Studies that receive attention in the media

Recently I have started teaching research design classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels. By research design, I mean basic elements of study design and analysis such as translating concepts into measures and theories into hypotheses, sampling, questionnaire design, and experimental and quasi-experimental designs, causal inference, and so forth. This has been a new experience for me, and I am still struggling to find a way of turning the class from one in which I am talking at the students to one that revolves around projects that crystallize their understanding of the issues we are covering.

I was very lucky to have taken a really outstanding research design class from Herb Smith when I was studying for the PhD at Penn, but I have no hope of replicating it. I’ve been going through all of my old notes and assignments from that class, and I came to the conclusion that if I made the students do that much work, they would rebel. It’s unfortunate because in retrospect that is one of the most important classes I took in graduate school, in the sense of having a long-term impact on the way that I think.

One thing I am doing now in preparation for my next time round with the research design classes is assembling a list of studies, good and bad, that have received attention in the media.  What I am looking for are studies which have received a lot of attention in the media and which in terms of design are examples of specific designs, good and bad, and where the strengths and more commonly limitations are fairly straightforward. Accordingly I am avoiding studies where possible critiques revolve around subtle issues related to sampling or questionnaire design. I may develop another list for that.

As various studies come to my attention, I am going to add links to them here, so I can refer students here when I ask them to select a study and assess it. Of course I welcome suggestions. I am not looking for gold standard studies. Rather, I am looking for studies, good and bad, that have received a lot of attention in the media.

In some cases, I linking to discussions of debates about a study or topic.

Here goes:

  1. Warning labels on antidepressants and teen suicide
  2. Hurricane fatalities according to the gender of the hurricane’s name
  3. Estimating the number of participants in the July 1 march
  4. College educated children and old age mortality Discussion of the findings at Washington Post New York Times Slate
  5. Marijuana legalization and painkiller abuse Articles at CNN Vice
  6. What kinds of posts does the Chinese government censor Discussion of the article in Science
  7. OK Cupid’s controversial experiments on the users of its dating site. An Op-Ed piece from one of the founders.
  8. The strange dispute over whether eating together has positive effects on families, or at least on children.
  9. Outcomes of children raised by gay parents. Another summary of the dispute, and a critique of the study signed by 200 researchers.




Student evaluations for SOSC 1860 and SSMA 5010, Fall 2013


I received student evaluations for the two courses that I taught last fall, SOSC 1860 (Population and Society) and SSMA 5010 (Research Methods).

The former is a general education (Common Core in HKUST parlance) course aimed at freshmen and sophomores, while the latter is a required course in our self-taught Social Science MA program. I enjoyed teaching both courses. The students were bright and highly motivated.

Here are the evaluations for SOSC 1860.

I was initially surprised to read that the students in SOSC 1860 thought I required too much work, but eventually concluded this probably reflects that they have less prior exposure to open-ended written assignments and projects than students I have taught elsewhere. In fact, the course was a simplified version of an upper division course I taught regularly at UCLA that was only ten weeks long (versus thirteen here) yet had even more written assignments and reading. The assignments mostly required them to visit some websites to collect demographic data, and then write about trends and patterns. The final project required them to carry out an analysis at IPUMS. Talking to students here, it seems that they found the relatively open-ended assignments intimidating. The students here are just as smart and motivated as the ones I taught at UCLA, and they actually did a good job on the assignments and their final projects, thus I suspect their reaction may have more to do with lack of familiarity or confidence with open-ended written assignments than with any actual lack of ability. Several students I talked to said this was the first class they had ever taken that made such heavy use of written assignments. I will probably need to adjust the number of assignments next fall.

The evaluations for SSMA 5010 are unremarkable, and about what I expected. Some of the comments reflect that this was a new prep, and I will have to continue revising my course plan and the lecture slides. This is the first time I have taught a research methods course, and it was fun. The students were highly motivated and engaged, making it a relatively pleasant task.


SSMA 5010 Fall 2013 Principles of Social Science Syllabus

SSMA 5010 Principles of Social Science
Fall 2013

Thursday 2pm-5pm
Room 4503 (Lifts 25-26)


Cameron Campbell
Room 2373 (Phone x7776)
Office Hours: Tuesday 9am-10:30am, and by appointment

When you email me, please include ‘SSMA 5010′ in the subject line of your email so that it will be filed properly. Failure to include SSMA 5010 increases the chances that your email will end up in a Spam folder or some other location where I will not see it. Please also also include your name as it appears in the roster and student ID in the subject line so that I can find your emails later. I will not respond to emails that do not identify the sender and provide a student ID.


This is an introduction to methodology in the social sciences.  It is intended to provide a
foundation for an understanding of the major approaches in the social sciences to the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, and the specification and testing of theories.  The course covers the logic of scientific inquiry and various research techniques such as experimentation, scientific sampling, survey research, field methods, archival data, and quantitative analysis that are commonly used by researchers in economics, education, political science, psychology, and sociology.


The grade will be calculated as follows:

  • Mid-term examination – 15%
  • Final examination (cumulative) – 25%
  • Assignments – 20%
  • Attendance – 5%
  • Written group research project – 25%
  • Presentation of group research project – 10%

Each assignment will be graded out of 100, and will be weighted equally. They will be submitted via TurnItIn. Late penalty will be two points per day, up to a maximum of thirty points. Assignments may not be turned in more than 15 days after they are due.

Attendance will be taken via sign-in at every lecture, starting from week 2.

The prompt for the group research project will be provided later. Students will be expected to work in teams of 3. Each team will be required to make a presentation of their project in the last two weeks of class.

Announcements will be posted to the LMES website.

Submit assignments and the final project via TurnItIn. I will provide instructions once the semester starts. You may upload your file at the TurnItIn page, or copy and paste it to a window at the TurnItIn page. Remember to save your work frequently. Software and hardware problems that cause your work to vanish after you have completed it but before you have had a chance to send it are not acceptable as excuses for turning in late work. If TurnItIn is inaccessible, email a copy of your essay to me before the deadline so that I have a record that you completed it on time, then try TurnItIn again later. Please include the title of your essay as the first line of the essay you upload to Turnitin. I will provide details about using TurnItIn later.


The work you submit must be your own. Unattributed use of the work of others is plagiarism, and is not acceptable. If you do feel the need to include text from another source, set it off in quotes and include a proper citation. If you have any questions about how to attribute sources, how to use quotations, etc., ASK! Do not put yourself in jeopardy by submitting an essay that includes material that appears to be plagiarized. Keep in mind that I have complete files of every essay submitted in this class since I began teaching it and electronically compare essays with those submitted in previous years.

The Office of the Provost offers resources to help you avoid plagiarism and copying. Please read all of the materials here:

Here are a variety of additional resources that should help clarify what constitutes plagiarism, and how to avoid it:

If you discuss the assignments with other students, or otherwise work together, be mindful of the boundary between collaboration and academic dishonesty. Again, the work you turn in must be your own, and reflect that you completed the assignment on your own. Assignments that have an unusually high degree of similarity to each other will be turned over to the Dean’s office for investigation.

In general, I prefer you to paraphrase, not quote. By successfully paraphrasing, you demonstrate your understanding of the material. By providing quotations, you just demonstrate that you can type. If your essay has too many quotations, it will be penalized.If you make a claim or assertion that is not clearly based on material from lecture or the reading, and the validity of it is not self-evident, you must provide evidence to back it up, in the form of a citation or a brief argument. If you can’t do that, you at least must clarify that what you are saying represents a personal opinion by prefacing the claim with “I believe that…” or something equivalent.


Babbie, Earl. 2013. The Practice of Social Research, 13th Edition. Wadsworth, Cengage


Week 1

Social Science and Social Research
Ch. 1, 2

Week 2

Theory and Research
Ch. 3, 4

Week 3

Sampling for Data Collection
Ch. 5

Week 4

Ch. 6, 7

Week 5

Questionnaires for Surveys
Ch. 8

Week 6


Week 7

Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs
Policy/Intervention Evaluation
Ch. 9, Ch. 12

Week 8

Analyzing Existing and Secondary Data
Ch. 10

Week 9

Qualitative Field Research
Ch. 11

Week 10

Analyzing Qualitative Data
Ch 13

Week 11

Analyzing Quantitative Data
Ch 15, 16

Weeks 12 and 13
11/21 and 11/28
Group Project Presentations