At the New York Times: Defending the failures of social science as “science”
|August 4, 2018||Posted by News under Culture, Intelligent Design, Media, Peer review, Psychology, Science|
Even while prominent people in that field are coming to terms with the problem. From a New York Times science writer:
It is one thing to frisk the studies appearing almost daily in journals that form the current back-and-forth of behavior research. It is somewhat different to call out experiments that became classics — and world-famous outside of psychology — because they dramatized something people recognized in themselves and in others.
They live in the common culture as powerful metaphors, explanations for aspects of our behavior that we sense are true and that are captured somehow in a laboratory mini-drama constructed by an inventive researcher, or research team.
Huh? Whether many people recognized something in themselves or not, the experiments were not really a form of science and they simply confirm prejudices. He goes on:
When Dr. Nosek published his first major replication paper in 2015, finding that about 60 percent of prominent studies did not pan out on a second try, it was a gift to skeptics eager to dismiss the entire field (and maybe all of social science) as a joke, a congregation of poorly anchored findings that shift in the wind, like nutrition advice.
It’s not. On the contrary.
Housecleaning is a crucial corrective in science, and psychology has led by example. But in science, as in life, there’s reason for care before dragging the big items to the curb. Benedict Carey, “Psychology Itself Is Under Scrutiny” at New York Times
Okay. So if we think that — in principle — such a field is always too infested by politics to be seriously considered a science, we’re “anti-science”? There’s something wrong with preferring to support sciences that aren’t such a laughingstock? Fine. The rest of us will own that and be proud.
As Andrew Ferguson notes at the Weekly Standard,
The crisis in the social sciences has grown so obvious that even mainstream social scientists have begun to acknowledge it. In the past five years or so, disinterested researchers have reexamined many of the most crucial experiments and findings in social psychology and related fields. A very large percentage of them—as many as two-thirds, by some counts—crumble on close examination. These include such supposedly settled science as “implicit bias,” “stereotype threat,” “priming,” “ego depletion” and many others known to every student of introductory psychology. At the root of the failure are errors of methodology and execution that should have been obvious from the start. Sample sizes are small and poorly selected; statistical manipulations are misunderstood and ill-performed; experiments lack control groups and are poorly designed; data are cherry-picked; and safeguards against researcher bias are ignored. It’s a long list.
Crassly put, the unreplicated runoff from the social sciences, as Ferguson goes on to note, keeps papers like the New York Times afloat in an age when we don’t need it for the weather or the score:
This last sort of news—easily digested findings that scientifically explain the mysteries of human behavior—is fed and constantly replenished by the same social science whose elemental assumptions are withering before our eyes. This is bad news for the news… For Benedict Carey, the Times science writer, the collapse of social psychology is an understandably painful subject. The tone of his mini-essay is mournful, as if he’s watching an old friend walk to the electric chair. Andrew Ferguson, “The New York Times mourns the death of bad social science” at the Weekly Standard
Much of the hysteria and many of the goofs and gaffes we see in once-mainstream media are best understood as the outcome of not mattering the way they used to. Maybe social sciences are in much the same boat…
See also: What’s wrong with social psychology, in a nutshell
How political bias affects social science research
Stanford Prison Experiment findings a “sham” – but how much of social psychology is legitimate anyway?
A BS detector for the social sciences
All sides agree: progressive politics is strangling social sciences
Back to school briefing: Seven myths of social psychology: Many lecture room icons from decades past are looking tarnished now. (That was 2014 and it has gotten worse since.)