John Bargh, a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University has written a blog post that’s currently receiving a thorough dressing down by the academic community. The title of the blog post, “Nothing in Their Heads” is a scathing ad-hom attack on a research group that failed to replicate his research. The opening gambit is an attack on, well the entire academic community.
“Scientific integrity in the era of pay-as-you-go publications and superficial online science journalism.”
It’s like a lesson in how to alientate your audience. “Superficial online science journalism” apparently refers to Ed Yong’s critique of his research. Yong isn’t exactly a light weight, as well as his Discover magazine blog he writes for New Scientist and Nature and has a stack of awards for his quality of writing and integrity. Before writing his article Yong even requested Bargh’s opinion but Bargh refused to give it. Thereby explaining why Yong’s critique may be ever so slightly superficial in this instance (Update 11/03/08: Yong has now published a full reply to Bargh’s blog containing a reply from a member of the team that created the replication).
Bargh’s argument is tainted from the offset with a rambling attack on the most revered, open access, not for profit academic journal (PLoS), claiming because the replication was published there that it is “essentially self-published”. PLoS have replied in the comments clearly proving this attack to be completely factually deficit. It’s worth noting that the open access PLoS is by no means alone in charging it’s authors. A great proportion of leading journals are “pay as you go publications” (as Bargh puts it) so this argument is invalid, not to mention weirdly juvenile coming from someone in Bargh’s position. The only difference is that other publishers that actually are profit making are just less up-front about charges, describing them as “colour” charges when there is often sod all printing going on. The Journal of Neuroscience for example charges $1000 per image (assuming you like your hard work portrayed in colour rather than appearing as something from the dark ages of Xerox). That’s on top of a $980 publication fee. By any standards PLoS is cheap relative to it’s competition, it even offers to waive the fee for any reason, no questions asked.
After you’ve waded through the school yard bullshit, if you’re still reading that is, the actual argument at hand is academic in the extreme (so I won’t paraphrase it here). If you take the time to read it, Bargh’s case is monumentally ironic. Besides the discussion on priming at hand, Bargh’s paper focuses on “rudeness” and “elderly stereotype”. It’s almost like Bargh is trying to parody himself as a rude old professor clinging on to a sinking ship, a casualty of post-publication review, open science and all the good things to come of it. You couldn’t make it up. If you do a search on Psych File Drawer you’ll discover this isn’t even the first failed replication attempt of Bargh’s experiment.
To me this debate highlights an issue at the very heart of science that is often neglected in Psychology. Science gets interesting when science gets replicated.
Doyen S, Klein O, Pichon CL, & Cleeremans A (2012). Behavioral priming: it’s all in the mind, but whose mind? PloS one, 7 (1) PMID: 22279526
Bargh, J. Chen, M. Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of Social Behaviour: Direct Effects of Trait Construct and Stereotype Activation on Action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology : http://www.yale.edu/acmelab/articles/bargh_chen_burrows_1996.pdfFollow Simon on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, RSS, or join the mailing list.
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