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Replicability and the Psychology of Science



“They all pose as though their real opinions had been discovered and attained through the self-evolving of a cold, pure, divinely indifferent dialectic… whereas, in fact, a prejudiced proposition, idea, or ‘suggestion,’ which is generally their heart's desire abstracted and refined, is defended by them with arguments sought out after the event. They are all advocates who do not wish to be regarded as such, generally astute defenders, also, of their prejudices, which they dub ‘truths,’—and VERY far from having the conscience which bravely admits this to itself...” --Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. Scientists are humans. They are smart, ambitious humans, with a peculiar desire to explain and understand the world and a set of principles and procedures that help steer them toward truth. They are humans nonetheless. Their psychology is therefore human psychology. Psychological discoveries in the social sciences—human errors, heuristics, biases, motivations, psychological needs—all apply to scientists in similar if not equal (or possibly even greater) measure.
Replicability and the Psychology of Science
Cory J Clark
University of Pennsylvania
Nathan Honeycutt
Rutgers University
Lee Jussim
Rutgers University
This chapter is forthcoming and may be cited as:
Clark, C. J., Honeycutt, N., & Jussim, L. (in press). Replicability and the psychology of science.
In S. Lilienfeld, A. Masuda, & W. O’Donohue (Eds.), Questionable Research Practices in
Psychology. New York: Springer.
They all pose as though their real opinions had been discovered and attained through the self-
evolving of a cold, pure, divinely indifferent dialectic… whereas, in fact, a prejudiced
proposition, idea, or suggestion, which is generally their heart's desire abstracted and refined,
is defended by them with arguments sought out after the event. They are all advocates who do
not wish to be regarded as such, generally astute defenders, also, of their prejudices, which they
dub truths,’—and VERY far from having the conscience which bravely admits this to itself...”
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Scientists are humans. They are smart, ambitious humans, with a peculiar desire to
explain and understand the world and a set of principles and procedures that help steer them
toward truth. They are humans nonetheless. Their psychology is therefore human psychology.
Psychological discoveries in the social scienceshuman errors, heuristics, biases,
motivations, psychological needsall apply to scientists in similar if not equal (or possibly even
greater) measure. For example, people with greater education and science literacy are more
polarized in their views of scientific controversies (such as climate change), raising the
possibility that education increases the extent to which reasoning is influenced by preferred
worldviews (Drummond & Fischoff, 2017).
Although such biases and errors of reasoning are frequently investigated by scientists,
they are rarely applied to scientists to understand how the reasoning patterns discovered by
scientists likely influence scientists’ own reasoning and discoveries. The present chapter will
apply psychological science to explain why, when, and how scholars engage in QRPs, advance
dodgy or erroneous conclusions (sometimes for decades on end), and suppress accurate or useful
information. Although certainly some scholars consciously and purposefully engage in fraud or
data suppression, we suspect the vast majority of these non-optimal truth-seeking strategies
occur outside of researchers’ awareness in the sense that they genuinely believe their research
practices are more optimal than they are in reality. We first review bases for concluding that
scientists are vulnerable to motivated research. Next, we argue that it is in the best interest of
truth-seeking for scientists to acknowledge these tendencies in themselves and vigilantly and
proactively defend against them. We also suggest some concrete correctives.
A Primer on Motivated Reasoning
Reasoningthe ways in which we approach and avoid information, evaluate information,
and construct our attitudes and beliefs about informationis motivated (Kunda, 1990).
Sometimes it is motivated by desires to reach the most accurate conclusion. This is the scientific
ideal. Unfortunately, however, reasoning can also be motivated by desires to reach particular
conclusions rather than truth. This can undercut scientific validity.
Imagine a trial in which a defendant was accused of robbing a locally-owned mini mart
and there were numerous pieces of evidence to evaluate, including a slightly blurry surveillance
video, an eyewitness who claims the robber was of similar height and physique as the defendant,
and a suspiciously timed bank deposit from the defendant shortly after the robbery took place.
The prosecution attorney would be motivated to view this as clear and conclusive evidence of the
defendant’s guilt, the defense attorney would be motivated to view this as ambiguous and
circumstantial evidence, and the judge and the jury would be motivated to make the most
accurate evaluation of the defendant’s likely guilt. Although humans prefer to see themselves as
the judgecarefully weighing evidence and coming to conclusions most consistent with the
data, humans often reason more like the lawyers, evaluating evidence in ways that allow them to
reach conclusions most beneficial to themselves (Ditto, Liu, et al., 2019; Ditto, Clark et al., 2019;
Haidt, 2001).
Humans likely evolved to reason this way because accuracy is not always the most
important goal for reproductive success (Clark, Liu, Winegard, & Ditto, 2019). Sometimes it is
more beneficial to persuade others of one’s own greatness, to demonstrate commitment and
value to one’s social group, to avoid a possibly correct but risky or costly conclusion, to protect
one’s own reputation or the reputation of one’s kin, to secure a mate, or to deceive an enemy
than to be correct. In the social sciences, the consequences that flow from many research
findings are so difficult to evaluate, that inaccuracies can go undetected for decades. Popularity
(of a scientific finding) can produce citations, grants, awards, and, therefore, career success. By
the time invalidities of highly popular findings are discovered, the scientists producing them will
have had wonderful careers. Thus, the current academic system is plausibly described as
incentivizing popularity more than accuracy.
In science, motivated reasoning, or rather, motivated research, happens when extraneous
concerns beyond accuracy influence how scientists familiarize themselves with extant data, reach
hypotheses, collect and analyze observations, come to conclusions, and report those conclusions
to other scientists and the public. Researchers do not merely forward their own conclusions
however; they are also the gatekeepers (the editors, the peer reviewers, the hiring committee
members, the peer commentators, etc.) for their peers’ research, and thus motivated research can
also happen when concerns beyond accuracy influence how scientists accept, elevate, reject, and
suppress the work of their peers or the very peers themselves. The replication crisis has focused
largely on how scholars advance erroneous conclusions by producing unreplicable results, but
scholars may also obstruct accurate conclusions or useful information, which is problematic for
advancing knowledge in the social sciences.
The social sciences supply especially fertile ground for motivated research.
Ambiguous, noisy, and difficult information environments increase the likelihood of motivated
reasoning (Kopko, Bryner, Budziak, Devine, & Nawara, 2011; Munro, Lasane, & Leary, 2010;
Munro, Weih, & Tsai, 2010). Accuracy motivations decrease because one cannot know with
much certainty which conclusions are accurate, and thus other motivations take their place (Clark
& Winegard, 2020). Science, and perhaps especially social science, generally deals with these
ambiguous, noisy, and difficult information environments. Most if not all social phenomena
cannot be studied in a vacuum. There is rarely if ever one clear best methodological strategy for
testing a social science question, and even when scientists discover seemingly robust and
replicable data patterns, there are often numerous ways of interpreting those patterns. Meehl
(1990, p. 196) captured this state of affairs beautifully: “...theories in ‘soft areas’ of psychology
have a tendency to go through periods of initial enthusiasm leading to large amounts of empirical
investigation with ambiguous over-all results.”
For example, any time some negative parenting behavior correlates with some negative
outcome for children, did the parenting behavior have any causal influence or is there simply a
genetic confound (e.g., Maranges, Hasty, Maner, & Conway, 2020)? Any time scholars discover
an association between negative stereotypes or implicit attitudes and negative outcomes for the
groups those stereotypes or implicit attitudes are about, did the stereotypes or implicit attitudes
have any causal force on those negative outcomes, or did the negative stereotypes and implicit
attitudes exist because people are reasonably skilled at detecting existing patterns in the world
(e.g., Hehman, Flake, & Calanchini, 2018; Payne et al, 2017; Reber, 1989)? Even best practices
in social science require scholars to make numerous at least somewhat arbitrary decisions at each
step of the research process, from generating hypotheses to drawing conclusions. These
characteristics of the social sciences make it very difficult for an accuracy-motivated social
scientist to reach correct conclusions and simultaneously make it very easy for a social scientist
motivated by extraneous concerns to reach the conclusion they desire (Duarte et al., 2015;
Simmons, Nelson, & Simonsohn, 2011). Consequently, social sciences as a discipline are
vulnerable to motivated research practices.
