Letter to the Editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science

[relevant cat picture]

tl;dr: Himmicane in a teacup.

Back in the day, the New Yorker magazine did not have a Letters to the Editors column, and so the great Spy magazine (the Gawker of its time) ran its own feature, Letters to the Editor of the New Yorker, where they posted the letters you otherwise would never see.

Here on this blog we can start a new feature, Letters to the Editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science, which will feature corrections that this journal refuses to print.

Here’s our first entry:

“In the article, ‘Going in Many Right Directions, All at Once,’ published in this journal, the author wrote, “some critics go beyond scientific argument and counterargument to imply that the entire field is inept and misguided (e.g., Gelman, 2014; Shimmack [sic], 2014).’ However, this article provided no evidence that either Gelman or Schimmack ever wrote anything implying that the entire field is inept and misguided, nor has there anywhere else been provided any evidence that Gelman or Schimmack have implied such a claim. The journal regrets publishing this statement which was given without any evidence or support.”

The background is that a few days ago I learned about this article through a blog comment. I followed the above references and found zero examples of either Schimmack (that’s the correct spelling of his name) or me implying that the entire field of psychology, or social psychology, is inept and misguided. Which makes sense because I’ve never believed, said, or implied such a thing.

What Schimmack and I have in common is that we both state that some published work in psychology is of low quality. The author of the above-mentioned article seems to be equating criticisms of some papers with statements about “the entire field.” That is a mistake on the author’s part: it is possible to criticize some published work while holding high respect for other work in that field.

I really wish I’d never been alerted to that article, but once I had, I couldn’t un-see it. I don’t usually write letters to journal editors, but when someone directly mischaracterizes my writings and that of others, this bothers me, and in this case I sent off an email which, after some exchanges, resulted in my proposing the above correction note. The editor of the journal and the chair of the publications board of the Association for Psychological Science responded to me refusing to run this or any other correction. They characterized the offending statement not as a “factual error” but rather as a “matter of opinion,” and they argued that a correction would be impossible because you can’t correct an opinion.

I wonder why a scientific journal would want to devote its space to unrefutable statements of opinion, but that’s another story.

It’s a good thing I can post the correction here. Not as good as putting it online with the offending journal article, but we’ll do what we can do. I have other problems with the article in question, but I won’t get into them right now, as my focus here is on this specific correction that the journal refused to run.

I’ll let you know if I hear anything else from the Association for Psychological Science. In my last communication from them, I was told I had the option to “to write an editorial of your own [for the journal] and have that peer reviewed.” That’s fine, I guess—although I have zero trust in the journal’s peer review, given that they let through the whopper in that article—but in the meantime I think the journal editors should just correct the damn error themselves, as they’re the people who published that article. As it is, they’re doing that thing-that-is-morally-equivalent-to-lying: they’re intentionally perpetuating a misrepresentation of what Schimmack and I have written.

Giving me (or, I suppose, Schimmack, once they can figure out how to spell his name) the opportunity to submit an article to Perspectives on Psychological Science is fine—actually, I’ve published three articles in that journal already—but there’s no reason that should stop them from fixing their errors and running a correction immediately. To put it another way, if I don’t publish a new article with that correction in their journal, then the errors are ok? They’re the ones who published the false claim; really it should bother them more than me.

The whole thing is just bizarre, the attitude that they will only correct an error when they’re absolutely forced to do so.

It’s as if, for the Association for Psychological Science, the public perception of truth is more important than truth itself.

But here’s the news from the chair of the APS publications board:

[The journal editor] will not be publishing an Editor’s note on this topic and further requests for such an Editor’s note will not be productive.

I’ve omitted the names of the journal editor and board member here, not because they are secret—all this information is easy to find on the web—but because I assume they’re acting in an institutional capacity, so it doesn’t really matter who they are. I’ll take them at their word that they do not have the authority to correct errors that have appeared in their own publication. Too bad, that. If I were ever in such a position, I’d resign my position as journal editor, or chair of the publications board, immediately. Or I’d run the correction and let the publication board fire me.

