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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