Category Archives: Replicability

The Diminishing Utility of Replication Studies In Social Psychology

Dorthy Bishop writes on her blog.

“As was evident from my questions after the talk, I was less enthused by the idea of doing a large, replication of Darryl Bem’s studies on extra-sensory perception. Zoltán Kekecs and his team have put in a huge amount of work to ensure that this study meets the highest standards of rigour, and it is a model of collaborative planning, ensuring input into the research questions and design from those with very different prior beliefs. I just wondered what the point was. If you want to put in all that time, money and effort, wouldn’t it be better to investigate a hypothesis about something that doesn’t contradict the laws of physics?”


I think she makes a valid and important point. Bem’s (2011) article highlighted everything that was wrong with the research practices in social psychology. Other articles in JPSP are equally incredible, but this was ignored because naive readers found the claims more plausible (e.g., blood glucose is the energy for will power). We know now that none of these published results provide empirical evidence because the results were obtained with questionable research practices (Schimmack, 2014; Schimmack, 2018). It is also clear that these were not isolated incidents, but that hiding results that do not support a theory was (and still is) a common practice in social psychology (John et al., 2012; Schimmack, 2019).

A large attempt at estimating the replicability of social psychology revealed that only 25% of published significant results could be replicated (OSC). The rate for between-subject experiments was even lower. Thus, the a-priori probability (base rate) that a randomly drawn study from social psychology will produce a significant result in a replication attempt is well below 50%. In other words, a replication failure is the more likely outcome.

The low success rate of these replication studies was a shock. However, it is sometimes falsely implied that the low replicability of results in social psychology was not recognized earlier because nobody conducted replication studies. This is simply wrong. In fact, social psychology is one of the disciplines in psychology that required researchers to conduct multiple studies that showed the same effect to ensure that a result was not a false positive result. Bem had to present 9 studies with significant results to publish his crazy claims about extrasensory perception (Schimmack, 2012). Most of the studies that failed to replicate in the OSC replication project were taken from multiple-study articles that reported several successful demonstrations of an effect. Thus, the problem in social psychology was not that nobody conducted replication studies. The problem was that social psychologists only reported replication studies that were successful.

The proper analyses of the problem also suggests a different solution to the problem. If we pretend that nobody did replication studies, it may seem useful to starting doing replication studies. However, if social psychologists conducted replication studies, but did not report replication failures, the solution is simply to demand that social psychologists report all of their results honestly. This demand is so obvious that undergraduate students are surprised when I tell them that this is not the way social psychologists conduct their research.

In sum, it has become apparent that questionable research practices undermine the credibility of the empirical results in social psychology journals, and that the majority of published results cannot be replicated. Thus, social psychology lacks a solid empirical foundation.

What Next?

It is implied by information theory that little information is gained by conducting actual replication studies in social psychology because a failure to replicate the original result is likely and uninformative. In fact, social psychologists have responded to replication failures by claiming that these studies were poorly conducted and do not invalidate the original claims. Thus, replication studies are both costly and have not advanced theory development in social psychology. More replication studies are unlikely to change this.

A better solution to the replication crisis in social psychology is to characterize research in social psychology from Festinger’s classic small-sample, between-subject study in 1957 to research in 2017 as exploratory and hypotheses generating research. As Bem suggested to his colleagues, this was a period of adventure and exploration where it was ok to “err on the side of discovery” (i.e., publish false positive results, like Bem’s precognition for erotica). Lot’s of interesting discoveries were made during this period; it is just not clear which of these findings can be replicated and what they tell us about social behavior.

Thus, new studies in social psychology should not try to replicate old studies. For example, nobody should try to replicate Devine’s subliminal priming study with racial primes with computers and software from the 1980s (Devine, 1989). Instead, prominent theoretical predictions should be tested with the best research methods that are currently available. Thus, the way forward is not to do more replication studies, but rather to use open science (a.k.a. honest science) that uses experiments to subject theories to empirical tests that may also falsify a theory (e.g., subliminal racial stimuli have no influence on behavior). The main shift that is required is to get away from research that can only confirm theories and to allow for empirical data to falsify theories.

This was exactly the intent of Danny Kahneman’s letter, when he challenged social priming researchers to respond to criticism of their work by going into their labs and to demonstrate that these effects can be replicated across many labs.

Kahneman makes it clear that the onus of replication is on the original researchers who want others to believe their claims. The response to this letter speaks volumes. Not only did social psychologists fail to provide new and credible evidence that their results can be replicated, they also demonstrated defiant denial in the face of replication failures by others. The defiant denial by prominent social psychologists (e.g., Baumeister, 2019) make it clear that they will not be convinced by empirical evidence, while others who can look at the evidence objectively do not need more evidence to realize that the social psychological literature is a train-wreck (Schimmack, 2017; Kahneman, 2017). Thus, I suggest that young social psychologists search the train wreck for survivors, but do not waste their time and resources on replication studies that are likely to fail.

A simple guide through the wreckage of social psychology is to distrust any significant result with a p-value greater than .01 (Schimmack, 2019). Prediction markets also suggest that readers are able to distinguish credible and incredible results (Atlantic). Thus, I recommend to build on studies that are credible and to stay clear of sexy findings that are unlikely to replicate. As Danny Kahneman pointed out, young social psychologists who work in questionable areas face a dilemma. Either they have to replicate the questionable methods that were used to get the original results, which is increasingly considered unethical, or they end up with results that are not very informative. On the positive side, the replication crisis implies that there are many important topics in social psychology that need to be studied properly with the scientific method. Addressing these important questions may be the best way to rescue social psychology.

Fact-Checking Roy Baumeister

Roy Baumeister wrote a book chapter with the title “Self-Control, Ego Depletion, and Social Psychology’s Replication CrisisRoy” (preprint). I think this chapter will make a valuable contribution to the history of psychology and provides valuable insights into the minds of social psychologists.

