Psychologists admit to bogus research

Social science aspires to the status of natural science, never mind that human beings are not as consistent or predictable as inert matter.  But a new study has found that an alarmingly large percentage of experimental psychologists admit to using questionable, if not bogus, research methods:

Questionable research practices, including testing increasing numbers of participants until a result is found, are the “steroids of scientific competition, artificially enhancing performance”. That’s according to Leslie John and her colleagues who’ve found evidence that such practices are worryingly widespread among US psychologists. The results are currently in press at the journal Psychological Science and they arrive at a time when the psychological community is still reeling from the the fraud of a leading social psychologist in the Netherlands. Psychology is not alone. Previous studies have raised similar concerns about the integrity of medical research.

John’s team quizzed 6,000 academic psychologists in the USA via an anonymous electronic survey about their use of 10 questionable research practices including: failing to report all dependent measures; collecting more data after checking if the results are significant; selectively reporting studies that “worked”; and falsifying data.

As well as declaring their own use of questionable research practices and their defensibility, the participants were also asked to estimate the proportion of other psychologists engaged in those practices, and the proportion of those psychologists who would likely admit to this in a survey.

For the first time in this context, the survey also incorporated an incentive for truth-telling. Some survey respondents were told, truthfully, that a larger charity donation would be made by the researchers if they answered honestly (based on a comparison of a participant’s self-confessed research practices, the average rate of confession, and averaged estimates of such practices by others). Just over two thousand psychologists completed the survey. Comparing psychologists who received the truth incentive vs. those that didn’t showed that it led to higher admission rates.

Averaging across the psychologists’ reports of their own and others’ behaviour, the alarming results suggest that one in ten psychologists has falsified research data, while the majority has: selectively reported studies that “worked” (67 per cent), not reported all dependent measures (74 per cent), continued collecting data to reach a significant result (71 per cent), reported unexpected findings as expected (54 per cent), and excluded data post-hoc (58 per cent). Participants who admitted to more questionable practices tended to claim that they were more defensible. Thirty-five per cent of respondents said they had doubts about the integrity of their own research. Breaking the results down by sub-discipline, relatively higher rates of questionable practice were found among cognitive, neuroscience and social psychologists, with fewer transgressions among clinical psychologists.

via BPS Research Digest: Questionable research practices are rife in psychology, survey suggests.
HT: Joe Carter

The most relaxing–and most boring–music ever

Scientists measuring brain waves have discovered the most relaxing piece of music ever, an artificially composed tune called “Weightless.”  It’s so relaxing that they are warning people not to drive while listening to it.  To say it’s relaxing is  another way of saying that it’s the most boring tune ever.  You can listen to it, below, if you dare.

British band and a group of scientists have made the most relaxing tune in the history of man, an Mp3 of which is at the bottom of this article.

Sound therapists and Manchester band Marconi Union compiled the song. Scientists played it to 40 women and found it to be more effective at helping them relax than songs by Enya, Mozart and Coldplay.

“Weightless” works by using specific rhythms, tones, frequencies and intervals to relax the listener. A continuous rhythm of 60 BPM causes the brainwaves and heart rate to synchronise with the rhythm: a process known as ‘entrainment’. Low underlying bass tones relax the listener and a low whooshing sound with a trance-like quality takes the listener into an even deeper state of calm.

Dr David Lewis, one of the UK’s leading stress specialists said: “‘Weightless’ induced the greatest relaxation – higher than any of the other music tested. Brain imaging studies have shown that music works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound but also ones associated with emotions.”

The study – commissioned by bubble bath and shower gel firm Radox Spa – found the song was even more relaxing than a massage, walk or cup of tea. So relaxing is the tune, apparently, that people are being Rex advised against listening to it while driving.

via Scientists discover most relaxing tune ever – Music – ShortList Magazine.

First of all, music or any art form is not supposed to be relaxing!  On the contrary, it’s supposed to seize and focus your attention!  It is not a good thing when music puts you to sleep.  I defy you to listen to “Weightless”–an appropriate name, since the music indeed is weightless–all the way through (beware:  it’s 8 minutes, which is part of what makes it so tedious, I mean, relaxing):

Marconi Union – Weightless

HT:  Joe Carter

What we half perceive and half create

Following up on last week’s post and video of the The McGurk Effect, it would seem that we have in this demonstration of how the mind alters what we hear some empirical evidence to support the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.  Which is ironic because Kant’s philosophy  is questions empirical evidence!  To be more precise, he critiques what philosophers call “naive empiricism,” the assumption that what we take in with our senses is the only kind of reliable truth.

Kant says that we do indeed take in sense perceptions from the outside world.  But then our minds actively shape those perceptions.  What we experience is  sensory data as organized by our minds.  As Wordsworth puts it, “what we half perceive and half create” (“Lines Composed above Tintern Abbey”).

The McGurk video gives an example of that.  An even more common and accessible example would be the way we perceive distance.  If we were naive empiricists, believing just in what we see, we would have to believe that objects get smaller the farther away they are from us.  In reality, of course, the objects remain the same size.   We know this intuitively but not from our senses alone.  This is how our minds process, organize, and present the sense data.

There are other examples.  Colors don’t seem to be essential properties of objects, but rather manifestations of how our eyes and our minds process light frequencies.  Dogs are thought to see in black and white but to smell in some olfactory version of 3-D and Technicolor.  Insects whose multi-faceted eyes are raised above their heads apparently see 360 degrees at once, forward and backward and above and below at the same time, something unimaginable to us humans who look at things framed in one plane.  And yet dogs, insects, and people–despite their different sense perceptions– share the same reality.  (Can you think of other examples?)

Kantian philosophy started us down the slippery slope that has led us to existentialism, subjectivism, and postmodernism.  But those take his points too far.  That we half perceive and half create does NOT mean that we construct our own truth, much less that truth is relative or that truth is whatever we want it to be.  In the McGurk Effect video we hear “ba’s” and “fa’s,” not the Gettysburg Address.  We do receive sensory data from outside ourselves; we do not just make it up.  Naive empiricism sometimes is mistaken for science, but actual scientists know they have to employ the empirical method with many checks and balances–formal experiments with  controls and repeatability requirements–to get reliable findings.  They don’t just base science on what they see.

How does all of this relate to a Christian worldview?

The McGurk Effect

Rich Shipe, longtime reader and commenter on this blog, referred to this video in a chapel message that he gave, making the point that our perceptions often fall far short of the truth.   I had to show it to all of you.  (As you watch, try shutting your eyes and notice how the “fa’s” turn back to “ba’s.”)

The point seems to be that when what we see conflicts with what we hear, our brain goes with what we see.  Can you think of applications of this principle?

UPDATE:  Some of you, as is evident from the comments, are not getting this at all.  The speaker is not making the “b” sound when his teeth touch his lips.  That would be impossible.  The same “b” sound is being played throughout.  It’s just that when we see his teeth touch his lips, our brain makes us hear the “f” sound even though the sound being played is “b.”

[Some remedial linguistics:  The "b" sound is a "voiced bilabial plosive," referring to air popping out of the two lips with the vocal cords in your neck buzzing.  The "f" sound is an "unvoiced labial dental fricative," meaning it's made by the teeth ("dental") touching one lip ("labial"), with air coming out through the closure in a form of friction.  "Unvoiced" means the vocal cords are not engaged.  When they ARE engaged and buzzing--feel your Adam's apple, that's your vocal cords--you get the voiced labial dental fricative; that is a "v" sound, what tODD thinks he heard, which is legitimate, but it also confirms the effect.)  This physiology is complicated, and yet apparently our brains pick up these distinctions visually!]

[If this video is not showing up on your browser, click "comments" and it should.]

“See how dumb I am” moments

Jennifer Rubin is a conservative.  But she is sick and tired of Republican candidates and office holders who flaunt their  ignorance and celebrate unintelligence:

Republicans have sometimes mistaken anti-elitism with anti-smarts. Put differently, Republicans should not have contempt for the voters or for ideas, lest they be judged unworthy of serving in office. It’s one thing to heap scorn on liberal elites who parrot unsupportable leftist dogma or who show contempt for ordinary Americans’ values; it’s quite another to celebrate ignorance.  We’ve had two rather appalling examples in 24 hours, which I would suggest, are perfect examples of what conservatives should reject.

After the Florida debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on Fox passed on a comment from someone she purportedly spoke to after the debate who claimed that the HPV vaccine that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had attempted to make mandatory caused mental retardation. This is complete nonsense. . . .

