The blog of Dr. Arlin James Benjamin, Jr., Social Psychologist
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
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.
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