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    Statistically "Highly Unlikely" - Social Psychologist Dirk Smeesters Resigns
    By Hank Campbell | June 26th 2012 08:00 AM | 88 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Erasmus University Rotterdam has announced that Dirk Smeesters, Professor of Consumer and Society at Rotterdam School of Management, has had two papers withdrawn after a report from the Inquiry Committee on Scientific Integrity looked into suspicions that the professor had committed scientific errors.
    Two articles were found to have irregularities with findings that, in a statistical sense, are highly unlikely. The raw data forming the basis of these articles was not available for inspection by third parties, and the professor indicated that he had selected data so that the sought-after effects were statistically significant.
    The University’s Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Smeesters on June 21st. They say in their statement above that none of the co-authors have been implicated.

    This adds more weight to an uncomfortable truth in the social sciences and the humanities and anyone else who doesn't quite get what separates science from other fields; doing statistical analysis is not science. Yes, science has gotten 'bigger' in its datasets so understanding statistics and numerical models are increasingly important but that is not the same thing as being the science itself.  Surveys of undergraduates are certainly not science.

    As expected, because two papers have already been retracted, RetractionWatch is on the case.  Their detailed insight into the situation (and the comments from the audience) prompted a response from one of Smeesters' co-authors, who wrote
    Some of you might wonder, how did we not know that something was up? The answer is that it’s not that easy to spot a coauthor who is doctoring data. The variety seeking paper, for instance, started in a delightful conversation that I had with Dirk when I visited Erasmus. Dirk mentioned a finding on social exclusion that he had; I had an interest in why people seek variety. We came up with what we thought was an interesting hypothesis to test that related to previous work on variety seeking, some of which is my own. Dirk is a nice, intelligent guy, and was an enthusiastic coauthor. He was a good critic of research. He was respected in the field. He also was at Erasmus, which has perhaps the best behavioral lab I had ever seen. So when the data streamed every few months, it was hardly suspicious. Unlike Stapel, Dirk actually ran studies. What he did with the data afterward is what’s in question.
    The questionable nature of relying too much on statistics aside, it likely is easy to be fooled.  We tend to think people are like us; basically ethical, basically honest and want to do good work and make a difference.  In that light, it is completely okay to believe someone is ethical until shown to be otherwise.

    Social psychology was once a strong field. It is not today but, as in the case of Diederik Stapel last November, researchers are taking the discipline back from people who have been able to get away with this sort of fraud.

    H/T David Dobbs at Wired for the comment by Jonathan Levav

    Comments

    While I appreciate your discussion of this important issue within psychology I take exception with the following comment:

    "this adds more weight to an uncomfortable truth in the social sciences and the humanities and anyone else who doesn't quite get what separates science from other fields; doing statistical analysis is not science. Yes, science has gotten 'bigger' in its datasets so understanding statistics and numerical models are increasingly important but that is not the same thing as being the science itself. Surveys of undergraduates are certainly not science."

    Social scientists apply the scientific method to a diverse array of social, cognitive, affective, and cultural variables. Directly manipulating one variable and assessing its impact on another variable is in fact science. It is not fair to lambaste an entire field for the mistakes of few. While I agree that we need to weed out those who have adopted unethical practices, this is an issue the entire scientific community needs to deal with not just psychological scientists. However, I feel as if your comment, reproduced above, reflects a lack of knowledge of the methodologies psychological scientists employ. I assure you there is more to experimental psychology than surveying undergraduates.

    Hank
    However, I feel as if your comment, reproduced above, reflects a lack of knowledge of the methodologies psychological scientists employ. I assure you there is more to experimental psychology than surveying undergraduates.
    Okay, if social psychology is not just surveying undergraduates and playing with statistics, what is the foundational theory of it?  I can list biology and physics but social psychology escapes me at the moment.
    I am not a trained biologist or physicist so I cannot speak to grand unifying theories in either field. However, my point is that application of the scientific method makes social psychology a science not the presence of a grand unifying theory. Biology was a science long before evolutionary theory came around because they applied the scientific method. To my knowledge physics does not have a grand unifying theory; rather they have several possible contenders (e.g., string theory).

    There are a few theories that have been extremely generative and produced results that are highly replicable:

    - Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Festinger, 1957)
    - The need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)
    - Attachment Theory (see Bowlby's three volume set - Attachment, Separation, and Loss)
    - Terror Management Theory (e.g., Rosenblatt et al 1989., Greenberg et al, 1990)

    Also many social psychologist draw inspiration either implicitly or explicitly from evolutionary theory. I think David Buss argues this point well (see Buss, 1990)

    It is also important to keep in mind that the issues psychological scientists attempt to answer have plagued, inspired, and fascinated mankind for as long as we have been able to think and communicate these thoughts to others. Ignoring the scientific foundations of our field downplays the importance of the research questions we attempt to answer. Unlike other scientists we cannot assess our variables in a vacuum.

    Hank
    However, my point is that application of the scientific method makes social psychology a science not the presence of a grand unifying theory.
    No, that makes being a salesperson a scientist.  It makes engineering a science, it makes anything a science.  Basically, you have configured a definition of science that makes social psychology a science; unfortunately, it also does so for political science and economics.  Those are not science either.

