Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

Over half of psychology papers are just “psychobabble”

August 28, 2015

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.


When gender equality denies gender difference – limericks (6)

December 28, 2013

1. Sometimes, the “fight” for gender equality gets more than a little ridiculous when it denies gender difference. 

“Gender Equality” is the battle-cry that’s heard,

But just what that means can be a little bit blurred.

Must each and every known profession,

Comprise equally of men and women?

But fathers giving birth is just a little bit absurd.

2. In Sweden, “hen” is proposed by the politically-correct, gender-equalisers as a neutral form between “han” (him) and “hon” (her).

A politically correct young lady from Sweden,

Insisted on being referred to as a “hen”,

She objected strenuously to “she”,

and quite violently to “he”,

Which caused consternation among her young men.

3. Still in Sweden, poor Zlatan Ibrahimovic got into hot water for stating the blindingly obvious that it was more than a little idiotic to compare his game with that of a lady footballer. But – and especially in Sweden – political correctness has become a matter of faith and is often quite unconcerned with reality.

Zlatan the Viking footballer,

Took umbrage when an idiot reporter,

Compared him to a “hen”,

Who kicked a ball now and then,

And Ibrahim-ovic refused to idolise her.

4. In the UK, Thomas the tank engine is under attack from Mary Creagh. She seems rather a silly person – but she was probably only after the publicity.

A cross Labour MP of feminist gender,

More female train drivers would engender,

She demanded the State’s intervention,

To curb the masculinity of Thomas the tank engine,

And required that the “him” be changed into a “her”!

5. At Wimbledon, women now have the same prize money as the men, but they work far fewer hours and play even less. The ladies champion now has an hourly rate about 60% higher than the men’s champion.

Gender equality at Wimbledon has gone a little bit funny,

The men and the women get the same prize money,

But being of the much weaker sex,

The women play just the best of 3 sets,

And the men will be unable to reverse this calumny

6. And all over the world “quotas” for women/minorities/scheduled castes/disabled in various professions are proposed. But fighting discrimination with discrimination only legitimises discrimination.

Oppressing minorities is unacceptable persecution,

But discrimination to fight discrimination is still discrimination.

And if percentage of the population,

Is to be mirrored in every profession,

Competence must be ignored to follow some blind equation.

Psycho the rapist

November 26, 2013
  • Sigmund Freuds ‘Oedipus complex’. Not so much a theory as a confession.
  • Two psychotherapists meet. “Hi,” says one, “How am I feeling today?
  • They have sex and the other one says, “That was great for you. How was it for me?”
  • A Freudian slip is when you say one thing, but you mean your mother
  • How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

 None. The light bulb will change itself when it’s ready.
Just one, but it takes nine visits.
One tablet a day, if it’s included in DSM5.

  • I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous – everyone hasn’t met me yet.
  • If you think you are walking out of here cured after only three sessions, you are crazy.
  • A neurotic is the person who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the person who lives in it. And a psychiatrist is the person who collects the rent.
  • I asked my therapist never to tell anyone about my Oedipus complex. He said ‘sure, mum’s the word’.
  • When Sigmund’s mirror broke, Jung took pleasure in seeing a shard in Freud.
  • Therapy helps but screaming obscenities is more satisfying – and cheaper.
  • Freud quotes:

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’
Time spent with cats is never wasted.
America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success.
A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror.
A certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive, especially to a psychologist.

Social psychology may be rigorous but it is not a science

August 18, 2013

Scientific American carries an article by a budding psychologist who is upset that many don’t accept that it is a science – but I think she protests too much. I have no doubt that many social psychologists study their discipline with great rigour. And so they should. (And I accept the rigour of most of the researchers in this field notwthstanding the publicity seeking, high profile fraudsters such as Stapel and Hauser who did not).

But it is not any lack of rigour which makes psychology “not a science”. It is the fact that we just don’t know enough about the forces driving our sensory perceptions and our subsequent behaviour (via biochemistry in the body and the brain) to be able to formulate proper falsifiable hypotheses.  Behaviour is fascinating and many of the empirical studies trying to pin down the causes and effects are brilliantly conceived and carried out. But behaviour is complicated and we don’t know the drivers. Inevitably measurement is complicated and messy.

