Posted by Jay Livingston
1. “Survey Research Can Save Your Life,” says Joshua Tucker at the Monkey Cage. He links to this NBC news story about a woman who went into diabetic shock while on the phone with a student pollster working for Marist. He sensed something was wrong and told his supervisor. She spoke to the woman and then called 911. (The news story does not identify the student working the phone survey, only the supervisor. Nor does it say whether the woman approved or disapproved of Mayor Bloomberg.)
2. The New York Times this week reported on a RAND study that found no relation between obesity and “food deserts.” The study used a large national sample; it’s undoubtedly comprehensive. The problem is that if you are using a national sample of schools or supermarkets or stores or whatever, two units that fall into the same category on your coding sheet might look vastly different if you went there and looked at them from close range.
Peter Moskos at Cop in the Hood took a closer look at the RAND study, reported in the Times, RAND relied on a pre-existing classification of businesses. The prefix code 445 indicates a grocery store. Peter, an ethnographer at heart, has his doubts:
New York is filled with bodega “grocery stores” (probably coded 445120) that don't sell groceries. You think this matters? It does. And the study even acknowledges as much, before simply plowing on like it doesn't. A cigarette and lottery seller behind bullet-proof glass is not a purveyor of fine foodstuffs, and if your data doesn't make that distinction, you need to do more than list it as a “limitation.” You need to stop and start over.3. NPR’s “Morning Edition” had a story (here) on death penalty research, specifically on the question of deterrence. A National Research Council panel headed by Daniel Nagin of Carnegie Mellon University reviewed all the studies and concluded that they were inconclusive, mostly for methodological reasons. For example, most deterrence studies looked at the death penalty in isolation rather than comparing it with other specified punishments.
Another methodological problem not mentioned in the brief NPR story is that the number of executions may be too small to provide meaningful findings. For that we’d need a much larger number of cases. So this is one time when, at least if you are pro-life, an inadequate sample size isn’t all bad.