Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

January 21, 2018

The rich can afford to not steal

Filed under: Psychology,Replication crisis — Razib Khan @ 12:07 pm

Pardis Sabeti has an op-ed in The Boston Globe, For better science, call off the revolutionaries. In it, she contrasts and compares the changes in social psychology and genetics over the past 15 years. In the former, you have had the replication crisis, while in the latter you saw the confirmation that many candidate-gene studies were not robust and replicable.

Sabeti observes that while there has been a great deal of vehemence in the change in social psychology, in genetics people have taken the overturning of the old studies in stride, and not personalized it.

I think we can all agree that personal attacks, vehemence, and Jacobin behavior is counter-productive to what science aims to be. This applies outside of the context of the replication crisis in social psychology. The problem emerges when you ask what the alternative strategy is to overturn an entrenched order.

Though it’s implied in the piece, the reason that geneticists could be more graceful probably has more to do with the situation they were presented with in the 2000s. The rise of genomics and computation generated a surfeit of data and the ability to analyze that data. Repeated gains in power and precision mean that every overturned orthodoxy gave rise to many more research opportunities. An established researcher whose candidate-gene study was overturned had bigger fish to fry than defend turf which was small potatoes set next to the possibilities of the “post-genomic” future.*

In other words, the difference here is situational. I was aware there was a problem in social psychology by the middle-2000s, because I had friends and acquaintances who were graduate students in the field. They complained about all the things that we now know were problems. It was one of those “open secrets” where less powerful people couldn’t speak the truth, and more powerful people who benefited from the status quo had no incentive to change the norms. I really don’t know how this was going to change in a gentle fashion.

* Compare the arguments between selectionists and neutralists in the 1970s vs. now. The reality is most people just want to analyze the data, not argue about theoretical issues. That’s because we have data.

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