Even the alchemists made rigorous measurements. But they never knew enough to elevate alchemy to a science. And so it is with psychology and with social psychology in particular. We are waiting for the body of evidence to grow and the insight of a John Dalton and a Antoine Lavoisier to lift psychology from an alchemy-like art to the true level of a science.

Her article is interesting but a little too defensive. And she misses the point. Just having rigour in measurement is insufficient to make an art into a science.

Psychology’s brilliant, beautiful, scientific messiness

 Melanie Tannenbaum

Melanie TannenbaumMelanie Tannenbaum is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received an M.A. in social psychology in 2011. Her research focuses on the science of persuasion & motivation regarding political, health-related, and environmental behavior.

Today, sitting down to my Twitter feed, I saw a new link to Dr. Alex Berezow’s old piece on why psychology cannot call itself a science. The piece itself is over a year old, but seeing it linked again today brought up old, angry feelings that I never had the chance to publicly address when the editorial was first published. Others, like Dave Nussbaum, have already done a good job of dismantling the critiques in this article, but the fact that people are still linking to this piece (and that other pieces, even elsewhere on the SciAm Network, are still echoing these same criticisms) means that one thing apparently cannot be said enough:

Psychology is a science.

Shut up about how it’s not, already.

But she gets it almost right in her last paragraph. Indeed psychology is still an art – but that is not additional to its being a science (by definition).

.. The thought, the creativity, the pure brilliance that goes into finding measurable, testable proxies for “fuzzy concepts” so we can experimentally control those indicators and find ways to step closer, every day, towards scientifically studying these abstractions that we once thought we would never be able to study — that’s beautiful. Quite frankly, it’s not just science — it’s an art. And often times, the means that scientists devise to help them step closer and closer towards approximating these abstract concepts, finding different facets to measure or different ways to conceptualize our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors? That process alone is so brilliant, so tricky, and so critical that it’s often worth receiving just as much press time as the findings themselves.

To keep psychology in the realms of art rather than science is not to demean the discipline or to attack the rigour of those working the field. And maybe psychologists should consider why they  get so upset at being called artists rather than scientists and why they wish to be perceived as something they are not.

There is much of the study of psychology which is brilliant and beautiful and messy – but it is not a science – yet.

Closure for Stapel perhaps but social psychology remains “on probation”

June 28, 2013

Another Chapter in the Diedrik Stapel saga comes to an end as he reaches a deal with prosecutors but the exposure of his behaviour has revealed much that is not so uncommon in the field of social psychology. Social psychologists now need to be on their best behaviour to dispell the notion that “fraud” and confirmation bias are their stock-in-trade. Social  Psychology remains on probation and must avoid any hint of misconduct if it is not to lose further ground as an academic discipline ( but it will be quite some time before this discipline becomes a science).

Associated Press (via The Republic): 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A disgraced Dutch social psychologist who admitted faking or manipulating data in dozens of publications has agreed to do 120 hours of community service work and forfeit welfare benefits equivalent to 18 months’ salary in exchange for not being prosecuted for fraud.

Prosecutors announced the deal Friday, calling it “a fitting conclusion” to a case of scientific fraud that sent shockwaves through Dutch academia.

Diederik Stapel who formerly worked at universities in the cities of Groningen and Tilburg, acknowledged the fraud in 2011 and issued a public apology last November, saying he had “failed as a scientist.”

He once claimed to have shown that the very act of thinking about eating meat makes people behave more selfishly.

Shamans versus the witch-doctors: psychologists attack the psychiatrists

May 12, 2013

I have the clear perception that psychiatry has gone too far in trying to attribute all kinds of behaviour to being disabilities. The very influential American Psychiatry Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5 is soon to be released and even describes grief and temper tantrums as disabilities and yet will no longer recognise Asperger’s! And the psychiatrists have the fundamental concept that all such disabilities are susceptible to medication.

Equally, while I recognise the importance of human psychology as a discipline I am less than impressed by the psychology and behaviour of psychologists and especially the academic gyrations of social psychologists.

So this headline in today’s Guardian conjures up images of a pitched battle between shamans and witch-doctors. I distinguish here between shamans who rely on various secret “medicines” to cure the afflicted, while the witch-doctors are the ones who engage in secret rites to free the patients from the spirits who are haunting them. I suppose in this analogy that the psychiatrists are the shamans and the psychologists are the witch-doctors. But the bottom line of course seems to be that psychologists wantb to adjust behaviour by adjusting other behaviour, and they feel threatened by the psychiatrists’ concept that all unwanted behaviour can be medicated away. The pharmaceutical industry – needless to say – tends to support the psychiatrists (what else?).