I fact-checked the chapter and comment on 31 misleading or false statements.

https://replicationindex.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/ego-depletion-and-replication-crisis.docx

Comments are welcome.

An Introduction to Z-Curve: A method for estimating mean power after selection for significance (replicability)

UPDATE 5/13/2019   Our manuscript on the z-curve method for estimation of mean power after selection for significance has been accepted for publication in Meta-Psychology. As estimation of actual power is an important tool for meta-psychologists, we are happy that z-curve found its home in Meta-Psychology.  We also enjoyed the open and constructive review process at Meta-Psychology.  Definitely will try Meta-Psychology again for future work (look out for z-curve.2.0 with many new features).

Z.Curve.1.0.Meta.Psychology.In.Press

Since 2015, Jerry Brunner and I have been working on a statistical tool that can estimate mean (statitical) power for a set of studies with heterogeneous sample sizes and effect sizes (heterogeneity in non-centrality parameters and true power).   This method corrects for the inflation in mean observed power that is introduced by the selection for statistical significance.   Knowledge about mean power makes it possible to predict the success rate of exact replication studies.   For example, if a set of studies with mean power of 60% were replicated exactly (including sample sizes), we would expect that 60% of the replication studies produce a significant result again.

Our latest manuscript is a revision of an earlier manuscript that received a revise and resubmit decision from the free, open-peer-review journal Meta-Psychology.  We consider it the most authoritative introduction to z-curve that should be used to learn about z-curve, critic z-curve, or as a citation for studies that use z-curve.

Cite as “submitted for publication”.

Final.Revision.874-Manuscript in PDF-2236-1-4-20180425 mva final (002)

Feel free to ask questions, provide comments, and critic our manuscript in the comments section.  We are proud to be an open science lab, and consider criticism an opportunity to improve z-curve and our understanding of power estimation.

R-CODE
Latest R-Code to run Z.Curve (Z.Curve.Public.18.10.28).
[updated 18/11/17]   [35 lines of code]
call function  mean.power = zcurve(pvalues,Plot=FALSE,alpha=.05,bw=.05)[1]

Z-Curve related Talks
Presentation on Z-curve and application to BS Experimental Social Psychology and (Mostly) WS-Cognitive Psychology at U Waterloo (November 2, 2018)
[Powerpoint Slides]

Charles Stangor’s Failed Attempt to Predict the Future

Background

It is 2018, and 2012 is a faint memory.  So much has happened in the word and in
psychology over the past six years.

Two events rocked Experimental Social Psychology (ESP) in the year 2011 and everybody was talking about the implications of these events for the future of ESP.

First, Daryl Bem had published an incredible article that seemed to suggest humans, or at least extraverts, have the ability to anticipate random future events (e.g., where an erotic picture would be displayed).

Second, it was discovered that Diederik Stapel had fabricated data for several articles. Several years later, over 50 articles have been retracted.

Opinions were divided about the significance of these two events for experimental social psychology.  Some psychologists suggested that these events are symptomatic of a bigger crisis in social psychology.  Others considered these events as exceptions with little consequences for the future of experimental social psychology.

In February 2012, Charles Stangor tried to predict how these events will shape the future of experimental social psychology in an essay titled “Rethinking my Science

How will social and personality psychologists look back on 2011? With pride at having continued the hard work of unraveling the mysteries of human behavior, or with concern that the only thing that is unraveling is their discipline?

Stangor’s answer is clear.

“Although these two events are significant and certainly deserve our attention, they are flukes rather than game-changers.”

He describes Bem’s article as a “freak event” and Stapel’s behavior as a “fluke.”

“Some of us probably do fabricate data, but I imagine the numbers are relatively few.”

Stangor is confident that experimental social psychology is not really affected by these two events.

As shocking as they are, neither of these events create real problems for social psychologists

In a radical turn, Stangor then suggests that experimental social psychology will change, but not in response to these events, but in response to three other articles.

But three other papers published over the past two years must completely change how we think about our field and how we must conduct our research within it. And each is particularly important for me, personally, because each has challenged a fundamental assumption that was part of my training as a social psychologist.

Student Samples

The first article is a criticism of experimental social psychology for relying too much on first-year college students as participants (Heinrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010).  Looking back, there is no evidence that US American psychologists have become more global in their research interests. One reason is that social phenomena are sensitive to the cultural context and for Americans it is more interesting to study how online dating is changing relationships than to study arranged marriages in more traditional cultures. There is nothing wrong with a focus on a particular culture.  It is not even clear that research article on prejudice against African Americans were supposed to generalize to the world (how would this research apply to African countries where the vast majority of citizens are black?).

The only change that occurred was not in response to Heinrich et al.’s (2010) article, but in response to technological changes that made it easier to conduct research and pay participants online.  Many social psychologists now use the online service Mturk to recruit participants.

Thus, I don’t think this article significantly changed experimental social psychology.

Decline Effect 

The second article with the title (“The Truth Wears Off“) was published in the weekly magazine the New Yorker.  It made the ridiculous claim that true effects become weaker or may even disappear over time.

The basic phenomenon is that observed findings in the social and biological sciences weaken with time. Effects that are easily replicable at first become less so every day. Drugs stop working over time the same way that social psychological phenomena become more and more elusive. The “the decline effect” or “the truth wears off effect,” is not easy to dismiss, although perhaps the strength of the decline effect will itself decline over time.

The assumption that the decline effect applies to real effects is no more credible than Bem’s claims of time-reversed causality.   I am still waiting for the effect of eating cheesecake on my weight (a biological effect) to wear off. My bathroom scale tells me it is not.

Why would Stangor believe in such a ridiculous idea?  The answer is that he observed it many times in his own work.

Frankly I have difficulty getting my head around this idea (I’m guessing others do too) but it is nevertheless exceedingly troubling. I know that I need to replicate my effects, but am often unable to do it. And perhaps this is part of the reason. Given the difficulty of replication, will we continue to even bother? And what becomes of our research if we do even less replicating than we do now? This is indeed a problem that does not seem likely to go away soon. 