    You also get the definition of a theory wrong, as your four examples show.  And every scientist has heard of gravity and evolution so I am alarmed that social psychologists, especially one claiming to be a scientist, has not.  None of your examples are theories by the science definition but if you are redefining theory too, I suppose it should be called something else - postmodern relativism.
    You might be showing a tendency to regard a field as being a science when it meets your definition of success. I think this is wrong. Social Psychology uses the scientific method to attempt to understand how social context and cognition influence each other. It is a young field, and there are differences among its practitioners regarding emphasis. One focus is on understanding how social context shapes cognition. Here, for example, scholars have demonstrated lawful relationships between different aspects of context (e.g.,the language we speak, the environment in which we grow up) and the way we perceive the world. Others emphasize the way our evolved cognition influences our social arrangements discovering, for example, that humans have evolved to think of themselves as group members, such that categorization into novel groups based on the most mundane causes (e.g., the toss of a coin) leads to implicit and explicit parochial behavior. We are, as I noted, a young discipline with its flaws. Yet theoretically driven experiments have yielded many non-obvious findings that may help us to understand human behavior. Many of the discoveries of social psychologists have influenced other disciplines; those advancing gene-culture co-evolution frequently refer to the discoveries of social psychologists as facts about the world that their theory attempts to explain.

    Hank
    I am critical of social psychology in modern times - decades ago it was quite good, even though it was still not science then.   In most universities, you find the psychology departments with the humanities, not science, and there is a reason for that.  It is also not all that young.  It has been around a lot longer than I have, rare for a discipline which claims to be a science yet has no theory.

    I do share your confidence social psychology will get more rigorous in the future. It still will not be a a science, any more than economics or political science is, and those have been around forever.   I think applied psychology is quite good but, like engineering (which is applied physics), it is not science.
    You might be showing a tendency to regard a field as being a science when it meets your definition of success.
    I can't even figure out what this means.  To psychologists and postmodernists, perhaps this sort of relativism is expected and even ordinary.  We have not cured cancer so by your definition you are claiming I do not think biology is science.  You are wrong.
    Maybe this discussion would be more precise if you gave your definition of science.

    Hank
    It needs to have a theoretical grounding - not the psychology colloquial sense of theory, a real theory - it needs to make predictions and it needs them to be more accurate than 'placebo' numbers. Psychological assessments are no more accurate than astrology - and that includes when the psychologist is reading the psychological assessment they filled out on themselves. They can't pick a real assessment rather than astrology out of a lineup. (The Journal of General Psychology Volume 135, Issue 3, 2008 DOI:10.3200/GENP.135.3.287-300)

    Is parapsychology science to you?  Computer science?  
    My off the cuff definition of science Is the attempt to systematically develop, on the basis of empirical observation, testable and falsifiable predictions and explanations about a domain. To the extent that psychology attempts to do that then about the human mind yes, it is a science.
    I am sure we can both find instances of bad science (or, maybe to you, non-science) in Psychology but that is hardly the point. I would agree, for example (and I am not alone) that too often researchers jump to "discover" cute but difficult to replicate and perhaps meaningless things. But there is much more serious research investigating significant problems.

    Let me turn it around by asking a question of my own: is neuroscience a science?

    Gerhard Adam
    My off the cuff definition of science Is the attempt to systematically develop, on the basis of empirical observation, testable and falsifiable predictions and explanations about a domain.
    Doesn't work.  By that definition, a chef is a scientist.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I can see that we might go around and around for a long time doing this. I really think you need to develop a precise definition of science. I guess what you are getting at is that the domain of inquiry is important. And "cooking" or "ghosts" or "computers" are not because they are trivial, do not exist, or are simply not entities that we can seek to understand in any meaningful way. I'll help you out and add "sport science" to your amusing list. I am sure though you would agree that the human mind is a non-trivial, existing domain that is understandable and worthy of understanding.

    Hank
    Neuroscience is biology.  I already said that is science. I ask again, is parapsychology a science to psychologists or are only some psychology fields 'science'? If not, which fields of psychology are science?
    Re para psychology see above.

    So psychologist who studies, say, what segment of the brain is activated when a person is socially excluded is a scientist, but a person who studies the emotional correlates of exclusion is not a scientist?

    Again, I think we would be on firmer ground if you gave a precise definition of science. Then we could agree on what we disagree on! Without that all we have are anecdotes and witty asides. I mean it's fun, but eventually I need to work!

    Hank
    but a person who studies the emotional correlates of exclusion is not a scientist?
    There's zero predictability in that - you can't tell anyone how a person will react to anything.  All you can see is what some group of people (college undergrads who got paid or got extra credit in an alarming number of cases) did and try to infer something from that statistically.  That isn't science.  

    Now, you are also introducing something else about neuroscience.  fMRI imaging studies that claim to see X when Y happens and therefore Y causes X or X causes Y are total rubbish too.
    There's zero predictability in that - you can't tell anyone how a person will react to anything.

    This is so puerile I nearly decided not to waste time on an ignoramus. If I can replicate an effect and establish causality (not mere one-time post-hoc correlation), that if X situation is created then people regardless of gender, country, race, time, context will do Y in that situation, then it's very close to a law.

    Get over your narrow definition of whatever you think is science. Read Tversky or Thomas Schelling et al for behavioral economics for instance. It's not always math. We're human beings and we will act in ways that to unidimensional bigots such as yourself may not seem "rational" or scientific, but if it can be established and proven to a great degree of certainty then it is science.

    And it doesn't need to be 100% every single time like a physics "law", to me, based on my experience in the real world making decisions in real contexts with "incomplete information", give me 70% probability and I'll make a pretty staunch decision.

    Get out of your lab coat, leave your 200/100 vision glasses at home, and walk out in the real world some time. The study of what happens out there among real people, with real "scientific" emotions (because they're biology, as you pseudo-agree above with neuroscience, emotions are the same thing just different organ in a body) to me is definitely scientific.

    Hank
    Get out of your lab coat, leave your 200/100 vision glasses at home, and walk out in the real world some time. The study of what happens out there among real people, with real "scientific" emotions (because they're biology, as you pseudo-agree above with neuroscience, emotions are the same thing just different organ in a body) to me is definitely scientific.
    This is wrong in every way.
    Great, thank you for the elaborate insight. For a moment earlier in the thread I was actually trying to take you seriously. Try defining what is science. Or sit down and shut up.

