Category Archives: Z-Curve

The Power-Corrected H-Index

I was going to write this blog post eventually, but the online first publication of Radosic and Diener’s (2021) article “Citation Metrics in Psychological Science” provided a good opportunity to do so now.

Radosic and Diener’s (2021) article’s main purpose was to “provide norms to help evaluate the citation counts of psychological scientists” (p. 1). The authors also specify the purpose of these evaluations. “Citation metrics are one source of information that can be used in hiring, promotion, awards, and funding, and our goal is to help these evaluations” (p. 1).

The authors caution readers that they are agnostic about the validity of citation counts as a measure of good science. “The merits and demerits of citation counts are beyond the scope of the current article” (p. 8). Yet, they suggest that “there is much to recommend citation numbers in evaluating scholarly records” (p. 11).

At the same time, they list some potential limitations of using citation metrics to evaluate researchers.

1. Articles that developed a scale can have high citation counts. For example, Ed Diener has over 71,000 citations. His most cited article is the 1985 article with his Satisfaction with Life Scale. With 12,000 citations, it accounts for 17% of his citations. The fact that articles that published a measure have such high citation counts reflects a problem in psychological science. Researchers continue to use the first measure that was developed for a new construct (e.g., Rosenberg’s 1965 self-esteem scale) instead of improving measurement which would lead to citations of newer articles. So, the high citation counts of articles with scales is a problem, but it is only a problem if citation counts are used as a metric. A better metric is the H-Index that takes number of publications and citations into account. Ed Diener also has a very high H-Index of 108 publications with 108 or more citations. His scale article is only of these articles. Thus, scale development articles are not a major problem.

2. Review articles are cited more heavily than original research articles. Once more, Ed Diener is a good example. His second and third most cited articles are the 1984 and the co-authored 1999 Psychological Bulletin review articles on subjective well-being that together account for another 9,000 citations (13%). However, even review articles are not a problem. First, they also are unlikely to have an undue influence on the H-Index and second it is possible to exclude review articles and to compute metrics only for empirical articles. Web of Science makes this very easy. In WebofScience 361 out of Diener’s 469 publications are listed as articles. The others are listed as reviews, book chapters, or meeting abstracts. With a click of a button, we can produce the citation metrics only for the 361 articles. The H-Index drops from 108 to 102. Careful hand-selection of articles is unlikely to change this.

3. Finally, Radosic and Diener (2021) mention large-scale collaborations as a problem. For example, one of the most important research projects in psychological science in the last decade was the Reproducibility Project that examined the replicability of psychological science with 100 replication studies (Open Science Collaboration, 2015). This project required a major effort by many researchers. Participation earned researchers over 2,000 citations in just five years and the article is likely to be the most cited article for many of the collaborators. I do not see this as a problem because large-scale collaborations are important and can produce results that no single lab can produce. Thus, high citation counts provide a good incentive to engage in these collaborations.

To conclude, Radosic and Diener’s article provides norms for a citation counts that can and will be used to evaluate psychological scientists. However, the article sidesteps the main question about the use of citation metrics, namely (a) what criteria should be used to evaluate scientists and (b) are citation metrics valid indicators of these criteria. In short, the article is just another example that psychologists develop and promote measures without examining their construct validity (Schimmack, 2021).

What is a good scientists?

I didn’t do an online study to examine the ideal prototype of a scientist, so I have to rely on my own image of a good scientist. A key criterion is to search for some objectively verifiable information that can inform our understanding of the world, or in psychology ourselves; that is, humans affect, behavior, and cognition – the ABC of psychology. The second criterion elaborates the term objective. Scientists use methods that produce the same results independent of the user of the methods. That is, studies should be reproducible and results should be replicable within the margins of error. Third, the research question should have some significance beyond the personal interests of a scientist. This is of course a tricky criterion, but research that solves major problems like finding a vaccine for Covid-19 is more valuable and more likely to receive citations than research on the liking of cats versus dogs (I know, this is the most controversial statement I am making; go cats!). The problem is that not everybody can do research that is equally important to a large number of people. Once more Ed Diener is a good example. In the 1980s, he decided to study human happiness, which was not a major topic in psychology. Ed Diener’s high H-Index reflects his choice of a topic that is of interest to pretty much everybody. In contrast, research on stigma of minority groups is not of interest to a large group of people and unlikely to attract the same amount of attention. Thus, a blind focus on citation metrics is likely to lead to research on general topics and avoid research that applies research to specific problems. The problem is clearly visible in research on prejudice, where the past 20 years have produced hundreds of studies with button-press tasks by White researchers with White participants that gobbled up funding that could have been used for BIBOC researchers to study the actual issues in BIPOC populations. In short, relevance and significance of research is very difficult to evaluate, but it is unlikely to be reflected in citation metrics. Thus, a danger is that metrics are being used because they are easy to measure and relevance is not being used because it is harder to measure.

Do Citation Metrics Reward Good or Bad Research?

The main justification for the use of citation metrics is the hypothesis that the wisdom of crowds will lead to more citations of high quality work.

“The argument in favor of personal judgments overlooks the fact that citation counts are also based on judgments by scholars. In the case of citation counts, however, those judgments are broadly derived from the whole scholarly community and are weighted by the scholars who are publishing about the topic of the cited publications. Thus, there is much to recommend citation
numbers in evaluating scholarly records.” (Radosic & Diener, 2021, p. 8).

This statement is out of touch with discussions about psychological science over the past decade in the wake of the replication crisis (see Schimmack, 2020, for a review; I have to cite myself to get up my citation metrics. LOL). In order to get published and cited, researchers of original research articles in psychological science need statistically significant p-values. The problem is that it can be difficult to find significant results when novel hypotheses are false or effect sizes are small. Given the pressure to publish in order to rise in the H-Index rankings, psychologists have learned to use a number of statistical tricks to get significant results in the absence of strong evidence in the data. These tricks are known as questionable research practices, but most researchers think they are acceptable (John et al., 2012). However, these practices undermine the value of significance testing and published results may be false positives or difficult to replicate, and do not add to the progress of science. Thus, citation metrics may have the negative consequence to pressure scientists into using bad practices and to reward scientists who publish more false results just because they publish more.

Meta-psychologists have produced strong evidence that the use of these practices was widespread and accounts for the majority of replication failures that occurred over the past decade.

Schimmack, U. (2020). A meta-psychological perspective on the decade of replication failures in social psychology. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 61(4), 364–376.

Motyl et al. (2017) collected focal test statistics from a representative sample of articles in social psychology. I analyzed their data using z-curve.2.0 (Brunner & Schimmack, 2020; Bartos & Schimmack, 2021). Figure 1 shows the distribution of the test-statistics after converting them into absolute z-scores, where higher values show a higher signal/noise (effect size / sampling error) ratio. A z-score of 1.96 is needed to claim a discovery with p < .05 (two-sided). Consistent with publication practices since the 1960s, most focal hypothesis tests confirm predictions (Sterling, 1959). The observed discovery rate is 90% and even higher if marginally significant results are included (z > 1.65). This high success rate is not something to celebrate. Even I could win all marathons if I use a short-cut and run only 5km. The problem with this high success rate is clearly visible when we fit a model to the distribution of the significant z-scores and extrapolate the distribution of z-scores that are not significant (the blue curve in the figure). Based on this distribution, the significant results are only 19% of all tests, indicating that many more non-significant results are expected than observed. The discrepancy between the observed and estimated discovery rate provides some indication of the use of questionable research practices. Moreover, the estimated discovery rate shows how much statistical power studies have to produce significant results without questionable research practices. The results confirm suspicions that power in social psychology is abysmally low (Cohen, 1961; Tversky & Kahneman, 1971).

The use of questionable practices makes it possible that citation metrics may be invalid. When everybody in a research field uses p < .05 as a criterion to evaluate manuscripts and these p-values are obtained with questionable research practices, the system will reward researchers how use the most questionable methods to produce more questionable results than their peers. In other words, citation metrics are no longer a valid criterion of research quality. Instead, bad research is selected and rewarded (Smaldino & McElreath, 2016). However, it is also possible that implicit knowledge helps researchers to focus on robust results and that questionable research practices are not rewarded. For example, prediction markets suggest that it is fairly easy to spot shoddy research and to predict replication failures (Dreber et al., 2015). Thus, we cannot assume that citation metrics are valid or invalid. Instead, citation metrics – like all measures – require a program of construct validation.

Do Citation Metrics Take Statistical Power Into Account?

A few days ago, I published the first results of an ongoing research project that examines the relationship between researchers’ citation metrics and estimates of the average power of their studies based on z-curve analyses like the one shown in Figure 1 (see Schimmack, 2021, for details). The key finding is that there is no statistically or practically significant relationship between researchers H-Index and the average power of their studies. Thus, researchers who invest a lot of resources in their studies to produce results with a low false positive risk and high replicability are not cited more than researchers who flood journals with low powered studies that produce questionable results that are difficult to replicate.

These results show a major problem of citation metrics. Although methodologists have warned against underpowered studies, researchers have continued to use underpowered studies because they can use questionable practices to produce the desired outcome. This strategy is beneficial for scientists and their career, but hurts the larger goal of science to produce a credible body of knowledge. This does not mean that we need to abandon citation metrics altogether, but it must be complemented with other information that reflects the quality of researchers data.

The Power-Corrected H-Index

In my 2020 review article, I proposed to weight the H-Index by estimates of researchers’ replicability. For my illustration, I used the estimated replication rate, which is the average power of significant tests, p < .05 (Brunner & Schimmack, 2020). One advantage of the ERR is that it is highly reliable. The reliability of the ERRs for 300 social psychologists is .90. However, the ERR has some limitations. First, it predicts replication outcomes under the unrealistic assumption that psychological studies can be replicated exactly. However, it has been pointed out that this often impossible, especially in social psychology (Strobe & Strack, 2014). As a result, ERR predictions are overly optimistic and overestimate the success rate of actual replication studies (Bartos & Schimmack, 2021). In contrast, EDR estimates are much more in line with actual replication outcomes because effect sizes in replication studies can regress towards the mean. For example, Figure 1 shows an EDR of 19% for social psychology and the actual success rate (if we can call it that) for social psychology was 25% in the reproducibility project (Open Science Collaboration, 2015). Another advantage of the EDR is that it is sensitive to questionable research practices that tend to produce an abundance of p-values that are just significant. Thus, the EDR more strongly punishes researchers for using these undesirable practices. The main limitation of the EDR is that it is less reliable than the ERR. The reliability for 300 social psychologists was only .5. Of course, it is not necessary to chose between ERR and EDR. Just like there are many citation metrics, it is possible to evaluate the pattern of power-corrected metrics using ERR and EDR. I am presenting both values here, but the rankings are sorted by EDR weighted H-Indices.

