Andrew Gelman politely suggests that he deserves some credit.
Matthew Atkinson, Ryan Enos, and Seth Hill sent along this paper:Recent research finds that inferences from candidate faces predict aggregate vote margins. Many have concluded this to mean that voters choose the candidate with the better face. We implement a survey with participant evaluations of over 167,000 candidate face pairings. Through regression analysis using individual- and district-level vote data we find that the face-vote correlation is explained by a relationship between candidate faces, incumbency, and district partisanship. We argue that the face-vote correlation is not just the product of simple voter reactions to faces, but also of party and candidate behavior that affects which candidates compete in which contests.
This is great stuff. They’re talking about a 2005 article by Alexander Todorov, Anesu Mandisodza, Amir Goren, and Crystal Hall which found that people thought the faces of winning congressional candidates looked more “competent” than faces of losing candidates. I wrote about this about a year ago and expressed skepticism about the interpretation of those findings .
It seemed likely that the more competent-looking candidates were more likely to be the ones that were more credible candidates for political reasons that were not directly related to looks (incumbency, ability to raise money, etc). In short, I suspected that, even if the voters had no idea what the candidates looked like, the Todorov et al. findings could still occur. Well, Atkinson et al. didn’t just speculate, they went and did a bunch of analyses.
… I feel a little awkward saying this, but I think they should refer to my blog entry from last year, since it’s the first publication that I know of that questioned the “faces decide elections” reasoning. Even though Atkinson, Enos, and Hill probably came up with their ideas on their own and only encountered my blog entry later (as noted above, they went far beyond my speculations and did actual research), it would still be appropriate to cite it as relevant early work.
It seems to me that this raises some interesting issues of credentialling. Andrew seems to me to be quite right in suggesting that he deserves some degree of acknowledgement for having first raised the possibility of the alternative line of causation in a public forum. But how best to acknowledge this? It seems to me that this kind of contribution falls midway between corridor talk and published research. If the three authors of the paper had been in Andrew’s department, Andrew might easily have raised it in conversation with them rather than in a blogpost, in which case you would hope that they would acknowledge it, perhaps through an informal-ish footnote (“we are grateful to Andrew Gelman for having pointed this out to us as a possible alternative explanation” or somesuch). If Andrew had raised it, perhaps as an aside, in a research paper of his, you would hope that they would have provided a cite to the relevant paper. But a blogpost isn’t exactly either of these. If we take as given that some credit ought to be given to Andrew’s post, what precise form should this credit take? This is in one way a somewhat pedantic and persnickety question, but since attribution norms play an important role in determining who does well, and who doesn’t do well in academia, it’s not entirely an inconsequential one.