Over half of psychology papers are just “psychobabble”

A new research report has been published in Science and only confirms the perception that much of what passes for the science of psychology is still mainly the views and prejudices of the publishing psychologists. Their studies cannot be reproduced in over half of the 100 papers investigated. Even among those found to be reproducible, the significance of the results were exaggerated.

……. he researchers found that some of the attempted replications even produced the opposite effect to the one originally reported.

This discipline is surely a valid field of study but is still a long way from being a science.

Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science, Science 28 August 2015, Vol. 349 no. 6251 , DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4716

AbstractReproducibility is a defining feature of science, but the extent to which it characterizes current research is unknown. We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available. Replication effects were half the magnitude of original effects, representing a substantial decline. Ninety-seven percent of original studies had statistically significant results. Thirty-six percent of replications had statistically significant results; 47% of original effect sizes were in the 95% confidence interval of the replication effect size; 39% of effects were subjectively rated to have replicated the original result; and if no bias in original results is assumed, combining original and replication results left 68% with statistically significant effects. Correlational tests suggest that replication success was better predicted by the strength of original evidence than by characteristics of the original and replication teams.

The Independent comments:

More than half of the findings from 100 different studies published in leading, peer-reviewed psychology journals cannot be reproduced by other researchers who followed the same methodological protocol.

A study by more than 270 researchers from around the world has found that just 39 per cent of the claims made in psychology papers published in three prominent journals could be reproduced unambiguously – and even then they were found to be less significant statistically than the original findings. ……. 

……… Professor Nosek said that there is often a contradiction between the incentives and motives of researchers – whether in psychology or other fields of science – and the need to ensure that their research findings can be reproduced by other scientists.

“Scientists aim to contribute reliable knowledge, but also need to produce results that help them keep their job as a researcher. To thrive in science, researchers need to earn publications, and some kind of results are easier to publish than others, particularly ones that are novel and show unexpected or exciting new directions,” he said.

However, the researchers found that some of the attempted replications even produced the opposite effect to the one originally reported. Many psychological associations and journals are not trying to improve reproducibility and openness, the researchers said.

“This very well done study shows that psychology has nothing to be proud of when it comes to replication,” Charles Gallistel, president of the Association for Psychological Science, told Science.

We have professional psychologists who get paid for their theories and we have professional, amateur psychologists (Agony Aunts in the newspapers, TV and Radio psychologists, talk show pundits and the like) who also get paid for providing entertainment. And then we have all the rest of us who each believe we have insights into the human mind and human behaviour, but don’t get paid for it.

We haven’t come so far from witch-doctors and Shamans.


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