Monday, December 7, 2020

And yet another one

Zhang lab has yet another article published online. It can be found here:

On initial inspection, it appears to have a similar format, and problems that another recent paper from the same lab has. I suspect this story will continue to develop.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Not encouraging

We found that 49% of the journals surveyed checked all manuscripts for plagiarism, that 61% allowed authors to recommend both for and against specific reviewers, and that less than 2% used a form of open peer review.


Thursday, November 12, 2020

New publications available

This year seems to be the year that I end up publishing encyclopedic entries. Two from the Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences were ones I had expected to be published in 2019. Regrettably, the untimely death of Bernie Carducci put the publishing process on hold for a while. The other entry is in the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology. All chapters have been published online. Both encyclopedias should be available for sale by the end of the year.

From the Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences:

Type A/B Personalities

Assessing Implicit Motives

From the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology:

Weapons Effect

The first two chapters are ones where I have either some direct research experience - a meta-analysis I was involved in during graduate school included Type A/B Behavioral Pattern among potential individual differences that might moderate the influence of provocation on aggression. There is reason for skepticism, as it turns out. I sometimes have discussed implicit motives and their assessment when I have had the opportunity to teach Personality or Tests and Measurement, although it has been a while since I have had the pleasure to teach either of those courses. The third chapter is one that allowed me to further clarify some thoughts on the evidence surrounding the weapons effect as a phenomenon, and I tried to find some means of being fair and balanced, while making sure that the skeptical side was given its due. 

I still have some empirical data sets I need to work on. Regrettably, I have not had much opportunity to work on those this year, as other priorities, such as flipping classes online, took precedence. Hopefully will get back to some semblance of normality in the next year or two.

A few thoughts about polling

One of my favorite narratives as I follow any election is one of how the polls "got it right" or more often how the "polls got it wrong". My impression, from speaking with friends and family is that most people look at the top line numbers, but don't really bother to look at the margin or error in each poll, or any information about the sample. Even when folks rely on polling aggregators, such as FiveThirtyEight, I suspect that there is a tendency to look at the averages (what I usually refer to as means) without looking at the probability of any of a number of reasonable outcomes. 

Nate Silver spends a good deal of time discussing what is okay and what is not okay with the polls at this moment in time. The short version is that the polls are generally a good marker of outcome in broad brushstrokes but are likely to be off if we went to be more specific. Nate Silver minces no words about the problems with non-response rates in current polling efforts (they're awful) and the challenges that pollsters will face in the future, assuming that the US population becomes more and more polarized. And yet, he's able to provide evidence that 2020 polling numbers were arguably no worse than 2016. State polling is worse than national polling, but that seems to be typical. The numbers, thus far, are about where we'd expect them, on average.

I tend to rely on polling aggregators much more than individual polls. Although I highly doubt that Silvers's FiveThirtyEight site is anywhere near perfect, it does a reasonable job. What I look at in particular are the range of probable outcomes based on the site's simulations, with regard to Presidential, Senatorial, and House outcomes. The challenge for readers is to understand that probabilities are just that - probabilities. A Presidential candidate who has a low probability for winning is not destined to lose. We saw how that worked out in 2016, and Silver was more than willing to alert his readers that Trump had a realistic probability of winning the Electoral College. This year, even with a lower probability of re-election, the polling data and simulations Silver's team ran were ones that urged caution against writing Trump off from winning a second term. The apparent electoral vote for Biden is well within the bounds of possibility, based on those simulations. 

From what I recall of the simulations on Nate Silver's site, the Democratic and Republican parties performed within their expected margins. Outside the Presidency, the House was likely going to remain controlled by the Democratic Party. The only question was whether it would be a narrower or wider majority. There was no evidence I am aware of to suggest another 2018 style Blue Wave, given the strategy of focusing on suburban areas that had been, until recently held by Republicans. If anything, this year may have been something of a regression toward the mean. The most probable outcomes for the Senate were for the Democratic Party to hold between 48 and 55 seats. The latter would have required the Democratic Party to run the table in nominally competitive races in otherwise heavily red states. As it turns out, the worst case scenario is that the Democratic Party gains a seat, but still remains in the minority, with all that entails. We will know more once the Georgia run-off elections are held January 5th. Runoff elections, like special elections, tend to be low-turnout. So, whichever side manages to get their base motivated to go back to the polls is the one that wins. In Georgia, that has typically favored the Republicans. We are in unusual times, so nothing is a given, and polls indicate contests that are essentially dead heats.

At the end of the day, I'd probably tell my Democractic friends that they had an okay 2020. They won the White House back, held the House, and have something of a shot at breaking even in the Senate (though that is probably a long shot bet). I'd tell my Republican friends that they probably held the Senate, and were able to more than cut their losses in the House (although I'd warn them that some of their new House members may not help them nationally going forward). Those paying attention to the data analyses from this election are probably not particularly surprised. 

I am not in the business of post-mortems and such from elections, nor do I intend to start now. I'll leave that to the political scientists. The polls and results were about as expected on average. My concern is more about accepting uncertainty when reading data and analyses from pollsters and from those who aggregate polls. I'm inevitably amazed at how well polls do given the non-response rate. I am impressed with the various factors aggregators weigh when assessing how to simulate what those polls are really telling us. As a consumer of this sort of data, I would only be concerned if the final results were outside the upper and lower bounds of what we would expect to see. That didn't happen in 2016, 2018, or 2020. For those hoping for something closer to the upper bounds, there is likely considerable disappointment. I'd counsel the opposite.

Monday, November 9, 2020

When Expectations Fail

When I was an undergraduate student, I took my Social Psychology course through my university's Sociology Department. My professor at the time enjoyed introducing us to cognitive dissonance theory, and one of the field observations of a doomsday cult that Festinger and colleagues documented in their book, When Prophecy Fails. Although the methodology behind the observations that made up the core of that book are not above criticism, it remains a valuable document for understanding cults of any sort, including those of a more political nature.

Cognitive dissonance theory is itself fairly straightforward. One has a strongly-held belief. It may be challenged either by a belief-inconsistent behavior the individual performs (a common thread in a lot of lab experiments) or an inconsistent external event. That creates considerable psychological tension (think of anxiety, for example) and is resolved by either modifying one's beliefs or doubling down and continuing to believe. In the case of the doomsday cult that Festinger and colleagues followed, the world did not end, many of the members remained, believing that the power of their faith had spared the planet.

The author of a recent article in The Atlantic, McCay Coppins, uses the book and the theory as means of understanding at least a certain subset of the modern GOP that appears to have truly bought in to what has become known as Trumpism. He covers an event on election night that includes such Trump luminaries as Steve Bannon. The event itself was celebratory at first, but as the night wore one, it became apparent that the narrative of the polls being fake (rather than being merely imperfect, as they typically are), that a Trump landslide was forthcoming, etc., was not going to hold up. The mood of the attendees and of its host certainly changed (we could probably throw in some frustration-aggression theory in as well). But at minimum, this inconvenient truth that Biden was going to prevail in not only the popular vote (which means little in the US) but also in the electoral vote was enough to cause the proverbial house of cards to fall. In the moment, that was met by bitter denials by an event host. We've seen since increasingly shrill denials and actions held at various locations where those workers responsible for counting ballots, along with poll watchers, do their tedious work. So far, it appears that at least a subset of our population does not believe what the data are showing, and are bound and determined not to believe it. When dissonance hits, the defense mechanism of denial seems to be the impulse. We saw that most recently at a hastily convened press conference on the outskirts of Philadelphia, at a landscaping facility located near a crematorium and an adult bookstore. But we've also seen true believers show up in Las Vegas to invoke their deity at the Clark County Election Department, and regular armed protests at the Maricopa County Election Department in Arizona. In this particular psychological space, Trump is portrayed as the legitimate authority whose position is being "stolen" for....reasons. 

