RES: November 2011 Archives

The Chair of the Psychology Department sent this article from the New York Times to everyone in the department of Psychology to remind us of the "importance of scrupulous care in the ways we handle our data and report our findings." Basically, the researcher in question has been making sensational stuff up.

The article mentions the dangers of confirmation bias:

"Researchers in psychology are certainly aware of the issue [of fraud]. In recent years, some have mocked studies showing correlations between activity on brain images and personality measures as "voodoo" science, and a controversy over statistics erupted in January after The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology accepted a paper purporting to show evidence of extrasensory perception. In cases like these, the authors being challenged are often reluctant to share their raw data. But an analysis of 49 studies appearing Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, by Dr. Wicherts, Dr. Bakker and Dylan Molenaar, found that the more reluctant that scientists were to share their data, the more likely that evidence contradicted their reported findings."

"We know the general tendency of humans to draw the conclusions they want to draw -- there's a different threshold," said Joseph P. Simmons, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "With findings we want to see, we ask, 'Can I believe this?' With those we don't, we ask, 'Must I believe this?' "

I had an experience recently that suggests to me that this incident may trigger changes in how psychologists do and report research, the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back." Last August, the faculty team that teaches Psy 1001 and I had a day-long workshop with the author of our textbook. During the course of the day, I was struck because we spent nearly two hours talking about cases of fraud--the social psychologist who forged data, the highly regarded psychologist who claimed to have found evidence of ESP, the behavioral geneticist who was accused of faking data but who may not have been. Once we got started, we couldn't get off the topic. Everyone had something to offer from their area of psychology. The energy and concern being expressed suggested the emerging awareness, a consensus forming; it was as if researchers had been aware as individuals of the issue, but as they talked with one another their understanding and concern became clarified and more certain. It became a group concern. That kind of moment, when individuals realizes that something is bigger than themselves, can be a tipping point. All it takes is one more incident to motivate change.

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This page is an archive of entries in the RES category from November 2011.

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