Beyond the ambiguous information environment problem, there is even more reason to
believe that motivated reasoning creates unique obstacles for the social sciences. The
investigators and the objects of investigation are one in the same thinghumansand humans
care about human things. It likely makes little difference to the average human whether flying
squirrels are fluorescent or whether there is a maximum speed of light, but average humans
might care if middle-aged men are sexually attracted to 15-year-old females, if altruism is
“selfish,” and if grandparents evolved to love their daughters’ kids more than their sons’ kids. It
is likely impossible to eliminate human desires from an understanding of humankind, thus social
scientists likely have more extraneous motivations influencing their work than scientists who
deal with amoebae, polymers, quarks, or any non-human objects.
Moreover, morality is frequently tangled up in the social sciences, and moral concerns
are powerful motivators of reasoning (Clark et al., 2019; Tetlock, Kristel, Elson, Green, &
Lerner, 2000). Sometimes accurate conclusions in the social sciences might cause concerns about
morally undesirable implications, and people and scholars may then wish to avoid, ignore,
disparage, or censor this kind of information, even when it could plausibly be correct (Campbell
& Kay, 2014; Clark, Winegard, & Farkas, 2020; Stewart-Williams, Thomas, Blackburn, & Chan,
2019; von Hippel & Buss, 2017; Winegard, Clark, Hasty, & Baumeister, 2018). For just one
recent example, a paper by AlShebli, Makovi, and Rahwan (2020) collected a very large sample
of mentor and protégé pairs in scientific collaborations and found evidence that female protégés
with higher proportions of female mentors were less impactful later in their careers. After
widespread outrage among the scientific community, on November 19th, 2020, the editors of the
journal released a statement, “Readers are alerted that this paper is subject to criticisms that are
being considered by the editors. Those criticisms were targeted to the authors’ interpretation of
their data that gender plays a role in the success of mentoring relationships between junior and
senior researchers, in a way that undermines the role of female mentors and mentees…”
(emphasis added). Although there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of this paper (as there are of
probably every published article in the social sciences), the investigation by editors of the journal
occurred because of concerns about undermining the role of female mentors and mentees. Thus,
this investigation is explicitly morally motivated. And these moral concerns might cause
suppression of a real pattern and exploration into the causes of this pattern.
We are not saying that moral concerns are never a legitimate reason to suppress research
findings (that is a difficult debate). But, in many cases outrage mobs of academics bear a striking
resemblance to a mob stirring up a moral panic, as they cause the suppression of data in the
absence of evidence of harm or thoughtful consideration of alternatives (Stevens, Jussim &
Honeycutt, in press). Moreover, scholars often assert themselves and their comrades as the
authorities on such matters. Thus while their intentions may be noble, such suppression is often
ochlocratic and advances the interests of a subset of outraged scholars to the detriment of
knowledge accruement. Occasionally, empirical reality will lead scholars to arrive at conclusions
that trigger our moral alarms, and because scientists are humans and evolved to minimize certain
harms, occasionally they will wish to suppress accurate information by suppressing their own
findings (Ziggerell, 2018) or creating obstacles for their peers’ findings (Stevens et al., in press).
Similarly, occasionally, scientists will discover false patterns that are morally desirable,
or real patterns but then explain these with false but morally desirable explanations. Such
erroneous patterns or erroneous explanations may persist in the psychological canon for years or
decades because they are morally desirable to scholars and thus few scholars will wish to
challenge them (Jussim, Krosnick, Stevens, & Anglin, 2019). To give a couple of examples, the
ideas that stereotype threat could explain certain group disparities (e.g., Jussim, Crawford,
Anglin, Stevens, & Duarte, 2016) or that implicit bias could explain subtle but impactful
prejudices against certain groups (Forscher et al., 2019) are arguably some of the most prominent
social psychological findings of all time, yet the effects are weak to non-existent and there is
little if any evidence of their importance in the real world (e.g., Clark & Winegard, 2020). It
seems likely that these effects were overblown and proper scrutiny was decades delayed because
the findings were morally and thus socially desirable by scientists. Many scholars would want to
forward such results themselves and few would want to challenge them.
Because the social sciences deal most directly with problems and questions with
significance to humans, social scientific conclusions are vulnerable to morally motivated data
suppression and morally motivated data elevation. Being a purely accuracy-driven social
scientist will occasionally require an unnatural detachment from normal human concerns and
Human Motivations
We discuss four human motivations that likely influence the ways in which scholars
conduct their research. We also discuss how those motivations can produce severely biased
scientific research literatures.
Status desires. Humans desire status and behave in ways that increase their chances of
attaining status in social groups (e.g., Anderson & Kilduff, 2009). Scientists desire to attain
status within their disciplineto be respected and admired by their peersbut also, given the
relative status of scientists in society (Pew, 2020), they likely desire to use their roles as
scientists to gain high status among society at large. Becoming a social scientist requires
relatively high investment in education and a relatively high workload to attain a tenure-track
position at a research institution, and the job actually pays relatively little compared to other
degrees that require similar amounts of education and time investment (e.g., medical doctors).
Therefore, it is plausible that social scientists are more motivated by desires for status than even
the average highly educated person. Thus it seems plausible that the social sciences likely attract
the kinds of people who are especially incentivized by status attainment and especially likely to
engage in research behaviors that would allow them to attain status.
Perhaps the chief way people attain status is by creating the appearance of providing
benefits for others (e.g., Durkee, Lukaszewski, & Buss, 2020). Although actually providing such
benefits is one route to creating this appearance, it is not necessary. One can engage in virtue
signaling or moral grandstanding without actually doing much else and this can sometimes be
very effective at persuading others that one is a force for moral good (Grubbs, Warmke, Tosi,
James, & Campbell, 2019). Providing benefits to others is also not sufficient to increase status
(e.g., if it is done in a matter where few notice).
Therefore, regardless of whether anyone actually benefits, creating the appearance of
providing benefits is highly incentivized. This would create a motivation to produce information
that can be perceived as new or novel (Baumeister, Maranges, & Vohs, 2018) or to produce
“Wow Effects” (Jussim et al., 2016) with seemingly broad implications. It may take years or
even decades to do the hard work to evaluate whether the findings are replicable and
generalizable, and then to test them in the real world; and, at the end of that process, the entire
enterprise may be found to be worthless (findings unreplicable) or trivial (replicable but only
with effect sizes so small no one cares). There are few incentives to wait 15 years for such a
payoff; people have jobs, tenure, promotions, and grants to obtain; bestselling books to write,
workshop fees to collect, and consulting fees to garner. Put differently, the incentives all line up
to create the impression that one has benefited society now, not 15 years from now.
Many of the most overblown findings in the social sciences fit this analysis exquisitely
well (e.g., stereotype threat, implicit bias, growth mindset, various kinds of priming). We now
know these findings were overblown and, in some cases, seem to be entirely invalid. Stereotype
threat, priming, and growth mindset have all been subject to a series of pre-registered failures to
replicate and/or findings that the effects are plausibly viewed as trivially small (Doyen, Klein,
Pichon, & Cleeremans, 2012; Finnegan & Corker, 2016; Flore, Mulder & Wicherts, 2018;
Pashler, Rohrer & Harris, 2013; Sisk, Burgoyne, Sun, Butler & Macnamara). After almost 20
years of “implicit bias” and the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in particular being wildly
overstated and oversold, in recent years, critical reviews have described the construct as
“delusive,” identified a slew of psychometric problems with the IAT, and shown that its
predictive validity and ability to explain racial gaps is limited at best and possibly nonexistent
(Blanton, Jaccard, Strauts, Mitchell & Tetlock, 2015; Corneille & Hutter, 2020; Forscher et al,
2019; Jussim, Carrem, Goldberg, Honeycutt & Stevens, in press; Oswald, Mitchell, Blanton,
Jaccard & Tetlock, 2013; Schimmack, 2019).
Although this is not the place to review all the debunking of the last 5-10 years, one
example should suffice. Blanton and colleagues (2009) characterized a slew of studies making
strong claims about racial discrimination produced by implicit bias as measured by the IAT as
actually providing weak evidence. In a response, (Jost et al, 2009) published a paper titled “The
existence of implicit bias is beyond reasonable doubt: A refutation of ideological and
methodological objections and executive summary of ten studies that no manager should
ignore.” In a recent review, we did a deep dive into those ten studies and found something quite
startling: those ten studies supposedly refuting the “weak evidence” charge provided almost no
evidence of racial discrimination (Jussim et al., in press). Put differently, there was little or no
racial bias to be explained (whether by IAT scores or anything else). Indeed, most of the studies
did not even address racial discrimination at all.
