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

An artist without greed or ego

You’ve got to love Elvis Costello, who is telling his fans NOT to buy his latest box set because it’s too expensive, but to instead buy that of Louis Armstrong, whose music is “vastly superior.”

Just in time for the holidays, Elvis Costello has a new $225 box set for sale — and he’s telling fans NOT to buy it.

The singer says $225 is just too much to pay for “Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook,” even if it does come with three CDs, a vinyl record, a concert DVD and a 40-page coffee table book. The music and DVD were recorded earlier this year at a two-night stand in Los Angeles, where Costello spun his game-show-like wheel to select songs that he and his band would play.

“Unfortunately, we at find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire,” Costello wrote on his website.

Costello tried to get the record company to knock the price down, but was unsuccessful. So he is recommending buying the work of another legendary artist.

“If you should really want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we can whole-heartedly recommend, ‘Ambassador of Jazz’ — a cute little imitation suitcase, covered in travel stickers and embossed with the name ‘Satchmo’ but more importantly containing TEN re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong,” Costello wrote. “The box should be available for under one hundred and fifty American dollars and includes a number of other tricks and treats. Frankly, the music is vastly superior.”

via Elvis Costello: Don’t Buy My $225 Box Set | NBC New York.

The diner as American icon

Foreigners are fascinated by American diners, seeing them as icons of American culture.  So says the BBCg:

Sitting in a diner, on the inside looking outside.

This is a quintessential American experience. Add a booth, a Formica counter and a cup of joe – as diner patrons call their coffee.

Themed restaurants and burger chains from Mumbai to Manchester aim to replicate this chrome-flashed experience, and diner fare such as home fries and fluffy pancakes are now global fast food staples.

So why are these kerbside kitchens a landmark of US culture?

The first such establishment opened in 1872 in Providence, Rhode Island – a “night lunch wagon” to serve those who worked and played long after the restaurants had shut at 20:00.

Its mix of open-all-hours eating and cheap, homemade food proved a hit, and the formula has been repeated ever since.

Today the diner occupies a place in the American heartland. The closest British approximation is not a retro-chic replica diner where hip patrons eat gourmet burgers, but the local pub.

Just as dignitaries visiting the UK and Ireland are taken for a pint and a photo call, no US election campaign is complete without a stop at a diner to emphasise the candidate’s everyman or everywoman credentials.

On the campaign trail in a diner (clockwise from left): George W Bush, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Al Gore Common touch: The diner is now a compulsory stop on the campaign trail

“The thing about this democratic counter is that anyone can go in and sit down. It can be a professor, it can be a worker,” says Richard Gutman, author of American Diner Then and Now.

“A friend of mine in Pennsylvania ate in a diner and he’s in the middle of two guys. One is the chief of police and the other is just some character. The policeman looks over and says, ‘Didn’t I arrest you last year?’ and the guy says, ‘Yes you did – pass the ketchup.’”

via BBC News – Why the diner is the ultimate symbol of America.

That diners are democratic is striking in countries with a rigid class system!  The article goes on to survey the figure of the diner in American art (Edward Hopper) and movies (Pulp Fiction).   I would say that other countries would do well to imitate our diners, as opposed to our fast food joints.

An alternative presidential option?

What do you think of this possibility–not a third party, but a coalition ticket elected by the public via the internet?

The restless political middle — emboldened by the recent inability of a special congressional committee to agree on a debt-reduction deal — is staking out a controversial plan to insert itself into the 2012 election.

A bipartisan group of political strategists and donors known as Americans Elect has raised $22 million and is likely to place a third presidential candidate on the ballot in every state next year. The goal is to provide an alternative to President Obama and the GOP nominee and break the tradition of a Democrat-vs.-Republican lineup.

The effort could represent a promising new chapter for political moderates, who see a wide-open middle in the political landscape as congressional gridlock and bitter partisan fights have driven down favorability ratings for both parties.

“Voters are saddened by the inability of people in Washington to deal with the issues that are important to them,” said the group’s chief executive, Kahlil Byrd, a Republican strategist who once worked for Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D).

Americans Elect has ballot slots in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and five other states, with certification pending in several others.

The group is relying on an ambitious plan to hold a political convention on the Internet that would treat registered voters like fans of “American Idol,” giving everyone a shot at picking a favorite candidate.

“We want to gather millions of people and allow them to run authentically through the process,” Byrd said, calling it a “wide-scale draft movement for presidential candidates.”

Unlike the Green Party, Americans Elect is not creating a separate party, but trying to change the political process in two ways. First, the group seeks to create a mixed-party ticket, requiring its presidential candidate to pick a running mate from a different party.

Second, Americans Elect — which was formed and is backed by Peter Ackerman, a wealthy private investor and philanthropist, along with Byrd — wants to take the nominating process out of the hands of a few primary voters and make it more open through the use of technology. Registered voters who sign up on the group’s Web site would directly nominate and select candidates online in the spring. A final nominee would be selected in June.

via Moderate Americans Elect group hoping to add third candidate to 2012 election ballot – The Washington Post.

Would you participate in an online convention?  Would you vote for its candidate?

With an unpopular incumbent and very likely an unpopular Republican challenger, as well as broad disillusionment with conventional politics, might this actually work?

Non-creationist critiques of Darwinism

Marquette philosophy professor Howard Kainz reviews two new books in which atheist scholars critique Darwinism:

Surprisingly, two recent books by atheist philosophers of science have joined with ID theorists in the criticism of neo-Darwinism.

Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, in What Darwin Got Wrong come at neo-Darwinism from a number of directions. Initially, they draw a comparison with B.F. Skinner’s psychological theory of “operant conditioning,” which attempted to explain changes in human behavior by patterns of stimulus and response. Limitations of that theory have eventually been revealed: it did not take into account internal mechanisms in organisms subjected to external stimuli; and the intention of researchers or subjects affected the results of experiments. Skinner’s behaviorism can be corrected by taking these aspects into account. But no such correction is possible in neo-Darwinism, which has no interest in “the internal organization of creatures . . . (genotypic and ontogenetic structures)” and recognizes no “intentions” in evolutionary processes.

The remaining chapters of their book add qualifications that almost seem like ID arguments: Fibonacci patterns, in which each term is equal to the sum of the two preceding ones, seem to be prior to all evolutionary developments; scaling factors in organisms are multiples of a quarter, not of a third, according to the “one-quarter power law”; computational analysis of nervous systems of organisms show that their “connection economies” are perfect; “cost versus speed” analyses of the respiratory patterns of the song of canaries show the most efficient use of energy; tests of the ratio of foraging honeybees to those staying in the hives show perfect solutions in all situations. There is perfection everywhere. They also offer an example of a type of wasp whose patterns of feeding her young competes with ID theorist Michael Behe’s notion of “irreducible complexity.”

But the major neo-Darwinist problem, they conclude, is that natural selection, in analogy to artificial selection, depends on the existence of a mythical “Mother Nature.” But since there is no Mother Nature, “she is a frail reed for [adaptationists] to lean on. Ditto, the Tooth Fairy; ditto the Great Pumpkin; ditto God. Only agents have minds, and only agents act out of their intentions, and natural selection isn’t an agent.”

Bradley Monton, in Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, in contrast to Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, is not so much concerned with deficiencies in neo-Darwinism, but rather in pointing out unfairness and invalid criticisms of arguments by proponents of ID. Monton maintains he is looking for the truth, wherever it leads.

via Intelligent Design: Atheists to the Rescue | First Things.

iPhones are pro-life

Indignant complaints about Siri, the virtual personal assistant on the new iPhones, which will give you information about just about everything, but not where you can get an abortion:

If you ask Siri for an abortion clinic in New York City, it will tell you “Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.” A simple Google web search—which Siri itself uses to find results—gives you seven to start with, some within walking distance of where I’m located.

• If you ask the same question in the city of Washington DC, Siri won’t direct you to a nearby clinic, but to one 26 miles away.

• A reader reported that when he asked “find a pregnancy termination clinic” Siri responded: “I found a number of medical centers fairly close to you.” Then “it showed me seven results and four of them were chiropractors, two were acupuncture specialists, and one was an emergency room.” Update: Indeed, after we tested this, it’s true.

Apparently, women across the country are having similar experiences.. To make matters worse, the iPhone 4S’ smart assistant will not direct you to a place where you can obtain emergency contraception if you ask for it. Instead, it gives you a definition.

via Is Siri Pro Life? Apparently Yes (Updated).