Psychology Research Really Is Just ‘Psycho-Babble’*
By Steve Connor*
Psychology has long been the butt of jokes about its deep insight into the human mind – especially from the “hard” sciences such as physics – and now a study has revealed that much of its published research really is psycho-babble.
More than half of the findings from 100 different studies published in leading, peer-reviewed psychology journals cannot be reproduced by other researchers who followed the same methodological protocol.
A study by more than 270 researchers from around the world has found that just 39% of the claims made in psychology papers published in three prominent journals could be reproduced unambiguously – and even then they were found to be less significant statistically than the original findings.
The non-reproducible research includes studies into what factors influence men’s and women’s choice of romantic partners, whether peoples’ ability to identify an object is slowed down if it is wrongly labelled, and whether people show any racial bias when asked to identify different kinds of weapons.
The researchers who carried out the work, published in the journal Science, said that reproducibility is the essence of the scientific method and more must be done to ensure that what is published can be replicated by other researchers.
“Scientific evidence does not rely on trusting the authority of the person who made the discovery. Rather, credibility accumulates through independent replication and elaboration of the ideas and evidence,” said Angela Attwood, professor of psychology at Bristol University, who was part of the reproducibility project.
There is growing concern about the reproducibility of scientific findings, especially in the medical journals where there is great emphasis on “evidence-based” medicine. The levels of statistical significance needed in some fields of research, such as particle physics, are much higher for instance than those employed in “softer” fields such as psychology and medicine.
“For years there has been concern about the reproducibility of scientific findings, but little direct, systematic evidence. This project is the first of its kind and adds substantial evidence that the concerns are real and addressable,” said Brian Nosek, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who led the study.
The researchers who tried to reproduce the findings in the 100 published studies said there were three possible reasons for their failure to replicate the results. The first is that there may be slight differences in materials or methods that were not obvious in the published methodology.
The second is that the replication failed by chance alone, and finally that the original results might have been a “false positive”, possibly as a result of researchers enthusiastically pursuing one line of inquiry and ignoring anything that may be inconsistent with it – rather than outright fraud.
Professor Nosek said that there is often a contradiction between the incentives and motives of researchers – whether in psychology or other fields of science – and the need to ensure that their research findings can be reproduced by other scientists.
“Scientists aim to contribute reliable knowledge, but also need to produce results that help them keep their job as a researcher. To thrive in science, researchers need to earn publications, and some kind of results are easier to publish than others, particularly ones that are novel and show unexpected or exciting new directions,” he said.
However, the researchers found that some of the attempted replications even produced the opposite effect to the one originally reported. Many psychological associations and journals are not trying to improve reproducibility and openness, the researchers said.
“This very well done study shows that psychology has nothing to be proud of when it comes to replication,” Charles Gallistel, president of the Association for Psychological Science, told Science.
Psychiatric Fraud Exposed in the Rosenhan Experiment*
A 1972 field experiment tested the validity of psychiatric diagnoses and found they are totally bogus.
The study concluded that psychiatric hospitals “can’t distinguish the sane from the insane.” Essentially, like the military industrial complex and war, the mental health establishment has a vested interest in making us all insane.
The Rosenhan experiment was a famous experiment conducted in 1972 to determine the validity of psychiatric diagnosis, by psychologist David Rosenhan (1929-2012), a Stanford University professor, and published by the journal Science in 1973 under the title “On being sane in insane places“. The study is considered an important and influential criticism of psychiatric diagnosis. It was while listening to one of R. D. Laing’s lectures that Rosenhan wondered if there was a way in which the reliability of psychiatric diagnoses could be tested experimentally.
Rosenhan’s study was done in two parts. The first part involved the use of healthy associates or “pseudopatients” (three women and five men, including Rosenhan himself) who briefly feigned auditory hallucinations in an attempt to gain admission to 12 different psychiatric hospitals in five different States in various locations in the United States.
All were admitted and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. After admission, the pseudo-patients acted normally and told staff that they felt fine and had no longer experienced any additional hallucinations.
All were forced to admit to having a mental illness and agree to take antipsychotic drugs as a condition of their release. The average time that the patients spent in the hospital was 19 days. All but one were diagnosed with schizophrenia “in remission” before their release.
The second part of his study involved an offended hospital administration challenging Rosenhan to send pseudo patients to its facility, whom its staff would then detect. Rosenhan agreed and in the following weeks out of 193 new patients, the staff identified 41 as potential pseudo-patients, with 19 of these receiving suspicion from at least 1 psychiatrist and 1 other staff member. In fact, Rosenhan had sent no one to the hospital.
The study concluded “it is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals” and also illustrated the dangers of dehumanization and labelling in psychiatric institutions.
It suggested that the use of community mental health facilities which concentrated on specific problems and behaviours rather than psychiatric labels might be a solution and recommended education to make psychiatric workers more aware of the social psychology of their facilities.
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