Curving Normality Blog Carnival #1

Today, I am happy to present to you the first edition of the Curving Normality blog carnival. It is all about the quantitative social sciences, and aims at bringing together high quality blog posts about our lovely profession. With just a few weeks of preparation, I am very pleased with the number of submissions, and especially glad with their quality. Apparently, the quantitative social scientists are quite well represented in the blogosphere!

The first article was submitted really quickly by Inti Suarez. In his series on the applicability of (social) science articles for political practice, he investigates the worth of an article on Terrorism and the world economy. After sharing some of his own personal experiences in politics with having difficulties to properly define the concept of `terrorism’, he praises the article to be confined to a single issue. To come short: “The claim of this paper is straightforward: if a country is threaten by terrorism, it will attract less investments.” Does this have practical relevance? “What is painful to realize is that this conclusion might reinforce the terrorist agenda, instead of weaken it.”

Secondly, statistics aficionado Stijn Ruiter writes on his blog ‘Your Sixth Degree’ about the advanced use of statistics. In his post on the presidential elections and the so-called Bradley-effect, he does however show that without asking the right question, advanced statstics does bring you nowhere. The election of Barack Obama denies this Bradley-effect, which “basically refers to the idea that a black American would not get elected because in the election booth voters would decide against what they said in the polls.” However, research should perhaps have a more detailed starting point: “The Bradley effect hypothesis is rather general, and as it is generally described (as above), it does not really specify who the voters are and what characteristics they (should) have. It only specifies whom to choose from, a black candidate or a white candidate. But there are two sides to the voting equation, namely voters and candidates. […] So, the question becomes who votes for whom.” ((Also see Gary King’s note on a paper investgating the (decline) of the Bradley effect.))

Such a detailed perspective was also taken up in an article on the educational achievement of migrants’ children, which I described myself a while ago. “The authors of the article — recently published in American Sociological Review — were able to take into account influences from both (characteristics of) country of origin, country of destination, and the migrant community in the country of origin.” Doing so, has led to some interesting findings, which would remain unclear if not this level of detail was maintained. “Counter-intuitively, immigrant children from countries with lower levels of economic development have better scholastic performance than comparable children who emigrate from countries with higher levels of economic development.”

Also focused on educational attainment of migrants’ children, in relation with integration in the host society, Fëanor on ‘Just a Mon’ discusses a ‘natural experiment’. This natural experiment entails that after Indonesian independence thousands Moluccans were allowed to settle in various Dutch municipalities. The socio-economic backgrounds of these people were rather similar, which allowed the the researchers to compare their children on educational achievement, and cross-tabulate this with measures of integration. They found that “children from Moluccan fathers and native mothers have a higher educational attainment than children from ethnic homogeneous Moluccan couples or children from a Moluccan mother and a native father.”

Finally, a `natural experiment’ is nice, but what about the holy grail of scientific rigourness: a real experiment? Often difficult to achieve in the social sciences, but it has been done. Ed Yong on ‘Not exactly Rocket Science’ discusses an experimental test of the ‘broken windows theory’, “which suggests that signs of petty crimes, like broken windows, serve as a trigger for yet more criminal behaviour”. The science-published article describes how simple experiments were conducted, such as measuring ‘littering’ when a wall was severely tainted by graffiti, or when it was completely painted over. A very interesting article, and Ed Yong gives a thorough summary. “All in all, the suite of experiments, all in a realistic setting, provide powerful evidence that the Broken Windows Theory is valid and all of Keiser’s results were statistically significant”

That’s it for today. No more entries for this first edition of the Curving Normality blog carnival. I would like to thank all those having submitted their entries. It was very nice to read all your blogs and to tie it all together in this editorial. The next edition will be published on the first day of 2009, so please submit your next article in the comments below as soon as it’s ready!

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