There is currently what is being described as a “crisis” in the field of social/personality psychology. It turns out, many psychological experiments, however heralded in the media and whose findings are made a big deal of, cannot be replicated by other researchers. Is that due to fraud? Statistical quirks? Or does it mean that psychology is not a science after all?
At this writing, social psychology is being shaken by charges that many published findings, including numerous iconic findings, do not replicate when tested by independent investigators. Cyberspace is thick with skirmishes between Replicators, who broadcast the failed replications, and Finders, who insist that their findings are real. Viewed from a safe distance, it’s all good fun, the sort of academic kerfuffle that makes for diverting reads in those corners of the media where academic kerfuffles get covered. Unfortunately, I’m not at safe distance. Here, as elsewhere, I’ve repurposed psychological findings in philosophical argumentation. Awkward for me, if the findings are false.Popular reports on RepliGate link the controversy to notorious cases of scientific misconduct (Bartlett 2013, Yong 2012). But the big problem’s not a few cheaters, or even a few more than a few cheaters; if the Replicators are right, the infirmity results from standard practice in experimental psychology.
The author goes on to offer possible explanations. But here is another one: Perhaps human beings, being free and thus unpredictable agents, cannot be studied scientifically in the same way that chemicals, plants, animals, and other non-rational natural entities can be. Thus, one person or group of people may react differently when being studied than another person or group being subjected to the same experiment.
Since the ability to replicate an experiment is a requirement of the scientific method, this would suggest that psychology and perhaps other social sciences are not sciences at all. And that science and its methods cannot account for everything.