    Gerhard Adam
    And it doesn't need to be 100% every single time like a physics "law", to me, based on my experience in the real world making decisions in real contexts with "incomplete information", give me 70% probability and I'll make a pretty staunch decision.
    What does that have to do with science?  It seems like you're just trying to turn almost anything that asks a question into a scientific query.  Economics certainly isn't;  social sciences aren't;  even mathematics isn't.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    If I can replicate an effect and establish causality (not mere one-time post-hoc correlation), that if X situation is created then people regardless of gender, country, race, time, context will do Y in that situation, then it's very close to a law.
    No.  Then it's close to being a theory.  As a theory you should be able to articulate it, and then it can serve as the over-arching basis by which studies try to gather more evidence and build up results as science [as well as making predictions].  So, what is the theory you're advocating?
    Mundus vult decipi
    You're confusing your own discussion. We're discussing what is science. A theory is an idea of what might be true. I'm talking about the method of testing that theory, which can be a "scientific method" of inquire and establishing proof. The method and its results are science to me.

    You are advancing the notion that social sciences are not real science because of the methods they apply, and because the inferences they thus draw are not 100% laws of nature, as exist in the physical sciences such as biology or neurology for example.

    Your definition of science is severely limited. You can continue to believe it, but you're living in the 19th century.

    Hank
    In the 19th century they believed more like you - minus the bit about surveying college students and making some statistics and declaring that understanding anything about people.  Recognizing that social psychology is not science is definitely a 21st century idea.
    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but you're way off base here.  The problem here is that it truly appears that you don't understand the role of theories and how they shape what ultimately becomes a "science".  Employing the "scientific method", such as it is, isn't sufficient for calling something a science.  I'm also concerned over your statement regarding "laws of nature" which is almost certainly NOT true when applied as you have from some "inferences".

    All of these things can occur, however the point is that one articulates a theory which can then be scientifically tested/validated.  Once that occurs then there is a basis for claiming that something is a science, because it is now capable of adding to or developing additional theories that offer predictability and repeatability to the topic. 

    Social sciences simply ask questions and try to draw statistical inferences from the responses.  If you can demonstrate even one theory that they are "testing", then you might be on a stronger footing.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I am most certainly not saying that a scientific method of inquiry = science. Read my posts again from the beginning, if you really must poke your nose mid-way without understanding the context.

    Define science, you and Hank on this thread. Then we can all agree what we disagree on.

    Despite about five requests for a definition, neither of you has had the gumption or the ability to define what it is you're arguing over.

    Meanwhile, social sciences are very much a science. You can split all the semantic hair you guys have the time for...

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, to begin ... I do understand the context, which is typical any time "social science" comes up.

    What science isn't.
    http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/1122science2.html

    What is science?
    http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/1122science2.html

    At a minimum it would appear that to be "scientific" entails a systematic and disciplined method of acquiring knowledge, and that knowledge must be verifiable knowledge.

    So, we enter a problem area at the outset for it may be argued (Gareau, 1987) that society, its institutions and social relationships are not susceptible to scientific study, and that the methods of the natural sciences should not be applied to social phenomena. That the terms "social" and "scientific" may not sit comfortably together was illustrated by the decision of the British

    http://www.le.ac.uk/oerresources/media/ms7500/mod1unit2/page_03.htm

    For a good discussion:
    Thus sociology cannot be called a science, because it does not lead to "objective knowledge" ...
    http://www.hermetic.ch/compsci/pss1.htm/
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I think that Wikipedia describes what social science is quite well :- 
    Social science is the field of study concerned with society and human behaviors. 
    "Social science" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a plurality of fields outside of the natural sciences. These include: anthropology, archaeology, criminology, economics, history, linguistics, communication studies, political science and international relations, sociology, geography, law, and psychology.
    The term may however be used in the specific context of referring to the original science of society established in 19th century sociology (Latin: socius, "companion"; -ology, "the study of", and Greek λόγος, lógos, "word", "knowledge"). Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber are typically cited as the principal architects of modern social science by this definition. 
    Positivist social scientists use methods resembling those of the natural sciences as tools for understanding society, and so define science in its stricter modern sense. 
    Interpretivist social scientists, by contrast, may use social critique or symbolic interpretation rather than constructing empirically falsifiable theories, and thus treat science in its broader sense. 
    In modern academic practice, researchers are often eclectic, using multiple methodologies (for instance, by combining the quantitative and qualitative techniques). The term social research has also acquired a degree of autonomy as practitioners from various disciplines share in its aims and methods.
    To say that anthropology, archaeology, criminology, economics, history, linguistics, communication studies, political science and international relations, sociology, geography, law, and psychology are all not really 'science' is maybe being a little bit science blinkered?
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    But they are not considered science, except by some in those particular fields. How can anthropology be science? Law is science now?  Then so is anything.
    What is your definition of science? Stop parroting the line about X not being science, Y not being science, etc. We heard you the first time. But you, for the umpteenth time, choose not to take a stand and instead prefer to pretend that you are some all-knowing true scientist, casting judgment left, right, and center on other people's comments perhaps because that's what fuels your ego. Poppycock!

    You're nothing but a petty-minded, intellectual wannabe' who likes to fan the flames with extreme positions that he doesn't even begin to comprehend simply because extremism generates traffic, and you've now been called out on more than one occasion. You have my sympathies for the miserable state that you're in but it's not that hard to climb out. Try to be a bit less confrontationist, a bit more civil, and a bit more open to real discussion. Have a bit of humble pie along the way if you're wrong and you might actually convince people of your convictions when you're right.