The GuardianPsychiatrists under fire in mental health battle

British Psychological Society to launch attack on rival profession, casting doubt on biomedical model of mental illness.

There is no scientific evidence that psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are valid or useful, according to the leading body representing Britain’s clinical psychologists.

In a groundbreaking move that has already prompted a fierce backlash from psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society’s division of clinical psychology (DCP) will on Monday issue a statement declaring that, given the lack of evidence, it is time for a “paradigm shift” in how the issues of mental health are understood. The statement effectively casts doubt on psychiatry’s predominantly biomedical model of mental distress – the idea that people are suffering from illnesses that are treatable by doctors using drugs. The DCP said its decision to speak out “reflects fundamental concerns about the development, personal impact and core assumptions of the (diagnosis) systems”, used by psychiatry.

Dr. Lucy Johnstone, a consultant clinical psychologist who helped draw up the DCP’s statement, said it was unhelpful to see mental health issues as illnesses with biological causes.

“On the contrary, there is now overwhelming evidence that people break down as a result of a complex mix of social and psychological circumstances – bereavement and loss, poverty and discrimination, trauma and abuse,” Johnstone said. The provocative statement by the DCP has been timed to come out shortly before the release of DSM-5, the fifth edition of the American Psychiatry Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. ….

…… The writer Oliver James, who trained as a clinical psychologist, welcomed the DCP’s decision to speak out against psychiatric diagnosis and stressed the need to move away from a biomedical model of mental distress to one that examined societal and personal factors.

Writing in today’s Observer, James declares: “We need fundamental changes in how our society is organised to give parents the best chance of meeting the needs of children and to prevent the amount of adult adversity.”

But Professor Sir Simon Wessely, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and chair of psychological medicine at King’s College London, said it was wrong to suggest psychiatry was focused only on the biological causes of mental distress. And in an accompanying Observerarticle he defends the need to create classification systems for mental disorder.

“A classification system is like a map,” Wessely explains. “And just as any map is only provisional, ready to be changed as the landscape changes, so does classification.”

Data fabrication by Hauser and Stapel strengthen the view that psychology is no science

December 23, 2011

That psychology is a discipline and a field of study is indisputable. That the study of human (or animal) behaviour is a worthy field and that experimentation and research are well worth pursuing is also obvious. But I am of the view that it is far from being a science.  Psychology can be considered to be a pre-science similar to alchemy. And the practitioners of psychology are similar to priests and shamans and witch-doctors and other practitioners of magic. Inevitably the field contains many charlatans.

During 2011 the high profile cases of Marc Hauser and Diederik Stapel  where data was faked (and no matter which way the pill is coated they both fabricated data to suit their theories) only reinforces my view that their behaviour was essentially narcissistic and not uncommon in the burgeoning fields of psychology. In both cases inflated egos led to the creation of their “signature” hypotheses followed by the fabrication of data to prove their conclusions – which had already been reached! I am inherently suspicious of psychologists who are supposed scientists but who are seduced by the fame and fortunes of press adulation or tenure or who become Agony Aunts on TV.

Charles Gross writes in The Nation about the Marc Hauser affair and concludes:


Dutch social psychologist sacked for faking data over a “prolonged period”

September 12, 2011

On September 7th, Tilburg University officially suspended Diederik Stapel, who heads the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research. University Rector Philip Eijlander said that Stapel had admitted to using faked data and said that he would not be allowed to return.

Diederik Stapel

Stapel’s homepage on the Tilburg University website has been removed “by the administrator”.

Mark van Vugt is a Netherlands evolutionary psychologist who currently holds a professorship in psychology at the VU University (Vrije Universiteit) Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and has affiliate positions at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at University of Oxford, UK, and the University of Kent, UK. Mark van Vugt writes about his colleague Diederik Stapel in Psychology Today:

After the high profile case of Marc Hauser, the Harvard psychologist found guilty of serious scientific misconduct there is the recent case of my colleague, Diederik Stapel, a social psychology professor in the Netherlands who has been suspended by his university after admitting to have fabricated experimental data over a prolonged period.

The extent of his fraud is yet unclear but it has produced shock waves among the international social psychology community.

