Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science

We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available.

Ninety-seven percent of original studies had significant results (P < .05). Thirty-six percent of replications had significant results;

No single indicator sufficiently describes replication success, and the five indicators examined here are not the only ways to evaluate reproducibility. Nonetheless, collectively these results offer a clear conclusion: A large portion of replications produced weaker evidence for the original findings despite using materials provided by the original authors, review in advance for methodological fidelity, and high statistical power to detect the original effect sizes. Moreover, correlational evidence is consistent with the conclusion that variation in the strength of initial evidence (such as original P value) was more predictive of replication success than variation in the characteristics of the teams conducting the research (such as experience and expertise).

Consciousness isn’t all about you, you know

In an interesting article by Peter Halligan and David Oakley in NewScientist it is suggested that even if

consciousness occurs too late [in the process of a human action] to affect the outcomes of the mental processes apparently linked to it…it provides an evolutionary advantage that developed for the benefit of the social group, not the individual.

I’m curious to get the thoughts of those here on this suggestion.

Some things are not so simple

I have been distracted for months but I thought I would look in on UD to see if anything had changed.  All is much the same but I was struck by this OP from Barry. The thrust of the post is that Barry is a plain-speaking chap stating obvious ethical truths and anyone denying it is using sophistry and is evil.  The particular “obvious truth” that Barry is discussing is:

Anyone who cannot unambiguously condemn the practice of chopping little boys and girls up and selling the pieces like so much meat shares in the evil of those who do so.

I would argue that this gives the appearance of simplicity but hides considerable complexity and subtlety. It also illustrates how Barry, like everyone else, is actually a subjectivist in practice, whatever he might say in theory.

There is one obvious way in which this is statement is too simple.  It leaves out whether the little boys and girls are alive or dead. Most people find it morally acceptable to reuse organs from people (including babies and infants) who have recently died.

But also the statement is packed with emotional use of language. (Throughout this I assume Barry is referring to the practice of using parts of aborted foetuses for research and/or treatment and charging for providing those parts).

1) “Meat” suggests flesh that is to be eaten. I don’t think anyone is selling foetuses to go into meat pies.

2) “Chopping up”. Body parts from foetuses presumably have to be extracted very carefully under controlled conditions to be useful. To describe this as chopping up is technically accurate but again has connotations of a butcher.

3) “Little boys and girls”. By describing a foetus as a little boy or girl,  Barry appeals to our emotional response to little boys and girls that we meet, embrace and talk to.

4) “selling” suggests a product which is being produced, stocked and sold with the objective of creating a profit. It would indeed be shocking if organisations were deliberately getting mothers to abort so they could make a profit from selling the body parts. If you describe the same activity as covering the cost of extracting and preserving body parts of reuse it sounds quite different (the cost has to be recovered somehow or it would never happen).

What interests me is how Barry has chosen words for their emotional impact to make an ethical argument. If it had been described as:

Reusing parts of aborted foetuses for research and/or treatment and charging for providing those parts.

then it sounds a lot more morally acceptable than

chopping little boys and girls up and selling the pieces like so much meat

If morality were objective then it shouldn’t matter how you describe it.  It is just a matter of observation and/or deduction – like working out the temperature on the surface of Mars. But ethics is actually a matter of our emotional responses so Barry has to use emotional language to make his point.

Questions for Christians and other theists, part 6: Hell

A question for those of you who believe in an omnibenevolent God but also in hell: How do you reconcile the two?

Some believers invoke the “free will defense”, but this makes no sense to me. It seems that God could easily save everyone, sending no one to hell, without violating anyone’s free will. Here’s how I described it recently:

It’s similar to a technique I’ve described in the past whereby God could have created a perfect world sans evil without violating anyone’s free will.

Here’s how it works:

1. Before creating each soul, God employs his omniscience to look forward in time and see whether that soul, if created, would freely accept him and go to heaven or freely reject him and go to hell.

2. If the former, God goes ahead and creates that soul. If the latter, then he doesn’t, choosing instead to create a different soul that will freely accept him and go to heaven.

Simple, isn’t it? Any omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God could easily come up with something like this or better, rather than sending billions of souls to hell with no chance of a reprieve.

Theists, how do you respond?

Ashley Madison hack

Our default position towards infidelity is that it is Wrong. I’m not here to argue otherwise, but the moral dilemma thrown up by this case is that someone has made it their business to interfere in the lives of strangers in order to promote their own moral stance. This has led to two (unconfirmed) reports of suicide, and the potential damage caused by a discovered affair is enormous. Of course, one can say the cheats should have thought of that in the first place, but we are calculating creatures, and the genuine, if naive, belief is that if the other party does not find out, no harm is caused. If you choose to expose a cheat, you are directly crystallising the potential harm, with no knowledge of individual circumstances.

