How to research stuff

I like to figure out how things work, so I can figure out how to make things better.1 Because I don’t have any expensive lab equipment nor any slaves grad students, this basically means that I look at research others have done, try to separate good research from bad, evaluate hypotheses from many different angles, and draw my own conclusions.

I usually write up my findings as internet articles, such as A crash course in the neuroscience of human motivation, Ancient Indian philosophy, and Was Nate Silver the most accurate 2012 election pundit? Occasionally I write up my findings as journal articles, such as Exploratory engineering in AI.

Over time I expect I’ll write lots of tutorials on how I do this kind of thing, and I’ll collect those tutorials here.

General

GSS tutorials

The General Social Survey (GSS) is a huge collection of data on the demographics and attitudes of non-institutional adults (18+) living in the US.2 It’s really handy for quickly checking claims about the attitudes of Americans.

  1. In jargon: I like to do effective altruism cause prioritization research. []
  2. “Non-institutional” means: not in the military, not in jail or prison, and not in a nursing home. Another limitation of the data is that only English-speakers were interviewed until 2006, when Spanish-speakers were added to the target population. For further details on the data collection, see the GSS Codebook. []