The H-Index is an absolute number that can range from 0 to infinity. In contrast, power is limited to a range from 5% (with alpha = .05) to 100%. Thus, it makes sense to use power as a weight and to weight the H-index by a researchers EDR. A researcher who published only studies with 100% power has a power-corrected H-Index that is equivalent to the actual H-Index. The average EDR of social psychologists, however, is 35%. Thus, the average H-index is reduced to a third of the unadjusted value.

To illustrate this approach, I am using two researchers with a large H-Index, but different EDRs. One researcher is James J. Gross with an H-Index of 99 in WebofScience. His z-curve plot shows some evidence that questionable research practices were used to report 72% significant results with 50% power. However, the 95%CI around the EDR ranges from 23% to 78% and includes the point estimate. Thus, the evidence for QRPs is weak and not statistically significant. More important, the EDR -corrected H-Index is 90 * .50 = 45.

A different example is provided by Shelly E. Taylor with a similarly high H-Index of 84, but her z-curve plot shows clear evidence that the observed discovery rate is inflated by questionable research practices. Her low EDR reduces the H-Index considerably and results in a PC-H-Index of only 12.6.

Weighing the two researchers’ H-Index by their respective ERR’s, 77 vs. 54, has similar, but less extreme effects in absolute terms, ERR-adjusted H-Indices of 76 vs. 45.

In the sample of 300 social psychologists, the H-Index (r = .74) and the EDR (r = .65) contribute about equal amounts of variance to the power-corrected H-Index. Of course, a different formula could be used to weigh power more or less.


Ed Diener is best known for his efforts to measure well-being and to point out that traditional economic indicators of well-being are imperfect. While wealth of countries is a strong predictor of citizens’ average well-being, r ~ .8, income is a poor predictor of individuals’ well-being with countries. However, economists continue to rely on income and GDP because it is more easily quantified and counted than subjective life-evaluations. Ironically, Diener advocates the opposite approach when it comes to measuring research quality. Counting articles and citations is relatively easy and objective, but it may not measure what we really want to measure, namely how much is somebody contributing to the advancement of knowledge. The construct of scientific advancement is probably as difficult to define as well-being, but producing replicable results with reproducible studies is one important criterion of good science. At present, citation metrics fail to track this indicator of research quality. Z-curve analyses of published results make it possible to measure this aspect of good science and I recommend to take it into account when researchers are being evaluated.

However, I do not recommend the use of quantitative information for the evaluation of hiring and promotion decisions. The reward system in science is too biased to reward privileged upper-class, White, US Americans (see APS rising stars lists). That being said, a close examination of published articles can be used to detect and eliminate researchers who severely p-hacked to get their significant results. Open science criteria can also be used to evaluate researchers who are just starting their career.

In conclusion, Radosic and Diener’s (2021) article disappointed me because it sidesteps the fundamental questions about the validity of citation metrics as a criterion for scientific excellence.

Conflict of Interest Statement: At the beginning of my career I was motivated to succeed in psychological science by publishing as many JPSP articles as possible and I made the unhealthy mistake to try to compete with Ed Diener. That didn’t work out for me. Maybe I am just biased against citation metrics because my work is not cited as much as I would like. Alternatively, my disillusionment with the system reflects some real problems with the reward structure in psychological science and helped me to see the light. The goal of science cannot be to have the most articles or the most citations, if these metrics do not really reflect scientific contributions. Chasing indicators is a trap, just like chasing happiness is a trap. Most scientists can hope to make maybe one lasting contribution to the advancement of knowledge. You need to please others to stay in the game, but beyond those minimum requirements to get tenure, personal criteria of success are better than social comparisons for the well-being of science and scientists. The only criterion that is healthy is to maximize statistical power. As Cohen said, less is more and by this criterion psychology is not doing well as more and more research is published with little concern about quality.

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Open Science Collaboration (OSC). (2015). Estimating the reproducibility
of psychological science. Science, 349, aac4716.

Radosic, N., & Diener, E. (2021). Citation Metrics in Psychological Science. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Schimmack, U. (2021). The validation crisis. Meta-psychology. in press

Schimmack, U. (2020). A meta-psychological perspective on the decade of replication failures in social psychology. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 61(4), 364–376.

Replicability Rankings 2010-2020

Welcome to the replicability rankings for 120 psychology journals. More information about the statistical method that is used to create the replicability rankings can be found elsewhere (Z-Curve; Video Tutorial; Talk; Examples). The rankings are based on automated extraction of test statistics from all articles published in these 120 journals from 2010 to 2020 (data). The results can be reproduced with the R-package zcurve.

To give a brief explanation of the method, I use the journal with the highest ranking and the journal with the lowest ranking as examples. Figure 1 shows the z-curve plot for the 2nd highest ranking journal for the year 2020 (the Journal of Organizational Psychology is ranked #1, but it has very few test statistics). Plots for all journals that include additional information and information about test statistics are available by clicking on the journal name. Plots for previous years can be found on the site for the 2010-2019 rankings (previous rankings).

To create the z-curve plot in Figure 1, the 361 test statistics were first transformed into exact p-values that were then transformed into absolute z-scores. Thus, each value represents the deviation from zero for a standard normal distribution. A value of 1.96 (solid red line) corresponds to the standard criterion for significance, p = .05 (two-tailed). The dashed line represents the treshold for marginal significance, p = .10 (two-tailed). A z-curve analysis fits a finite mixture model to the distribution of the significant z-scores (the blue density distribution on the right side of the solid red line). The distribution provides information about the average power of studies that produced a significant result. As power determines the success rate in future studies, power after selection for significance is used to estimate replicability. For the present data, the z-curve estimate of the replication rate is 84%. The bootstrapped 95% confidence interval around this estimate ranges from 75% to 92%. Thus, we would expect the majority of these significant results to replicate.

However, the graph also shows some evidence that questionable research practices produce too many significant results. The observed discovery rate (i.e., the percentage of p-values below .05) is 82%. This is outside of the 95%CI of the estimated discovery rate which is represented by the grey line in the range of non-significant results; EDR = .31%, 95%CI = 18% to 81%. We see that there are fewer results reported than z-curve predicts. This finding casts doubt about the replicability of the just significant p-values. The replicability rankings ignore this problem, which means that the predicted success rates are overly optimistic. A more pessimistic predictor of the actual success rate is the EDR. However, the ERR still provides useful information to compare power of studies across journals and over time.

Figure 2 shows a journal with a low ERR in 2020.

The estimated replication rate is 64%, with a 95%CI ranging from 55% to 73%. The 95%CI does not overlap with the 95%CI for the Journal of Sex Research, indicating that this is a significant difference in replicability. Visual inspection also shows clear evidence for the use of questionable research practices with a lot more results that are just significant than results that are not significant. The observed discovery rate of 75% is inflated and outside the 95%CI of the EDR that ranges from 10% to 56%.

To examine time trends, I regressed the ERR of each year on the year and computed the predicted values and 95%CI. Figure 3 shows the results for the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science as an example (x = 0 is 2010, x = 1 is 2020). The upper bound of the 95%CI for 2010, 62%, is lower than the lower bound of the 95%CI for 2020, 74%.

This shows a significant difference with alpha = .01. I use alpha = .01 so that only 1.2 out of the 120 journals are expected to show a significant change in either direction by chance alone. There are 22 journals with a significant increase in the ERR and no journals with a significant decrease. This shows that about 20% of these journals have responded to the crisis of confidence by publishing studies with higher power that are more likely to replicate.

