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Null Effect and Third Hand Smoking

posted Oct 24, 2019, 12:15 AM by Ritwik Banerjee   [ updated Oct 24, 2019, 12:23 AM ]

Null effect is a researcher's nightmare. For one, publishing a paper becomes very hard. Editors of journals claim that they are very much open to the idea of publishing a paper with a precisely estimated zero. But God knows when the push comes to shove, they renege. I have a theory regarding this - likelihood of publishing a paper with a null result follows an inverse J relation at a low scale (welcome change from the many Us?). Good journals will be open to publishing zero effects, better journals unlikely to be receptive and the best journals are slightly more open to the idea but not as much as the good journals. Reminds you of Starbucks coffee sizes, eh? Just a theory of course, no data.

The city of Berkeley had sponsored a study on the third hand effect of smoking and much to their delight, they found a null effect. Third hand? Suppose you are a smoker and I am not, but we hang out quite often. The city council was interested in knowing whether your smoking had an effect on my wife’s health outcomes, assuming you don’t interact with my wife. A few hundred thousand dollars were spent in this investigation and a null effect was found. Well, in such occasions delight of a policy maker is accompanied by the fret of a researcher, typically tenure track, about what could have easily been that elusive Nature publication. The good news that smoking does not kill third hand notwithstanding, a slew of stringent rules have been introduced by the city:

  • smoking is not allowed on the streets;

  • $300 fine if found smoking on the streets (not enforced) or within the UC Berkeley campus (enforced);

  • smoking is allowed in cars, but only if the windows are fully cranked up;

  • smoking is not allowed in apartments but is allowed in fully owned standalone houses.

The last bit means you will have to shell out about a million dollar for that peaceful smoke if you choose to live here. If that sounds too expensive, you can always shift to weed, which is legal in the state.