Baby Brainwaves and Broken Science, with Jordan Lasker
Why IQ interventions fail in the real world and bad researchers succeed in academia
Jordan Lasker is a PhD student at Texas Tech University and a bioinformatician. He joins the podcast to discuss his recent report for CSPI, “About Those Baby Brainwaves: Why ‘Policy Relevant’ Social Science is Mostly a Fraud.” The report critically examined a recent study claiming small cash transfers to the parents of newborns improved their babies’ brain activity. The study was lauded in the media and by D.C. policymakers, who argued its results supported redistributive policies, most notably the child tax credit.
Jordan demonstrated that the study in question wildly overstated its claims, was methodologically suspect, and that its authors engaged in numerous bad research practices. Social science, he argues, is not a sound basis for policymaking given academia’s warped incentives.
He and Richard talk about why physiological measures like EEGs are taken much more seriously than psychometrics like IQ tests, whether “rich brains” and “poor brains” exist, if the Flynn effect means we’re getting smarter, and the politicization of academia and science more generally. The two agree that the priors of the average researcher or policymaker are way off base: dozens of studies have found cash transfers and even adoption to high SES families have minimal effects on IQ or income. Given that, why would we expect $333/month to move the needle?
They conclude by considering whether society is better off with leaders who “trust the science” or those who are openly anti-intellectual, given broken incentive structures and political bias within the policy relevant literature.
Click here to listen in podcast form, or watch at the YouTube link below.
Essay Contest Update
On another note, we have begun the process of judging the CSPI Essay Contest.
We received entries covering a wide variety of topics, including energy policy, artificial intelligence, and improving incentives for scientific research.
Winners will be announced by the end of May, and winning essays will be published on our blog throughout the summer.