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New social sciences scandal: Oft-cited paper is complete rubbish—again?

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Earlier today, I mentioned how social sciences would play out in an incipient fascist state.

Maybe some people didn’t like that.

Well, Sokal, the physicist hoaxer and bane of social science pretensions, has been at it again, demolishing a supposedly stellar paper. As Discover’s Neuroskeptic notes,

It might happen again. The target this time is the ‘critical positivity ratio’ – the idea that if your ratio of positive to negative emotions is over a certain value, 2.9013, then you will ‘flourish’; any lower and you won’t.

The ‘critical positivity ratio’ is a popular idea. Fredrickson and Losada’s 2005 paper on it has been cited a massive 964 times on Google Scholar, just for starters.

And yet – that paper is complete rubbish. As are Losada’s previous papers on the issue. I criticize a lot of papers mysef, but this one really takes the biscuit. It’s an open and shut case.

As Brown et al write, the idea of a single ‘critical ratio’ that determines success or failure everywhere and for everyone is absurd in itself:

Of course it is. What’s wrong with the whole edifice of social psychology is that it is an art trying to be a science, and no good comes of that.

It’s too bad, really, There have been good studies in social psychology, but all treated the subject as an art, the art of explaining human behaviour in a credible way.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

One Reply to “New social sciences scandal: Oft-cited paper is complete rubbish—again?

  1. 1
    Jacob says:

    “Of course it is. What’s wrong with the whole edifice of social psychology is that it is an art trying to be a science, and no good comes of that.”

    I disagree, the field of social psychology is very well suited to be a science (if by that you mean the use of the hypothetic-deductive method), if used with care. Unfortunately, too often social psychologists (at least in the US) treat social psychology as a ‘natural science’. Humans, as agents with free will, differ very much from the more ‘physical reality’, and therefore one should be very careful when making judgements. Behaviour in people are seldom simply 1 cause – 1 effect, but are rather much more complex. Therefore, one should be careful and critical both when doing research on your own and reading others research.

    Theories come and go, as it should in science. One should be very careful when forming theories, and these theories should be tested rigorously in a variety of ways. Bad theories should be improved or replaced with better.

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