    Gerhard Adam
    I suppose if you wanted something simple it would relate to any discipline whereby you can obtain a result,  of which different interpretations can occur.  However without a definitive way of resolving differences of interpretation [i.e. via theory, "laws", etc.] then the area of inquiry cannot be considered a science.  In other words, it can never be resolved beyond the point of individual interpretations.

    One notable exception to this is mathematics, which is also not a science.  Since mathematics is pure invention, it can never be observed and validated except within its own framework, so therefore cannot be regarded as science.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Yes, you are right, I didn't really phrase that very well. I should have said that these are areas that can be studied under the umbrella of social science. It seems that there are broader and narrower definitions and meanings of the word science that are in general use in society both now and in the past. Its meaning has even changed a lot over the centuries and probably still will. If you just type 'what is science' into Google most of the definitions say something like this one from the science made simple website :-
    Science Definition
    The word science comes from the Latin "scientia," meaning knowledge.
    How do we define science? According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is "knowledge attained through study or practice," or "knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world."
    What does that really mean? Science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge. This system uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena. The term science also refers to the organized body of knowledge people have gained using that system. Less formally, the word science often describes any systematic field of study or the knowledge gained from it.
    What is the purpose of science? Perhaps the most general description is that the purpose of science is to produce useful models of reality. Most scientific investigations use some form of the scientific method. You can find out more about the scientific method here
    Science as defined above is sometimes called pure science to differentiate it from applied science, which is the application of research to human needs. Fields of science are commonly classified along two major lines: - Natural sciences, the study of the natural world, and - Social sciences, the systematic study of human behavior and society.

    So, do you agree that fields of science are commonly classified along two major lines, natural science and social science?


    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    So, do you agree that fields of science are commonly classified along two major lines, natural science and social science?
    No, I just agree that social sciences have created that distinction to include themselves as science.  Keep in mind that while science has been around a long time, the 'social sciences' have not, they are a 20th century invention. The term itself was invented by them, for them.   If you look around your university, unless it is new, the social sciences are with the humanities, not the science buildings.

    Making a term like 'science' colloquial should be resisted, not it having been done accepted as evidence for why anything can be called science.  Colloquialisms are why we have such poor public understanding of 'evolution' and 'theory'.
    I am reading the thread, which I find very interesting let me say, but one thing I can no agree is the measurement of emotion as parameters to do science. For me is almost as an ACT OF FAITH, you just have to believe what the other person is saying. However, I do agree is not black and white. For me anything that meets scientific method and is reproducible can be considere as doing science and if it is apply in a whole then it should bea science

    I'll have a crack at this, although I am sure the question is a trap.

    To the first part of your question:
    "is parapsychology a science"

    No parapsychology is not a science because there are no theories that are supported with real evidence.

    Part 2 of your question:
    "or are only some psychology fields 'science'?"

    Now I'm reaching your trap but for the sake of robust discussion I'll bite and say yes, only some psychology fields are science, but perhaps we should stop treating psychology as a 'unified' field - it is not and discussions around this idea have been around for at least 4 decades. A fragmentation of 'psychology' seems inevitable (if slow) with different fragments getting subsumed by other sciences. I have no problem with that. Just as an undeveloped idea, maybe much of psychology (or behavior) will one day be entirely explained by biology, but then isn't biology explained by chemistry, and chemistry explained by physics? Or am I wrong here (this is an honest question)?

    As for the third part of your question:
    "which fields of psychology are science?"
    I think behaviorism came closest to being science and I would go argue that it IS science - a science of behavior. It has a theory (some say a law even) and that is Thorndike's 'law' of effect. There are some big-name behaviorists who have started to question whether the 'law ' of effect is in fact correct, but irrespective of that, I think the law of effect is a theory (of behavior) in the true sense of the word.

    I eagerly await your response.

    I should add that parapsychology is also not a science because the 'para' bit automatically disqualifies it - it tries to suggest there are paranormal (or beyond the realm of the natural laws) explanations of why things happen.

    Neuroscience is not biology -- any more than the heart of a dog is a dog. Neuroscience entails biology but lots more. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the definition (try Gardner, 1985, or so) for a start. Or read randomly selected papers from a few volumes from the plenitude of neuroscience available on-line.

    Bottom line -- you need to be better informed about what constitutes a science in general (not a trivial topic and certainly not a simple identity with an overarching theory -- i.e., that might be a necessary condition [though I am not confident that point could be made with any general agreement], but certainly far from sufficient).

    There are serious philosophical and scientific issues at play and you rather simple dismissal of an area for failing to conform to a questionable, self-generated (if not, suggest where I can read up on this unexpected closure to the debate) definition does not enhance the credibility of your blog.

    stan klein, processor of psychology (cognitive, social, evolutionary and, yes, neuro) and philosophy.

    For logical consistency, my second line above should read "any more than a dog is a heart...

    Trivial, but logically more precise.

    Gerhard Adam
    Many of the discoveries of social psychologists have influenced other disciplines; those advancing gene-culture co-evolution frequently refer to the discoveries of social psychologists as facts about the world that their theory attempts to explain.
    Sorry, but what does that mean beyond the rather obvious "nature/nurture"?  For literally centuries everyone knew that an individual was a product of traits they inherited [nature] as well as the manner in which they were raised [nurture].  It took modern scientists almost no time to conflate these issues, raise an artificial controversy, and then finally conclude that the two were related and interacted.  Most of it is still basic silliness.


