Now, one could say that I was too tough on science yesterday. One would be wrong.
I comprehend that while under the spell of an ideology it is difficult to break out. Fish in water. Small pieces of evidence won’t make it happen – one needs to be slapped in the face with reality, one needs to have something so undeniable that full unrelenting impossible-to-look-back-on conversion is the only way. This is what Zen Koans are for, so let us try and koan you into this.
I will use the field I’m most familiar with: Psychology.
This is the received history of psychology: Psychology begins with Wundt in Germany. Wundt relied on introspection. These were the dark times as introspection cannot be relied upon. Later, Watson, an American, makes psychology a science via turning away from the mind and into behavior. Being unperfect he overcorrected. Chomsky comes along and triggers the cognitive revolution that yields the present cognitive psychology which studies the mind without relying on introspection.
How much of that do you think is a lie and how much of that do you think is politically motivated?
The whole thing is a lie.
The imageless thought debate – a supposed controversy on whether there was or wasn’t imageless thought – is said to be what led introspectionist psychology against itself. In fact, the actual experiential reports of the introspectionists around “imageless thoughts” agreed with each other substantially. They differed in their interpretation which is a theoretical issue that doesn’t invalidate the method. The debate never called the method into questioning.
Wikipedia quoting a textbook: “Wundt believed that scientific psychology should focus on consciousness and therefore centralizes on structuralism. Wundt analyzes the constituents of the mind by using a method called introspection, which involves the subjective observation of one’s own experience. This became the reason why structuralism gradually faded out, based on the unreliability of this method.”
Wundt was not an introspectionist, or not fully. He wrote against it as a method, he was an experimental psychologist first and foremost.
Cognitive psychology uses introspection. It is built around questionnaires and interviews, thus depending on the subject’s introspection abilities. But while Wund (and Titchener) had a 1600 pages book on how to introspect and wouldn’t accept reports from anyone with less than 10.000 reports made, cognitive psychology accepts everyone’s.
Well, so the whole thing is not a lie. It is true that the center of psychology went from Germany to America. How much of that do you think was politically motivated?
We need to set the stage before. You need to get accustomed toe the idea that countries do various things to yield their power. War is just the most undeniable one. But countries exhaust other options, so much so that eventually financing their own art to gain cultural power becomes the next best application of money.
You also need to accept that this is one thing that was declassified. It is logical that there are many that weren’t and won’t be in our lifetime. It is also logical that intelligence agencies are competent and first exhaust their best options, then their second best options and so on. Financing art for culture must be pretty down the list, so many other things must have happened before.
With that in place, is it that unlikely that countries finance their own science as a way of promoting their cultural hegemony? If this happens then we should know of cases where it did happen and the country doing it lost in some relevant way and thus it came to be generally known. Oh, here is the Soviet Union and their own made agricultural science which they aggressively promoted. They then lost the Cold War, winners wrote history and we know about it. This all means, of course, that if it happened once it might happen more than once, and that we won’t know about it as long as that particular country hasn’t lost.
The proposal spelled out is this: After WW2 there were more and less public attempts to shift culture. Psychology is the science of the mind. It has immense cultural weight – just check the pop psychology section of the bookstore. After WW2 there was a deliberate intention to shift the center of psychology from Germany to the US. I mean William James is fine, but having him cited in every single paper? Always some colloquial expression and never to build on what he said? And again, don’t take it from me. Chomsky said it first.
Anyways, this is merely an aspect power dynamics. Groups exist. They compete. They game the system to win. Sometimes these groups are countries. When they are countries they usually don’t compete via war. War is just the more undeniable of all competitions. Deception is key in competition. I will not get into the deep end political stuff but take look at distribution of nobel prizes throughout the years (This is the same nobel awarding institution that gave Obama a peace prize when he was 9 months into the White House. The same that gave Kahneman a nobel for prospect theory when it is built on nothing). Take a look at the distribution of olympic medals throughout the years. Note the coincidence between the timing of China’s political rise happens and the rise of Olympic Medals for China (and, of course, them hosting the Olympics ofc). Countries compete for cultural hegemony via art. Via athletic competitions. And via science.
Anyways, this is merely a larger version of the power dynamics phenomenon. Groups exist. They compete. They game the system to win. Sometimes the groups are scientific cliques. Just go over and read Scott Alexander’s on how he is shocked that the history written by the current psychotherapy winners is not sustained by facts but only by them having won and thus having gained history-writing privileges.
Converting to this view explains a lot. It explains why you need field leaders (army leaders) to die for the field to advance. It explains why the Heuristics and Biases paradigm dominates behavioral economics over the Homo Heuristics paradigm which is just patently better (Coincidentally, the leader of the former is American and of the latter German).
Sometimes the groups are scientific disciplines members. Then you get into truly horrid gaming: attempts to build a science with questionnaires, deliberate ignoring 50 years old methodological criticism.
“[The linked criticism r]enders null-hypothesis testing nearly useless for the purpose of confirming theoretical hypotheses. Yet it is fair to say that this procedure has carried almost the entire burden of theoretical progress in social psychology. These criticisms have been circulating for several decades without having any noticeable effects on the confirmational practices of the field. According to Meehl (1990, p. 230), social psychologists as a whole have reacted with “a mix of defense mechanisms (most predominantly, denial) so that they can proceed as they have in the past with a good scientific conscience.” Meehl continues: I cannot strongly fault a 45-year-old professor for adopting this line of defense, even though I believe it to be intellectually dishonest, because I think that for most faculty in social psychology the full acceptance of my line of thought would involve a painful realization that one has achieved some notoriety, tenure, economic security and the like by engaging, to speak bluntly, in a bunch of nothing.”
Kukla, A. Methods of Theoretical Psychology. P 100
This is Goodhart’s law all over, at all sizes.
You have followed my argumentation carefully and are now a convert. Great! Welcome. I promise the pain is temporary. To that, allow me to cement your newfound belief:.
As a believer you are not surprised that most published findings are false. You are even less surprised that the fake results of psychology cannot be reproduced. And least of all: you predicted how the cliques would react to real results that threaten their power:
“Some fierce infighting in psychology as a Harvard/UVa team including Daniel Gilbert and Gary King denounce the OpenScience project and the replication crisis it highlighted as bogus (paper, popular article). They have two main arguments: first, the “replications” were so different from the original studies that different results are unsurprising; second, that because of the way statistical power and confidence intervals work, OpenScience finding only 40% of studies replicating is consistent with 80-90% of the studies being correct, and in fact another replication attempt that found 85% replication rate would have said only 40% of its studies replicated if they had used the same (incorrect) statistical methods as OpenScience. But the pushback from psychologists and statisticians defending the existence of a replication crisis has been intense and highly convincing. Here’s a 45-author paper published in Science saying that “Gilbert’s very optimistic assessment is limited by statistical misconceptions and by causal inferences from selectively interpreted, correlational data” – but as usual, all the interesting stuff is on random blogs. Brian Nosek on RetractionWatch explains how Gilbert at al seriously exaggerated some of the differences between original studies and replications to the point of absurdity; The 20% Statistician says that “the statistical conclusions in Gilbert et al (2016) are completely invalid”, and The Hardest Science finds that Gilbert’s example of the the 85% replication rate dropping to 40% because of poor methods involves completely inappropriate cherry-picking of metrics. I admit my bias here but AFAICT the Gilbert paper is looking pretty questionable and the replication crisis seems as real as ever.”
Alexander, S. Rukling Class.
And at that moment the monk was permanently enlightened.