catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Music and Niceness

with 14 comments

I think we have established that peer review is not a worthwhile process of quality control for scholarly papers.

Still, there needs to be something. Take this “research” reported in the Guardian and picked up by the Australian Fairfax papers. The conclusion seems to have been that listening to “pro-social” (sorry for all the quote marks – I can’t let readers think these are my words) songs makes you act act more nicely soon after.

His experiments took groups of students and split them at random into those who listened individually either to socially-conscious songs or those with a neutral message, and then used various ways to measure the apparent effect. In one, after the music had stopped, a researcher “accidentally” knocked a cup of pencils from a table and paused briefly before beginning to collect them.

On average, those who had heard songs like Michael Jackson’s Heal the World responded more quickly and picked up almost five times as many pencils as people in the other group.

What should be done about dopey stuff like this? How about a kind of peer ridicule? An academic Hall of Infamy? I’ll bet it pops up again in one of those “numerous studies have shown…” stories.

Unmatched, though, is the paper by postmodern teacher of nursing Dave Holmes from 2006 concluding that evidenced based medicine is fascist because it excludes other ways of knowing. The paper is here and is worth reading right through. You might laugh or grind your teeth in anger.

Written by Ken Nielsen

January 5, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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14 Responses

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  1. I think we have established that peer review is not a worthwhile process of quality control for scholarly paper
    Have we?
    There’s always ‘research’ like this usually conducted by various vested interests. As far as I’m aware it’s very difficult to establish any causal relationship between the arts and ethical behaviour altho’ people will try.
    In The Culture of Complaint Robert Hughes cited the example of the Sigismondo de Malatesta as a man who had excellent taste in Art and wouldn’t exactly be called, um, nice.


    January 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm

  2. No, Adrien, the dopiest (like the two linked) are not done for vested interests but by hard-working scientifically pure scholars, usually with government research grants.

    That’s what makes it so scary.

    Ken Nielsen

    January 5, 2010 at 6:26 pm

  3. “usually with government research grants”
    Ken, the success rate of the ARC is about 20% as is the NH&MRC (this is similar to many other countries), yet most academics manage to write papers now and then, no matter how crappy. This suggests most research isn’t done with government grants. In addition, since most grant organizations are corrupt boys-clubs, it also means a lot of good stuff gets published by people that arn’t funded and some of those that get the grants arn’t always as productive as one might expect.
    I also think peer review is relative — with some journals it works really well (too well — good stuff gets rejected), but thanks to management underwear gnomes in universities and governments across the world that created rewards schemes like DEST points (where you got rewarded for anything no matter how crap), there are now huge amounts of low quality journals for junk, so of course the refereeing process doesn’t work well with them. The problem is that the general public considers “peer review” monolithic, not graded across journals as it is. If you can get a paper or two through Econometrica or the American Economic Review, for example, I’ll be impressed.


    January 5, 2010 at 8:02 pm

  4. there are now huge amounts of low quality journals for junk

    Yeah, I’ve had any number of offers for free access to Sage publications but these strike me as very poor quality. Open Access journals like biomedcentral can be dodgy but are slowly improving. One journal that strikes me as being very good is the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and I sometimes get the impression that journals maintained by professional organisations rather than publishing houses consistently produce higher quality output but I’m not reading much research these days.

    As to this research piece, Ken and Adrien might think it is crap and perhaps that is true, I haven’t read it, but don’t judge a piece of research just because the subject matter strikes you as absurd because that can also mean you are just an ignorant yob.

    John H.

    January 5, 2010 at 8:16 pm

  5. that paper is an april fools joke right? postmodernism is awesome. i can’t believe they wrote a paper about how crap evidence based medicine was without referring to advantages that other frameworks have over evidence based medicine. i’m reading through it and i’m wondering what the hell these great alternative ways of deriving medical knowledge are. you could probably search and replace EBM with ‘X’ and it would be a good post modern criticism of ‘X’. i’m seriously thinking about substituting EBM for ‘test driven development’ and submitting it to an IT journal.


    January 5, 2010 at 8:28 pm

  6. Unlike this, very important, research.

    Sinclair Davidson

    January 5, 2010 at 8:32 pm

  7. Conrad,

    The Journal of Financial Economic was started as a low rent, no name journal after a seminal paper by Jensen was rejected by the Journal of Finance.

    I’ve got little faith in journal rankings or impact factors.

    What is even funnier is how universities are ranked.

    “We’ll give you money based on how much money we gave you before we brought this new funding model in. Per capita output! Huh?”

    Semi Regular Libertarian

    January 5, 2010 at 8:38 pm

  8. The arguments against evidence based medicine as a sole source are not solely about post modernism.

    And this lovely parody of those who evidence based medicine is the only valid form of evidence.

    John H.

    January 5, 2010 at 8:39 pm

  9. – the alternative is using anthropologists to discover which medical treatments work


    January 5, 2010 at 8:40 pm

  10. SRL — I’m not an economist, so those picks were fairly arbitrary on my part. I don’t mind impact factors, although impact of individual papers is a zillion times more meaningful than the journal — that said, I can’t think of any journal with an impact factor < 2 that is decent in my field, which is not to say you don't find the occasional good paper in those journals.
    I agree with the universities stuff — it's all a good laugh. I always love the inputs-as-outputs measures — I think they're my favorite of all for stupidity. The more money you spend the better you are perceived, so the guy that spends nothing but has great outputs is thought of as worse than the guy that has no outputs but spends lots of money. Hahaha — what idiot thought of that? It's like sunk costs in reverse — you win for losing money.


    January 5, 2010 at 9:47 pm

  11. Conrad.. are you an academic… student?


    January 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm

  12. jc, I’d venture that Conrad is an academic. For one thing, students tend not to have well-formed opinions on the politics of research funding organisations, or the intricacies of ranking systems for academics.

    daddy dave

    January 5, 2010 at 10:40 pm

  13. drscroogemcduck: nup, it’s real. The author has written similar stuff. I believe that pomo has quite a grip on the higher levels of nursing education. Which is a greater worry than the risk of nosocomial infection.
    John H: Of course there are limits to EBM. But I prefer a doctor who looks at Cochrane than one who says “I had a patient recently…”

    Ken Nielsen

    January 6, 2010 at 5:12 am

  14. JC,

    I’m an academic (at least for now) — I doubt too many students are aware of how stupid many of the things are that go on in Australian universities (indeed perhaps most universities around the world). I’m personally a beneficiary of some of them, but I’m still willing to admit they are stupid. It’s not all the universities fault — there are crazy rules set by most governments and they fight with the equally as crazy NTEU (tertiary union), which is like a baby-boomer retirement mafia.


    January 6, 2010 at 7:46 am

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