Mar 18, 2016

Second Foundation

via West Hunter

I’ve been reading a lot about the ‘replication crisis’ (low TFR?) in social psychology. Probably much, if not most, of the crap they push is.. crap. For example, there are strong indications that stereotype threat is just a dream. Who could have guessed that?

Some of the players are seriously bothered. Michael Inzslicht, a dealer in stereotype threat and ego depletion: ” As I said, I’m in a dark place. I feel like the ground is moving from underneath me and I no longer know what is real and what is not.” It’s the end of the world as he knows it – but I feel fine.

Cyril Kornbluth had a similar crisis of psychology occur in one of his novels, The Syndic. One psychologist showed that a rival school’s constructs simply didn’t correspond to the emotions and reactions of randomly-sampled populations. He tried the same acid test on his own school’s constructs and found out that they didn’t correspond either. That didn’t frighten him: he was a scientist. (!) Everyone from full professors to undergraduate students joined the feeding frenzy and wrecked everything so comprehensively that the field ended up as dead as palmistry. Of course, in the novel, the revisionists weren’t quite right: psychology collapsed because of a massive outbreak of sanity – the neuroses had gone away. I don’t think that’s our problem today.

Maybe we need to show some patience. Western medicine was worse than useless for two thousand years after Hippocrates, but it all turned out OK, not counting people like George Washington who would probably be dead by now anyhow. Someone impatient might have shot all the doctors in 1600 and asked people like Pascal and Fermat to start over from scratch: that would have been a dreadful mistake, surely? Alchemy had a lot of practical results, unlike medicine, but it too generated false theories for thousands of years. Maybe some of our current pseudosciences (fengshui? molybdomancy?) will someday become real and powerful. I’m not holding my breath, but who knows? There are more things in heaven and earth.

Maybe we’ll see the end of science in some other area – say a complete theory of physics, which would be particularly likely if we’re living in a simulation. Then, with a little luck, we’d see a conquest of the hallowed halls of psychology by red-handed physikers in search of full-bodied wantons and grant support, just as displaced Huns kicked Gothic ass.

The real question is what purpose should social psychology serve? If the point is to learn new truths, trying to straighten out the existing players is unlikely to be the most effective path. They don’t seem to be terribly smart or insightful – if they were, they wouldn’t be in this mess. They’re obviously not mathletes. They really, really want some fairly silly things to be true – that’s a huge handicap, one that shows no sign of abating. Judging from the state of the field, curiosity is not their strongest passion.

If I were King, I would fire them all and start over with new personnel. We have it in our power to begin the world over again. There’s no point in being inhumane about it: we could retrain them for jobs more suited to their capabilities (by teaching them THE WORDS).

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