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Highly limited use
on 10 May 2016
In the opening chapter of this book, the author makes a spirited case for why longitudinal prospective studies ("LPS") like the Harvard Grant Study are far superior to any other form of study. Sadly, the rest of the book shows him to be wrong, by illustrating the key shortcomings of an LPS:
(i) Cohort selection: Almost entirely limited to white American men. Saying that this was precisely the point of the study back then does not absolve the study of its limited relevance.
(ii) Data collection: Variable selection limited to those things which the researchers then thought important. Useless variables can be disproved, so that's fine. However, there is no remedy for data that was never collected at the outset (e.g. detailed interpersonal relationship data).
(iii) Data analysis: Methodologies were very rough in the past -- to then use this as the basis for sophisticated, modern statistical analysis seems disingenuous.
As the Grant Study's struggles with funding might indicate, the fact is that social science research -- and funding -- reflects the concerns of its time, and the juggernaut of an LPS lacks the ability to change course easily -- if at all -- in response to these concerns. It is clear that the Harvard Grant Study remains of highly limited use to the wider population, and should not pretend otherwise. While perhaps an unfortunate conclusion to the decades of effort that have gone into it, a study of mortal man cannot itself hope for immortality.