“Do you think the research is sound or is it gimmicky pop science?”


David Nguyen writes:

I wanted to get your opinion on http://www.scienceofpeople.com/. Do you think the research is sound or is it gimmicky pop science?

My reply: I have no idea. But since I see no evidence on the website, I’ll assume it’s pseudoscience until I hear otherwise. I won’t believe it until it has the endorsement of Susan T. Fiske.

P.S. Oooh, that Fiske slam was so unnecessary, you say. But she still hasn’t apologized for falling asleep on the job and greenlighting himmicanes, air rage, and ages ending in 9.

25 thoughts on ““Do you think the research is sound or is it gimmicky pop science?”

    • So being pictured with Amy Cuddy is cause for suspicion? By all means call out junk science, but as academics, let’s do so by engaging in rigorous, substantive criticism, not McCarthy-era guilty by association reasoning. Stuff like this really lowers the standards of discourse and evaluation of this blog.

  1. I think it’s really unfortunate that you’re not giving this incredible research the attention it deserves simply because you couldn’t look past your biases if the right people haven’t endorsed it. Having looked at the page, it seems like this research should be a model for others to aspire to, I read it very skeptically, but the conclusions are just airtight.

    For example, I’ve always had a problem giving a good presentation, and reading this it became absolutely clear why:

    “The more hand gestures, the more successful the talk. There was a direct correlation between the number of views on a TED talk and the number of hand gestures.

    The bottom TED talks had an average of 124,000 views and used an average of 272 hand gestures during the 18 minute talk. The top TED talks had an average of 7,360,000 views and used an average of 465 hand gestures—that’s almost double!

    Bottom Line: To be a good speaker, let your hands do the talking.”

    I just need more hand gestures. The correlation makes it clear that you can never have to many hand gestures. Imagine how many views you could get with 930 gestures! Also , there is this:

    “TED talkers spend so much time and energy on what to say–the words, the script, the bullets. But is how they say it more important? We found that there was no difference in ratings between people who watched talks on mute and people who watched talks with sound. Yes, you read that correctly:

    People liked the speakers just as much with sound as on mute.”

    I am just talking too much! Scientifically, this proves that it’s more important to focus on gesturing and not getting distracted by sounding out words.

    • This is too good to be true; thank you!

      From farther down:

      “Small, But Interesting:
      We only examined 50 TED talks for these patterns, but it proved interesting nonetheless:

      People in casual clothing typically rated lower than people in business or business casual.
      Women who wore business clothing got higher ratings compared to men in business clothing (not casual or business casual).
      Speakers in darker colors got higher ratings than those in lighter colors.”

      I’m disappointed they didn’t use clothing color to estimate the effect of ovulation on speaker ratings.

      • Ben:

        Don’t be silly! Recent peer-reviewed research shows that the ovulation and clothing relationship is moderated by outdoor temperature. And the fat arms and political attitudes relationship is moderated by parental socioeconomic status. And the ovulation and voting relationship is moderated by relationship status. So there’s really no point in studying any of these things without also accounting for all three of these crucial confounders. Also there’s the priming effect.

    • I’m afraid I am now damaged beyond repair. The science of people link: I actually can’t tell if it is a joke or not! I think I need help. Please.

  2. As a shy person, I could give the best TED talk ever. I wouldn’t say a word, just wave my hands around. And smile a lot.

    Does this Vanessa van Edwards have any research credentials whatsoever?

    • Oh yes, she does! She is “a human behavior hacker”. So please, it’s not Vanessa van Edwards, but Vanessa van Edwards H.b.H.
      She is also a humanitarian: She will teach you lie detection in 100 minutes, for just $100. No need for tools like you p-curves, etc.

      Yup, that’s it. The course is just $100. Not only will you add Human Lie Detection as a skill in your arsenal, you can learn it right now!

      The course is completely virtual—take it anytime, anywhere.
      As soon as you hit the buy button you get instant access to all the videos and workbook. You could literally adopt this skill before your next meal.
      You have lifetime access—the videos will never go away. You can log in and re-watch as many times as you like!

  3. Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia really would be the ultimate TED speaker. I bet he could power pose for a full 10 minutes without boundary conditions setting in.

  4. I was rapidly skimming through when this jumped out at me:

    “Entertainment + Education = Edutainment (I love to make up words)”

    Does this mean that she believes she coined the word “edutainment”? That suggests a certain lack of awareness of the world around her.

  5. Maybe I’m wrong here as I didn’t look deeply into the site, but the comments here seem a little on the harsh side. This site isn’t an academic communication. She’s marketing packaged proscriptions mined from the academic literature and encouraging applying (informal?) experimentation to your interpersonal relationships. Hey, maybe the academic lit is wrong, but that’s our fault.

    It would be one thing if her primary role was as an academic researcher, but she’s closer to a marketer/consultant.

    • The TED talk advice is all based on research she carried out and apparently never published anywhere that I can find. (The site says “We set out to answer this question with one of our first crowd-sourced Citizen Science projects. Over the last year, we had 760 volunteers rate hundreds of hours of TED talks looking for patterns.”)

      The only things I see being promoted are her business, herself, and pseudoscience. Her take away messages are much clearer and more practical than what you find in real science on the subject, so unsuspecting people will prefer it to the real thing if it gets no criticism.

      • I’m with you on the “research.” You can’t really call it research when you only vaguely describe the methods and results in passing and it is a bit misleading to use the term investigator, which has a lot of specific academic connotations. She should really do a quick 538 style post on the TED talks and post the code/data.

        That said, it just seems to me that it is so clearly trying to be a pop marketing site that I have a hard time judging it by the standards of science. It just seem like we are a lot harder on this than say someone who thinks snapping on ridiculous nose clips is good for your health ( http://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2010/03/14/clippin_it/ ).

        • The problem is that she calls it science insistently and repeatedly–and apparently gets rewarded for doing so. I have no idea how she got a Portfolio book deal, but I imagine it had something to do with selling her work as scientific (or at least scientifically grounded). If she called it “pop science” or “pop psychology” (or just “advice”), there would be no misrepresentation here. But “science” this is not–until she publishes her studies and demonstrates their validity.

  6. You can tell the website is bullshit after taking a cursory glance at it. Anything that uses the words “secret sauce” is likely going to be pseudoscience.

    Also: As a thoroughly disillusioned social psych PhD student, I find your slams on Fiske to be hilarious—albeit dickish.

  7. By the way, she is a member of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. Is that [Certified Fraud] Examiner (an examiner who is a certified fraud) or Certified [Fraud Examiner] (a fraud examiner who is certified)? Her ideas are certainly certifiable.

  8. This type of con reminds me of foodbabe. Something about beaver poo being in ice cream or something like that. Did foodbabe ever make it to TED. She deserves her 18 minites of hand gesturing there.

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