methods don’t get us off the hook. In RR’s case, I would call this fabrication. A good many studies are merely guilty of wishful thinking, but the chance always exists that someone will come out of the woodwork and expose our flaws. After all, that’s what science is all about.
Science requires publication. Unfortunately, publication requires money. Researchers have to put up hefty publication fees to appear in prestigious journals, though much of the prestige comes from the quality of it’s (unpaid) review staff. In the past, journals could rely on library subscriptions to subsidize the costs of publication. As paper copies diminish and the demand for open access increase, however, journals have had to rely on researchers for revenue.
The NYT ran an article the other day on shady publishing houses which offer to publish anything for a fee. You can imagine what these journals are like. Peer reviews are non-existent or light and content questionable.
I get emails from these companies regularly. One that stuck out to me was from the “European Journal of Medicinal Plants” from the publishing house SCIENCEDOMAIN [sic]:
I am approaching you with the peer-review request of the below mentioned manuscript submitted in European Journal of Medicinal Plants
Title : Mosquito larvicidal activity of Urtica dioica of urticaceae against Malaria Vector.
I would be grateful if you would kindly find some time to review the above mentioned manuscript and send your valuable comments within 15 calendar days. Manuscript and the “Review comments Form” have been attached herewith.
I know that your time is valuable and therefore, as a token of our appreciation you will be awarded a complimentary ‘RERP coupon’ of 50 US$ for each manuscript, if quality review is completed within the stipulated period of time. Please be informed that the RERP coupon can be redeemed against only the publication fee of your accepted manuscripts as mentioned in SCIENCEDOMAIN international website (http://www.sciencedomain.org/page.php?id=reviewers-editors).
Please inform as early as possible if you agree to accept my invitation to review. Would you not be able to find time to act as a reviewer this time, please let me know through an email and in that case you may also suggest someone of your colleague to review the manuscript.
I understand that our proficient reviewers highly contribute to maintain the high standards of the Journal, and I express my gratitude to you for your present and/or future contribution.
Journal scope link: http://www.sciencedomain.org/about-journal.php?id=13
General Editorial Policy link: http://www.sciencedomain.org/page.php?id=sdi-general-editorial-policy
The email sounded like something out of North Korea.
The paper was attached. Here is the header:
The text was approximately 1,000 words, and they listed six references. No authors were listed. Now, besides the sub-standard level of English and the glaring spelling errors (“alkoloids”), you will notice that the mosquito species in question is Culex quinquefasciatus. I don’t know anything about plants and mosquitoes, but I do know, that despite the title “Mosquito larvicidal activity of Urtica dioica of urticaceae against Malaria Vector,” NO mosquito in the genus Culex transmits malaria.
Some addresses were included in the email:
UK: SCIENCEDOMAIN international, Third Floor, 207 Regent Street, London, W1B 3HH, Fax: +44 20-3004-1542
USA: SCIENCEDOMAIN international, 616 Corporate Way, Suite 2 #4000, Valley Cottage, NY 10989, Fax: +1 845-231-6220
India: SCIENCEDOMAIN international, U GF, DLF City Phase-III, Gurgaon, 122001, Delhi NCR, Fax: +91 11-66173993
I did some more digging on the address listed for SCIENCEDOMAIN. It appears that have the exact same mailing address as Smile4You USA, a company that sells dubious teeth whitening formulas. In fact, both SCIENCEDOMAIN and Smile4You have offices in the US and the UK. I couldn’t verify that the addresses were the same in the UK. I also checked the WHOIS info on both Smile4You (which is registered in Delaware) and SCIENCEDOMAIN (which is registered in Sunnydale, CA) and wasn’t able to confirm a link.
I perused science domains research offerings. It would appear that most of the authors come from developing countries. I also noticed that the publication charges are far less than that of established journals.I wondered whether clearly dubious operations like SCIENCEDOMAN aren’t preying on developing country researchers, who don’t have the budget to support publication in larger journals. It would seem an awful trade-off, convenience for quality, but a cheap way for researchers from poor countries to pad their resumes. Not only do they save money, but they aren’t subjected to rigorous review. This has awful consequences. Serious researchers get no feedback to improve their work, and poor researchers are rewarded.
