Monthly Archive for April, 2013

Risk factor for a stroke? Living in the stroke-belt as a teen

This study is based on a cohort study most demographers are probably not familiar with, “The Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke study.” It is a relatively large study with residential histories of panel participants. If you are interested in finding out more about these data, here’s a link to the researcher portal to the project website.

Maybe this should be replicated and extended with the PSID as it covers a longer time period. Stroke mortality patterns have also experienced a shift according to Casper ML, Wing S, Anda RF, Knowles M, Pollard RA (May 1995).”The shifting stroke belt. Changes in the geographic pattern of stroke mortality in the United States, 1962 to 1988″. Stroke 26 (5): 755–60. PMID 7740562.

Teenage Years in the Stroke Belt
Nicholas Bakalar | The New York Times
April 29, 2013

Effect of duration and age at exposure to the Stroke Belt on incident stroke in adulthood
Virginia Howard, | Neurology
April 29, 2013
Abstract | pdf

Political Science is not Alone [NSF]

The following are a series of articles on the potential changes to how NSF projects are reviewed and funded. They are in chronological order.

The first is the draft of the High Quality Research Act. It takes some time before that name shows up in an article.

High Quality Research Research Act: [Discussion Draft]
April 18, 2013

NSF Peer Review Under Scrutiny by House Science Panel
Jeffrey Mervis | ScienceInsider
April 18, 2013

“The peer-review process is the backbone of our basic research enterprise, and we’ve done very well with it,” he [Holdren] told Representative Randy Weber (R-TX). “That doesn’t say it never makes a mistake. But I think it’s better than any alternative, including me or you trying to determine what is good basic research in fields not our own.”

Holdren didn’t flinch when asked specifically by Representative Bill Posey (R-FL) whether he agreed that Coburn’s two criteria—that a political science grant must relate to economic or national security interests—”were a good and proper filter” to apply to all proposals. “I respectfully disagree,” Holdren replied. “I think that it is too narrowly drawn.”

Posey then asked Holdren to suggest other criteria that should be applied. The question gave Holdren a chance to deliver his real take-home message. “I think it’s a dangerous thing for Congress, or anybody else, to be trying to specify in detail what types of fundamental research NSF should be funding,” he told Posey.

Political Science is not alone
Henry Farrell | The Monkey Cage blog
April 26, 2013
The title to this entry is because earlier this year, political science research was singled out as not worthy of funding by NSF. The threat has expanded to the rest of the scientific community, although social sciences seem the most vulnerable. See previous PSC-Info blog entry for more.

U.S. Lawmaker Proposes New Criteria for Choosing NSF Grants
Jeffrey Mervis | ScienceInsider
April 28, 2013

Quotes by Eddie Bernice Johnson, ranking Democrat on the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology:

“In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF,” Johnson wrote in a letter obtained by ScienceInsider. “I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value.”

In her letter, Johnson warns Smith that “the moment you compromise both the merit review process and the basic research mission of NSF is the moment you undo everything that has enabled NSF to contribute so profoundly to our national health, prosperity, and welfare.” She asks him to “withdraw” his letter and offers to work with him “to identify a less destructive, but more effective, effort” to make sure NSF is meeting that mission.

Links to Letters: via @kjhealy on Twitter
Lamar Smith to Cora Marrett
Eddie Bernice Johnson to Lamar Smith and Cora Marrett

Note that one of the NSF studies that Lamar Smith did not think warranted funding was titled “The International Criminal Court and the Pursuit of Justice” which was pretty close to the title of PSC’s April 29th brownbag “On the Use of Demographic Evidence at International War Crime Tribunals”

House chair wants congressional guidelines to replace peer review for federal science research
Tim Carmody | The Verge
April 29, 2013

A Congressman’s Own Peer Review
Doug Lederman | Inside Higher Education
April 29, 2013

Eddie Bernice Johnson vs Lamar Smith and the NSF
John Sides | Monkey Cage blog
April 29, 2013

Lamar Smith, GOP Push Politicization of Scientific Research
Ryan Grim | Huffington Post
April 29, 2013
This is one of the few articles the “not duplicative” requirement:

“The requirements laid out in the bill are problematic on several levels. The basic scientific method itself is by its nature duplicative, and is often carried out purely for investigative purposes.”

