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Counterintuitive Findings, Revised Version

- November 23, 2008

Matthew Yglesias linked to my post below, and his commenters got me thinking about ways to improve the “analysis.” (I put that it quotes to denote the fact that this is a cheeky blog post, not a “study,” as commenter “JimboSlice” referred to it.)

First, upon revisiting the work of my research assistant, I discovered that he had not in fact searched for the phrase “counterintuitive finding” but for the word “counterintutive” appearing in the article simultaneously with the word “finding.” This isn’t quite the same thing, obviously, so I searched for the phrase “counterintuitive finding” or “counterintuitive result,” allowing either “counterintuitive” or “counter-intuitive.”

I then searched for “intuitive finding” or “intuitive result.” This latter phrase will count as something of a control, accounting for the general increase in the number of journals–a point raised to me by Lee in conversation and by a couple of Yglesias’ commenters.

I also focus on publications through the 1990s, since since the 2000s aren’t over and the JSTOR database isn’t up to date on those articles that have been published in this decade.

Here’s the graph:


This confirms what I suggested below: there is an increase in the propensity of published research to describe its findings as “counterintuitive.” This does not appear to be an artifact of the sheer increase in journals or journal size, or otherwise the phrase “intuitive finding” would manifest a similar increase. Between the 1970s and 1990s, the use of the phrase “intuitive finding” increased by a factor of 4.5. The use of the phrase “counterintuitive finding” increased by a factor of 24.

I will leave it to the reader to judge whether I am still, as Yglesias commenter “Anonymo” put it, “full of warm gaseous vapors.”

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