Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science Entertainment

Beer-Drinking Scientist Debunks Productivity Correlation 130

Posted by kdawson
from the sipping-a-magnificent-pacific-northwest-microbrew-porter dept.
austinpoet writes in with a blog post debunking the theory we discussed a few days back that scientists' beer consumption is linearly correlated with the quality of their work. Chris Mack, Gentleman Scientist and beer drinker, has analyzed the paper and found it is severely flawed. From his analysis: "The discovered linear relationship between beer consumption and scientific output had a correlation coefficient (R-squared) of only about 0.5 — not very high by my standards, though I suspect many biologists would be happy to get one that high in their work... Thus, the entire study came down to only one conclusion: the five worst ornithologists in the Czech Republic drank a lot of beer."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Beer-Drinking Scientist Debunks Productivity Correlation

Comments Filter:
  • Simply put (Score:5, Funny)

    by schnikies79 (788746) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:03PM (#22841202)
    beer > coffee/caffeine
  • C'mon, I thought the (ancedotal) evidence proving(?) that beer is and isn't good for productivity is adequete! It should say that beer, in certain levels, is good for productivity, and in excess ... it is bad. Really, people write papers to prove this?
    • by Tranzistors (1180307) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:27PM (#22841344)
      When bored, hackers write viruses, scientists - papers.

      Disclaimer, I am non of the above.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Hm, I'd bet you're bored; that's probably why you're on Slashdot.
      • When bored, hackers write viruses, scientists - papers.

        You can be sure this is true by the comments posted to the blog, many of which run, "Hey, instead of trashing the Czech paper, you should conduct your own study and publish counter-results."

        For the record, IAAS. (and I drink beer)
      • I'll drink to that!
    • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:27PM (#22841346) Journal
      I think what you refer to is known as the "Ballmer Peak" shown on this graph:

      Here [xkcd.com]
    • by nbert (785663)
      To add another point against such studies: They don't investigate cause and effect, they simply say that scientists consuming beer will produce worse/better results. Let's assume I love beer (right) but I don't drink any because I fear the consequences of alcohol consumption (wrong). Of course people can argue that my consumption will have an impact on the work I do*. But my opinion about alcohol consumption also says something about my personality - I love to do things which are not in my best interest and
    • Not only that (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lakeland (218447) <lakeland@acm.org> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:39PM (#22841438) Homepage
      They've looked for a linear correlation, so if what you've said is true then the analysis they used wouldn't find it.

      In order to find a correlation where the input IV (beer consumption) has an optimal value, you would have to do the regression on a transformation of the variable. Perhaps a quadratic would suffice, or else abs(X - k) for some unknown value of k.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hao3 (1182447)
        couldn't you just take a differential of the linear regression and optimise that?
        • How can you optimize a constant? This is news
        • by lakeland (218447)
          Interesting idea, they're very different branches of mathematics so I'm having trouble working out how to combine them.

          The idea in regression is to transform the IVs such that there is a linear relationship between them and the DVs. The transformations people make of IVs to make the relationship simple are a bit of a black art. Most people just get by with log since it solves any polynomial. It's easy enough to just keeping adding higher order polynomials until regression predicts a coefficient of 0 to t
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by l0cust (992700)
          I am pretty sure we will need one full crate of lager before most of us can make out wtf you two guys are talking about.
      • by irc.goatse.cx troll (593289) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:29PM (#22842052) Journal

        In order to find a correlation where the input IV (beer consumption)


        If you consume beer through an IV I think you're a different type of drinker.
        • by popmaker (570147)
          You mean the kind of drinker that has taken the "beer-bong-on-helmet" a little too far?
    • by AB3A (192265)
      Yes, they do. [wikipedia.org]

      A bored scientist is no better than any other bored professional. You don't want to see what happens next...
    • "Really, people write papers to prove this?"

      A good question, it seems like wagon train cooks knew for years that
      ringing the dinner 'bell' would bring the cowboys in from the trail,
      and they would be salivating. It was not worth mentioning in a paper.

      But Pavlov documents this behavior in dogs, and people think he was
      great or something.

      Such stuff is dubious at best.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think it's safe to say that the paper they are "debunking" was meant as a joke.
  • by omarmarosh (1261102) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:09PM (#22841246) Journal
    Scientists Claim there is a direct correlation b/w pot smokers and an amazing talent to link string theory with life on mars
  • Maybe (Score:2, Funny)

    by iminplaya (723125)
    It's more about the quality of their beer. Not that I have anything against Pilsen. I think they make a perfectly fine beer over there.
  • by blackC0pter (1013737) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:27PM (#22841352)
    So beer may or may not hinder a scientist's creative abilities. On the flip side, will scientists ever start taking drugs in order to improve their skills? Would this ever lead to drug testing researchers that announce amazing new scientific breakthroughs? (sort of far fetched but an interesting idea nonetheless).
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:32PM (#22841400)
      Would this ever lead to drug testing researchers that announce amazing new scientific breakthroughs? (sort of far fetched but an interesting idea nonetheless).

