A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Psychchology Awards, November 2012

Previously I mentioned my long-unfulfilled plan to give monthly awards to papers that struck me as odd in top journals. CM made a great comment asking for clarification about my choices, and I tried to explain. I'm gonna give a shot at it for this month's journals in the last day of the month, with the hope to clarify the game, and encourage others to join in. Feel free to suggest other awards, and share things from other venues.

Most absurd - This category can be for outright absurdity in the claimed methods, results, or conclusions. Alternatively, it can be something that is merely absurd to find in an ultra-elite journal, either because it is oddly narrow, boringly mundane, or painfully expected. Any other reason you can think of to find an article absurd is allowed, but those are the most common reasons.

For this month I vote for:
Is TV Traumatic for All Youths? The Role of Preexisting Posttraumatic-Stress Symptoms in the Link Between Disaster Coverage and Stress 
This is absurd because the answer to the initial question is so obviously "no". It is utterly uninteresting and unsurprising to find that there are differences between how different youth respond to potentially traumatic TV.  Of course there are. Their more detailed result is also mundane and expected. Children who had been traumatized by a particular type of event were more affected by TV coverage of exactly the same type of event. Uhm.... yeah....

Most incoherent title - It is amazing how many titles in top journals either a) make no sense in and of themselves, b) suggest something that clearly cannot be what was tested, c) cannot be interpreted in a way that might possibly be true, or d) are simply vacuous, either by saying very little or saying it in jargon inaccessible to a typical reader.

For this month I vote for:
Influence in Times of Crisis: How Social and Financial Resources Affect Men’s and Women’s Evaluations of Glass-Cliff Position
This title tells the reader almost nothing about what was done, why it was done, or what was found. The first part can be interpreted in so many ways it isn't funny - are they studying influences on participants or influences of participants? What type of crisis? What scale of time? We then find out that they looked at social and financial resources (two mindbogglingly large categories) on people's "evaluations"... a terribly ambiguous term in its own right. I'd also be fascinated to know how many psychologists know what a "glass-cliff position" is off the top of their heads (I sure didn't). Having read the abstract and skimmed the article, a more informative title might have been something like:
When deciding between leadership jobs in organizations in crisis, women are sensitive to employee approval, men are sensitive to levels of cash on hand.

Note: Neither article above was criticized for its science... though that certainly could (and has) happened when selecting awardees. I personally didn't see anything too bad this month.

Coolest article - This wasn't part of the game officially, but I have two winners for this month. I already mentioned Karen Adolph's study of infant walking, and I'll add:

Most Reported Genetic Associations With General Intelligence Are Probably False Positives 
In this article, a really big crew of authors looked at a boatload of genes proposed to be associated with general intelligence. They tried to replicate previous findings that 12 candidate genes correlated with "g", using three very large longitudinal data sets. They found 1 "nominally significant" finding, when an initial power analysis suggested they should find 10-15. Just to be safe, the confirmed several tried to confirm genetic correlates of other phenomena, such as Alzheimer's, and those all worked out. Conclusion: Connecting individual genes with psychological phenomenon works perfectly well, but most reported associations with general intelligence are probably false. Rock on.

Honorable mention goes to the entire issue of Perspectives in Psychological Science. This stops me from having to pick an absolute favorite out of that. 


So, anyone else want to play? What are your suggestions (for awards and/or winners)? Since this is the first time I've really done this, feel free to reach back to recent months, if there was anything that particularly annoyed you. (I can already guess Andrew Wilson's vote.) Also, feel free to take issue with my selections... discussion is good.


  1. Thanks for the honorable mention for the November Perspectives on Psychological Science topic of Replicability and Research Practices. It's open access to all !

  2. Yes, yes! Given that many of the readers on this blog are big open-access proponents, that should be another point in favor of the Perspectives issue.

    As many know, in addition to the very serious stuff, they also got what is probably the first academic publication for a blog pseudonym, and they ended with a brilliant, and crisis-relevant, skewering of the DSMV.

  3. Not sure which category this comes under, but I'd probably opt for "coolest" as it uses a bit of humour to highlight some potential issues in publication bias.

    What is the most interesting part of the brain?

    "Creative ideas and rigorous analysis are the hallmarks of much impactful science. However, there is an oft-aired
    suspicion in the neuroscience community that some scientists start with an advantage, simply because of the brain region or behaviour they study. We tested this unstated hypothesis by regressing the journal impact factor against both the pattern of brain activity and the experimental keywords across thousands of brain imaging studies. We found the results to be illuminating."

    The acknowledgements section is great:

    We would like to thank Karla Miller for sleeping late one morning, leaving Tim and Steve a bit bored; and Saad Jbabdi for making the brains look pretty."