Monday, January 10, 2011

Unraveling the "obviousness" bias in psychology

In my last post, I argued that the pseudoscience of parapsychology (and in particular the publication of a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology claiming to provide evidence of precognition) hurts the perception of psychology as a science. This may seem like an obvious argument to make; Bem's paper was published in the flagship journal of social psychology, so it is easy to make the logical jump that this article is representative of the kind of research most social psychologists do. Therefore, the reasoning goes, social psychology is not a real science at all; to quote one comment on the media coverage of the Bem article,
Psychology is such a joke. A demonstration of future events influencing present events would be one of the most important (if not *the* most important) findings in the history of mankind. Yet this demonstration doesn't end up in Science or Nature, but is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology? And some wonder why psychology is still considered pseudoscience....

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Evidence" for precognition hurts the perception of psychology as a science

There is a a paper in press at the most prestigious journal in my field, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that claims to have found evidence of ESP.

In this paper, Daryl Bem, a well-known and well-respected psychologist at Cornell University, conducted 9 time-reversed versions of classic social psychology experiments. For example, one common way of testing for associations between sets of concepts is through priming, in which an picture is flashed very quickly on a computer screen, after which the participant must categorize a second object. People are usually faster at categorizing the second object when the two objects share a relationship to each other; for example, when a picture of a rainbow (which most people agree is "good") is displayed before the participant must categorize the word "puppy" (which most people also agree is "good") as either good or bad.