Thursday, November 29, 2018

This Time Could Be Different

Here's a link to the podcast at The Black Goat. Give it a listen. There was certainly still at least some talk of reform back when I was in grad school. Obviously, that went nowhere in a hurry. So here we are. Maybe we'll get it right this time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


No matter our background, no matter our vocation, there has to be something that gets us up in the morning. For me, lately, that is anger.

At what? Let's just say that the crisis which goes by many names (replication crisis, replicability crisis, methodological crisis) felt like a punch to the gut - and one I just did not see coming. As I digested what had happened and what was happening, I had to change my perspective about a field that defines a significant part of my identity. Initially I was a bit sanguine. Then as reality sank in, I got pissed off. After all, to maintain any semblance of integrity, I had to alert students in many of my classes that there were whole sections of textbooks that they were probably best ignoring, or viewing only as cautionary tales. That meant accepting that students would ask me, what was real, and for me to not necessarily feel like I had a satisfactory answer. A substantial chunk of work in my corner of our aching science seems to needlessly scare the hell out of people, and that work is not aging well. In fact the moral panics over video games and violence or screen time and any of a number of purported negative psychological health outcomes remind me of the moral panics that I grew up with: Dungeons and Dragons was supposed to damage teens psychologically, as were the lyrics of songs from many of my favorite bands of the time (remember that I enjoyed and still enjoy punk and punk-derived music from the late 1970s-mid 1980s). At the time I would see people make causal claims from correlational data (or merely out of thin air) and I would just think, "bullshit." One could say that I did become an educator, and maybe that questionable life choice is an outcome of questionable life choices I made in my youth, including my pop culture interests and activities of the day. I am pissed at a system of dissemination of our work that relies on the funds (at least indirectly) of our citizens but which once published becomes the property of some conglomerate that then sells the content back to the citizens at an insane profit, and sometimes with peer review and editorial standards that differ little from what most of us rightfully deride as predatory journals.

Thankfully, from punk I got both the attitude and the politics. The attitude is the easy part. The politics actually took a good deal of thought. And so here I am again. It would be easy to adopt a pose of casual contempt or indifference and merely sneer as I preview a textbook or read the latest journal article. That's not me. I actually care. So maybe a little anarchy (not in the sense of chaos!) will do us some good about now. Things get shaken up a bit and if that leads to the sort of changes we need (more open communication and archiving our work, more equality and equity in the profession as opposed to rigid hierarchies) I'm in. Reading much of what is coming out of the open science proponents is the equivalent of putting on an old familiar Black Flag or Dead Kennedys LP. Hell, sometimes I do both, especially if I am at the office on a weekend and can crank up the volume. The punks at their best were angry and thoughtful. They wanted to knock down stuff, but they also were also wanting to replace whatever was knocked down with something better (which was of course ever an open-ended question as to what that would entail). Whatever form that something better takes, I hope for a science that truly gives itself away in the public interest, rather than get coopted into some neoliberal facsimile of open science that merely repeats the same mistakes of the past. Doing what I can, as an educator and scholar who has little privilege or leverage to offer other than adding to the voices in the proverbial wilderness is enough for now. That gets me up in the morning, like clockwork.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Everything Went Black

I nicked that title from an old Black Flag album, from when they were temporarily not Black Flag due to a legal battle with their former label. Apparently issuing Damaged under Black Flag's new label really pissed off the suits at MCA. Eventually the label owned by MCA went under and Black Flag returned with a vengeance. Among bands in the hardcore scene circa the mid-1980s, Black Flag did not fit comfortably. It is not clear that they were even punk by the time they released some of my favorite recordings in 1984 and 1985. The band had moved into much more experimental territory, we elements of metal, and more importantly free jazz thrown into the mix. Add to that a very confrontational set of artists who clearly did not relish the ever present threat of violence at shows where their new sounds were increasingly alienating their core audience.

The way I saw it at the time, although I may not have worded it as such is that there was a crisis in the punk scene. The old formulas just did not seem to work any more, and openly admitting so was a good way to get sucker-punched, or stomped. One would certainly be shunned even if a punch were never thrown. So the old formulas remained in place, and punk became "another meaningless fad" (to nick a line from Dead Kennedys). What to do when what appeared to work before no longer does? One answer is to ignore it or wish it away. I certainly watched enough people come and go who did that back in the day. Another approach was to abandon what no longer worked and move in a different direction - ideally still embodying the ideals of the movement. Black Flag were quite adept at doing so for a few years. So was Flux (formerly Flux of Pink Indians), whose last album, Uncarved Block, was unlike any UK anarchopunk LP at the time. Probably should mention Chumbawamba while I am at it. There is something refreshing about searching for a new path when the old one has turned into a dead end. It happens in the arts, the sciences, and in life. As someone who was never more than one of the scenesters during the 1980s punk era, I knew it was time to follow some different muses when it became obvious that all that was left at the clubs and parties were folks who had the style and the attitude down, but who never really understood the ideas or the politics.

On some level, what I recall from a formative part of my early years serves as an allegory for what has gone on in my aching corner of the sciences as a methodological crisis has continued to unfold. There is so much I would love to write about. Problems in my little corner of the psychological sciences are the same ones affecting the rest of our aching field. Unfortunately when I am passionate about something that actually matters to me, I write with the heat of a thousand suns. Although that heat may not be aimed at one specific person or group, there is the chance it will be treated as such, placing me in a position that I find uncomfortable. Having to scrub this blog of content in order to prevent a situation from escalating is something I will not go through again. That is simply not tenable given the time it takes me to write, along with my numerous other commitments. When you are not a person of privilege (in the academic world, I and the institutions where I work are truly among the unprivileged), consequences hit twice as hard as for anyone else. Don't feel bad. I don't. Just the way it is. If you want to feel anything, feel anger. Then do something to make academic life more equitable. I guess I never really left my punk roots, and perhaps there is a reason I do have a good deal of empathy for those among psychology's reformers who advocate burning everything to the ground.

I am honestly not sure what I am going to do with this blog. I considered just deleting it altogether and look for other avenues to work out ideas, look at some problems that desperately need to be looked at, etc. Maybe that's the way to go. Maybe I will figure out a way to write as I wish. Time will tell.