The election will eventually be certified (after some remaining lawsuits and transitional roadblocks are dealt with), and a transition to a new administration will happen. That is reality, based on the votes counted, and based on what is known of the likely votes remaining. However, that reality will not be accepted by a significant subset of the US population. It may never be accepted. We don't know yet. But for now, the resolution to cognitive dissonance appears to be denial.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Bridging the political divide

 Ron Riggio had a recent blog post on the matter of bridging the political divide. Hint: it's easier said than done, but not impossible. It's a post based on a recent interview that Riggio sat for, and does a good job of blending some basics of social psychology with industrial/organizational psychology. Worth reading.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

What will a post-Trump Republican Party look like?

The honest answer is that I have no way of knowing for sure. However, I do think there are some fairly safe predictions, based in part on the data and briefing paper that V-Dem Institute published recently. As noted in that post, the policy positions of the Republican Party had shifted dramatically in an authoritarian direction over the course of this century, arguably accelerated by the Trump era. If the various polling models are correct, and Trump loses his re-election bid (which is highly probable, but not a foregone conclusion, as even the various models acknowledge), will the party begin a dramatic shift toward moderation? 

That seems improbable. Keep in mind that the composition of the party's leadership in Congress is not going to change dramatically, save for perhaps losing a few more remaining members who were at least nominally moderate, and the addition of perhaps some new members who are tied to extremist movements and conspiracy theories (such as QAnon). The RNC itself is probably not going to change much either. So I don't expect the sort of post-election "autopsy" and self-reflection that occurred in the aftermath of 2012. The shadow of Trump will still loom large, as will his popularity among his base of followers, who will continue to follow his every tweet. Trump will not leave office quietly, and post-Presidential life will for a while leave him as a kingmaker. But even if Trump were to go silent, those in power and their voters are not ones reputed for moderation. I would expect a trend towards authoritarianism to continue, even if concerted efforts are made to remove any vestiges of the Trump name. 

It would be interesting to use existing measures of authoritarianism and social dominance orientation developed by political psychologists and fellow travelers to assess the psychology of those in office and among the party's base. Absent that, I can only speculate. I don't expect any change, except perhaps to double down for the foreseeable future. I could be wrong, and would actually be relieved if that were the case.

Authoritarianism Scholars Sign Open Letter of Concern

You can read about it here. Much of what they have to say seems reasonable enough, especially advocating safeguarding evidence-based critical thinking.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Does the Republican Party seem more authoritarian than it once was?

I'm not a political scientist, and I won't even pretend to be. What I can speak to is a nagging perception I've had for a while now. Somehow the Republican Party has appeared to me to have changed quite drastically since the start of the 21st century. I am probably not alone in that assessment. If nothing else, I can't help but notice a sharp change in the party's rhetoric and voting behavior over the past two decades. An anecdote that sticks out in particular surrounds the party's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as Obamacare) in 2017. I recall at the time that as the Senate leaders were drafting legislation, even party members of the relevant committee responsible for drafting and voting on it complained of being left out of the process. There is a certain chain of command in both major US parties, but it seems as if the chain of command is more rigid within the Republican Party. It also seems as if the party's zeitgeist has shifted to more of an "us versus them" approach to governance, rather than working with and compromising with the opposing party members. 

So, that's been my perception, and one that I have probably voiced in personal conversation for a while. Now we actually have some hard data to examine. The Guardian broke a story about a study conducted by V-Dem Institute of Gothenburg, Sweden shows that the US Republican Party has dramatically shifted from being a fairly center-right party similar to many other European center-right parties to that of more autocratic parties such as Hungary's Fidesz. That shift has been most dramatic during the current Trump era. The US Democratic Party, by contrast, has barely shifted on most dimensions in the past 20 years. Encouraging violence, which was unheard of in the Republican Party is now quite noticeable, as has disrespect for opponents. On dimension of disrespect, neither party had particularly glowing reputations, but while the Democratic Party never budged, the Republican Party has come to more openly embrace that particular tactic.Neither party had a glowing record on immigration in 2000, but again, the Republican Party has become openly anti-immigrant whereas the Democratic Party of today is no different than it was 20 years ago. Both parties have shown some shift toward being more populist and anti-elitist (however that is operationally defined). That shift is fairly minor for the Democratic Party (no doubt fueled by an emerging progressive wing led by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) but very pronounced within the Republican Party. The Democratic Party has not budged on pluralism and liberalism, whereas the Republican Party is clearly anti-pluralist and its positions do increasingly appear to fit the definition of illiberalism. On matters such as LGBT equality, the Republican Party has remained strikingly consistent in its opposition over the course of this century. The Democratic Party as we know has come to embrace equality. Both parties have moved in opposite directions in terms of espousing cultural superiority, which I am guessing means that of those of European ancestry. The Republican Party is considerably more prone to invoke religion, whereas the Democratic Party of today is no different than at the start of the century. Given that fewer Americans identify with any particular religion, and the percentage of agnostics and atheists has increased, that has been an interesting tack for the Republican Party to take. It's pretty interesting to view the summary. There's plenty of information to digest. But the bottom line is that the Republican Party is indeed apparently considerably more authoritarian than it once was even a mere 20 years ago.

The data and summary can be accessed at the V-Dem Institute's website. If nothing else, the summary itself is pretty concise. Thankfully the data are public, and I am sure that others will examine it and scrutinize the findings. If nothing else, it gives the public an idea of what has happened in our particular political system, and may offer something of a snapshot of the ability of our particular system to function.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Election Media Literacy Reminder

The US is set to vote for a potentially new President, along with a number of down ballot contests and initiatives, all the way to the local level. The election is really underway already, as large numbers of Americans have cast their votes either in person or via mail in ballots. As any of us might remember from elections past over the course of this still-young century, all it takes is one outrageous headline to essentially "blow up" in order to alter the trajectory of an election. 

With that in mind, my advice is actually pretty simple. Stick to relatively mainstream sources. If you can subscribe to what is essentially a national newspaper (e.g., Washington Post, New York Times), do so. If you can't and are at a workplace or educational institution that has access to these sources, take advantage. Find at least one mainstream international news source that has some mainstream credibility. I rely a lot on The Guardian, which is a UK based independent news source. I also recommend bookmarking news aggregators like Memeorandum or use aggregator apps like Google News. Beyond that, try to read sources that are reputable but have varying editorial slants. CNN is pretty much middle of the road. Washington Post is likewise, although its columnists will run the gamut from neoconservative to rather liberal. My own bias is to avoid most of the columnists, unless I have grown familiar with their work and I trust them (whether or not I am likely to agree with their conclusions is another matter). Have at least one financial news source in your bookmarks. Forbes works for me. It's slant is somewhat conservative, but it is reliable. Pressed for time? I find Axios worth bookmarking. Its articles are brief, no-nonsense, and cut to the chase. Ultimately, the idea is to have a mix of sources that vary somewhat in editorial slant so that you are not in a bubble (or what we used to call 20 years ago, an echo chamber). 

I can't emphasize enough sticking to mainstream sources. My reasoning again is fairly simple. A source like Washington Post, Axios, or CNN vet articles for reliability before publishing. If the claims made in an article can't be verified, the story typically doesn't run. That vetting process is far from perfect, but it usually works. Their stock in trade is reliability, after all. The other thing that seems more like a corollary is that mainstream sites are highly unlikely to sensationalize. Yes, news sources want you to read them and view their videos, or find their YouTube channel. But, they also want readers or viewers to stick around for the long haul. There may be a subset of an audience that can be taken in by the latest sensationalized headline (another story for another time), but most of us are going to tune out if we are unable to trust the news site to provide accurate information. I stick to sources I can trust. Bottom line to me is that if a source is unfamiliar, I think twice before clicking a link. If the headline seems too outrageous, I think twice. So should you.

A personal anecdote might help. In early 2017, not long after the 2016 election had come and gone, and Trump had become President, I noticed a site called Axios appear on my aggregators constantly. I'd never heard of it before. Needless to say, I was highly suspicious. However, I noticed the headlines seemed fairly neutral, and the stories appeared to be well-vetted, and tracked pretty well with the rest of the mainstream. When I'm pressed for time, it's become one of my go-to news sites. But I was definitely skeptical at first.