      Sure it would. I can see it now:

      "I just got the results of your drug test ... apparently you've not been taking your drugs. They're a job requirement you know. I understand that the enhancer pills give you migraines, but we promised BigMegaCorp that breakthrough they've been wanting, and you do like your job, don't you?"
    • On the flip side, will scientists ever start taking drugs in order to improve their skills?
      They've been doing it since the dawn of human civilization. Coffee, Cigarettes, and Alcohol are all imbibed by white-collar workers chiefly for the effect they have on the psyche.
      • by SL Baur (19540)

        Coffee, Cigarettes, and Alcohol are all imbibed by white-collar workers chiefly for the effect they have on the psyche.
        Heh. Coffee and cigarettes is the Breakfast of Champions. Beer is for the soul. Or something like that, I think. Oh dang it! I just spilled my beer. Hold onto this while I wipe up my keybbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb
    • I've read before that a nobel price winner formulated his theory utilizing psychedelics.

      Would this ever lead to drug testing researchers that announce amazing new scientific breakthroughs

      No.

      Science is not a "competition", thus using "performance enhancing products" cannot invalidate the result. The result in science is approximation of truth and understanding. If it helps being high to formulate a certain theory, formulate it and eventually create the foundations for others to build further on, it isn't s

      • by hitchhacker (122525) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:56PM (#22842174) Homepage

        I've read before that a nobel price winner formulated his theory utilizing psychedelics.
        I believe you are referring to Kary Mullis [wikipedia.org]. He wrote a book about it titled "Dancing Naked in the Mind Field" [amazon.com]:

        Kary Mullis won the Nobel Prize for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction, a chemical procedure that allows scientists to "see" the structures of the molecules of genes. Mullis is no shy, socially inept bench chemist, though; on the contrary, he has led as big and full a life as possible, opening himself to experiences like hallucinogenic drugs, surfing, casually handling dangerous chemicals, and taking shots at the sacred cows of science.

        Also, the famous mathematician Paul Erdos [wikipedia.org] used amphetamines for this purpose:

        His colleague Alfréd Rényi said, "a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems", and Erdos drank copious quantities. (This quotation is often attributed incorrectly to Erdos.) After 1971 he also took amphetamines, despite the concern of his friends, one of whom (Ron Graham) bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month. Erdos won the bet, but complained during his abstinence that mathematics had been set back by a month: "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper." After he won the bet, he promptly resumed his amphetamine habit.

        -metric
        • Since we're on the subject, I bet "casually handling dangerous chemicals" isn't correlated with "[leading] as big and full a life as possible".
        • francis crick, nobel prize winner of DNA double helix fame, reportedly took daily doses of LSD (although below the threshold for true tripping, although i believe he did that as well).
    • by glwtta (532858)
      Would this ever lead to drug testing researchers that announce amazing new scientific breakthroughs?

      To what end, exactly? If it's positive, everyone just agrees to forget the results of their research?
    • talk to every engineer in the 70s who made modern computing what it is today
    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      As a scientist, I have wondered myself why this doesn't seem to happen very often, and I think I found an explanation: the salary of a scientist is mostly not sufficient to ensure a frequent intake of stimulating drugs. Nor for a visit to a good detox/rehab clinic.

      Try bankers instead. I live close to Switzerland and it has quite the name of being a drugs paradise. I would also like to know what the people where taking that thought trading "subprimes" was a good idea, that certainly wasn't beer but must h

  • Sketch... (Score:5, Funny)

    by amccaf1 (813772) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:29PM (#22841362)

    [...] the five worst ornithologists in the Czech Republic drank a lot of beer [...]


    This has to be a lost Monty Python sketch, right?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:31PM (#22841396)
    More research is needed.
  • Few... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Josh Booth (588074) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <0002htoobhsoj>> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:37PM (#22841426)
    So it's safe to drink beer again. And to think I was actually going to cut down!
    • 'X' = an unknown quantity ... and we all know what 'P' is. (Relates to drinking lots of beer!)

      Of course, I should point out that "slash" in Australia is slang for 'P', so what does slashdot mean in that context?
      • by Dunbal (464142)
        Actually "P" comes from ethanol's ability to inhibit ADH.

              Sorry, just a biologist's perspective.
      • by kramulous (977841) *
        The dot is the cork bobbing in the toilet because, being a drunk bastard, have yet to learn aim.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/161/3/228 [oxfordjournals.org] "... moderate levels of alcohol intake may be associated with improved cognitive function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia."

