A recent study in Public Opinion Quarterly went viral, making its way around the news cycle, the blogosphere, and progressive interest groups.
The study reported that skin tone/color, associated with a picture of President Obama, correlated with some ugly sentiments. Proof positive, many on the left would argue, of implicit and explicit racism.
A psychologist, L.J. Zigerell, however, did us the service of checking the original authors’ results. He was able to replicate their reported results but also found that researchers reported only 2 of 16,369 potential combination. He posted this finding on his website and on Twitter.
The authors’ of the study responded to these criticisms and a civil discussion occurred. You can read everything here: http://www.ljzigerell.com/?p=3622 _
Read the comments for yourself and evaluate the various positions. They each make valid points.
While it is obviously concerning that multiple testing can produce the types of findings reported by the authors (a problem endemic in the social sciences), a focus on this issue alone misses at least two broader points.
First, studies are too easily embraced when they confirm our worldview. Those on the left love it when a study shows discrimination or when a study shows that conservatives are inferior. I would say that conservatives love it when studies are produced that show liberals to be inferior but.......few liberals are going to do those studies. Nonetheless, conservatives, too, have their favorite issues and often too readily accept some studies as gospel.
Second, and less appreciated, is how the internet is now allowing for increased vetting of studies. I’ve read outstanding critical reviews of studies that were published in top journals by people not formally trained in those fields. Indeed, if you can cut through the swamp of crap that is out there, you can find some very intelligent bloggers who are now holding scientists to account. In a way this practice takes science out of the dark and closeted corners of academia and exposes it to the sunshine of open debate. While some internet scholars abuse this process, others make important contributions.
I have to say that since I’ve been on Twitter I’ve had more honest, candid, and insight discussions about research than I have had in several years. It is the one place where you can see an idea get vetted, discussed, and scrutinized without concern for academic standing.
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology