Thoughts on Psychology

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Link: Myths in psychology

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Every psychology student knows the stories of Phineas Gage and Kitty Genovese. Or rather, every psychology student thinks they know these stories. Actually, the standard versions of the stories are myths, that have been repeatedly debunked but which persist, because the mythical version is more attention grabbing, gives a simpler take home message, and talks to psychology’s power to identify and address real world problems. There’s a nice article here that yet again tries to debunk the myths, emphasising the need to think critically about claims in psychology:

http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2012/09/tall-tales.aspx

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Written by daijones

September 17, 2012 at 4:53 am

Posted in Quick Link

Link: fraud in psychology

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There are many reasons to be cautious in consuming psychological research. This is perhaps the most egregious:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/sep/13/scientific-research-fraud-bad-practice

Nothing new really, psychology has learnt little from the Cyril Burt case

Written by daijones

September 17, 2012 at 4:34 am

Link: critiquing media mis-reporting

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Nice piece here delivering a smack down to the Daily Mail, over an article that mis-represented research as suggesting racism is inevitable:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/27/what-racism-hardwired-headline-daily-mail

There’s a thank you letter from the authors of the original research here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/02/mail-race-nature-neuroscience

Written by daijones

July 4, 2012 at 1:00 am

The BBC can be so stupid

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A trivial moan, but reporting on the bad weather tonight a BBC journalist said something like “drivers reaching their final destinations talked of journeys cut short”. If they reached their destination, the journey wasn’t cut short. Is that hard?

I love the BBC, and really don’t want to be lumped with that bunch of right wing idiots that want to close it down, but some basic ¬†logic wouldn’t go amiss. If that’s the quality of reporter’s reasoning on the best of British news (which the BBC undoubtedly is), and if such idiocy goes unchecked, no wonder science reporting in this country is so ¬†poor.

A lesson here in basic argument: don’t have a predicate fundamentally contradict the conclusion. It makes you look stupid. Because it’s stupid.

Written by daijones

February 5, 2012 at 4:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Learning about the paranormal from a carton of eggs

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20120129-213715.jpg

I’m sometimes asked how psychology might explain events that seem so strange that they suggest the existence of paranormal activity, for example when you’re thinking about a friend and how you haven’t talked to them for a while, and then the phone rings and it’s them. These events seem so very unlikely, it seems impossible that they could happen by chance. The explanation that it’s just a coincidence doesn’t seem very persuasive. However, sometimes an unpersuasive reason is the right one, and the reason why unusual events sometimes occur comes down to the law of large numbers.
Any event that can be possible, including bizarre coincidences, has some chance of it happening, even if that chance is very small. However, there are so many events, and so many people to potentially experience them, that even the most unlikely of coincidences is likely to happen now and again. Hence the picture above. I was making an omelet last night, and was surprised to find when I cracked the first egg that it had a double yolk: I haven’t had that happen to me for a long time, probably because the chances of an egg having a double yolk are about one in a thousand. I was considerably more surprised when I cracked a second egg, and found that it too had a double yolk. If the events (each egg crack) are independent (though they probably aren’t), then the chances of that happening are one in a million. When I cracked the third egg and found another double yolk I must confess to feeling a bit spooked. When the fourth egg was a single yolk I was a little disappointed, but also a little relieved: it meant I could stop looking for pixies at the bottom of the garden! Then the fifth and sixth eggs were also double yolks, and I started feeling spooked again. Six eggs produced 11 yolks, pictured above. The chances of that, if the events are independent, are infinitesimal: let’s say one in a billion for a nice round number. And yet, it happened. Even if the chances are one in a billion, given the number of people buying eggs on a regular basis then there will be times that people find multiple instances of double yolks.
I thought five out of six was pretty spooky, but then I found this: six out of six
The Mail quote odds of a trillion to one for that, again based on the events being independent. As some of the comments point out though, it’s unlikely that the events are independent, and the odds of a double yolk are probably greater than one in a thousand for large eggs (eggs with a double yolk are more likely to be large), and perhaps for free range eggs. Still, I buy these eggs regularly, and have never had a double yolk before, so it’s still a pretty unlikely event.
I refuse to believe the commenter in the mail post who claims 11 out of 12: that’s too far fetched even for me!

Written by daijones

January 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm

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It’s not just me

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Good post here on problems with the BBC’s science reporting:
The BBC’s problem with science

Written by daijones

January 27, 2012 at 1:16 am

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Keeping an eye on the diagnostic manual

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A useful website here keeping an eye on the controversial development of version 5 of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. The development raises a whole range of issues around the definition of abnormality, the medicalisation of psychological conditions, and the role of drug companies in pushing particular kinds of syndromes, diagnoses, and treatments. A case in point of the latter is female hypoactive sexual desire disorder, being pushed as a neurologically founded disorder in individual women best treated through drug therapy, with no reference to the conditions of “sufferer’s” lives, or the quality of relationships, or the performances of their partners; and limited attention to psychological rather than chemical intervention. Good news for the drug companies, bad news for women. There’s a great post on this here.

Written by daijones

January 7, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized