Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Andrew Gelman on the methodological attribution problem

Andrew Gelman has a post in which he brings up the following insight:

This sort of thing comes up a lot, and in my recent discussion of Efron's article, I list it as my second meta-principle of statistics, the "methodological attribution problem," which is that people think that methods that work in one sort of problem will work in others.

I think that this concern is especially key for scientists who are moving between fields. The ideas and techniques in my field have been honed to a fine edge dealing the types of biases and design issues that often occur in our problems. I focus a lot on issues like "confounding by indication" and a lot less on other issues that can be very important in other fields. If I moved to another field, say economics, I might easily focus too much on small points (that really are not an issue in economics research) and yet miss the major points in the field. This type of translation issue is not inevitable but it is worth keeping in mind.


  1. This raises an interesting question about the wave of economics researchers addressing every field imaginable.