Monday, December 11, 2017

Interlude: Loss of Confidence Project

I saw a blurb on a Loss of Confidence Project on Twitter. I like the idea. Those of us in the psychological sciences conduct research that perhaps at the time we thought was well-done from a theoretical and/or methodological standpoint, but realize later that we made some sort of honest mistake. If we can get to a point where we can take ownership for our mistakes, and foster a culture that is forgiving and accepting of what is probably very common, we'll be better off for it. I'll certainly follow this project with great interest.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Intermission: Beware the term paper mills

Every so often, I do a google search to see who is citing work relevant to my lines of research. I was disheartened recently to find that when my name showed up, it was to documents that led me to a number of term paper writing mills. These companies have been around in one form or another for a while. One of the most recent ones I have become aware of I will refrain from adding a link. No need to give them free advertising. I would advise students to think twice before using these services. Since there are multiple versions of essays citing me (each with the same title) it is likely that buying one of those "original" papers will show up on plagiarism software searches. Any student paper uploaded to my Blackboard course sites are added to our plagiarism software database - and since that database belongs to a third-party company, it becomes easy to match if one tries to upload one of these plagiarized documents. And just in case the software doesn't catch it, be on notice that I will be suspicious of any paper in which I miraculously appear in a Google search that links back to one of these paper writing mills.

If you're a student, save yourself the money, your self-respect, and yourself from a failing grade - and possible embarrassment of appearing before an academic integrity committee or worse. In my field, we are quite forgiving of imperfect student work, and student work in which serious mistakes are present. Heck, I make plenty of mistakes of my own all the time. There is no room, however, for forgiveness for fraud any more today than there was in my day as a student.

Friday, November 3, 2017


When I was an undergraduate student, and later a graduate student, if I wanted a summary of the state of the literature pertaining to a research question the narrative review was the primary - and in many cases - the only choice. For those needing a refresher, a narrative review is one in which the author or authors pick a set of studies to summarize, and then offer an intensive analysis of what that literature tells us about how well a particular research hypothesis is holding up. As someone who has certainly read my share of narrative reviews, and authored or coauthored a few of my own, such reviews do have a place. If done even remotely well, a narrative review can offer an encyclopedic summary of a research area, or a quick summary of recent research and theory for a particular line of inquiry.

The problem with narrative reviews was that they were ultimately subjective. Everything from the selection of articles to examine to the conclusions drawn was based ultimately on the particular whims of the authors. With such subjectivity, we were bound to find conflicting narrative summaries on any topic imaginable. If one had sufficient expertise in an area, one could quickly get to know the players well enough to suss out the perspective a particular author or team of authors would likely offer. If one were interested in whether or not psychotherapy was effective, for example, any literature review by Hans Eysenck was going to be predictably negative. However, for novices, or those simply wishing to reinforce pre-existing biases, narrative reviews were highly problematic.

Early narrative reviews on the weapons effect are particularly instructive. Depending on whether one read the work of Leonard Berkowitz and his former students or read the work of researchers who were downright skeptical to the point of cynicism, one would either be convinced that a weapons effect was real or that a weapons effect was non-existent. To make things even more frustrating, in the early 1990s, two book chapters in the same volume were published where competing authors examined mostly the same studies and came to radically different conclusions regarding the existence of the weapons effect. For any of us seeking some closer approximation of truth, such a situation was untenable.

The meta-analysis offered a promising alternative to that untenable set of circumstances. I will turn to that topic shortly.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

On tap for later

I am going to have a full schedule through the rest of the semester. Blogging, as always, is on the back burner under those circumstances. When I do resume blogging, I'd love to spend some time on a few facets of research in my field that have been bugging me for quite some time. One area I would love to spend some time on is the use and likely misuse of meta-analyses, especially in highly contentious research areas. As someone who has participated in such research on rare occasion, I might have a few things worth saying, some of which will be definitely have a tell-all flavor. Also on tap is a look at classic research that has failed to replicate, yet still gets reported in textbooks and popular media as "fact" long after being debunked (e.g., ego depletion, facial feedback, Type A/B Personality).

