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Welcome to the monkey house

May 14, 2013

I’m frequently oblivious to politicking. I don’t enjoy status-jockeying, and rarely notice that it’s going on. I have probably been like that for a long time. I’m not even a beta female. I belong to some other alphabet all together, probably runic. If I know about something, it is either really rumbling, or I have accidentally acquired buddies that are closer to the churning of power and posturing.

When I was at indiana, there evidently was one between Bargh and Fazio regarding attitude strength. Fazio was, of course, at Indiana at the time, and he seemed just mildly exasperated about the whole thing. Fazio clearly acquired his status through prestige.

Another one I’m aware of is between Paul Ekman and Jim Russell, whether emotions are best thought of as categorical/universal or dimensional. This is smack in my research area, so I have read a lot of their papers and their debates. What I didn’t know for a long time was that this was so adversarial that, allegedly,  they could not spend time in the same room!. I can see it echo in the polemic of papers to this day, and it was mentioned by participants at last years CERE conference. (My take is that neither one wins, in a theory square-off. Both have their place, and I’ve held that position since grad school. I felt very gratified when John Cacioppo agreed with that one, when I met him this one time 12 years ago. But, as I have looked more through a categorical lens, I do feel my fur rise at times when I read the dimensional papers).

But, I have my Hull, that I use as guide to understand the machinations of science. The forces of prestige and fact. From his Intro “What is the relative importance in science of reason, argument, and evidence on the one hand, and power, prestige, and influence on the other?”

Now that we are moving onto the internet, and everything is just one small world, even this rune-labeled female can witness these clashes first hand.

I think the first, that touched my field, was Bargh vs those that did not replicate the elderly prime, and got to publish it.

Just the other week, I happened upon two more, which I reported on here.  The first one on fist-clenching is off the field from where I can evaluate, but the Shanks-Dijksterhuis concerned topics central to my teaching (and that I’ve even collected some data on), so I can actually have an informed opinion about what is at stake (the reason, argument and evidence forces). I also have allegiances to people on both sides of the debate (power, prestige and influenceforces). Some of the people commenting (off twitter) are even long-standing friends. This was mildy uncomfortable, but I could use my knowledge from both evolutionary psychology and social psychology to analyze the happenings.

And, now, I’m upon another one, this time in Clinical Psychology, where I really have little professional knowledge. This time between Keith Laws, and Richard Bentall over CBT in schizophrenia. I really have no opinion on the factual, as the only reason I even started following Keith is the overlap in interest in fixing psychology. I don’t think I’ve really come across his research in my own professional work either teaching or researching. Even less so the adversary, so at least I have no problem with allegiances. I’m firmly in Keith’s court, because we re-tweet each other. Oh, primate reciprocity, building alliances.

I keep envisioning Baboons or Macaques squaring off with open fangs, and raised furs, making mock charges towards one another. Behind are the respective coalitions, cheering on, smoothing ruffled fur, making supportive charges toward the adversary, cracking derogatory jokes. Oh, the Humanity!

My first thought was that, oh, Bentall really needs to learn some netikett, and then I remembered: I’ve over a decade of experience with people being wrong on the internet (and clearly enjoying telling each other about it), although I’m good at navigating away from the fights (because I don’t). So, although I’m bothered by the tone of the interloper, that is probably because I consider him engaging in an attack on someone I consider loosely part of my tribe. I’m not impartial in either this or the Dijksterhuis affair. (And, as I have friends across the political spectrum, I do witness this a great deal – but I just can’t unfriend or unfollow).

But, one thing some of these pre-net silver-backs seem to not have quite realized, or realized a bit late (Bargh), is that in Cyberspace EVERYBODY CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM. And the scream echoes on and on and on, even long after you thought you had moved on.

