Let’s Get Empirical!

James K

James is a government policy analyst, and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. His interests including wargaming, computer gaming (especially RPGs and strategy games), Dungeons & Dragons and scepticism. No part of any of his posts or comments should be construed as the position of any part of the New Zealand government, or indeed any agency he may be associated with.

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18 Responses

  1. Tod Kelly says:

    Wow, this should be something we link to a lot. It’s like a League version of The Demon Haunted World.Report

  2. greginak says:

    Having a pic of Olivia Newton John would have been funnier. Just saying. Pointless pop culture references add credibility.Report

  3. BlaiseP says:


    Human beings are wretched assessors of risk. Without the sword and armour of data and proper analytical methods, we resort to emotions and not good sense. We’re afraid of terrorists, of mad shooters in malls and schools, of the statistically rare. We’re not afraid of situations we should fear: they’re so common we can’t go on with our daily lives fearing them. The sleep of reason breeds monsters.

    Blaise Pascal:

    On what shall man found the order of the world which he would govern? Shall it be on the caprice of each individual? What confusion! Shall it be on justice? Man is ignorant of it.

    Certainly had he known it, he would not have established this maxim, the most general of all that obtain among men, that each should follow the custom of his own country. The glory of true equity would have brought all nations under subjection, and legislators would not have taken as their model the fancies and caprice of Persians and Germans instead of this unchanging justice. We should have seen it set up in all the States on earth and in all times; whereas we see neither justice nor injustice which does not change its nature with change in climate. Three degrees of latitude reverse all jurisprudence; a meridian decides the truth. Fundamental laws change after a few years of possession; right has its epochs; the entry of Saturn into the constellation Leo marks to us the origin of such and such a crime. A strange justice that is bounded by a river! Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other side.

    People admit justice does not consist in these customs, but resides in natural laws, common to every country. They would certainly maintain it obstinately, if reckless chance which has distributed human laws had encountered even one which was universal; but the farce is that the caprice of men has so many vagaries that there is no such law.

    Theft, incest, infanticide, parricide, have all had a place among virtuous actions. Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none with him?

    Doubtless there are natural laws; but good reason once corrupted has corrupted all. Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    The Law of Large Numbers brings interesting and horrible things into being. The troubling part of the Gun Debate resolves to this: as we add more guns to the equation, we bring these statistically-rare events out of the realm of the improbable into the real world.

    We shouldn’t wonder to see so many Sandy Hook tragedies. Given a sufficient number of guns and ammunition and integrate a sufficient number of crazies, it’s not a question of If any more. There will be more Sandy Hooks and Columbines and Virginia Techs. Absolutely predictable.

    Can’t say that to the Gun Fans, though. Disturbs too many comfy and completely unscientific presuppositions.Report

  5. This was fantastic. I really appreciate having tools to understand social science research and its differences vis-à-vis medical research.Report

  6. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    This is awesome. Excellent explanations. I loved it straight away!

    Then you threw in the wholly unnecessary reference to a Rust Monster, and just you blew me away!

    I love you man. Or, at least, my 1st Edition 12th level Ranger does.Report

  7. Pinky says:

    Really good article.

    But even the more straightforward statistics can have complications. Crimes reported versus crimes committed. Deaths not properly identified as murders. If you’re using criminal convictions, a lot of them are plea bargains down from more violent crimes. If you’re considering gun ownership, you have to remember that many people who have guns are exactly the kind of people who won’t tell the clipboard-bearing stranger knocking on the door that they have guns.Report

  8. zic says:

    I should think one of the big problems is the lack of statistical information on sales, etc.

    Last week NYT ran a pretty amazing piece on the difficulty of tracking a gun down — serial # to manufacturer, then to seller, then to sale. That’s a nightmare.

    It disturbs the same way treatment information in the health care debate disturbed — the data need for critical analysis belongs to the manufacturers and sellers, it’s proprietary, and likely a valuable marketing data point for the industry; in health care, that same information belonged to the insurance companies — diagnosis attempts, treatments, outcomes — much of the information needed to understand how the health care system actually functions.

    But here’s something: if you buy a gun, what happens with the information about you — your name, address, etc.? You think the gun industry protects your privacy, or are you added to data bases and mailing lists and sold to bidders without your permission? Do you have a history that follows you, from gun sale to gun sale, from ammo purchase to ammo purchase?

    Before anyone goes and gets all het up here, I have the same concerns about data-sharing from perceived liberal things, too. I suspect we have little notion of how manipulated we are.Report

  9. Major Zed says:

    The three most important things in research are replication, replication, and replication.Report