38 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science

  1. They characterized the offending statement not as a “factual error” but rather as a “matter of opinion,” and they argued that a correction would be impossible because you can’t correct an opinion.

    What nonsense! An opinion would be “We believe Gelman and others go too far in their criticisms.” Claiming that you and others have implied that the entire field is inept and misguided is a factual claim.

  2. My response was posted on the facebook group that Schimmack is a moderator of.

    ” What?? I follow the Gelman blog every day, and I don’t see Gelman ever ridiculing the entire field of psychology. He *does* say that many claims are preposterous, and the claims are driven largely by poor statistical understanding and incoherent logic. E.g., he makes a point that too many, usually high-ranking and senior, psychologists 1) ignore measurement error 2) ignore that in low-power, high noise situations [which is a large chunk of ‘sexy’ psychology], estimates are necessarily highly overestimated when paired with a significance filter and 3) it’s implausible to live in a world or even conduct research in a universe with large implicit effects and interactions, because every single thing participants do would be purportedly strongly influenced by any little thing in their environment, yet noone takes this into consideration — That is, if colors, menstrual cycles, weather, subtle wordings all jointly influence behavior to the same large effects that senior psychologists report, then humans would be acting so inconsistently, so conditionally, and so variably that no studies could actually detect other important effects of interest, and yet they do; his argument is just that we can’t actually exist in a universe where these subtle effects are as strong as claimed, and instead these large estimates are more probably either total errors or massive type-M errors.

    His criticisms have never really been against 99.9% of psychologists, just the very few studies that have sexy titles and bad statistics, with bad inferences, that make headlines and get TED talks because of their sheer surprise factor. I’ve never been offended by Gelman, to be honest, because he’s correct. He doesn’t slander the entire field, he just points out questionable practices and problematic inferences that are made by a few notable psychologists. Why is this a bad thing? He backs it up in his blog, in his papers, in simulations, etc. It’s not like ad-hominem or anything.”

    Forgive me while I go to the hospital to treat the concussion I gave myself from facepalming so hard and so often at current APA and APS practices.

  3. Perhaps you should write an article that is nothing more than several hundred statements of your own opinions.

    When they reject the paper, cite the rejection as evidence that indeed, statements of opinion can be critiqued by their own editorial process.

  4. You do often seem to imply that entire journals (but not the entire field) are inept and misguided. Consider this post of yours, in which you quote someone’s criticism of a paper, and add:

    “My reply: Psychological Science, published in 2011? That says it all.”

    Doesn’t it imply that everything written in that journal in that year is inept and misguided? You’ve said similar things about PPNAS. Is it so surprising people are drawing the conclusions they are–even to the extent of expanding a snarky comment about one journal in one year to more journals and more years?

    • Rjb:

      I think it’s too bad that the author of that article wrote something false about Schimmack and me; I think it’s unfortunate that the error was not caught by the reviewers, and I think it’s disgraceful that the journal and the society have no interest in correcting the error.

      I don’t really care whether or not it is “surprising” that someone made a false statement about my writings. I care a lot more that the journal editor doesn’t seem to care that they’re lying about what others have written.

      To put it another way: In a journal article you’re supposed to provide evidence of your claims. As I wrote in the above correction notice, no evidence was ever presented in support of that ridiculous claim about my writing. It was an evidence-free claim which, bizarrely, the journal editor refused to correct on the grounds that it was an opinion and thus uncheckable.

      And, no, saying that one particular journal published a lot of bad papers a few years ago is not the same as saying that the entire field is inept or misguided.

      • I can see why you are upset, and don’t want to defend either the article or the journal. But as a regular reader of this blog, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conclude that you don’t see much worthwhile in psychology, even post-2011. You don’t say this explicitly, but it comes through pretty strongly by <a href = "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicature"implicature (your choice of what to say and not say, the “speech act”). You find plenty of space to criticize not only individual papers, but entire journals, editors and approaches to psychology, and I can’t remember a post that with the gist “here’s someone doing psychology right.”

