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The end for Dan Ariely

In the late 2000s Dan Ariely was huge. This was the era of the post-2008 financial crisis when heterodox and behavioral economics came into vogue. I really enjoyed reading Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, and Ariely was all over the media for several years. Eventually, the behavioral economics (“nudge”) fad faded, and I didn’t hear much about Ariely.

Unfortunately, it turns out that he is at the center of possible scientific fraud. I stopped paying deep attention to a lot of the sexier behavioral economics because I thought the reproducibility crisis entailed more skepticism, but there might be other reasons.

6 thoughts on “The end for Dan Ariely

  1. An awful thought popped into my mind. This is one reason authors don’t share data (because doing so would make it possible to show it was fabricated).

  2. I also have Ariely in my bookcase. Read the linked text. This looks really, really bad.

    Incidentally, I just listened to Joseph Henrich’s book (the WEIRD one) on Audible. Apart from the replication crisis doubts one might hold about the experimental studies he reports, I was especially doubtful about some of the correlation studies, which can easily be tweaked, depending on which variables you include and which you don’t, and the choice of units you measure. Some of the results seemed a bit too convenient for the real multifactorial messy world.
    The basic thesis is of course plausible (and already widely held), but I doubt some of the details.

  3. > Read the linked text. This looks really, really bad.

    It does. Once the data (an Excel file) was published and the datacolata bloggers looked with a skeptical eye, they identified the first instance of fraud. Uncovering the others followed.

    It’s notable that the bloggers gave the authors of the 2012 PNAS paper the opportunity to respond. Four did, including Dan Ariely; his one-page PDF is linked at the foot of the post. It wasn’t me is his Shaggy-like claim, leaving only some unnamed person at the unnamed insurance company as the culprit.

    Which brings up an aspect of journalistic ethics (here, ‘scientific’ ethics). Once given, a pledge of anonymity to a source is considered sacrosanct. But what about when the source turns out to have lied and intentionally misled, as Ariely claims here?

    As we have seen in the runup to the Iraq War, Russiagate, and many other instances, fraud doesn’t appear to alter the mainstream’s perception of the ethical issues. For these cases, the burden of proof should flip. How does a claim like “But he or she told me what I wanted to hear” rebut the presumption that lying invalidates the original contract, requiring unmasking?

  4. The blog post is absolutely fascinating. I’ve fallen into a career track where I’ve become somewhat of an expert on creating fake accounting data for training and testing purposes and had to learn from experience the importance of making it match the distribution of real life data. That’s why one of the things about fraud is how amateurish it always winds up being; whoever doctored the data could have gotten away with it easily by transforming the continuous distribution to a bell curve type one, not scrambling the ‘twinned’ data points, and even by checking fonts (although maybe fraud is even more common and we only catch the bush league efforts.

  5. It’s a damn shame what’s happened to the pursuit of truth now that we’ve decided that the truth is sometimes, even often, unpalatable.
    It was social science, not hard science, but Michael Bellisles’ Arming America was an eye-opener for me. The credulous reaction to his claim that he had lost his source material was even more so.
    It’s sad, but I don’t believe anything at all that perfectly fits the agenda of the left any more. Anthropogenic Global Warming, the benefits of globalism, nothing.

  6. @AMac: Thanks for pointing me to the authors’ statements. Ariely’s claim should be easy to check.

    @JMcG: Globalism is the agenda of the left?
    Globalism began as a libertarian/neoliberal cause, an attempt by global capital to undo the progress achieved in progressive social democrat countries in worker’s rights/pay, and was massively propagandized by right-leaning economists and the think tanks financed by the rich. Both right and left elites were converted to a globalist agenda by propaganda, peer pressure, blackmail (your economy will crash if you don’t do what we tell you to), bribery (40 000 dollars for politicians giving a talk to some bankers) and the marginalization of politicians that were against this charade.

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