viernes, 28 de agosto de 2015

Replicability in psychology

A recent article has been making waves in psychology in which scientific replicability in the field is placed in doubt. 

Even in social psychology reproducibility can be important, as in the famous work of Solomon Asch on conformity that was confirmed in multiple replications. However, with a slight theoretical shift, his results became part of a much larger perspective on opinion-formation by Serge Moscovici’s idea of minority influence. That is, Moscovici does not “correct” Asch’s work, it enlarges it and gives it nuance. I use this well-known example because it seems that the problem of “truth” in psychology is not necessarily statistical: it has more to do with fine distinctions and the complexity of behavior.

Another problem has to do with all the tests that are supposed to measure things like intelligence, attitude, personality, school assessment and the like. There are well-known criticisms of this kind of testing that deal with things like cultural exclusion and the limited definitions of the field being evaluated (for example, musical ability is excluded from intelligence tests). I mention this as just another issue in which complexity makes any broad statements about the utility of these tests impossible.

I don’t want to go into other issues where objectivity is not even a goal in psychology. Rigor is always a problem, and evidently there must be rules that make absolutely clear what is being discussed and to what degree it might be representative of something. As the multi-authored, re- published article from Science says in its conclusions: “Any temptation to interpret these results as a defeat for psychology or science more generally, must contend with the fact that this project demonstrates science behaving as it should”.


Alexander A. Aarts, Joanna E. Anderson, Christopher J. Anderson, Peter R. Attridge, Angela Attwood, et al (August, 2015) Estimating the reproducibility os psychological science. Science 
Vol. 349, no. 6251. Disponible en:
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