Anti-scientific-integrity vs. Pro-witch-hunt: The problem with median splits
In addition to agreeing with everything Simine said (and almost* everything she ever says) I share her single-quotation-mark-denoted skepticism of ‘sides’ in the replicability controversy. I started thinking about this as I caught myself approaching each tweet, or status update, or blog post over the past few weeks with a “wait, what side is this person on?” mentality. After coming across several that were difficult to categorize, and also considering what it would look like to have some kind of ‘balanced’ discussion, I started to realize that thinking about these issues in terms of sides is at best misguided, and at worst extremely divisive and counter-productive.
This isn’t to say that people don’t have different perspectives, and that these perspectives never come into conflict. Certainly there are several mutually incompatible views currently being entertained by very smart people, and arguments between these people have the potential to be very fruitful.
But, I think most people’s views fall on a continuum (or, probably more accurately, on multiple continua). After all, median splits are bad, right? When it comes to our data we’re taught not to artificially truncate the natural variability that exists amongst participants. Doing so inaccurately portrays people’s responses as categorical when, in all likelihood, two categories probably do a very poor job of characterizing the complexity of people’s perspectives.
As far as I can tell very few people are “anti-scientific-integrity.” I also come across very few people who think that our field would be perfectly fine operating exactly as it has been. Most people seem to think that some degree of change is necessary, and that replication has a role to play in that process. Most people seem to think that a failed replication should not, in itself, undermine the original researcher’s reputation. And most people are willing to admit that they’ve engaged in at least some questionable research practices (I have). Thus far I also haven’t heard anyone say that they are “pro-witch-hunt.” People seem to agree that some degree of caution is necessary as we make changes. I don’t think anyone’s utopic vision of the future of social and personality psychology involves a contest to see who can overthrow the finding with the most citations.
One problem with ‘sides’ is that they make individuals (sometimes informed, sometimes not) into spokespeople. And they make inflammatory phrases (sometimes intentional, sometimes not) into slogans. They also make it tempting to condemn someone’s behavior when they’re on the ‘wrong’ ‘side’, regardless of how reasonable it may be, and to condone someone’s behavior when they’re on the ‘right’ ‘side’, regardless of how ridiculous it may be. Assholes are everywhere. So are really careful, kind, and intelligent scientists. And then there’s everything in between.
*Except for her unforgiving disdain for selfies. That’s just snobbery.