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We all really are just rats in the Facebook maze

Facebook scientists, having apparently become bored with optimizing advertising algorithms, are now running social science experiments on the users. Link to the actual paper. I assume they are already selling this to the advertisers as a way to alter "brand perceptions."
posted by COD on Jun 28, 2014 - 359 comments

An impending train wreck in social psychology.

The current critique of experimental social science is coming mainly from the inside. Strohminger, Simmons, and a handful of other mostly young researchers are at the heart of a kind of reform movement in their field. Together with a loose confederation of crusading journal editors and whistle-blowing bloggers, they have begun policing the world of experimental research, assiduously rooting out fraud and error, as if to rescue the scientific method from embarrassment—and from its own success. The Reformation: Can Social Scientists Save Themselves?
posted by Ghostride The Whip on May 19, 2014 - 50 comments

Presenting Data

A checklist for those making graphs from Stephanie Evergreen and Ann Emery. This is a useful tool for teaching scientists and others some of the rules of data presentation in graph form.
posted by sciencegeek on May 16, 2014 - 23 comments

"Overall, I think that Diamond is like Mao: 70% right and 30% wrong."

Anthropologists weigh in on Jared Diamond's latest: lack of citations, ethnographic carelessness, and the smoothing of complex narratives into quotable fables. The World Until Yesterday has prompted a flurry of commentary from anthropologists unenthusiastic about the physiologist turned evolutionary biologist turned geographer. In a recent London Review of Books, leading political anthropologist James C. Scott doesn't buy Diamond's description of the modern nation-state arising to curtail primitive tribal violence "[i]n a passage that recapitulates the fable of the social contract" given how "slaving was at the very centre of state-making." Anthropologist Alex Golub, who shares Papua New Guinea as a major research site, wrote "Still, it is telling that we live in an age when a member of America’s National Academy of Sciences and one of the world’s foremost public intellectuals has less concern for citations and footnotes than do the contributors to Wikipedia." David Correia pulls no punches in his opinion piece "F*ck Jared Diamond" calling Diamond's resurrection of environmental determinism as racist apologia and his latest book as essentializing primitivism in order to define Western industrialized exceptionalism. [more inside]
posted by spamandkimchi on Nov 19, 2013 - 268 comments

Maybe there isn't a "positivity ratio" after all.

Positive psychology superstars Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada had put forward a theory, seemingly with experimental confirmation, that was bolder than bold: that mankind, whether working alone or in groups, is governed by a mathematical tipping point, one specified by a ratio of 2.9013 positive to 1 negative emotions. When the tipping point is crested, a kind of positive emotional chaos ensues—“that flapping of the butterfly’s wing,” as Fredrickson puts it—resulting in human “flourishing.” When it is not met (or if a limit of 11.6346 positive emotions is exceeded, as there is a limit to positivity), everything comes grinding to a halt, or locks into stereotyped patterns like water freezing into ice. Nick Brown smelled bull.
posted by shivohum on Oct 17, 2013 - 68 comments

Another scandal in academic psychology

Most work in the psychological and social sciences suffers from a lack of conceptual rigor. It’s a bit sloppy around the edges, and in the middle, too. For example, “happiness research” is a booming field, but the titans of the subdiscipline disagree sharply about what happiness actually is. No experiment or regression will settle it. It’s a philosophical question. Nevertheless, they work like the dickens to measure it, whatever it is—life satisfaction, “flourishing,” pleasure minus pain—and to correlate it to other, more easily quantified things with as much statistical rigor as deemed necessary to appear authoritative. It’s as if the precision of the statistical analysis is supposed somehow to compensate for, or help us forget, the imprecision of thought at the foundation of the enterprise.
posted by AceRock on Aug 22, 2013 - 48 comments

Who knows what

For decades the sciences and the humanities have fought for knowledge supremacy. Both sides are wrong-headed
posted by the man of twists and turns on Jun 2, 2013 - 49 comments

Why Is Science Behind A Paywall?

A large portion of scientific research is publicly funded. So why do only the richest consumers have access to it?
posted by reenum on May 18, 2013 - 62 comments

Social Scientist Diederik Stapel Dismissed for Academic Misconduct

“It was a quest for aesthetics, for beauty — instead of the truth.” The recent dismissal of Dutch social scientist Diederik Stapel for academic fraud [SLNYT] leads the article's author to wonder whether "the scientific misconduct that has come to light in recent years suggests at the very least that the number of bad actors in science isn’t as insignificant as many would like to believe."
posted by Rykey on Apr 28, 2013 - 75 comments

The Minerva Controversy

The Department of Defense recently announced the creation of the Minerva Research Initiative (PDF), also known as Project Minerva, providing as much as $75 million over five years to support social science research on areas of strategic importance to U.S. national security policy. The initiative indicates a renewal of interest in social science findings after a prolonged period of neglect, but it also prompts concerns about the appropriate relationship between university-based research programs and the state, especially when research might become a tool of not only governance but also military violence. The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has invited prominent scholars to speak to the questions raised by Project Minerva and to address the controversy it has sparked in academic quarters.
posted by infini on Mar 7, 2013 - 17 comments