In hindsight, it is puzzling that Stangor misses the connection between Bem’s (2011) article and the decline effect.   Bem published 9 successful results with p < .05.  This is not a fluke. The probability to get lucky 9 times in a row with a probability of just 5% for a single event is very very small (less than 1 in a billion attempts).  It is not a fluke. Bem also did not fabricate data like Stapel, but he falsified data to present results that are too good to be true (Definitions of Research Misconduct).  Not surprisingly, neither he nor others can replicate these results in transparent studies that prevent the use of QRPs (just like paranormal phenomena like spoon bending can not be replicated in transparent experiments that prevent fraud).

The decline effect is real, but it is wrong to misattribute it to a decline in the strength of a true phenomenon.  The decline effect occurs when researchers use questionable research practices (John et al., 2012) to fabricate statistically significant results.  Questionable research practices inflate “observed effect sizes” [a misnomer because effects cannot be observed]; that is, the observed mean differences between groups in an experiment.  Unfortunately, social psychologists do not distinguish between “observed effects sizes” and true or population effect sizes. As a result, they believe in a mysterious force that can reduce true effect sizes when sampling error moves mean differences in small samples around.

In conclusion, the truth does not wear off because there was no truth to begin with. Bem’s (2011) results did not show a real effect that wore off in replication studies. The effect was never there to begin with.

P-Hacking

The third article mentioned by Stangor did change experimental social psychology.  In this article, Simmons, Nelson, and Simonsohn (2011) demonstrate the statistical tricks experimental social psychologists have used to produce statistically significant results.  They call these tricks, p-hacking.  All methods of p-hacking have one common feature. Researchers conduct mulitple statistical analysis and check the results. When they find a statistically significant result, they stop analyzing the data and report the significant result.  There is nothing wrong with this practice so far, but it essentially constitutes research misconduct when the result is reported without fully disclosing how many attempts were made to get it.  The failure to disclose all attempts is deceptive because the reported result (p < .05) is only valid if a researcher collected data and then conducted a single test of a hypothesis (it does not matter whether this hypothesis was made before or after data collection).  The point is that at the moment a researcher presses a mouse button or a key on a keyboard to see a p-value,  a statistical test occurred.  If this p-value is not significant and another test is run to look at another p-value, two tests are conducted and the risk of a type-I error is greater than 5%. It is no longer valid to claim p < .05, if more than one test was conducted.  With extreme abuse of the statistical method (p-hacking), it is possible to get a significant result even with randomly generated data.

In 2010, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association advised researchers that “omitting troublesome observations from reports to present a more convincing story is also prohibited” (APA).  It is telling that Stangor does not mention this section as a game-changer, because it has been widely ignored by experimental psychologists until this day.  Even Bem’s (2011) article that was published in an APA journal violated this rule, but it has not been retracted or corrected so far.

The p-hacking article had a strong effect on many social psychologists, including Stangor.

Its fundamental assertions are deep and long-lasting, and they have substantially affected me. 

Apparently, social psychologists were not aware that some of their research practices undermined the credibility of their published results.

Although there are many ways that I take the comments to heart, perhaps most important to me is the realization that some of the basic techniques that I have long used to collect and analyze data – techniques that were taught to me by my mentors and which I have shared with my students – are simply wrong.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve frequently “looked early” at my data, and I think my students do too. And I certainly bury studies that don’t work, let alone fail to report dependent variables that have been uncooperative. And I have always argued that the researcher has the obligation to write the best story possible, even if may mean substantially “rewriting the research hypothesis.” Over the years my students have asked me about these practices (“What do you recommend, Herr Professor?”) and I have
routinely, but potentially wrongly, reassured them that in the end, truth will win out. 

Although it is widely recognized that many social psychologists p-hacked and buried studies that did not work out,  Stangor’s essay remains one of the few open admissions that these practices were used, which were not considered unethical, at least until 2010. In fact, social psychologists were trained that telling a good story was essential for social psychologists (Bem, 2001).

In short, this important paper will – must – completely change the field. It has shined a light on the elephant in the room, which is that we are publishing too many Type-1 errors, and we all know it.

Whew! What a year 2011 was – let’s hope that we come back with some good answers to these troubling issues in 2012.

In hindsight Stangor was right about the p-hacking article. It has been cited over 1,000 times so far and the term p-hacking is widely used for methods that essentially constitute a violation of research ethics.  P-values are only meaningful if all analyses are reported and failures to disclose analyses that produced inconvenient non-significant results to tell a more convincing story constitutes research misconduct according to the guidelines of APA and the HHS.

Charles Stangor’s Z-Curve

Stangor’s essay is valuable in many ways.  One important contribution is the open admission to the use of QRPs before the p-hacking article made Stangor realize that doing so was wrong.   I have been working on statistical methods to reveal the use of QRPs.  It is therefore interesting to see the results of this method when it is applied to data by a researcher who used QRPs.

stangor.png

This figure (see detailed explanation here) shows the strength of evidence (based on test statistics like t and F-values converted into z-scores in Stangor’s articles. The histogram shows a mode at 2, which is just significant (z = 1.96 ~ p = .05, two-tailed).  The steep drop on the left shows that Stangor rarely reported marginally significant results (p = .05 to .10).  It also shows the use of questionable research practices because sampling error should produce a larger number of non-significant results than are actually observed. The grey line provides a vague estimate of the expected proportion of non-significant results. The so called file-drawer (non-significant results that are not reported) is very large.  It is unlikely that so many studies were attempted and not reported. As Stangor mentions, he also used p-hacking to get significant results.  P-hacking can produce just significant results without conducting many studies.

In short, the graph is consistent with Stangor’s account that he used QRPs in his research, which was common practice and even encouraged, and did not violate any research ethics code of the times (Bem, 2001).

The graph also shows that the significant studies have an estimated average power of 71%.  This means any randomly drawn statistically significant result from Stangor’s articles has a 71% chance of producing a significant result again, if the study and the statistical test were replicated exactly (see Brunner & Schimmack, 2018, for details about the method).  This average is not much below the 80% value that is considered good power.