Despite the extraordinary enthusiasm for these “discoveries” (as evidenced by the
massive number of papers that use the terms and measures and by the eminence and awards
given to their promoters and acolytes), the fullness of time (combined with the eventual
emergence of vigorous scientific skepticism) has shown them to be far less than they were
cracked up to be. This may help explain why diversity and implicit bias trainings based on these
(nearly) nonexistent or poorly understood measures and phenomena are rarely demonstrably
effective (Paluck, Porat, Clark & Green, 2020). Thus, these phenomena are all exquisite
examples of how scholarship can create the impression that AMAZING! WORLD-CHANGING!
phenomena have been discovered that will benefit humanity, without actually providing any
noticeable benefit to humanity, and at great human cost in wasted effort, grant dollars, and time
spent in useless trainings.
Nonetheless, selling AMAZING! WORLD-CHANGING! findings to an unsuspecting
public and insufficiently critical scientists has been highly rewarded with status, promotions,
grants, and consulting fees. And, to be clear, although scientists love to point to others (such as
the media) as the culprits in overselling their findings, it is usually the scientists themselves who
bear primary responsibility (Mitchell, 2018; Sumner et al, 2016). Regardless, scholars are
heavily incentivized to create the appearance that their findings lead to simple and easy-to-
implement interventions that will change the world. Unfortunately, many social problems persist
in affluent societies precisely because they are extremely difficult or perhaps even impossible to
fix, and so the demand for such interventions inevitably creates a low quality supply. Unlike
behavioral genetics or personality psychology, social psychology delivers simple environmental
manipulations that ostensibly can create desirable changes in human behavior. The desire for
effects that create potential for interventions and behavior change may even explain why social
psychology is such an attractive discipline to normal people (McPhetres, 2019), despite its many
flaws and embarrassments over the past decade (e.g., Nosek et al., 2015).
Scholars can also achieve media and public attention by generating findings with
significance to current events and hot topics and so are likely motivated to study such topics, and
to forward results quickly when they do. In a society where science often does and should move
quite slowly and hot topics often change rather rapidly, this could cause scholars to draw hasty
conclusions in order to be timely in their research. Moreover, quick movement to publicize
AMAZING! WORLD-CHANGING! findings (see Mitchell, 2018 for a review of the wild
overselling of implicit bias after the publication of the first IAT paper, in 1998) makes it difficult
for other scholars to check such findings before they reach the broader public.
Of course, status motives will also lead scholars to pursue accuracy in their work, for two
reasons. First, more accurate information is more useful to other people, and thus accuracy is a
direct route to status attainment, and second, being inaccurate (if detected) can be costly. Having
one’s own research fail to replicate, or worse, being caught for outright research fraud are huge
blows to status, and so scientists should be motivated to both appear accurate and be accurate.
Given new developments in Open Science, it has become easier for other scholars to detect
errors and other suspicious research practices in their peers’ work, and so the current cohort of
scholars should be more motivated to be accurate (or at least avoid certain types of errors) than
the cohort existing a decade or more ago.
Open Science practices have made certain types of QRPs more difficult to get away with.
For example, pre-registration makes it more difficult to HARK (Kerr, 1998) and cherrypick
variables, conditions, and even entire studies. However, many papers still report studies that are
not pre-registered leaving the door wide open to such practices. Furthermore, if studies provide
narratively or theoretically “inconvenient” findings, they can still be file drawered. When acting
as a reviewer, it is easy enough to suppress others’ inconvenient findings or arguments -- simply
come up with scientifically-plausible justifications for declaring the work to be sub-par.
Ostracization avoidance. Just as people wish to gain status within their social groups,
they wish to avoid being ostracized (Ouwerkerk, Kerr, Gallucci, & Van Lange, 2015). People
tend to punish those who violate group norms or generate costs to the social group (Bowles &
Gintis, 2004). Scholars are likely motivated to avoid these punishments, and, therefore, avoid
violating group norms.
The extreme politically liberal homogeneity among social scientists (Duarte et al., 2015;
Langbert, 2018) renders the entrenchment of liberal norms -- such as support for parties, policies,
candidates, and causes on the left, hostility to those on the right, and equalitarianism (the
asssumption that, but for discrimination, all demographic groups would have identical outcomes)
-- virtually inevitable (Clark & Winegard, 2020; Honeycutt & Jussim, 2020; Prentice, 2012).
Thus, for either or both of two reasons, scientists should be motivated to avoid advancing
scientific findings that challenge a liberal political agenda: (1) They share that agenda and do not
wish to oppose it or (2) They correctly discern these norms and believe (probably correctly) that
work challenging those norms will be more difficult to publish and fund than work that advances
those norms. For example, some research has found that liberals are described more positively
than conservatives in social scientific research (Eitan et al., 2018), that conservative social
scientists fear ostracization and that other social scientists openly report that they would
discriminate against conservatives (Honeycutt & Freberg, 2017; Inbar & Lammers, 2012), and
that more liberal ideology predicts working at more prestigious universities, even after
controlling for academic productivity, suggesting that ideological conformity helps one advance
in their career (Rothman, Lichter, & Nevitte, 2005).
Another recent paper that sought to explore the relationship between ideological slant of
research and replicability identified almost no papers at all in their analysis that violated liberal
values, suggesting that such papers rarely come into existence (Reinero et al., 2020). Similarly,
Zigerell (2017) discovered 17 unpublished experiments with nationally representative samples
finding either no anti-Black bias among White respondents and/or anti-White bias among Black
respondents. Although we may never know exactly why those studies were never published, one
possibility is that they would risk violating liberal equalitarian norms and would, therefore, either
be seen as not worth publishing, or not worth the (expected extraordinary) effort, and
concomitant risk of being ostracized, to do so.
Arguably, these dynamicspolitical skew, bias and intolerance towards individuals or
ideas that conflict with mainstream liberal viewshave a direct connection to censorious
behaviors (Honeycutt & Jussim, under review). This connection isn’t inevitable—bias doesn’t
automatically produce direct or indirect censorship. But when academic fields such as the social
sciences become so heavily skewed, excluding ideas or data that conflict with the norms and
worldview of the majority becomes an increasing threat to the validity of the scientific literature.
This is not to say that scholarship can never be rejectedpapers are routinely rejected for flaws
and weaknesses that have nothing to do with political content or motivations. But ideologically
motivated rejection can often be dressed up as legitimate critique, often manifested in selective
calls for rigor, illusions of bad science, or claims of harm and danger (Honeycutt & Jussim,
under review). One obvious casualty is the suppression of otherwise legitimate scholarship
(Stevens, Jussim, and Honeycutt, 2020).
Scholars are likely motivated to reject information that could be perceived as opposing a
politically liberal agenda both in their own research and in their peers’ research. And they are
likely motivated to frame their findings in ways that misleadingly portray liberals in a favorable
light when their findings could just as easily or more easily be framed in ways that portray
conservatives in a favorable light. For example, Lilienfeld (2015) critiqued the framing and
description of conservatives having a “negativity bias” or “motivated closed-mindedness” when
the findings on sensitivity to threat could have just as easily been framed as a liberal “motivated
blindness to danger.” More recently, a paper by Baltiansky, Jost, and Craig (2020) chose to
highlight that high system-justifiers (correlated with more conservative ideology) found jokes
targeting low status groups to be funnier than low system-justifiers in their abstract, portraying
conservatives as being insensitive toward low status groups. However, high system-justifiers
found jokes targeting low and high status groups similarly funny, whereas low system-justifiers
found jokes targeting low status groups to be less funny than those targeting high status groups
(Pursur & Harper, 2020). One could interpret such findings as showing that conservatives treated
low and high status groups with equal consideration, whereas liberals were particularly
condescending toward low status groups by suggesting they need protection from jokes.
Similarly, a recent paper by Brady, Wills, Burkart, Jost, and Van Bavel (2019), highlighted that
“conservative elites (on Twitter) gained greater diffusion when using moral-emotional language
compared to liberal elites,” portraying conservatives as vulnerable to emotional appeals.
However, this effect was mainly driven by joy-related content, which was misleadingly labeled
“moral emotion expression related to religion and patriotism” in the abstract.
Scholars likely know that to frame results in ways that portray conservatives more
favorably than liberals would make the results more difficult to publish. So, the easier route to
attaining publications (and status) and avoiding ostracization, is to create misleading
characterizations of findings. Thus scholars who wish to avoid ostracization among
overwhelmingly liberal social scientists will engage in motivated research to generate findings
and frames palatable to their liberal peers. Academia operates as a social-reputational system,
whereby one’s success is highly contingent upon the favorable evaluations and references of
others at all career stages: to obtain admission to graduate school, publish in peer-reviewed
academic journals, obtain grants, get a job, or obtain tenure/promotions. As such, there are strong
incentives for doing work and staking out positions that will garner social approval from peers,
and often strong disincentives surrounding the expression of ideas that colleagues reject or
vehemently disagree with (Honeycutt & Jussim, under review).