    Social drinking leads to better job performance and career success. http://www.ithaca.edu/ithacan/articles/0610/05/opinion/2drinking_.htm [ithaca.edu]

    Excess alcohol consumption, on the other hand, is almost always a bad thing. There are some studies that show the benefit of moderate consumption but there is no studies
  • The comic xkcd was there first and called this effect the Ballmer Peak [xkcd.com]. Most likely, this effect was also tried in Vista and Vista SP1 design meetings, but the balance was all wrong and didn't come out as (they) expected.
    • Microsoft used all their money to buy some fine blow, unfortunately the effect is mitigated with cocaine.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:07PM (#22841662)
      The comic xkcd was there first and called this effect the Ballmer Peak.

      "Ballmer peak" is, FYI, a joke [wikipedia.org] that's going over the heads of all you science-illiterate server monkeys.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MrMunkey (1039894)
        I used to work with someone who was on the team that worked on Visual Fox Pro back in the early days. She said that the company did provide alcohol from time to time (I think it was Fridays, but I could be remembering wrong). I'm not saying that xkcd wasn't a joke, I just wanted to point out that there might be a grain of truth to it.
      • by genooma (856335)
        yea, everyone who doesn't have the same interests as me is an idiot.
      • by Hillgiant (916436)
        It's not the Ballmer Peek that worries me, it's the Ballmer Poke.
        • by Zebra_X (13249)
          And of course, the Ballmer *Chair* - that one will really get ya' if you aren't careful!
      • by BlueHands (142945)
        and that is just one of the reasons xkcd rocks. Not only does it have solid computer geek jokes but often there is a second layer for science/math/whatever kind of nerds.

        Oh, and thanks for the clue about the second joke. Sometimes I wish there was a little guide that went along with the comics whenever there is something like that. Explaining a joke never makes it funny but since the second joke was already missed, it can make learning fun!
  • I know scientists who devote their entire lives to their work, never go out, never have a good time, have no children (or never see them), etc. etc.

      Are they *better* scientists? I don't think so.

      Are they *more productive* scientists? Not in every case, but on average, yeah, I'd say they are. There are situations where spending all your time on work and neglecting other aspects of your life is a self-defeating proposition, especially in creative work (which generally includes science, although what scientists actually *do* varies a lot from one scientist to another.)

      But burn-out aside, if you're willing to sacrifice other aspects of your life, you can get more science done. Pretending that this is not, generally speaking, true, because you want to pretend that it doesn't cost you anything to have a life, is not productive.

      That said, the article-author is right about the statistics. Bad Czechs!
  • That Explains... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Black-Man (198831) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @09:44PM (#22841484)
    I had a friend who always cracked open a cold one when he sat down to work (while at home, of course). I could never understand it - but he worked like a maniac. And he did it for years... until he failed a drug test and was fired. He was a manager for a large pharmaceutical manufacturer. Go figure...
  • by Peter Cooper (660482) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:02PM (#22841618) Homepage Journal
    If you were one of the five worst scientists in a field in the Czech Republic, you'd probably turn to drink, right?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Our next speaker is Dr. Ivan Crow, well known as one of the five worst ornithologists in the Czech Republic, author of Using Airguns Correctly and The Prague Beer Guide. He will be talking to us about "Birds and why they suck".
    • by aralin (107264)
      Contributing to it could be that Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita of all countries in the world.
  • not just beer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FudRucker (866063) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:04PM (#22841644)
    it depends on the kind of drinker you are, do you drink moderately and only open that first alcoholic beverage later in the evening (after supper)? you know anybody that pops the top off any alcoholic beverage too early in the day and drinks excessively until they are slobbering & stumbling recklessly wont be a good anything (especially a scientist)...

    i drink a mixed drink every evening after supper daily and only one, using a shotglass to measure the amount, i do enjoy a mild buzz but i hate being drunk and i dislike drunks since they can cause lots of problems (loss of careers/jobs, wrecked marriages, even cause fatal traffic accidents on the road)...

    moderation is the key...
    • by jotok (728554)
      I drink at work.

      My boss buys us racks of beer and anytime after 3 in the afternoon if you enter our office you will see us with beers out, brainstorming, etc. You will also be offered a beer.

      We get some of our best work done this way.
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:08PM (#22841674)
    They gave him the bird!
  • Seems to me that the authors of this study were heavy beer drinkers.
  • If we're going with anecdotal evidence here, Einstein was a renowned pipe smoker, so ... smoking must be the new wonder-drug for intellectuals. Maybe soon we'll see nicotene tests on college campuses just like we see steroid tests in MLB.
  • by Ardeaem (625311) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:27PM (#22841776)
    The "debunker" has confused two related statistical concepts: correlation, measured by r, and proportion of variance accounted for, measured by R^2. if the R^2 is truly .5, that would be fantastically high; it would mean that 50% of the variance in the "quality of work" measure is explained by beer drinking. Think about that for a minute. To determine how low or high an R^2 measure is, you have to look at what is being modeled, in this case R^2=.5 is very high.