There are two caveats with the 71% estimate. One caveat is that this graph uses all statistical tests that are reported, but not all of these tests are interesting. Other datasets suggest that the average for focal hypothesis tests is about 20-30 percentage points lower than the estimate for all tests. Nevertheless, an average of 71% is above average for social psychology.

The second caveat is that there is heterogeneity in power across studies. Studies with high power are more likely to produce really small p-values and larger z-scores. This is reflected in the estimates below the x-axis for different segments of studies.  The average for studies with just significant results (z = 2 to 2.5) is only 49%.  It is possible to use the information from this graph to reexamine Stangor’s articles and to adjust nominal p-values.  According to this graph p-values in the range between .05 and .01 would not be significant because 50% power corresponds to a p-value of .05. Thus, all of the studies with a z-score of 2.5 or less (~ p > .01) would not be significant after correcting for the use of questionable research practices.

The main conclusion that can be drawn from this analysis is that the statistical analysis of Stangor’s reported results shows convergent validity with the description of his research practices.  If test statistics by other researchers show a similar (or worse) distribution, it is likely that they also used questionable research practices.

Charles Stangor’s Response to the Replication Crisis 

Stangor was no longer an active researcher when the replication crisis started. Thus, it is impossible to see changes in actual research practices.  However, Stangor co-edited a special issue for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology on the replication crisis.

The Introduction mentions the p-hacking article.

At the same time, the empirical approaches adopted by social psychologists leave room for practices that distort or obscure the truth (Hales, 2016-in this issue; John, Loewenstein, & Prelec, 2012; Simmons, Nelson, & Simonsohn, 2011)

and that

social psychologists need to do some serious housekeeping in order to progress
as a scientific enterprise.

It quotes, Dovidio to claim that social psychologists are

lucky to have the problem. Because social psychologists are rapidly developing new approaches and techniques, our publications will unavoidably contain conclusions that are uncertain, because the potential limitations of these procedures are not yet known. The trick then is to try to balance “new” with “careful.

It also mentions the problem of fabricating stories by hiding unruly non-significant results.

The availability of cheap data has a downside, however,which is that there is little cost in omitting data that contradict our hypotheses from our manuscripts (John et al., 2012). We may bury unruly data because it is so cheap and plentiful. Social psychologists justify this behavior, in part, because we think conceptually. When a manipulation fails, researchers may simply argue that the conceptual variable was not created by that particular manipulation and continue to seek out others that will work. But when a study is eventually successful,we don’t know if it is really better than the others or if it is instead a Type I error. Manipulation checks may help in this regard, but they are not definitive (Sigall &Mills, 1998).

It also mentioned file-drawers with unsuccessful studies like the one shown in the Figure above.

Unpublished studies likely outnumber published studies by an order of magnitude. This is wasteful use of research participants and demoralizing for social psychologists and their students.

It also mentions that governing bodies have failed to crack down on the use of p-hacking and other questionable practices and the APA guidelines are not mentioned.

There is currently little or no cost to publishing questionable findings

It foreshadows calls for a more stringent criterion of statistical significance, known as the p-value wars (alpha  = .05 vs. alpha = .005 vs. justify your alpha vs. abandon alpha)

Researchers base statistical analyses on the standard normal distribution but the actual tails are probably bigger than this approach predicts. It is clear that p b .05 is not enough to establish the credibility of an effect. For example, in the Reproducibility Project (Open Science Collaboration, 2015), only 18% of studies with a p-value greater than .04 replicated whereas 63% of those with a p-value less than .001 replicated. Perhaps we should require, at minimum, p <  .01 

It is not clear, why we should settle for p < .01, if only 63% of results replicated with p < .001. Moreover, it ignores that a more stringent criterion for significance also increases the risk of type-II error (Cohen).  It also ignores that only two studies are required to reduce the risk of a type-I error from .05 to .05*.05 = .0025.  As many articles in experimental social psychology are based on multiple cheap studies, the nominal type-I error rate is well below .001.  The real problem is that the reported results are not credible because QRPs are used (Schimmack, 2012).  A simple and effective way to improve experimental social psychology would be to enforce the APA ethics guidelines and hold violators of these rules accountable for their actions.  However, although no new rules would need to be created, experimental social psychologists are unable to police themselves and continue to use QRPs.

The Introduction ignores this valid criticism of multiple study and continues to give the misleading impression that more studies translate into more replicable results.  However, the Open-Science Collaboration reproducibility project showed no evidence that long, multiple-study articles reported more replicable results than shorter articles in Psychological Science.

In addition, replication concerns have mounted with the editorial practice of publishing short papers involving a single, underpowered study demonstrating counterintuitive results (e.g., Journal of Experimental Social Psychology; Psychological Science; Social Psychological and Personality Science). Publishing newsworthy results quickly has benefits,
but also potential costs (Ledgerwood & Sherman, 2012), including increasing Type 1 error rates (Stroebe, 2016-in this issue). 

Once more, the problem is dishonest reporting of results.  A risky study can be published and a true type-I error rate of 20% informs readers that there is a high risk of a false positive result. In contrast, 9 studies with a misleading type-I error rate of 5% violate the implicit assumptions that readers can trust a scientific research article to report the results of an objective test of a scientific question.

But things get worse.

We do, of course, understand the value of replication, and publications in the premier social-personality psychology journals often feature multiple replications of the primary findings. This is appropriate, because as the number of successful replications increases, our confidence in the finding also increases dramatically. However, given the possibility
of p-hacking (Head, Holman, Lanfear, Kahn, & Jennions, 2015; Simmons et al., 2011) and the selective reporting of data, replication is a helpful but imperfect gauge of whether an effect is real. 

