I’m skeptical of the claims made in this paper

February 9, 2018

(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Two different people pointed me to a recent research article, suggesting that the claims therein were implausible and the result of some combination of forking paths and spurious correlations—that is, there was doubt that the results would show up in a preregistered replication, and that, if they did show up, that they would mean what was claimed in the article.

One of my correspondents amusingly asked if we should see if the purported effect in this paper interacts with a certain notorious effect that has been claimed, and disputed, in this same subfield. I responded by listing three additional possible explanations from the discredited literature, thus suggesting a possible five-way interaction.

I followed up with, “I assume I can quote you if I blog this? (I’m not sure I will . . . do I really need to make N more enemies???)”

My correspondent replied: “*I* definitely don’t need N more enemies. I’m an untenured postdoc on a fixed contract. If you blog about it, could you just say the paper was sent your way?”

So that’s what I’m doing!

P.S. Although I find the paper in question a bit silly, I have no objection whatsoever to it being put out there. Speculative theory is fine, speculative data analysis is fine too. Indeed, one of the problems with the current system of scientific publication is that speculation generally isn’t enough: you have to gussy up your results with p-values and strong causal claims, or else you can have difficulty getting them published anywhere.

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