Social scientists are even more homogenous in a domain other than politicsevery last
one of them is a social scientist. Thus, social scientists should be motivated to avoid harming
social scientists and the social scientific enterprise. The types of scholars who critique the field,
for example, by suggesting the field is politically biased, or by accusing the field of shoddy
methods and unreliable findings, are likely to be revered by some and loathed by others. In an
effort to protect the field and their own reputations, some scholars (likely, especially older and
more established scholars with more to lose) might seek to create obstacles for scholars who
forward data and arguments that challenge the field. Many scholars would avoid criticizing the
field, the field’s theories, and the field’s prominent scholars, even if they believe such criticisms
are warranted, because it can be costly to them by virtue of incurring the hostility of colleagues
on whom their success depends (via peer review). By writing this chapter in which we suggest
that social scientists engage in motivated research, we risk making enemies who will dismiss us,
have a lower opinion of us, or subtly punish us with ostracization.
Self-enhancement. People are motivated to self-enhanceor to perceive and portray
themselves more positively than reality would suggest (Sedikides & Gregg, 2008). Of course,
social science is rarely directly about the self, but it is often indirectly about the self by being
about “people like me” (sometimes referred to, only half-jokingly, as “mesearch).
Social scientists likely have some tendencies to avoid advancing data and theories that
portray their own social groups unfavorably or to create obstacles for others who do. This will
not always be the case because there may be competing motives for why people might want to
perceive different groups in different ways (e.g., men might be more strongly motivated to
portray women in a positive light than to portray men in a positive light for ideological reasons,
protective reasons, or desires to earn female approval), but absent competing motives, scholars
are likely motivated to reject findings that portray their own groups in a negative light. This is
one reason to support numerous kinds of diversity among scientists, because these preferences
cancel out in the broader literature when numerous scientists have competing motives. These
self-enhancement tendencies are more likely to create systematic biases in the field if most social
scientists fall within one category (i.e., men, heterosexual, liberal, etc.).
Error management. When faced with complicated information and a noisy environment
in which truth cannot be confidently discerned, people have a tendency to favor less costly errors
over costlier ones. A classic example found that men have a tendency to overestimate a woman’s
sexual interest in them because it is costlier to miss out on a mating opportunity than to make an
unwanted sexual advance, whereas women have a tendency to underestimate a man’s
commitment to her because it is costlier for her to risk pregnancy from a man who will abandon
her after sex than to miss out on a sexual opportunity from a man who might commit to and
support her (Haselton & Buss, 2000).
This is not a motive separate from the others (desires to gain status, avoid ostracization,
and self-enhance), but rather one constantly interacting with the other motives. Imagine, for
example, that you have run two studies that found interesting and novel pattern X. You decide to
run one more study to really solidify your set of studies before submitting for publication, and
you fail to replicate your first two studies even though this third study was very similar to the
first two. This is an ambiguous piece of new informationyou do not know why the third study
failed to replicate. Maybe the effect is not real. Or maybe, it was because you ran this third study
late at night or toward the end of the semester or because the first two studies used up all the
conscientious subjects in the subject pool. In the first case, you miss out on a publication and
have wasted time and perhaps money running studies that will never be published. In the latter
cases, you canwith justification to yourself—file drawer your third “flawed” study and move
forward with just the two. (In such a situation, the right thing to do would be to run a fourth
study to test which of your hypotheses about your own findings is correct, but some scholars
would not want to risk confirming that the first two studies were flukes.)
Motivated research in practice
Thus far we have explained why the social sciences create an environment ripe for
motivated research and why scholars will often have preferences for certain kinds of conclusions
over othersoccasionally, though not alwaysto the detriment of accuracy. But how might
motivated research work in practice?
Selective exposure and selective avoidance. At the information recruitment stage,
people have a tendency to seek out information that confirms their desired conclusions and avoid
information that challenges their desired conclusions (DeMarree, Clark, Wheeler, Briol, &
Petty, 2017; Frimer, Skitka, & Motyl, 2017; Stroud, 2010). These are referred to as selective
exposure and selective avoidance, respectively. Although such patterns are often explored in
media consumption among everyday people (Stroud, 2008), scholars likely engage in selective
exposure in selecting which articles to read. But people also engage in selective exposure by
creating social information environments that are likely to deliver information that confirms their
desired beliefs, by surrounding themselves with other people who share their cherished beliefs
(McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001) both in person (Motyl, Iyer, Oishi, Trawalter, &
Nosek, 2014) and on social media (Bakshy, Messing, Adanic, 2015). In academia, scholars likely
“follow” the scholarly and social media outputs of particular scholars whose research and
research interests support their own research agenda. Further, one novel source of selective
exposure among academics lies within their ability to create information that supports particular
conclusions. By selecting certain materials and methods that they believe are most likely to
confirm their hypotheses and avoiding the use of materials and methods they have less
confidence in, they can often generate their own confirmatory information.
Consequently, scholars will be more aware of information that supports their preferred
hypotheses than information that challenges it, making their hypotheses appear more plausible
and correct than perhaps a more balanced understanding of the literature would predict. Such
tendencies would be particularly problematic for review papers, as scholars likely overrepresent
information consistent with their theory and underrepresent contradictory information. These
same tendencies can happen with editors and reviewers, who may have imbalanced information
about the phenomenon under investigation. If the reviewers have the same blind spots as the
authors, they will be unable to point these out. Given the aforementioned and discussed
ideological lopsidedness of social science disciplines, blindspots are likely more common than
many in the field are willing to concede.
Selective exposure and avoidance can therefore create biased citation patterns, which can
continue to perpetuate biased understandings of different domains of research (for recent
examples, see Honeycutt & Jussim, 2020). If scholars have preferences for certain conclusions,
scholars will be more aware of those findings and thus more likely to cite those findings, and
then those highly-cited articles become accepted as the authority on the particular issue.
Discordant findings, in contrast, are ignored and eventually forgotten. Ideally, the findings in
these highly cited articles are valid, and the relevant knowledge improves theory and
applications. But, if biased citation patterns result in the canonization of invalid findings, this can
produce a reign of error (Honeycutt & Jussim, 2020) whereby socially desirable, but nonetheless
flawed work is propped up to reflect the field’s general knowledge. This, in turn, creates
dynamics and crises of confidence such as those that have stemmed from psychology’s
replication crisis. Under these dynamics, biased citation patterns can also contribute to ignoring
valid findings, which produces a loss in understanding and deprivation of relevant knowledge.
Science strives to be self-correcting, but if invalid findings are canonized and continue to be
highly cited, and valid findings (e.g., failed replications) go ignored, self-correction does not
If scholars can acknowledge these tendencies in themselves, they should be motivated to
overcome them. A biased awareness of extant data will make it harder to generate hypotheses
that are likely to be confirmed by data collection. Exposing oneself to unpalatable information
will help scholars identify dead-end hypotheses before they sink time and money into testing
Motivated skepticism and credulity. Once people are exposed to information (whether
they sought it out or could not avoid it), they engage in motivated skepticism and credulity, or
the tendencies to be highly skeptical and critical of discordant information and relatively
credulous and uncritical of concordant information (e.g., Ditto & Lopez, 1992; Taber & Lodge,
2006). For example, people are more critical of the methods of a scientific study when the results
come to an inconvenient conclusion than the same methods when the results come to a preferred
conclusion (Lord, Ross, & Lepper, 1979). This can also be conceptualized as a selective call for
rigor, whereby one rejects work they do not like on supposedly scientific grounds, but then fail to
apply those same standards to work they do like or agree with (Honeycutt & Jussim, under
review). People also make more mistakes with both numeric and logical reasoning when
conclusions are discordant (Gampa, Wojcik, Motyl, Nosek, & Ditto, 2019; Kahan, Peters,
Dawson & Slovic, 2017). Among scholars, this likely happens both in evaluations of one’s own
findings, as well as in evaluations of others’ findings in peer review, acceptance into
conferences, awards, decisions to cite, and decisions to hire.