Rank  JournalObserved 2020Predicted 2020Predicted 2010
1Journal of Organizational Psychology88 [69 ; 99]84 [75 ; 93]73 [64 ; 81]
2Journal of Sex Research84 [75 ; 92]84 [74 ; 93]75 [65 ; 84]
3Evolution & Human Behavior84 [74 ; 93]83 [77 ; 90]62 [56 ; 68]
4Judgment and Decision Making81 [74 ; 88]83 [77 ; 89]68 [62 ; 75]
5Personality and Individual Differences81 [76 ; 86]81 [78 ; 83]68 [65 ; 71]
6Addictive Behaviors82 [75 ; 89]81 [77 ; 86]71 [67 ; 75]
7Depression & Anxiety84 [76 ; 91]81 [77 ; 85]67 [63 ; 71]
8Cognitive Psychology83 [75 ; 90]81 [76 ; 87]71 [65 ; 76]
9Social Psychological and Personality Science85 [78 ; 92]81 [74 ; 89]54 [46 ; 62]
10Journal of Experimental Psychology – General80 [75 ; 85]80 [79 ; 81]67 [66 ; 69]
11J. of Exp. Psychology – Learning, Memory & Cognition81 [75 ; 87]80 [77 ; 84]73 [70 ; 77]
12Journal of Memory and Language79 [73 ; 86]80 [76 ; 83]73 [69 ; 77]
13Cognitive Development81 [75 ; 88]80 [75 ; 85]67 [62 ; 72]
14Sex Roles81 [74 ; 88]80 [75 ; 85]72 [67 ; 77]
15Developmental Psychology74 [67 ; 81]80 [75 ; 84]67 [63 ; 72]
16Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology77 [65 ; 90]80 [73 ; 86]74 [68 ; 81]
17Journal of Nonverbal Behavior73 [59 ; 84]80 [68 ; 91]65 [53 ; 77]
18Memory and Cognition81 [73 ; 87]79 [77 ; 81]75 [73 ; 77]
19Cognition79 [74 ; 84]79 [76 ; 82]70 [68 ; 73]
20Psychology and Aging81 [74 ; 87]79 [75 ; 84]74 [69 ; 79]
21Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology83 [76 ; 91]79 [75 ; 83]75 [71 ; 79]
22Psychonomic Bulletin and Review79 [72 ; 86]79 [75 ; 83]71 [67 ; 75]
23Journal of Experimental Social Psychology78 [73 ; 84]79 [75 ; 82]52 [48 ; 55]
24JPSP-Attitudes & Social Cognition82 [75 ; 88]79 [69 ; 89]55 [45 ; 65]
25European Journal of Developmental Psychology75 [64 ; 86]79 [68 ; 91]74 [62 ; 85]
26Journal of Business and Psychology82 [71 ; 91]79 [68 ; 90]74 [63 ; 85]
27Psychology of Religion and Spirituality79 [71 ; 88]79 [66 ; 92]72 [59 ; 85]
28J. of Exp. Psychology – Human Perception and Performance79 [73 ; 84]78 [77 ; 80]75 [73 ; 77]
29Attention, Perception and Psychophysics77 [72 ; 82]78 [75 ; 82]73 [70 ; 76]
30Psychophysiology79 [74 ; 84]78 [75 ; 82]66 [62 ; 70]
31Psychological Science77 [72 ; 84]78 [75 ; 82]57 [54 ; 61]
32Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology81 [75 ; 86]78 [75 ; 81]72 [69 ; 74]
33Journal of Child and Family Studies80 [73 ; 87]78 [74 ; 82]67 [63 ; 70]
34JPSP-Interpersonal Relationships and Group Processes81 [74 ; 88]78 [73 ; 82]53 [49 ; 58]
35Journal of Behavioral Decision Making77 [70 ; 86]78 [72 ; 84]66 [60 ; 72]
36Appetite78 [73 ; 84]78 [72 ; 83]72 [67 ; 78]
37Journal of Comparative Psychology79 [65 ; 91]78 [71 ; 85]68 [61 ; 75]
38Journal of Religion and Health77 [57 ; 94]78 [70 ; 87]75 [67 ; 84]
39Aggressive Behaviours82 [74 ; 90]78 [70 ; 86]70 [62 ; 78]
40Journal of Health Psychology74 [64 ; 82]78 [70 ; 86]72 [64 ; 80]
41Journal of Social Psychology78 [70 ; 87]78 [70 ; 86]69 [60 ; 77]
42Law and Human Behavior81 [71 ; 90]78 [69 ; 87]70 [61 ; 78]
43Psychological Medicine76 [68 ; 85]78 [66 ; 89]74 [63 ; 86]
44Political Psychology73 [59 ; 85]78 [65 ; 92]59 [46 ; 73]
45Acta Psychologica81 [75 ; 88]77 [74 ; 81]73 [70 ; 76]
46Experimental Psychology73 [62 ; 83]77 [73 ; 82]73 [68 ; 77]
47Archives of Sexual Behavior77 [69 ; 83]77 [73 ; 81]78 [74 ; 82]
48British Journal of Psychology73 [65 ; 81]77 [72 ; 82]74 [68 ; 79]
49Journal of Cognitive Psychology77 [69 ; 84]77 [72 ; 82]74 [69 ; 78]
50Journal of Experimental Psychology – Applied82 [75 ; 88]77 [72 ; 82]70 [65 ; 76]
51Asian Journal of Social Psychology79 [66 ; 89]77 [70 ; 84]70 [63 ; 77]
52Journal of Youth and Adolescence80 [71 ; 89]77 [70 ; 84]72 [66 ; 79]
53Memory77 [71 ; 84]77 [70 ; 83]71 [65 ; 77]
54European Journal of Social Psychology82 [75 ; 89]77 [69 ; 84]61 [53 ; 69]
55Social Psychology81 [73 ; 90]77 [67 ; 86]73 [63 ; 82]
56Perception82 [74 ; 88]76 [72 ; 81]78 [74 ; 83]
57Journal of Anxiety Disorders80 [71 ; 89]76 [72 ; 80]71 [67 ; 75]
58Personal Relationships65 [54 ; 76]76 [68 ; 84]62 [54 ; 70]
59Evolutionary Psychology63 [51 ; 75]76 [67 ; 85]77 [68 ; 86]
60Journal of Research in Personality63 [46 ; 77]76 [67 ; 84]70 [61 ; 79]
61Cognitive Behaviour Therapy88 [73 ; 99]76 [66 ; 86]68 [58 ; 79]
62Emotion79 [73 ; 85]75 [72 ; 79]67 [64 ; 71]
63Animal Behavior79 [72 ; 87]75 [71 ; 80]68 [64 ; 73]
64Group Processes & Intergroup Relations80 [73 ; 87]75 [71 ; 80]60 [56 ; 65]
65JPSP-Personality Processes and Individual Differences78 [70 ; 86]75 [70 ; 79]64 [59 ; 69]
66Psychology of Men and Masculinity88 [77 ; 96]75 [64 ; 87]78 [67 ; 89]
67Consciousness and Cognition74 [67 ; 80]74 [69 ; 80]67 [62 ; 73]
68Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin78 [72 ; 84]74 [69 ; 79]57 [52 ; 62]
69Journal of Cognition and Development70 [60 ; 80]74 [67 ; 81]65 [59 ; 72]
70Journal of Applied Psychology69 [59 ; 78]74 [67 ; 80]73 [66 ; 79]
71European Journal of Personality80 [67 ; 92]74 [65 ; 83]70 [61 ; 79]
72Journal of Positive Psychology75 [65 ; 86]74 [65 ; 83]66 [57 ; 75]
73Journal of Research on Adolescence83 [74 ; 92]74 [62 ; 87]67 [55 ; 79]
74Psychopharmacology75 [69 ; 80]73 [71 ; 75]67 [65 ; 69]
75Frontiers in Psychology75 [70 ; 79]73 [70 ; 76]72 [69 ; 75]
76Cognitive Therapy and Research73 [66 ; 81]73 [68 ; 79]67 [62 ; 73]
77Behaviour Research and Therapy70 [63 ; 77]73 [67 ; 79]70 [64 ; 76]
78Journal of Educational Psychology82 [73 ; 89]73 [67 ; 79]76 [70 ; 82]
79British Journal of Social Psychology74 [65 ; 83]73 [66 ; 81]61 [54 ; 69]
80Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes70 [65 ; 77]72 [69 ; 75]67 [63 ; 70]
81Cognition and Emotion75 [68 ; 81]72 [68 ; 76]72 [68 ; 76]
82Journal of Affective Disorders75 [69 ; 83]72 [68 ; 76]74 [71 ; 78]
83Behavioural Brain Research76 [71 ; 80]72 [67 ; 76]70 [66 ; 74]
84Child Development81 [75 ; 88]72 [66 ; 78]68 [62 ; 74]
85Journal of Abnormal Psychology71 [60 ; 82]72 [66 ; 77]65 [60 ; 71]
86Journal of Vocational Behavior70 [59 ; 82]72 [65 ; 79]84 [77 ; 91]
87Journal of Experimental Child Psychology72 [66 ; 78]71 [69 ; 74]72 [69 ; 75]
88Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology81 [73 ; 88]71 [64 ; 78]62 [55 ; 69]
89Psychology of Music78 [67 ; 86]71 [64 ; 78]79 [72 ; 86]
90Behavior Therapy78 [69 ; 86]71 [63 ; 78]70 [63 ; 78]
91Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology66 [51 ; 79]71 [62 ; 80]87 [79 ; 96]
92Journal of Happiness Studies75 [65 ; 83]71 [61 ; 81]79 [70 ; 89]
93Journal of Occupational Health Psychology77 [65 ; 90]71 [58 ; 83]65 [52 ; 77]
94Journal of Individual Differences77 [62 ; 92]71 [51 ; 90]74 [55 ; 94]
95Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience70 [63 ; 76]70 [66 ; 75]66 [62 ; 71]
96Journal of Applied Social Psychology76 [67 ; 84]70 [63 ; 76]70 [64 ; 77]
97British Journal of Developmental Psychology72 [62 ; 81]70 [62 ; 79]76 [67 ; 85]
98Journal of Social and Personal Relationships73 [63 ; 81]70 [60 ; 79]69 [60 ; 79]
99Behavioral Neuroscience65 [57 ; 73]69 [64 ; 75]69 [63 ; 75]
100Psychology and Marketing71 [64 ; 77]69 [64 ; 74]67 [63 ; 72]
101Journal of Family Psychology71 [59 ; 81]69 [63 ; 75]62 [56 ; 68]
102Journal of Personality71 [57 ; 85]69 [62 ; 77]64 [57 ; 72]
103Journal of Consumer Behaviour70 [60 ; 81]69 [59 ; 79]73 [63 ; 83]
104Motivation and Emotion78 [70 ; 86]69 [59 ; 78]66 [57 ; 76]
105Developmental Science67 [60 ; 74]68 [65 ; 71]65 [63 ; 68]
106International Journal of Psychophysiology67 [61 ; 73]68 [64 ; 73]64 [60 ; 69]
107Self and Identity80 [72 ; 87]68 [60 ; 76]70 [62 ; 78]
108Journal of Counseling Psychology57 [41 ; 71]68 [55 ; 81]79 [66 ; 92]
109Health Psychology63 [50 ; 73]67 [62 ; 72]67 [61 ; 72]
110Hormones and Behavior67 [58 ; 73]66 [63 ; 70]66 [62 ; 70]
111Frontiers in Human Neuroscience68 [62 ; 75]66 [62 ; 70]76 [72 ; 80]
112Annals of Behavioral Medicine63 [53 ; 75]66 [60 ; 71]71 [65 ; 76]
113Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines58 [45 ; 69]66 [55 ; 76]63 [53 ; 73]
114Infancy77 [69 ; 85]65 [56 ; 73]58 [50 ; 67]
115Biological Psychology64 [58 ; 70]64 [61 ; 67]66 [63 ; 69]
116Social Development63 [54 ; 73]64 [56 ; 72]74 [66 ; 82]
117Developmental Psychobiology62 [53 ; 70]63 [58 ; 68]67 [62 ; 72]
118Journal of Consumer Research59 [53 ; 67]63 [55 ; 71]58 [50 ; 66]
119Psychoneuroendocrinology63 [53 ; 72]62 [58 ; 66]61 [57 ; 65]
120Journal of Consumer Psychology64 [55 ; 73]62 [57 ; 67]60 [55 ; 65]

Men are created equal, p-values are not.

Is there still something new to say about p-values? Yes, there is. Most discussions of p-values focus on a scenario where a researcher tests a new hypothesis computes a p-value and now has to interpret the result. The status quo follows Fisher’s – 100 year old – approach to compare the p-value to a value of .05. If the p-value is below .05 (two-sided), the inference is that the population effect size deviates from zero in the same direction as the observed effect in the sample. If the p-value is greater than .05 the results are deemed inconclusive.

This approach to the interpretation of the data assumes that we have no other information about our hypothesis or that we do not trust this information sufficiently to incorporate it in our inference about the population effect size. Over the past decade, Bayesian psychologists have argued that we should replace p-values with Bayes-Factors. The advantage of Bayes-Factors is that they can incorporate prior information to draw inferences from data. However, if no prior information is available, the use of Bayesian statistics may cause more harm than good. To use priors without prior information, Bayes-Factors are computed with generic, default priors that are not based on any information about a research question. Along with other problems of Bayes-Factors, this is not an appealing solution to the problem of p-values.

