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Popular papers to be scrutinized?

by alyosha_the_pot1 min read14th Apr 202013 comments

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Inspired by Alexey Guzey's criticism of Matthew Walker's Why We Sleep, as well as the SSC criticisms of The Seven Principles of Marriage I was wondering if anyone had some good ideas for papers/ books that should be looked at more closely.

They should be popular/influential pieces of science, but either of questionable statistical rigor, or should be much more closely analyzed. My first thought is to go through the most cited papers in 'softer' fields (e.g. social psychology, nutrition), though I'm also curious about the literature that is not necessarily cited a lot, but often talked about by the public. Anyone have ideas?

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If you want to go for popular & controversial books, I'd suggest doing Gould's The Mismeasure of Man and Murray's The Bell Curve simultaneously. Dueling bestsellers on the most controversial topic possible. However, I'd recommend keeping it far away from LessWrong if you do.

Appreciate the suggestion, but would be afraid of finding myself in some hot water over those two. I might take a closer look in my own time.

They're quite old books now though; somewhat out of date I expect (though most of the main points are probably still relevant).

2Daniel Kokotajlo1yI agree it would be better to have newer books, but these two seem influential enough still as to be worth tackling -- and the fact that science has progressed since then can even be an advantage, because it makes it easier to compare their claims to reality, since we have more data than them. I haven't actually read either of them, but I've heard a lot about each.
1bfinn1yI read The Bell Curve (many years ago) and it's certainly an interesting book. I suppose before embarking on reading/comparing two books like this (a lot of work!) it would be good to be clear on just what the purpose of the exercise is. It's not quite clear to me, but anyway.
1Panashe Fundira1yMurray has a new book out, Human Diversity, so that may be a good place to start.

I'd love to see someone look at Brian Caplan's Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. I and several other people I know have made parenting decisions on the basis of this book, and will probably continue to do so unless it is debunked, so I'd love to see it vetted carefully.

I would be quite surprised if I could find significant flaws in Caplan's book. This book sounds like a good read anyways, so I may end up taking a look regardless.

Malcolm Gladwell's pop science comes to mind, though I wouldn't be surprised if that's already been done to your satisfaction. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_Gladwell

Sapiens

Thinking Fast and Slow

How Emotions are Made

There was a recent paper which was popular on Reddit and news sites, which I thought was horrible. It was about how men could supposedly smell female arousal.

I think there's a lot about this paper that's terrible, and if you want something easy to rip into, this is a nice start.

It's a terrible paper but I doubt many people will be taken actions based on that paper which makes it harmless and in the same class as the examples of the OP.

Thanks for the link! I might actually start with this.