Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Happiness Research

I was writing to a friend of mine and debating the relevancy about “happiness research.” Bryan Caplan has touched on happiness research many times (here, here, and here).

Caplan states:

Arnold could point out a lot of flaws in this literature, but F&L (Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein) have beaten him to the punch. They inventory a long list of inadequacies in existing research. But they diverge from Arnold in taking a constructive attitude toward happiness - separating the wheat from the chaff, noting areas with mixed results, and pointing out better approaches.

The bottom line is that I'm glad that smart, careful scholars like F&L are hard at work on this topic because I want the answers. Happiness is much too important to be left to the mush-heads in the New Age/Self-Help section.

And I think what really ends up happening when people want to dispute research that they simply don’t like or can’t agree with immediately off the hip is described well enough by Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post:

Much information is in some way incomplete or imperfect. The proper response to evidence that you dislike or dispute is to supplement or discredit it with better evidence. The wrong response is to suppress it. And yet, that's the agenda of these college presidents. By not cooperating with the U.S. News survey, they hope to sabotage the rankings. They say they'll provide superior information. But they want to control what parents and students see. This is soft censorship.

And to completely refute happiness research as my friend does is soft censorship as well. Papers published in scholarly journals refute misinformation well enough as opposed to unsupported frank disagreements.

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