Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Dear Social Scientist

You do important research. You connect the dots for the rest of us. But if you want the rest of us to marvel at your findings, please explain your research in a way that the average journalist or armchair pundit can understand. Otherwise, your work will fall into the black hole of good intentions, never to be seen again.

Case in point: The Federal Reserve Board's new update of household wealth. Important stuff. But the written analysis is so complex that the findings were virtually ignored by the media. Journalists could not make sense of it. The supplemental tables contained calculations that could not be replicated using the numbers shown, causing the average armchair pundit to throw up his hands in disgust. (See my analysis of the wealth update herehere, and here.)

Another example: A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research on the effect of health crises on household wealth. That sounds interesting, and it is timely. But the analysis is written for statistics geeks, making the findings (yes, health crises do affect wealth, even across generations)  inaccessible to journalists who might have reported on the results.

Please summarize your findings. Write in plain English. Make the results notable and quotable. In doing so, your social science research may escape the black hole and become a shining star, helping us navigate into the future.

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