Real people have real circumstances, and real desires, wants and needs. It is not always a simple black-and-white matter of ‘leave first’. While I don’t condone the actions of marital cheats, I find myself more incensed by the interfering, scattergun actions of these busybodies.

Biblical Problems*: Jesus’ Birth

*Title changed to appease Mung 😉

I’ve not had any refutation / substantive critique from Christians and Sophisticated Theists(c) so I’ll put this here. Are they using ancient words wrong? Is the birth of Jesus story figurative? Does it matter to Christianity if it is not actually true? (I suspect its nearly as important as the resurrection)

Random Genetic Drift: a controversy?

Over my time as a dilettante observer of the science blogging community, I have noticed a certain frisson of controversy over the idea of random genetic drift. Sewall Wright, who with Ronald Fisher and J. B. S. Haldane (Bill Bryson’s observations on Haldane’s research into diving and decompression are entertaining) established the science of population genetics, is credited with coining the phrase in 1929. Thanks to Professor Joe Felsenstein for pointing out his seminal paper. Continue reading

McKinnon’s Paper on Miracles

In the Alastair McKinnon paper (“Miracle” and “Paradox”) I cited in a recent comment, it is argued that miracles of a certain kind are impossible.  The impossible ones are the ones that would provide any evidence of supernatural objects or occurrences.

We can call any of those most wondrous miracles a “miracle1.”  Any other miracle, which would be more in the nature of an amazing coincidence, we can designate as a “miracle2.”  Note that there’s nothing about a coincidence that provides evidence of the supernatural (something beyond nature).  And what does it mean to be “supernatural”?  It means to violate a natural or physical law. Continue reading

Reliance on Testimony to Miracles

  • Humans acquire a vast amount of factual information through testimony, arguably more than they learn through experience.
  • The extensive reliance on testimony is remarkable given that one often cannot verify testimonial information.
  • What makes testimony distinct from storytelling is that it has an implicit or explicit assertion that the telling is true. The literary format and style of the Gospels is that of the ancient biography, a historiographic genre that was widely practiced in the ancient word. Thus, one can regard these accounts as a form of testimony.

A Natural History of Natural Philosophy (pp. 165-172)

Continue reading

What Are You (or Have You) Been Reading This Summer?

A couple of comments on another thread got me wondering about this.  In my own case, I’m re-reading Middlemarch (for a discussion at the Boston Athenaeum in September) and continuing my reading on the Russian Revolution. I’ve finished the The Great Russian Revolution, by V. Chernov, and am now into Agrarian Foes of Bolshevism, by O. Radkey.  Also finishing up D. Hausman’s Rationality, Self-Interest, and Welfare.

How about you?

Faith vs Fact (Coyne’s book reviewed by Steven Pinker)

Seems to fit in with recent threads.

His latest book, Faith Versus Fact, is
intended not to pile on the arguments
for atheism but to advance the debate
into its next round. It is a brief against the
faitheists — scientists and religionists
alike — who advocate a make-nice
accommodation between science and
religion. As with Michael Corleone’s offer
to Nevada Senator Pat Geary in The
Godfather Part II, Coyne’s offer to religion
on the part of science is this: Nothing.
This sounds more imperialistic and
scientistic than it really is, because Coyne
defi nes ‘science’ broadly, to encompass
any system of belief grounded by reason
and evidence, rather than faith. On
this defi nition, many of the humanities,
such as history and philosophy, count
as ‘science’, not just the traditional
physical and social sciences.

Coyne quotes several historical and
recent writers, particularly Carl Sagan
and the philosophers Yonatan Fishman
and Maarten Boudry, while adding some
examples of his own, to show how the
existence of the God of scripture is a
testable empirical hypothesis. The Bible’s
historical accounts could have been
corroborated by archaeology, genetics
and philology. It could have contained
uncannily prescient truths such as “thou
shalt not travel faster than light” or “two
strands entwined is the secret of life.” A
bright light might appear in the heavens
one day and a man clad in white robe and
sandals, supported by winged angels,
could descend from the sky, give sight
to the blind, and resurrect the dead. We
might discover that intercessory prayer
can restore hearing or re-grow amputated
limbs, or that anyone who speaks the
Prophet Mohammed’s name in vain is
immediately struck down by lightning,
while those who pray to Allah five times a
day are free from disease and misfortune.

Innate dualism and intimations of eternal life

Excerpts from a new article at Aeon by Natalie Emmons:

We see faces in the clouds and we might just see Jesus in our toast: the fact that we see anyone at all tells us that the human mind is actively searching for agents, even in the most ambiguous of situations.

…Bering and his colleagues set their sights on what psychologists call ‘intuitive mind-body dualism’ as an alternative…The study deliberately included a cluster of children too young to have been exposed to much religious testimony at all, to see whether even they had an inkling that a part of an individual survives death.

Continue reading