Sunday, June 11, 2017

He questions the meaning and importance of the null result

From Data, Truth and Null Results by Neuroskeptic. As I have been harping on lately, we are currently plagued by the accumulation of some fifty years of neo-Marxist philosophy, also known as postmodernist critical theory. The idea that everything is subject to interpretation, there is no objective truth, that opinions and feelings are critical lenses for interpreting reality, that all social dynamics are driven by power hierarchies and the idea that reality is socially constructed, i.e. the product of a consensus.

Postmodern critical theory is not just wrong but is repugnant and counter to all the positive aspects of the Western traditions from the Age of Enlightenment. It is of course ironic that postmodern critical theory is such a parasitic philosophy. Only the West has had the productivity (courtesy of the Age of Enlightenment) that can create the surpluses that allow such a self-defeating philosophy to survive.

Postmodernist critical theory cannot easily survive in the wild. It survives in the meme pool of the young (supported by their parents), in academia (supported by their credentialing monopoly), in mainstream journalism (supported by their oligopolistic regulatory capture), and in the administrative state (supported, unwittingly, by the tax payer).

In academia, it is highly concentrated in ethnic studies, gender studies, sociology, psychology, anthropology, education and prevalent in related fields such as literature, philosophy, and a couple of others. Sociology and psychology have had the paradoxical condition of being deeply committed aspirants to be viewed as scientific fields while at the same time being ideologically deeply anti-science.

This contradiction has exploded in the past five or ten years as most of the foundational consensus knowledge has been shown to be false. Implicit Attitude Tests, microaggressions, priming, stereotype threats, and legions of other studies have been demonstrated to have no empirical foundation.

That is not to say that the falsified hypotheses have been discarded. The popular discourse remains cluttered with these now debunked "findings" and the ideological advocates within academia remain committed to the ideas on which they have built their careers and status. Cognitive pollution has a long half-life.

Neurosceptic is highlighting an egregious example where the postmodernist critical theory ideology is obviously undermining the aspiration of psychology to be respected as a science. I believe that psychology and sociology are indeed sciences and that we should be careful of throwing the baby out with the bath water. The fact that the fields have been infected for several decades with postmodern critical theory does not make them any less a science, just as the fact that Chemistry was initially investigated by alchemist does not invalidate its status as a science.
Have you heard of the idea that smiling actually makes you joyful? Perhaps you know of the experiment where researchers got people to hold a pen in their mouth, so they had to smile, and it made them find cartoons funnier.

If you’re familiar with this idea, then you’re familiar with the work of German psychologist Fritz Strack, who carried out the famous pen-based grinning study, back in 1988.
This finding is such a great example of the postmodernist view that reality is socially constructed: you can be happy simply by going through the motions of appearing happy. Reality is, in this view, socially constructed.

For nearly thirty years you would have been deemed a science-denier for calling into question this accepted and credentialed evidence. The experts agreed that this was truth. Regrettably, the "experts" are simply another vested interest group seeking to protect their sinecures via rent seeking and regulatory capture. But the empirical rationalist barbarians are at the gates.
Last year, a group of researchers published a registered replication report (RRR) – an attempt to directly reproduce the 1988 pen-in-the-mouth effect on cartoon appreciation. 17 different sets of researchers carried out identical studies in parallel around the world. The total sample size was 1,894 people. The results were firmly null: there was no evidence that the ‘smiling’ pen condition made cartoons seem funnier.
That's interesting. It's not the end of the story because science has no end, all knowledge is contingent. But if it is not the end of the trail for that particular notion (pen smiling), it is true that the path is beginning to look like it might peter out.

What is striking is not the finding itself. We are getting used to weak hoary sociolgy/psychology findings crumbling when subjected to rigorous scientific scrubbing. What is striking is the explicitly postmodernist claim that the originator of the hypothesis, Strack, now makes - nothing is knowable and reality is whatever experts say it is.
In the new piece, Strack responds to this disappointing result. He says that he “volunteered” to help facilitate the RRR, submitting the experimental materials to make it possible, but he questions the meaning and importance of the null result. Following a rather opaque discussion, Strack seems to come close to suggesting that the truth of claims in science can be known even in the absence of statistical support:
[Scientists whose work fails to replicate] may arrive at the insight that there exists no direct route from data to truth. Instead, they may come to the conclusion that science is about arguments that should be based on empirical evidence whose validity, however, is not merely determined by probabilistic parameters. Although, power, effect size, significance level, etc. provide useful information, they deliver no immediate link to the truth or falsehood of a hypothesis. Instead, they must be critically evaluated (Popper, 1959), not only by statisticians but by scientists who are experts in the field.
The irony is overwhelming - Strack makes the original case for his pen-smiling study based on probabilistic parameters, but now that the replication fails, he wishes to jettison probabilistic parameters. His case now rests on "Trust me." Something along the lines: "I am an expert. I convinced other experts. That's all you need for evidence. Now, shut up!"

The tide of cognitive pollution and postmodern critical theory has hopefully reached its high point and will now begin receding. The self-proclaimed expertise of mainstream media pundits, academia, bureaucrats, and celebrities no longer holds as well in a world where everything is recorded and findable. When pundits are usually wrong, bureaucrats frequently lie, academia usually fails, and celebrities are frequently foolish, it is increasingly hard for the intelligent citizenry who are not members of the Acela Corridor cabal to not notice.

The disconnect between the citizenry and the postmodernist Acela Cabal shows up again and again in recent years between what the chattering classes think should happen and what the citizenry actually chooses (see Donald Trump, Brexit, open immigration, globalization, free trade, etc.) or between Acela Cabal expectations and what actually happens in the real world (they miss every economic recession, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, the Arab Spring, etc.)

Let's get back to the Age of Enlightenment values of scientific inquiry, critical thinking, respect for rights, liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state. And time to dispense with the noxious miasma of postmodernism with its rejection of universalism, including objective notions of reason, human nature, social progress, moral universalism, absolute truth, and objective reality.

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