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Beyond Statistical Ritual: Theory in Psychological Science

Discussion in 'Research methodology news and research' started by CRG, Jul 11, 2021.

  1. CRG

    CRG Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Main article is paywalled but this abstract is worthy just for the phrase: "synthetic certainties"

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34240651/

    Travis Proulx[​IMG], Richard D. Morey[​IMG]
    First Published July 9, 2021; pp. 671–681

    Abstract
    More than 40 years ago, Paul Meehl (1978) published a seminal critique of the state of theorizing in psychological science. According to Meehl, the quality of theories had diminished in the preceding decades, resulting in statistical methods standing in for theoretical rigor. In this introduction to the special issue Theory in Psychological Science, we apply Meehl's account to contemporary psychological science. We suggest that by the time of Meehl's writing, psychology found itself in the midst of a crisis that is typical of maturing sciences, in which the theories that had been guiding research were gradually cast into doubt. Psychologists were faced with the same general choice when worldviews fail: Face reality and pursue knowledge in the absence of certainty, or shift emphasis toward sources of synthetic certainty. We suggest that psychologists have too often chosen the latter option, substituting synthetic certainties for theory-guided research, in much the same manner as Scholastic scholars did centuries ago. Drawing from our contributors, we go on to make recommendations for how psychological science may fully reengage with theory-based science.
     
  2. James Morris-Lent

    James Morris-Lent Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Hard to say without reading the article as a whole but one thought is that while people rightly focus on the 'Replication Crisis', there is also what might be called an 'Interpretation Crisis' whereby researchers are able to produce replicable, p-significant results but then interpret them to mean a lot more/something different in the real world than what is actually shown.

    (In our world CBT trials are a certainly a huge example but any sort of psych-lab experiment is probably highly susceptible to this, as well.)

    I.e. researchers find a statistically-significant result and then use it to underpin a whole theory via insinuation; rather than starting with a theory (maybe hypothesis is a better word) and then trying to punch holes in it with clever experiments.

    Of course with CBT/BPS stuff it started with a theory that was 'correct' via circular reasoning and then they interpreted the studies to fit the theory... so it's not like just starting with a theory rather than a statistical result cures anything.
     
  3. dave30th

    dave30th Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    that sounds right. it's synthetic certainty in that something is true within the artificial universe of how a study was designed and how data were analyzed, but it has little relationship to the real world.
     
  4. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Meehl looks to be an interesting character:

    Meehl founded, along with Herbert Feigl and Wilfrid Sellars, the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science, and was a leading figure in philosophy of science as applied to psychology.[4] Early in his career Meehl was a proponent of Karl Popper's Falsificationism, and later amended his views as neo-Popperian.[4]

    Arguably Meehl's most important contributions to psychological research methodology were in legitimizing scientific claims about unobservable psychological processes.

    Paul E. Meehl - Wikipedia

    Isn't "synthetic certainty an oxymoron. Presumably he was well aware of that, so wouldn't the "certainty" be better in inverted commas?

    It is interesting that Meehl was involved with the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Test, which nonsense contributed greatly to our downfall, as it was used by Imboden in 1959 to supposedly reveal the minor distinctions in the Fort Detrick staff showing that chronic brucellosis, and overlong recovery from influenza, were due to psychiatric "issues". Or conversion disorder. Take your pick.

    It is also interesting that this work was being published in 1978, which is almost exactly contemporaneous with the Eisenberg/Kleinman model for distinguishing disease and illness, leading to the mess of MUS with which we are left.

    More research is needed.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2021
  5. chrisb

    chrisb Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    That Wiki entry gives Meehl criticising

    The spun-glass theory of the mind
    : The belief that the human organism is so fragile that minor negative events, such as criticism, rejection, or failure, are bound to cause major trauma—essentially not giving humans, and sometimes patients, enough credit for their resilience and ability to recover

    I wonder who that might be made to refer to.
     
  6. James Morris-Lent

    James Morris-Lent Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    Maybe the problem is that it's true for some people and then they go projecting it on everybody else?
     
  7. rvallee

    rvallee Senior Member (Voting Rights)

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    It's honestly hard to escape the fact that essentially the BPS ideologues are studying themselves, their own interpretation and perception. We are not relevant or even considered in their work, only the distorted narrative they tell about themselves and the role of medicine dealing with its own failures. It's essentially medical theology.
     

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