A leading biologist at Harvard, Pardis Sabeti, has called out the replication movement in psychology, calling it a “cautionary tale” of how efforts to reform research may “end up destroying new ideas before they are fully explored.” Her argument, in short, is that the “vicious” debate over statistical errors in that field has only stymied further progress. There’s “a better way forward,” Sabeti says, “through evolution, not revolution.” For comparison, she describes what happened in her own field of human genomics: A rash of false-positive results gave way about 10 years ago, without much fuss or incivility, to a new and better way of doing science. “We emerged more engaged, productive, successful, and united,” she says. Now it’s time for psychologists to put aside their pettiness and try to do the same.
Sabeti’s call to end the revolution, which appeared in Sunday’s Boston Globe, has been ballyhooed by several of her well-known campus colleagues. “Put a lid on the aggression & call off the social media hate mobs,” wrote Steven Pinker on Twitter. Sabeti “has written one of the smartest essays about the politics of social psychology that I’ve ever read,” said Daniel Gilbert. “Compelling piece … on how 2 scientific fields made major course corrections,” said Atul Gawande.
These kudos are misguided. While Sabeti makes it sound as if the reformers in psychology all behave like bullies, that’s far from the truth. She also suggests changes in genomics were implemented without rancor, as if rival scientists came together to sing Kumbaya. That’s not true, either.
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