In the meantime, I have some awesome student research projects to supervise. Undergraduate students are a blast to work with, especially those who are truly enthusiastic about the research enterprise and who have yet to reach the sort of Kurt Vonnegut-style jadedness that seems to settle in on those of us at mid-career. I have some small projects conducted with some former students that need writing up. These will probably not go to top-tier journals, as our work is more often than not attempting some form of replication using diverse but ultimately college student samples, or is very exploratory research that would probably be deemed unimportant to the premier outlets. Those manuscripts will get submitted to legitimate peer-review journals and we'll eventually get some hopefully necessary lines added to their CVs as they head to grad programs. I also have my usual social psych and stats courses to finish up. Those are inevitably fun for me.

A little reflection: in the academic world, one does not often land in a college or university that generally functions well, where the members of one's department generally get along well with one another, and in which one can make lasting friendships within the community - completely unconnected to the college or university. I am one of those lucky individuals who managed to do so, quite by happenstance. In a very real and fundamental sense, I have everything I would want and everything I need. For that I am truly grateful. The academic environment, more broadly, is one that so often pushes its members to believe that they need to compete for "opportunities" that they will not want and which will only leave them unsatisfied and miserable, all the while being pushed to believe that they will find "more" of whatever they really don't want elsewhere. My advice is not to fall into that line of thinking. It is a trap. If you've got it good, enjoy. Smell the roses occasionally. You'll be better off for it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

John Oliver on science

I love this humorous clip from John Oliver's HBO series. Oliver touches on a number of key topics, from some of the questionable research practices that have led to some legitimate concerns that we will be wrestling with for some time to come, as well as how poorly science gets portrayed in the mass media.

Monday, October 9, 2017

More on violent video games and aggression

Just to drive home the point about how to best make sense of the impact of violent video games on aggressive behavioral outcomes, here is an entertaining clip from one of my favorite series, Spaced:

Please note that this is actually a fair (and humorous) portrayal of the short-term impacts of playing violent video games. In this case, when interrupted during game play (think of that as a form of high frustration) Tim is considerably more rude to Daisy, his flatmate, than he would ordinarily be - a fact that Daisy clearly recognizes. In other words, yes, there is a real short-term impact of playing violent video games on aggressive behavioral outcomes, but those behavioral outcomes are likely quite mundane. Although I do think that these are outcomes that could be potentially damaging to interpersonal relationships, and that is a conclusion that I am confident the research would allow me to make, I don't see any substantial risk of violent video game play and actual real world violence. If you are a gamer, there is no need to panic. If you live with a gamer, as I do, expect that occasionally they will behave like jerks if they misattribute their arousal to a minor frustration rather than to the content of the game itself. So yes, the research findings on video game violence and aggression are real, but please, be responsible when interpreting those findings. I'd rather the research invite healthy skepticism rather than cynicism. In the meantime, I'm eager to get the latest version of Wolfenstein.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Thinking straight about media violence

I am a bit swamped, so this will be a very brief post. As one can sort out relatively easily, my area of expertise is aggression, and much of my work has examined the influence of aggressive or violent cues on various outcomes (usually cognition). Although I am at a primarily teaching oriented university, and carry a heavy teaching load (at least four courses, each an individual prep, per semester - plus summer), I do try to conduct research when I can and certainly make a point of staying current with the state of research in my area of expertise. One conclusion I am drawing is that much of the research in these areas became needlessly politicized probably long ago. Violent video games come easily to mind, but I could point to research on practically any other aggression-inducing cue. To wit, there is a faction who is convinced that violent video games are terribly harmful and another faction of individuals who are convinced that violent video games have no effect whatsoever. Here's my quick take, based on reading a number of original reports, contributing to some of that research myself, and reading far too many meta-analyses and critiques and counter-critiques of said meta-analyses: it is possible to acknowledge that there is a real tangible effect of video game violence on aggressive cognitive and behavioral outcomes (and I make that conclusion taking into consideration the very real problem of publication bias) and also acknowledge that video game violence is highly unlikely to be an antecedent to real life violence. My reading of the literature has led me to conclude that following scenario is likely the most plausible short term effect of playing video games: if one happens to interrupt a gamer while playing their favorite game, they will probably say some very regrettable things to you that they would not otherwise say, because aggressive thoughts have been primed by their immediate stimuli, they have been provoked (in this case interrupted while trying to concentrate) and attribute their arousal to the interruption. In other words, yes, one will act incrementally more aggressive than they might have otherwise, but that these behavioral outcomes that we observe in the lab, field, and in our daily lives fall far short of mass shootings and social collapse. Should we be concerned about the impact that video game play has? Of course. Should we panic? For goodness sake, no. I'll have more to say later, and I will want to expand a bit more broadly to other situational cues. More to come. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

How to explain the Trump era? Psychologists have some ideas.