Obama Promises to Protect Peer Review in Salute to NAS
David Malakoff | ScienceInsider
April 29, 2013
Obama was speaking at the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences, but touched on the issues associated with NSF funding:

In addition to touting his administration’s support for research, Obama took an oblique swipe at political adversaries in Congress who want to require the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other funding agencies to adopt new grant funding criteria.

“[W]e’ve got to protect our rigorous peer review system and ensure that we only fund proposals that promise the biggest bang for taxpayer dollars,” Obama said. “And I will keep working to make sure that our scientific research does not fall victim to political maneuvers or agendas that in some ways would impact on the integrity of the scientific process.”

Obama also gave a shout-out to the social sciences, which have borne the brunt of recent congressional complaints. “[O]ne of the things that I’ve tried to do over these last 4 years and will continue to do over the next 4 years is to make sure that we are promoting the integrity of our scientific process,” he said. “That not just in the physical and life sciences, but also in fields like psychology and anthropology and economics and political science—all of which are sciences because scholars develop and test hypotheses and subject them to peer review—but in all the sciences, we’ve got to make sure that we are supporting the idea that they’re not subject to politics, that they’re not skewed by an agenda, that, as I said before, we make sure that we go where the evidence leads us. And that’s why we’ve got to keep investing in these sciences.”

The Republican War on Social Science
Dave Weigel | Slate
May 1, 2013
Great introduction to a mostly sobering piece on the lack of response by Democrats to Republican attacks on science, data, information.

The first time anyone outside of Florida’s Space Coast heard of Rep. Bill Posey, he was talking about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. It was March 2009. Posey had been in office for two months, and he was the first to propose a bill requiring presidential nominees to hand over “documentation as may be necessary to establish that the candidate meets the qualifications for eligibility.” He was Internet-famous overnight. Stephen Colbert was asking him to prove that he, Posey, wasn’t part alligator. “There is no reason to say that I’m the illegitimate grandson of an alligator,” said the congressman.

Posey’s been re-elected twice since then, and on April 17, he got the chance to stare down the president’s science czar, John Holdren. Posey and fellow Republicans on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee wanted Holdren to explain why the National Science Foundation was wasting so much money from an asked-for budget of $7.6 billion.

Lamar Smith: Science Peer Review Process Would ‘Improve’ With Political Oversight
Michael McAuliff | Huffington Post
April 30, 2013
It is all in the first sentence:

“The chairman of the House Science Committee on Tuesday defended his controversial draft legislation that would subject the National Science Foundation’s peer review process to politics as necessary to “improve” science.”

Lamar Smith, [R, TX] says that the bill is bipartisan:
“The draft legislation was the result of bipartisan discussions about how NSF grants should be prioritized. It was circulated to Committee Democratic staff, the NSF and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. This was a first step in what we hoped would be a bipartisan initiative to improve accountability of NSF grants.”

Dear Congress: Why are you so Anti-Science?
Rebecca Boyle | Popular Science
May 2, 2013
This is a really strong piece, covering the long-term implications of changing the way science is reviewed and funded. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Of the many and varied things going wrong in Washington today, the frontal assault on science is one of the most alarming. Sequestration will be a blip compared to the setback that could result if Congress makes science–the peer-reviewed, community-checked, fact-based realm of science–all about politics.

The chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ science committee is floating a bill that would eliminate peer review at the National Science Foundation, essentially replacing it with a Congressional stamp of approval. President Obama has signaled he opposes this, and the bill’s future is unclear right now. But Republican lawmakers are nothing if not tenacious.

Science has been suffocating in a toxic political atmosphere for years, with national leaders outwardly denying climate change is happening, celebrities pushing dangerous anti-vaccine (and anti-science) views on a frightened and malleable public, and conservatives angling to teach creationism using taxpayer dollars. The proposed 2014 federal budget doesn’t help, with major cuts in planetary research and high-energy physics just two of the problems. But this latest salvo could be one of the most damaging anti-science campaigns yet.

That’s because on its face, it sounds innocuous. Wise, even. It’s called the “High Quality Research Act.”

