The Gelman View

I have read Andrew Gelman’s blog for about five years, and gradually, I’ve decided that among his many blog posts and hundreds of academic articles, he is advancing a philosophy not just of statistics but of quantitative social science in general. Not a statistician myself, here is how I would articulate the Gelman View:

A. Purposes

  1. The purpose of social statistics is to describe and understand variation in the world. The world is a complicated place, and we shouldn’t expect things to be simple.
  2. The purpose of scientific publication is to allow for communication, dialogue, and critique, not to “certify” a specific finding as absolute truth.
  3. The incentive structure of science needs to reward attempts to independently investigate, reproduce, and refute existing claims and observed patterns, not just to advance new hypotheses or support a particular research agenda.

B. Approach

  1. Because the world is complicated, the most valuable statistical models for the world will generally be complicated. The result of statistical investigations will only rarely be to  give a stamp of truth on a specific effect or causal claim, but will generally show variation in effects and outcomes.
  2. Whenever possible, the data, analytic approach, and methods should be made as transparent and replicable as possible, and should be fair game for anyone to examine, critique, or amend.
  3. Social scientists should look to build upon a broad shared body of knowledge, not to “own” a particular intervention, theoretic framework, or technique. Such ownership creates incentive problems when the intervention, framework, or technique fail and the scientist is left trying to support a flawed structure.

Components

  1. Measurement. How and what we measure is the first question, well before we decide on what the effects are or what is making that measurement change.
  2. Sampling. Who we talk to or collect information from always matters, because we should always expect effects to depend on context.
  3. Inference. While models should usually be complex, our inferential framework should be simple enough for anyone to follow along. And no p values.

He might disagree with all of this, or how it reflects his understanding of his own work. But I think it is a valuable guide to empirical work.

4 thoughts on “The Gelman View

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s