        You have lots of possible responses to this: you get to write what you want, it’s more valuable to criticize bad research, miscreants should be called out, and so on. I don’t disagree with any of that, but it isn’t surprising to me that people assume that your choice of topics to cover and not cover leads people to the conclusion that psychology as a field is inept and misguided, even though it isn’t part of your explicature (the explicit content of what you say when you choose to speak).

        Personally, I would find it extremely valuable to read posts by you pointing out examples where people are doing psychology well, since I find it easier to learn from good examples than bad ones. Maybe you’ve written them and I’ve forgotten them. It’s easier to remember scathing reviews than positive ones!

        • Rjb:

          1. Statements published in scientific journals should be based on evidence. The article in question made a strong claim about my writing and supplied zero evidence, only a link to a post in which I never implied what was claimed. It’s their job to provide evidence for that claim.

          2. I often write about psychology research without implying it’s incompetent or whatever. For example this and this and this and this—and that’s just going back to May 2017. I collaborate with psychologists, I’ve written papers for psychology journals, I’ve given talks in psychology departments, the whole thing. I hold psychology to the same high standards that I hold political science, economics, sociology, etc.

        • Rjb: I understand where you’re coming from in that I expect many individuals who feel implicated in some of Gelman’s criticisms are predictably going to dismiss all of his work as overly critical and anti-psychology. I think the difference here is that the authors make this claim and cite work that does not support the claim. Regardless of the veracity of the claim, it’s an error, the same as it would have been to cite this post as a reference for the type-M / type-S error concept.

        • I have to disagree with the last statement. Referencing this post as evidence for type M/S errors is a decidedly different error. Since Andrew has written several articles about type M/S errors, this could just be a case of referencing the wrong evidence. The problem that led to this post is someone stating that someone else made an extremely strong claim and providing no evidence to support it because there is no evidence of its existence (as best we all know). This is essentially fabrication or as Kelly Ann Conway likes to call it, an “Alternative Fact.”

    • Even if we grant that some of Andrew’s more flippant remarks, taken without context, could seem to suggest to someone who doesn’t know better that he feels an entire field (or sub-field, or journal) is “inept and misguided”, there’s still the matter of what Fiske chose to cite in her commentary:


      I just read it. I have no idea what it is she’s referring to. My guess is that she has it in her head that Andrew looks down upon psychology as a discipline, and so she searched around through the blog a bit until she found an entry that had a provocative sounding headline, and cited it.

      For me, this is another example of the low bar she’s using to identify the “uncivil” “personal attacks” that she feels is plaguing the Open Science movement and creating a “chilling, hostile work environment”. I read her article for Perspectives (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1745691617706506) and I can’t find much to disagree with, at least on its face. She says we shouldn’t have bullying and personal attacks in scientific criticism, and just about everyone would agree with her. But she never identifies cases of bullying that actually look like bullying. She talks about the emails she’s received, and all the people who have thanked her for speaking up, but where are the clear cases of bullying that can be pointed to as examples? She had a chance to cite them here, and she passed.

      And similarly with her belief that Andrew and Ulrich Schimmack are calling the whole field of psychology “inept and misguided”. For Schimmack she cites the main page of R Index, and the closest thing to a slam on psychology I can find there is this:

      “Rewarding highly replicable research findings would benefit psychological science because it would reduce wasteful research that aims to build on prior studies that are unlikely to replicate.”

      Yikes! Obviously we can’t allow this sort of unfiltered trash talk to continue, lest the bonds of trust and mutual respect upon which the productivity of science depends be irredeemably severed.

      In this case, she had a chance to back up her belief that Andrew is out to shame all of psychology, and she chose to cite the above blog post. And that speaks volumes.

  5. Maybe they (APS and others) should consider that there are, in fact, a large number of psychologists and related professions who follow this and other fora precisely BECAUSE you raise issues that are not acknowledged or, it appears, allowed to be held in these journals. The discussions here are held because you believe that the profession and practitioners can do better, want to do better and ought not to be held back by self-indulgent Luddite egoists. Brilliant idea to have the Letters to Editor on Perspectives on Psychological Science (LOVE+++ the acronym!)