Is Any Science Safe?
Kenneth Prewitt | Science
May 3, 2013
Prewitt argues against the micromanaging of NSF grants on several grounds. He provides excellent background for each point he makes:

“First, it favors research that promises near-term benefits, overlooking the fact that there is knowledge useful under today’s conditions and knowledge that becomes useful when conditions change.”

“Science is an interconnected enterprise. Research on schoolyard bullies can unexpectedly lead to theory that explains suicide bombers. Two U.S. political scientists, Herbert Simon and Elinor Ostrom, received Nobel Prizes for theoretical work on government decisionmaking under uncertainty. Their theories are broadly applicable, including in explanations of failed states—often home to terrorist cells.”

“Members of Congress who believe that the executive branch should not try to pick winners and losers in the market economy should certainly realize that the legislative branch should not try to pick winners and losers in science.”

Congressional debate over science funding draws fire from critics
Wynne Perry | Fox News
May 3, 2013
This piece is littered with quotes from scientists who are against the rule changes. It does include an argument for Constitutional support for Congressional oversight:

Proponents of more oversight do have a strong argument, Cook-Deegan said, because the U.S. Constitution gives Congress oversight over executive branch agencies, including the NSF. (Congress, as part of the federal budget, approves the NSFs budget.)

Both Smith and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who proposed the criteria for political science studies, have questioned the merits of individual, NSF-funded studies. Their lists have included studies on the evolving depiction of animals in the magazine National Geographic; on attitudes toward majority rule and minority rights focusing on the Senate filibuster; and on the International Criminal Court and the African Union Commissions interpretation of international justice and human rights.

These lists are the latest in a well-established history of singling out individual research projects for criticism. Beginning in March 1975, Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire began issuing Golden Fleece Awards, highlighting what he considered wasteful government spending. His research picks included studies to determine why people fall in love, and under what conditions people, monkeys and rats bite and clench their jaws, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that social science research, including political science, has been a particular target for Republican lawmakers. Historically, conservatives have perceived social science as a tool to advance the liberal agenda, Cook-Deegan said.

This perception has created political conflict over research in a number of topics, including gun violence, he said. Gun violence research, stymied for many years by congressional decree, received a boost from President Barack Obama earlier this year as part of his response to the shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Special Issue on Survey Non-response

Introduction: New Challenges to Social Measurement
Douglas S. Massey and Roger Tourangeau
Abstract | PDF

Facing the Nonresponse Challenge
Frauke Kreuter
Abstract | PDF

Explaining Rising Nonresponse Rates in Cross-Sectional Surveys
J. Michael Brick and Douglas Williams
Abtract | PDF

Response Rates in National Panel Surveys
Robert F. Schoeni, Frank Stafford, Katherine A. Mcgonagle, and Patricia Andreski
Abstract | PDF

Consequences of Survey Nonresponse
Andy Peytchev
Abstract | PDF

The Use and Effects of Incentives in Surveys
Eleanor Singer and CongYe
Abstract | PDF

Paradata for Nonresponse Adjustment
Kristen Olson
Abstract | PDF

Can Administrative Records Be Used to Reduce Nonresponse Bias?
John L. Czajka
Abstract | PDF

An Assessment of the Multi-level Integrated Database Approach
Tom W. Smith and Jibum Kim
Abstract | PDF

Where Do We Go from Here? Nonresponse and Social Measurement
Douglas S. Massey and Roger Tourangeau

Abstract | PDF

The Twitter paper from PAA’s “social media” session

Using Twitter for Demographic and Social Science Research:
Tools for Data Collection

T. McCormick, H. Lee, N. Cesare and A. Shojaie | CSSS/University of Washington
April 8 2013
This is a proof of concept paper. The researchers searched through tweets for phrases that indicated an intention to “not vote” in the 2012 election. They used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to identify the profile pictures of their sample (age, gender, race).

Folks interested in other examples of “wild data” like Google searches, Twitter, etc. should check these posts:

Wild Data: Expanding Social Science Research
Big Data: Google Flu
Using Wild Data to Estimate International Migration

The Unauthorized Immigrant Population: Two Technical Excercises

This blog entry has two nice technical pieces. The first describes how PEW Hispanic (and others) estimate the undocumented population in the US. The second is a life-table exercise, which shows how many of the undocumented population will die waiting for citizenship – assuming a 13 year wait time.

