People who hang the title “MIT study” on a student project are likely fake science writers

It seems logical to me that people who friend lots of people on Facebook who own labrador retrievers are likely owners of a lab themselves.

So if the Boston Globe does a story about two MIT students who do a project wherein they analyze who people friend on Facebook and, to directly quote the Boston Globe, “they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay,” that seems rather “truthy” to me.

But it doesn’t sound like a scientific “MIT study” as the headline indicates.

Is this science? Quote: “The two students had no way of checking all of their predictions, but based on their own knowledge outside the Facebook world, their computer program appeared quite accurate for men, they said.” And unlike real science, the Boston Globe story admits, “The work has not been published in a scientific journal, but it provides a provocative warning note about privacy.”

Huh? Why does it provide anything if it hasn’t been published and peer-reviewed? Isn’t the whole publishing and peer-review thing a process that was set up to prevent a student project from turning into “a provocative warning note” that will, no doubt, be picked up by wire-services, blogs and be treated as “fact” within 24 hours. And so, with no real science attached to it, this “study” will likely result in straight kids thinking twice about friending anyone who even friends gay people for fear they’ll be “analyzed” as gay themselves.

Frankly, I feel certain there’s some truthiness in the research. But it’s the kind of truthiness that falls far short of what a science story in the Boston Globe should be.

  • Pingback: Friends of Dave (friendsofdave) 's status on Monday, 21-Sep-09 04:29:26 UTC - Identi.ca()

  • http://RexBlog.com Rex Hammock

    I’m not disagreeing that it sounds right or that there is an interesting point. My blast is the way “sounding right” and “science” are different.

    What Mom didn’t tell their child: You’re judged by the company you keep.

    That’s not rocket science. That’s Mom’s common sense.

  • Jim Smith

    What?

    “The interesting point to the ‘study’ is still important.”

    No, it’s not important at all. Common sense, by itself, does not provide validity to any statement. Verifiable facts and analysis do that.

    What we have here is an observation that has no validity on any level other than it’s made by some students exercising their constitutional right of free speech.

  • http://solyoung.com Sol Young

    The interesting point to the “study” is still important. From one's connections (at least the meaningful ones) one can ascertain preferences not discoverable through the individual. The study itself is just college a homework assignment and the outcome should be common sense.

    The take away for those trying to retain privacy is that they can leave every detail of their online life blank, but having connections to non-blank friends will give them away. It's not rocket science, but it's another privacy element for novices to understand as they join social media.

  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    This is a test post. We're working through some glitches on commenting.

  • http://www.scienceprojects-1.com Lenny Vital

    There’s a website that has large amounts of science project information. The Science Projects Store at http://www.scienceprojects-1.com. This is an interesting educational site for science projects.

  • http://www.scienceprojects-1.com Lenny Vital

    There’s a website that has large amounts of science project information. The Science Projects Store at http://www.scienceprojects-1.com. This is an interesting educational site for science projects.