  6. Science lives off criticism and it seems like a lot of people just can’t handle it (and at least as many are giving it in a bad way).
    Of course people are passionate about their work, but if someone criticizes my work I’m generally grateful, even if the opposing point of view is absolutely bonkers.

    Maybe this is just the reason for most of this trouble. My general view of the world around me usually feels most reasonable, and it is difficult to imagine why anyone would think otherwise. The problem is that everyone feels this way, and together with a vastly different personal experiences people have trouble understanding each other.

    The author in the article didn’t understand Andrew either and got under the impression that the entire field is inept and misguided. What I guess happened is that the journal editor put focus on the author’s wording as he said Andrew implied something, which depends more on the author’s interpretation than on an actual statement.

    The denial to print a small correction (even along the lines of “Andrew Gelman clarified that this was not the intended message”) is obviously silly and the snarky remark of further requests not being productive wasn’t necessary either.

    • Greg:

      Maybe they could have a journal, Perspectives on Perspectives on Psychological Science, which would publish papers exploring how it is that the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science thinks it’s ok to publish ridiculous and false statements and then refuse to correct them?

  7. Here’s another line from Fiske’s article:

    “My call for civility in tone has been mistaken for a rejection of improved methods of open science. That interpretation is wrong, often going hand-in-hand with impugning my (and other people’s) motives (search the Gelman or Schimmack blogs for my name; I prefer not to rehash the personal attacks).”

    I went to Schimmack’s blog and searched for “Fiske”. Her name only comes up in one place, the “Replicability Review of 2016”. The closest thing to a “personal attack” is this:

    “By trying to paint critics of the establishment as terrorists, Fiske tried to dismiss criticism of established psychology without having to engage with the substantive arguments why psychology is in crisis.”

    Ok, so this is strong criticism and it does make a statement about her motives (in addition to a statement of fact, but I guess Fiske has every right to abstain on the substantive arguments in question if she so chooses). But as far as alleged personal attacks go it is pretty tame, and certainly doesn’t hold a candle to “methodological terrorism”, “bullies”, “online vigilantes”, “self appointed data police”, etc. I guess she’d say that she didn’t name names when she invoked terrorism and vigilantism, but that’s part of the problem. It’s easy to speak in general terms about bullying and whatnot when you aren’t providing examples. Where are all the “critiques of such personal ferocity and relentless frequency that they resemble a denial-of-service attack”?

    • Hi Ben,

      thanks for your post. I agree that this is a tame personal attack at best. I would say it is an opinion about her motive. However, if she had objected to it and explained her actual motive I would have been happy to correct my opinion statement. Also, my blog has a comment section that prominent psychologists like Daniel Kahneman have used and she had the opportunity to comment on my blog post. In contrast, Andrew wasn’t given the opportunity to set the record straight in the venue where the personal attack was published. I am happy to announce that Rickard Carlson and I are starting a new journal, “Meta-Psychology”, that will publish commentaries to articles published in the journal, but also commentaries related to Meta (Perspectives on) Psychology. Maybe it will become the home for “Perspectives on Perspectives on Psychological Science” articles.

      Best, Uli

      Best, Uli

  8. To be clear, Fiske’s statement is ridiculous, but:

    It wouldn’t be surprising for any reasonable/smart person reading this blog to get the strong impression that you don’t think too highly of psychology. But hey, at least you care! Hopefully criticisms here are good for the field of psychology (hopefully).

    It also wouldn’t be surprising for any reasonable/smart person not to take Fiske’s categorical statement to heart without seeking out further information. Certainly her words are real and in a scientific outlet (so let’s correct them – and see my next point). But let’s also give the reader some credit in parsing through at least some of the BS in journal opinion pieces.

    Finally, taking this on as more than just a personal issue, how many similar affronts are out there, and should we correct those systematically as well? What would that process look like?