Just like Stangor dismissed Bem’s mulitple-study article in JPSP as a fluke that does not require further attention, he dismisses evidence that QRPs were used to p-hack other multiple study articles (Schimmack, 2012).  Ignoring this evidence is just another violation of research ethics. The data that are being omitted here are articles that contradict the story that an author wants to present.

And it gets worse.

Conceptual replications have been the field’s bread and butter, and some authors of the special issue argue for the superiority of conceptual over exact replications (e.g. Crandall & Sherman, 2016-in this issue; Fabrigar and Wegener, 2016–in this issue; Stroebe, 2016-in this issue).  The benefits of conceptual replications are many within social psychology, particularly because they assess the robustness of effects across variation in methods, populations, and contexts. Constructive replications are particularly convincing because they directly replicate an effect from a prior study as exactly as possible in some conditions but also add other new conditions to test for generality or limiting conditions (Hüffmeier, 2016-in this issue).

Conceptual replication is a euphemism for story telling or as Sternberg calls it creative HARKing (Sternberg, in press).  Stangor explained earlier how an article with several conceptual replication studies is constructed.

I certainly bury studies that don’t work, let alone fail to report dependent variables that have been uncooperative. And I have always argued that the researcher has the obligation to write the best story possible, even if may mean substantially “rewriting the research hypothesis.”

This is how Bem advised generations of social psychologists to write articles and that is how he wrote his 2011 article that triggered awareness of the replicability crisis in social psychology.

There is nothing wrong with doing multiple studies and to examine conditions that make an effect stronger or weaker.  However, it is psuedo-science if such a program of research reports only successful results because reporting only successes renders statistical significance meaningless (Sterling, 1959).

The miraculous conceptual replications of Bem (2011) are even more puzzling in the context of social psychologists conviction that their effects can decrease over time (Stangor, 2012) or change dramatically from one situation to the next.

Small changes in social context make big differences in experimental settings, and the same experimental manipulations create different psychological states in different times, places, and research labs (Fabrigar andWegener, 2016–in this issue). Reviewers and editors would do well to keep this in mind when evaluating replications. 

How can effects be sensitive to context and the success rate in published articles is 95%?

And it gets worse.

Furthermore, we should remain cognizant of the fact that variability in scientists’ skills can produce variability in findings, particularly for studies with more complex protocols that require careful experimental control (Baumeister, 2016-in this issue). 

Baumeister is one of the few other social psychologists who has openly admitted not disclosing failed studies.  He also pointed out that in 2008 this practice did not violate APA standards.  However, in 2016 a major replication project failed to replicate the ego-depletion effect that he first “demonstrated” in 1998.  In response to this failure, Baumeister claimed that he had produced the effect many times, suggesting that he has some capabilities that researchers who fail to show the effect lack (in his contribution to the special issue in JESP he calls this ability “flair”).  However, he failed to mention that many of his attempts failed to show the effect and that his high success rate in dozens of articles can only be explained by the use of QRPs.

While there is ample evidence for the use of QRPs, there is no empirical evidence for the claim that research expertise matters.  Moreover, most of the research is carried out by undergraduate students supervised by graduate students and the expertise of professors is limited to designing studies and not to actually carrying out studies.

In the end, the Introduction also comments on the process of correcting mistakes in published articles.

Correctors serve an invaluable purpose, but they should avoid taking an adversarial tone. As Fiske (2016–this issue) insightfully notes, corrective articles should also
include their own relevant empirical results — themselves subject to
correction.

This makes no sense. If somebody writes an article and claims to find an interaction effect based on a significant result in one condition and a non-significant result in another condition, the article makes a statistical mistake (Gelman & Stern, 2005). If a pre-registration contains the statement that an interaction is predicted and a published article claims an interaction is not necessary, the article misrepresents the nature of the preregistration.  Correcting mistakes like this is necessary for science to be a science.  No additional data are needed to correct factual mistakes in original articles (see, e.g., Carlsson, Schimmack, Williams, & Bürkner, 2017).

Moreover, Fiske has been inconsistent in her assessment of psychologists who have been motivated by the events of 2011 to improve psychological science.  On the one hand, she has called these individuals “method terrorists” (2016 review).  On the other hand, she suggests that psychologists should welcome humiliation that may result from the public correction of a mistake in a published article.

Conclusion

In 2012, Stangor asked “How will social and personality psychologists look back on 2011?” Six years later, it is possible to provide at least a temporary answer. There is no unified response.

The main response by older experimental social psychologist has been denial along Stangor’s initial response to Stapel and Bem.  Despite massive replication failures and criticism, including criticism by Noble Laureate Daniel Kahneman, no eminent social psychologists has responded to the replication crisis with an admission of mistakes.  In contrast, the list of eminent social psychologists who stand by their original findings despite evidence for the use of QRPs and replication failures is long and is growing every day as replication failures accumulate.

The response by some younger social psychologists has been to nudge social psychologists slowly towards improving their research methods, mainly by handing out badges for preregistrations of new studies.  Although preregistration makes it more difficult to use questionable research practices, it is too early to see how effective preregistration is in making published results more credible.  Another initiative is to conduct replication studies. The problem with this approach is that the outcome of replication studies can be challenged and so far these studies have not resulted in a consensual correction in the scientific literature. Even articles that reported studies that failed to replicate continue to be cited at a high rate.

Finally, some extremists are asking for more radical changes in the way social psychologists conduct research, but these extremists are dismissed by most social psychologists.

It will be interesting to see how social psychologists, funding agencies, and the general public will look back on 2011 in 2021.  In the meantime, social psychologists have to ask themselves how they want to be remembered and new investigators have to examine carefully where they want to allocate their resources.  The published literature in social psychology is a mine field and nobody knows which studies can be trusted or not.

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to reading the special issues in 2021 in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Bem’s groundbreaking or should I saw earth-shattering publication of “Feeling the Future.”

Replicability 101: How to interpret the results of replication studies

Even statistically sophisticated psychologists struggle with the interpretation of replication studies (Maxwell et al., 2015).  This article gives a basic introduction to the interpretation of statistical results within the Neyman Pearson approach to statistical inferences.