    Mundus vult decipi
    Nothing to do with nature/nuture. See, for a recent example Herebet Gintis's comments on http://edge.org/conversation/the-false-allure-of-group-selection

    Gerhard Adam
    Yes ... finally we're starting to see people drop the "selfish gene" nonsense [despite Pinker's foolishness].
    Mundus vult decipi
    Sorry Hank, I can't find a single definition of science that limits it's use in the exclusive way that you have.

    Hank
    Then you aren't searching for science or asking any scientists.  Outside the social sciences and humanities, this is precisely the definition used for science; because the people involved are scientists and not simply wanting science pretensions.
    Nonsense. Truth is you're only hanging out with a narrow labcoat bunch. Get out more often. Among real people. Who think and act in ways that real people do, not like math machines.

    Again, you are overly simplistic in your "vision" of science. That being said, your position on psychology as "not being a science" is not mutually exclusive of your questionable definition of science (a correct conclusion is logically possible despite questionable premises).

    Psychology does indeed suffer from a lack of core principles and agreed-on theory. That is one (of several) reasons for the pervasive use of anonymous reviews (yes I know this is not unique to psychology -- but some of the reasons for the practice may well be).

    Since a review is supposed to be a rationally principled motivated critique of method and inference, the reviewer is shielded from accusation of subjectivity or bias by the existence of the corpus of accepted scientific doctrine. However, in psychology, the large-scale absence of such a body of accepted procedures for interpretation leaves ample room for subjectivity (the antithesis to stated [not necessarily to practiced!] science (aside: there are those in the so-called "hard sciences", Bohr and Eddington included, who feel that subjectivity is a prerequisite for science. But discussion would lead too far afield).

    Thus, anonymous review is the norm rather than the exception in psychology. While there clearly are other reasons for this practice (e.g., egomaniacs and threats of academic reprisals) the issue discussed above suggests that areas of ambiguity are not primarily at the periphery of psychology (as they more often than not are in the "hard sciences" --e.g., currently things such as speed of light, special relativity, electron spin, Heisenberg uncertainty, Plank's constant, etc. are cornerstone "fact" -- though, of course, subject to Kuhnian revolutionary change), where as conceptual murkiness in psychology is closer to to its core.

    Hank
    Psychology does indeed suffer from a lack of core principles and agreed-on theory.
    I don't think it suffers at all.  Psychology is quite good at what it does.  I don't know why so many in psychology have science envy, though.  Doctors don't. Engineers don't.  I never hear those groups claim to be scientists, nor do anthropologists.  It's silly that psychology majors and academics are so insecure they have to wrap themselves in something else for legitimacy.
    Coming across as so full of yourself and not being open to a discussion on another person's point of view is the hardly the most encouraging sign of someone who claims to know what science truly is. If your aim is to simply frustrate others into silence because you think that will prove that you are correct, more power to you. On the other hand, if you truly want to influence people with the "wrong" understanding of what science is supposed to be according to you, being less adversarial might not be all that bad of way to go about it. Your roll of the die!

    Hank
    Coming across as so full of yourself and not being open to a discussion on another person's point of view is the hardly the most encouraging sign of someone who claims to know what science truly is. 
    Again, relativism is for the humanities - and apparently an increasing chunk of the social sciences.  I can't just call myself a professional baseball player if I play catch in the back yard with my kid once in a while.  To do so would mean pro baseball no longer exists, because the meaning had been diluted and homogenized out of existence. So it goes with science.  Sorry that your 'point of view' of what science is does not match reality but no one is saying that psychology is invalidated because it isn't science. Teaching is not science, nor is music.  Well, maybe to you those are...
    And what makes your point of view right and others' wrong ... apart from your extremely inflated opinion of yourself, that is? All that you are offering is an opinion, not a statement of fact. To cock a snoot at those who have a different opinion explains your inability to see things in an unbiased light. Insecure much?

    Hank
    And what makes your point of view right and others' wrong
    Science is not a point of view.  That is what is hanging you up.  You want all opinions of what is science to be equal, for no other reason than it might make you feel good.  Science is about explaining the world according to natural laws, not boosting your self-esteem.
    At this point, you have not provided evidence to the contrary. Perhaps if you man up and define what you consider science and in which all fields this definition of yours is accepted, you might be exempt from your own critique about boosting your self-esteem. That's what a few of the other posters and I have been soliciting. Is that asking too much? Or does your bravado disappear when people see through your initial pompous facade?

    The problem is not one of relativism or opinion, nor of being nice. The problem os the inability to discuss an issue cogently or to even have the courage to define the terms of the discussion you clearly want to have. What is Science, what is Theory? Moreover, what is the basis of the definition? A definition is not provided by an anecdote or an imagined discussion with anonymous scientists. Anyway, back to the world of scientific discovery.

    Hank
    even have the courage to define the terms of the discussion you clearly want to have. What is Science, what is Theory? Moreover, what is the basis of the definition?
    Postmodernism Alert Level: Orange

    Next you will be saying science cannot exist until we can all agree on what the definition of 'is' is. 
    Not at all. Postmodernism would assume, I guess, that there is not such a thing as real science. I'm simply saying that if you disagree with a standard definition of science, and you wish to classify things into "science" or "non science" you need to define what you mean by science. Your reluctance to do so suggests you cannot meet that standard.

    I showed you mine: "My off the cuff definition of science Is the attempt to systematically develop, on the basis of empirical observation, testable and falsifiable predictions and explanations about a domain."

    Can you show me yours?

    Hank
    I listed the definition of science twice in these comments - not a subjective 'my' definition and that is where you fall apart.  By 'your 'definition, anyone who does anything is a scientist.  Cop = scientist. Chef = scientist.