  9. The same lawyers that brought down Gawker might well be aimed at the APS by means of a libel suit. You have, after all, been defamed by their journal and they refused to correct the record.

    On a side note, I am absolutely appalled that you would equate Spy Magazine with Gawker. You are correct, Spy was a GREAT magazine, in fact, the greatest magazine of all time. Gawker was hardly on the same plane as Spy. Spy was written by erudite people manifesting great wit; each page was a refined pleasure. Gawker was, well, Gawker, a lowest-common-denominator media circus attraction which caused massive IQ drops in its readers.

    What happened to the former Spy employees? They rose to great heights, propelled by their time at Spy, witness Graydon Carter. As to the former Gawker employees, they were propelled to great depths. Aren’t they in prison? Or at least, debtors’ prison?

    • Bruce:

      What Kyle said.

      I think Spy was great, and I think Gawker was great for what it was, but I agree that Spy was better. The difference was that in the 80s, it was possible to have a magazine that was entirely written from scratch, with care taken on every page. Each month’s issue of Spy was a well-crafted object. Nowadays, readers (including me) demand daily or even hourly content, and there are not the resources to hire writers and editors to put together the equivalent of Spy. (Yes, there are some magazines that maintain high quality, for example the New Yorker, but (a) the New Yorker’s pretty much one of a kind at this point, and (b) even the New Yorker does not have the unity and beauty that Spy had.) It’s just a different era.

      Also, regarding the question, “What happened to the former Spy employees?”, it’s my impression that just about all of them did their best work for Spy. Meanwhile, I still think Drew Magary is hilarious, much more entertaining than Greggggggg Easterbrook (who did not, to the best of my knowledge, write for Spy, but who was part of that old-boy’s-club media network that Gawker stood apart from).

  10. If my best known graduate student had misrepresented her own data and harmed the reputation of psychology as much as Amy Cuddy has I would probably not write this kind of self-congratulatory article. But then again I am not a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

    • It appears the current version of the paper has the correct spelling, but I don’t see any sort of correction notice–I guess they ninja corrected it. It kind of makes you wonder what else they can ninja change in published articles.

      Even news articles usually make a note when they change something, such as a misspelling of someone’s name. Heck, even blog posts typically make notes when something gets updated.

  11. “some critics go beyond scientific argument and counterargument to imply that the entire field is inept and misguided (e.g., Gelman, 2014; Shimmack [sic], 2014).”

    Technicially, the author might be correct.

    As (i assume) part of the field, the author provides evidence that he/she is inept and misguided by 1) providing incorrect and/or irrelevant references, and 2) being misguided by what Gelman and Schimmack have written.

    So at least the author is providing (some) evidence for the field being inept and misguided him/her-self.

    That’s all you can ask of scientists who value facts, evidence, and arguments i guess…

  12. The article in question has “Research Article” in its heading. Yet it clearly is a highly self-congratulatory editorial. Replacing the heading would partially solve the problem. But publishing commentary/ editorials with no means of reply seems troublesome.

  13. Another proposal for a Letter to the Editor of the peer-reviewed journal European Science Editing https://ese.arphahub.com/about

    This Letter refers to https://ese.arphahub.com/article/52201/ (published on 29 April 2020).

    “In the article ‘Dealing with Difficult Authors’, published in this journal, author Pippa Smart wrote: ‘The root of the problem with this author was that our decision was based on the submitted article and not the subject of the article.’ This sentence contains no substance and the journal therefore regrets to have published this sentence.

    This journal also regrets giving Pippa Smart, at that time Chair of the owner of the journal, a free ride to publish her article ‘Dealing with Difficult Authors’. Finally, this journal regrets that Pippa Smart has not disclosed in this article that she is owner of the commercial company PSP Consulting https://www.pspconsulting.org/home/about-pippa-smart/

    The journal would also like to use this Letter as an opportunity to congratulate Pippa Smart with her recent election as Director of WAME http://www.wame.org/wame-executive-board-and-committees

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