Saturday, October 31, 2015

Are those of us who study violent video games biased?

A recent article claims that we are not. I'll have to read the full article when I have some spare time. The charge of bias is one that those of us who study media violence - in particular those of us who manage to find causal links between violent media and aggressive behavioral responses - is one that we deal with frequently. Although video game research is not a primary focus of mine currently, it is research that I find quite fascinating, and it was fun to be on the ground floor of some very well-run experiments examining the effects of violent video games. Oddly enough, I was a skeptic until not only our own results came in, and I can say that I had to accept what the data were telling us when the cumulative record of research from a variety of labs overwhelmingly confirmed that there indeed appeared to be a causal link between playing violent video games and increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, feelings, and appraisals, and a decrease in empathy and prosocial behavior. That's the thing to keep in mind: the research replicates. Also, we in the behavioral and social sciences are well-trained to follow the evidence wherever it may lead us.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Some thoughts on ResearchGate

Last year, I set up an account on ResearchGate, a social network site that describes itself as "built by scientists, for scientists." One motivation for doing so was simple enough: some of my work had already been archived there, and it seemed reasonable enough to go ahead and claim that work, and have another place to display other research that I have published. My experience so far has been somewhat positive, but with a few concerns.

On the positive side:

1. Setting up an account is simple enough. I merely had to provide an academic account, and within minutes I was creating a profile.

2. It works like a social network, as its developers intended. In many ways I find it somewhat more social than Linkedin or There appear to be more users, and there does appear to be some meaningful interaction. There is a space for participation in discussions, but it is less intrusive than LinkedIn and I don't have to wonder how much my inbox will be flooded by conversations that have no interest to me. Many of my colleagues from a variety of institutions are on ResearchGate and I enjoy having a convenient means of keeping up with their recent work.

3. I have one more gauge of how well my research is received. Google Scholar is fine for giving a rough and fairly comprehensive idea of how often my work is cited. Although ResearchGate is less comprehensive when it comes to citations, it does offer gauges that measure downloads (the site now merely refers to them as "reads") and profile views. These have been helpful to me as I assess how newer publications are faring. I can also see how well my work fares compared to others within my institution (or at least those who have a ResearchGate account).

4. Their estimate of impact factor is fairly up to date, which I find helpful as I continue to move forward with the research side of my career.

5. Although a bit sluggish in response time, ResearchGate has been good at adding peer review journals to its database, as long as the appropriate information is made available to them - e.g., ISSN number, journal website, etc. That is helpful for those of us who have published in very obscure journals that although legitimate, do tend to slip through the cracks.

On the negative side:

1. One disadvantage is that the staff at ResearchGate tend to take their own sweet time to respond to questions and concerns. Last year, it took several days. Apparently things have deteriorated this year, and I have at least one question that has been ignored for a couple weeks as of this writing.

2. My department did not have its own profile within my university. I requested a department profile, and provided all sorts of information from my university's website to back up the legitimacy of the department. Over a year later, and still no response.

3. Although in theory an academic account is supposed to be required to set up a ResearchGate profile, it strikes me that RG is prone to the same problem with fake profiles that plagues other social network sites. For example, in my department, according to ResearchGate, we have an individual who has over two decades-worth of research in physics, even though our department is strictly devoted to the behavioral sciences. That individual does not exist anywhere among our institution's staff. I did come to realize that one of our students matched the name on the profile, and I asked that student about this apparent late career change. Suffice it to say, the student was rather taken aback that there was even a profile in that student's name. I have alerted RG to the problem to no avail so far. Facebook works faster at dealing with bots and fake profiles, and I have rarely been impressed with Facebook's response to such situations.

4. There is a problem of individuals claiming work that is not their own. Although that has not happened to me personally, I am aware that others have had that happen to them. ResearchGate desperately needs to find a way of dealing with situations like that, other than to simply ignore their existence.

5. I am skeptical of the so-called RG score's usefulness, especially given how secretive RG is regarding how that score is formulated. In the scheme of things, this is a minor problem.

Overall, I think the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages. It's fairly easy to use, easy to interact with fellow researchers, and has some features that can allow one to gauge how their work is being received. However, the disadvantages noted above are ones that will affect ResearchGate's credibility in the long term if not handled soon. If the company is understaffed, they need to work on that in order to make sure that member concerns are handled in a timely manner. If there are bots abusing the system for whatever reason, that needs to be dealt with immediately while it is still a fairly rare occurrence. My concerns aside, I will continue to use ResearchGate for the time being.

Update (3 Nov 2015): Regarding point 3 on the disadvantages of RG (i.e., the creation of fake profiles), I did some detective work regarding our potential false profile. The student whose name was usurped is younger than some of the publications listed in the profile in question. We'd have to believe some very unscientific things for such a profile to be even remotely plausible. RG's staff apparently cannot be bothered to care. That is not a good harbinger for what could be a promising social networking site for those of us in the sciences.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Why are mass shootings in the US on the rise?

An interesting take on the increase in mass shootings in the US:

Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity. As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this “masculinity threat.” And while mass shootings are not common, research suggests that mass shooters experience masculinity threats from their peers and, sometimes, simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women’s bodies, etc.) – some certainly more toxic than others.

The research on this topic is primarily experimental. Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally “threatened” react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more.

This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence. The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women. Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.