Finally, there is little doubt that for those getting their news from social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, the algorithms are just simply jacked, for a lack of a better way of phrasing it. Sites that really are not reputable tend to end up getting their headlines to trend easily. Whether or not we wish to accept that alleged news sites that trade in sensationalism, clickbait, and outright conspiracy theories are simply "more engaging" to social media users, and that is merely a marketplace of ideas scenario I will leave to your discretion. My recommendation is that this would probably be a good time to tune out from social media for a few weeks. Log off Facebook. Log off Twitter. You get the idea. Bots, whether or domestic or foreign, are boosting and in the process mainstreaming content that is detrimental to a functional democratic process, sowing division and doubt in the process. My best guess is the next few days and weeks will get really ugly really fast, and stay that way until we have a clear picture of the final vote count. I wish that were not the case, but here we are. 

Be careful.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Friendly reminder

Are you an aspiring academic? Hoping to make your mark on your area of interest? Hoping to have a claim to fame? Make sure that your potential collaborators are actually interested in looking carefully at the data you are collecting and analyzing. If they aren't? You are the one who gets hurt, if things go sideways. Speaking from experience. The good news is that life goes on. Finding your way after things go wrong is tricky. It is doable. You will find people who understand. You'll also have to live with detractors for a lifetime. Goes with the territory.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Postscript to the preceding: This isn't the first odd mistake for Zhang

 Previously, I noted that the latest Zhang et al. (2020) paper had at least one serious error: that instead of computing a difference between reaction time for aggressive (weapon) images and neutral images, the authors used simply the reaction times to the weapon images as the DV. Hence, we as the readers are left with a misleading set of analyses and a potentially misleading narrative. Fortunately, the authors had already shared their data, which made detecting the error fairly easy. Why the reaction times for the neutral images and then the difference scores (which would have been the real DV) didn't have their own column is only something that the authors can answer.

Oftentimes, with this lab (as is probably the case with others), it is often difficult to glean whether or not variables are entered and computed correctly based on the information appearing in a published paper. Whether those omissions are a bit of sleight of hand or simple human error or misunderstanding is often difficult to deduce. However, sometimes authors make it easy for the readers to see for themselves that the authors have goofed. I have found some rather odd analyses in which IVs were not quite analyzed correctly as well as DVs.

One of my favorite papers published by the Zhang lab, just for the sheer madness it contained, was the on published in Personality and Individual Differences nearly five years ago. That was the first, and I think only, effort these authors made to replicate and extend research on the weapons priming effect (itself a fairly controversial topic). The DV situation appears okay in the initial analysis under section 4.1. However, where things fall apart (aside from a grossly undersized df, given sample size) was that the authors only examined the difference in reaction times between aggressive and neutral words under the weapon prime condition, while completely ignoring the neutral prime condition. The authors eventually did correct the df for that section in a pretty massive corrigendum. However, they never did address that they had done the wrong analysis in order to establish a weapons priming effect. They really should have read more carefully Anderson et al. (1998) in order to do so. The authors needed to establish that the difference between rts in the treatment and control conditions were larger, and in the predicted direction, when participants saw weapons than when they were presented with neutral images. Also left unanswered was the nagging question of the three-way interaction effect that was a duplicate of another three-way interaction effect in another paper authored by this same research team. I got the impression that the current editor in chief at Personality and Individual Differences was not much in the mood for dealing with this mess to begin with, and that any superficial corrections were extracted from Zhang et al. (2016) was probably a minor miracle. In theory, since the authors changed a single digit in the F-test for the three-way interaction, perhaps the point is now moot. I am still concerned that a certain amount of self-plagiarism happened, but the editor-in-chief chose to let it go. As was the case with the most recent article in question, the Zhang lab had enlisted an established American aggression researcher, Phillip Rodkin. Rodkin's wheelhouse was more in the area of bullying, and not so much media violence, so this seemed like an odd choice for a collaborator for a media violence paper. I honestly don't know how much access Rodkin had to the original data, nor could I comment on whether he would have known what to look for when checking out the analyses. He had already been deceased for a while when this paper was published. Hence, we will likely never know.

The Zhang et al. (2016) paper shared something strikingly in common with a paper in which Zhang was second author, and Rodkin also was a collaborator. There was a three-way interaction that was deemed nonsignificant in each paper, although according to a Statcheck analysis, the three-way interaction would have to have been statistically significant based on what was originally reported in each paper. Publication of duplicate analyses is presumably serious business, but apparently the powers that be can overlook such matters. Perhaps the corrigendum on the Zhang et al (2016) paper makes the point moot, as I noted earlier. The erratum in the other paper entirely ignores the pesky issue of that three-way interaction effect. 

As I have probably said too many times, I find this state of affairs to be very disappointing. As someone who still finds media violence research interesting (although definitely from the standpoint of a skeptic), I treasure efforts by researchers who study non-WEIRD populations. As an educator and researcher who is very eager to decolonize my particular areas of expertise, I would ordinarily welcome work coming out of China. Unfortunately, the work from this lab is so chock full of errors that it is best left uncited. Hold out for the real thing. Hold out for competently and ethically conducted work. 


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Zhang Lab rides again

If you've read this blog long enough, you're familiar with the work of Qian Zhang of Southwest University in China. You are already well aware that there are some serious problems with many of the papers he has co-authored (either as a first author or a more secondary co-author) over the years. His more recent papers have been on the surface of higher quality, but it sometimes doesn't take much to realize that there are still substantial problems. Bottom line is that if you see his name mentioned here, it's not good news.

Case in point: Dr. Zhang has a new paper out that purports to examine the link between viewing prosocial cartoons and a reduction in aggressive cognition and behavior. I was alerted to this paper by Joe Hilgard. On the surface, a simple Statcheck run looked good. Initially I lamented the lack of tangible data to reproduce the analyses. Dr. Hilgard pointed me to where the data were stored (which kudos to this lab for doing so). I ported the dataset into my current version of jamovi and successfully reproduced the analyses reported in the paper. So far so good. Then I had that sinking realization something was still wrong. The data set only contained data for reaction time data for weapon images (which the authors use for the DV in the paper and analyses - a fact Dr. Hilgard had already arrived at before I did my work here). However, the authors should also had data on reaction times for neutral images that were not included in the data set. The appropriate DV would have been a difference score between reaction times for aggressive images (in this case, weapons) and reaction times neutral images. That difference score would be the proper measure of accessibility of aggressive cognitions. 

As of this writing, the last author on the paper had been contacted, and I trust this last author to do the right thing here. At bare minimum, a reanalysis needs to be conducted in order to ascertain that prosocial cartoons really did lead to a decrease in the relative accessibility of aggressive cognition. As of now, the paper cannot adequately address that claim. There is this funny gray area between what we consider published and in press. The paper has already been accepted, and some version of it has been made available online. My hope is that the last author, an American researcher with a solid reputation, is able to get the matter resolved satisfactorily, however that turns out. Maybe a simple correction suffices. It is possible that a properly calculated cognitive DV yields the same basic findings as the incorrect cognitive DV. If it does not, then many of the conclusions of the paper may need to be rethought and rewritten. If so, the topic is of enough theoretical and practical interest that perhaps a sympathetic editor and publisher will still be okay with a corrigendum, regardless of how the ultimate findings flush out. If a retraction is necessary at this stage, it would be far less painful than after it is already officially in print. This is a matter of making sure that those of us who might still be tempted to conduct meta-analyses in this broad area of media violence have the correct findings when estimating effect sizes, that those who might be using this literature to advocate for policy changes have the right information before coming across as grossly uninformed. For the good of the order, I hope this matter is taken care of quickly. In the meantime, I'd warn against citing this particular paper unless and until at least some sort of correction has been published. 


Monday, October 5, 2020

One lesson from living through a pandemic: you're not that special

There seems to be a certain hubris among a subset of humanity in which members of that subset perceive that fundamental laws of nature just don't apply to them. If I were a clinician, I would be tempted to try my hand at a bit of armchair diagnosis. I shall refrain. Instead, let's try something a bit more down to earth.

