Social Research

I don’t have the time or energy to make it happen, but I really would like to see a wiki type project which assembled relevant reading lists to go with political speeches/debates/press releases/etc. It wouldn’t be that hard (technically) to gather transcripts and links, especially if crowd sourced, to assemble a claim-by-claim list of relevant studies whenever our political figures open their mouths. Basically, I want to see a giant, crowd sourced version of XKCD’s wikipedian protester. I know it wouldn’t help with the many non-reality-based voters, but it would be nice to have a community resource for those of us who care, especially during election years. Even better, I suspect the folks in the media would use it out of sheer laziness and end up injecting facts into the political process for a change.
In that interest, two of my favorites for common policy debates:

Wang-Sheng Lee, Sandy Suardi, “The Australian Firearms Buyback and Its Effect on Gun Deaths,” Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2008n17, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne, 2008.

The 1996-97 National Firearms Agreement (NFA) in Australia introduced strict gun laws, primarily as a reaction to the mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania in 1996, where 35 people were killed. Despite the fact that several researchers using the same data have examined the impact of the NFA on firearm deaths, a consensus does not appear to have been reached. In this paper, we re-analyze the same data on firearm deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates.

Freely available PDF copy Here

I actually like it for more than making a cogent, difficult-to-attack argument that basically set my attitudes about gun policy. It explains the junk science in the precursor studies. It reminds us of the simple reality that coming up with a good way to analyze data is often as important as the data itself. More generally, it demonstrates the unfortunate tendency for long bitter arguments about relationships that don’t actually have a statistically significant correlation, much less a causal relationship. It isn’t just one of my favorite social science papers, it’s one of my favorite papers, period.

C.E. Hughes, A. Stevens, “What Can We Learn From The Portuguese Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs?”Br J Criminol Vol. 50 Issue.6, pp.999-1022., Jul. 2010.

The issue of decriminalizing illicit drugs is hotly debated, but is rarely subject to evidence-based analysis. This paper examines the case of Portugal, a nation that decriminalized the use and possession of all illicit drugs on 1 July 2001. Drawing upon independent evaluations and interviews conducted with 13 key stakeholders in 2007 and 2009, it critically analyses the criminal justice and health impacts against trends from neighbouring Spain and Italy. It concludes that contrary to predictions, the Portuguese decriminalization did not lead to major increases in drug use. Indeed, evidence indicates reductions in problematic use, drug-related harms and criminal justice overcrowding. The article discusses these developments in the context of drug law debates and criminological discussions on late modern governance.

Re-hosted PDF copy here.

This one came to mind because Sir Richard Branson just made the same argument, which has been reposted in a couple of my feeds, and as much cynicism as I may have toward the peer review process, it’s better than personal accounts and patronage. The article is a pretty comprehensive “This works, the usual (militarized prohibition) solution doesn’t” argument, and even makes suggestions on how the decriminalize and treat solution would generalize.

There are publications with the same inputs and outputs from The Open Society Foundation and The Cato Institute, that I actually ran into first, but neither is peer reviewed, the Cato Institute are Kotch shills, and the Open Society Foundation has been accused of having a progressive bent. The fact that the data is unambiguous enough that research with agendas from wildly different areas of the spectrum AND a legit paper all come to the same conclusions is a good sign.

Again, I want a list of this kind of citation for every possible time a political figure makes a claim in public – with a preference to scholarly publications, and suitable disclaimers about external influence. The wikipedians (or redditor hordes, or…) would be able to do this with a minimum of individual effort, and only the appropriate amount of infighting, and it would make everything a little less stupid.
I can has?

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1 Response to Social Research

  1. Oddthinking says:

    You may find useful. Not exactly what you ask for, but along those lines.

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