It seems like every few months some disgruntled graduate student writes a piece on why graduate school is a terrible idea and why earning a Ph.D. is financially worthless.. In fact, one just came out the other day on Slate. A disgruntled visiting professor of Germanic Studies at Ohio State writes:
Don’t do it. Just don’t. I deeply regret going to graduate school, but not, Ron Rosenbaum, because my doctorate ruined books and made me obnoxious. (Granted, maybe it did: My dissertation involved subjecting the work of Franz Kafka to first-order logic.) No, I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct. After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you.
To Dr. Schumann, I’m sorry that you had such an awful time in graduate school. I’m sorry that you can’t find the job you want. I’m sorry that your life is so utterly disappointing. You are right: you didn’t ever belong in graduate school. However, your empty and disappointed life has nothing to do with mine or anyone else’s.
As a guy that’s about to earn his own Ph.D., (not in literature, I learned my lesson in undergrad), these articles annoy me to no end. I regret nothing about my graduate career. In fact, it was the best thing I ever did in my otherwise miserable and pointless life (well, my life isn’t that bad, but slugging amps around the country and hounding record distributors for payment pales in comparison to studying developing world health…
How fucking rad is it for a piece of trailer trash like me to be DR. LARSON??).
Probably unlike the author of this article, I worked shit minimum wage jobs. I know that most of America lives in an awful state of (institutionalized and structural) insecurity and that social mobility is but a fantasy. In 2013, one of the best ways out of the cycle of hourly slave labor is education. Sure, a lit Ph.D. is no guarantee you won’t have to work at a grocery register, but not having a degree is pretty much a guarantee (for most people) that you’ll do nothing but. No offense to the uneducated, but education allows one to surpass a lot of society’s challenges.
Having an education means that you know something about something that other people don’t. Even if you don’t apply your vast knowledge of 14th century German poetry, you know how to do important things like read and write which, in my experience, most Americans have trouble doing with any level of proficiency. You can make arguments. You can think. Importantly, though, you have a self-esteem that comes with knowledge, which is a far cry from the misery and self-loathing that comes with being on the bottom of the ladder (been there, done that).
What this writer (obviously) lacks is flexibility. She demands a tenure track academic job in an age where the entire tenure system (rightfully) is being called into question. Tenure is valuable and necessary to academics, but unfortunately, many don’t see that.
A friend in Kenya rightly pointed out “if no one will give you a job, you just have to make one.” It could be pulling fish out of the water and selling it, becoming a poorly paid journalist or creating a new start up, but, faced with the alternatives (starvation), something has to be done. Anyone with a Ph.D. has the skills to do just about anything they want.
When I first went to undergrad (after being homeless), people like the writer of this article on Slate told me not to. “It’s useless, you won’t be able to get a job anyway.”
I wanted to go to graduate school when I finished undergrad and people told me “It’s useless, you won’t be able to get a job, anyway.”
I considered going back later and was told “It’s useless, you won’t be able to get a job anyway.”
Wow. See a pattern?
Consider the source, though. I found that the people who throw out such nonsense are those who are happy to wallow in a pit of inactivity, passively waiting to be given exactly what they want. You find them in bars, working at local record stores for less than minimum wage, at music shows and anywhere else that will allow them to do absolutely nothing and let them get away with whining about it.
It’s a generalization (and a rash one), but, face it, we all know people like this. They tend to pull down everyone around them instead of encouraging their friends to do something and enjoy life and celebrating them when they do. Those, in my opinion, are the worst types of people.
For me, going to graduate school was a satisfying and enriching experience. Even if I have to do nothing but dig ditches for the rest of my days, these 7 years of doing nothing but reading books and interacting with interesting an engaged people will have been worth it.
So you know what? To hell with the haters. Spend less time on the hate, less time whining about how unfair the world is and more time figuring out what to do. Most of all, don’t discourage others from pursuing their dreams.
