Monday, July 16, 2018

Quantity or quality

Our field, like many academic disciplines, has emphasized publication quantity to an extent that arguably at best leads to minimal progress in our collective knowledge and at worst compromises our understanding of the phenomena we study. This is hardly a blazing insight I am offering, nor hardly a novel one.

See an excerpt by Tulving and Madigan from nearly a half century ago:


And yet that appears to be a fair assessment. Right now, when I go about my work in the classroom, I am increasingly asking myself what I can honestly tell my students. The aftermath of projects such as that conducted by the Open Science Collaboration (to name but one) is one that we are still coming to grips with. One thing I am doing beyond simply opening up some of these dark corners of my field to students in my various classes is to question the need to burden myself with a publication load that goes beyond what is reasonable (given teaching and service responsibilities, family obligations, etc.). Increasingly, I am looking at tying up some loose ends by completing write-ups to existing data sets, and beyond that sparingly take up new research projects (and then only if they appear to be beneficial for the students who wish to be involved, or at least are genuinely interesting to me and might be of some use to others in my field). Why? Because I suspect Tulving was clearly on to something regarding his own area of expertise, and I see something similar in mine. I am completing a meta-analysis on TABP and aggression, and the upshot is that a fair number of human hours were spent researching a question that had no basis in reality. Our understanding of the moderating role of personality variables on social stimuli (e.g. provocation) on aggression was not advanced one bit by that set of studies. It is very clear to me that research on media violence and research on the weapons effect has been effectively stagnant for years. Great. We can suggest that such stimuli prime aggressive thoughts, but that is relatively low hanging fruit - metaphorically speaking. Behavioral outcomes have been far trickier. In any event, given the dearth of knowledge of the psychometric properties of the various DVs in these areas of research, nor much effort to standardize the administration of the measurements of the DVs of interest, there isn't a lot to inspire confidence in those measures. I find myself wondering what we know now a half century after, say Berkowitz & LePage (1967) and now, and am increasingly struggling to formulate a satisfying response. But hey, we generated a lot of studies. We as a field were "productive." So there is that, I suppose.

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