Science is currently said to be suffering a “replicability crisis”. Over the last few years a worrying number of widely accepted findings in psychology, medicine and other disciplines have failed to be confirmed by repetitions of the original experiments. Well-known psychological results that have proved hard to reproduce include the claim that new-born babies imitate their mothers’ facial expressions and that will power is a limited resource that becomes depleted through use. In medicine, the drug companies Bayer and Amgen, frustrated by the slow progress of drug development, discovered that more than three-quarters of the basic science studies they were relying on didn’t stand up when repeated. When the journal Naturepolled 1,500 scientists in 2016, 70 per cent said they had failed to reproduce another scientist’s results.
This crisis of reproducibility has occasioned much wringing of hands. The finger has been pointed at badly designed experiments, not to mention occasional mutterings about rigged data. But the only real surprise is that the problem has taken so long to emerge. The statistical establishment has been reluctant to concede the point, but failures of replication are nothing but the pigeons of significance testing coming home to roost.
The most famous psychological studies are often wrong, fraudulent, or outdated. Textbooks need to catch up.
The findings have long been subject to scrutiny — many think of them as more of a dramatic demonstration, a sort-of academic reality show, than a serious bit of science. But these new revelations incited an immediate response. “We must stop celebrating this work,” personality psychologist Simine Vazire tweeted, in response to the article. “It’s anti-scientific. Get it out of textbooks.” Many other psychologists have expressed similar sentiments.
The Lifespan of a Lie
The most famous psychology study of all time was a sham. Why can’t we escape the Stanford Prison Experiment?
This is an interesting article about a famous experiment that has been hugely influential on our perceptions of educational development of children. Despite its influence, there are some questions about the rigor of the study itself and the veracity of some of its conclusions.
This offers an interesting study on what it means to do “good science” in the natural sciences but also how hard it is to produce knowledge that stands up to scrutiny.
First, we need to distinguish attempts to manipulate and influence public opinion, from actual voter persuasion. Repeatedly targeting people with misinformation that is designed to appeal to their political biases may well influence public attitudes, cause moral outrage, and drive partisans further apart, especially when we’re given the false impression that everyone else in our social network is espousing the same opinion. But to what extent do these attempts to influence translate into concrete votes?
Very detailed and thoughtful discussion of the issue in regards to how challenging it is to prove something in the social sciences including the challenges of isolating variables, proving causality, etc.
The spanking literature, however, has addressed itself to this problem in several ways. First, in the absence of true experimentation, an argument for causality can still be supported indirectly if three conditions are met: first, there’s a link between behavior A and outcome B. Second, behavior A appears before outcome B in the timeline (which can be documented using longitudinal studies following the same kids over time). Third, other explanations for the A-B link are ruled out (for example stress, which may cause parents to spank and children to deteriorate).
Spanking research has by now produced robust evidence for all three propositions. Spanking is correlated strongly and quite exclusively with multiple negative outcomes for children. The negative outcomes often appear only after the spanking has begun, and the effects of spanking remain significant and sizable even after controlling for the influence of other variables such as parental age, child age, sex, race, family structure, poverty, emotional support, cognitive stimulation, etc.
Good science requires a spirit of collaboration, not domination. The debate in social psychology involves some essential criticism of past scientific practice, but revolutions can also lead to a bandwagon effect, in which bullies pile on and bystanders fearfully turn a blind eye. Especially as more disagreements among researchers surface in social media rather than professional publications, there is an insidious temptation to mistake being critical for being right, and to subordinate humility and decency to a “gloating sense of ‘gotcha,’” as the journal Nature put it.
There is a better way forward: through evolution, not revolution.
Science Is Not Your Enemy: An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians
Though everyone endorses science when it can cure disease, monitor the environment, or bash political opponents, the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities has been deeply resented. Just as reviled is the application of scientific reasoning to religion; many writers without a trace of a belief in God maintain that there is something unseemly about scientists weighing in on the biggest questions. In the major journals of opinion, scientific carpetbaggers are regularly accused of determinism, reductionism, essentialism, positivism, and worst of all, something called “scientism.”
Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the liberal arts. Don’t let it happen.
The question of the place of science in knowledge, and in society, and in life, is not a scientific question. Science confers no special authority, it confers no authority at all, for the attempt to answer a nonscientific question. It is not for science to say whether science belongs in morality and politics and art. Those are philosophical matters, and science is not philosophy, even if philosophy has since its beginnings been receptive to science. Nor does science confer any license to extend its categories and its methods beyond its own realms, whose contours are of course a matter of debate.
Science vs. the Humanities, Round III
Wieseltier bristles at my suggestion that science is distinguished by the value it places on the thorough-going intelligibility of the world—on the relentless search beyond the explanation of a phenomenon for a still deeper explanation of the explicans. Yet he legislates that the humanities may tolerate no such curiosity.