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.