Psychology Intelligence Agency

I always wanted to be James Bond, but being 55 now it is clear that I will never get a license to kill or work for a government intelligence agency. However, the world has changed and there are other ways to spy on dirty secrets of evil villains.

I have started to focus on the world of psychological science, which I know fairly well because I was a psychological scientist for many years. During my time as a psychologist, I learned about many of the dirty tricks that psychologists use to publish articles to further their careers without advancing understanding of human behavior, thoughts, and feelings.

However, so far the general public, government agencies, or government funding agencies that hand out taxpayers’ money to psychological scientists have not bothered to monitor the practices of psychological scientists. They still believe that psychological scientists can control themselves (e.g., peer review). As a result, bad practices persist because the incentives favor behaviors that lead to publication of many articles even if these articles make no real contribution to science. I therefore decided to create my own Psychological Intelligence Agency (PIA). Of course, I cannot give myself a license to kill, and I have no legal authority to enforce laws that do not exist. However, I can gather intelligence (information) and share this information with the general public. This is less James Bond and more CIA that also shares some of its intelligence with the public (CIA factbook), or the website Retraction Watch that keeps track of article retractions.

Some of the projects that I have started are:

Replicability Rankings of Psychology Journals
Keeping track of the power (expected discovery rate, expected replication rate) and the false discovery risk of test results published in over 100 psychology journals from 2010 to 2020.

Personalized Criteria of Statistical Significance
It is problematic to use the standard criterion of significance (alpha = .05) when this criterion leads to few discoveries because researchers test many false hypotheses or test true hypotheses with low power. When discovery rates are low, alpha should be set to a lower value (e.g., .01, .005, .001). Here I used estimates of authors’ discovery rate to recommend an appropriate alpha level to interpret their results.

Quantitative Book Reviews
Popular psychology books written by psychological scientists (e.g., Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman) reach a wide audience and are assumed to be based on solid scientific evidence. Using statistical examinations of the sources cited in these books, I provide information about the robustness of the scientific evidence to the general public. (see also “Before you know it“)

Citation Watch
Science is supposed to be self-correcting. However, psychological scientists often cite outdated references that fit their theory without citing newer evidence that their claims may be false (a practice known as cherry picking citations). Citation watch reveals these bad practice, by linking articles with misleading citations to articles that question the claims supported by cherry picked citations.

Whether all of this intelligence gathering will have a positive effect depends on how many people actually care about the scientific integrity of psychological science and the credibility of empirical claims. Fortunately, some psychologists are willing to learn from past mistakes and are improving their research practices (Bill von Hippel).

You Can Lead a Horse To Water, But... - Meaning, Origin

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