Thursday, June 12, 2014

Science, Trust And Psychology In Crisis

When I attended my first scientific conference at the tender age of 20, one of my mentors surprised me with the following bit of advice. Transcribed directly from memory: "You should be sure to attend the talk by so-and-so. You can always trust his results." This casual remark made a deep impression on me. What did trust have to do with anything? This was supposed to be science! Based on evidence! It shouldn't have mattered who performed the experiment, who delivered the talk or whose name was on the ensuing publication...This notion of trust didn't stem from fears of fraud or deception. When a result was approached with some skepticism, it wasn't that data fabrication was ever suspected, or that anyone assumed nefarious intent on the part of the scientists involved. So it took some personal experience conducting research and going through the publication process before I had a good sense for what was going on. And here's what I learned: There's a gap between what you get in a polished scientific presentation or publication and actual scientific practice — the minute details of what happens in the preparation, execution, analysis and reporting of every study. And that gap can be traversed with more or less diligence and care. The gap between practice and publication is one reason psychology is embroiled in what some are calling a "replication crisis" — a lack of confidence in the reality of many published psychological results. more

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