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At RealClearScience: Failed psychological theories go through six stages

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From Ross Pomeroy at RealClearScience:

With the publication of his exhaustingly researched and skillfully reported article, “LOL Something Matters,” science writer Daniel Engber convincingly demonstrated that the “backfire effect,” the notion that contradictory evidence only strengthens entrenched beliefs, does not hold up under rigorous scientific scrutiny. Bluntly stated, the “backfire effect” probably isn’t real.

Of course the backfire effect “probably isn’t real.” It probably never could have been real. Market discipline, for example, requires people to change their minds frequently about the goods and services they use. If they did not do so, innovations would be rare instead of common.

What’s really happening in many situations is that people decline to believe ideological or otherwise imposed “truths” that violate their experience. They won’t believe that the economy is in great shape if their own once-thriving town is on welfare. Or that Earth is warming up if their water pipes froze and burst last winter. Or that those primates staring back at them at the sanctuary are just like people.

But no explanation for the human tendency to prefer experience and observation to theory and propaganda is required. Explanations of the “backfire effect” often sound like special pleading for establishment beliefs like Darwinism that do not connect with a public that has learned to be skeptical. That is, there must be something wrong with doubters; otherwise, we might have to take another look at the theory or the way it has been promoted.

The debunking of this longstanding psychological theory follows similar academic takedowns of ego depletion, social priming, power posing, and a plethora of other famous findings. Indeed, much of what we “know” in psychology seems to be false.

Pomeroy’s article makes a good bookmark, especially if you are stuck taking a compulsory course in psychology.

See also: All sides agree: progressive politics is strangling social sciences


Back to school briefing: 7 myths of social psychology. Many lecture room icons from decades past are looking tarnished now.

What strikes me immediately about those particular theories is that they are UNNECESSARY. They couldn't solve any human problems even if they were true. They were generated solely because theories get tenure. We already have all the systematic observation we need in those areas. Machiavelli, Parkinson, and Drucker gave us astute measurements and valid patterns for the activities covered by those theories. People who follow Machiavelli's suggestions acquire and keep power. Theory proved. polistra

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