Vox recently posted an article, 7 psychological concepts that explain the Trump era of politics. Some of these are concepts I've touched on briefly, such as Chris Crandall's recent work on normative shifts. Some others I haven't. If I have some time, I'll elaborate on some of these concepts more, but for now I will simply state that the article itself is interesting and thought provoking.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Beware "scholars" with fake credentials

Political Scientist Andrew Richards, a professor at University of North Carolina, recently published a damning exposé of White House insider "Dr." Sebastian Gorka. It is certainly worth reading in whole in order to gain some insight into how this particular fraud managed to fly under the radar.

On paper, perhaps, Gorka's credentials would have appeared legitimate: his dissertation was awarded in 2007 while he was enrolled at Corvinus University of Budapest. Unfortunately as Dr. Richards digs beneath the surface, it becomes quite apparent that there is less than meets the eye when it comes to Gorka's alleged expertise and scholarship. Richards summarizes the shoddy work contained within the dissertation, and also goes into the composition of the dissertation committee itself, which appeared to have at least two individuals who had obtained no more than a Bachelor's level degree and one Ph.D. who was a personal friend of Gorka's. In addition, it is not clear when exactly Gorka attended Corvinus University, nor if he was even present when the dissertation was accepted by his committee. Dr. Richards' statement that Gorka essentially was awarded a title from the equivalent of Trump University is sadly appropriate. In essence, the late Hunter S. Thompson would have had about as much right to claim the title of "Doctor" as Sebastian Gorka. The one thing Gorka was adept at, for a while, was to market himself as an anti-terrorism expert, based on a dodgy degree, and target those who were easy marks: media outlets, politicians, and audience members who were looking for an "expert" who would confirm their most deeply-held prejudices under the ruse of offering expert opinion.

What this sad affair says for the legitimacy of any degree awarded from Corvinus University I certainly am in no position to offer a judgment. Perhaps this was an isolated incident at an institution that normally offers better quality control. Or not. At the moment, I would defer to someone with some expertise on the status of Corvinus as an institution. The matter certainly does not help the institution's reputation.

For those curious, Dr. Richards does shed some light on the process of awarding a Ph.D., and the typical composition of a dissertation committee. His description is generally fairly similar to my own experience. The bottom line is that all committee members have the degree that they may or may not be willing to confer upon the Ph.D. candidate, depending on how the dissertation process up to and including the defense plays out. A good outside member is typically someone from a different department at the institution, and is present to assure that the process was above board. None of that appeared to be the case for Gorka. And given his lack of credentials, those seeking insights into terrorism and strategies for combating terrorism would be well advised to look elsewhere for legitimate experts.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Today We March For Science

Once I learned that there would be a March for Science event, I knew I'd have to be involved somehow. My initial modest hope was that there would at least be a satellite event in our state's capital, Little Rock. To my pleasant surprise, Fort Smith ended up holding one of the satellite events. Our event would likely be dwarfed by the larger events worldwide, but that Fort Smith is now a viable host for events like this is itself a sign of the times we live in. I know many of the organizers, as they are primarily on faculty with me. There was a good deal of support thanks to our local Indivisible chapter and Western Arkansas TOGETHER WE WILL. Many of us at today's event were scientists and science educators. Many more were fellow travelers. We share a common concern: the state of support for our sciences in the US.

It seems obscene that now that we're well into the 21st century that we would need to hold rallies in order to remind the public that we exist and that we matter. And yet here we are. The level of hostility toward the sciences in the US seems to be at an all time high. Nor has there been more than lip service paid to science education, it would seem. As the Dean from our university's STEM College acknowledged, the proportion of students majoring in a science discipline is woefully small compared to other developed nations as well as those that are developing (China, Singapore, etc.). As I recall E. O. Wilson writing in Letters to a Young Scientist, there is good reason to be optimistic about the continued development of the sciences globally. Regrettably, the US appears to be in the process of abdicating its leadership role in the sciences. That will not bode well for us in the long run. We march in part to remind our fellow Americans of that reality. We march to remind our fellow human beings of how integral the sciences are to our civilization.

