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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Causality fascism

While in Turku I heard a term that was new to me "causality fascism". Actually, in the usage, there is an important distinction to make. 

It could be used to designate someone who believes that the only useful social scientific work to be done involves the rigorous identification of some sort of average treatment effect. This view is beginning to take hold in some of the social sciences  - political science seems to be particularly prone to colonization - and is clearly dumb, dumb, dumb. 

It's OK to have other objectives, as long as you are absolutely clear about what they are. What the balance should be between uncovering heterogeneity and serious causal analysis will depend on the state of knowledge in the field. Frankly, if we are still struggling to establish what the facts of the matter are, then it is  a little premature to put too much emphasis on causality.

On the other hand, if somebody starts to use words like "effect", "impact", "influence" etc rather than "differences", "heterogeneity" and so forth  and has no viable strategy to identify  real causal effects, then a little "causality fascism" is surely a good thing. In this context forcing people to really address what the numbers they estimate actually mean in terms of the relevant counterfactual gives some sort of protection against the propagation of bullshit.

All of which gives me an excellent excuse to link to the classic Seinfeld Soup Nazi.


Kolbeinn Stefansson said...

You should really consider adding a "like" button to your blog posts. It would allow a convenient way of sharing interesting posts and to show agreement or appreciation.

One could of course just comment. I just feel that comments need to be something more than "I agree" or "Good point".

Reading about your visit to the Turku Art Museum got me thinking that we ought to find a way to invite you to Iceland. There is a growing interest in social stratification among Icelandic sociologists. It might be useful to get some input to guide efforts in the right direction.

Colin said...

Hi Kolbeinn

You are right, I need to do a bit more work on making interaction easier. In fact the whole blog needs a major overhaul.

One thing I've been thinking of is creating a sister blog Oxford Sociology Too and splitting the content between them. The existing blog would have the more professional social scientific content and the other would be for my more whimsical, idiosyncratic, political and personal stuff that most readers have less interest in.

Another idea I've been toying with is to try to start a collaborative blog with ECSR type sociologists a bit along the lines of a cross between Crooked Timber and OpenPop.org.

More people means more and more varied content and a greater European focus.

Kolbeinn Stefansson said...

A collaborative blog is an excellent idea. I am very fond of Crooked Timber and anything that increases the visibility of ECSR type sociology is surely a good thing.

That being said, I rather like the more whimsical posts.