Research by Dr Eike Rinke discussed by leading economist on EconTalk podcast

The research project was discussed by leading economist Dr Brian Klaas (UCL) in a recent episode of the high-profile EconTalk podcast.

In the episode, “If Life is Random, Is it Meaningless?”, Dr Klaas talks about his new book Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters (2024). He argues that recognising the randomness of everyday life and history can lead to a newfound appreciation for the meaning of every decision, and to a focus on joyful experimentation instead of relentless optimisation. 

The podcast host, Russ Roberts, asks Dr Klaas about a study that was published in the prestigious journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America (PNAS). This study, ‘Observing many researchers using the same data and hypothesis reveals a hidden universe of uncertainty’, was co-led by POLIS’s Dr Eike Rinke.

The research sent the exact same data to 161 researchers in 73 research teams with the intention that they each independently test the same prominent social science hypothesis: that greater immigration reduces support for social policies among the public. The teams reported widely diverging numerical findings and substantive conclusions despite the identical start conditions, thus questioning the credibility of scientific research and highlighting ‘a hidden universe of uncertainty’. 

In the podcast episode, Dr Klaas states his wish for more people to be made aware of and engage with this research study co-led by Dr Rinke, calling it ‘excellent, excellent research’. He goes on to emphasise the need to be skeptical about single studies in social science that make decisive conclusions and speaks about the problem of publication bias

If they got a positive result, they would publish it; and it would become the accepted wisdom, if it was in a top-tier journal [...] if they got a negative result, they would publish it in a top-tier journal, and there would be the accepted wisdom that there was a negative effect.


And then there might be years upon years where not only was this viewed as settled research, but that people made policy based on it.

He states that the ‘universe of uncertainty’ paper indicates what he terms ‘the hard problem of social research’ and ‘shakes the faith that we should have in the idea that a single study can establish definitively whether something is true or false in social dynamics’. 

EconTalk: Conversations for the Curious is an award-winning weekly podcast hosted by Russ Roberts of Shalem College in Jerusalem and Stanford's Hoover Institution. On EconTalk, Roberts has interviewed more than a dozen Nobel Prize laureates including Nobel Prize in Economics recipients.

The episode of EconTalk is available on the podcast’s website. Dr Rinke’s co-led research is avilable on the PNAS website.