We as a species, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc. are capable of contracting and transmitting this very highly novel coronavirus dubbed COVID-19. It's a virus that knows no boundaries. We know that in the absence of effective treatments and vaccines (which will take a while to be developed to the point to where they can be given the green light for mass distribution), we have only a few means available to us in order to have some hope of slowing down transmission of this virus: masks/face coverings, physical distancing, and proper hand hygiene (and probably proper hygiene in general). Under the worst case scenario, curfews and lockdowns can be used to reduce transmission, but those are probably best used sparingly and only when the other available options are not working. Those are the facts on the ground. That's our reality. Some nations have really risen to the occasion, and have generally minimized transmission and death rates. Their experiences are hardly perfection (South Korea and Germany for example are still prone to spikes in community spread), but generally about as good as we could expect under these particular circumstances. Clear, consistent leadership certainly helped. In the US, we did not quite have that experience. As a result, there is some argument as to whether we ever quite emerged from the first wave of this pandemic. 

Trump, who for the time being is the US President, downplayed the seriousness of the virus. He mocked basic safety precautions (something I find ironic, given that any biographical info I am aware of about him suggests he's something of a germaphobe). He's encouraged his hardcore followers to also mock safety precautions and to essentially throw caution to the wind. In the interim, he's held in recent weeks a number of outdoor rallies without physical distancing or masks, indoor rallies and events without physical distancing or masks, denigrated testing, and treated the pandemic as if it is essentially a thing of the past. The reception for the most recent Supreme Court nominee was arguably a superspreader event. Over the last week or so, numerous individuals associated with that event and the debate have tested positive. Trump himself tested positive, although questions about when he first tested positive are unclear as of this writing. There's a reason why the Bidens have been getting tested since the first Presidential debate a mere week ago. 

Since I am not a medical doctor, I will gladly defer to those who have that expertise. What I do know as a layperson is that the combination of medications Trump is currently receiving since both his admission and arguably premature discharge from Walter Reed suggest his case was and is very serious. Footage I saw of him on the White House balcony made it clear that he seemed to be struggling to breathe and that he might be in some pain or discomfort. As someone who has experienced pneumonia before, I have some idea of what it feels like to struggle to breathe. I had something going for me at the time: youth. I was in my early 30s and trying to finish up remaining PhD coursework before going to work on my dissertation prospectus. I was out of commission for two weeks. One course in particular I went from holding my own to wondering if I would pass. That I just barely missed an A was a minor miracle, and one for which I am grateful. I made one mistake early on in my diagnosis: I didn't take it seriously enough, and that set me back. I was lucky to not end up hospitalized, or worse. But I recovered. After a good while, I was back to baseline. But that really did take time. So, the pneumonia that is common with COVID-19 is something I understand fairly intimately. I also understand that the meds Trump takes now are ones that can have all sorts of physical and psychological side effects that should give all of us pause. And yet, Trump is continuing to act as if he is somehow special. He was claiming in footage shot Monday that he thought he might even be immune to COVID-19. Thing is, he's still infected and still contagious. 

As to what the future holds for Trump? I have no idea. What I think I can predict is that Trump has modeled a set of attitudes and behaviors that at least his most ardent followers will acquire (if they haven't already) and imitate. In other words, this is just basic observational learning in action. I have little doubt that we'll see more brazen attempts to flout expert medical advice, as the role model himself has led the way. I have little doubt that his followers will show disdain for those who aren't "moving on" to Trump's and their satisfaction. It'll probably get worse now. What I'd say as a professional is that whatever opinions they wish to hold, the facts are what they are. One does not need to be a virologist to understand that when a person with no natural immunity and no willingness to use whatever preventative measures might actually work, the virus is highly likely to win every time. In other words, none of us is special. The sooner we grasp that basic concept, the better. 

I am reminded how zombie films (and TV series) tend to work. One typical subplot is for one of the characters to get bitten and to hide the fact that he or she has been bitten from the other characters in the group of survivors. Maybe they genuinely think they will somehow beat the zombie virus and be okay. Maybe they're too afraid that they'll be cast out (which would be an adaptive group strategy). The end result (even in comedic zombie films and TV satires) is not good. 

We're not that special. Prevention is no guarantee of survival, but hubris is one nearly certain way to needlessly end up in harm's way. Stay safe.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

What happens when a public figure fails to take a major health threat seriously?

 At this point, we're well aware of Trump's current health situation. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 apparently late last week (although the exact timeline has been disputed), and was admitted to Walter Reed late in the day Friday. We know he has been administered some medications that are normally recommended for patients with severe symptoms, and that at least two of those medications are still in experimental trials. As COVID-19 is highly infectious and more deadly than a typical flu, we would expect an outpouring of well-wishing for his recovery. In fact, I wish Trump well, and hope he recovers. I say that as someone who has known at least four people (so far) who, in spite of taking appropriate precautions caught this novel coronavirus anyway.

What is interesting, but also quite predictable, is that the public is taking into account personal responsibility in their reaction to Trump's health crisis:


Keep in mind that although taking appropriate preventive measures (using masks/face coverings, physical distancing of at least six feet, and proper hand hygiene) is no guarantee of avoiding infection, it helps. Failure to take those precautions, failure to take this virus seriously, is naturally going to be seen as practically inviting oneself to become infected. Really, this is just an application of basic attribution theory, going back to the work of Kelley. People make internal attributions for the plight of others when it appears as if the consequences of behavior are predictable, and that the individual made little to no attempt to avoid harm. In other words, a significant portion of the public have concluded that Trump brought this on himself. Whether or not that is necessarily fair is another conversation for another time. It is what it is, in the meantime.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Life out of balance and attempting to rebalance

A couple years ago, I wrote a couple posts that were in many respects confessional. They were painful posts to write, as I was in a great deal of pain at the time. With almost two years of hindsight, they hold up. I am not sure that's a good thing, but that's perhaps neither here nor there. In spite of what I think are heroic efforts by a number of individuals and organizations to find some sort of meaningful change, the academic system still seems to reward practices that are far from optimal, and imposes a sort of imbalance between work and the rest of one's life that is equally unhealthy. This is true for early career researchers (grad school, post-doc, assistant professor), as well as for those of us at more senior levels at obscure institutions who are still holding out hopes of moving up a level or two more. To succeed requires powerful allies, many of whom are indifferent to one's dreams or who may themselves (wittingly or unwittingly) harbor ulterior motives. All that is to say that in a position of less privilege, one is at something of a considerable disadvantage. It becomes easier to look the other way if ethical concerns emerge. It becomes easier to sell more and more pieces of one's soul until there is nothing left. One ends up with a name on articles that are supposed to be important, and yet one feels empty inside when re-reading them or seeing others' reactions to them. Friendships and family are abandoned in the pursuit of the almighty h-index. What's left? That's where I found myself in early April 2018. I was in a set of circumstances where if I continued status quo one more day, I would literally be dead. That is not hyperbole. I was burned out, facing a retraction that was entirely justified, and had little to show for a few years of an academic partnership that was supposed to put me where I thought I wanted to be at the time. I had developed some very unhealthy personal habits to cope with the loss, not only of some imagined opportunity, but a real loss of relationships with people I had loved. I developed some very unhealthy personal habits to cope with a situation that was beyond toxic (whether or not the toxicity was intended is beside the point). I may not be a victim, but I am someone figuring out how to survive.

In the interim, I have struggled to figure out a way forward. Professionally, my safe space will inevitably be the classroom. That in and of itself tells me I am in a situation that is ideal for me, and that I should treasure. Needless to say, that's the road I've been traveling. Otherwise, I am at a crossroads still. My identity is largely tied to a specific line of research, and one in which I am a very reluctant expert. I still have some loose ends to tie with regard to that area. My intention is to see that through. I have an encyclopedic chapter out toward the end of the year, and another pass at that meta-analytic database I need to make to put a few things to rest. I am doing so at a much more relaxed pace. I still have another data set or two to work with. Again, no real hurry. I just need to get them written up and see how they land. Beyond that? I am still figuring it out. If I can spot out a pattern that looks odd, I am up to some data sleuthing. That is thankless work, but when I've had some minor part in making my corner of the scientific record a bit better, I feel a sense of relief. That matters. I used to do a lot in the way of professional travel. The current pandemic ended that. My guess is that virtual conferences are how I will roll for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, I am content to grow sunflowers, and tend to my cats. The broken relationships? Those are all works in progress. Some burned bridges can be rebuilt. Others may not. That is now out of my hands.

