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Why I Don’t Have Minions

Minions from Despicable Me

Admit it, more than once you have thought to yourself,

Wouldn’t it be convenient about now to have some mindless minions to do my bidding?

I’d always thought if this whole statistical consulting thing didn’t work out, I could be an evil scientist. I mean, I already went to the trouble to get a Ph.D. so I have got half of the Dr. Evil thing down, the Dr. part. You’d think that would be the more difficult part, ┬áno?

According to Merriam-Webster , a minion is a servile dependent, follower, or underling. I’ve often been asked why I don’t have someone else write programs to delete all out-of-range data, reverse-code answers where needed, re-code answers such as “not applicable” to missing, check that the distributions meet assumptions of normality and so on.

I think that is a very bad idea.

The first reason having someone else do the “menial work” of data cleaning is a bad idea is that all of your analysis is going to rest on the assumption of that data cleaning having been done correctly. In cases where it is my reputation (or other parts of me) on the line, I want to be sure that data was coded and scored correctly. If not, everything after that was a waste of time. It’s not uncommon to find differences in conclusions from different studies. This can be due to a variety of reasons – differences in age, education, health, occupation and a thousand other factors in your sample, differences in type of measure – GPA versus standardized test versus high school graduation and on and on. I wonder, though, if sometimes those differences are not due to some of the studies’ data just being entered, coded and scored incorrectly.

The second reason for getting down and dirty with your own data is that you often start to have ideas as you play with variables. What is the relationship between mother’s education and school failure? What about father’s education? What about taking the maximum (or minimum) of the two? After all, there are programs for students who are “First-generation college students”, that is, students who neither of their parents went to college. As you play with your data, you can see new relationships, develop new questions.

Personally, if I’m going to delegate tasks, I prefer to do it at the end, having someone else make a powerpoint presentation or graphs of the data, maybe doing some of the final analyses. If any “minions” are doing this work after I have spent considerable time working with the data set, then I should be able to spot any mistakes and say, “You know, I don’t think your finding that mother’s education is unrelated to school failure fits with what I found in other analyses, let’s take a look at how you arrived at that.”

Besides, just look at what happens when evil scientists DO use minions. Think how Young Frankenstein would have come out differently if the doctor had gone and gotten the brain himself and assigned Igor a task of say, picking out the monster’s wardrobe instead.

Ygor, the minion from Young Frankenstein

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