This critique by Ted Goertzl, Myths of Murder and Multiple Regression, is making the rounds. It made me think of this old apocryphal story:
There is a famous anecdote inspired by Euler’s arguments with secular philosophers over religion, which is set during Euler’s second stint at the St. Petersburg academy. The French philosopher Denis Diderot was visiting Russia on Catherine the Great’s invitation. However, the Empress was alarmed that the philosopher’s arguments for atheism were influencing members of her court, and so Euler was asked to confront the Frenchman. Diderot was later informed that a learned mathematician had produced a proof of the existence of God: he agreed to view the proof as it was presented in court. Euler appeared, advanced toward Diderot, and in a tone of perfect conviction announced, “Sir, (a + bn)/z = x, hence God exists–reply!”. Diderot, to whom (says the story) all mathematics was gibberish, stood dumbstruck as peals of laughter erupted from the court. Embarrassed, he asked to leave Russia, a request that was graciously granted by the Empress.
The second law of thermodynamics talking point is an unsophisticated descendant of Euler’s gambit, while William Dembski’s whole career is a homage to the trick. In regards to the shenanigans that Goertzl refers to, you can go to UC Berkeley’s GSS interface, and after reading the documents, “massage” the outcomes yourself. I do think that econometric methods are still useful tools, their frequent misuse shouldn’t lead us down the path to epistemological nihilism. Many use the law to further their own selfish ends and pervert its intent, but that doesn’t mean that the general idea of an objective legal framework has to be discarded. Specifically, I think the Cowles Foundation has done some worthwhile work (e.g., showing that stock newsletters add no value).