Psychologist addresses concern of field

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On Thursday, April 6, the Union College Psychology Department Speaker Series and Honors Colloquium welcomed the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology and Rotman School of Management Professor Dr. Michael Inzlicht. His public lecture, named “The Replication Crisis in Social Psychology: A Personal, First Person Account,” marks the series’s first speaker of the Spring term. This series strives to include Union College in the discourse within the field of Psychology by inviting a range of scholars to the campus. Dr. Inzlicht received his B.Sc from McGill University in 1994 and earned his doctorate in Experimental Psychology from Brown University in 2001.

He has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles and his work has appeared in numerous media outlets in the past decade. He has also won numerous awards for his work and is currently a Research Excellence Faculty Scholar at the University of Toronto. His main areas of research include ego depletion and stereotype threat. He started his lecture by commenting on how the one message of his talk will focus on issues in the scientific community in general and how he is doubtful of the quality of its work. He stated, “I am skeptical of my field and own work…. Has our field made massive errors?” He described that psychologists are currently facing a replication crisis where they encounter difficulties in repeating their fellow scientists’ tests and receiving the same results.

Dr. Inzlicht explained how when psychologists test their hypotheses, they often receive a plethora of data and have to run numerous tests multiple times in order to reach a solid conclusion. He stated that the replication crisis appears when psychologists manipulate and omit the unsupportive data from these tests in order to support their conclusions. He further explained how scientists also manipulate variables in their tests, such as the number of participants, in order to also more strongly support their conclusion. Dr. Inzlicht detailed that one reason psychologists do this is because of a publication bias where publishers deem inclusive studies as “not worthy of publication.”

He explained how scientists strive to publish their work but publishing companies often want their articles to be “hot topics” with conclusive studies in order to expand and please their reader base. Dr. Inzlicht argued, however, that publication bias itself is not the problem but is a factor that contributes to and highlights the issue of the replication crisis. He further explained how this process often cuts simply to the conclusion of a research paper which is one among a large collection of work with both supportive and unsupportive data.

He stated his concern by saying that the “publication bias makes meta-analysis treatment effectively meaningless… How can we check the reliability of the field?” To answer his own question, he commented on how the very nature of science is self-correcting by stating, “Science does make mistakes but [members of the scientific community] come back and correct them.” He also noted how these corrections are made by taking certain psychologists’ test results and contrasting them to more “robust results,” supported by rigorous amounts of data and then treating the paper accordingly. Lastly, he said that he feels the scientific community is improving with the quality of its research but scientists still have much work to do in order to self-correct their peers’ work and their own.

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