There are lots of things that people can’t do. You don’t know what you can’t do until you try to do it.
I was just checking out an article by Mark Buchanan on Bloomberg about the need to abandon the idea of economic markets as being inherently stable.
For several decades, academics have assumed that the economy is in a stable equilibrium. Distilled into a few elegant lines of mathematics by the economists Kenneth Arrow and Gerard Debreu back in the 1950s, the assumption has driven most thinking about business cycles and financial markets ever since. It informs the idea, still prevalent on Wall Street, that markets are efficient — that the greedy efforts of millions of individuals will inevitably push prices toward some true fundamental value.
Problem is, all efforts to show that a realistic economy might actually reach something like the Arrow-Debreu equilibrium have met with failure. Theorists haven’t been able to prove that even trivial, childlike models of economies with only a few commodities have stable equilibria. There is no reason to think that the equilibrium so prized by economists is anything more than a curiosity.
It’s as if mathematical meteorologists found beautiful equations for a glorious atmospheric state with no clouds or winds, no annoying rain or fog, just peaceful sunshine everywhere. In principle, such an atmospheric state might exist, but it tells us nothing about the reality we care about: our own weather.
This is true. Markets are inherently unstable beasts,as was proven by the crashes of 2000 and 2007/8. Personally, I am an advocate of free markets. The trouble is that no one can agree on what a free market is.
I recently watched a compelling lecture by development economist Ha Joon Chang, where he pointed out (rightly) that “free markets” are truly in the eye of the beholder, pointing out that even the most ardent of free market supporters in 2013 wouldn’t support the free marketers and libertarians who complained of the implementation of child labor laws in the early 20th century.
I should say, then, that I’m an advocate of the “freeest markets within reason” or “the freest markets as will support the moral ideals I hold to be important.” That is, the freeest markets as will support the protection of individual rights to freedom of expression and political thought, the preservation of equal opportunity through education and health, access to capital and social mobility.
Mr. Buchanan points put that where other sciences have accepted that there is no such thing as stability in the rest of the universe, desperate economists and their politically backward fans stick to the idea that, despite evidence of the irrationality of humans in every other space, markets are “self stabilizing.” That humans are rational (they are not) and customers can democratically select optimal prices vs. availability (untrue).
First, I am drawn to the incredible volatility of prices in areas that have the least power to influence them (developing countries).
If there were ever an example of the undemocratic nature of unbridled markets, food in developing countries would be it. Buyers and sellers are legion, yet bodies across the sea set prices with little regard to the demands of the many. In Sub Saharan Africa, stability is a fantastical dream.
Second, I am thinking of the work being done on complex systems in finance, specifically that coming out of Princeton at the moment.
SOME people aren’t waiting around with their heads in the sand, but rather are working to describe the phenomena of finance volatility, noting the increased complexity of financial markets in 2013. It would seem that deeper linkages between financial systems, though necessary, induce the very real problem of volatility. Ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away.
Blaming government regulation and calling for a return to 19th century finance doesn’t work well either.
But that’s enough….
First, the truth is that no one really knows why some products succeed and others don’t. As the purchasing of goods in the market done by multiple individuals whose decisions are often personal and multi-factorial, direct observation and dissection of behavior is nearly impossible.
There are some theories, though (largely from Van den Bulte, 2007). So that I don’t forget, and purely for my own benefit, here’s a breakdown:
1. People who buy early are different from those who buy late. For example, the people who sit in the cold waiting to buy the new iPhone on the day it is released are vastly different from those who wait until the price drops 6 months later. It’s hard to tell who’s smarter. Me, I like heat. (See Rogers, 2003.)
