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Stop presses: “Moral molecule” another pop science scam

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You’ve probably heard vaguely somewhere about oxytocin (the love drug). = Oxytocin explains why we care.

Of course, that turned out not to be so years ago, We thought the hype was already dead but New Scientist seems to want to drive a stake through the heart:

The “cuddle chemical”. The “moral molecule”. Oxytocin has quite a reputation – but much of what we thought about the so-called “love hormone” may be wrong.

Oxytocin is made by the hypothalamus and acts on the brain, playing a role in bonding, sex and pregnancy. But findings that a sniff of the hormone is enough to make people trust each other more are being called into question after a string of studies failed to replicate classic experiments.

Paul Zak at the Centre for Neuroeconomic Studies in Claremont, California, made his moral molecule hypothesis famous in 2011 when he memorably squirted a syringe of the hormone into the air while delivering a TED talk. When people sniff oxytocin before playing a money-lending game, it increases how much they trust each other, he explained.

But several teams have been unable to replicate his finding. More.

Unable to replicate his finding? Astonishing. May the bird of paradise fly up our noses.

File under: Aren’t we all sick of hearing people whine that the public doesn’t “trust” science? Come on! Was there ever a time when science was more venerated in pop culture, with less justification? Why not wait till findings have been replicated? Oh, wait … there’d be much more trustworthy science, sure, but far less of it overall. That would be good news for the rest of us but not so good for the science bandwagon and its cheerleaders.

See also: Authors: There is a worrying amount of outright fraud in psychology  But, they say, it may be no more common than in other disciplines. (Relax.)

Scientists should publish less? Or, we are warned, they will be “swamped by the ever-increasing volume of poor work.”

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Here’s the oxytocin spin just before the gear hit the works:


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