    But you ignored the same response then so I can ask you once again; how is parapsychology not science?  What testable or falsifiable predictions does social psychology make as part of its fundamental theory?  And why do you continue to ignore the role of theory in science?  Do you simply choose not to accept gravity in your definition of science?
    Dishonesty Alert Level: Red

    You did not list the definition of science even once in these comments. The first time that you came close was by stating that science needs to have a theoretical grounding, but you didn't clearly define what you meant by real theory. What do you mean by "more" accurate than 'placebo' numbers? .001% more accurate is also more accurate. Would that satisfy you? And what makes your satisfaction the gold standard?

    The second time was when you stated that neuroscience is biology, which you already said was science, but again no definition for science. So, like the earlier poster, I'm also waiting for your definition, but your bluff has been called and you can't take the logical/philosophical higher ground any longer so I'm curious as to exactly how and on whom you'll vent your spleen now. Keep at it. Makes you look real smart.

    I cannot see your definition. Could you repeat it or cut and paste so everyone is clear about what it is? In other words: can you own it?

    Waiting....

    The assertion that a unifying or fundamental theory is a prerequisite of science implies that, for example, Mendel was not doing science. This is clearly absurd. The assertion that, because perfect prediction of behavior is beyond the scope of behavioral or cognitive science, those are not sciences, implies that nothing is a science. This is equally absurd. I reject as risible your ad hoc definition of science.

    I think we have a few Anonymous's here but essentially we are all making the same point. Quite frankly this discussion is pointless and I think all has been revealed.

    Hank
    Yes. As I said, young researchers are doing their best to clean up social psychology and hopefully they will continue to do so.  Revealing frauds and getting them thrown out is painful in the short term but necessary over the long haul. It's far more constructive to ferret out charlatans than to spend time claiming anonymously on the Internet that there are no problems.
    Go ahead and pretend that you didn't see the other comments exhorting you to define science or the one calling you out for embellishment. Nice attempt to re-anchor the issue under discussion as the one that the initial poster already agreed to, but trying to take the moral higher ground when you either aren't able or willing to back your bluster up doesn't portray an image of someone whose claims should be taken seriously.

    Aha! I notice you still have not been able to define Science. Instead, you have chosen to throw a few red herrings across the path and hope nobody notices you lack the courage or your apparent convictions. Nobody suggested that there were no problems or fraudulent research practices are not terrible - and if anything they are worse for others not practicing fraud. There are charlatans out there giving others a bad name and wasting everyone's time.

    You brought up the issue of "what is science" and I was simply trying to understand what you meant; to try and advance the discussion by forcing coherence.

    This is the first time I have heard of this site, no thanks to some random link that took me here. Reading this post made me laugh hard. This Hank Campbell character basically trolls and flames on his own site for traffic. He is exactly like the gossip bloggers who run junk sites like Perez Hilton except he uses "science" as his raison d'être. Hank, other than knowing "a lot of PhDs" and managing the "university program at a company called Ansoft Corporation", what makes you think you are qualified to talk about science? Anyway I hope my visit netted you a few more cents of traffic revenue.

    Hank
    It doesn't net anything.  If you prefer corporate media, science is overrun with it and you should go read the articles written for 12-year-olds they produce.  What you fail to do is dispute any of the facts; yet another social psychologist has been forced to resign for being a fraud and social psychology is not science.  If you have something meaningful to contribute, go for it.  But anonymous people with zero accountability sniping in sub-literate fashion is of little value.
    I'll give you credit where credit is due and congratulate you for not censoring anonymous snipers. Must take a lot of balls to do that. Then again you must have a lot of balls to pretend to be an authority on "science" when your own scientific credentials are vague at best.

    Gerhard Adam
    Then again you must have a lot of balls to pretend to be an authority on "science" when your own scientific credentials are vague at best.
    Ahhh .... the proverbial "argument from authority".  So now only someone that is a "scientist" is qualified to define what it is.  That's one of the lamest arguments one can make.  Apparently your only purpose is to pick a fight, since you've pointedly ignored two posts that specifically attempted to define science.

    Yes ... it definitely takes balls.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Yes, he is right. That degree in psychology of mine is definitely not science.  It's amazing that anonymous nobodies can claim intellectual superiority.  My name is out in public, not grandstanding and hiding.
    You still have not defined science. Come on, I know you have the courage...

    Gerhard Adam
    From my previous post (it may not be exhaustive, but it conveys the idea):
    I suppose if you wanted something simple it would relate to any discipline whereby you can obtain a result,  of which different interpretations can occur.  However without a definitive way of resolving differences of interpretation [i.e. via theory, "laws", etc.] then the area of inquiry cannot be considered a science.  In other words, it can never be resolved beyond the point of individual interpretations.

    One notable exception to this is mathematics, which is also not a science.  Since mathematics is pure invention, it can never be observed and validated except within its own framework, so therefore cannot be regarded as science.
    Mundus vult decipi
    So, this is constructive. The key issue from your perspective appears to be falsification of hypotheses? Whether a field of inquiry can make definitive statements regarding true or false?
    Is this Hank's issue too?

    Hank
    No, Karl Popper loved falsification as the foundation of everything.  Science explains the world according to natural laws.
    "Surveys of undergraduates are certainly not science." So then you don't understand that science is how you study something, not what you study. Survey data can most certainly be scientific. Plus, that sentence does not fit with the rest of the paragraph. Get a clue.

    Gerhard Adam
    So then you don't understand that science is how you study something,...
    That's your first misunderstanding.  Science is NOT how you study something.  There are dozens of ways in which problems can be studied and approached.  That does not make them scientific, nor does it render the problems scientific.  Using that argument, you could claim that theology is science.

    Science specifically depends on observation, experimentation, etc. as the means of attempting to establish something as being "objective" or independent of individual interpretation.  This leads to theories and "laws" which can then be used to establish knowledge that exists independent of the observer.