2. There are market leaders that other people like to follow. People buy products because they want to imitate others, who might mostly be those who pick up on fads early, i.e. there are “innovators” and “imitators.” People who bought to iPhone 1 (what did that look like?) early showed it to their friends, who bought one, too. (see Bass, 1969)
3. People buy products autonomously, because of influence from above, or because of peer influence. Some people buy stuff caring little for anyone else. Some people buy stuff because an authority said it was a good idea. Some people buy stuff because their friends do. (see Riesman, 1950 and Schor, 1998)
4. Purchase decisions depend on social status. Some people buy stuff because they want to emulate those higher on the social ladder than they are. Similarly, those on top buy new stuff because they don’t want to fall behind or be unseated as a high profile consumer. Some people tend to want to buy slightly more car than they can afford, so that they can feel more like those with more money than they have. The stratified nature of society, thus, perpetuates a system of striving to consume more beyond one’s means. This desire is, of course, endless. (see Simmel 1971 and Burt 1987)
5. Marketing is a two step process. Ads are only effective at influencing behavior of leaders, who, in turn influence their followers. I call this the “Economist effect.” Only a few sad people (such as myself) read the British magazine, the Economist. When the Economist endorses a Presidential candidate, it would seemingly have little effect since only about .0028% of the American populace is paying attention. However, the readership of the Economist consists of educated and well positioned people who have the capacity to influence large numbers of people who don’t read the Economist. On numbers alone, an endorsement from that newspaper would seem meaningless, but as a conduit to the less engaged, the effect could be considerable. (Fortunately, though, no one cares what I think.) (see Lazarsfeld, 1944)
6. There are risks to adopting new products, fashions, etc. Very, very poor people are very similar to very, very wealthy people in that they have nothing to lose by taking adopting new products or behaviors. Ever think about the crazy stuff that some homeless people wear? Is it any crazier than high fashion? Think of Juggalos vs. Comme de Garcons. (I don’t know anything about fashion; that was all I could come up with). People in the middle, however, have a lot to lose by dressing crazy, so they end up really boring. (see Homans, 1961)
Dario Maestripieri is a Professor at University of Chicago who studies “neuroendocrine, ecological and evolutionary aspects of social behavior in human and nonhuman primates” and was apparently well respected in his field until recently.
Returning from a scientific meeting for neuroscientists, Maestripieri had the following to say on his personal Facebook page:
“My impression of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women. The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain? No offense to anyone..”
Granted, it’s a boneheaded thing to say and normally, had it been restricted to the hotel bar, would have gone completely unnoticed. However, a reader took a screenshot, sent it to friends who sent it to other friends and the fires began.
Now, there is no doubt that sexism exists in science, though, I would venture, the situation is quickly improving as the number of female scientists quickly increases. My department, for example, is mostly women and this is quickly becoming the case in departments everywhere. In fact, as of 2009, more women are earning PhD’s than men. I can’t speak for the lab sciences, but public health, statistics and math are quickly becoming majority female. I think this is a good thing.
Of course, numbers can be deceiving particularly when the power structure is still held by men. We can more very capable female researchers, but if none of them get positions of power, it’s for nothing.
All that said, the very hostile reaction to Maetripieri is quite interesting. What, on the surface, is merely the thick headed musings of a lone guy, has brought out deeper issues of how women feel they are treated in science, speculation as to what men think of female scientists and the future role of women in the world of research.
Honestly, I don’t find Maestripieri’s comments to be offensive at all but I’ve lived in the world outside academia, where people say things that are far, far worse. This is pretty tame. However, in the context of science, where crass sexism is very real, and the costs of marginalization huge, even small comments like these create huge waves.
What happens to Maestripieri is unknown. People are hurling racial slurs at him (like that’s constructive), calling for his funding to be cut and, worse yet, calling for him to resign his post. Likely this whole thing will blow over, but this is the kind of thing that kills careers in science.
What do you think?
Just discovered that this got included in a special supplement of Malaria Journal commemorating the recent “Challenges in Malaria Research” conference in Basel, Switzerland. It was just a poster presentation, but is openly available to all. Thanks to my co-authors. Great work!
Now give me a job.