Scientists are often hesitant to get involved in public life and would prefer to let the data speak for themselves. The reality is that our data do not speak for themselves. They need advocates. How we go about our work needs to be better communicated to the public. We test hypotheses based on theoretical models. We search for converging evidence over time. In many cases, such as with climate change or many media violence cues, there is considerable converging evidence supporting that those phenomena are real and that they should concern us. The qualifications for working in the sciences needs to be better communicated. There are plenty of misconceptions about the level of IQ (only one small facet of intelligence) needed to become a scientist. Wilson himself once noted that he was not the smartest man in the room - and yet he went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work. He worked hard, persisted, and learned how to network with those who had expertise where he did not. That is what the vast majority of us do. Even better, we don't need to be math geniuses to succeed in most sciences (there are exceptions). The level of mathematics competency in my discipline is relatively doable for practically any college or university student - unless one wants to be a quantitative psychologist, in which case plan on a heavy mathematics course load in order to truly understand the intricacies of theoretical statistics. But generally, to repeat, one need develop a minimal level of fluency in mathematics and conduct research that will contribute to humanity.

I'd love to say that we could be nonpartisan. The facts on the ground in the US suggest something different. Those of us who work in the sciences are well aware of politicians who are hostile to us and well aware of which party has shown considerable hostility to our work. We are well aware of who has tried to cut funding for fundamental work in the sciences, and we are well aware of who has written off our work as trivial, or who has accused some of our work as being little more than a hoax. We know who might want to scrub the archives of "inconvenient" scientific truths. As a researcher, I am comfortable working with colleagues from all walks of life. There is a red line though that may never be crossed: we seek and report the truth regardless of how it affects a party's polling numbers or corporate quarterly reports.

It is a shame that we need to have science marches, but if we must, I am thankful to know that I am in good company. I hope we can continue to work together to advocate for our work. If we don't, no one else will.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Is Most Published Research Really False?

That is the title of a recent chapter published in the Annual Review of Statistics and its Applications by Leek and Jager (2017). I am just now digesting this particular chapter, but at first glance, it appears that the talk about a reproducibility or replicability crisis in various scientific fields is a bit overblown. Why does this matter? We as scientists and consumers of science need reasonable assurance that the work produced by our fellow researchers is sound methodologically. If it is not, then we are in serious trouble. Leek and Jager hardly offer a rosy view of the state of research in a variety of fields, including mine. Their coverage of the OSF-sponsored replication attempt of 100 psychology articles published in 2008 (which sparked a good deal of consternation a couple years ago when it was published) discusses not only its contentions, but the weaknesses inherent in its attempts to replicate the studies its teams of researchers took on. The impression I get is that there is no real crisis, but we do need to step up our game a bit and make certain that the methods we use are appropriate, and that we are transparent in providing descriptions of our work (for replication) as well as data and code (for reproducibility). Not only do we need to communicate more clearly with the public (as I noted earlier) but we need to communicate more clearly with each other, and make certain that any statistical methodology we use is used wisely.

Preventing our slide into authoritarianism

The US is not an authoritarian state - yet. Are we at risk? Arguably so. Amy Siskind has been keeping track of subtle changes in the US since the election. Her latest Facebook post is here. Since the devolution of a state into authoritarianism is likely to be subtle, we may not realize we have crossed the proverbial Rubicon until it is too late. As scientists and scholars, we also have an obligation to be vigilant, as our ability to conduct our work with any degree of validity requires a free and open society that allows for a free and open exchange of data and ideas. It is also worth noting that there is a subset of American scientists who have signed loyalty oaths to the US Constitution, typically as a prerequisite for obtaining employment in various state and Federal agencies. I am among those who has signed such an oath, and I take my allegiance to the US Constitution and all it stands for quite seriously. Even if one has never signed a loyalty oath, I would advise making clear one's opposition to any noticeable apparent threats to our Constitutional order in the months and years to come. This is something any of us can and should do, regardless of our diverse and sometimes divergent ideological or partisan preferences.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Academics need to communicate more with the public

This article was on my Facebook feed earlier today, and I thought I would share it with you: Academics can change the world - but only if the stop talking only to their peers. The article is balanced enough to highlight how our collective knowledge base fails to reach the general public, yet takes into consideration how the academic world itself makes it difficult to take the time to communicate with the public. As an individual, I can certainly attest to the difficulty in balancing my workload and sharing new findings with non-academics. There are no real structural incentives to do so. That needs to change.