Stapel was the poster boy of Dutch social psychology, having published in the major psychology journals, and receiving various grants and prestigious awards for his research on social cognition and stereotyping. In a recent article published in Science, he and his colleagues showed that in a messy environment (a dirty railway station) White participants were more prejudiced against a Black person. The authenticity of these results is now being investigated…

The Science article that is being investigated is Coping with Chaos: How Disordered Contexts Promote Stereotyping and Discrimination by Diederik A. Stapel and Siegwart Lindenberg, Science 8 April 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6026 pp. 251-253 DOI: 10.1126/science.1201068

But this is not the only article being investigated and there may be a rash of retractions to come.

Science Insider writes:

A Dutch social psychologist whose eye-catching studies about human behavior were fodder for columnists and policy makers has lost his job after his university concluded that some of the data in those studies were fabricated.

Tilburg University today officially suspended Diederik Stapel, who heads the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research. But in a TV interview today, university Rector Philip Eijlander said that Stapel had admitted to using faked data and said that he would not be allowed to return.

Stapel has worked at the university, located in southern Netherlands, since 2006. He is known as a prolific researcher and a successful fundraiser. His studies appeared to offer new insights into the workings of the human mind; for instance, a Science paper published in April showed that people are more likely to stereotype or discriminate in messy environments.

In the TV interview, Eijlander says he was first contacted on 27 August by “junior researchers” in Stapel’s lab who alleged that his conduct was fraudulent. Stapel immediately admitted that there was “something strange” in his papers, Eijlander says, and “yesterday, he told me that there are faked data.” The university has asked Willem Levelt, a psycholinguist and former president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, to lead a panel investigating the extent of the alleged fraud. Eijlander says that all “tainted papers” will be retracted.

As to the whistleblowers, Eijlander told the television interviewer that “I have a lot of respect for them, because they found it very difficult.”

Just last week, Stapel made headlines with a press release claiming that thinking of eating meat makes people “more boorish” and less social. The announcement, which said that “meat brings out the worst in people,” raised eyebrows because the study hadn’t yet been written up, let alone published.

Roos Vonk, a psychologist at Radboud University Nijmegen and a collaborator on the study, wrote on her blog today that she believes the latest study is likely among those based on fabricated data. She writes that her conclusion is based on the fact that, although the results had been collected by Stapel’s group, “when we discussed [them], I thought it was odd that Diederik didn’t mention the name of his assistant.” But at the time, she writes, the possibility of fraud didn’t occur to her.

Roos Vonk writes further as she apologises on her blog

I regret very much that this has happened and I will do everything what I can so that trust in the scientific work within social psychology will recover. It is conceivable that this extensive lapse of a few colleagues effects the reputation of our entire profession. I understand that this way can work, but I want to stress that this is a single exception  probably much more shocking and shameful for me and my colleagues than for outsiders, because we all in our education are imbued with the importance of integrity.

An interesting UPDATE from Retraction Watch:

An alert Retraction Watch reader has pointed us to a 1999 paper by Stapel with the impossibly ironic title: Framed and misfortuned: identity salience and the whiff of scandal.”

In the article, which appeared in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Stapel and two colleagues reported the results of survey they’d conducted of Dutch psychologists in the wake of a major plagiarism scandal involving an unidentified Dutch clinical psychologist (“we decided to use neither the name of the person who was accused of plagiarism nor the university to which he was affiliated,” they wrote).

Put briefly, the researchers claimed to have found (rather unsurprisingly) that hows psychologists identified themselves professionally dictated how strongly they were affected personally by the scandal. Money quote:

Whether social psychologists view an article about a plagiarist clinical psychologist as relevant or irrelevant to the self may thus be determined by whether their social identity is narrowly defined (‘social  psychologists’), so as to exclude the plagiarist, or broadly define (‘psychologists’) to include the plagiarist.

Stapel’s group also showed that psychologists from the accused’s own university felt the shame of his alleged misdeeds more than those from other institutions.

And from what Roos Vonk has written it would seem that his collaborators indeed feel a stronger sense of shame than others.

It would seem that much of the research by Diederik Stapel will now be investigated and a number of his papers are likely to be retracted. In addition to the Science paper which is already under investigation some of his other earlier publications are:

I wonder whether cognitive psychology is particularly subject to the faking of data – possibly because faking is relatively easy when the data are so often subjective and so little of it is required to be reproducible or quantitative.

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