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A silly paper that tries to make fun of multilevel models

Torkild Hovde Lyngstad writes:

I wondered what your reaction would be to this paper from a recent issue of European Political Science.

It came out already in March this year, so you might have seen it or even commented on it before. Is is a joke at the expense of the whole polisci discipline, a joke the Editors did not catch, or the sequel to the Sokal affair, just with quanto social science as the target?

My reply: Yes, several people pointed me to this article. I don’t think it’s a hoax, it’s more of a joke: the author is making the point that with fancy statistics you can discover all sorts of patterns that don’t make sense. The implication, I believe, is that many patterns that social scientists do find through statistical analysis are not actually meaningful.

I agree with this point, which could be even more pithily stated as “correlation does not imply causation.” I am irritated, however, by the singling out of multilevel models here, as the point could be made just as well using a simple correlation.

As my French friend said to me many years ago when I asked her what she thought of the Pink Panther movies, it’s not that I mind that this article makes fun of multilevel models, I just don’t find it funny. I think my zombies paper is much funnier. Then again, I didn’t try to publish that one in a real journal, hence I was able to get to the point right away.


  1. There’s some brief discussion over at

    Who is this Uchen Bezimeni? It must be another pseudonym. And the affiliation, “World Academy for Government Progress” is also fictitious, it would seem. Well played Bezimeni!

    Ok, Bezimini means “nameless” or “unnamed” in serbo-croat. Uchen probably means man or something. Anybody actually this language? Anyway, I guess it’s a pseudonym, but maybe I’m the only one who cares.

    Uchen Bezimeni=unnamed scholar

  2. zbicyclist says:

    Tim Harford discusses a paper making a similar point.
    Warming: even though this is the Financial Times, not quite safe for work.