Note that this is merely an excerpt. Make sure to read the rest.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Growing up in a pornified culture

This is the video of Gail Dines' TED talk. When we ask ourselves about how one's worldview is cultivated by contemporary mass media, the mainstreaming and ready availability of pornographic imagery and videos must be part of that conversation, especially when we consider what is known about the antisocial effects of violent content in pornography that have been well-documented by Dolf Zillmann, Neil Malamuth, and a number of other behavioral and social scientists who study media violence. With that in mind, this video is well-worth your time and consideration.

Monday, August 3, 2015

ICPS and Open Science Framework

One of the cool things about the information age is that the ability to communicate and share findings is more immediate than ever. In the past, conference presentations have often fallen through the cracks. Often, once the presentations are over, there's often no good way to contact participants for copies of handouts, PowerPoint presentations, or anything data related beyond the hope that maybe the participants in question will answer their email. This year, the ICPS conference made available the opportunity for its participants to upload their posters and PowerPoints to an OSF site, making them available to anyone interested. You can find at least a subset of those presentations under the title International Convention of Psychological Science 2015 Posters & Talks. Obviously, this is not the first time that OSF has been used in this capacity by conference organizers. It is an emerging and welcome trend to the extent that it facilitates openness and communication among scientists sharing common research interests, and facilitates George Miller's dictum of giving away psychology in the public interest.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

APA and Torture: Fallout From the Hoffman Report Begins

Earlier this month, the Hoffman Report, an independent review of the American Psychological Association (APA) and its role in facilitating the practice of torture, was published. Needless to say, it's a huge document that takes considerable time to digest. That notwithstanding, there have been plenty of APA critics who had been keeping the public as informed as possible with regard to a number of serious ethical breaches that in addition to the resulting well-documented harm inflicted on those unfortunate enough to get thrown into any of a number of sites like Guantanamo Bay, has done serious damage to the legitimacy of the APA. I would certainly invite you to read the most recent post by Jeffrey Kaye for a summary of the findings, as well as the initial comments by Stephen Soldz and Steven Reisner about the document, its meaning, and some ways for the APA to move forward if it is to have any hope of rehabilitating itself. Indeed, rehabilitation for the organization may be a tall order. Time will tell. Back around seven years ago, a included a statement on my Social Psychology Network profile urging my colleagues to boycott the APA (i.e., withhold membership dues). Although I removed that statement some time ago, after the Withhold APA Dues campaign ran its course, I have no intention at this time of rejoining unless at bare minimum the conditions Soldz and Reisner recommend for reform are met.

At this point, the fallout is still somewhat unclear. We do know that the findings in the report were sufficient to cause a handful of APA senior officials (including Norman Anderson, the CEO) to lose their positions, not long after Stephen Behnke (APA ethics chief) was let go. Whether they are merely the sacrificial lambs or their "resignations" and "retirements" are a harbinger of a bigger shakeup remains to be seen. We do not know if some of their current leadership's statements are merely attempting to come across as anti-torture as a form of damage control or if an earnest reexamination is forthcoming. We don't yet know if those psychologists who enabled the DoD and CIA to engage in torture will themselves face criminal charges, although it is a possibility. We do know that apologies to those who criticized the APA from within, and who were essentially bullied because of it, will require more than apologies after the fact.

What we do know is that psychology in the US and abroad will never be looked at in quite the same way, and reestablishing faith in the field will take considerable effort, as others have duly noted. Whether APA is truly up to the task is questionable. The organization has experienced a sharp decrease in membership over the last half decade, and it is an open-ended question as to whether they will return. After all, there are other national and international organizations that serve sufficiently similar purposes, and many APA divisions are at least semi-independent. One can, for example belong to the Society for the Study of Personality and Social Psychology (aka Division 8) without being an APA member. For those of us whose specialties are more research-based, the Association for Psychological Science is a viable alternative without APA's baggage. Those of us who moved on, may have done so for good.

If what comes out of this whole human rights nightmare that a once-respected professional organization allowed itself to become entangled is a much more clearly defined set of ethical standards for those in both research and practitioner settings, perhaps some good will come of it. We're a long way from that particular happy ending, however. Rather, it is a work in progress, and one requiring the continued critical eye of the watchdogs who served us well (e.g., Kaye, Soldz, Reisner, and Arrigo, to name only a few) this past decade. What I do know is that we as a profession are much better than the actions of the APA leaders and members who are implicated in the Hoffman Report.

What the discovery of fraud says about the state of academic scientific research

The upshot is that we're doing just fine. The article was written by the political scientists who blew the whistle on a fraudulent study by Michael Lacouris (remember I mentioned it this past spring). Bottom line is that those of us who conduct research today are doing so in an environment that makes discovering fraud easier, and that the norms in place in the academic disciplines of which I am aware (those in the behavioral and social sciences) offer positive reinforcement for those who discover mistakes and outright fraud. So, the increase in retractions as a result is actually one that can be interpreted as a positive development. When we publish, there are more watchful eyes than ever. Of course there are some potential headwinds, including a push by policymakers to decimate public funding for social science research, for example, that would push more of us into research environments that are privatized and proprietary (and in which secretiveness in the name of profit may become a primary consideration). Barring something catastrophic, we should be okay. If anything, I expect more of a push toward encouraging (if not compelling) researchers to publicly archive data sets that accompany published research, as well as discourage authors from HARKing (i.e., hypothesizing after the results are known). Expect such trends to strengthen over the coming decade or so. If you are starting your career, you will already be socialized to this new set of realities. For those of us who are veteran academicians, the trends toward more transparency are welcome.