Category: Pseudoscience

‘Psychology in Crisis’ is now available

About the Author

Imprint: 2018
Psychology in Crisis
Author: Brian M. Hughes
Publisher: Palgrave, London

ISBN-10: 1352003007
ISBN-13: 978-1352003000

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From the cover: Throughout the history of psychology, attempting to objectively measure the highly dynamic phenomenon of human behaviour has given rise to an underappreciated margin of error. Today, as the discipline experiences increasing difficulty in reproducing the results of its own studies, such error not only threatens to undermine psychology’s credibility but also leaves an indelible question: Is psychology actually a field of irreproducible science?

In this thought-provoking new book, author Brian Hughes seeks to answer this very question. In his incisive examination of the various pitfalls that determine ‘good’ or ‘bad’ psychological science – from poor use of statistics to systematic exaggeration of findings – Hughes shows readers how to critique psychology research, enhance its validity and reliability, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of the way psychology research is produced, published, and promulgated in the twenty-first century.

This book is essential reading for students wanting to understand how to better scrutinise psychological research methods and results, as well as practitioners and those concerned with the replication debate.

Psychology in Crisis is an unflinching tour of the challenges of doing psychological science well. Brian Hughes describes six crises facing psychology that could make one think that all is lost. But it is not. At their core, the crises are illustrations of just how hard it is to study human behavior and, simultaneously, why it is worth doing. Hughes closes with a path toward a science that is robust, transparent, and self-skeptical to help accelerate discovery and ensure that psychology meets its potential as a scientific enterprise.” — Professor Brian Nosek, Professor in psychology at the University of Virginia and Executive Director for the Center for Open Science


Contents

Chapter 1 ‘The Same Again, But Different’: Psychology’s Replication Crisis
Chapter 2 ‘Black Is White’: Psychology’s Paradigmatic Crisis
Chapter 3 ‘Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width’: Psychology’s Measurement Crisis
Chapter 4 ‘That Which Can Be Measured’: Psychology’s Statistical Crisis
Chapter 5 ‘We Are The World’: Psychology’s Sampling Crisis
Chapter 6 ‘Fitter, Happier, More Productive…’: Psychology’s Exaggeration Crisis
Chapter 7 From Crisis to Confidence: Dealing with Psychology’s Self-Inflicted Crises

Um Starbucks, could you not?

The Starbucks I go to is now selling magic beans. Well, matcha tea lattes actually, which are like magic beans in the sense that they possess special powers:

Detox the body

High in antioxidants

Helps the immune system

Burns calories

I was particularly intrigued at the last claim. This latte actually “burns calories”.

Which is strange, because a venti serving of said magic tea latte — sorry, matcha tea latte — contains 316 calories all on its own, making it the most calorie-laden tea drink on the menu:

This is pretty much a similar number of calories as in one of those super-sized chocolate chip cookies they sell.

Hmm. Do the chocolate cookies also “burn” calories?

Obviously this is all ridiculous. When you drink a venti matcha tea latte, you consume calories, you don’t burn them. You consume as many calories as you would if you ate a chocolate biscuit.

Physical activity burns calories. Some other things (like stress) can also burn calories, but not always in a good way.

You can’t burn calories by consuming them.

But I guess anything that claims to perform “detox” is bound to be bunkum.

Stephen Hawking RIP

Stephen Hawking is dead. Far be it from the likes of me to write him an obituary. You can see several of these elsewhere, many of them heartfelt and insightful.

Two thoughts come to mind at this time. Firstly, Hawking is to be greatly admired for being both a highly regarded theorist and researcher, and a genuine celebrity scientist. In this he joins very few who have managed to achieve fame in their own lifetimes by changing the way we understand the fundamentals of our universe.

These days, it often seems that celebrity scientists are not really leaders in their fields, and that leaders in their fields seldom become real celebrities.

Secondly, Hawking — at least to me — exemplified someone who practiced the role of scientist in its totality. He not only talked scientific talk, he walked a scientific walk.

By this I mean Stephen Hawking can be thanked not just for his theoretical and empirical contributions to physics, but also for the way he promoted scientific skepticism and critical acuity among the general public. Many scientists purport to do this by role-modelling rigour in their work. Hawking went further. He frequently set aside time to actively promote the cause of scientific thinking in the general population, and to advocate against bunkum and pseudoscience in the public square.

Most of us will permanently struggle to appreciate the true impact of Stephen Hawking’s work on cosmology and theoretical physics. However, we can all applaud his advocacy in the promotion of reason, balance, rigour, empiricism, logic, and evidence.

Hawking railed against the dangers of ‘fake news’ decades before the term ever became fashionable.

As such, it is somewhat ironic that this quote is so often attributed to him:

quote-the-greatest-enemy-of-knowledge-is-not-ignorance-it-is-the-illusion-of-knowledge-stephen-hawking-283508

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

The statement teaches us something important about science and pseudoscience — namely, that the bravado of assumption is more treacherous than the caution of self-aware naivete. It is consistent with Hawking’s many messages about the importance of scientific rigour. The phrase ‘illusion of knowledge‘ encapsulates the warning in an eloquent and powerful way.

The problem — wonderfully — is that, while Hawking conveyed this view many times, the quote in question was never actually his own.

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Nobody has identified any record of Hawking ever making the statement as phrased above. The exact source of the quotation is unclear, but it has been doing the rounds in one form or another for a very long time:

  • 1861: ‘the great enemy of knowledge is not error, but inertness‘ — Henry Thomas Buckle, historian

It was used several times by author, educator, and librarian Daniel J. Boorstin.

All we can say is that the claim Stephen Hawking authored this quote is itself an illusion of knowledge.

Stephen Hawking did more than most scientists to warn humanity against the perils of seduction by charismatic ignorance. It is because of people like him that more of us are willing to question the flim-flam, propaganda, and pseudo-knowledge that threatens to overwhelm public and civic debate.

He will be fondly remembered as a true cultural icon of our times.

Rest in peace, Professor Hawking.

 

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