Category Archives: Academia

New APS replication initiative aims to open the file drawer, heralding a positive step for psychological science.

During the past couple of years, psychological science has been in the midst of a PR disaster. Academics have publicly announced that they failed to replicate some of the most classic findings in our field, bringing the original effects themselves — and often the integrity of the original researchers reporting them — into question. These pronouncements and subsequent push to estimate the true effect sizes of various findings led to the even more disturbing realization that it is far too difficult to publish these failed replications — or successful replications, for that matter — in the peer-reviewed, academic journals that serve as our bread and butter.

A new initiative, backed by the Association for Psychological Science and co-headed by Dr. Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Alex Holcombe of the University of Sydney, is ripping the dirty laundry  that’s been airing in public for the past two years off of the clothesline and finally giving it the good, thorough cleaning that it has so desperately needed. This initiative aims to make rigorous replication a rewarding and beneficial aspect of a productive scientific career by establishing a special section dedicated to publishing replications in one of the top journals in our field, Perspectives on Psychological Science (one of the official journals of the Association for Psychological Science).

Psychologists have been calling for a widespread replication effort for years. However, there are several good reasons why this initiative is the first that truly has the gleaming possibility of revitalizing our field.

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Algebra Is Necessary, But What About How It’s Taught?

stock image In a recent New York Times op-ed, Andrew Hacker suggested that the typical math curriculum might not really be a necessary aspect of modern education — at least, not in the form that it currently takes. Hacker suggests that the textbook formulas found in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry classes are rarely used in “real life,” and the high level of difficulty that many students have with these subjects might unnecessarily inflate dropout rates and cause a handful of other negative educational outcomes. As Hacker suggests, it might be beneficial to focus on the history and philosophy of mathematics or emphasize “real life” applications of various mathematical fields, rather than zeroing in on the nitty-gritty formulas and minutiae of the math itself. After all, as he acknowledges, one of the most important reasons to learn math is not the math itself – it is the importance of learning how to engage in deductive reasoning, problem solving, and critical analysis.

However, as fellow science blogger Joanne Manaster noted in a comment about the article, “I’d argue that perhaps this is not so much about if math is needed, but how it is taught…geometry really helps with logic and thinking skills and algebra with general problem solving, so I don’t think it should go by the wayside altogether.”

I happen to agree enthusiastically with Manaster, and I’d like to hope that Hacker was intending for this larger pedagogical issue to be the main takeaway point for his article. I think it would be a mistake to conclude from this piece that we should simply remove algebra (or any math) from the typical school curriculum, or even that we should replace specific algebra, trigonometry, or geometry classes with broader “quantitative literacy” courses, as Hacker suggests we should consider at one point. Rather, much as blogger and author Jennifer Ouellette did with calculus in her book The Calculus Diaries, I think the answer lies in finding ways to take this idea of “real world applications” and using them to help instructors continue teaching the typical lessons of the algebra, trigonometry, or geometry classrooms in a more effective manner, not using them to replace those lessons.1 Luckily, social psychology offers some theories that can help us understand how students might better learn and understand otherwise-esoteric knowledge.

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SPSP 2012: Political Polarization


What’s that?

This is some sort of big year for American politics?

Ah, yes – it’s 2012. We’re in the middle of the Republican primaries, there’s a presidential election in 9 months, and political psychology was all over this year’s SPSP conference, including a symposium on Friday morning titled “Political Polarization.”

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SPSP 2012: The Year Of Morality Research

SPSP may as well have called this the “Year of Morality,” since there were so many interesting-looking sessions, posters, and talks on morality and injustice! I was able to attend 2 symposia on this topic while at SPSP. One set of talks looked more at what it means to be a moral person from the personality side of things, and the other looked at morality from more of a social psychological perspective.

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Quals Humor: Yup, It Exists.

In the spirit of the reason behind my recent blogging absence, I figured I’d at least look for some humor in my current state of suffering. And where better to look than the ever-accurate PhD Comics?

First, how it all began, about 2 months ago…

My general response to attempted social interaction right now… [even though the comic itself is about a post-quals response]

How the whole Quals process kind of feels sometimes… [except that ours take 9 hours]

Aaaaand, how I have a more-than-slight concern I might end up feeling as of 6 PM on September 10th…

Thanks to PhD Comics and Jorge Cham for the Quals humor!

Inspiration from Ira Glass

I am still too busy to function, and unfortunately, that means I am too busy right now to write any high-quality posts about the awesome psychology research coming out lately. As much as I love blogging, I am a grad student first and foremost, and if I want to remain one, I need to pass my qualifying exams in 2.5 weeks. Meeting the two deadlines I have coming my way this month wouldn’t hurt, either.

So, even in the absence of my usual posts for the next few weeks, I’m still going to try and keep the blog updated every so often with (very short) interesting/relevant thoughts, images, or Psychology tidbits.

Today I’d like to share an Ira Glass quote sent my way by my friend Jenny, who runs the fabulous website Lovely At Your Side with her sister Olivia (you may remember that I wrote a guest post for them a few months ago!)

Here is the quote, in fancy image form (not designed by myself; I saw it on Tumblr and it popped up a few places on Google Images, but I unfortunately cannot find a proper source. A version of it with different coloring appears to have been first created here: http://forrst.com/posts/Ira_Glass_Quote_Poster-9OF).

I actually think that this could be some of the best advice I’ve ever seen about graduate school. When new lab members arrive in town, one of the first pieces of advice that my labmate usually gives them is that they should expect their first projects to be awful, and they shouldn’t take it too hard…because all of ours were awful too. You need to have a “first project” that sucks in order to learn how to devise second, third, fourth, or fifth projects that are better. It’s called the “creative process” for a reason: It’s a process, and even the big names in your field probably didn’t hit the idea jackpot on their first tries. They were probably just too stubborn to give up after the first few embarrassing flops. Or didn’t know what else to do other than graduate school, perhaps.

What are your thoughts about this quote? Do you think Ira Glass has it right? If you’re a blogger, graduate student, faculty member, post-doc, research scientist, undergraduate student, high school student, or anything — do you think these words apply to your field, life, or work? I’d love to read what you have to say in the comments!