Then today, Texas Gov. Rick Perry went to Liberty University. It was, at least in part, a celebration of ignorance. The Post’s reporter at the scene Phil Rucker tweeted some of the remarks. Jon Ward at Huffington Post likewise recorded some comments. Things started off on a poor note with Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr. praising Perry’s seccessionist remarks as “gutsy.” Are we to believe now that Perry was serious about secession? Then Perry, apparently deciding to make ads for the Obama campaign, came out with a series of “See how dumb I am?” one-liners. He observed that he needed to pull out a dictionary to see what “convocation” meant. The next knee-slapper: He didn’t have the grades to be a vet, so he became a pilot. And then the real howler: He was in the top 10 in a high school class of 13.

Yes, he was trying to be self-deprecating, but it’s disturbing to see that he thinks being a rotten student and a know-nothing gives one street cred in the GOP.  . . .

But what if, for example, a really smart Republican with a great track record, lots of policy ideas and the ability to counteract the stereotype of Republicans ran? Oh, maybe there already is one or two in the race. Maybe there could be more, and perhaps conservatives would be relieved not to have to make excuses for candidates who think ignorance is virtue and intelligence is a vice.

via GOP should not fall into the trap of being proudly ignorant – Right Turn – The Washington Post.

Now it turns out that Gov. Perry at Liberty University ended up giving a very personal, non-political account of his faith.  Good for him.

But what bothers me even more than conservatives who are or try to come across as ignorant and unintelligent are CHRISTIANS who are or try to come across as ignorant and unintelligent.

People who act this way are seldom as dumb as they present themselves, or, one would like to hope, they couldn’t have risen to their current stature in life.  They are joking, trying to be self-deprecating.  (Well, I think Mrs. Bachmann was just firing off the top of her head.)  But why is that attractive to some people?

Philosophical counselors

Psychiatrists medicalize personal problems, while psychologists apply the social sciences.  Now there are counselors who use philosophers to help people think through their problems:

Patricia Anne Murphy is a philosopher with a real-world mission.

Murphy may have a PhD and an intimate knowledge of Aristotle and Descartes, but in her snug Takoma Park bungalow, she’s helping a broken-hearted patient struggle through a divorce.

Instead of offering the wounded wife a prescription for Effexor — which she’s not licensed to do anyway — she instructs her to read Epictetus, the original cognitive therapist, who argued that humans often mistake their feelings for facts and suffer as a result.

Murphy is one of an increasing number of philosophical counselors, practitioners who are putting their esoteric learning to practical use helping people with some of life’s persistent afflictions. Though they help clients cope with many of the same issues that conventional therapists do — divorce, job stress, the economic downturn, parenting woes, chronic illness and matters of the heart — their methods are very different.

They’re like intellectual life coaches. Very intellectual. They have in-depth knowledge of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist theories on the nature of life and can recite passages from Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological explorations of the question of being. And they use them to help clients overcome their mother issues. . . .

Unlike a visit to a conventional psychologist or psychotherapist, seeing Murphy won’t involve lying on a couch or reaching for the obligatory tissue box. Though she works from a home library lined with tomes by Albert Camus, Søren Kierke­gaard and Immanuel Kant, Murphy takes clients outside for brisk strolls through her leafy neighborhood because Kant believed that walking helped thinking and was soothing for the soul.

The therapy is not covered by health insurance but is typically offered on a sliding scale and averages about $80 an hour for one-on-one sessions. . . .

The field is still in its early stages. There are about 300 philosophical counselors in 36 states and more than 20 foreign countries who are certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, along with another 600 who practice but are not certified, said Lou Marinoff, president of the organization and author of the international bestseller “Plato, Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems.’’ . . .

“You can go on the Internet and find 100 people who are giving you advice,” [Practioner Anne] Barnhill said. “But there are thinkers who are recognized for their knowledge, and ignoring them in our generation just seems like such a loss.”

via - The Washington Post.

I was skeptical reading this–for one thing, there are so many philosophers offering conflicting perspectives on everything–and yet Dr. Barnhill here makes a good point.  We do have a heritage of wisdom that one might draw on.   There is also, of course, spiritual counseling, which, at its worst tries to emulate secular psychology but at its best brings Christ into people’s difficulties.  Do you think there is room for the philosophers?

Have you ever been helped through a personal problem by just reading something that pulled you through it?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X