    If, on the other hand, he means the correlation coefficient r=.5, that means that R^2=.25. Still, a quarter of the variance in "work quality" is explained by beer drinking. That is still very high.

    His point about outlying ornithologists and the points not being independent may still be valid; determining if they are is an empirical matter. Do these outlying scientists, in fact, socialize together? What other sources of nonindependence might there be, and do they affect THIS data set? Also should we really claim that 5 out of 34 (15% of the sample!) constitute OUTLIERS? Those aren't outliers, those are a subpopulation.

    He didn't debunk the study; he rather raised some interesting questions.

    • by hyades1 (1149581)

      There are times when real science transcends mere mathematics. So kindly quit making sense, shut up, and drink this (if I were nearby, a beer would be in your immediate future).

      Cheers!

    • by dookiesan (600840)
      Who cares about a covariance estimate? Maybe all of the variance is in those 5 samples. Cross validate and see how well you can predict academic performance with and without beer drinking as a predictor.
    • Also should we really claim that 5 out of 34 (15% of the sample!) constitute OUTLIERS? Those aren't outliers, those are a subpopulation.

      Removing those 5 points drops the correlation down to -0.35. The pearson correlation assumes that both data points are normally distributed-- the citation data are, the drinking data are not. Both the 5 heavy drinkers and the 4 light drinkers move the data away from a normal distribution, which makes any interpretation of pearson correlation rather sketchy. With that said, even the ranked order tests perform moderately well (-0.42 for kendals, -0.57 for spearman).

      Here are the stripped data from the imag

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by glwtta (532858)
      Wait a minute, this "study" was done on 34 people? And the method for choosing them was "that guy's buddies"?

      And we are actually spending time talking about it?
    • by jamesh (87723)

      The "debunker" has confused two related statistical concepts

      I wouldn't pay him any attention anyway, he's a self confessed beer drinker and so by definition doesn't know what he's talking about.
  • R^2 = 0.5 Ain't Bad (Score:5, Informative)

    by DynaSoar (714234) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:32PM (#22841806) Journal
    R-squared is the amount of variance accounted for by the variable in question. That means half their productivity is explained by beer drinking, and half on all other variables combined.

    As a comparison, 0.3 is pretty much the top end R-squared in personality psychology. that field is built on correlations that account for no more than 10% of the observed variance.

    To combine the two, it's far more likely that TFA didn't actually measure beer drinking, but rather how much beer those scientists who drank beer would admit to drinking. Those who'll drink it are probably more likely to relax, which will make them more productive, and those who will admit it are less likely to fall prey to negative opinions of others, a major source of which is reviewers' comments on papers submitted for publication. Such comments are often undeservedly harsh, and in many cases coming from someone who doesn't know as much as the author about the topic. That can turn away those who place great store in the opinions of others, especially perceived authorities.

    Next, on to Russia and WOTKA!
    • I'd like their prefer some t/F ratio effects test (together with alpha and beta).
    • by symes (835608) on Monday March 24, 2008 @04:38AM (#22843198) Journal
      Indeed - but with such a small sample size the researchers would not have been able to adjust for exposure, or age in this case. My guess is that beer consumption declines with age and science is generally cumulative (the longer you do science the more papers you produce and therefore the higher the probability of writing something of interest). In other words, age could easily explain this beer/science relationship - younger scientists drink more - as could a whole host of other variables.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cvd6262 (180823)
      That means half their productivity is explained by beer drinking, and half on all other variables combined.

      I agree with the first part, but not with the second. R^2 of .5 is quite good in social/behavioral sciences*, but it does not mean that "all other variables" only account for half the variance in performance because other variables could "share" the variance associated with beer drinking.

      For example, sociability might be highly correlated with beer drinking and performance. There is likely to be a lot
      • I don't think I've ever enjoyed dissenting comments as much as this. I'm not disagreeing them them, only expanding on them and explaining why I formed my opinion.

        Symes sez:

        > but with such a small sample size the researchers would not have been able to adjust for
        > exposure, or age in this case....
        > age could easily explain this beer/science relationship - younger scientists drink more - as could a whole host of other variables.

        A small N should have the same effect on all the variables. Without seein
  • Excellent article. My faith in the scientific community is restored.
  • That the 5 worst scientist drink a lot, I would drink a lot too if I was that kind of failure.
  • It's a recursive debunking. Debunking the paper that beer improves productivity while drinking beer itself debunks his own debunking thus nullifying his analysis. This of course leaves us with a quandary that can only be solved by drinking more beer.

System going down in 5 minutes.

Working...