In the meantime, I will continue to use my blog to communicate my work as I can. I do have a few ground rules that I follow. One is that I will avoid dropping a bunch of statistics on you. Two, I am hesitant to say much about work that is on-going or is currently under review. I think I can provide broad summaries without too much difficulty. The main reason I say that is simply because reviewers and editors can and do get offended if they think they are reading work previously published elsewhere. So I may say in ordinary language that I ran an experiment that tested some phenomenon, and here is what I found and why it might matter. I am not publishing the details of the methodology, which frankly bores most readers, and am not publishing the data analyses. So I should stay in the good graces of those who review my work and the work of my coauthors.

Note too that what I share is truly on my own time. Again, just the nature of the beast. That means posts are often going to be irregular. I do have some fresh work on the weapons effect that I will share with you all in the near future.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Marijuana and Aggression: What Does Research Tell Us?

Current Attorney General Jefferson Sessions recently stated that there was a connection between marijuana and violence. That is his rationale apparently for making sure that marijuana remains illegal, even as more and more states legalize not only marijuana for medical use but recreational use as well. The argument might be plausible if there were an actual increase violent crime rates in states where marijuana had been legalized. However, the crime rate data suggest a different interpretation:

Denver saw a 2.2 percent drop in violent crime rates in the year after the first legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado. Overall property crime dropped by 8.9 percent in the same period there, according to figures from the Drug Policy Alliance. In Washington, violent crime rates dropped by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014. Voters legalized recreational marijuana there in 2012.

Medical marijuana laws, which have a longer track record for academics than recreational pot legalization, are also associated with stable or falling violent crime rates.

Any violence associated with this particular drug is apparently connected with factors such as turf wars and deals gone bad that are common with the activity of trafficking the drug illegally. So in this case it isn't the drug itself causing violence, but rather the consequences of the illegal drug trade. This is something many of us who study aggression and violence from various disciplines would have known for ages.

Nor does experimental research suggest a link between marijuana intoxication and aggressive behavior in general. Note that in lab research, we don't measure violence, but we can measure physical aggression by having participants believe that they are delivering electric shock to another person. The higher the shock level, the more aggressively the participants behave. Myerscough and Taylor (1985) found evidence that participants who were given higher doses of TCH (the active ingredient in marijuana) were generally non-aggressive across provocation levels, suggesting that marijuana did not facilitate aggressive behavior. That followed up an earlier experiment in Taylor's lab suggesting that although alcohol intoxication facilitated aggression when participants were provoked, THC did not facilitate aggression under conditions of provocation.

More recently, Perna et al. (2016) showed that particpants who reported being either heavy alcohol or marijuana users showed an increase in aggression following alcohol intoxication and a decrease in aggression following marijuana intoxication. In addition, participants' subjective aggression was measured, showing that alcohol increased participants subjective aggression but that increase was not found among those in the marijuana condition. Perna et al. (2016) also provide a useful summary of the research literature, suggesting that much of the literature on marijuana and aggression (to the extent it exists) is largely hampered by very small samples, failure to include placebo conditions, and so on. The samples in the Perna et al (2016) experiment are also a bit smaller than I would want to see. However, as a generally well-designed exploratory experiment, it does suggest that we think twice before accepting the pronouncements of a politician on faith. The findings are also generally consistent with much of the earlier experimental and cross-sectional research that I am aware of.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Too busy to keep up with the news?

A blogger has kindly stepped in and offered quick capsule summaries of the latest events for those of us on the go who need to get a quick idea of what is going on in DC. It's called 1461 Days of Trump.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Scientific Research Hurt by Trump Ban

NYT has a feature on the repercussions of Trump's executive order banning Muslims from several countries with regard to scientific research at various universities and medical schools. As I mentioned earlier, as things stand, students, faculty, and postdocs from the seven countries (so far) affected by the ban face difficulties that they neither expected nor deserve. Individuals who had traveled out of the US face the prospect of not being able to return to resume their work or their studies. The ban puts into question whether those who immigrated from one of the seven affected countries should proceed with planned attendance to academic conferences outside the US. Of course it goes without saying that scientists residing in these countries who had planned on attending scientific conferences in the near future face the prospect of being blocked from attending. Graduate students who had been awaiting student visas to enter the US in order to complete their degrees are now facing the prospect of looking elsewhere to receive the training they need. Established labs representing a variety of scientific disciplines face disruption in the completion of projects as lab members languish elsewhere, unable to come back to resume their share of the lab work.