Psycho History, it's what they wanna give me

Psychohistory, the imaginary scientific field created by Isaac Asimov in his "Foundation" series, may no longer be fiction:
Song Chaoming, for instance, is a researcher at Northeastern University in Boston. He is a physicist, but he moonlights as a social scientist. With that hat on he has devised an algorithm which can look at someone’s mobile-phone records and predict with an average of 93% accuracy where that person is at any moment of any day. Given most people’s regular habits (sleep, commute, work, commute, sleep), this might not seem too hard. What is impressive is that his accuracy was never lower than 80% for any of the 50,000 people he looked at.
Full article at The Economist.
posted by Strange Interlude on Feb 26, 2013 - 39 comments

The (possible) power of unconscious suggestion

The amazing influence of unconscious cues is among the most fascinating discoveries of our time­—that is, if it's true. The studies that raise eyebrows are mostly in an area known as behavioral or goal priming, research that demonstrates how subliminal prompts can make you do all manner of crazy things. A warm mug makes you friendlier. The American flag makes you vote Republican. Fast-food logos make you impatient. A small group of skeptical psychologists—let's call them the Replicators—have been trying to reproduce some of the most popular priming effects in their own labs. What have they found? Mostly that they can't get those results. The studies don't check out. Something is wrong.
posted by shivohum on Feb 4, 2013 - 38 comments

Generosity and Political Preferences

Generosity and Political Preferences [.pdf]
We test whether generosity is related to political preferences and partisanship in Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States using incentivised dictator games. We document that support for social spending and redistribution is positively correlated with generosity in all four countries. Further, we show that donors are more generous towards co-partisans in all countries, and that this effect is stronger among supporters of left-wing political parties. All results are robust to the inclusion to an extensive set of control variables, including income and education.
[more inside]
posted by wilful on Dec 26, 2012 - 35 comments

Can Murder Be Tracked Like An Infectious Disease?

Researchers found that the pattern of murder in Newark, NJ is very similar in pattern to the spread of an infectious disease. Could this research show law enforcement a new way to predict where murders will occur?
posted by reenum on Dec 6, 2012 - 14 comments

Nasty, Brutish, and Blocky

Minecraft by itself may represent a post-scarcity world, but one poster at the official Minecraft forums conducted a test of what would happen if you took 30 players and constrained their available resources. The Closed Map Experiment. [more inside]
posted by codacorolla on Aug 21, 2012 - 34 comments

Tweeting about bowling together (?)

Yesterday's Diane Rehm Show featured a conversation between Sherry Turkle (previously), Stephen Marche (previously) and Zeynep Tufekci. Tufekci has been critical of Turkle's and Marche's assertions that social media is making us lonely. A lively Twitter conversation and critique ensued.
posted by DiscourseMarker on May 15, 2012 - 26 comments

A hidden children's health crisis.

A chronic public health disaster. Complex trauma and toxic stress puts children into a state of reflexive fight, flight, or freeze responses to a perpetually threatening world. The traditional authoritative response only serves to reinforce those behaviours and, perhaps worse, has long-term health consequences:
With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent.
One doctor describes it as “a chronic public health disaster”. Remediating this problem is going to require listening, kindness, and parachutes.
posted by davidpriest.ca on May 1, 2012 - 53 comments

The Geographic Flow of Music

In The Geographic Flow of Music (arxiv), researchers Conrad Lee and Pádraig Cunningham propose a method to use data from the last.fm API to track the world's listening habits by location and time, showing where shifts in musical tastes have originated and subsequently migrated. Results show music trends originating in smaller cities and flowing outward in unexpected ways, contradicting some assumptions in social science about larger cities being more efficient engines of (cultural) invention.
posted by Blazecock Pileon on Apr 26, 2012 - 13 comments

A New Twist in the Sad Saga of Little Albert

A relatively new twist in the sad saga of Little Albert is challenging the traditional understanding of the already troublingly unethical classical experiment. [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb on Feb 19, 2012 - 28 comments

Imagine an alternative science, or sciences.