In many respects, though, I still feel a bit shell-shocked, two or so years later. Some of the habits I developed to cope with a barrage of emailed demands and diatribes in the waning months of 2017 and then once more around April 2018 have been difficult to shake. Long after taking responsibility over whatever went down during that period, I still fret over letting people down. I was triggered again recently, as someone who mentored me many years ago came across a retraction notice. Once again, I've let someone down. I did what I could to make things right back then. At some point, although always part of my history, part of how I came to be who I am now, it is a done deal. Eventually those whom I have had casual contact over the years will need to accept that, email me or DM me to ask whatever questions need addressing, and move on. That would help me a lot. I may not be quite in the dark place I was in when I wrote those posts, but it's not clear I am quite recovering either. I don't like to leave a story on an ambiguous note. Yet here I am. If nothing else, I came to realize that what I had when I came to my current gig in 2010 was where I had needed to be all along. That's helped me get through a very rough patch. I'd advise anyone who gets into the academic life to land someplace, make it meaningful, and simply be grateful for the chance to contribute in some way to bettering a community - especially those communities that welcome you and your family in some significant capacity. I have that. Took me a while to appreciate that. That knowledge is what is keeping me going. In the meantime, my pain is my own. I will sort it. Or not. We'll see.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Uli Schimmack on a decade of replication failures

I am more familiar with Uli Schimmack from the Facebook group he runs (Psychological Methods Discussion Group) and his R-Index handle on Twitter. He also regularly blogs, and I have used some of his posts as supplemental materials in my undergraduate Social Psychology course. Earlier this year, he posted a reflection on the replication crisis that hit Social Psychology especially hard initially (I often say we were ground zero). I recommend the post, which has been updated to reflect the content of an article he published recently. Well worth your time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Never do this as a representative of #sciencetwitter

I'm in a different space than the neurosciences, and definitely a different space than those who have been vying to represent the #metoo movement in the sciences. I try to be an ally as best as possible. That's all. I do expect a level of honesty, but I don't think that's too much to ask. A lot of people, especially early career researchers and others who are in tenuous situations use platforms such as Twitter to express concerns of theirs pseudonymously. In and of itself, that doesn't matter much. People share their experiences, they seem to add up, and we figure out how to best support them. That's swell.

Sometimes, we experience something else.

I'll start with something fairly basic: It's hard to be alive in the US right now without directly knowing at least one person who has tested positive for COVID-19. I am personal friends with someone who was eventually diagnosed as COVID-19 positive, and who, after roughly two months, made a complete recovery. Keep in mind that I live in a more remote part of the US, and your mileage may vary.

So imagine that I catch wind that someone I had some vague recollection of is reported to have died from COVID-19, after her institution allegedly kept her in classrooms for several weeks after it was very obvious that the proverbial truth had hit the fan (to borrow from proto-rapper Gylan Kain). Keep in mind that although I had no direct interaction with this particular cyberfiction, as far as I know, the thought of a faculty member being placed in harm's way was one that would concern me for very obvious reasons. Would a US college or university continue to coerce a faculty member to teach seated courses after early to mid-March? The odds are unlikely. In my very Red state of Arkansas, we were given an extra week of spring break starting the second week of March to enable faculty to flip classes to online. My understanding is that Arizona did something very similar.

Here's the thing. The story did not add up. The cyberfiction's alleged university (Arizona State University - I had to make sure that it was not Arkansas State University, which is also referred to as ASU and which has grad programs) had no clue as to who this person was or any indication that one of their own faculty had allegedly died from COVID-19. Turns out those who considered this cyberfiction as personal friends had never met the person. Note that when dealing with pseudonymous bloggers and social media accounts, there may well be a real person. Note too that it is possible to know someone who wrote under a pseudonym who really did die, and that said death could be confirmed independently. Been there. It hurt. A bunch of us mourned. We got on with life. That said, I also have experienced at least once where someone used a sockpuppet to fake a suicide (that was back in Usenet days). Let's just say that did not go over well. A sleuth was able to put two and two together and sort out that perp of the hoax was the alleged victim. Thankfully, the truth came out, and the perp was deservedly roasted.

In the meantime, someone who was once considered the face of #metoostem is facing a lot of inconvenient questions she will likely never answer. I expect nothing less. Cosplaying on Twitter an identity that one would have no way of rightfully identifying creates a lot of collateral damage. For those who actually believed that they were interacting with a real individual, there was an initial sense of a genuine loss, followed by a sense of being duped. For those who had less of a horse in the race, as it were, this episode may reinforce the worst of #metoostem. That latter lesson is one I hope is not reinforced. For every liar, there are a ton of people who have been abused, dismissed, etc. who deserve to be heard. That a privileged White woman may well have faked a relationship that was professional and personal for whatever reason is beyond the pale. That this person may have faked being an indigenous person - and especially one belonging to the LGBTQ community - is beyond the pale.

In the meantime, #metoostem deserves new and diverse voices. The one person who was most vocal may not have been much of an ally.

Following are some Twitter threads and articles to provide some much needed context.

Here's some sleuthing from Aspiring Leftist Academic, and Keiko has a good thread summarizing this situation as it unfolds. More sleuthing by Isabel Ott.

Here's an article from Buzzfeed.

Gizmodo weighs in.

Heavy had its own deep dive into this particular saga.

Daily Beast had its own article, which did include a brief interview with BethAnn McLaughlin.

Science Magazine has its own coverage, noting that the apparently faked account in question (what I refer to as a cyberfiction), @sciencing_bi and @mclneuro are both suspended under Twitter's rules. Twitter has also restricted the @MeTooStem account due to unusual activity.

And yes, this story has made its way to Inside Higher Ed, as does Chronicle of Higher Ed (note Chronicle article is paywalled)

Since this was a situation that initially appeared to have some connection to Arizona State University, it is reasonable to expect that AZcentral would cover it.

Note that depending on the media outlet, McLaughlin has varied in her willingness to respond. Her responses themselves are troubling - including an admission that she had access to the @sciencing_bi account. I suspect that the media outlets own reporting was aided considerably by various sleuthing efforts on Twitter (@endlesswarrio, @mbeisen, @isabelott, and probably others I am forgetting at the moment), who dug up inconsistencies, as well as dug up stock photos that were passed off as authentic events, including alleged meetups between @sciencing_bi and @mclneuro, as well as the supposed trip to Yosemite that turned out to just be @mclneuro and her daughter.

There are some questions that have been circulating for a while about whether or not BethAnn McLaughlin was involved in some data image manipulation/duplication. That's above my pay grade, but certainly worth a look.

In the meantime, my sympathy and empathy to anyone who got hurt during this debacle. I expected more out of Science Twitter than a bunch of wannabe authors of really bad fanfic. Yet here we are. This is a cautionary tale. I really hope that those who are genuinely under-represented as scholars - not only on Twitter but within our various disciplines writ large - were not unduly harmed here, and that their voices get heard and respected.

Note that I have added some new links to this post as I become aware of them.This post was last updated on August 4.

One last update for this post: Bethann McLaughlin finally admits it (through her lawyer), as reported in the NYT. Make of her apology what you will. Not sure if it is sincere, or more of a move to avoid being held accountable. I am not intending on commenting further on the matter unless there is some blowback that is relevant to those who work hard to make the sciences more inclusive. Otherwise, we're done here as of August 4.