Knowledge and practices of malaria prevention with ITNs in post-and near-elimination areas of Vanuatu
Peter S Larson1*, Akira Kaneko2, Koji Lum3, Noriko Watanabe4 and Takeo Tanihata5
Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) remain an important tool for sustained malaria control and play an integral part in malaria elimination strategies. As malaria incidence decreases in holodemic areas, however, proactive and regular use of ITNs may simultaneously decline if risk perception diminishes.
In Summer 2012, we conducted a cross-sectional survey of three communities in Vanuatu: i) where malaria has been locally eliminated (Aneityum), ii) where malaria remains present but with rapidly declining incidence (Ambae), and iii) an urban area where malaria transmission may or may not occur (Efate). Respondents were asked a battery of questions regarding knowledge of malaria, ITN possession and use, and compliance with other anti-malaria interventions. Information on basic demographics, education levels, dietary habits and household economic activities were also recorded.
Residents of Aneityum (malaria eliminated) reported near universal use of ITNs, but uneven knowledge of malaria, particularly in younger individuals born around the time of malaria elimination. Residents in the other communities reported less consistent, though high levels of ITN use despite past individual malaria diagnoses.
Results indicate that achieving sustained high levels of ITN use in near- and post-elimination contexts is possible, but that maintaining awareness could present a long-term challenge to prevent reintroduction and recrudensence. Sustained local community cooperation will be essential to maintaining elimination efforts worldwide.
Last night, I received the graphic to the left from a conservative friend of mine. It took me while to decide whether it was worth blogging about. After waking up this morning and finding that I was STILL thinking about, I caved.
Right wingers seem to spread these graphics around like mad. In my experience, left wingers send out simplified graphics, too, but the subject matter is somewhat more diverse (Monsanto is a common theme, however).
Originally, I had written a point by point criticism of this one graphic, but the post got so long as to be unreadable. That’s the problem with trying to respond to these type of messages: your day quickly disappears. It’s like trying to stop flooding in New Orleans by throwing handfuls of sand at the levy.
Political discourse in the United States has reached a tipping point of reductionism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current set of Republican political campaigns. Strategies center on simplifying issues, and where reductionism and simplification don’t work, candidates will just make up their own reality. Voters have shown time and again that facts do not matter. Vilification of perceived enemies, in this case college students, teachers, academics and liberals is, sadly, de rigueur.
Sadly, America no longer embraces that which it should be the most proud of, namely, our Universities. It is our very best offering to the world, unmatched in scale by any country on the entire planet. Yes, excellent universities exist outside the US, but there is no country which can match the sheer number of excellent schools that the United States has.
At one time, going to college was a badge of honor, particularly for the working class and the poor. I fear that this current trend of anti-intellectualism will continue, and what was once a pathway for the otherwise marginalized to become engaged citizens (of any political bent), will become a badge of suspicion.
If we are to be derided as “Marxists” let it be. I’ve read Marx. I doubt that the creator of this graphic, nor the individuals spreading it have taken the time.
Today, I got a email notice calling for applications for Telluride House. A scholarship guarantees one free room and board for up to 5 years here at the University of Michigan.
Telluride house is a residential community at the University of Michigan that offers full room and board scholarships to University students, based on a selective application process. The scholarships, renewable for up to five years, offer a unique living experience filled with intellectual stimulation, challenging leadership development opportunities, and a host of avenues for thoughtful engagement in governance and community service. Past winners of the Telluride scholarship include a diverse set of luminaries such as philosopher Francis Fukuyama, postmodern scholar Gayatri Spivak, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, and
several Nobel prize winners including Steven Weinberg, Richard Feynman, and Linus Pauling.
I never realized I shared an educational pedigree with such right wing luminaries like Fukuyama and Paul Wolfowitz.
Both were members of the Project for the New American Century, the right wing group with orchestrated the eventual invasion of Iraq by the United States. It’s worth noting that Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush and Donald Rumsfeld were also in the same group.
It can be argued that this was one of the most influential groups in recent history, having carved the path of current US foreign policy.
Do these people need free room and board? That’s a better deal than most people ever get. Most people don’t orchestrate massive military expeditions. Telluride would do well to open their doors to the poor and conscientious.