Running experiments on the peer review process can be difficult with tightly controlled
methods, but there have been a couple of examinations, which have found that reviewers tended
to judge research as higher quality when the findings supported their prior beliefs and theoretical
orientations than when the findings challenged their prior beliefs and theoretical orientations
(Koehler, 1993; Mahoney, 1977). This suggests scholars may evaluate research more leniently
when findings support their own research agendas. Some research has identified how personal
values interfere with the human subjects review process (Ceci et al., 1985). Similarly, research
suggests that ideological and moral concerns influence scholars’ evaluations of research
(Abramowitz, Gomes, & Abramowitz, 1975) and perhaps even their understanding of empirical
reality. For example, von Hippel and Buss (2017) found that social psychology professors were
more likely to believe that women could have evolved to be more verbally talented than men
than that men could have evolved to be more mathematically talented than women. To our
knowledge, there is no legitimate scientific reason to believe that one evolved gender difference
is more plausible than the other, which suggests their beliefs may be partially motivated by
ideological or moral concerns. Moreover, some scholars even openly admit that they would
discriminate against conservative research and conservative scholars (Honeycutt & Freberg,
2017; Inbar & Lammers, 2012; Peters et al., 2020).
Other extraneous concerns influence the reviewing process as well. For example,
conference submissions from more prestigious scholars and institutions are evaluated more
favorably in single blind than double blind reviews, which suggests that either scholars are using
a heuristic about prestige and quality or that perhaps scholars are hesitant to give negative
evaluations to people and institutions with high status (Tomkins, Zhang, & Heavlin, 2017). Such
biases, sometimes also referred to as an eminence obsession (Vazire, 2017), are likely quite
common in reviews of peers and research because, as noted above, there is a great deal of noise
and ambiguity in evaluating the quality of work. Some scholars have pointed out that the inter-
rater reliability of peer review is barely above chance (Lee, Sugimoto, Zhang, & Cronin, 2012).
On the one hand, this suggests the possibility that editors are selecting diverse reviewers with
different strengths and perspectives, which in many cases could help cancel out systematic
biases. On the other hand, it is a reminder that scientific evaluationseven among expertsare
not perfectly objective, and that features of the reviewers influence the perceived quality of
science, not merely the science itself.
One report found that reviewer agreement on funding applications was higher for low
scoring applications than for top scoring applications (Gallo, Sullivan, & Glisson, 2016).
Differentiating between a handful of top candidates is likely more subjectiveall the top
candidates are high quality, so there is no clear “accurate” or “best” decision, and thus
extraneous concerns of the individual scholars have greater influence on their evaluations. Given
how frequently scholars are differentiating between high quality content for limited outcomes
(journal and conference acceptances, awards, hiring), many of these important decisions that
determine scholars’ success depend on the idiosyncratic motivations of the reviewers and
committee members (so long as applicants reach a certain quality threshold to be considered in
the first place). Of course, scholars understand this, and that is why such decisions are usually
made among multiple people. This strategy will be more useful when the panel of decision-
makers have diverse motivations and preferences, for example, different theoretical and
ideological orientations.
Some scholars have contended that these biased information processes are more likely to
occur among “experts” or the cognitively sophisticated (e.g., Kahan, 2015; Kahan et al., 2012).
People who are more cognitively sophisticated or more knowledgeable would be better able to
justify their own biased reasoning processes to themselves and to other people, and thus could
get away with more bias than less sophisticated people. Other scholars have challenged this
hypothesis, finding that greater cognitive sophistication is instead associated with converging
toward accuracy (McPhetres & Pennycook, 2019). Future research will shed more light on these
patterns. It may be that expertise and cognitive sophistication simultaneously increase motivated
reasoning and ability to detect accurate patterns (and perhaps motivation to detect accurate
patterns), and so in some cases scholars will be more biased than the average person and in other
cases, less. There also could be individual differences in whether people tend to “use” their
cognitive sophistication more to approach accuracy or to advance their own interests. At
minimum, there is no strong evidence that experts and those high in cognitive sophistication are
immune to biases.
The Protective Powers of Science
Although scientists themselves are but mere mortals, the institution of science can
mitigate against scientists’ human fallibilities. Peer review requires scholars to convince two to
five other scholars who do not (necessarily) share the same motives of the scientist and thus who
are not particularly motivated to enhance the importance or quality of whatever manuscript they
are reviewing. Sometimes these peers are actually competitors (there is only so much journal
space), and so in some cases, reviewers might be strongly motivated to find flaws, which
requires authors to be particularly impressive (although, this could also incentivize p-hacking to
generate impressive results).
The (mostly) shared mission of seeking true and accurate information incentivizes truth
and accuracy-seeking in scientists. All else equal, scholars would prefer to forward true
impressive results rather than false impressive results, because both contribute to status, but the
latter creates reputational risk of being discovered as a phony. Scholars likely feel some shame
and embarrassment when their own theories fail to hold up and their findings fail to replicate,
and much more shame and humiliation when they are caught in outright fraud. Science has
created a culture in which the social response to indicators of dishonest research practices likely
disincentivize the most obvious transparent forms of data manipulation and fraud. However, it
remains unclear whether that culture has disincentivized more subtle influences and tactics (e.g.,
using positions of power, such as organization leadership roles and journal editorships, to benefit
one’s own and one’s friends’ research and careers).
The Open Science movement has also done a lot to mitigate motivated research,
primarily through incentivizing transparency. It is now much more difficult to get away with
certain dishonest or questionable research practices. Preregistering studies binds scholars to
distinguishing transparently their initial hypotheses from post-hoc fishing expeditions and to
their methods and analysis plan, and requires them to indicate when they deviate. Making data
publicly available is a big step toward transparency, and likely increases accountability for data
tampering. The new “replication movement” has created an atmosphere where all scholars must
consider the possibility or probability that some other scholar will try to replicate their findings.
This might render scholars more hesitant to publish papers they have little confidence in, because
the status and esteem reward could be short-lived and the long-term consequences of work
failing to replicate or being labeled a fraud could be far costlier. However, it may be years before
other scholars attempt to replicate one’s work, let alone publish it, so that the short-term rewards
of publishing may still overwhelm the costs of others failing to replicate, which might not be felt
for a very long time. By that time, the original researcher may be a full professor with a large
grant portfolio, lots of graduate assistants, and a New York Times bestselling book.
But We Can Do Better
Science has an impressive history of generating accurate information over long stretches
of time (i.e., converging upon truth), but most of this progress was made by scientists being
completely wrong for long periods of time (young Earth, bleeding to cure illnesses, spontaneous
generation of life, all of which were believed for centuries). Some norms of scientific practice in
psychology are improving and we hope replication rates in the future will confirm that these new
procedures are effective at minimizing researcher degrees of freedom to pursue preferred results
and effective in generating a more reliable body of information. But, there are many problems
these norms either do not help at all or help only very little.
File drawering. Open science practices do very little to minimize file drawering.
Depending on preregistration platform, even preregistered studies can be file drawered without
notice. One solution would be to ask scholars to declare in their papers that they have no file
drawer studies or any other studies that tested the same hypothesis tested in the paper. Of course,
scholars could still lie, but requiring an explicit, public, and published declaration of the lie turns
the act of omission into an act of commission, which could create additional psychological
barriers. If it is discovered that there were other studies, this act can be considered active fraud
rather than a more ambiguous questionable practice. This also increases the likelihood that at
least one co-author on a multi-authored paper would object to the outright lie.
There are also selfish reasons not to file drawer your own studies. When scholars file
drawer, they inflate their own effect sizes. If and when there are replication attempts, and the
findings either fail to replicate or have smaller effect sizes, this will raise suspicion. The more
surprising findings are, the more likely it is that other scholars will attempt to replicate the
findings, and so by exaggerating the size of one’s own effect, scholars likely increase the odds
that they will be caught and viewed with suspicion by peers.
Updated replication tracking. A more laborious, but perhaps beneficial, strategy would
be for journals to include replication sections on their journal pages for each article where
scholars can link their successful or failed replications of the published study and code their own
replication study as failed, successful, or ambiguous/semi-successful. Published studies could
then have a live “replication score” attached to them that is easily visible to other scholars who
read those published articles. This would help scholars know whether they should take a
particular study seriously when theorizing, developing hypotheses, and deciding whether to
conduct further replication attempts.
A replication tracking system within the journals might, over the long run, influence the
reputation of a journal, and, therefore, incentivize editors to publish robust science rather than
flashy science. Such a system might also disincentivize authors from publishing science they
have little confidence in because their publication could end up being flagged with a low
replication score, which would be embarrassing. This would also provide a greater incentive to
those scholars who do fail to replicate a particular study to write up their failed replications.