Last update as of August 6: This article from ArsTechnica slipped through the cracks. It's useful for describing how a fake account could be seen as a plausible real person, and how @Sciencing_Bi would have fooled a lot of otherwise skeptical people. Also included are plenty of screen shots. The fallout is still to be determined. I am guessing this will make it easier for trolls to attack pseudonymous Twitter users who have legitimate reasons to not be identified by name, as well as add more ammo to push back against the Me Too Movement more broadly, as well as those who are marginalized to begin with. Okay. We're done here.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Where things stand

I decided a couple years ago that trying to pretend to be even an R-2 researcher was unrealistic, and that the basics that I do, and have done since 2000, are good enough. Some years I mentor undergrad students. Some years I don't. I still have some occasional collaborators, but thankfully we work based one each others' life circumstances. Over the last couple years, my line of "my primary project is our side project" has meant something. I work primarily in a classroom - physically or virtually (the latter especially in the era of COVID-19). My service is primarily to my students obtaining degrees and me somehow managing to serve my campus community. The rest is gravy. In the meantime, I am grateful to the extent that my state manages to keep enough of us employed. How long that lasts is an unknown. I may well be teaching English in Thailand before all is said and done.

We'll just have to see how well that the Federal Government supports states and localities. If that happens, I have very little to worry about, and the likelihood of me expatriating in a completely different capacity are minimal. Time will tell.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Wow, that escalated quickly

An article published last year, Prevalence of unprofessional social media content among young vascular surgeons, is now in the spotlight. It's probably not the first in this genre of studies, but it is very recent. And it's trending all over Twitter (the hashtag #MedBikini is now a thing). I suspect the disturbing thing is the subset of male authors who created spoof accounts to collect whatever data they collected. I agree with Dr. Bik's assessment that it comes across as creepy (and yeah, I also agree that is not an objective statement, but more of a visceral reaction). Something like this in my domain comes to me inbox for peer review, I would have had pointed questions, including how this got through an IRB. The categories of behavior themselves are not necessarily as objective as they are billed, which would be a concern as well. But yeah, it got published, and it's definitely making the rounds on social media. The authors are not particularly enjoying their newly-found fame. Not surprised.

Higher Ed is Being Starved, Redux

I had a few words over a year ago, when a global pandemic was not even something I was contemplating. If anything, the situation has deteriorated. The pandemic decimated state budgets in the US. Many of us are facing budget cuts that vary from bad to draconian depending on the state. Those of us who serve students who are first-generation and who are considered "essential employees" have been hit the hardest. Look. I'm just old enough to remember when students did not need to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans in order to benefit tangibly or benefit on an intellectual level from higher ed. For those who are still curious about the tangible benefits? Those with at least some higher ed experience or who earned a 4-year degree are faring better during this particular pandemic-induced recession/depression than those without. What we offer is still an equalizer. Heck, it was a means of allowing one of my family lines to dig their way out of poverty. My dad was a first generation college student, college grad, and Masters student. He had one heck of a career. He had his challenges, but by the time he was finally willing to retire, he could do so in comfort. All of us deserve that. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it's that we need to go back to a model of colleges and universities as public goods, as utilities of a sort. We provide critical thinking skills, a knowledge base, and some very specific skills, and our students do the rest. How it was supposed to be all along.

Monday, July 20, 2020


Over the weekend, I learned that one of my former doctoral professors, Russell Geen, had passed away. Russ was one of two social psychologists on faculty at what was then the Department of Psychology at University of Missouri-Columbia (or Mizzou as we like to call it). When I came on board as a doctoral student, Russ was near retirement and was neither taking on new students nor agreeing to sit on thesis or dissertation committees. My advisor at the time made that point crystal clear to me.

Russ was still handling some editorial chores, was actively writing, and actively teaching. It was in that last capacity that I probably got to know him best. He offered a course on Motivation from time to time. I got the pleasure of sitting in on that seminar in 1996 during the winter semester. What I remember most from that particular course was Russ's demeanor. Unlike a lot of people who might be considered big names in their particular research domains, Russ was humble and down-to-earth. He wasn't much for jargon, or for droning on about his h-index or any of that nonsense. He just struck me as a guy who really enjoyed sharing what he knew and showing the rest of us some paths for discovering that knowledge ourselves. In some ways, the course almost came across as a history of motivation research. Given Russ's penchant for the history of psychology in general. I may have first learned about some of the juicier details of the early history of the department in that class - turns out one of the early founders of what eventually became Frustration-Aggression Theory was a Mizzou alum. I don't know directly what he was like in the lab, but a friend of mine who was his last doctoral student referred to Russ as a bit of a taskmaster. My friend was not complaining. I got the impression that they had developed a great working relationship and friendship.

Russ and his wife Barbara held a gathering for social psych area students (and spouses) and faculty around the start of each year during my first two or three years I was a student at Mizzou. Their house was a stately two-story house located in an upscale historical district in CoMo. Even with the impressive digs and the impressive spread of food and beverages they'd had catered, the event seemed very down-to-earth. We'll just say it always appeared to me that a good time was had by all.

My one regret was not formally taking the history of emotion theory and research seminar he offered in early 1999. I did audit it, and did sit in on a few sessions. One of the reasons I know that one can find a coherent theory of emotion in Homer's epic poems is thanks to one of those sessions. He did warn that the history of emotion theory and research was as messy as actual emotion. He was right about that. At the time, I was dividing my attention between doing the groundwork for a dissertation prospectus as I transitioned between advisors, finishing up some lab chores in Anderson's lab before he headed to greener pastures at Iowa State, and my work as a TA and lab instructor. Along with parenting a toddler, I had my hands a bit full. I had to choose my battles wisely.

Russ was one of a handful of friendly faces at an R-1 institution notorious for less-than-friendly faces. If I passed him in a hallway or somewhere around town, I could always count on a greeting and some conversation. I still keep in my personal library the two editions of the text on aggression that Russ authored, as well as several books on aggression that he co-edited. I am saddened by his passing. He was genuinely one of the good ones, and at times they seem to be a bit few and far between.

Note: The image comes from here. It is the one that we would have seen on one of the walls of McAlester Hall where the photos of all of the faculty were put on display.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

It pays to read charts correctly

This post is a brutal takedown of a false claim about the average full-time college/university faculty salary in the US. Turns out that the average salary at PhD granting universities for those at the rank of full professor is pretty impressive. Of course it is worth keeping in mind that not only does one's mileage vary depending on one's rank, but also location within the US, which is not something that chart was designed to disclose. So it goes. It pays to read a chart correctly. Regrettably, it does not add to one's compensation (if only), but at least in terms of being correctly informed and not making a complete fool of one's self.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Comment Policy

I will probably make this into a page, but I do think it is useful for my readers to understand my view on comments. Whenever I make a new post, like this one, I open up a two week window in which anyone can make a comment and have it immediately show up. After that, comments are moderated. From my perspective, there are a couple basic rules about comments. First, and foremost, comments must be on-topic. Spam is not welcome under any circumstance, and I will delete any comment that appears to be spam. That is non-negotiable. So, for this post, on-topic comments would be ones discussing my comments policy. Personally, I imagine that will be a rather dry conversation, but I could be wrong. Spam has usually been more of a concern with older posts, but those get caught up in moderation. My second rule is that any conversation is kept civil. I think that is especially important because I do take some positions that may step on some toes, are controversial, and hence could invite heated exchanges (at least potentially). It's okay to disagree. It's okay to point out a mistake. It's okay to have suggestions that help me as I formulate my thoughts on a particular matter. If the comment is directed toward an older post, that's fine too - just realize it will be in moderation limbo for a moment. Someone has an idea or has seen research that may be beneficial? I want to know. If someone sees an old post and wants to tell me that it didn't age well, I don't mind that either. Chances are I've already noticed and may have even blogged about it. But bottom line is that I won't tolerate abusive behavior in comments either. Really those haven't been issues. This is not exactly a well-known blog, nor am I particularly well-known, so for the most part, it falls beneath the cracks. That may or may not change. For now, I'll maintain my current approach, but if I notice an uptick in spam, especially, I may just make moderation of comments the default. I really want to avoid that. Okay. Back to our regular programming.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Update - what's happened with Zhang Lab papers?