Unauthorized Immigrants: How Pew Research Counts Them and What We Know About Them
Interview with Jeff Passel | Pew Hispanic
April 17, 2013
In this interview, Passel describes how he estimates the undocumented population in the US – including the other characteristics of this population, e.g., occupation, current residence, family composition, etc. using data from the Current Population Survey.

As a note, most of the reports PEW Hispanic writes on the undocumented population have an appendix, which provides a more technical description of the methodology. See page 25 of the following report for an example: Cohen, D’Vera and Jeff Passel. 2011. “Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010” Pew Hispanic: February 1, 2011.

The life-table exercise is from Philip Cohen’s Family Inequality blog.

How many people should die waiting for citizenship? 319,462?
Philip Cohen | Family Inequality Blog
April 24, 2013

This is a life-table exercise, taking the current age distribution of the undocumented population in the US and applying a life-table for Hispanics to the numbers. He describes his assumptions and invites folks to re-calibrate the numbers.

Note that Cohen takes a dig at Reinhart and Rogoff [previous PSC Infoblog entry] by making his spreadsheet available. And, he notes “If you don’t like the way Excel does the maths, by all means, fix it in R.”

Living Apart Together: Data & Research

Living Apart Together: Uncoupling Intimacy and Co-Residence
S. Duncan, M. Phillips, S. Roseneil, J. Carter & M. Stoilova | NatCen Social Research Policy Brief
Winter 2013
Major conclusions from the research are (a) some “singles” are in LAT relationships; (b) living alone doesn’t always means being alone; and (c) intimacy doesn’t always imply co-residence

Note, a similar policy brief for the Canadian LAT population is in an earlier PSC-Info blog entry.

The Census Reform Act of 2013

This proposed legislation is really radical [H.R. 1638]. It would eliminate all surveys collected by the Census Bureau: Economic Census, Census of Governments, Census of Agriculture and a non-existent mid-decade census. Furthermore, it would limit the census to a population count.

In short:

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law–
(1) the Secretary may not conduct any survey, sampling, or other questionnaire, and may only conduct a decennial census of population as authorized under section 141; and
(2) any form used by the Secretary in such a decennial census may only collect information necessary for the tabulation of total population by States
(b) Repeal of Survey, Questionnaire, or Sampling Authority- Sections 182, 193, and 195 of title 13, United States Code, are repealed.

The Census Project Blog discusses this in more detail:
What We Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Us (Right?)
Teri Ann Lowenthal | The Census Project Blog
April 23, 2013

If Congress only wants a head-count census, will they fund a ‘mandatory population register?’ This is something New Zealand is considering:

National Census Could be Scrapped
National News | TVNZ
April 23, 2013

Microsoft Excel: The Ruiner of Global Economies?

This is a series of articles on the news that a well-cited and influential paper by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff had an Excel error in it, which led to an overstating of the association between debt and growth. There are other more fundamental problems with the paper – see comments by economists below.

From a training viewpoint, it is relevant to note that this was discovered by a graduate student, working on a class assignment: find a famous study and replicate it.

This entry has four sections: (a)the student; (b)comments by other economists; (c)replication & programming; and (d)coverage from the press.

The Story of the Student
Meet the 28-Year-Old Grad Student Who Just Shook the Global Austerity Movement
Kevin Roose | The New York Magazine
April 18, 2013

How a student took on eminent economists on debt issue – and won
Edward Krudy | Reuters
April 18, 2013

‘They Said at First That They Hadn’t Made a Spreadsheet Error, When They Had’
Peter Monagham | Chronicle of Higher Education
April 24, 2013
My favorite Q & A from this interview with Thomas Herndon is:
Q. This is more than a spreadsheet error, then?

A. Yes. The Excel error wasn’t the biggest error. It just got everyone talking about this. It was an emperor-has-no-clothes moment.

Comments/Analysis by Economists
Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogo ff
Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin | Political Economy Research Institute
April 15, 2013
easier to read pdf of paper, but link above includes data, code, etc.

Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff, and There Are Serious Problems
Michael Konczal | Next New Deal (blog of the Roosevelt Institute)
April 16, 2013

Reinhart and Rogoff are wrong about austerity
Robert Pollin and Michael Ash | Financial Times
April 17, 2013

Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt
Arindrajit Dube | Next New Deal (blog of the Roosevelt Institute)
April 17, 2013

Reinhart, Rogoff, and How the Macroeconomic Sausage Is Made
Justin Fox | Harvard Business Review
April 17, 2013

The Excel Depression
Paul Krugman | New York Times
April 19, 2013

Replication & Programming
The Mysterious Powers of Microsoft Excel
Colm O’Regan | BBC News Magazine
April 20, 2013

What the Reinhart & Rogoff Debacle Really Shows: Verifying Empirical Results Needs to be Routine
Victoria Stodden | The Monkey Cage Blog
April 19, 2013

What Reinhart-Rogoff Means for the Replication Debate
Political Science Replication Blog
April 19, 2013

Microsoft Excel: The ruiner of global economies?
Peter Bright | Ars Technica
April 16, 2013
This piece describes the Excel error, but also discusses other issues with the paper, including the interesting tidbit that the original Reinhart-Rogoff paper was published in the American Economic Review proceedings issue(May), which are not peer reviewed.

Two clever economists have looked to see if researchers pad their resumes by hiding their AER proceedings publications. The University of Michigan economics department was included in their sample.

Research: Bad math rampant in family budgets and Harvard studies
Jeremy Olshan | Wall Street Journal (Market Watch blog)
April 17, 2013
88% of spreadsheets have errors

On the accuracy of statistical procedures in Microsoft Excel 2007
B.D. McCullough and David A. Heiser | Computational Statistics and Data Analysis
March 2008
These authors criticize Excel for its use in statistical analysis because of its failures in statistical distributions, random number generation, and the NIST StRD(Statistical Reference Datasets). I suspect most users of Excel are using the simpler tools: summation, product, etc., but on occasion faculty have used Excel as a rudimentary statistical analysis tool.

What We Know about Spreadsheet Errors
Raymond Panko | Journal of End User Computing
May 2008

Come to Jesus Slides: Use Script-Based Analysis, not Excel
Matt Frost | Charlottesville, Virginia
The author is recommending R or more specifically R Studio, but his point applies to any script-based statistical package.

The Press
Too many to link to for the moment, but here’s a sampling:
[Search Link]

Income Mobility and Welfare

International Monetary Fund Working Paper
By: Tom Krebs, Pravin Krishna, and William Maloney


This paper develops a framework for the quantitative analysis of individual income dynamics, mobility and welfare. Individual income is assumed to follow a stochastic process with two (unobserved) components, an i.i.d. component representing measurement error or transitory income shocks and an AR(1) component representing persistent changes in income. We use a tractable consumption-saving model with labor income risk and incomplete markets to relate income dynamics to consumption and welfare, and derive analytical expressions for income mobility and welfare as a function of the various parameters of the underlying income process. The empirical application of our framework using data on individual incomes from Mexico provides striking results. Much of measured income mobility is driven by measurement error or transitory income shocks and therefore (almost) welfare-neutral. A smaller part of measured income mobility is due to either welfare-reducing income risk or welfare-enhancing catching-up of low-income individuals with high-income individuals, both of which have economically significant effects on social welfare. Decomposing mobility into its fundamental components is thus seen to be crucial from the standpoint of welfare evaluation.

Free full text (PDF, 700KB)

Essay: Linking, Exploring and Understanding Population Health Data

This is a nice data essay by former PSC trainee Michael Bader. He discusses multiple sources of data that one might use to understand population health. I especially like his point about the need to archive neighborhood conditions – after all neighborhoods change. But he also touches on the range of data available for analysis from focus groups to big data.

Linking, Exploring and Understanding Population Health Data
Michael Bader | Human Capital Blog (RWJ)
June 25 2012

The opening paragraph deserves a highlight, but read the entire entry. It is worth it:

Data are the sustenance of population health research, and like the food that sustains us, it comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. Also like food, it’s best appreciated in combination. A single data source in the absence of context is unfulfilling; but combining datasets that are rich with information and contours — now that’s a meal!