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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."
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Beer-Drinking Scientist Debunks Productivity Correlation

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  • by blackC0pter (1013737) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:27PM (#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).
  • Not only that (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lakeland (218447) <lakeland@acm.org> on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:39PM (#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.
  • That Explains... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Black-Man (198831) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @10:44PM (#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 Ardeaem (625311) on Sunday March 23, 2008 @11:27PM (#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 MrMunkey (1039894) on Monday March 24, 2008 @01:00AM (#22842182) Homepage
    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.

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