Yet another easy pop psych news story busted: The claim that perceptions of cleanliness affect moral judgements was not replicated.
One of the articles in the special issue reported a failure to replicate a widely publicized 2008 study by Simone Schnall, now tenured at Cambridge University, and her colleagues. In the original study, two experiments measured the effects of people’s thoughts or feelings of cleanliness on the harshness of their moral judgments. In the first experiment, 40 undergraduates were asked to unscramble sentences, with one-half assigned words related to cleanliness (like pure or pristine) and one-half assigned neutral words. In the second experiment, 43 undergraduates watched the truly revolting bathroom scene from the movie Trainspotting, after which one-half were told to wash their hands while the other one-half were not. All subjects in both experiments were then asked to rate the moral wrongness of six hypothetical scenarios, such as falsifying one’s résumé and keeping money from a lost wallet. The researchers found that priming subjects to think about cleanliness had a “substantial” effect on moral judgment: The hand washers and those who unscrambled sentences related to cleanliness judged the scenarios to be less morally wrong than did the other subjects. The implication was that people who feel relatively pure themselves are—without realizing it—less troubled by others’ impurities. The paper was covered by ABC News, the Economist, and the Huffington Post, among other outlets, and has been cited nearly 200 times in the scientific literature.
However, the replicators—David Johnson, Felix Cheung, and Brent Donnellan (two graduate students and their adviser) of Michigan State University—found no such difference, despite testing about four times more subjects than the original studies.
Just think of all the evo psych claims-in-waiting that go down the drain…
Predictably, the backlash against the demand for replication (fundamental in experimental science) has turned hysterical:
In countless tweets, Facebook comments, and blog posts, several social psychologists seized upon Schnall’s blog post as a cri de coeur against the rising influence of “replication bullies,” “false positive police,” and “data detectives.” For “speaking truth to power,” Schnall was compared to Rosa Parks. The “replication police” were described as “shameless little bullies,” “self-righteous, self-appointed sheriffs” engaged in a process “clearly not designed to find truth,” “second stringers” who were incapable of making novel contributions of their own to the literature, and—most succinctly—“assholes.” Meanwhile, other commenters stated or strongly implied that Schnall and other original authors whose work fails to replicate had used questionable research practices to achieve sexy, publishable findings. At one point, these insinuations were met with threats of legal action.
Imagine. Legal action for saying what is merely obvious. What I said a while back: Admitted fraudulent papers were not accepted because they were “edgy” (never mind honest papers that can’t be replicated), but because they confirmed opinions generally held within the field but not nearly so generally outside it.
What is the “backlash” against “replication bullies” and other such, and why?:
The controversies around peer reviewed fraud
New social sciences scandal: Oft-cited paper is complete rubbish —again? There was no way of distinguishing this Sokal hoax from the real thing, apparently.
Does science know the answers to absolutely everything? (Widespread backlash against scientism)
Decline in belief in God masks rise in superstition
Are two out of three people really secret torturers?
“I will” means something after all
An end to the madness (the fall of the DSM)
Scientists clash over the origin of monogamy
The slow death of a pseudo-discipline
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose
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