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Amateur blows up false theory

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By training a computers man, the then-fifty-year-old Brit was looking to beef up his people skills, and had enrolled in a part-time course in applied positive psychology at the University of East London. “Evidence-based stuff” is how the field of “positive human functioning” had been explained to him—scientific and rigorous.

So then what was this? A butterfly graph, the calling card of chaos theory mathematics, purporting to show the tipping point upon which individuals and groups “flourish” or “languish.” Not a metaphor, no poetic allusion, but an exact ratio: 2.9013 positive to 1 negative emotions. Cultivate a “positivity ratio” of greater than 2.9-to-1 and sail smoothly through life; fall below it, and sink like a stone.

The theory was well credentialed. Now cited in academic journals over 350 times, it was first put forth in a 2005 paper by Barbara Fredrickson, a luminary of the positive psychology movement, and Marcial Losada, a Chilean management consultant, and published in the American Psychologist, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the largest organization of psychologists in the U.S.

But Brown smelled bullshit. A universal constant predicting success and fulfillment, failure and discontent? “In what world could this be true?” he wondered.

When class was over, he tapped the shoulder of a schoolmate he knew had a background in natural sciences, but the man only shrugged.

Dollars to donuts, Mr. Shrug was a Darwinist, so he was used to just believing without question as long as the thesis implies that human are simple. Maybe someone is, even now, working on a ratio for chimpanzees and gorillas … .

They had better. Read what happened when Nick blew it up for humans.

File under: Peer review, where are you?

6 Replies to “Amateur blows up false theory

  1. 1
  2. 2
    News says:

    Only the messenger.

  3. 3
    selvaRajan says:

    @Kairofocus @News – What kind of comment is that?

    I am not sure if the experiment was carried out at all. It would be interesting if employees of ‘Capture Lab’ were asked if any experiment was carried out by Losada.
    The peer reviewers need to be good. The peer reviewers probably didn’t understand the Math and just accepted the paper because it would have sounded impressive with all those Derivatives and funny sounding variable names. IMHO Psychologists are just a bunch of con artists. I don’t think Fredrickson and Losada will be affected in any way by the expose. Those bunch seem not to have understood even Friedman etal’s paper!

  4. 4
    vikingmom says:

    I don’t pretend to understand the math, etc. but it smells like…The Emperor’s New Clothes!

    Thinking that Psychology research needs to be particularly thorough as it’s a soft science. Not saying it’s invalid, but that it’s harder to nail down evidences of one’s theory than with, say, dealing with the visible physical world.

    But…what we can see and smell…is the stream of BIG MONEY going into this new psychology fad.

    Reminds me of…a catalog of local Self Help Groups (flavored with some religious overtones) which I found on Anna Maria Island, Florida maybe 10 years ago. (Of course, the fact that there’s lots of BIG MONEY on the tourist island of Anna Maria…was one of those random coincidences… 😉 )

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    EndoplasmicMessenger says:

    Reminds me of some cladistic research (that I think was mentioned in these pages some time ago) that “proved” Darwinism to 12 significant digits (!?!). Can’t find the link now. But too many significant digits (2.9013 !?!) should always be a BS flag.

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    Robert Byers says:

    Its not the peerage but all those citing it. No one had a hunch or a apple on the head that this was trash research and reasoning.
    No instinct whatsoever. In fact it might of got 10000 cites and a movie!
    It says it all for the intellectual standard in these circles today.
    A creationist would never of done this.
    God determines mans course a great deal and free will can do almost anything and change anything in human destiny.
    The girls can do better then these two!

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