The nonsense math effect

An abstract just crossed my desk that I'd love to share.  Briefly, adding meaningless math to your academic paper inordinately impresses humanities PhDs.  The author does not say whether this also works in pickup lines, so there's room for follow-on research.

The nonsense math effect

--- Kimmo Eriksson

Mathematics is a fundamental tool of research. Although potentially applicable
in every discipline, the amount of training in mathematics that students
typically receive varies greatly between different disciplines.  In those
disciplines where most researchers do not master mathematics, the use of
mathematics may be held in too much awe.  To demonstrate this I conducted an
online experiment with 200 participants, all of which had experience of reading
research reports and a postgraduate degree (in any subject). Participants were
presented with the abstracts from two published papers (one in evolutionary
anthropology and one in sociology). Based on these abstracts, participants were
asked to judge the quality of the research. Either one or the other of the two
abstracts was manipulated through the inclusion of an extra sentence taken from
a completely unrelated paper and presenting an equation that made no sense in
the context.  The abstract that included the meaningless mathematics tended to
be judged of higher quality.  However, this "nonsense math effect" was not
found among participants with degrees in mathematics, science, technology or


Author: ctwardy

Charles Twardy started the SARBayes project at Monash University in 2000. Work at Monash included SORAL, the Australian Lost Person Behavior Study, AGM-SAR, and Probability Mapper. At George Mason University, he added the MapScore project and related work. More generally, he works on evidence and inference with a special interest in causal models, Bayesian networks, and Bayesian search theory, especially the analysis and prediction of lost person behavior. From 2011-2015, Charles led the DAGGRE & SciCast combinatorial prediction market projects at George Mason University, and has recently joined NTVI Federal as a data scientist supporting the Defense Suicide Prevention Office. Charles received a Dual Ph.D. in History & Philosophy of Science and Cognitive Science from Indiana University, followed by a postdoc in machine learning at Monash.

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