Here I introduce a new approach to the interpretation of p-values that has been called empirical Bayesian and has been successfully applied in genomics to control the field-wise false positive rate. That is, prior information does not rest on theoretical assumptions or default values, but rather on prior empirical information. The information that is used to interpret a new p-value is the distribution of prior p-values.

P-value distributions

Every study is a new study because it relies on a new sample of participants that produces sampling error that is independent of the previous studies. However, studies are not independent in other characteristics. A researcher who conducted a study with N = 40 participants is likely to have used similar sample sizes in previous studies. And a researcher who used N = 200 is also likely to have used larger sample sizes in previous studies. Researchers are also likely to use similar designs. Social psychologists, for example, prefer between-subject designs to better deceive their participants. Cognitive psychologists care less about deception and study simple behaviors that can be repeated hundreds of times within an hour. Thus, researchers who used a between-subject design are likely to have used a between-subject design in previous studies and researchers who used a within-subject design are likely to have used a within-subject design before. Researchers may also be chasing different effect sizes. Finally, researchers can differ in their willingness to take risks. Some may only test hypotheses that are derived from prior theories that have a high probability of being correct, whereas others may be willing to shoot for the moon. All of these consistent differences between researchers (i.e., sample size, effect size, research design) influence the unconditional statistical power of their studies, which is defined as the long-run probability of obtaining significant results, p < .05.

Over the past decade, in the wake of the replication crisis, interest in the distribution of p-values has increased dramatically. For example, one approach uses the distribution of significant p-values, which is known as p-curve analysis (Simonsohn et al., 2014). If p-values were obtained with questionable research practices when the null-hypothesis is true (p-hacking), the distribution of significant p-values is flat. Thus, if the distribution is monotonically decreasing from 0 to .05, the data have evidential value. Although p-curve analyses has been extended to estimate statistical power, simulation studies show that the p-curve algorithm is systematically biased when power varies across studies (Bartos & Schimmack, 2020; Brunner & Schimmack, 2020).

As shown in simulation studies, a better way to estimate power is z-curve (Bartos & Schimmack, 2020; Brunner & Schimmack, 2020). Here I show how z-curve analyses of prior p-values can be used to demonstrate that p-values from one researcher are not equal to p-values of other researchers when we take their prior research practices into account. By using this prior information, we can adjust the alpha level of individual researchers to take their research practices into account. To illustrate this use of z-curve, I first start with an illustration how different research practices influence p-value distributions.

Scenario 1: P-hacking

In the first scenario, we assume that a researcher only tests false hypotheses (i.e., the null-hypothesis is always true (Bem, 2011; Simonsohn et al., 2011). In theory, it would be easy to spot false positives because replication studies would produce produce 19 non-significant results for every significant one and significant ones would have different signs. However, questionable research practices lead to a pattern of results where only significant results in one direction are reported, which is the norm in psychology (Sterling, 1959, Sterling et al., 1995; Schimmack, 2012).

In a z-curve analysis, p-values are first converted into z-scores, z = -qnorm(p/2) with qnorm being the inverse normal function and p being a two-sided p-value. A z-curve plot shows the histogram of all z-scores, including non-significant ones (Figure 1).

Visual inspection of the z-curve plot shows that all 200 p-values are significant (on the right side of the criterion value z = 1.96). it also shows that the mode of the distribution as at the significance criterion. Most important, visual inspection shows a steep drop from the mode to the range of non-significant values. That is, while z = 1.96 is the most common value, z = 1.95 is never observed. This drop provides direct visual information that questionable research practices were used because normal sampling error cannot produce such dramatic changes in the distribution.

I am skipping the technical details how the z-curve model is fitted to the distribution of z-scores (Bartos & Schimmack, 2020). It is sufficient to know that the model is fitted to the distribution of significant z-scores with a limited number of model parameters that are equally spaced over the range of z-scores from 0 to 6 (7 parameters, z = 0, z = 1, z = 2, …. z = 6). The model gives different weights to these parameters to match the observed distribution. Based on these estimates, z-curve.2.0 computes several statistics that can be used to interpret single p-values that have been published or future p-values by the same researcher, assuming that the same research practices are used.

The most important statistic is the expected discovery rate (EDR), which corresponds to the average power of all studies that were conducted by a researcher. Importantly, the EDR is an estimate that is based on only the significant results, but makes predictions about the number of non-significant results. In this example with N = 200 participants, the EDR is 7%. Of course, we know that it really is only 5% because the expected discovery rate for true hypotheses that are tested with alpha = .05 is 5%. However, sampling error can introduce biases in our estimates. Nevertheless, even with only 200 observations, the estimate of 7% is relatively close to 5%. Thus, z-curve tells us something important about the way these p-values were obtained. They were obtained in studies with very low power that is close to the criterion value for a false positive result.

Z-curve uses bootstrap to compute confidence intervals around the point estimate of the EDR. the 95%CI ranges from 5% to 18%. As the interval includes 5%, we cannot reject the hypothesis that all tests were false positives (which in this scenario is also the correct conclusion). At the upper end we can see that mean power is low, even if some true hypotheses are being tested.

The EDR can be used for two purposes. First, it can be used to examine the extent of selection for significance by comparing the EDR to the observed discovery rate (ODR; Schimmack, 2012). The ODR is simply the percentage of significant results that was observed in the sample of p-values. In this case, this is 200 out of 200 or 100%. The discrepancy between the EDR of 7% and 100% is large and 100% is clearly outside the 95%CI of the EDR. Thus, we have strong evidence that questionable research practices were used, which we know to be true in this simulation because the 200 tests were selected from a much larger sample of 4,000 tests.

Most important for the use of z-curve to interpret p-values is the ability to estimate the maximum False Discovery Rate (Soric, 1989). The false discovery rate is the percentage of significant results that are false positives or type-I errors. The false discovery rate is often confused with alpha, the long-run probability of making a type-I error. The significance criterion ensures that no more than 5% of significant and non-significant results are false positives. When we test 4,000 false hypotheses (i.e., the null-hypothesis is true) were are not going to have more than 5% (4,000 * .05 = 200) false positive results. This is true in general and it is true in this example. However, when only significant results are published, it is easy to make the mistake to assume that no more than 5% of the published 200 results are false positives. This would be wrong because the 200 were selected to be significant and they are all false positives.

The false discovery rate is the percentage of significant results that are false positives. It no longer matters whether non-significant results are published or not. We are only concerned with the population of p-values that are below .05 (z > 1.96). In our example, the question is how many of the 200 significant results could be false positives. Soric (1989 demonstrated that the EDR limits the number of false positive discoveries. The more discoveries there are, the lower is the risk that discoveries are false. Using a simple formula, we can compute the maximum false discovery rate from the EDR.

FDR = (1/(EDR – 1)*(.05/.95), with alpha = .05

With an EDR of 7%, we obtained a maximum FDR of 68%. We know that the true FDR is 100%, thus, the estimate is too low. However, the reason is that sampling error can have dramatic effects on the FDR estimates when the EDR is low. With an EDR of 6%, the FDR estimate goes up to 82% and with an EDR estimate of 5% it is 100%. To take account of this uncertainty, we can use the 95%CI of the EDR to compute a 95%CI for the FDR estimate, 24% to 100%. Now we see that we cannot rule out that the FDR is 100%.

In short, scenario 1 introduced the use of p-value distributions to provide useful information about the risk that the published results are false discoveries. In this extreme example, we can dismiss the published p-values as inconclusive or as lacking in evidential value.

Scenario 2: The Typical Social Psychologist

It is difficult to estimate the typical effect size in a literature. However, a meta-analysis of meta-analyses suggested that the average effect size in social psychology is Cohen’s d = .4 (Richard et al., 2003). A smaller set of replication studies that did not select for significance estimated an effect size of d = .3 for social psychology (d = .2 for JPSP, d = .4 for Psych Science; Open Science Collaboration, 2015). The later estimate may include an unknown number of hypotheses where the null-hypothesis is true and the true effect size is zero. Thus, I used d = .4 as a reasonable effect size for true hypotheses in social psychology (see also LeBel, Campbell, & Loving, 2017).

It is also known that a rule of thumb in experimental social psychology was to allocate n = 20 participants to a condition, resulting in a sample size of N = 40 in studies with two groups. In a 2 x 2 design, the main effect would be tested with N = 80. However, to keep this scenario simple, I used d = .4 and N = 40 for true effects. This affords 23% power to obtain a significant result.

Finkel, Eastwick, and Reis (2017) argued that power of 25% is optimal if 75% of the hypotheses that are being tested are true. However, the assumption that 75% of hypotheses are true may be on the optimistic side. Wilson and Wixted (2018) suggested that the false discovery risk is closer to 50%. With 23% power for true hypotheses, this implies a false discovery rate of Given uncertainty about the actual false discovery rate in social psychology, I used a scenario with 50% true and 50% false hypotheses.

I kept the number of significant results at 200. To obtain 200 significant results with an equal number of true and false hypotheses, we need 1,428 tests. The 714 true hypotheses contribute 714*.23 = 164 true positives and the 714 false hypotheses produce 714*.05 = 36 false positive results; 164 + 36 = 200. This implies a false discovery rate of 36/200 = 18%. The true EDR is (714*.23+714*.05)/(714+714) = 14%.

The z-curve plot looks very similar to the previous plot, but they are not identical. Although the EDR estimate is higher, it still includes zero. The maximum FDR is well above the actual FDR of 18%, but the 95%CI includes the actual value of 18%.

A notable difference between Figure 1 and Figure 2 is the expected replication rate (ERR), which corresponds to the average power of significant p-values. It is called the estimated replication rate (ERR) because it predicts the percentage of significant results if the studies that were selected for significance were replicated exactly (Brunner & Schimmack, 2020). When power is heterogeneous, power of the studies with significant results is higher than power of studies with non-significant results (Brunner & Schimmack, 2020). In this case, with only two power values, the reason is that false positives have a much lower chance to be significant (5%) than true positives (23%). As a result, the average power of significant studies is higher than the average power of all studies. In this simulation, the true average power of significant studies is the weighted average of true and false positives with significant results, (164*.23 +36*.05)/(164+36) = 20%. Z-curve perfectly estimated this value.

