Is Science Self-Correcting? Some Real World-Examples From Psychological Research.

…or The Prognosis Is Not Good, Psychology. It’s A Bad Case Of Physics Envy*

Each year there are two seminars for the Politics, Perception, and Philosophy of Physics module that are led by invited speakers. First up this year was the enlightening, engaging, and entertaining Nick Brown, who, and I quote from no less a source than The Guardian, has an “astonishing story…[he] began a part-time psychology course in his 50s and ended up taking on America’s academic establishment.”

I recommend you read that Guardian profile in full to really get the measure of Mr. (soon to be Dr.) Brown but, in brief, he has played a central role in exposing some of the most egregious examples of breathtakingly poor, or downright fraudulent, research in psychology, a field that needs to get its house in order very soon. (A certain high profile professor of psychology who is always very keen to point the finger at what he perceives to be major failings in other disciplines should bear this in mind and heed his own advice. (Rule #6, as I recall…))

Nick discussed three key examples of where psychology research has gone badly off the rails:

    • Brian Wansink, erstwhile director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, whose research findings (cited over 20,000 times) have been found to be rather tough to digest given that they’re riddled with data manipulation and resulted from other far-from-robust research practices.
    • The “audacious academic fraud” of Diederik Stapel. (Nick is something of a polymath, being fluent in Dutch among other skills, and translated Stapel’s autobiography/confession, making it freely available online. I strongly recommend adding Stapel’s book to your “To Read” list; I found it a compelling story that provides a unique insight into the mindset and motivations of someone who fakes their research. Seeing the ostracisation and shaming through Stapel’s eyes was a profoundly affecting experience and I found myself sympathising with the man, especially with regard to the effects of his fraud on his family.)

It was a great pleasure to host Nick’s visit to Nottingham (and to finally meet him after being in e-mail contact on and off for about eighteen months). Here’s his presentation…

*But don’t worry, you’re not alone.

** Hmmm. More psychologists with a chaotic concept of chaos. I can see a pattern emerging here. Perhaps it’s fractal in nature…


 

Update 18/11/2018. 15:30. I am rapidly coming to the opinion that in the dismal science stakes, psychology trumps economics by quite some margin. I’ve just read Catherine Bennett’s article in The Observer today on a research paper that created a lot of furore last week: “Testing the Empathizing-Systemizing theory of sex differences and the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism in half a million people“, a study which, according to a headline in The Times (amongst much other similarly over-excited and credulous coverage) has shown that male and female brains are very different indeed.

One would get the impression from the headlines that the researchers must have carried out an incredibly systematic and careful fMRI study, which, given the sample size, in turn must have taken decades and involved highly sophisticated data analysis techniques.

Nope.

They did their research by…asking people to fill in questionnaires.

Bennett highlights Dean Burnett ‘s incisive demolition of the paper and surrounding media coverage. I thoroughly recommend Burnett’s post – he highlights a litany of issues with the study (and others like it). For one thing, the idea that self-reporting via questionnaire can provide a robust objective analysis of just about any human characteristic or trait is ludicrously simple-minded. Burnett doesn’t cover all of the issues because, as he says at the end of his post: “There are other concerns to raise of course, but I’ll keep them in reserve for when the next study that kicks this whole issue off again is published. Shouldn’t be more than a couple of months.

Indeed.

How Not To Do Spectral Analysis 101

I will leave this here without further comment…

JesusHChrist

*bangs head gently on desk and sobs quietly to himself*

Source (via Sam Jarvis. Thanks, Sam.):

The original ‘peer-reviewed’ paper is this: Găluşcă et al., IOP Conf. Ser. Mater. Sci. Eng. 374 012020 (2018)

 

 

Today’s “Wonko The Sane” moment

“It seemed to me,’ said Wonko the Sane, ‘that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.”

Douglas Adams,So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Over the years I’ve thought I’ve reached my Wonko The Sane moment on many occasions. (If you’re not a Douglas Adams fan you should stop reading my witterings right now and dive into Mr. Adams back-catalogue. I’ll wait until you get back.)

I was wrong.

So very wrong.

We live in a civilisation where the video below, discovered by my nine-year old son (because the infernal, evil-incarnate YouTube algorithm recommended it to him after he’d watched a Minecraft tutorial), has accrued over 10 million views.

A video about going into all of the Walmart stores in North Carolina and buying a single Snickers bar from each.

Let me repeat that.

A video about going into all of the Walmart stores in North Carolina and buying a single Snickers bar from each…

…has attracted 10 million views.

A video whose mundanity, tedium, and pure, unmitigated stupidity are each off the scale.

A video that consists of nothing more than shots of Walmarts, checkout counters, and Snickers bars. Over and over. Until your eyes bleed and your IQ drops 100 points.

The next time anyone attempts to read anything into a YouTube video having million views, mention that video to them.

But do not click. Do. Not. Click. Help save us from ourselves.

I need some catharsis. Over to you, Mr. Keenan…

And some say the end is near.
Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon.
Certainly hope we will
I sure could use a vacation from this stupid shit, silly shit, stupid shit.

Writer(s): KEENAN MAYNARD JAMES, CAREY DANIEL EDWIN, CHANCELLOR JUSTIN GUNNER, JONES ADAM THOMAS

Private Eye parodies Peterson’s purple prose

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

You can fool some of the people some of the time – and that’s enough to make a decent living

WC Fields (1880-1946)


I got the new issue of Private Eye today and was tickled by their effortless lampooning of Jordan Peterson‘s tediously overwrought writing. Just like the worst of the postmodernists he so despises (and Alan Sokal so memorably ridiculed),  Peterson’s needlessly ornate, florid and flaccid prose is a triumph of (poor) style over substance…

Peterson_small.jpg

“…it is a wise rule and good rule to hold back from skating when there is no ice visible on the water.”

Indeed. And thus endeth the lesson.

 

“Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand…”

They say there are strangers who threaten us
In our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand…

From Witch Hunt, Rush. Part III of Fear.

Track 6 of Moving Pictures. Lyrics: Neil Elwood Peart.

© Copyright with Lyrics © Ole Media Management.