I make two important points and correct some potential misunderstandings in Maxwell et al.’s discussion of replication failures.  First, there is a difference between providing sufficient evidence for the null-hypothesis (evidence of absence) and providing insufficient evidence against the null-hypothesis (absence of evidence).  Replication studies are useful even if they simply produce absence of evidence without evidence that an effect is absent.  Second, I  point out that publication bias undermines the credibility of significant results in original studies.  When publication bias is present, open replication studies are valuable because they provide an unbiased test of the null-hypothesis, while original studies are rigged to reject the null-hypothesis.

DEFINITION OF REPLICATING A STATISTICAL RESULT

Replicating something means to get the same result.  If I make the first free throw, replicating this outcome means to also make the second free throw.  When we talk about replication studies in psychology we borrow from the common meaning of the term “to replicate.”

If we conduct psychological studies, we can control many factors, but some factors are not under our control.  Participants in two independent studies differ from each other and the variation in the dependent variable across samples introduces sampling error. Hence, it is practically impossible to get identical results, even if the two studies are exact copies of each other.  It is therefore more complicated to compare the results of two studies than to compare the outcome of two free throws.

To determine whether the results of two studies are identical or not, we need to focus on the outcome of a study.  The most common outcome in psychological studies is a significant or non-significant result.  The goal of a study is to produce a significant result and for this reason a significant result is often called a success.  A successful replication study is a study that also produces a significant result.  Obtaining two significant results is akin to making two free throws.  This is one of the few agreements between Maxwell and me.

“Generally speaking, a published  original study has in all likelihood demonstrated a statistically significant effect. In the current zeitgeist, a replication study is usually interpreted as successful if it also demonstrates a statistically significant effect.” (p. 488)

The more interesting and controversial scenario is a replication failure. That is, the original study produced a significant result (success) and the replication study produced a non-significant result (failure).

I propose that a lot of confusion arises from the distinction between original and replication studies. If a replication study is an exact copy of the first study, the outcome probabilities of original and replication studies are identical.  Otherwise, the replication study is not really a replication study.

There are only three possible outcomes in a set of two studies: (a) both studies are successful, (b) one study is a success and one is a failure, or (c) both studies are failures.  The probability of these outcomes depends on whether the significance criterion (the type-I error probability) when the null-hypothesis is true and the statistical power of a study when the null-hypothesis is false.

Table 1 shows the probability of the outcomes in two studies.  The uncontroversial scenario of two significant results is very unlikely, if the null-hypothesis is true. With conventional alpha = .05, the probability is .0025 or 1 out of 400 attempts.  This shows the value of replication studies. False positives are unlikely to repeat themselves and a series of replication studies with significant results is unlikely to occur by chance alone.

2 sig, 0 ns 1 sig, 1 ns 0 sig, 2 ns
H0 is True alpha^2 2*alpha*(1-alpha) (1-alpha^2)
H1 is True (1-beta)^2 2*(1-beta)*beta beta^2

The probability of a successful replication of a true effect is a function of statistical power (1 – type-II error probability).  High power is needed to get significant results in a pair of studies (an original study and a replication study).  For example, if power is only 50%, the chance of this outcome is only 25% (Schimmack, 2012).  Even with conventionally acceptable power of 80%, only 2/3 (64%) of replication attempts would produce this outcome.  However, studies in psychology do not have 80% power and estimates of power can be as low as 37% (OSC, 2015). With 40% power, a pair of studies would produce significant results in no more than 16 out of 100 attempts.   Although successful replications of true effects with low power are unlikely, they are still much more likely then significant results when the null-hypothesis is true (16/100 vs. 1/400 = 64:1).  It is therefore reasonable to infer from two significant results that the null-hypothesis is false.

If the null-hypothesis is true, it is extremely likely that both studies produce a non-significant result (.95^2 = 90.25%).  In contrast, it is unlikely that even a study with modest power would produce two non-significant results.  For example, if power is 50%, there is a 75% chance that at least one of the two studies produces a significant result. If power is 80%, the probability of obtaining two non-significant results is only 4%.  This means, it is much more likely (22.5 : 1) that the null-hypothesis is true than that the alternative hypothesis is true.  This does not mean that the null-hypothesis is true in an absolute sense because power depends on the effect size.  For example, if 80% power were obtained with a standardized effect size of Cohen’s d = .5,  two non-significant results would suggest that the effect size is smaller than .5, but it does not warrant the conclusion that H0 is true and the effect size is exactly 0.  Once more, it is important to distinguish between the absence of evidence for an effect and the evidence of absence of an effect.

The most controversial scenario assumes that the two studies produced inconsistent outcomes.  Although theoretically there is no difference between the first and the second study, it is common to focus on a successful outcome followed by a replication failure  (Maxwell et al., 2015). When the null-hypothesis is true, the probability of this outcome is low;  .05 * (1-.05) = .0425.  The same probability exists for the reverse pattern that a non-significant result is followed by a significant one.  A probability of 4.25% shows that it is unlikely to observe a significant result followed by a non-significant result when the null-hypothesis is true. However, the low probability is mostly due to the low probability of obtaining a significant result in the first study, while the replication failure is extremely likely.

Although inconsistent results are unlikely when the null-hypothesis is true, they can also be unlikely when the null-hypothesis is false.  The probability of this outcome depends on statistical power.  A pair of studies with very high power (95%) is very unlikely to produce an inconsistent outcome because both studies are expected to produce a significant result.  The probability of this rare event can be as low, or lower, than the probability with a true null effect; .95 * (1-.95) = .0425.  Thus, an inconsistent result provides little information about the probability of a type-I or type-II  error and is difficult to interpret.

In conclusion, a pair of significance tests can produce three outcomes. All three outcomes can occur when the null-hypothesis is true and when it is false.  Inconsistent outcomes are likely unless the null-hypothesis is true or the null-hypothesis is false and power is very high.  When two studies produce inconsistent results, statistical significance provides no basis for statistical inferences.

