Thursday, November 5, 2015

The worst post-hoc reasoning you will read today: Mythbusters increased the number of students in STEM

From the august pages of the New York Times, an op-ed in support of an admittedly great show, Mythbusters, and some really bad reasoning:
...When the show started, the image of science and engineering in mainstream culture was at a low ebb. [snip] 
...Academic interest in science was in similar decline: Barely 20 percent of college freshmen were signing up for majors in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM fields — continuing a long downward trend. 
“MythBusters” helped reverse that trend not by gussying science up, but by taking it seriously. “... 
...Best of all, a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the number of college freshmen enrolling in STEM majors has climbed nearly 50 percent since 2005. If a few more kids today want to grow up to be Elon Musk or settle on Mars or cure cancer, we have Jamie and Adam partly to thank....
 From the Inside Higher Ed article by Scott Jaschik that the op-ed links to (emphasis mine):
Using data collected by UCLA, Jacobs and Sax write that from 1997 through 2005, the proportion of freshmen planning to enroll in STEM fields declined, hitting a low in 2005 of 20.7 percent. After modest gains in 2006 and 2007, real increases started to show up in 2008. The percentage of freshmen planning to major in STEM increased from 21.1 percent in 2007 to 28.2 percent in 2011, just as the recession was prompting many students and families to focus on the job potential of various fields of study. That represents a 48 percent increase in just a few years.
What was happening in 2008? Could it be the Great Recession? Gee, I dunno.... 


  1. "Big Bang Theory" started in Sept 2007.

    Just sayin'

    1. I knew it - Big Bang Theory crashed the economy.

  2. Look at all of the students (and academic programs) going into "forensics", in part due, no doubt, to the popularity of the CSI franchise on TV. I heard somewhere "CSI:Muncie" almost made it on the air, but the producers ran out of songs by "The Who". All sexier retreads of Quincy, M.E. Anyway, not sure if the market has found homes for all those erstwhile students that try to solve every problem in the allocated 44 minutes.

    1. I've heard it's tougher to get a jury to convict a defendant now because these shows have created an unrealistic expectation of what forensic science can do.

    2. Peter B: The best. Post. Ever. I'd though going into science would allow me to get a boat, accompanied by some model blond that I could, er, examine carefully with champagne (the end of the preamble for Quincy), but I guess that only happens to high status doctors.

      Where I taught Org last summer has a large program that yields a degree in forensic chemistry, which pumps out a lot of graduates. I'm sure the school has made no consideration about if there are any jobs available for these students; its all about filling seats and getting tuition. It used to be higher education was coupled to the availability of jobs, but not any more. If a school can fill seats (now with more international students) even if the students cannot get jobs, it will.

    3. We have a lot of Forensics major, I don't know where they all end up, maybe sample analysis (read pee) jobs?

      Assuming that it was Mythbusters is definitely post-hoc, although to be fair, so is assigning blame to the crash (without looking at the data)...
      However I think I know which one I would back...

    4. I think there may be a bigger turnover in forensics these days. Outsourcing by states and bad accreditation practices led to unchecked misconduct by a few chemists. As a result of investigations entire labs have closed.

      I can't imagine it is easy to find another job in forensics after a layoff like that. In the eyes of the jury just an association with a failed lab must taint the chemist's testimony. It wouldn't matter how solid was the actual performance of the chemist in that job. Defense lawyers would have a feast day in court getting the chemist's evidence thrown out.

      It is probably easier to hire a less experienced chemist with no job history.

  3. Aaahhhh, here it is :)

  4. I wonder when did Bill Gates and other Tech CEOs start proclaiming there was a big STEM shortage that would get worse? I guess such harping on that theme likely was before 2008 yet may have hit a critical message mass that was picked up by press and politicians to make high-schoolers believe such fields had greater career promise.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20