The effects - both short term and long - are nothing short of awful for those who already have established careers. But I am especially worried about those whose careers are just now getting off the ground. A missed conference presentation may be a nasty inconvenience to someone who is mid-career, for example, and is not something to be tolerated. For grad students or postdocs, these conferences are important opportunities to gain recognition for their work and to network with fellow scholars as they map out their next career moves. Hence prevention from travel for academic purposes has the effect of potentially ending careers before they have a chance to really begin - a prospect even more intolerable. In the long run, I suspect we'll see a brain drain in the US, as international students and scholars grow to perceive the US as an unreliable nation in which to do the work for which they were trained or to merely get needed training in the first place. We take for granted much of what the sciences have done for us, and squandering our leadership role in the sciences will place all of us behind sooner or later. The damage done by Trump, barely into his second week in office, will take a very long time to undo. The sciences themselves will go on. Of that I have no doubt. As a nation that will soon be knocked out of a leading role in the development of the sciences, we will also find that we are no longer enjoying what develops out of these labs in day to day life. Ignorance in this case is not bliss.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Action alert for academicians

Over the weekend Trump signed an executive order banning Muslims from seven nations. There have understandably been protests, as well as pushback from Congress members, those in the tech community, civil liberties organizations, and those of us who work at colleges and universities. Of the latter, colleges and universities are noteworthy for educating international students at the undergraduate level, as well as at the graduate level. In addition, those with the funding and facilities to do so hire PostDocs from all over the planet, and practically any higher ed institute will hire international faculty. These are all individuals who are on student visas, or in the case of PostDocs and faculty members work visas, who are here in order to obtain the education and credentials needed to meet their career goals, serve their communities, and in my field add to our collective scientific database with their research contributions. The ban put forth by Trump, which has been already successfully challenged by courts in the US, would severely harm not only those affected, but would harm our educational institutions as well. If you are working at a college or university, there is at least one modest action you can take, and that is to sign the Academics Against Immigration Executive Order petition. The response has been apparently overwhelming enough that the organizers of the petition are still sifting through all the emails. So be patient if you do sign. It may take a bit for your name to show up - but it will soon. Our international students and colleagues need our support and assurance that we truly have their backs, and will not accept actions by the White House that are inhumane and against laws passed by Congress. Our international students and colleagues should not be put in the position of being unable to see family in their home countries for fear of being prevented from returning to their classes and jobs, nor should they be put in a position where they think twice about accepting opportunities to study or work in our colleges and universities simply because of the prejudices of the man who temporarily occupies the White House.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Inevitably, actions lead to reactions

Among Trump's first executive actions were those designed to silence scientists employed by various Federal agencies. If you know anything about scientists is that regardless of our own ideological beliefs, we are devoted first and foremost to seeking out and reporting our data, and then we independently verify each others' findings. We want to report our findings to the public. I would offer that any of us who depend on any Federal funding - even indirectly - to conduct our research are obligated to the public to conduct sound research and report it directly to the public in layperson's terms. Social media are one very convenient means and necessary means to do so. If anything, I want us to become even more open.

As I mentioned, we may vary in terms of ideology, but we do share a common value to communicate the truth, even if it is inconvenient to whoever might occupy the White House, or Congress, or those who run and lobby for any of a number of special interest groups of various ideological stripes. We report findings even if they end up inconvenient to our own beliefs and pet theories. In other words, what I am trying to do is to communicate here is a core value held by those scientists in the traditional STEM disciplines as well as in the behavioral and social sciences. Any official or lobbyist who wishes to silence us for speaking the truth should expect us to push back.

Under the circumstances, I am not surprised to see news of a possible march by scientists in DC in the near future (as of yet I am unaware of a date). You can follow the Scientists' March on Washington twitter feed here, and their website is here. There is also a twitter feed for Rogue NASA and AltUSNatParkService. I imagine we will see more of this activity, as well as efforts to preserve data from being scrubbed by the current White House occupant. The thing about us scientists as that we really are among the last people to become activists. That is not our calling. We don't want to go to protests. We'd rather spend our time on our various research programs and educating the public, which is truly our calling. Regrettably, the current circumstances are going to require more and more in our various disciplines to do a rethink on our usual stance to politics.