Their replications would be more visible to other scholars interested in the particular effect
(rather than buried on some other website) and thus increase the chances that they will at least
receive citations for their work (if not publications). This, in turn, would also make it much
easier for scholars who wish to conduct meta-analyses to detect successful and failed
Review papers. Review papers are often highly cited and help solidify many broader
theories and ideas in the social sciences that are then used by other scholars to generate new
hypotheses. Therefore, more than sets of experiments, it is important that scholars get review
papers right so they do not waste the time and resources of their peers. Yet Open Science
practices do little to help review papers be more accurate and portray the full range of relevant
data (rather than a biased subset).
One corrective for review papers would be for editors and reviewers to require explicit
and clearly labeled sections containing a mini review of findings that are inconsistent with the
present theory or hypothesis. If the scholars know of no research that contradicts their
hypothesis, they could be required to say this explicitly in their paper. This should incentivize
them to do a dedicated search of inconsistent findings so other scholars do not accuse them of
being unfamiliar with the topic even after writing a review.
Such papers could also be required to include statements of falsification. If they present a
new theory, it will be important to know not only what it explains or what it predicts or the
conditions under which such predictions apply, it will be crucial to know what would falsify the
theory’s predictions. If stereotypes are declared to be “the default basis of person perception”
(Fiske & Neuberg, 1990), how would we know if this was wrong? Would it be falsified by
evidence showing powerful individuating information effects? Weak biasing effects? Easily
eliminated biasing effects? Even better, scholars could be required to identify the most severe
test of the hypothesisthat is, the test that would be most likely to detect the falsity of the theory
or finding under investigation (O’Donohue, 2021). Theories that generate non-falsifiable
predictions are plausibly considered non-scientific, so that one means of elevating the scientific
credibility and validity of psychological science would be to articulate explicit statements of
what it would take to falsify a theory.
Evaluations of the quality of the evidence, and not just the presence/absence or even size
of some effect of phenomenon would also be valuable, as is common in Cochrane reviews (the
gold standard in medical research). Do studies have large or small N’s? Are they experimental or
non-experimental? Are they pre-registered or not? If so, did they follow the pre-registration
closely or not? The reviews could also use the new forensics (p-curves, R-Index, etc.) to evaluate
the quality of the evidence they reviewed (Bartoš & Schimmack, 2020; Simonsohn, 2015;
Simonsohn, Nelson, & Simmons, 2014a, 2014b). Evaluations of the quality of the evidence
might reduce the wild overclaiming that has characterized so many conclusions in social
psychology for decades (Jussim et al, 2016).
Academic reviewing, gatekeeping, and data suppression. Scholars have little ability to
criticize the gatekeepers in academia. Calling attention to the flaws of reviewers or editors risks
alienation, making it more, not less, difficult to get one’s work published and funded. Similarly,
accusing a hiring committee, conference committee, or award committee of bias would violate
norms in the field; and generally, it is difficult or impossible to know or prove when another
scholar is supporting or opposing a particular finding or scholar for non-accuracy reasons.
Consequently, there are almost no ways to hold the gatekeepers of academia accountable.
Although accountability to reviewers constitutes a check on author biases, there is no comparable
check on reviewers or editors’ biases.
Open peer review is, however, one way to mitigate some of those biases. Reviews, with
or without reviewer identifying information can be publicly posted. Therefore, the entire
scientific community at least has the opportunity to evaluate for itself whether a set of reviews
are themselves valid and whether their evaluations of a paper have been fair. As public
information, it might even become possible for authors to criticize reviews without fear of
One growing trend in academia are mob demands to retract papers that have already
passed peer review. Unless fraud or statistical errors that change the conclusions are detected,
these are data suppression attempts, usually in the service of some moral or political goal
(Stevens et al, in press). Attempts to suppress research by mob can be plausibly interpretable as
inability to refute the work -- because if the work could be refuted, the solution would be to
publish the supposed refutation and allow readers to judge for themselves which is stronger. Our
view is that building the discussion, rather than erasing it, is far more likely to advance science.
Nonetheless, many journals and editors may feel extreme pressure to give in to such demands
because they fear their own reputation or the reputation of the journal. And numerous recent
examples exist attesting to this trend (described at length in Honeycutt & Jussim, under review,
and Jussim, 2020).
To guard against mob retraction demands, journals should have explicit guidelines for
when they will consider retractions. We recommend the Committee on Publication Ethics’
guidelines (, which include unreliable findings
resulting from major errors or fabrication of data, plagiarism, redundant publications,
unauthorized material or data, copyright infringement, research that violated ethics,
compromised peer review, or failure to disclose competing interests. Journals should adhere to
their guidelines without exception, thus disincentivizing calls for retraction based on other
concerns such as alternate explanations, concerns about possible moral implications of the data,
or methodological weaknesses. With the rise of retraction-by-outrage-mob procedures, it would
be especially useful for journals whose policy is to retract only in cases of fabrication or massive
data errors to explicitly state in their instructions to authors that “under no conditions will we
retract a paper that has passed peer review and been accepted for publication, or published, on
grounds other than those articulated here, no matter how many people sign petitions or open
letters or send us outraged emails to do so.”
Journals, of course, could create their own guidelines, including, for example “public
concerns about the moral implications.” This would then signal that they are willing to retract
papers that are objected to by outrage mobs, even when they have passed peer review. This
would permit scholars to make their own decisions about whether to publish in journals with
retraction policies that violate their own standards for science. Just as transparency will improve
the work of authors, it will also improve the work of journals and editors.
Use of strong theories. The idea that human minds and human behavior are the product
of evolution and thus what humans think and do should generally promote reproductive success
is one of the few broad theories within the social sciences that has withstood substantial criticism
and has been very useful for generating countless other more specific hypotheses (Lewis, Al-
Shawaf, Conroy-Beam, Asao, & Buss, 2017). If, for example, a particular finding seems
inconsistent with natural and sexual selection in human cognition and behavior, skepticism
would be warranted. Some may contend that any hypothesis or finding could be made consistent
with an evolutionary account, but we doubt this is so. For example, Freud’s Oedipus complex, or
the idea that young boys would have sexual desire for their mothers and jealousy and hostility
toward their fathers, makes almost no sense at all from an evolutionary perspective (e.g., Daly &
Wilson, 1990). Using strong theories, those which we can have high confidence in, can help
scholars generate better hypotheses, which is advantageous both for scientists and scientific
Adversarial collaborations. Working with others with whom you disagree might be
temporarily unpleasant, but it will make you a better scientist (see, e.g., Bateman, Kahneman,
Munro, Starmer, & Sugden, 2005; Mellers, Hertwig, & Kahneman, 2001). Those who disagree
with you have a different perspective, and possibly different motives and biases, that can help
cancel out systematic error in your own work. Adversarial collaborations require scholars to
articulate their hypothesis in a clear, testable way, understand their adversary’s hypothesis as
their adversary understands it (and not as a caricature), identify actual points of disagreement
(rather than imagined ones based on caricatures), and generate methods that could differentiate
between the two hypotheses and feasibly falsify either hypothesis. These kinds of collaborations
constrain researcher degrees of freedom because adversaries will not approve of methodological
approaches that provide (even if unintentionally) rigged tests of hypotheses or that appear
designed to confirm a scholar’s hypothesis.
They also have greater potential to advance debates and change minds. Because scholars
commit to a methodological approach before testing their competing hypotheses, this minimizes
scholars’ ability to post-hoc criticize methods, explain away unexpected results, and file drawer
undesired results. Third parties should be more persuaded by results of adversarial collaborations
knowing that a scholar who made opposite predictions stands behind the methods and findings.
Although adversarial collaborations might feel like an unnecessary constraint in the
short-term, it will likely improve research in the long run (Ellemers, Fiske, Abele, Koch, &
Yzerbyt, 2020). If your hypothesis is correct, it likely will win out in an adversarial
collaboration. If it is incorrect, likely it will eventually be falsified regardless of whether you
discover this on your own in an adversarial collaboration or whether other scholars discover this
in failed replications or failed conceptual replications. Delaying the inevitable by refusing to
participate in adversarial collaborations only risks wasting more time and money and lowering
the ratio of science that will withstand the test of time.
Nonetheless, adversarial collaborations can also be quite difficult. Especially if
adversaries have been openly hostile with one another, forging the cooperative bonds needed to
work together on a project may be a bridge too far. Even without personal antipathy, however,
bridging differences in assumptions, perspectives, and motives can be a formidable and effort-
intensive task. We all have only limited time and resources, and, sometimes, such a project may
not be viewed as worth the effort.
