A 52-year-old, part-time graduate student with no previous training in psychology and little math education beyond high school has knocked a celebrated measure of the emotional mix needed to live well off its mathematical pedestal.
Nicholas Brown, who is completing a master’s degree in applied positive psychology at the University of East London in England, teamed up with two colleagues to demolish the math at the heart of a widely cited October 2005 American Psychologist paper that claimed to identify the precise ratio of positive to negative emotions that enables life success.
Brown then asked Sokal and psychologist Harris Friedman of the University of Florida in Gainesville to analyze the 2005 paper more completely.
“What’s shocking is not just that this piece of pseudomathematical nonsense received 322 scholarly citations and 164,000 web mentions, but that no one criticized it publicly for eight years, not even supposed experts in the field,” Sokal says.
Brown and his colleagues’ sacking of the critical positivity ratio is on the mark, comments mathematician Colin Sparrow of the University of Warwick in England, who studies Lorenz equations.
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