October 6, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

Psychologist, Fix Your Own Problems

Evolutionary psychologists dare to tell normal people about their problems. They have enough of their own.

Why the language-ready brain is so complex (Science Daily). Look how complicated language is, when viewed from the inner workings of the brain. In this “everything you know is wrong” article, neuroscientists realize there is much more going on in speaking and understanding language than previously thought.

To make matters even more complex, language is often indirect. To know what a speaker really means, listeners need to infer a speaker’s intention. For instance, ‘It is hot here’ could well be intended as a request to open the window, rather than a statement about the temperature. Neuroimaging studies show that such ‘pragmatic’ inferences depend on brain areas that are involved in ‘Theory of Mind’, or thinking about other people’s beliefs, emotions and desires.

If top-level neuroscientists find the “language-ready brain” so challenging, who are psychologists to pretend to figure out what makes people tick? And yet they try.

Pontificating About Religion

Otago Study identifies psychology of attraction to religious deities and super-heroes (University of Otago, New Zealand). This simplistic evolutionary scenario tries to scientize religion, as many Darwinians have tried before.

In research published in the journal PLOS ONE, lead author Dr Thomas Swan has developed a god template that distinguishes such religious and secular supernatural beings by exploring the attributes people associate with each.

The study asked just over three hundred participants to invent a religious or a fictional being and assign them five supernatural abilities.

It’s all downhill from there. He tries to figure out why people don’t worship Mickey Mouse. The “researcher” was inspired by the late atheist astronomer Carl Sagan, and his program Cosmos. That explains his perspective on religion: that it is fake, that it simply makes people feel good, and that it is psychologically useful to the dullards who think they need a supernatural being to worship.

Psychology Could Use Some Religion

Common sense can predict if a psychology study will ever be replicated (New Scientist). Acknowledging that a replication crisis still plagues psychological research publications, New Scientist proposes a simple solution: Common Sense! The “wisdom of the crowds” was tested with students shown various research papers in psychology.

A selection of 233 students in the Netherlands participated in evaluating psychological research findings. When shown the findings, 58% of the participants accurately predicted whether the studies would be replicated. When shown the statistical data underpinning the studies, the accuracy of predictions rose to 67%. In other words, students were usually able to discern whether it was intuitively obvious that a study was flawed or not.

Previous studies have shown that psychologists can predict replications. The RepliCATS project at the University of Melbourne in Australia is now gathering expert predictions on 3000 claims from across the social sciences. However this research suggests that, to some extent, a group of laypeople is all the expertise required.

The finding implies that scientists, journals and the media may benefit from not letting eye-catching and surprising findings override their common sense. “We are in this crisis for a reason,” Sarafoglu says. “There is a strong incentive in science in general to publish sexy findings. So implicitly, people get pushed towards finding effects that are counterintuitive.

Other Frauds Ongoing

Duplicated images point to fraud in fish study, critics say (Science Magazine). Other sciences also have their problems. In this case, Mark Enserink tells how a whistleblower found fraud in a published scientific paper about zebrafish. Oona Lönnstedt, a marine biologist formerly at Uppsala University, had duplicated and manipulated photos of fish to support the conclusions. The same scientists had committed an earlier fraud in 2016.

Jerry Bergman’s book Evolution’s Blunders, Frauds and Forgeries should be must reading for students and laypeople who tend to be gullible about what “science” declares. Bergman documents numerous cases of intentional mistakes. The important thing is that these are not small blunders in isolated communities of scientists, but frauds and forgeries that misled the world’s leading evolutionary scientists, sometimes for decades! The stories are shocking and yet all too frequent. What frauds and forgeries are continuing today? Could global warming be one? Look around and see the gullibility of the consensus and wonder. Word has it that Dr Bergman has more cases that might be published in a follow-up book.


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