Short answer is that not a lot has happened since the end of last year. More to the point: nothing seems to have happened. I have seen no new English-language publications from the lab. Maybe some specifically Chinese publications have emerged. As of now, I am unaware of them. As of now, there are two retractions (both of which involve reputable scholars, and for whom I can only offer my sympathies), a Corrigendum (which turned out to be only a partial solution - the article needs to be retracted), and a number of errata in what are potentially predatory journals, that are themselves in need of errata. There are a couple journals that have yet to issue so much as a message of concern, despite some glaring errors. If nothing else, the web presence of Qian Zhang at Southwest University in Chongqing has changed considerably over the last year or so. At one point, Zhang had several photos of himself and with eminent US Psychologists from Illinois, along with some statement about SPSS expertise and an enticement to potential grad students to work in his lab. All of that is gone. There is some description of past work, including recent. That's it. Maybe that is progress of a sort. I have no idea of what the CCP has in mind for this particular researcher, nor any particular concern either way. My main concern is that I and my peers can compute accurate effect size estimates, reproduce the findings, and replicate the work. My impression, based on doing a StatCheck scan on a Chinese-language article just prior to Qian Zhang joining the lab at Southwest University, is that the pattern of errors was already in place. This is someone who apparently adapted to a lab culture that was itself in need of improvement. In a toxic academic environment (of which many of us are all too familiar) the convenient way of getting along is the path of least resistance. I wish it were not that way. My guess is that we are looking at a tragedy of errors - one in which there are no villains, just people who made a lot of regrettable choices for the same reason anyone might make regrettable choices in a late capitalist economy. If we get this right in our corner of the sciences, this lab's body of work will be a cautionary tale about the role incentive structures play in terms of career advancement. I suspect there is also a cautionary tale about how eminent psychologists grease the path for success of ambitious researchers, regardless their actual talent and research practices. There is a cautionary tale of coauthors having thorough access to data and codebooks. There is a cautionary tale about editors and peer reviewers having the tools at their disposal to to their jobs as well as possible.There are no happy endings for this particular case. For those of us who really do treasure samples of non-WEIRD populations, I advocate only for making sure that the protocols and data analyses are above board. Else, we get a situation that is truly a mess, and one in which any scholar wishing to extract effect sizes for meta-analyses in the broad area of media violence will be left flustered.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Peer review: How is that working out for ya?

A paragraph from a form editor in chief of a major journal in my specialty area:

Less than a month later, this got me into trouble. Apparently I had upset some Very Important People by “desk-rejecting” their papers, which means I turned them down on the basis of serious methodological flaws before sending out the work to other reviewers. (This practice historically accounted for about 30 percent of the rejections at this journal.) My bosses—the committee that hires the editor in chief and sets journal policy—sent me a warning via email. After expressing concern about “toes being stepped on,” especially the toes of "visible ... scholars whose disdain will have a greater impact on the journal's reputation," they forwarded a message from someone whom they called "a senior, highly respected, award-winning social psychologist." That psychologist had written them to say that my decision to reject a certain manuscript was "distasteful." I asked for a discussion of the scientific merits of that editorial decision and others, but got nowhere.
The rest of the article is worth reading. Peer review is not all it's cracked up to be. Peer review is better than nothing, and definitely better than government meddling into what gets published. However, it only works to the extent that eminent scholars can't do an end-run around editorial decisions, and of course the extent to which peer reviewers have sufficient information to make informed decisions.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Weapons Effect Theory?

I'd honestly never thought of the phenomenon known as the weapons effect to be a theory in any meaningful sense of the term, but evidently there are folks who do. Not sure what a theoretical model would look like, or if it would be all that helpful, given that the evidence that would underpin the theory seems to be on shaky ground to begin with. If I have some spare time, would love to play around with this idea of what a weapons effect theory would look like and what would be needed to provide confirmatory and falsifiable evidence. Probably more me just sorting something out. Anyway, I guess we read something new every day.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Another university cuts ties with Elsevier

This time, it's MIT. Whether or not you wish to buy MIT's avowal of a principled stand for open access, we can at least acknowledge that there is a pattern developing. I am under the impression (based on meetings I've been part of in the last couple months) that my university system is getting ready to do likewise - although more for budgetary reasons. See, a subscription to Elsevier's stable of journals is very expensive. And yes, Elsevier does have some open access options, but when you're looking at spending $3000 or more per published article, that's untenable. That would practically bust my departmental and College budget (for publication of one article!), given the cuts we are facing this coming fiscal year. The STEM College at my university will be most directly affected, but so too will those of us in the behavioral and social sciences in my College. There are workarounds. Interlibrary loan still works. No patience for that? Use a browser with a VPN (like Opera) and use Sci-Hub. You'll get your article either way. No muss. No fuss.

Here's a radical idea, although hardly novel or original: Open access should be the norm, rather than the exception. In the meantime, if you can, make preprints public. There are many options available. What we produce as scientific workers is intended to be a public good and should be treated as such. Here's another radical idea (also not novel or original): reclaim scientific publishing as a public good that is operated within the public sector rather than privatized. Maybe we can give non-profit organizations that respect open access a pass, but otherwise, the fruits of our labor should be driven by the needs of our citizens - from the peer review process all the way to the finished published article, and archived data and code. Finally, yet another radical idea: do away with all these metrics that give journals "prestige". What matters more is the work itself. Where it appears is of less importance. Finally, we need to provide public support to post-peer reviewers. That in itself can be a full-time job for those who have the interest and talent to pursue it. Published work can and should be scrutinized. Heck, mine has. I'm grateful for that. The initial peer review process is adequate for the purposes of initial filtering, but insufficient for catching all the many potential flaws with the papers that are reviewed. There are folks like Elizabeth Bik, Nick Brown, James Heathers, etc., who do invaluable work data sleuthing on a very regular basis. If anything, we need more who are willing to jump into the fray. To do that, they need a way to make a living and do so with adequate job security.

Ultimately, the goal is supposed to be in the spirit of George Miller's notion of giving away the science of Psychology in the public interest. Our system that exists - the one where the public pays taxes so that scientists can submit research to journals run by for-profit companies that farm out peer review to people who do so for no compensation, and upon publication the same public is charged yet again for access to that information - is flat out insane and unsustainable. If we can come out the other side of this already turbulent decade with a system of scientific publishing that is publicly owned and is freely available to the public, at least one thing will have gone right.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A different type of busy

For much of the past decade, I have been locked into a routine each summer. I teach multiple summer courses (the load depends on student demand and whatnot), score AP Psych exams, and sometimes go to a conference. I also try to catch up on data analyses to whatever extent possible, so that I can get write-ups drafted enough for possible submission. This summer would be no different. With three summer courses (two from UAFS and one from eVersity), AP Reading in Tampa, and then repliCATS and SIPS in Victoria, BC, June alone was going to be insanely busy. By the latter half of July things would slow down and I'd use that time to take a bit of breather and then to move on whatever projects needed attention, prior to another fall semester. Just business as usual.

Then COVID-19 came along. By mid-March, I was already working from home. Any seated courses were flipped online. I am used to teaching online, so although that was an adjustment for all of us (I had to figure out on the fly how to quickly transition and smooth out the rough edges, and my students had to figure out all sorts of things, including how to find wifi hotspots to do their work), it was mostly doable. It did put a halt to some research work I had lined up with a student. We got one piece of the project completed before everything went sideways. Travel restrictions, budget cuts, the very real concerns of spending hours on airplanes and in airports, etc., ended my trips to Tampa and Victoria, BC. My professional development plan that I had sent in to my dept. chair and Dean was null and void. Ended up being the least of my concerns. We've learned, hopefully, a lot over the last few months about this particular novel coronavirus. We've also seen some of the socioeconomic fault lines that this pandemic has laid bare. The protests we've witnessed the last two weeks are in some ways an example of how the pandemic made very apparent the systemic racism that pervades my particular nation. Combine with an egregious example of police brutality, and we're witnessing a possible sea change in our society - the outcomes of which are unclear.

