I was worried about my beer consumptions effect on my scientific productivity, especially today when I am slightly hung over from sampling various Easter Ales yesterday evening.
To my relief, I then see this re-analysis of the data:
But as I began to think further on the subject (and enjoy a fine Pale Ale to settle me down), I realized I was making two cardinal mistakes in my approach to this startling scientific development: 1) I trusted my limited anecdotal evidence over a statistically valid scientific study, and 2) I based my understanding of the science on a journalist’s description of a technical paper. Recognizing my initial flaws, I moved on to a smooth and especially bitter IPA and got on the internet.
First, there was the common mistake of confusing correlation with causation. The author implied that increased beer drinking caused reduced scientific output. An equally likely explanation is that poor performance in one’s chosen career (in this case ornithology) led to increased beer drinking (and after all, the subjects live in a country with the world’s highest per capita beer consumption). Alternatively, a third, unmeasured factor could be leading to both poor job performance and higher beer consumption (a nagging spouse, for example).
But it was while I was switching to a magnificent Pacific Northwest microbrew porter that I saw the real problem. Looking at the graph of the 34 data points, it was clear that the entire correlation was caused by the five lowest-output scientists. Without those five data points, the remaining 29 - showing a wide range of scientific output and beer consumption habits - exhibited absolutely no correlation. Thus, the entire study came down to only one conclusion: the five worst ornithologists in the Czech Republic drank a lot of beer.
Now I'm feeling a lot better! Since the hangover is also almost gone, drowned in strong coffee, I think I'll get started with today's work. I'm planning on reading Julian Faraway's Extending the Linear Model with R, having completed Linear Models with R only a few weeks ago. (Incidentally, linear models is behind this study and the refutation!).
I'll complete this post with the final quote from the post above:
In the end, though, I was pleased to see that careful reading and analysis of the original published work led to an easy debunking of the silly notion reported in the press that somehow beer drinking was bad for scientific performance. With the reputation of beer-loving scientists restored to its rightful glory, I sat back and sipped my double-chocolate stout. Ah, the life of a Gentleman Scientist.