I am an optimist in at least one sense. No matter what Trump and his advisors might intend to impose upon us, and no matter how much there is an ideological undercurrent in the US that is hostile to science and scientists, the enterprise of science globally is going to continue. There is a certain momentum to scientific discoveries and applications based upon those discoveries that is largely unstoppable, as E. O. Wilson has noted. The question becomes, does the US continue to have a leadership role in the further development of the sciences, or will the US be largely left out of the equation? If the latter, the US public will truly suffer. Scientists will speak out to prevent this latter scenario and hope that enough of the public will understand the importance of our work in the public interest.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Quotable: Carl Sagan

Inequality in Science

I would suggest reading the entire post as it deals primarily with gender inequality in online media with regard to science discourse. I will highlight small portions that I think might be of particular interest as they tackle not only gender inequality in the sciences but a number of other areas where inequity exists:

Early on in our panel discussion last Friday, Brian Nosek made the excellent point that “science proceeds through conversation.” He went on to elaborate that scientific conversation needs criticism and skepticism in order to flourish—and I completely agree. But I also think it’s worth juxtaposing this idea that science proceeds through conversation against the data presented at the beginning of the session, which suggested some big inequalities in WHO is participating in scientific discourse online. Across various social media platforms (PsychMAP, PMDG, and Twitter), the data from the SPSP survey suggest that men participate more than women. Moreover, if you look at who is posting in the Facebook forums, it turns out most of the content is being driven by about nine people. Think about that for a moment. NINE people—out of thousands of scholars involved in these forums—are driving what we talk about in these conversations.

The idea that conversation is central to the entire scientific enterprise highlights why we should care deeply about WHO is participating in these conversations. If there are inequalities in who is talking, that means there are inequalities in who is participating in science itself. To the extent that the forums we build for scientific discourse enable and promote equality in conversation, they are enabling and promoting equality in who can be part of science. And the reverse is true as well: If we create forums that exclude rather than include, then we are creating a science that excludes as well.


Meanwhile, participating in a conversation about science obviously means not only that you are talking, but that someone is listening to you. To the extent that audience attention is finite (we only have so many hours a day to devote to listening, after all), then the more one person speaks, the less attention is left over to spend on other speakers. That means that the people who talk the most end up setting the threshold for getting heard—if you don’t comment as loudly or as frequently as the loudest and most frequent contributors, you risk being drowned out in the din. In such an environment, who is talking—that is, who gets to participate in science itself—becomes less of an open, level playing field and more of a competition where people with more time and more willingness to engage in this particular style of discourse get to drive disproportionately the content of scientific conversation.

Here again, we might think about various demographic inequalities. Take just the question of time: Women in academia tend to spend substantially more time on service commitments than do men. Scholars at teaching institutions spend more time in scheduled teaching activities than do their peers with more flexible schedules at research institutions. Primary caregivers have greater demands on their time than people with stay-at-home partners or people with the means to pay for full time childcare. If we create venues for scientific discourse where your ability to participate effectively depends on how much time you have to make your voice heard over the din, then we are effectively saying: We prioritize the voices of men more than women, of scholars at research rather than teaching institutions, and of people with more versus less childcare support.
Note that her concerns go well beyond social media, but are intended to address practically any forum for scientists. Also note that there is inequality that goes beyond gender. Her point that there are other structural disadvantages faced by many of our scientific peers is a crucial one. Those of us who are primarily at teaching institutions have considerably less flexible time to engage in scholarly activity. To the extent that we engage less in scholarly activity, we get less of a voice in the direction that our particular branch of the sciences is taking. We also tend to have less available funds to participate in academic conferences, which further silences us. If we're paid less than our peers at research institutions, we are also going to be unable to self-fund travel to conferences. Those of us who service economically disadvantaged student populations tend to be historically underfunded, further compounding the problem. Hence not only are we less able to speak, but we are less able to provide forums for some very ambitious and talented students to make their voices heard. And yes we also prioritize the voices of men more than women. That point needs to be made again and again unless or until the problem is rectified.