There’s the tactic of derogation of the opponent, used by Barg in his (disappeared) Blog, and Bentall here. (It was mildly the case also in the Shanks and Dijksterhuis affair, although not to this extent). On twitter (quite in the open) there was a flurry of allegiance grooming. Counter derogation, comment on the sheer wrongness of the interloper, etc, and it was very similar to what I saw in another place during the Dijksterhuis blow-up. In addition here, if you check the second comment from Bentall (and which I noticed on twitter in an earlier skirmish) is that the attack has clear sense of an ingroup member sharply admonishing another ingroup member for traitorous behavior, when there is a much more formidable foe that one really need to join forces against. It is psychiatry and pharma who are the true enemies, and this attack on alternative methods is just unseemly, now get in line! Which was obvious to some of the other tweeps who mentioned the Spanish Inquisition. I think Social Psychology has data on this!

This is now smack into my research interests. I have a project looking at how you respond to emotional expressions on out-groups (I’m far from alone here), which has led my interest towards and evolutionary social psychology of emotions and in/outgroup behavior (See Neuberg and Kenrick on this), and I’m actually getting my students to collect data for me on these questions. One of the problems I had with my first sets (and why I haven’t gotten around to trying to get it published) is that I used ethnicities, and the “thou shall not be prejudiced against ethnic outgroups” norm is so damned strong among university-students that half of them guessed roughly what my research was about, despite us, in old social psychology tradition, attempting to cloak the purpose in a flurry of misleading lies. So, I have an r = .19 in my central relationship, and I can’t do spin.

But, what I have noticed is that people are perfectly willing to engage in all sorts of group, prejudice and coalitional behavior when it does not involve some of the sensitive groups. So, I have had people say stereotypical things about economy students, and social sciences students, and supporters of that other football league, and I’m thinking I need to move away into one of those where participants will not be on guard so much.

And, I think these academic squabbles show very similar patterns. In fact, I was toying with the notion of collecting these skirmishes and run it through an LSA or Pennebakers LWIK to see what I can extract. Ooooh, this is becoming so navelgazingly loopy that the feedback will rise to an earpiercing screetch!

Of course, right now I’m looking at this through my not-unbiased eyes, and some theoretical filters, so I’m well aware of their wobbliness. But, to me, it is showing more of that Hullian twin forces of the reasoned and the social.

I agree with Klaus Fiedler that science need debate. Let the truth with little t be wrung out of our biased strands through the continued pushing and pulling and honing by opposing forces. But, I am really bothered by some of the tactics that I’ve seen, which more sends me back to junior high (or politics proper, or, well, related monkey groups) than science. If I was attacked the way that RB attacks KL, I’d crumble. (And, of course, that is why it is done that way, because sometimes that is all that it takes). Like a freaked out cat I’d run up a tree and not come back. I adjust the way I communicate to minimize the risk of this happening, but it is chilling. To me, the runic female. And, I would think that interesting ideas to pursue in science is not just the single property of the alpha beasts who also enjoy the good fight, but that there also are wild and interesting work and thinking amongst the more timid. If we are moving towards more open communication online that has to be considered.

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5 Comments
  1. S.H. permalink

    “I agree with Klaus Fiedler that science need debate”

    This only works when all parties involved share a basic appreciation for logical reasoning, data, and strength of argumentation (i.c. scientific “tools” to use in debates). Just randomly shouting out rhetoric is of little scientific value, and more importantly it totally makes any form of “debate” impossible.

    I think one of the problems of psychology is that this field is in such a poor state that even basic scientific values and tools like logical reasoning and argumentation are not even valued, recognised, and given priority to, among its members. I fear a lot of psychologists are even incapable of descerning if (and why) the things they read, express, and give time to and seriously “debate”, can even be termed “scientific” and which are not.

  2. Well, i don’t agree with your characterization of psychologists, as I know many of them with fine minds. I simply think that there are times when our tribal instincts take over, and you have clashes that are rather unseemly. Earlier they were done out of shouting distance of more sensitive ears like, for example, mine, but it is well documented in the sociology and philosophy of science literature. And, they probably happened in places where people were more vulnerable (publishing decisions, appropriation of other peoples ideas) but with little scrutiny.

  3. Heh, I was a student at NYU during the Fazio wars … we should talk sometime …

  4. OMG, you were? (Finding my inner Valley Girl Voice). Yes, We Should!. On the agenda…figure out how to get Roger to visit.

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