Lessons: Retraction of Highly Publicized Study on Religious Children

Yet another published social-science/humanities study has been retracted formally. This one got huge attention from secular (of course!) media for supposedly showing that religious children were less generous & altruistic.

Fortunately other scientists, who had been doing similar work with different data, and whose work (along with prior studies) showed much the opposite, didn’t buy it. They suspected something was awry with those results…rightly so! They asked for the study data, got it, reproduced the analyses, and found that the results were indeed bad, due to a simple coding error. See the link I provided above for more details on how this mess happened.

Another festering sore has appeared on the face of peer review as a practice, science as a whole, and on “soft science” humanities in particular. Lessons are many, and include:

  • Peer review is good, but not always good enough. Not just in the “soft sciences” either! It can miss important analytic flaws, as I have seen first-hand in physical (atmospheric) science. I find minor errors in published papers often, and mostly e-mail authors directly about them. Once, however, the problems were so numerous and crucial that I lead-authored a published rebuttal of many points in a formally peer-reviewed work that had appeared in an AMS journal.
  • Peer review in a highly specialized science can be insular, even incestuous. Reviewers are busy, and can slack off details. Reviewers often know the people whose work they’re reviewing, and/or can be awed by admiration for a respected name, and let stuff slide. It helps to have at least one anal-retentive reviewer willing to re-analyze data, or at least question findings that don’t make sense. Obviously this paper’s reviewers did not find anything suspicious—perhaps because their own preconceived biases about religious people clouded their potential to find such results puzzling.
  • Evaluate the biases of the media that promote scientific results, especially in more subjective fields like humanities and social science, but really, any science. What sociopolitical slants are evident in their other stories in general, including choices of subjects about which they publicize scientific results?
  • Don’t count on mass media to promote retractions, to more than a tiny, token, trivial fraction of the extent they pushed forth original, likely agenda-conforming results. Sometimes a retraction will be noted on a deep page (physical or digital) for the purpose of tokenism. Keep up with the latest retraction news on reputable, devoted watchdog sites.
  • In science, reproducibility is paramount! The greatest of alarm bells should go off when relatively recent (less than a decade or so) studies cannot be reproduced, especially if they involve unavailable data. In decades of yore, data were in hardcopy or primitive digital form, and often got lost, burned, flooded, heaved into the dumpster, etc. Today, with data-storage, archival and retrieval capacity smashing new records on a monthly basis, and redundant and cloud storage being common, there’s little, if any, valid excuse for the data not being there. This includes so-called “proprietary” data. Science is about openness, and all research data should be made available upon request, for the fundamental scientific tenet of reproducing analyses and results.

Unacceptable Harassment of Federal Employees at their Homes

When did it become OK to harass federal employees at their homes, for doing their jobs at work?

This is certainly a valid question given a recent noisy protest (with arrests) outside the home of a Denver-area GEO official, another outside an ICE official’s house in Long Beach, and more throughout the past three years, in particular.

What did the wives and children of those Federal employees have to do with the things their husbands/fathers do at work while following their directives? Why bring the families into this at all? What about the peace and quiet deserved by neighbors with no connection whatsoever? Why not protest peacefully by the actual office that does things that the protestors doth protest? These are rational questions, of course, and the minds of zealots are not rational.

This is not a free-speech issue. Of course it is and should be legal to protest on public right-of-way. What’s legal, however, isn’t always what’s morally right. This is also not necessarily a criminal issue (unless somebody gets violent, drunk, vandalizes, obstructs, or trespasses, as does happen sometimes). It’s not a left-right issue either—regardless of my observation that these sorts of disruptive behaviors at government employees’ personal residences emanate overwhelmingly from the left. Instead…

It is a matter of civility, respect and common decency, which apparently is not that common anymore. What’s next—pickets and screaming outside a federal judge’s house because of a sentencing decision some group doesn’t like? An NWS meteorologist’s house because of a bad forecast?

These thoughtless, rude, attention-seeking, inconsiderate, unkind ingrates have crossed a line by going to federal employees’ private homes, dragging neighbors, spouses and children into the sphere of their disruptive selfishness and shrill virtue signaling.

R.I.P. Sears

Numerous Sears stores have closed nationwide, more are in the process, and still more (all?) are soon to come. The one in Norman’s mall shuttered earlier this year. A friend posted earlier today about the one closing in his city soon. They are but the latest corporate dominoes to fall in the digital era, where online sales increasingly dominate, and where physical chains that can’t or won’t adapt their anachronistic business models are toppling, one after another.

So it goes. In capitalism, as it should work, clinging inertially to bad practices, lack of executive foresight, pissing off a lot of your customer base, and/or other forms of mismanagement, can doom the company. That is, unless you’re Bank of America, Citigroup, GM, AIG, etc., some Bush/Obama-era Beltway suits and ties deem you “too big to fail”, and the government unconstitutionally bails you out with taxpayer billions.

[Internal to government, clinging to bad models, lack of executive foresight, and/or mismanagement often are rewarded by pay-band increases or promotions, but that’s another story.]

Sears rightfully isn’t getting the Goldman Sachs bailout treatment, so…it shall perish. [Cue Ivan Drago: “If he dies, he dies.”]

Still, I’ll have some good memories of Sears. I grew up near a stand-alone, two-story store in Dallas, which was located at Ross and Henderson, on a site now occupied by a strip mall and Fiesta supermarket. We couldn’t afford much there, but it was a great place for my mom and I to get into some air conditioning (as we had none at home) and to see how the “other half” lived. It even had escalators. Escalators!

Occasionally they’d put on a deep clearance sale on clothing, and if the garments fit and we had a few bucks with us, we’d get some. That represented the rare occasion when I had new clothes; mostly we got what we wore from yard sales, thrift stores, church handouts, and throw-away piles. That Sears also had a candy shop next to the car-care center (clever!) and garden store. We couldn’t afford a car to take there for service, but on just a few occasions she treated me to a measured bag of candy or a chocolate malt. Good memories…

Below is a photo from sometime in the 1960s, of the East Dallas Sears that was built in 1947. I don’t know who shot it. But from 1970s/early-’80s familiarity alone, I know the view is from a sidewalk on the NE side of Henderson St. (Henderson and Ross each are oriented 45 degrees off true north), looking north. The main part of the store is at left, the garden center at right, and the auto center was on the other side of the same wing as the garden center. Ross Ave. is unseen at left. Greenville Ave (oriented true N-S) is behind these buildings. The entire lot was a big triangle formed by Greenville, Ross and Henderson. The candy store was inside that notch where the auto/garden wing attached to the main store.

As for the one in Norman, it’s where I signed up collegiately for my first credit card: a Discover, which is still my primary card today. Discover was started by Sears’ Dean Witter financial division that year, and was the first no-fee, “cash-back” card. I’m probably one of the original 10,000 or so cardholders.

Sears’ Craftsman tools were well-built, too; chances are you’ll find Sears versions in garages 100 years from now, still used and useful. I’ve got a few that my dad obtained secondhand…probably made in the ’60s and early ’70s. I’ve been cutting steep slopes on acreage for 12 years with the same Craftsman push mower, just replacing blades.

Walk around any sizeable early/middle 20th-century neighborhood, and chances are you’ll encounter a Sears house: a home built to specs with floor plans and materials supplied via Sears catalog, delivered onsite and constructed by the owner or local contractors. There were some in East Dallas; there are some on old areas of Norman.

The legacy of Sears won’t go away for a very long time, even as we witness the final, feeble gasps of the company today. R.I.P. Sears.

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