Sunday, September 30, 2012

Science Utopia (Continued): Methods Integrity Workshop

"Winter is coming." --Ned Stark/Greg Francis
On Friday afternoon I attended a seminar in methods integrity in research (here). The speakers were Hal Pashler of UC San Diego and Greg Francis of Purdue University. In the seminar, the speakers raised a number of interesting points that I think add to last week's post on PYM about questionable research practices (here). I'll summarize the main points that I took from the seminar:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Science Utopia: Some Thoughts About Ethics and Publication Bias

Science Utopia, next exit
Psychology's integrity in the public eye has been rocked by recent high profile discoveries of data fabrication (here, here, and here) and several independent realizations that psychologists (this is not unique to our field) tend to engage in data analytic practices that allow researchers to find positive results (here, here, and here). While it can be argued that these are not really new realizations (here), the net effect has turned psychologists to the important question: How do we reform our science?

It's a hard question to answer in one empirical article, or one blog post, and so that's not the focus here. Instead, what I'd like to do is simply point out what I think are the most promising changes that we, as a science, can adopt right now to move toward a solution that will help prevent future data fabrication or the use of biased hypothesis tests. These are not my ideas mind you, rather, they are ideas brought up in the many discussions of research reform (online and in person) that I have had formally and informally with my colleagues. Where possible, I link to the relevant sources for additional information.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Entitlement, laziness, and internal attributions: What Romney and the rest of us think about government assistance.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them."

Mitt Romney's “47 percent” quote has been making the media rounds for days now. I'd like to shed one stream of light on what underlies this sentiment.   

As you may have heard, the quote is misleading. Mr. Romney was referring to 47% of Americans who don’t pay income taxes.  However, this group is composed of different demographics. It includes elderly Americans who would otherwise be left with nothing in their old age, struggling families supporting children with extremely limited means, troops deployed to war zones who are exempt from taxes while on duty, and very many people living far below the poverty line. A third of these individuals earn less than $10,000 a year.

Perhaps Mr. Romney doesn't quite care who is in the 47 percent. One tagline of the Republican campaign urges us to take responsibility for our own lives. Relying on the government for help is considered lazy, indulgent, and maybe a little selfish. It is especially so when we're not giving back by paying income taxes. Part of our national character and pride stems from the idea that we are a county where a little elbow grease can go a long way. If hard work is rewarded fairly, then unemployment and low incomes can only be a personal failing. If America is a place where anyone can succeed, economic hardship is a symptom of personal failure.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What Do Letters of Recommendation Reveal About Gender Bias?

Over the past month I have been putting together materials to apply for jobs. Much like applying to college or graduate school, applying to jobs means updating your curriculum vitae, putting together statements summarizing your research and teaching experience, and gathering letters of recommendation to send out to hiring schools, all in time for a fall deadline that is fast approaching (gulp). This process is a bit stressful and comes with many questions and concerns (What type of school do I want to work at? Am I good enough? What am I going to do if I don’t get any interviews? What am I going to do if I DO get interviews?). One question that had never crossed my mind was “Might I be at a disadvantage because of my gender?” But then I read an article on gender differences in letters of recommendation in academia, and suddenly it was a salient question.

Growing up, being female never felt like a disadvantage. Both of my parents worked and maintained the household, I didn’t have any brothers to create comparisons, and I was in classes with smart motivated students of both genders. The year I entered college was the first year that there were more females in college than males. Gender comparisons just weren’t part of my everyday experience. To be honest, I had little awareness that there could be any type of glass ceiling for me because of my gender. What does any of this have to do with applying for jobs? Well, in an attempt to prepare myself for job applications, I scoured the internet for helpful resources. One of the articles that I came across described research showing that letters of recommendation tend to highlight different traits for men and women, differences that is seems may actually put women at a disadvantage for getting the job.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Status Hierarchies: Do We Need Them?

Emile Durkheim (source)

I have been studying the topic of social status ever since I started my graduate training. That was in 2004 when George W. Bush was starting his second term as President, Clint Eastwood was busy winning an Oscar for best picture (Million Dollar Baby), and Lindsay Lohan wasn’t a punchline. In all of that time I hadn’t ever considered the question of whether society needs social hierarchies in the first place? That is, do we really need to rank ourselves in society relative to others? Is it necessary to have varying levels of power, prestige, and status in society? Or could society function quite well without differentiation based on status?

Clearly there are some good anecdotes that support the notion that hierarchy is unnecessary. For instance, there is an excellent pizza joint in Berkeley called Cheeseboard. It’s actually the Cheese Board Collective, which is owned and operated by a cooperative group of individuals who each share in the work and the profits of the business. There are no explicit status hierarchies at the Cheeseboard, and they make some pretty excellent pizza!

Unfortunately there aren’t too many other examples of groups or societies without social hierarchy. Which made me wonder: Why is that?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kids, school, and play: A look at what today’s youngest students are (and are not) doing in the classroom

Now that kids across the country are putting away their swimsuits and flip-flops and heading back to school, a new cohort of kids will be stepping into the classroom for the first time. But what will they be doing once they walk into the classroom? As you think back to your preschool or kindergarten years, you may recall having fun with blocks or dolls, running around the yard playing tag, or pretending that you and your friends owned a restaurant. Take a look into many preschools and kindergartens across the country today, though, and you will discover that this type of free and unstructured play is quickly disappearing.