What is clear is that everything I thought I'd do the usual way - conferences in person, grading AP exams in person, spending tons of times in bars, restaurants, crowded convention centers, crowded meeting rooms, airplanes, airports, etc. - was no more. And yet it appears I will be as busy as ever. My summer courses were already online anyway, with the exception of the second summer session, which was flipped online several weeks ago. The wildcard was eVersity, which is still establishing its course rotation. The introductory psych course got the green light, and I had a contract to sign. The AP reading will go on, but online instead of in Tampa. How much I make depends on how far above 35 hours I can or will go that week. The good folks at SIPS refunded our conference fees and set up an online version of the conference free of charge. We'll do a lot of Zoom sessions. I'll participate and contribute as I can later this month. In essence, I will apparently be just as busy these next few weeks as I would have been anyway, without ever leaving my den (which has now been transformed into my home office).

My first and most intensive round of classes is already underway. Mid-June will be very busy, and then everything simmers down, so that by the latter two weeks of July, I can focus on the matters that I am eager to work on. It may even be a busier July than expected, as I am attached to an applied project, strictly in a data analytic capacity, examining potential gender differences (and I am using gender in the proper sense here) in academic performance pre-COVID lockdown and post-COVID lockdown. The leads on that one have the theoretical rationale down. I'm there to crunch numbers once the database is made available. And although that project is specific to my institution as we figure out how to adapt and serve our student base, the hope is that it can enlighten other educators and administrators going forward.

I don't know how much I will get to blog over the coming weeks. Activity here had been a bit light to begin with the last three months. I chalk it up to the extra effort that went into working with my students as they confronted various obstacles (lost jobs, extra shifts, family health emergencies, general anxiety and depression due to isolation, etc), my own elevated stress level, and sorting out how to work with far more distractions than I had ever experienced. After all, I still am just barely young enough to have kids living at home, etc. It's been an adjustment. Like many of you, I was overwhelmed with the sheer scope of the pandemic, and I can't really say that has gone away. My state is one of those where cases are still spiking. Knock in wood, I should stay healthy, if a bit frazzled.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Varieties of Racism

What follows is a table that offers a nuanced approach to racism. In this case, the point is that there are several combinations of racism along the following dimensions: individual/institutional and overt/covert. Each has harmful consequences for those affected. These sorts off tables can be very important for understanding each other's blind spots as well as those of our social institutions. I suspect that a lot of the friction encountered in confronting racism comes from covert unintentional acts at either the individual or institutional level. Getting those involved to see it and to take steps to reform is likely to be a long-term work in progress.

This diagram comes from a textbook by Ponterotto, Utsey, and Pedersen (2006).

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

A few thoughts about violence

Given recent events, it seems like this would be a good time to spend some time discussing how violence is defined. Much of what I discuss relies on books by Chasin (2004) and Bulhan (1985). I will start simply by saying up front that there are multiple forms of violence that are fundamentally different - at least quantitatively if not qualitatively. I will also state up front that I accept that violence begets violence, but unless we're explicit as to the forms of violence with which we are dealing, we'll fail to understand where the onus of responsibility lay for a particular violent act.

Most of us are more than familiar with interpersonal violence. If one were to simply ask any random acquaintance to give a definition of violence, it would in all probability be restricted to violence in an interpersonal sphere. Spend the first few minutes of any local evening news program in any major urban area, and one will be inundated with stories of some of the most typical forms of interpersonal violence: rape, aggravated assault, robbery, murder or attempted murder, and so on. One might even get the (false) impression that the nearby neighborhoods or the world at large are terrifyingly dangerous places. Interpersonal violence can be as minor as a fistfight all the way to being life-threatening or life-ending. That said, it tends to be easily noticeable and hence relatively easy to seek condemnation and/or efforts for violence prevention (the latter of which I find quite commendable and in fact utterly necessary). The other forms of violence, as we will see, are considerably more insidious - and often aren't even recognized as violence by most people.

One of those forms of violence is organizational violence, which involves explicit decisions made by individuals as part of their formal roles in organizations, such as the military, police, CIA, or a corporate bureaucracy which lead to physical harm or death. Although the decision-makers involved in organizational violence might have no direct interpersonal role in the harm caused to their victims, and in fact may even be abhorred by the actual process of violent actions such as torture and murder (e.g., Arendt, 1963), they are nonetheless committing a form of violence. A classic 20th century example of organizational violence involves the various bureaucratic decisions made by such individuals as Adolph Eichmann, whose paperwork paved the way for the deaths of untermenschen in Central and Eastern Europe during the Nazi era. Executive orders, legislation, or in this day and age a mere tweet by an elected leader may be sufficient for unleashing acts as visible as firing teargas and rubber bullets into a crowd of entirely nonviolent demonstrators in order to give a national leader a photo op at a nearby church, to the far less visible forms of harm to others - such as elimination of unemployment benefits, denied access to public healthcare (e.g., Medicaid) once one is unemployed, etc. In each case, the end result is that people get harmed in some tangible way. Such violence can also be found in the private sector in the form of drafting of memos at some corporate headquarters leading to the unemployment, displacement, or starvation of whole communities in order to ostensibly improve profit margins. In some cases, the bureaucrats involved are consciously aware that their actions will lead to the suffering and potential death of others; often though there is - as Hannah Arendt has duly noticed - no thought given to the human consequences of these particular bureaucratic acts of violence. Often organizational violence can lead to what is called "blowback" - typically in the form of interpersonal violence as a reaction. Turns out the targets of such violence do get understandably angry, and that anger only festers over time if there is no restitution.

Structural violence refers to physical harm (including death) suffered by a particular group of people who do not have access to the same services and benefits as the rest of society. Often, though not always, structural violence and organizational violence co-occur. What most of us fail to recognize is that structural violence is often the most deadly and insidious forms of violence. To take a few words from the book,  by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan (1985):

Structural violence is a feature of social structures. This form of violence is inherent in the established modes of social relations, distribution of goods and services, and legal practices of dispensing justice. Structural violence involves more than the violation of fairness and justice. [p. 136]

Structural violence is the most lethal form of violence because it is the least discernible; it causes premature deaths in the largest number of persons; and it presents itself as the natural order of things. A situation of oppression rests primarily on structural violence which in turn fosters institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal violence. Structural violence pervades the prevailing values, the environment, social relations, and individual psyches. The most visible indicators of structural violence are differential rates of mortality, morbidity, and incarceration among groups in the same society. In particular, a situation of oppression increases the infant mortality rate and lowers the life expectancy for the oppressed. [p. 155]
We see these differential rates in the US in terms of differences in life expectancy of African Americans versus Euro-Americans, as well as in the disproportionate rates of incarceration between different racial/ethnic groups, differences in income that disproportionately disadvantage racial and ethnic minorities, and so on. This year alone, we learned that African Americans were much more prone to die of COVID-19 than their Euro-American counterparts. A lifetime of differences in opportunities, patterns of mistreatment by authorities, access to healthcare, and so on appear to be predictors. The structural violence in this case will also fall underneath the radar because it is built into the very fabric of the oppressors' worldview. After all, the injustices that exist can be written off as human nature, some form of moral failings, etc. "It's just the way it is," many might say. Those oppressed may be written off as less intelligent, as not belonging and unable to fit in, etc. The deaths caused from the stress of being oppressed, and without adequate access to fundamental human needs for survival are no less real, even if they don't make the headlines of our various corporate controlled newspapers and news channels. Again, it is crucial to recognize that is in the case of organizational violence, structural violence can and often does lead to blowback - as we have seen in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Fortunately, most of that blowback has been remarkably nonviolent and restrained, given the very visible anger and frustration expressed by those most affected by a system and set of societal filters and norms stacked against them.

What I'm driving at here is simply that if one wants to understand what is now an on-going set of protests and occasional riots in the US at this point in time, it is imperative that we get our heads around the root causes of those forms of mass behavior. To fail to address in particular the organizational and structural origins of what might appear to the more sheltered as violence, is to not only further victimize those who've already been victimized but inevitably makes tangible violence prevention efforts impossible. To condemn those who simply may be reacting to lengthy periods of oppression without extracting some form of tangible retribution from those who have perpetrated organizational and structural violence is shallow at best.