Importantly, the 95% CI of the ERR, 11% to 34%, does not include zero. Thus, we can reject the null-hypotheses that all of the significant results are false positives based on the ERR. In other words, the significant results have evidential value. However, we do not know the composition of this average. It could be a large percentage of false positives and a few true hypotheses with high power or it could be many true positives with low power. We also do not know which of the 200 significant results is a true positive or a false positive. Thus, we would need to conduct replication studies to distinguish between true and false hypotheses. And given the low power, we would only have a 23% chance of successfully replicating a true positive result. This is exactly what happened with the reproducibility project. And the inconsistent results lead to debates and require further replications. Thus, we have real-world evidence how uninformative p-values are when they are obtained this way.

Social psychologists might argue that the use of small samples is justified because most hypotheses in psychology are true. Thus, we can use prior information to assume that significant results are true positives. However, this logic fails when social psychologists test false hypotheses. In this case, the observed distribution of p-values (Figure 1) is not that different from the distribution that is observed when most significant results are true positives that were obtained with low power (Figure 2). Thus, it is doubtful that this is really an optimal use of resources (Finkel et al., 2015). However, until recently this was the way experimental social psychologists conducted their research.

Scenario 3: Cohen’s Way

In 1962 (!), Cohen conducted a meta-analysis of statistical power in social psychology. The main finding was that studies had only a 50% chance to get significant results with a median effect size of d = .5. Cohen (1988) also recommended that researchers should plan studies to have 80% power. However, this recommendation was ignored.

To achieve 80% power with d = .4, researchers need N = 200 participants. Thus, the number of studies is reduced from 5 studies with N = 40 to one study with N = 200. As Finkel et al. (2017) point out, we can make more discoveries with many small studies than a few large ones. However, this ignores that the results of the small studies are difficult to replicate. This was not a concern when social psychologists did not bother to test whether their discoveries are false discoveries or whether they can be replicated. The replication crisis shows the problems of this approach. Now we have results from decades of research that produced significant p-values without providing any information whether these significant results are true or false discoveries.

Scenario 3 examines what social psychology would look like today, if social psychologists had listened to Cohen. The scenario is the same as in the second scenario, including publication bias. There are 50% false hypotheses and 50% true hypotheses with an effect size of d = .4. The only difference is that researchers used N = 200 to test their hypotheses to achieve 80% power.

With 80% power, we need 470 tests (compared to 1,428 in Scenario 2) to produce 200 significant results, 235*.80 + 235*.05 = 188 + 12 = 200. Thus, the EDR is 200/470 = 43%. The true false discovery rate is 6%. The expected replication rate is 188*.80 + 12*.05 = 76%. Thus, we see that higher power increases replicability from 20% to 76% and lowers the false discovery rate from 18% to 6%.

Figure 3 shows the z-curve plot. Visual inspection shows that Figure 3 looks very different from Figures 1 and 2. The estimates are also different. In this example, sampling error inflated the EDR to be 58%, but the 95%CI includes the true value of 46%. The 95%CI does not include the ODR. Thus, there is evidence for publication bias, which is also visible by the steep drop in the distribution at 1.96.

Even with a low EDR of 20%, the maximum FDR is only 21%. Thus, we can conclude with confidence that at least 79% of the significant results are true positives. Remember, in the previous scenario, we could not rule out that most results are false positives. Moreover, the estimated replication rate is 73%, which underestimates the true replication rate of 76%, but the 95%CI includes the true value, 95%CI = 61% – 84%. Thus, if these studies were replicated, we would have a high success rate for actual replication studies.

Just imagine for a moment what social psychology might look like in a parallel universe where social psychologists followed Cohen’s advice. Why didn’t they? The reason is that they did not have z-curve. All they had was p < .05, and using p < .05, all three scenarios are identical. All three scenarios produced 200 significant results. Moreover, as Finkel et al. (2015) pointed out, smaller samples produce 200 significant results quicker than large samples. An additional advantage of small samples is that they inflate point estimates of the population effect size. Thus, the social psychologists with the smallest samples could brag about the biggest (illusory) effect sizes as long as nobody was able to publish replication studies with larger samples that deflated effect sizes of d = .8 to d = .08 (Joy-Gaba & Nosek, 2010).

This game is over, but social psychology – and other social sciences – have published thousands of significant p-values, and nobody knows whether they were obtained using scenario 1, 2, or 3, or probably a combination of these. This is where z-curve can make a difference. P-values are no longer equal when they are considered as a data point from a p-value distribution. In scenario 1, a p-value of .01 and even a p-value of .001 has no meaning. In contrast, in scenario 3 even a p-value of .02 is meaningful and more likely to reflect a true positive than a false positive result. This means that we can use z-curve analyses of published p-values to distinguish between probably false and probably true positives.

I illustrate this with three concrete examples from a project that examined the p-value distributions of over 200 social psychologists (Schimmack, in preparation). The first example has the lowest EDR in the sample. The EDR is 11% and because there are only 210 tests, the 95%CI is wide and includes 5%.

The maximum EDR estimate is high with 41% and the 95%CI includes 100%. This suggests that we cannot rule out the hypothesis that most significant results are false positives. However, the replication rate is 57% and the 95%CI, 45% to 69%, does not include 5%. Thus, some tests tested true hypotheses, but we do not know which ones.

Visual inspection of the plot shows a different distribution than Figure 2. There are more just significant p-values, z = 2.0 to 2.2 and more large z-scores (z > 4). This shows more heterogeneity in power. A comparison of the ODR with the EDR shows that the ODR falls outside the 95%CI of the EDR. This is evidence of publication bias or the use of questionable research practices. One solution to the presence of publication bias is to lower the criterion for statistical significance. As a result, the large number of just significant results is no longer significant and the ODR decreases. This is a post-hoc correction for publication bias. For example, we can lower alpha to .005.

As expected, the ODR decreases considerably from 70% to 39%. In contrast, the EDR increases. The reason is that many questionable research practices produce a pile of just significant p-values. As these values are no longer used to fit the z-curve, it predicts a lot fewer non-significant p-values. The model now underestimates p-values between 2 and 2.2. However, these values do not seem to come from a sampling distribution. Rather they stick out like a tower. By excluding them, the p-values that are still significant with alpha = .005 look more credible. Thus, we can correct for the use of QRPs by lowering alpha and by examining whether these p-values produced interesting discoveries. At the same time, we can ignore the p-values between .05 and .005 and await replication studies to provide empirical evidence whether these hypotheses receive empirical support.

The second example was picked because it was close to the median EDR (33) and ERR (66) in the sample of 200 social psychologists.

The larger sample of tests (k = 1,529) helps to obtain more precise estimates. A comparison of the ODR, 76%, and the 95%CI of the EDR, 12% to 48%, shows that publication bias is present. However, with an EDR of 33%, the maximum FDR is only 11% and the upper limit of the 95%CI is 39%. Thus, we can conclude with confidence that fewer than 50% of the significant results are false positives, however numerous findings might be false positives. Only replication studies can provide this information.

In this example, lowering alpha to .005 did not align the ODR and the EDR. This suggests that these values come from a sampling distribution where non-significant results were not published. Thus, adjusting the there is no simple fix to adjust the significance criterion. In this situation, we can conclude that the published p-values are unlikely to be false positives, but that replication studies are needed to ensure that published significant results are not false positives.

The third example is the social psychologists with the highest EDR. In this case, the EDR is actually a little bit lower than the ODR, suggesting that there is no publication bias. The high EDR also means that the maximum FDR is very small and even the upper limit of the 95%CI is only 7%.

Another advantage of data without publication bias is that it is not necessary to exclude non-significant results from the analysis. Fitting the model to all p-values produces much tighter estimates of the EDR and the maximum FDR.

The upper limit of the 95%CI for the FDR is now 4%. Thus, we conclude that no more than 5% of the p-values less than .05 are false positives. Even p = .02 is unlikely to be a false positive. Finally, the estimated replication rate is 84% with a tight confidence interval ranging from 78% to 90%. Thus, most of the published p-values are expected to replicate in an exact replication study.

I hope these examples make it clear how useful it can be to evaluate single p-values with prior information about the p-values distribution of a lab. As labs differ in their research practices, significant p-values are also different. Only if we ignore the research context and focus on a single result p = .02 equals p = .02. But once we see the broader distribution, p-values of .02 can provide stronger evidence against the null-hypothesis than p-values of .002.


Cohen tried and failed to change the research culture of social psychologists. Meta-psychological articles have puzzled why meta-analyses of power failed to increase power (Maxwell, 2004; Schimmack, 2012; Sedelmeier & Gigerenzer, 1989). Finkel et al. (2015) provided an explanation. In a game where the winner publishes as many significant results as possible, the optimal strategy is to conduct as many studies as possible with low power. This strategy continues to be rewarded in psychology, where jobs, promotions, grants, and pay raises are based on the number of publications. Cohen (1990) said less is more, but that is not true in a science that does not self-correct and treats every p-value less than .05 as a discovery.

To improve psychology as a science, we need to change the incentive structure and author-wise z-curve analyses can do this. Rather than using p < .05 (or p < .005) as a general rule to claim discoveries, claims of discoveries can be adjusted to the research practices of a researchers. As demonstrated here, this will reward researchers who follow Cohen’s rules and punish those who use questionable practices to produce p-values less than .05 (or Bayes-Factors > 3) without evidential value. And maybe, there is a badge for credible p-values one day.

(incomplete) References

Richard, F. D., Bond, C. F., Jr., & Stokes-Zoota, J. J. (2003). One hundred years of social psychology quantitatively described. Review of General Psychology, 7, 331–363.

“Psychological Science” in 2020

Psychological Science is the flagship journal of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). In response to the replication crisis, D. Stephen Lindsay worked hard to increase the credibility of results published in this journal as editor from 2014-2019 (Schimmack, 2020). This work paid off and meta-scientific evidence shows that publication bias decreased and replicability increased (Schimmack, 2020). In the replicability rankings, Psychological Science is one of a few journals that show reliable improvement over the past decade (Schimmack, 2020).

This year, Patricia J. Bauer took over as editor. Some meta-psychologists were concerned that replicability might be less of a priority because she did not embrace initiatives like preregistration (New Psychological Science Editor Plans to Further Expand the Journal’s Reach).

The good news is that these concerns were unfounded. The meta-scientific criteria of credibility did not change notably from 2019 to 2020.

The observed discovery rates were 64% in 2019 and 66% in 2020. The estimated discovery rates were 58% in 2019 and 59%, respectively. Visual inspection of the z-curves and the slightly higher ODR than EDR suggests that there is still some selection for significant result. That is, researchers use so-called questionable research practices to produce statistically significant results. However, the magnitude of these questionable research practices is small and much lower than in 2010 (ODR = 77%, EDR = 38%).