Vandana Singh is a science fiction writer and a physicist. She describes her work as "ponder[ing] deep questions about the universe." In a series of three essays for Strange Horizons she just does that, probing the relationships between (as her subtitle indicates) science, emotions and culture. [more inside]
posted by overglow on Dec 21, 2011 - 3 comments

Rethinking the Idea of 'Christian Europe'

Rethinking the Idea of 'Christian Europe'. Kenan Malik's essay is awarded 3 Quarks Daily's Top Quark for politics & social science by judge Stephen M. Walt: "Soldiers in today’s culture wars believe 'European civilization' rests on a set of unchanging principles that are perennially under siege—from godless communism, secular humanism, and most recently, radical Islam. For many of these zealots, what makes the 'West' unique are its Judeo-Christian roots. In this calm and elegantly-written reflection on the past two millenia, Malik shows that Christianity is only one of the many sources of 'Western' culture, and that many of the ideas we now think of as 'bedrock' values were in fact borrowed from other cultures. This essay is a potent antidote to those who believe a 'clash of civilizations' is inevitable—if not already underway—and the moral in Malik’s account could not be clearer. Openness to outside influences has been the true source of European prominence; erecting ramparts against others will impoverish and endanger us all."
posted by homunculus on Dec 19, 2011 - 87 comments

The Menace Within

The participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment are revisited 40 years after their experience.
posted by reenum on Jul 11, 2011 - 57 comments

A Real Science of Mind

A Real Science of Mind Neurobabble piques interest in science, but obscures how science works. Individuals see, know, and want to make love. Brains don’t. Those things are psychological — not, in any evident way, neural.
posted by shivohum on Dec 27, 2010 - 21 comments

the science^H^H^H^H^H^H^H public understanding of humankind

"The purposes of the Association shall be to advance anthropology as the science that studies public understanding of humankind in all its aspects."
At this year's meeting of the American Anthropological Association, the organization's board adopted a new mission statement whose description of its goals omitted all mention of anthropology as a science. An online debate ensued. Some researchers in the anthropological sciences are upset about the changes, while right-wing culture warriors see it as another salvo in the "science wars" or the takeover of the discipline by "fluff-head cultural anthropological types who think science is just another way of knowing." Other anthropologists think this is an opportunity to broaden the discipline and embrace non-scientific forms of knowledge. [more inside]
posted by RogerB on Dec 4, 2010 - 55 comments

Religion and America's Academic Scientists

Science vs. Religion: a new book, Science and Religion: What Scientists Really Think by Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund, discusses the results of her detailed study of 1,646 scientists at top American research universities. Among her findings: ~36% of those surveyed not only believe in God but also practice a form of closeted, often non-traditional faith. They worry about how their peers would react to learning about their religious views. Interview with the author from the Center for Inquiry's Point of Inquiry podcast. Also, here's a webcast from an author discussion forum held at Rice University on April 7th. [more inside]
posted by zarq on May 30, 2010 - 89 comments

Lévi-Strauss at 100

Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss turned 100 on Friday. NPR's Frank Browning offers an appreciation of his work (audio). Anthropologist Dan Sperber (at OpenDemocracy) offers a succinct appraisal of his influence. Patrick Wilcken (TLS) writes about "the century of Claude Lévi-Strauss." [more inside]
posted by fourcheesemac on Nov 29, 2008 - 22 comments

The most important thing you know

An old professor of mine used to ask graduating students, "What is the single most important true proposition or fact (not theory) that you learned in university?" This question has been aimed at many fields, and social scientists have long and famously struggled to find good answers, while scientists have had a large number of options, and those who study the humanities wonder if they can even answer similar questions. What is your most important (or interesting) fact?
posted by blahblahblah on Jun 19, 2008 - 98 comments

3,000 free online (science-y) books

From the U.S. National Academies Press: 3,000 Science, Technology, Medical, and Social Science Books Available Free, Online. The interface is clunky - you can only see one page at a time, can't download PDFs (except paid) and image view is via TIFF - but! the content is all there, and free. Some is quite technical, but much is readily accessible. Some idea of the breadth: A Doctor's Memoirs of Treating AIDS in Haiti, The "Drama of the Commons", The 1872 Research Voyage of HMS Challenger, Biography of Stephen Hawking, Biotechnology Research in the Age of Terrorism, Risk Reduction Strategies for Human Exploration of Space, Forensic Lead Bullet Analysis, 50 Short Essays on How Mathematicians Think, Recent Research on Non-Lethal Weapons, and Introduction to Tough Topics in Contemporary Science. Also, see their rather spiffy site on the cosmos.
posted by Rumple on Jun 12, 2006 - 13 comments

made to be broken

Rules for Having an Affair. A great read for you starry-eyed newlyweds!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders on Feb 18, 2004 - 69 comments

Here's

Here's a damning indictment of the (mis)use of regression analysis in the social sciences.

[Y]ou may have fallen for a pernicious form of junk science: the use of mathematical models with no demonstrated predictive capability to draw policy conclusions. These studies are superficially impressive. Written by reputable social scientists from prestigious institutions, they often appear in peer reviewed scientific journals. Filled with complex statistical calculations, they give precise numerical "facts" that can be used as debaters' points in policy arguments. But these "facts" are will o' the wisps. Before the ink is dry on one study, another appears with completely different "facts." Despite their scientific appearance, these models do not meet the fundamental criterion for a useful mathematical model: the ability to make predictions that are better than random chance.
posted by electro on Feb 12, 2002 - 11 comments

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