Trump as Authoritarian Leader

I was reading through an article summarizing how experts on authoritarianism from various disciplines are assessing Donald Trump's first few days in office since being sworn in. Needless to say, the consensus is that they are concerned. The general consensus is that Trump is leading in the style of a populist authoritarian. There is particular concern about his spokespeople using terms like "alternative facts" (a phrase that is merely another way of saying falsehoods) when caught stating things that tangible evidence contradicts, as well as Trump's orders to various government services to refrain from communicating with the public - most notoriously after the National Park Service showed equivalent aerial photos of Obama's 2009 swearing in ceremony and Trump's this year which Trump apparently perceived of as embarrassing. At this point, scholars are refraining from using terms like fascist or totalitarian, as is proper. We are not yet at a point, as these scholars note, where Trump has called for outlawing specific news agencies, for example. Nor are we quite yet at a point where we know how much deference the GOP, which controls both chambers in Congress (the Senate with a slim majority) will give Trump over time. So vigilance, rather than panic, appears to be the appropriate action.

Last year, I highlighted research regarding the authoritarian tendencies among Trump's supporters and likely voters. In the GOP primary season, it was clear that those who voted for Trump were more authoritarian than those who voted for other GOP candidates. It is also clear that Trump's pro-torture rhetoric resonated with authoritarian voters, which seems to jibe with research I have conducted in the past with regard to authoritarianism and attitudes toward torture, and attitudes toward violence more broadly. The extent to which racial/ethnic resentment stood out is also noteworthy as those most likely to be targeted for torture (if reinstated as a practice - which for the moments Trump and relevant cabinet appointees are providing mixed signals) are ones who will be of Middle Eastern origin, and there is evidence that I and a student collected showing that attitudes toward torture are more favorable when the victims are Middle Eastern (that research is currently still in press). My own take for the time being is that a significant proportion of the plurality who voted for Trump in the general election last November are getting the leadership they want, given their own authoritarian inclinations. Once decisions are made in the White House and Congress that affect their own well-being, their own views toward Trump may well shift, but as of now at this early point in time that is merely conjecture. What is not conjecture is that the US has not been ruled by a genuinely authoritarian leader before, and as social scientists we are truly in uncharted territory in that regard. There are certainly other authoritarian populist leaders elsewhere who might provide a template for study, but the US experience may vary rather considerably. Time will tell.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Most recent publication

Our chapter on the weapons priming effect was officially in print as of December 2016 in Current Opinion in Psychology. It is a special issue on social priming.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A trip down memory lane

About 21 years ago this month, I officially received my diploma M.A. degree in Experimental Psychology from California State University, Fullerton. I defended my thesis in August 1995, right before moving to Columbia, MO where I'd go on to earn a Ph.D. in Social Psychology. CSUF needs to update its list of successful thesis defenses, but it is fun to look back.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Some things I expect to happen this year

This is just an off the cuff list of items I expect will get accomplished:

1. The manuscript on the weapons effect that is currently in revise-resubmit mode will hopefully get accepted for publication. If not where it is currently being reviewed, then at another relevant journal.

2. A paper on attitudes toward torture based on a presentation I and Sara Oelke gave at the last George Gerbner Conference was accepted some time ago by a Hungarian journal (KMG). I still have no idea as to when it will be in print. Should have been last year, so perhaps this year?

3. Brad Bushman and I will be coauthoring a review of recent weapons effect research for an upcoming special issue on aggression and violence in Current Opinion in Psychology. That will be the second article I will have coauthored in that particular journal.

4. Several data sets that I have worked on with students will finally get written up and submitted to various journals. My guess is most of that work will happen over the summer. Hopefully a few of those will be in press by year's end.

5. Depending on timing, an encyclopedic entry on the Type A/B Personality will make its way into print. If not late this year, then certainly in 2018.

That's the short list. Keep in mind that these activities occur in a context in which I normally carry a 12 hour (four course) teaching load per semester, without any TA to help with grading, and a 50 student advising load. Also keep in mind that I often do overload either with my current full time employer or as an adjunct at a nearby community college. So usually I am teaching 15 hours many semesters. Last semester, I taught 18 hours. There is a reality regarding faculty pay that I have been dealing with for a long time. That is another story for another time. I do have some committees that I sit on, and those tend to take some time as well. And I do some freelance work on the CLEP Psych exam as well as serve as an AP Reader for the Introductory Psych exam that high school students take for college credit. So, my research identity is one that is maintained on a sometimes very tenuous basis, and one should expect that I typically have a very full plate.