Meta-Analysis 

The counting of successes and failures is an old way to integrate information from multiple studies.  This approach has low power and is no longer used.  A more powerful approach is effect size meta-analysis.  Effect size meta-analysis was one way to interpret replication results in the Open Science Collaboration (2015) reproducibility project.  Surprisingly, Maxwell et al. (2015) do not consider this approach to the interpretation of failed replication studies. To be clear, Maxwell et al. (2015) mention meta-analysis, but they are talking about meta-analyzing a larger set of replication studies, rather than meta-analyzing the results of an original and a replication study.

“This raises a question about how to analyze the data obtained from multiple studies. The natural answer is to use meta-analysis.” (p. 495)

I am going to show that effect-size meta-analysis solves the problem of interpreting inconsistent results in pairs of studies. Importantly, effect size meta-analysis does not care about significance in individual studies.  A meta-analysis of a pair of studies with inconsistent results is no different from a meta-analysis of a pair of studies with consistent results.

Maxwell et al.’s (2015) introduced an example of a between-subject (BS) design with n = 40 per group (total N = 80) and a standardized effect size of Cohen’s d = .5 (a medium effect size).  This study has 59% power to obtain a significant result.  Thus, it is quite likely that a pair of studies produces inconsistent results (48.38%).   However, a pair of studies with N = 80 has the power of a total sample size of N = 160, which means a fixed-effects meta-analysis will produce a significant result in 88% of all attempts.  Thus, it is not difficult at all to interpret the results of pairs of studies with inconsistent results if the studies have acceptable power (> 50%).   Even if the results are inconsistent, a meta-analysis will provide the correct answer that there is an effect most of the time.

A more interesting scenario are inconsistent results when the null-hypothesis is true.  I turned to simulations to examine this scenario more closely.   The simulation showed that a meta-analysis of inconsistent studies produced a significant result in 34% of all cases.  The percentage slightly varies as a function of sample size.  With a small sample of N = 40, the percentage is 35%. With a large sample of  1,000 participants it is 33%.  This finding shows that in two-thirds of attempts, a failed replication reverses the inference about the null-hypothesis based on a significant original study.  Thus, if an original study produced a false-positive results, a failed replication study corrects this error in 2 out of 3 cases.  Importantly, this finding does not warrant the conclusion that the null-hypothesis is true. It merely reverses the result of the original study that falsely rejected the null-hypothesis.

In conclusion, meta-analysis of effect sizes is a powerful tool to interpret the results of replication studies, especially failed replication studies.  If the null-hypothesis is true, failed replication studies can reduce false positives by 66%.

DIFFERENCES IN SAMPLE SIZES

We can all agree that, everything else being equal, larger samples are better than smaller samples (Cohen, 1990).  This rule applies equally to original and replication studies. Sometimes it is recommended that replication studies should use much larger samples than original studies, but it is not clear to me why researchers who conduct replication studies should have to invest more resources than original researchers.  If original researchers conducted studies with adequate power,  an exact replication study with the same sample size would also have adequate power.  If the original study was a type-I error, the replication study is unlikely to replicate the result no matter what the sample size.  As demonstrated above, even a replication study with the same sample size as the original study can be effective in reversing false rejections of the null-hypothesis.

From a meta-analytic perspective, it does not matter whether a replication study had a larger or smaller sample size.  Studies with larger sample sizes are given more weight than studies with smaller samples.  Thus, researchers who invest more resources are rewarded by giving their studies more weight.  Large original studies require large replication studies to reverse false inferences, whereas small original studies require only small replication studies to do the same.  Nevertheless, failed replications with larger samples are more likely to reverse false rejections of the null-hypothesis, but there is no magical number about the size of a replication study to be useful.

I simulated a scenario with a sample size of N = 80 in the original study and a sample size of N = 200 in the replication study (a factor of 2.5).  In this simulation, only 21% of meta-analyses produced a significant result.  This is 13 percentage points lower than in the simulation with equal sample sizes (34%).  If the sample size of the replication study is 10 times larger (N = 80 and N = 800), the percentage of remaining false positive results in the meta-analysis shrinks to 10%.

The main conclusion is that even replication studies with the same sample size as the original study have value and can help to reverse false positive findings.  Larger sample sizes simply give replication studies more weight than original studies, but it is by no means necessary to increase sample sizes of replication studies to make replication failures meaningful.  Given unlimited resources, larger replications are better, but these analysis show that large replication studies are not necessary.  A replication study with the same sample size as the original study is more valuable than no replication study at all.

CONFUSING ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE WITH EVIDENCE OF ABSENCE

One problem in Maxwell et al’s (2015) article is to conflate two possible goals of replication studies.  One goal is to probe the robustness of the evidence against the null-hypothesis. If the original result was a false positive result, an unsuccessful replication study can reverse the initial inference and produce a non-significant result in a meta-analysis.  This finding would mean that evidence for an effect is absent.  The status of a hypothesis (e.g., humans have supernatural abilities; Bem, 2011) is back to where it was before the original study found a significant result and the burden of proof is shifted back to proponents of the hypothesis to provide unbiased credible evidence for it.

Another goal of replication studies can be to provide conclusive evidence that an original study reported a false positive result (i..e, humans do not have supernatural abilities).  Throughout their article, Maxwell et al. assume that the goal of replication studies is to prove the absence of an effect.  They make many correct observations about the difficulties of achieving this goal, but it is not clear why replication studies have to be conclusive when original studies are not held to the same standard.

This makes it easy to produce (potentially false) positive results and very hard to remove false positive results from the literature.   It also creates a perverse incentive to conduct underpowered original studies and to claim victory when a large replication study finds a significant result with an effect size that is 90% smaller than the effect size in an original study.  The authors of the original article may claim that they do not care about effect sizes and that their theoretical claim was supported.  To avoid this problem that replication researchers have to invest large amount of resources for little gain, it is important to realize that even a failure to replicate an original finding with the same sample size can undermine original claims and force researchers to provide stronger evidence for their original ideas in original articles.  If they are right and the evidence is strong, others will be able to replicate the result in an exact replication study with the same sample size.