On the other hand, we can also imagine a scientific world in which adversarial
collaborations were incentivized, thereby rewarding researchers who succeed at bridging these
divides. Given the higher confidence we can have in the findings resulting from adversarial
collaborations, editors and reviewers should consider these a methodological strength, similar to
preregistrations, large sample sizes, and meta-analyses. Given the self-discipline and
commitment to rigor required to participate in adversarial collaborations, such efforts should be
rewarded by other scholars when making hiring, funding, and award decisions. Participation in
these collaborations indicates that a scientist is committed to truth-seeking rather than in
advancing flashy results that may not hold up to higher scrutiny.
Reward rigor. Grants and awards in the social sciences should prioritize scholars who
produce robust effectsthose that are reliable and replicable and stand up to severe scrutiny.
Truth-telling and rigor should be prioritized over flash, drama, novelty, counter-intuitiveness,
and supposedly easy solutions to complex problems. By providing resources to researchers that
produce findings that are true, powerful, and robust, psychology will wander down far more
scientifically productive paths than if it follows every bright shiny object that shows up flashing
p<.05 and a compelling narrative. Of course, sometimes, even those findings will be flashy or
dramatic. But flash and drama should not detract from the value of work, and might be valuable
add-ons, if that work was conducted in such a manner as to lead to high confidence that it is true,
powerful, and robust.
The Case for Accuracy Motivations
Scholars have much to gain by forwarding flashy, socially important, self-promotional,
group-promotional, timely results. However, in the new era of Open Science, such gains could be
short lived if findings are not also accuratereplicable, with correct interpretations and
conclusions. Accepting that we ourselves are humans who are vulnerable to unconscious
motivations that influence the ways we conduct science and the conclusions we come to should
motivate us to place regulations on ourselves (e.g., refusing to file drawer our own studies,
searching for information that challenges our beliefs and hypotheses, working with scholars with
whom we disagree). Unfortunately, even when people are presented with reasonably compelling
evidence that they might have biases that steer their judgments away from accuracy, they seem
unable to recognize these tendencies in themselves (Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002). If you wish to
be the exception to the rule, start not by denying that you are human and prone to biases and
motivations, but instead by having a conscience that bravely admits this to yourself.
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... We take it as axiomatic that scientists are constrained by the same cognitive biases, limitations, and tradeoff calculations as mere mortals Clark et al., 2021a;Clark & Tetlock, 2021;Duarte et al., 2015;Faust, 1984;Haidt, 2020;Lilienfeld et al., 2020;Mahoney, 1976;Proctor & Capaldi, 2012;Redding, 2001;Ritchie, 2020;Tetlock, 2020;; although see also Lai, 2020;Van Bavel et al., 2020). ...
... Unlike individual scientists, science-the institution-prioritizes accuracy and enforces strategies for testing claims, like experimentation and repeated observation, that not long ago were unfamiliar to humanity (Strevens, 2020). But there are myriad flaws and countervailing forces that have enabled the behavioral sciences to produce a great deal of false knowledge, obstruct true knowledge, and fail to make progress in resolving contradictory claims (Clark et al., 2021a). ...
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Behavioral scientists enjoy vast methodological freedom in how they operationalize theoretical constructs. This freedom may promote creativity in designing laboratory paradigms that shed light on real-world phenomena, but it also enables questionable research practices that undercut our collective credibility. Open Science norms impose some discipline but cannot constrain cherry-picking operational definitions that insulate preferred theories from rejection. All too often scholars conduct performative research to score points instead of engaging each other’s strongest arguments—a pattern that allows contradictory claims to fester unresolved for decades. Adversarial collaborations, which call on disputants to co-develop tests of competing hypotheses, are an efficient method of improving our science’s capacity for self-correction and of promoting intellectual competition that exposes false claims. Although individual researchers are often initially reluctant to participate, the research community would be better served by institutionalizing adversarial collaboration into its peer review process.
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Our target article proposed that normalizing adversarial collaborations (ACs) will catalyze progress in the behavioral sciences (Clark et al., 2022). ACs require scholars to state their own positions precisely, address the real (not caricatured) version of their opponents’ claims, and work with their adversary to design studies that all parties agree constitute fair tests (rather than carefully crafting studies likely to confirm their preferred hypotheses). We welcome this opportunity to respond to seven commentaries by distinguished scholars, who mostly agreed that ACs are a good idea in principle but highlighted the practical difficulties of changing norms. They also provided numerous recommendations for how to change norms in the behavioral sciences and better incentivize ACs. We can respond to only a fraction of the many insightful points made in these commentaries, but we encourage curious scholars to read all of them. Below, we identify themes running through the discussions—and our grounds for optimism that, although ACs are challenging, the tipping point may be closer than we think given the likely benefits from ACs.
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In their timely piece, Rogelberg, King and Alonso (2022) eloquently elaborated the reasons why I-O science experiences difficulties in reaching the public and presented the tactics of how I-O psychologists could elevate scientific findings to the broader masses. Undoubtedly, there is a growing need for advancing the overall communication and representation of I-O psychology in the eyes of the public, especially when issues in the work and psychology domains get more convoluted than ever. Still, we believe that substantial obstacles exist in the current academic system that prevents scientists and the public from meeting on common grounds. Unlike proposed in the focal article, the reasons why researchers fail to engage with the public are not merely operational, but rather structural by nature. In this commentary, we aim to address these issues by providing an alternative perspective, thereby enhancing our understanding of the complexity of the issue. We argue that viewing communication between scholars and the public as unidirectional, in the way that only scientists act as the senders of messages while the public passively receives them, is providing only a partial and limited view. In the light of examples presented in the focal article and previously published research in the Industrial and Organizational Psychology journal, not only is it evident that scientists and the public are disconnected, but they have very little in common to share. In addition, this gap between research and practice continues to widen. Thus, we seek to unpack the underlying reasons why existing mechanisms do not allow any relevant and meaningful exchange between theory and practice. We further discuss how this lack of meaningful interaction hinders effective communication between scholars, practitioners , and the broader public in general.
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The social and behavioral sciences have taken a substantial reputational hit over the past decade. Some highly publicized findings have failed to replicate—and those that do replicate often do so with much smaller effect sizes (Camerer et al., 2018; Nosek et al., 2021). Plus some highly touted “science-based” interventions have failed to produce promised positive social change—even when massive efforts are dedicated to making them work (Singal, 2021). This chapter will lay out our two-tiered hypothesis: (a) the ideological homogeneity of the social sciences has entrenched certain scientific orthodoxies and taboos; (b) these orthodoxies and taboos have protected weak ideas from rigorous scrutiny and contributed to the replication crisis. We also explain how open science practices, although a big step in the right direction, leave many researcher degrees of freedom on the table that can bias methodological decisions and research conclusions. We argue that adversarial collaborations are the next necessary science reform for addressing lingering weaknesses in social scientific norms and can further minimize false positives, expedite scientific corrections, stimulate progress for stalemated scientific debates, and ultimately improve the quality of social scientific outputs.
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The conscious deliberation over multiple possibilities and the mental simulation of possible future outcomes enable individuals to make better choices. Humans likely evolved the ability to deliberate about their choices and simulate the possible outcomes of different actions. This ability is also likely to have adaptive value for human decision-making irrespective of whether the future is metaphysically indeterministic (or metaphysically open). This mental deliberation may be a unique human capacity that justifies at least some variants of responsibility both in the minds of everyday people (i.e., everyday people have an intuition that this human capacity justifies holding other humans responsible) and pragmatically (i.e., accepting this intuition might be beneficial for societies). We will suggest that although people likely do not have coherent conceptions of free will, beliefs in free will and the capacity for human responsibility broadly may be advantageous both for individual and societal-level functioning. Believing that oneself freely chooses and, thus, is responsible for one's own behavior may promote self-control and more moral decision making. And believing that others freely choose their own behaviors facilitates the ability to hold others morally responsible. Although moral judgment and punitiveness can be misused for oppressive or self-aggrandizing reasons, such tendencies likely evolved because they promoted moral behavior within human social groups. Free will belief and the corresponding belief in responsibility may, therefore, be a crucial ingredient for fostering large-scale cooperation.