Based on the EDR, it is possible to estimate the maximum false discovery rate (i.e., the percentage of significant results where the null-hypothesis is true). This rate is low with 4% in both years. Even the upper limit of the 95%CI is only 12%. This contradicts the widespread concern that most published (significant) results are false (Ioannidis, 2005).

The expected replication rate is slightly, but not significantly (i.e., it could be just sampling error) lower in 2020 (76% vs. 83%). Given the small risk of a false positive result, this means that on average significant results were obtained with the recommended power of 80% (Cohen, 1988).

Overall, these results suggest that published results in Psychological Science are credible and replicable. However, this positive evaluations comes with a few caveats.

First, null-hypothesis significance testing can only provide information that there is an effect and the direction of the effect. It cannot provide information about the effect size. Moreover, it is not possible to use the point estimates of effect sizes in small samples to draw inferences about the actual population effect size. Often the 95% confidence interval will include small effect sizes that may have no practical significance. Readers should clearly evaluate the lower limit of the 95%CI to examine whether a practically significant effect was demonstrated.

Second, the replicability estimate of 80% is an average. The average power of results that are just significant is lower. The local power estimates below the x-axis suggest that results with z-scores between 2 and 3 (p < .05 & p > .005) have only 50% power. It is recommended to increase sample sizes for follow-up studies.

Third, the local power estimates also show that most non-significant results are false negatives (type-II errors). Z-scores between 1 and 2 are estimated to have 40% average power. It is unclear how often articles falsely infer that an effect does not exist or can be ignored because the test was not significant. Often sampling error alone is sufficient to explain differences between test statistics in the range from 1 to 2 and from 2 to 3.

Finally, 80% power is sufficient for a single focal test. However, with 80% power, multiple focal tests are likely to produce at least one non-significant result. If all focal tests are significant, there is a concern that questionable research practices were used (Schimmack, 2012).

Readers should also carefully examine the results of individual articles. The present results are based on automatic extraction of all statistical tests. If focal tests have only p-values in the range between .05 and .005, the results are less credible than if at least some p-values are below .005 (Schimmack, 2020).

In conclusion, Psychological Science has responded to concerns about a high rate of false positive results by increasing statistical power and reducing publication bias. This positive trend continued in 2020 under the leadership of the new editor Patricia Bauer.

A Meta-Scientific Perspective on “Thinking: Fast and Slow

2011 was an important year in the history of psychology, especially social psychology. First, it became apparent that one social psychologist had faked results for dozens of publications ( Second, a highly respected journal published an article with the incredible claim that humans can foresee random events in the future, if they are presented without awareness ( Third, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman published a popular book that reviewed his own work, but also many findings from social psychology (,_Fast_and_Slow).

It is likely that Kahneman’s book, or at least some of his chapters, would be very different from the actual book, if it had been written just a few years later. However, in 2011 most psychologists believed that most published results in their journals can be trusted. This changed when Bem (2011) was able to provide seemingly credible scientific evidence for paranormal phenomena nobody was willing to believe. It became apparent that even articles with several significant statistical results could not be trusted.

Kahneman also started to wonder whether some of the results that he used in his book were real. A major concern was that implicit priming results might not be replicable. Implicit priming assumes that stimuli that are presented outside of awareness can still influence behavior (e.g., you may have heard the fake story that a movie theater owner flashed a picture of a Coke bottle on the screen and that everybody rushed to the concession stand to buy a Coke without knowing why they suddenly wanted one). In 2012, Kahneman wrote a letter to the leading researcher of implicit priming studies, expressing his doubts about priming results, that attracted a lot of attention (Young, 2012).

Several years later, it has become clear that the implicit priming literature is not trustworthy and that many of the claims in Kahneman’s Chapter 4 are not based on solid empirical foundations (Schimmack, Heene, & Kesavan, 2017). Kahneman acknowledged this in a comment on our work (Kahneman, 2017).

We initially planned to present our findings for all chapters in more detail, but we got busy with other things. However, once in a while I am getting inquires about the other chapters (Engber). So, I am using some free time over the holidays to give a brief overview of the results for all chapters.

The Replicability Index (R-Index) is based on two statistics (Schimmack, 2016). One statistic is simply the percentage of significant results. In a popular book that discusses discoveries, this value is essentially 100%. The problem with selecting significant results from a broader literature is that significance alone, p < .05, does not provide sufficient information about true versus false discoveries. It also does not tell us how replicable a result is. Information about replicability can be obtained by converting the exact p-value into an estimate of statistical power. For example, p = .05 implies 50% power and p = .005 implies 80% power with alpha = .05. This is a simple mathematical transformation. As power determines the probability of a significant result, it also predicts the probability of a successful replication. A study with p = .005 is more likely to replicate than a study with p = .05.

There are two problems with point-estimates of power. One problem is that p-values are highly variable, which also produces high variability / uncertainty in power estimates. With a single p-value, the actual power could range pretty much from the minimum of .05 to the maximum of 1 for most power estimates. This problem is reduced in a meta-analysis of p-values. As more values become available, the average power estimate is closer to the actual average power.

The second problem is that selection of significant results (e.g., to write a book about discoveries) inflates power estimates. This problem can be addressed by comparing the success rate or discovery rate (i.e., the percentage of significant results) with the average power. Without publication bias, the discovery rate should match average power (Brunner & Schimmack, 2020). When publication bias is present, the discovery rate exceeds average power (Schimmack, 2012). Thus, the difference between the discovery rate (in this case 100%) and the average power estimates provides information about the extend of publication bias. The R-Index is a simple correction for the inflation that is introduced by selecting significant results. To correct for inflation the difference between the discovery rate and the average power estimate is subtracted from the mean power estimate. For example, if all studies are significant and the mean power estimate is 80%, the discrepancy is 20%, and the R-Index is 60%. If all studies are significant and the mean power estimate is only 60%, the R-Index is 20%.

When I first developed the R-Index, I assumed that it would be better to use the median (e.g.., power estimates of .50, .80, .90 would produce a median value of .80 and an R-Index of 60. However, the long-run success rate is determined by the mean. For example, .50, .80, .90 would produce a mean of .73, and an R-Index of 47. However, the median overestimates success rates in this scenario and it is more appropriate to use the mean. As a result, the R-Index results presented here differ somewhat from those shared publically in an article by Engber.

Table 1 shows the number of results that were available and the R-Index for chapters that mentioned empirical results. The chapters vary dramatically in terms of the number of studies that are presented (Table 1). The number of results ranges from 2 for chapters 14 and 16 to 55 for Chapter 5. For small sets of studies, the R-Index may not be very reliable, but it is all we have unless we do a careful analysis of each effect and replication studies.

Chapter 4 is the priming chapter that we carefully analyzed (Schimmack, Heene, & Kesavan, 2017).Table 1 shows that Chapter 4 is the worst chapter with an R-Index of 19. An R-Index below 50 implies that there is a less than 50% chance that a result will replicate. Tversky and Kahneman (1971) themselves warned against studies that provide so little evidence for a hypothesis. A 50% probability of answering multiple choice questions correctly is also used to fail students. So, we decided to give chapters with an R-Index below 50 a failing grade. Other chapters with failing grades are Chapter 3, 6, 711, 14, 16. Chapter 24 has the highest highest score (80, wich is an A- in the Canadian grading scheme), but there are only 8 results.

Chapter 24 is called “The Engine of Capitalism”

A main theme of this chapter is that optimism is a blessing and that individuals who are more optimistic are fortunate. It also makes the claim that optimism is “largely inherited” (typical estimates of heritability are about 40-50%), and that optimism contributes to higher well-being (a claim that has been controversial since it has been made, Taylor & Brown, 1988; Block & Colvin, 1994). Most of the research is based on self-ratings, which may inflate positive correlations between measures of optimism and well-being (cf. Schimmack & Kim, 2020). Of course, depressed individuals have lower well-being and tend to be pessimistic, but whether optimism is really preferable over realism remains an open question. Many other claims about optimists are made without citing actual studies.

Even some of the studies with a high R-Index seem questionable with the hindsight of 2020. For example, Fox et al.’s (2009) study of attentional biases and variation in the serotonin transporter gene is questionable because single-genetic variant research is largely considered unreliable today. Moreover, attentional-bias paradigms also have low reliability. Taken together, this implies that correlations between genetic markers and attentional bias measures are dramatically inflated by chance and unlikely to replicate.

Another problem with narrative reviews of single studies is that effect sizes are often omitted. For example, Puri and Robinson’s finding that optimism (estimates of how long you are going to live) and economic risk-taking are correlated is based on a large sample. This makes it possible to infer that there is a relationship with high confidence. A large sample also allows fairly precise estimates of the size of the relationship, which is a correlation of r = .09. A simple way to understand what this correlation means is to think about the increase in predicting in risk taking. Without any predictor, we have a 50% chance for somebody to be above or below the average (median) in risk-taking. With a predictor that is correlated r = .09, our ability to predict risk taking increases from 50% to 55%.

Even more problematic, the next article that is cited for a different claim shows a correlation of r = -.04 between a measure of over-confidence and risk-taking (Busenitz & Barney, 1997). In this study with a small sample (N = 124 entrepreneurs, N = 95 managers), over-confidence was a predictor of being an entrepreneur, z = 2.89, R-Index = .64.

The study by Cassar and Craig (2009) provides strong evidence for hindsight bias, R-Index = 1. Entrepreneurs who were unable to turn a start-up into an operating business underestimated how optimistic they were about their venture (actual: 80%, retrospective: 60%).

Sometimes claims are only loosely related to a cited article (Hmieleski & Baron, 2009). The statement “this reasoning leads to a hypothesis: the people who have the greatest influence on the lives of others are likely to be optimistic and overconfident, and to take more risks than they realize” is linked to a study that used optimism to predict revenue growth and employment growth. Optimism was a negative predictor, although the main claim was that the effect of optimism also depends on experience and dynamism.

A very robust effect was used for the claim that most people see themselves as above average on positive traits (e.g., overestimate their intelligence) (Williams & Gilovich, 2008), R-Index = 1. However, the meaning of this finding is still controversial. For example, the above average effect disappears when individuals are asked to rate themselves and familiar others (e.g., friends). In this case, ratings of others are more favorable than ratings of self (Kim et al., 2019).

