Monday, May 2, 2016

Ben Schmidt's Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews

Tis the season for end of semester teaching evaluations. And Ben Schmidt has created an interactive tool that demonstrates gender differences in these evaluations. Enter in a word, and Schmidt's tool returns to you how frequently the word is used in Rate Your Professor evaluations, divided up by gender and academic discipline.
Spoiler alert: Men get higher ratings for most positive attributes!
...while women get higher ratings for negative attributes. 

Out of class, you can use this example to feel sad, especially if you are a female professor and up for tenure.

In class, this leads to obvious discussions about gender and perception and interpersonal judgments. You can also use it to discuss why the x- and y-axes were chosen. You can discuss the archival data analysis used to generate these charts. You can discuss data mining. You can discuss content analysis. You can also discuss between group differences (gender) versus within group differences (academic area).

You could also use this to generate some data for classroom analysis. If you cursor an data point in a chart, you can see the exact number of instances of that word per millions of word of text. You could make your students enter all that data and run a t-test for a specific word, or by an academic area (say, a bunch of positive words just for male and female  psychology professors). Or, you could collect data for multiple words AND academic areas and make an ANOVA out of it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Dvorsky's "Lab Mice Are Freezing Their Asses Off—and That’s Screwing Up Science"

This example can be used to explain why the smallest of details can be so important when conducting research.

This piece by Dvosrsky summarizes a recently published article that points out a (possible!) major flaw in pre-clinical cancer research using rats. Namely, lab rats aren't being kept at an ideal rat temperature. This leads to the rats behaving differently than normal to stay warm: They eat more, they burrow more, and their metabolism changes. The researchers go on to explain that there are also plenty of other seemingly innocuous factors that can vary from rat lab to rat lab, like bedding, food, exposure to light, etc. and that these factors may also effect research findings.

Why is this so important? Psychology isn't the only field dealing with a replicability crisis: Rat researchers are also experiencing difficulties. Difficulties that may be the result of all of these seemingly tiny differences in lab rats that are used during pre-clinical research.

I think this could be useful as it is an example that students can easily grasp. Rat research is used in psychology, but is used here within a medical context, thus reaching students beyond our psychology majors.

Also, it is always a good time to share this story from The Onion about lab rats...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Weinberg's "How One Study Produced a Bunch of Untrue Headlines About Tattoos Strengthening Your Immune System"

In my Honors Statistics course, we have discussion days over the course of a semester. One of the discussion topics involves instances when the media has skewered research results (for another example, see this story about fitness trackers,)

Jezebel writer Caroline Weinberg  describes a modest study that found that people who have at least one previous tattoo experience a boost in their immunity when they get subsequent tattoos, as demonstrated via saliva samples of Immunoglobulin A. This is attributed to the fact that compared to tattoo newbies, tattoo veterans don't experience a cortisol reaction following the tattoo. Small sample size but a pretty big effect.

So, as expected, the media exaggerated these effects...but mostly because the researcher's university's marketing department did so first. Various new outlets stated things like "Sorry, Mom: Getting lots of tattoos could have surprising health benefits" and "Getting multiple tattoos can help prevent colds, study says". Lots of creative extrapolation.

I like this example as it appeals to the Millennials (tattoos!) as well as the psychology/biology/pre-professional science majors (stress/immune responses/cortisol responses) in my classes AND it is a pretty easy study to follow.

One way to use this with your students is to have them identify the questions that need answered before we can make the sort of claims that were made by journalists. How long does the immune boost last (we have no idea)? Is it really an immune boost or just the fact that repeated tattoo-er people don't experience a decrease in immunity? If so, would it be more appropriate to state "Don't get your first tattoo during cold season!"? What are ways to replicate this studying with other painful, repeated experiences (child birth? allergy shots? OT/PT that hurts? distance running? cross-fit class? piercings?)? Does the decrease in immunity, while significant and a large effect size, actually translate into the recently re-tattooed having fewer colds or with the recently first-time-tattooed having more colds?