Two students of the University of Warwick make headlines in Germany.
“Fanning the Flames of Hate” is the title of a self-acclaimed scientific paper published on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). Usually SSRN is a portal known to scientists and a few journalists. The bulk of papers on SSRN fade into oblivion never to be seen or discussed again unless they find their way into a scientific journal.
The paper, published by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, two students, one a Phd candidate, one a Phd student of the University of Warwick, is different. It is being distributed within German networks that make their living from the fight against so-called hate crimes. Within these networks the gist of Müller and Schwarz’s paper is eagerly consumed. Among those in raptures about the paper are the Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung, a German Quango on payroll of the German Ministry for Family, the Elderly, Women and Juveniles. The Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung is headed by a former unofficial informer of the Stasi, the agency of the German Democratic Republic responsible for spying on its own citizens, relying mainly on unofficial informers to do so. The Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung is also the provider of data used by Müller and Schwarz, data, well known even to German media for fabrication and unreliability.
What may entice two students of the economics with close to no expertise in explaining human behaviour, two students devoid of insights into more than one century of theoretical work in the social sciences to use unreliable data, provided by a Quango and to publish a paper that does not even meet rudimentary standards of scientific rigour as a detailed critique elsewhere on the German Science portal “sciencefiles.org” shows?
Maybe this is a desperate attempt to further their careers by jumping the bandwagon of politically correct pseudo science. Or they made themselves a paid or willing accomplice to a German Quango, whose funding has become rather doubtful, now that the party “AfD”, the Alternative for Deutschland, is elected to the Bundestag.
Both alternatives are inacceptable to scientists.
Müller and Schwarz claim to have shown that comments on the Facebook-site of the AfD cause local hate crimes. This is a whopper of a result. There is no way to find a theoretical link between one man making a comment on Facebook and another smudging a wall of a refugee asylum with Nazi-Insignia. As is well known to scientists, you can correlate almost any nonsense and get a sizable association. Tyler Vigen has developed a certain virtuosity in producing “spurious correlations”. Just as dubious is the correlation between comments on refugees on Nutella’s Facebook site and local hate crimes which the authors found as well in their strange data. Beware of Nutella-Eaters, they come and get you! This result, while it shows the sub-standard junk science Müller and Schwarz produced, is not mentioned by the authors in their “results” section. One has not to ask the question why.
Two Phd students from the University of Warwick pose as “researchers from the University of Warwick” in German media. They use data that are widely known for its unreliability. They provide results that can be used by the originator of these unreliable data, the Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung, to agitate against a party (the AfD) that has 94 seats in the democratically elected German Bundestag, a party that threatens the very existence of the Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung by questioning their funding from taxpayers’ money.
It is even more surprising that a scientific institution like the University of Warwick is an onlooker in this junk science circus, obviously waiting for the show to end. End it will, however, the damage done to the reputation of the University of Warwick in Germany and elsewhere will certainly be considerable.
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