THE DIRTY BIG SECRET

The main problem of Maxwell et al.’s (2015) article is that the authors blissfully ignore the problem of publication bias.  They mention publication bias twice to warn readers that publication bias inflates effect sizes and biases power analyses, but they completely ignore the influence of publication bias on the credibility of successful original results (Schimmack, 2012; Sterling; 1959; Sterling et al., 1995).

It is hard to believe that Maxwell is unaware of this problem, if only because Maxwell was action editor of my article that demonstrated how publication bias undermines the credibility of replication studies that are selected for significance  (Schimmack, 2012).

I used Bem’s infamous article on supernatural abilities as an example, which appeared to show 8 successful replications of supernatural abilities.  Ironically, Maxwell et al. (2015) also cites Bem’s article to argue that failed replication studies can be misinterpreted as evidence of absence of an effect.

“Similarly, Ritchie, Wiseman, and French (2012) state that their failure to obtain significant results in attempting to replicate Bem (2011) “leads us to favor the ‘experimental artifacts’ explanation for Bem’s original result” (p. 4)”

This quote is not only an insult to Ritchie et al.; it also ignores the concerns that have been raised about Bem’s research practices. First, Ritchie et al. do not claim that they have provided conclusive evidence against ESP.  They merely express their own opinion that they “favor the ‘experimental artifacts’ explanation.  There is nothing wrong with this statement, even if it is grounded in a healthy skepticism about supernatural abilities.

More important, Maxwell et al. ignore the broader context of these studies.  Schimmack (2012) discussed many questionable practices in Bem’s original studies and I presented statistical evidence that the significant results in Bem’s article were obtained with the help of questionable research practices.  Given this wider context, it is entirely reasonable to favor the experimental artifact explanation over the alternative hypothesis that learning after an exam can still alter the exam outcome.

It is not clear why Maxwell et al. (2015) picked Bem’s article to discuss problems with failed replication studies and ignores that questionable research practices undermine the credibility of significant results in original research articles. One reason why failed replication studies are so credible is that insiders know how incredible some original findings are.

Maxwell et al. (2015) were not aware that in the same year, the OSC (2015) reproducibilty project would replicate only 37% of statistically significant results in top psychology journals, while the apparent success rate in these journals is over 90%.  The stark contrast between the apparent success rate and the true power to produce successful outcomes in original studies provided strong evidence that psychology is suffering from a replication crisis. This does not mean that all failed replications are false positives, but it does mean that it is not clear which findings are false positives and which findings are not.  Whether this makes things better is a matter of opinion.

Publication bias also undermines the usefulness of meta-analysis for hypothesis testing.  In the OSC reproducibility project, a meta-analysis of original and replication studies produced 68% significant results.  This result is meaningless because publication bias inflates effect sizes and the probability of obtaining a false positive result in the meta-analysis. Thus, when publication bias is present, unbiased replication studies provide the most credible evidence and the large number of replication failures means that more replication studies with larger samples are needed to see which hypothesis predict real effects with practical significance.

DOES PSYCHOLOGY HAVE A REPLICATION CRISIS?

Maxwell et al.’s (2015) answer to this question is captured in this sentence. “Despite raising doubts about the extent to which apparent failures to replicate necessarily reveal that psychology is in crisis,we do not intend to dismiss concerns about documented methodological flaws in the field.” (p. 496).  The most important part of this quote is “raising doubt,” the rest is Orwellian double-talk.

The whole point of Maxwell et al.’s article is to assure fellow psychologists that psychology is not in crisis and that failed replication studies should not be a major concern.  As I have pointed out, this conclusion is based on some misconceptions about the purpose of replication studies and by blissful ignorance about publication bias and questionable research practices that made it possible to publish successful replications of supernatural phenomena, while discrediting authors who spend time and resources on demonstrating that unbiased replication studies fail.

The real answer to Maxwell et al.’s question was provided by the OSC (2015) finding that only 37% of published significant results could be replicated.  In my opinion that is not only a crisis, but a scandal because psychologists routinely apply for funding with power analyses that claim 80% power.  The reproducibilty project shows that the true power to obtain significant results in original and replication studies is much lower than this and that the 90% success rate is no more meaningful than 90% votes for a candidate in communist elections.

In the end, Maxwell et al. draw the misleading conclusion that “the proper design and interpretation of replication studies is less straightforward than conventional practice would suggest.”  They suggest that “most importantly, the mere fact that a replication study yields a nonsignificant statistical result should not by itself lead to a conclusion that the corresponding original study was somehow deficient and should no longer be trusted.”

As I have demonstrated, this is exactly the conclusion that readers should draw from failed replication studies, especially if (a) the original study was not preregistered, (b) the original study produced weak evidence (e.g., p = .04), the original study was published in a journal that only publishes significant results, (d) the replication study had a larger sample, (e) the replication study would have been published independent of outcome, and (f) the replication study was preregistered.

We can only speculate why the American Psychologists published a flawed and misleading article that gives original studies the benefit of the doubt and casts doubt on the value of replication studies when they fail.  Fortunately, APA can no longer control what is published because scientists can avoid the censorship of peer-reviewed journals by publishing blogs and by criticize peer-reviewed articles in open post-publication peer review on social media.

Long life the replicability revolution.  !!!

REFERENCES

Cohen, J. (1990). Things I have learned (so far). American Psychologist, 45(12), 1304-1312.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.45.12.1304

Maxwell, S.E, Lau, M. Y., & Howard, G. S. (2015). Is psychology suffering from a replication crisis? What does ‘failure to replicate’ really mean? American Psychologist, 70, 487-498. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039400.

Schimmack, U. (2012). The ironic effect of significant results on the credibility of multiple-study articles. Psychological Methods, 17(4), 551-566. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0029487