Outline of the style of social science research that Vipul Naik advocates

Summary

This page intends to describe the style of social science research that Vipul Naik advocates, in the most matter of fact way possible – I don’t intend to describe my own thoughts of it because they are complicated and still not well-formed. I try to convey both the theory/intuition for why the approach might make sense as well as what actually happens in practice (if it differs from the theory).

The general thrust of the approach, as I understand it, is as follows:

Background

As of December 2016, I have been working with Vipul regularly since April 2016.

Caveats

Some caveats to note about this page:

Output levels

See Vipul’s “Debugging My Apparent 2016 Stagnation” § Significant shift to producing longer and much more thoroughly researched content.

The paper trail

Although this is not a requirement, in general the “paper trail” part of the research comes in several standard forms:

There seems to be a psychological aspect to the paper trail beyond providing value to others: it’s motivating to see that one’s writing is getting pageviews, that there is some progress being made on difficult questions, that one’s time has not been a complete waste, and so forth.

The paper trail can have other benefits that are not as important:

Projects that use or have used this approach

To my knowledge and recollection, two projects use this approach:

Changes in major output

In April 2017, Vipul published “Why I stopped quarterly reviews, and what replaces them” on his blog. In the post he describes how his thinking on the “major articles” part of the research process has changed:

My goal with both these kinds of posts is to, essentially, write them only once the ideas are all in my head and reasonably clear, so that it’s just a straight exercise of transcribing from my head to the computer. Given that I have no particular pressure to “publish”, I believe it does not make much sense to artificially try to put in custom, “hacky” effort to push out posts of either of the above kinds in a way that interrupts the flow of the larger projects I am working on.

To give an idea of what I used to do, and am now choosing against: there is this strategy where I would decide to work hard on pushing out a wrapper post about a topic I’ve been learning about, even if I didn’t feel like I was fully ready to write it, or knew all the relevant facts. Examples of the kinds of topics I am talking about: understanding trends in Wikipedia pageviews, or understanding the history of immigration enforcement in the United States since 1986. My past strategy was: I would just draft it, pull in a fact from here and a fact from here, revisit, redraft, rewrite, and soon get something that looked okay. And there was a time, early on, when I found that this kind of effort helped me focus and collate information that I would not otherwise have interest in systematically grasping. And I still respect this approach.

However, my current belief is that in this sort of situation, it’s better to just keep collating background information in accessible formats. such as continued work on the Wikipedia Views website, to make it easier and easier to look up Wikipedia view trends, or work on timeline of immigration enforcement in the United States. And then to start working on the wrapper post only when I feel I have enough to say that I can just sit down and say it.

Ways in which this approach differs from other approaches

See also