Kahneman then does mention the alternative explanation for better-than-average effects (Windschitl et al., 2008). Namely rather than actually thinking that they are better than average, respondents simply respond positively to questions about qualities that they think they have without considering others or the average person. For example, most drivers have not had a major accident and that may be sufficient to say that they are a good driver. They then also rate themselves as better than the average driver without considering that most other drivers also did not have a major accident. R-Index = .92.

So, are most people really overconfident and does optimism really have benefits and increase happiness? We don’t really know, even 10 years after Kahneman wrote his book.

Meanwhile, the statistical analysis of published results has also made some progress. I analyzed all test statistics with the latest version of z-curve (Bartos & Schimmack, 2020). All test-statistics are converted into absolute z-scores that reflect the strength of evidence against the null-hypothesis that there is no effect.

The figure shows the distribution of z-scores. As the book focussed on discoveries most test-statistics are significant with p < .05 (two-tailed, which corresponds to z = 1.96. The distribution of z-scores shows that these significant results were selected from a larger set of tests that produced non-significant results. The z-curve estimate is that the significant results are only 12% of all tests that were conducted. This is a problem.

Evidently, these results are selected from a larger set of studies that produced non-significant results. These results may not even have been published (publication bias). To estimate how replicable the significant results are, z-curve estimates the mean power of the significant results. This is similar to the R-Index, but the R-Index is only an approximate correction for information. Z-curve does properly correct for the selection for significance. The mean power is 46%, which implies that only half of the results would be replicated in exact replication studies. The success rate in actual replication studies is often lower and may be as low as the estimated discovery rate (Bartos & Schimmack, 2020). So, replicability is somewhere between 12% and 46%. Even if half of the results are replicable, we do not know which results are replicable and which one’s are not. The Chapter-based analyses provide some clues which findings may be less trustworthy (implicit priming) and which ones may be more trustworthy (overconfidence), but the main conclusion is that the empirical basis for claims in “Thinking: Fast and Slow” is shaky.


In conclusion, Daniel Kahneman is a distinguished psychologist who has made valuable contributions to the study of human decision making. His work with Amos Tversky was recognized with a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics (APA). It is surely interesting to read what he has to say about psychological topics that range from cognition to well-being. However, his thoughts are based on a scientific literature with shaky foundations. Like everybody else in 2011, Kahneman trusted individual studies to be robust and replicable because they presented a statistically significant result. In hindsight it is clear that this is not the case. Narrative literature reviews of individual studies reflect scientists’ intuitions (Fast Thinking, System 1) as much or more than empirical findings. Readers of “Thinking: Fast and Slow” should read the book as a subjective account by an eminent psychologists, rather than an objective summary of scientific evidence. Moreover, ten years have passed and if Kahneman wrote a second edition, it would be very different from the first one. Chapters 3 and 4 would probably just be scrubbed from the book. But that is science. It does make progress, even if progress is often painfully slow in the softer sciences.

A New Look at the Implicit Revolution

Psychology is not a unified paradigmatic science. That is, it lacks an overarching theory like evolution theory in biology. In a science without an empirically grounded paradigm, progress is made very much like evolution made progress in a process of trial and error. Some ideas may thrive for a moment, but if they are not fruitful, they are discarded. The emergence of a new idea is often characterized as a revolution, and psychology has seen its fair share of revolutions. Behaviorism replaced introspectionism and the cognitive revolution replaced behaviorism. For better or worse, cognitivism is dominating psychology at the moment. The cognitive revolution also had a strong influence on social psychology with the rise of social cognition research.

In the early days, social psychologists focussed on higher cognitive processes like attributions. However, in the 1980s, the implicit revolution shifted focus towards lower cognitive processes that may occur without awareness. This was not the first time, unconscious processes became popular. A special issue in the American Psychologists in 1992 called it the New Look 3 (Greenwald, 1992).

The first look was Freud’s exploration of conscious and unconscious processes. A major hurdle for this first look was conceptual confusion and a lack of empirical support. Puritan academic may also have shied away from the sexual content in Freudian theories (e.g., sexual desire directed at the mother).

However, the second look did try to study many of Freud’s ideas with empirical methods. For example, Silverman and Weinberger (1985) presented the phrase “Mommy and I are one” on a computer screen so quickly that participants were unable to say what they saw. This method is called subliminal priming. The idea was that the unconscious has a longing to be loved by mommy and that presenting this phrase would gratify the unconscious. Numerous studies used the “Mommy and I are one” priming method to see effects on behavior.

Greenwald (1992) reviewed this evidence.

Can subliminal presentations result in cognitive analyses of multiword strings? There have been reports of such effects, especially in association with tests of psychoanalytic hypotheses. The best known of these findings (described as subliminal psychodynamic activation [SPA], using “Mommy and I are One” as the text of a subliminal stimulus; Silverman & Weinberger, 1985) has been identified, on the basis of meta-analysis, as a reproducible phenomenon (Hardaway, 1990; Weinberger & Hardaway, 1990).

Despite this strong evidence, many researchers remain skeptical about the SPA result (see, e.g., the survey reported in Appendix B). Such skepticism is almost certainly due to the lack of widespread enthusiasm for the SPA result’s proposed psychodynamic interpretation (Silverman & Weinberger, 1985).

Because of the positive affective values of words in the critical stimulus (especially Mommy and I) , it is possible that observed effects might be explained by cognitive analysis limited to the level of single words. Some support for that interpretation is afforded by Hardaway’s demonstration (1990, p. 183, Table 3) that other affectively positive strings that include Mommy or One also produce significant effects. However, these other effects are weaker than the effect of the specific string, “Mommy and I are One.”

In summary of evidence from studies of subliminal activation, it is now well established that analysis occurs for stimuli presented at exposure conditions in a region between objective and subjective thresholds; this analysis can extract at least some semantic content of single words.

The New Look 3, however, was less interested in Freudian theory. Most of the influential subliminal priming studies used ordinary stimuli to study common topics in social psychology, including prejudice.

For example, Greenwald (1992) cites Devine’s (1989) highly influential subliminal priming studies with racial stimuli as evidence that “experiments using stimulus conditions that are clearly above objective thresholds (but presumably below subjective thresholds) have obtained semantic activation findings with apparent relative ease” (p. 769).

25 years later, in their Implicit Revolution article, Greenwald and Banaji feature Devine’s influential article.

Patricia Devine’s (1989) dissertation research extended the previously mentioned subliminal priming methods of Bargh and Pietromonaco (1982) to automatic stereotypes. Devine’s article brought attention to the possibility of dissociation between automatic stereotype activation
and controlled inhibition of stereotype expression
” (p. 865).

In short, subliminal priming has played an important role in the implicit revolution. However, subliminal priming is still rare. Most studies use clearly visible stimuli. This is surprising, given the clear advantages of subliminal priming to study unconscious processes. A major concern with stimuli that are presented with awareness is that participants can control their behavior. In contrast, if they are not even aware that a racial stimulus was presented, they have no ability to supress a prejudice response.

Another revolution explains why subliminal studies remain rare despite their obvious advantages. This revolution has been called the credibility revolution, replication revolution, or open science revolution. The credibility revolution started in 2011, after a leading social cognition journal published a controversial article that showed time-reversed subliminal priming effects (Bem, 2011). This article revealed a fundamental problem in the way social psychologists conducted their research. Rather than using experiments to see whether effects exist, they used experiments to accumulate evidence in favor of effects. Studies that failed to show the expected effects were hidden. In the 2010s, it has become apparent that this flawed use of the scientific method has produced large literatures with results that cannot be replicated. A major replication project found that less than 25% of results in social psychological experiments could be replicated (OSC, 2015). Given these results, it is unclear which results provided credible evidence.

Despite these troubling findings, social psychologists continue to cite old studies like Devine’s (1989) study (it was just one study!) as if it provided conclusive evidence for subliminal priming of prejudice. If we need any evidence for Freud’s theory of repression, social psychologists would be a prime example. Through various defense mechanisms they maintain the belief that old findings that were obtained with bad scientific practices provided credible evidence that can inform our understanding of the unconscious.

Here I show that this is wishful thinking. To do so, I conducted a modern meta-analysis of subliminal priming studies. Unlike traditional meta-analysis that do not take publication bias into account, this new method provides a strong test of publication bias and corrects for its effect on the results. While there are several new methods, z-curve has been shown to be superior to other methods (Brunner & Schimmack, 2020).

The figure shows the results. The red line at z = 1.96, corresponds to the significance criterion of .05. It is easy to see that this criterion acts like a censor. Results with z-scores greater than 1.96 (i.e., p < .05) are made public and can enter researchers awareness. Results that are not significant, z < 1.06, are repressed and may linger only in the unconscious of researchers who prefer not to think about their failures.

Statistical evidence of repression is provided by a comparison of the observed discovery rate (i.e., the percentage of published results that are significant) of 90% and the expected discovery rate based on the z-curve model (i.e., the grey curve in the figure) of 13%. Evidently, published results are selected from a much larger number of analyses that failed to support subliminal priming. This clear evidence of selection for significance undermines the credibility of individual studies in the subliminal priming literature.

However, there is some evidence of heterogeneity across studies. This is seen in the increasing numbers below the x-axis. Whereas studies with z-scores below 4, have low average power, studies with z-scores above 4, have a mean power greater than 80%. This suggests that replications of these studies could produce significant results. This information could be used to salvage a few solid findings from a pile of junk findings. Closer examination of these studies is beyond the purpose of this blog post, and Devine’s study is not one of them.

The main point of this analysis is that there is strong scientific evidence to support the claim that subliminal priming researchers did not use the scientific method properly. By selecting only results that support the existence of subliminal priming, they created only illusory evidence in support of subliminal priming. Thirty years after Devine’s (1989) subliminal prejudice study was published, we have no scientific evidence in support of the claim that racial stimuli can bypass consciousness and directly influence behavior.

However, Greenwald and other social psychologists who made a career out of these findings repress the well-known fact that published results in experimental social psychology are not credible and cite them as if they are credible evidence (Greenwald & Banaj, 2017).

Social psychologists are of course very familiar with deception. First, they became famous for deceiving participants (Milgram studies). In 2011, it became apparent that they were deceiving themselves. Now, it seems they are willing to deceive others to avoid facing the inconvenient truth that decades of research have produced no scientific results.

The inability to face ego-threatening information is of course not new to psychologists. Freud studied defense mechanisms and social psychologists studied cognitive biases and motivated reasoning. Right now, this trait is on display in Donald Trump and his supporters inability to face the fact that he lost an election. It is ironic that social psychologists have the same inability when their own egos are on the line.

