The Relevance of Statisticians to Researchers in Different fields of Social Science

Someone pointed me to a remark someone who felt that statisticians were not doing their job to help out “mathematically challenged” psychology researchers. My first thought was that statisticians often help in an indirect way, by developing advanced methods that quantitative psychologists then translate to their colleagues, but I also realized that there was some specific advice I could give that could be used right away. This made me think that my colleagues and I should put together a short document (an article? webpage? wiki? pamphlet?) of statistical advice. Maybe 50 useful tips. Much of this is in our books but it could be useful to have something that people can use right away, with no prerequisites and without feeling that it would be a big time commitment.

The thing I wanted to talk about here on the Monkey Cage, though, is that I can’t imagine a political scientist complaining that statisticians weren’t helping them out. The difference, I suppose, is that psychology has a longstanding field of psychometrics and mathematical psychology, and these people have been developing their own methods for many decades. In contrast, political methodologists take from other fields (mostly econometrics and statistics), so they are used to having to learn the language of others. And political scientists who are not methodologists (the equivalents of the “mathematically challenged psychologist” who asked the original question) know that if they want to do statistics, they have to learn some statistics; they don’t really expect to get by otherwise.

P.S. Just to be clear: None of this is meant to disparage qualitative research. Qualitative research is great. I’m certainly not saying that all researchers need to use statistics. This discussion is all about people who are doing quantitative work and fell the need to use methods that are somewhat beyond their mathematical/statistical comfort zone.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.