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The Blame Efficiency Hypothesis applies insights from evolutionary psychology to resolve the apparent conflict between rationalist and intuitionist perspectives on moral judgment. First, people reserve moral condemnation for actors and actions that are likely to be deterred by moral condemnation. This includes intended and controllable actions (consistent with rationalist perspectives that highlight how considerations of intentionality and causal control influence blame judgments) because blame cannot deter intentions that never existed in the first place, nor can it alter unalterable actions. And this includes actors who care about their moral reputations (i.e., cognitively competent and mentally healthy humans), because moral condemnation cannot deter those with no regard for their moral reputations. Second, moral judgment is subject to error management principles. Failing to condemn a morally responsible harmdoer signals exploitability, and so it would be more costly to erroneously not blame a harmdoer who could have been deterred by blame than to erroneously blame a harmdoer who could not have been deterred by blame (called The Don Corleone Principle). In contrast, no obvious cost asymmetry exists for overestimations or underestimations of moral responsibility for helpful or neutral actions. Therefore, in ambiguous cases, people should err on the side of assuming harmdoers are morally responsible (consistent with intuitionist perspectives which highlight how punitive desires influence judgments of intentionality and moral responsibility). Blaming efficiently means that people attribute moral responsibility to those who appear capable of controlling their behavior in future situations and to those who appear controllable—likely to change their behavior in response to harsh moral judgment, with a small bias toward ascribing responsibility in ambiguous cases of harm to minimize the costly error of under-blaming.
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We study mentorship in scientific collaborations, where a junior scientist is supported by potentially multiple senior collaborators, without them necessarily having formal supervisory roles. We identify 3 million mentor–protégé pairs and survey a random sample, verifying that their relationship involved some form of mentorship. We find that mentorship quality predicts the scientific impact of the papers written by protégés post mentorship without their mentors. We also find that increasing the proportion of female mentors is associated not only with a reduction in post-mentorship impact of female protégés, but also a reduction in the gain of female mentors. While current diversity policies encourage same-gender mentorships to retain women in academia, our findings raise the possibility that opposite-gender mentorship may actually increase the impact of women who pursue a scientific career. These findings add a new perspective to the policy debate on how to best elevate the status of women in science.
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This paper explores the suppression of ideas within an academic scholarship by academics, either by self-suppression or because of the efforts of other academics. Legal, moral, and social issues distinguishing freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and academic freedom are reviewed. How these freedoms and protections can come into tension is then explored by an analysis of denunciation mobs that exercise their legal free speech rights to call for punishing scholars who express ideas they disapprove of and condemn. When successful, these efforts, which constitute legally protected speech, will suppress certain ideas. Real-world examples over the past five years of academics that have been sanctioned or terminated for scholarship targeted by a denunciation mob are then explored.
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Social science researchers are predominantly liberal, and critics have argued this representation may reduce the robustness of research by embedding liberal values into the research process. In an adversarial collaboration, we examined whether the political slant of research findings in psychology is associated with lower rates of scientific replicability. We analyzed 194 original psychology articles reporting studies that had been subject to a later replication attempt ( N = 1,331,413 participants across replications) by having psychology doctoral students (Study 1) and an online sample of U.S. residents (Study 2) from across the political spectrum code the political slant (liberal vs. conservative) of the original research abstracts. The methods and analyses were preregistered. In both studies, the liberal or conservative slant of the original research was not associated with whether the results were successfully replicated. The results remained consistent regardless of the ideology of the coder. Political slant was unrelated to both subsequent citation patterns and the original study’s effect size and not consistently related to the original study’s sample size. However, we found modest evidence that research with greater political slant—whether liberal or conservative—was less replicable, whereas statistical robustness consistently predicted replication success. We discuss the implications for social science, politics, and replicability.
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Significance Social status is a universal and consequential dimension of variation within human groups. Multiple prominent theories have been proposed to explain how status is allocated, but extant evidence is insufficient to adjudicate between their conflicting predictions. Here we show that distinctions between each theory hinge on the relative importance of four key affordance dimensions: benefit-generation ability, benefit-generation willingness, cost-infliction ability, and cost-infliction willingness. Each theory makes a different prediction about the role of each affordance in status allocation. We test these competing predictions to explain status allocations across 14 nations. We found that benefit-generation affordances uniquely predicted status allocations across nations, whereas cost-infliction affordances were weak or null competing predictors.
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Childhood unpredictability and harshness are associated with patterns of psychology and behavior that enable individuals to make the most of adverse environments. The current research assessed effects of childhood unpredictability and harshness on individual differences in sacrificial moral decision making. Six studies (N=1,503) supported the hypothesis that childhood unpredictability, but not harshness, would be associated with fewer decisions to reject harm (consistent with deontological ethics) and to maximize overall outcomes (consistent with utilitarian ethics). These associations were not moderated by perceptions of current environmental unpredictability (Studies 3a and 3b) and were robust to potential confounds (religiosity, political conservativism, Big-5 personality traits, and social desirability; Study 5). The associations between childhood unpredictability and lower deontological and utilitarian tendencies were statistically mediated by low levels of empathic concern and poor-quality social relationships (Study 4). Findings are consistent with the possibility that early calibration to ecological unpredictability, but not harshness, undermines other-oriented psychological processes which, in turn, reduce moral concerns about harm and consequences for other people.
Many popular comedians tell complicated jokes that involve multiple levels of interpretation. The same joke may be perceived as criticizing or reinforcing the societal status quo, depending on perceivers’ assumptions about the target of the punchline (e.g., whether the joke is at the expense of high- or low-status groups). We focused on how such jokes are experienced by listeners who are psychologically prone to justifying (vs. challenging) the status quo. In a sample of Mechanical Turk workers ( N = 179), we explored whether individual differences in system justification would be associated with the appreciation of group-based (stereotypical) humor, depending on the perceived target of the joke. As hypothesized, high system-justifiers found jokes targeting low-status groups (e.g., women, poor people, racial/ethnic minorities) to be funnier than low system-justifiers did. In some cases, low system-justifiers found jokes targeting high-status groups (rich people, European Americans) to be funnier than high system-justifiers did. These results expand upon previous demonstrations that humor appreciation is linked to relatively stable ideological dispositions and suggest that different individuals may perceive complex group-based humor in divergent ways.
A recent study by Baltiansky, Craig, & Jost (2020) tested two hypotheses related to system justification and the perception of stereotypical humor. They reported to have found evidence for a cross-over interaction, with judgments of jokes being contingent on a combination of the social status of the targets of jokes and raters’ system justification motivations. Here, we discuss the original analysis, presentation, and interpretation of the data in Baltiansky et al. (2020), before presenting a re-analysis of the authors’ shared data file. We show that the framing of claims such as “high system-justifiers found jokes targeting low-status groups (e.g., women, poor people, racial/ethnic minorities) to be funnier than low system-justifiers did” (p. 1) are misleading in their framing. Instead, our re-analyses suggest that ideological differences in joke perception are driven primarily by those scoring low on the system justification motivation rating jokes about ostensibly low-status groups as less funny than jokes about other social groups.
The past decade has seen rapid growth in research that evaluates methods for reducing prejudice. This essay reviews 418 experiments reported in 309 manuscripts from 2007 to 2019 to assess which approaches work best and why. Our quantitative assessment uses meta-analysis to estimate average effects. Our qualitative assessment calls attention to landmark studies that are noteworthy for sustained interventions, imaginative measurement, and transparency. However, 76% of all studies evaluate light touch interventions, the long-term impact of which remains unclear. The modal intervention uses mentalizing as a salve for prejudice. Although these studies report optimistic conclusions, we identify troubling indications of publication bias that may exaggerate effects. Furthermore, landmark studies often find limited effects, which suggests the need for further theoretical innovation or synergies with other kinds of psychological or structural interventions. We conclude that much research effort is theoretically and empirically ill-suited to provide actionable, evidence-based recommendations for reducing prejudice. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 72 is January 4, 2021. Please see for revised estimates.
Members of the field of philosophy have, just as other people, political convictions or, as psychologists call them, ideologies. How are different ideologies distributed and perceived in the field? Using the familiar distinction between the political left and right, we surveyed an international sample of 794 subjects in philosophy. We found that survey participants clearly leaned left (75%), while right-leaning individuals (14%) and moderates (11%) were underrepresented. Moreover, and strikingly, across the political spectrum from very left-leaning individuals and moderates to very right-leaning individuals, participants reported experiencing ideological hostility in the field, occasionally even from those on their own side of the political spectrum. Finally, while about half of the subjects believed that discrimination against left- or right-leaning individuals in the field is not justified, a significant minority displayed an explicit willingness to discriminate against colleagues with the opposite ideology. Our findings are both surprising and important because a commitment to tolerance and equality is widespread in philosophy, and there is reason to think that ideological similarity, hostility, and discrimination undermine reliable belief formation in many areas of the discipline.