Research Opportunity Program 2020: Preliminary Results

Every year, some of our best undergraduate students apply to work with professors on their research projects for one year. For several years, I have worked with students to examine the credibility of psychological science. After an intensive crash course in statistics, students code published articles. The biggest challenge for them and everybody else is to find the critical statistical test that supports the main conclusion of the article. Moreover, results are often not reported sufficiently (e.g., effect sizes without sampling error or exact p-values). For students it is a good opportunity to see why good understanding of statistics is helpful in reading original research articles.

One advantage of my ROP is that it is based on secondary data. Thus, the Covid-19 pandemic didn’t impede the project. In fact, it probably helped me to get a larger number of students. In addition, zoom made it easy to meet with students to discuss critical articles one on one.

The 2020 ROP team has 13 members:
Sara Al-Omani
Samanvita Bajpai
Nidal Chaudhry
Yeshoda Harry-Paul
Nouran Hashem
Memoona Maah
Andrew Sedrak
Dellannia Segreti
Yashika Shroff
Brook Tan
Ze Yearwood
Maria Zainab
Xinyu Zhu

The main aim of the project is to get a sense of the credibility of psychological research across the diverse areas of psychology. The reason is that actual replication initiatives have focussed mostly on social and cognitive psychology where recruitment of participants is easy and studies are easy to do (Open Science Collaboration, 2015). Despite concerns about other areas, actual replication projects are lacking due to the huge costs involved. A statistical approach has the advantage that credibility can also be assessed by simply examining the strength of evidence (signal/noise) ratio in published articles.

The team started with coding articles from 2010, the year just before the replication crisis started. The journals represent a broad range of areas in psychology with an emphasis on clinical psychology because research in clinical psychology has the most direct practical implications.

Addictive Behaviors
Cognitive Therapy and Research
Journal of Anxiety Disorders
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Journal of Counseling Psychology
Journal of Applied Psychology
Behavioural Neuroscience
Child Development
Social Development

The test statistics are converted into z-scores as a common metric to reflect the strength of evidence against the null-hypothesis. These z-scores are then analyzed with z-curve (Bartos & Schimmack, 2020; Brunner & Schimmack, 2020).

The figure and statistical results are similar to results in social psychology (Schimmack, 2020). First, the graph shows the well-known practice in psychology to publish mostly successful studies; that is, statistically significant results with p < .05 (z > 1.96) (Sterling, 1959). Here, the observed discovery rate is 88%, but the actual discovery rate is even higher because marginally signifcant results (p < .10, z > 1.65) are also often interpreted as sufficient evidence to reject the null-hypothesis.

In comparison, the estimated discovery rate is much lower at 33%. The discrepancy between the observed and expected discovery provides clear evidence that questionable research practices (QRPs, John et al., 2012; Schimmack, 2014). QRPs are research practices that increase the chances of reporting a statistically significant result, including selective reporting of significant results or highlighting significant results as discoveries (Kerr et al., 1998). The presence of QRPs in psychological research in 2010 is expected, but information about the extent of QRPs is lacking. Z-curve suggests that there is massive use of QRPs to boost actual success rates of 33% to nearly perfect success rate in published articles. This has important implication for replication attempts. If reported results are selected to be significant from results with low power, replication studies have a low probability of being significant again.

However, the chance of a replication of a significant result in the original studies, depends on the mean power of the studies with significant results and selection for significance also increases the actual power of studies (Brunner & Schimmack, 2020). The reason is that studies with higher power have a higher chance to produce significant results even without QRPs. The z-curve estimate of the expected replication rate is 52%. This would suggest that ever second study could be successfully replicated. The problem with this estimate is that it assumes that exact replications are possible. However, psychological studies are difficult or impossible to replicate exactly. This may explain why the expected replication rate is higher than the success rate in actual replication studies (cf. Bartos & Schimmack, 2020). For actual replication studies, the expected discovery rate seems to be a better predictor.

In conclusion, the results for clinical psychology and other areas of psychology are similar to those for social psychology (Schimmack, 2020). This is consistent with a comparison of disciplines based on automatic extraction of all test statistics rather than hand-coding of focal hypothesis tests (Schimmack, 2020).

In the upcoming semester (aptly called the winter semester in Canada), the team will code articles from 2019 to see whether a decade of soul searching about research practices in psychology has produced notable changes. There are two possibilities. On the one hand, journals could have become more accepting of non-significant results leading to more publications of non-significant results (i.e., a decrease in the observed discovery rate). On the other hand, journals may have asked for a priori power analysis and bigger sample sizes to reduce sampling error to produce stronger evidence against the null-hypothesis (i.e., an increase in the expected discovery rate).

Stay tuned and check in again in May.

Once a p-hacker, always a p-hacker?

The 2010s have seen a replication crisis in social psychology (Schimmack, 2020). The main reason why it is difficult to replicate results from social psychology is that researchers used questionable research practices (QRPs, John et al., 2012) to produce more significant results than their low-powered designs warranted. A catchy term for these practices is p-hacking (Simonsohn, 2014).

New statistical techniques made it possible to examine whether published results were obtained with QRPs. In 2012, I used the incredibility index to show that Bem (2011) used QRPs to provide evidence for extrasensory perception (Schimmack, 2012). In the same article, I also suggested that Gailliot, Baumeister, DeWall, Maner, Plant, Tice, and Schmeichel, (2007) used QRPs to present evidence that suggested will-power relies on blood glucose levels. During the review process of my manuscript, Baumeister confirmed that QRPs were used (cf. Schimmack, 2014). Baumeister defended the use of these practices with a statement that the use of these practices was the norm in social psychology and that the use of these practices was not considered unethical.

The revelation that research practices were questionable casts a shadow on the history of social psychology. However, many also saw it as an opportunity to change and improve these practices (Świątkowski and Dompnier, 2017). Over the past decades, the evaluation of QRPs has changed. Many researchers now recognize that these practices inflate error rates, make published results difficult to replicate, and undermine the credibility of psychological science (Lindsay, 2019).

However, there are no general norms regarding these practices and some researchers continue to use them (e.g., Adam D. Galinsky, cf. Schimmack, 2019). This makes it difficult for readers of the social psychological literature to identify research that can be trusted or not, and the answer to this question has to be examined on a case by case basis. In this blog post, I examine the responses of Baumeister, Vohs, DeWall, and Schmeichel to the replication crisis and concerns that their results provide false evidence about the causes of will-power (Friese, Loschelder , Gieseler , Frankenbach & Inzlicht, 2019; Inzlicht, 2016).

To examine this question scientifically, I use test-statistics that are automatically extracted from psychology journals. I divide the test-statistics into those that were obtained until 2012, when awareness about QRPs emerged, and those published after 2012. The test-statistics are examined using z-curve (Brunner & Schimmack, 2019; Bartos & Schimmack, 2020). Results provide information about the expected replication rate and discovery rate. The use of QRPs is examined by comparing the observed discovery rate (how many published results are significant) to the expected discovery rate (how many tests that were conducted produced significant results).

Roy F. Baumeister’s replication rate was 60% (53% to 67%) before 2012 and 65% (57% to 74%) after 2012. The overlap of the 95% confidence intervals indicates that this small increase is not statistically reliable. Before 2012, the observed discovery rate was 70% and it dropped to 68% after 2012. Thus, there is no indication that non-significant results are reported more after 2012. The expected discovery rate was 32% before 2012 and 25% after 2012. Thus, there is also no change in the expected discovery rate and the expected discovery rate is much lower than the observed discovery rate. This discrepancy shows that QRPs were used before 2012 and after 2012. The 95%CI do not overlap before and after 2012, indicating that this discrepancy is statistically significant. Figure 1 shows the influence of QRPs when the observed non-significant results (histogram of z-scores below 1.96 in blue) is compared to the model prediction (grey curve). The discrepancy suggests a large file drawer of unreported statistical tests.

An old saying is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So, the more interesting question is whether the younger contributors to the glucose paper changed their research practices.

The results for C. Nathan DeWall show no notable response to the replication crisis (Figure 2). The expected replication rate increased slightly from 61% to 65%, but the difference is not significant and visual inspection of the plots suggests that it is mostly due to a decrease in reporting p-values just below .05. One reason for this might be a new goal to p-hack at least to the level of .025 to avoid detection of p-hacking by p-curve analysis. The observed discovery rate is practically unchanged from 68% to 69%. The expected discovery rate increased only slightly from 28% to 35%, but the difference is not significant. More important, the expected discovery rates are significantly lower than the observed discovery rates before and after 2012. Thus, there is evidence that DeWall used questionable research practices before and after 2012, and there is no evidence that he changed his research practices.

The results for Brandon J. Schmeichel are even more discouraging (Figure 3). Here the expected replication rate decreased from 70% to 56%, although this decrease is not statistically significant. The observed discovery rate decreased significantly from 74% to 63%, which shows that more non-significant results are reported. Visual inspection shows that this is particularly the case for test-statistics close to zero. Further inspection of the article would be needed to see how these results are interpreted. More important, The expected discovery rates are significantly lower than the observed discovery rates before 2012 and after 2012. Thus, there is evidence that QRPs were used before and after 2012 to produce significant results. Overall, there is no evidence that research practices changed in response to the replication crisis.

The results for Kathleen D. Vohs also show no response to the replication crisis (Figure 4). The expected replication rate dropped slightly from 62% to 58%; the difference is not significant. The observed discovery rate dropped slightly from 69% to 66%, and the expected discovery rate decreased from 43% to 31%, although this difference is also not significant. Most important, the observed discovery rates are significantly higher than the expected discovery rates before 2012 and after 2012. Thus, there is clear evidence that questionable research practices were used before and after 2012 to inflate the discovery rate.


After concerns about research practices and replicability emerged in the 2010s, social psychologists have debated this issue. Some social psychologists changed their research practices to increase statistical power and replicability. However, other social psychologists have denied that there is a crisis and attributed replication failures to a number of other causes. Not surprisingly, some social psychologists also did not change their research practices. This blog post shows that Baumeister and his students have not changed research practices. They are able to publish questionable research because there has been no collective effort to define good research practices and to ban questionable practices and to treat the hiding of non-significant results as a breach of research ethics. Thus, Baumeister and his students are simply exerting their right to use questionable research practices, whereas others voluntarily implemented good, open science, practices. Given the freedom of social psychologists to decide which practices they use, social psychology as a field continuous to have a credibility problem. Editors who accept questionable research in their journals are undermining the credibility of their journal. Authors are well advised to publish in journals that emphasis replicability and credibility with open science badges and with a high replicability ranking (Schimmack, 2019).