    Unless you can demonstrate that surveys inevitably lead to a singular conclusion, do so consistently, and are independent of individual interpretation, you don't have science.    Survey data cannot be scientific unless it is within the context of demonstrating that the data fits into an existing theory.  It can be supportive, but it cannot be scientific on its own.  Without a theory, you only have a poll.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Unless you can demonstrate that surveys inevitably lead to a singular conclusion, do so consistently, and are independent of individual interpretation, you don't have science.    Survey data cannot be scientific unless it is within the context of demonstrating that the data fits into an existing theory.  It can be supportive, but it cannot be scientific on its own.  Without a theory, you only have a poll. 
    Well in that case Gerhard, high energy particle (HEP) physics is not science either and we can't then be sure that the Higg's boson has been proven scientifically to exist and give mass to everything either, it might just be another new Hiccup boson! 

    We can't even be sure that the Standard model is correct because the 3 level trigger system at the LHC for example, is just a selective survey of the trillions of available particle collision, data information. There could be design flaws in the programs and/or the selection criteria or loose fibre optic cables or even normal but inadequate connections that just aren't fast enough for the data being processed in CERN's colossal computer system's various trigger systems and processors, that could be causing accidental sigma skews in the Higg's data that we still don't even know about. Just like the 6 sigma accidental skew caused by 2 factors, GPS satellite measurement discrepancies and a loose optic fibre cable affecting the accurate 'scientific' measuring of the 'superluminal' neutrinos at Gran Sasso. 

    Higg's bosons are being detected in several different ways at several different HEP colliders and establishments and there is no absolute concordance between all of these HEP data results, if it was perfect science then they would all agree without any variance in sigma's or anything else but they don't.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Well in that case Gerhard, high energy particle (HEP) physics is not science either and we can't then be sure that the Higg's boson has been proven scientifically to exist and give mass to everything either, it might just be another new Hiccup boson!
    Sorry, but you've just demonstrated that it is science.  The point being that the experiment has a theoretical basis by which it can be evaluated.  It doesn't remain forever within the domain of individual interpretation.  In addition, if it doesn't fit the existing theories, then the existing theories need to be reworked to accommodate the new phenomenon as well as everything previous.

    So, the scientific basis of it is that it will eventually be reduced to an "objective" standard.  Unless a psychological study or survey can be subject to the same criteria, it isn't science.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Psychologists are not my favorite people, even though I have a BSc psychology degree myself, however they also have many psychological theories that can be used as a theoretical basis by which they can be evaluated, proved or disproved using selective surveys however biased those surveys might be. These are potentially just as scientifically effective or ineffective as the CERN particle colliders and their trigger systems' inevitably biased, selective surveys of their trillions of particle collisions data.

    If the resulting psychological data doesn't fit the existing theories then psychologists have historically reworked them to accomodate new phenomenon, as well as everything previous, in the same way that the HEP physicists do. In my opinion there's nothing any more objective or scientific about Tommaso's or Lubos' s individual and subjective interpretation of their high energy physics (HEP) biased, trigger selected, surveys, HEP data and statistics than two different psychologist's subjective interpretation of their biased, selected, surveys, psychological data and statistics.

    Personally, I don't trust either of them to be getting it one hundred percent correct but they both qualify as scientific fields and therefore science, even just by satisfying your own definitions above :)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Interesting list of theories.  Can you find even one that is undisputed?  Subject to objective analysis and agreement?  If not, then I would suggest that calling them "theories" is more wishful thinking than science.  [It's interesting that when you read most of the descriptions they indicate that they represent a "model" view of a particular phenomenon.  In other words, they don't explain it, they are merely proposed explanations].

    I also agree that many areas of physics or other disciplines are not scientific when they are in the realm of speculation or conjecture.  However, they are capable of being rendered scientific at some point [or will remain forever speculative].  The point is that something becomes scientific when it is subject to and capable of being validated.

    In other words, simply because something comes up in physics, doesn't necessarily make it scientific.  You've seen plenty of crackpot articles published that try to claim they are physics, so that's no guarantee of anything.  However, eventually ideas settle down and fall into accepted theories and/or are subject to experimentation, verification, and repeatability.  They make predictions.

    I have yet to see any theory in psychology that is capable of that claim.  There may be numerous plausible ideas, and they may even be correct.  But if they are simply interpretative, then they are not scientific.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I have yet to see any theory in psychology that is capable of that claim.  There may be numerous plausible ideas, and they may even be correct.  But if they are simply interpretative, then they are not scientific.
    OK, so we agree then, if psychology is not a science then neither is HEP physics.

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    Don't be stupid.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    The fact that you don't even know that the P in HEP is physics, so you basically just wrote High Energy Physics Physics, tells the world how valid your nonsense is.
    Ha ha, what a pathetic argument!

    I admit, I stopped reading this thread of comments some time ago, so I'm not sure what has been added recently (in, say, the last 24 hours). But I am curious: I've only twice been directed to this blog based on social psychology-related searches and both times brought me to posts covering cases of misconduct (Stapel and now Smeesters). You clearly do not view social psychology as a science. So why cover these cases on your science blog? If social psychology isn't a science, what business does it have here? These cases can't be cases of scientific misconduct. Do you ever report the results of psychology studies on your blog? I suspect not, because you don't view them as scientific. Do you report cases of plagiarism in the humanities? Again I suspect not, because they are not cases of scientific misconduct. I honestly don't understand your motives in making these posts here, in this forum, that is putatively about science.

