Annals of Social Science, or Annulment of Social Science?

Don’t miss Andrew Ferguson’s cover feature “Making It All Up” in the latest edition of the Weekly Standard on the various scandals besetting behavioral science (though as we’ve observed here several times, the problem of scientific fraud isn’t limited to the social sciences by any means).

This won’t come as news to our regular readers, but still:

Two economists recently wrote a little book called The Cult of Statistical Significance, which demonstrated how easily a range of methodological flaws can be obscured when a researcher strains to make his experimental data statistically significant. The book was widely read and promptly ignored, perhaps because its theme, if incorporated into behavioral science, would lay waste to vast stretches of the literature.

Behavioral science shares other weaknesses with every field of experimental science, especially in what the trade calls “publication bias.” A researcher runs a gauntlet of perverse incentives that encourages him to produce positive rather than negative results. Publish or perish is a pitiless mandate. Editors want to publish articles that will get their publications noticed, and researchers, hoping to get published and hired, oblige the tastes of editors, who are especially pleased to gain the attention of journalists, who hunger for something interesting to write about.

Well, how about some social science you can use, that is also indisputably true. I swear, this story is not from The Onion:

Sex is more likely in days college students use marijuana or binge drink

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Undergraduate college students were more likely to have sex on days they used marijuana or binged on alcohol than on days they didn’t, new research from Oregon State University has found.

Binge drinking and being in a serious dating relationship also were linked with less condom use, putting young adults at risk for sexually-transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. The findings draw attention to some common but risky sexual behaviors in college students, said the study’s lead author, David Kerr.

“People may judge risks, such as whether they will regret having sex or whether they should use a condom, differently when they are drunk,” said Kerr, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU.

I wonder how many empirical observations were necessary to validate this startling and counter-intuitive finding? Did they struggle to find a representative sample on this one?

Slightly more original, but no less surprising, is this one:

One third of vegetarians eat meat when they get drunk

After one too many cocktails, people have been know to let their personal morals slip.

But according to a new study, a sizeable number of vegetarians commit the ultimate dietary sin when they get drunk: they eat meat.

U.K.-based discount code website VoucherCodesPro conducted a poll with 1,789 Brits who claim to be vegetarians and found that 37 percent of all respondents admitted to eating meat after they’ve had too much to drink.

But do we really need an empirical study to demonstrate a sensible reversion to the evolutionary mean? In any case, I’m grateful for the additional evidence of the importance of recognizing that a balanced diet will include all four major booze groups (beer, red wine, white wine, and distilled spirits) which will then liberate you to enjoy the four major meat groups (beef, lamb, chicken, and pork) as God and evolution intended.