    Hank
    I've only twice been directed to this blog based on social psychology-related searches and both times brought me to posts covering cases of misconduct (Stapel and now Smeesters). You clearly do not view social psychology as a science. So why cover these cases on your science blog? 
    Because I am not a social psychologist and don't view the world subjectively.  Other people, certainly social psychologists, do call it science - you can see by the comments most people have a colloquial definition of science and that has been created by humanities people and social scientists.  

    Why talk about non-science? I also puncture the myths that vaccines are dangerous, even though the people believing they are dangerous are not scientists, and lots of other claims made by people who are not in science.  Mainstream media can't do it, they love to report headline grabbers like that psychologists say we evolved to like a certain grill on our car or that psychologists claim liberals will have prettier daughters or, in the case of Stapel, lovely factoids like that you are racist if your office is messy.
    Well, it strikes me that there is good scientific evidence to support the fact that vaccines are not dangerous (or at least not dangerous in any detectable way and certainly not in the ways espoused by conspiracy theorists). So that doesn't seem out of place on a science blog. If you really don't believe that social psychology is a science, it still strikes me as odd to report about cases of misconduct in the discipline on a science blog. Do you report when corporate CEOs are convicted for tax evasion?

    I do see--and completely agree with-- your point that most media gleefully report "sexy" conclusions from psychology articles without any consideration of how those conclusions were reached and whether they're tenable. But do you review the methods of those studies to debunk them? Or do you simply report them as absurd because their premises are obviously wrong? If so, do you believe your intuitions are a better source of information about how people behave than the systematic methods used by social psychologists (which include but are not limited to surveys of college students)? Because that seems anti-scientific, or at least anti-empirical. What if a carefully conducted study of hundreds of individuals reaches a different conclusion than your intuitions? Which do you trust?

    I've read enough here to see that you have a particular definition of science that excludes social psychology and most (or all) of the social sciences. But is it your opinion that these fields are worthless and that you could do a better job informing social policies with your informal observations and intuitions about people? In other posts, you seem to accord some (slight) esteem to "applied psychology," like marketing, but how can applied psychology make any practical contributions by applying insights from psychology if the insights from psychology are worthless?

    Certainly this goes beyond the question of whether psychology is a science. At this point I'm really just curious about the extent to which you devalue psychology as discipline and the conclusions it reaches about human behavior.

    Apologies, I did take a quick look and now see that you do "report" the findings of psychology (or social science) studies, but from what I saw you do so in a tone that's just as derisive toward the studies and disciplines as the tone you take when reporting instances of academic misconduct committed by social psychologists. I'm still unsure as to why you report these unscientific studies and cases of unscientific misconduct. Is it to promulgate your view that the social sciences are not science? What an odd use of a science blog.

    Hank
     Is it to promulgate your view that the social sciences are not science? What an odd use of a science blog.
    I've personally written 2,000 articles here. That you managed to go through them all so quickly is miraculous. As I said in my previous comment where you said this exact same thing, it is often the case that a science site will puncture fallacies, like that vaccines cause autism or the world is ending or that surveys of psychology undergraduates getting extra credit makes meaningful correlations to the human condition.

    And, yes, when fraud occurs it gets discussed.  Not just in social psychology, I also blast fraud and junk science in physics, biology, whatever.  But you know that, because you read all 2,000 articles I wrote and know I do not simply write about one quirky field that happens to be fortunate to have a lot of young people ferreting out charlatans in its leadership.
    Okay, yes, thank you. I see your position more clearly now.

    You equate social psychology with "surveys of psychology undergraduates getting extra credit" and regard it as a fallacy that such methods can make "meaningful correlations to the human condition." So you post about social psychology to puncture the fallacy that it has anything meaningful to say about the human condition.

    Certainly, I disagree with many of those points but it's good to know where you stand.

    Incidentally, aside from the snide tone of your posts, I'm glad that you are giving coverage to these cases of misconduct. I do believe that "sunlight is the best disinfectant," and that there are issues in how research is conducted in social psychology that go beyond these instances of obvious fraud. I welcome any intelligent discussion of these issues in whatever forum they appear. I do, however, disagree with you about what specifically these issues are, and also believe that they're quite separate from polemics concerning whether social psychology is a science.

    Hank
    In other articles about social psychology, I state two things: social psychology used to be much  more scientific , though the methodology would be frowned on today and; it is young researchers who thought they were going to be doing science that are tripping up the bigger names in the field who are engaged in fraud, and I regard that as a very positive sign for the future.

    Not in this article, but in prior ones I have compared it to medicine before 1850.  Prior to that, it was all quackery and it took one institution to put a cultural stake in the ground and deny the quackery and codify the legitimate stuff.  Basically, a whole bunch of people in social psychology are still circling the wagons around the quackery and that is not going to work.  
    At what point, roughly, do you believe social psychology went from being relatively scientific to being unscientific and/or disreputable?

    These cases (Stapel and Smeesters) are obviously alarming but their behaviour in any discipline would be considered unscientific and fraudulent. I see these cases as being separate from the question of whether social psychology is scientific or not, unless you believe that such fraudulence is widespread in social psychology. It might be. But I don't think anyone yet has a clear indication of its prevalence and whether it is more or less prevalent than in other disciplines (in the social sciences and natural sciences).

    Hank
    The mid-1980s is when they went off the rails.  It isn't just social psychology, as I said, but it isn't like I only go after social psychology, or evolutionary psychology, those fields just make it easier to get to the top without doing clean research because the definition of science is relative in social sciences - compiling statistics is science, to them.  The methodology in both cases was so arcane, and the attitude about showing data so lax, that they were difficult to spot as frauds.  That has to change.  

    It happens in physics and other fields too, just not as often. I called Jan Hendrik Schön a fraud and a lot of people here went after Mohammed El Naschie. I have gone after the IPCC too many times to count.  Here's an article on a 'science fraud's greatest hits'.