replicability crisis

Even With Nuance, Social Psychology Faces its Most Major Crisis in History

"The truth is something that burns..." (JBP)

An interesting piece has recently been posted arguing that nuance is required to accurately understand the extent to which (social) psychology is currently facing a crisis of confidence. 31 articles are listed on important issues that need to be considered to accurately evaluate the current crisis and generate nuanced solutions to our problems.

I wholeheartedly agree nuance is required here. As the saying goes, the truth is in the details, and there are many many details that all need to be considered extremely carefully. That said, even after nuanced consideration of the issues raised in these 31 articles, a careful near-decade-long evaluation of the replicability of social psychology’s published findings based on thousands of replication studies, paints a grim picture: Even with nuance, social psychology currently faces its most major crisis in history.1

Of course, many nuanced details go into informing such a bold claim.2 I could be wrong, and I genuinely hope to be proven wrong if I indeed am wrong. But for now, see this sneak preview of the tip of the iceberg of the details that inform such claim.

Kahneman worried about a train wreck looming in social psychology. He was correct in worrying, and unfortunately I believe the train wreck has manifested. Indeed, the train wreck continues to inflict pain on the social psychology community on a near-weekly basis as an alarmingly growing number of cherished findings fail to hold up to closer scrutiny.

But is the field of social psychologyrotten to the core, as some have suggested?

"Rotten to the core"

In the spirit of thinking about things in a nuanced fashion, I strongly disagree with the rotten apple metaphor because some findings in social psychology do in fact replicate (eg1, eg2, eg3; though note replicable effects aren’t necessarily also valid/generalizable; eg). So it’s false that everything is rotten.  Rather, social psychology’s most pressing problem is its low replicability rate. Current meta-meta-analytic estimates, based on the careful evaluation of thousands of replications, suggest social psychology’s replicability rate is most likely somewhere in between 15-25%.3 Hence, a better metaphor is that of a raging forest fire, which has potential to become much worse, but also has the potential to be tempered, and eventually controlled to reasonable levels.

"The truth is something that burns..." (JBP)

Consequently, it’s not time to sit back, relax, and become complacent based on distorted perceptions of the state of social psychology just because such perceptions make us feel better. As emphasized by Ledgerwood’s piece, we need to stay focused on how to get better right now, starting today. This can be done, for example, by ensuring one’s research is sufficiently falsifiable by (1) executing and reporting one’s research in a sufficiently transparent manner and (2) prioritizing replicability by thinking in more nuanced ways about the systematic use of different kinds of direct replications (see our 10 shades of falsifiability replication taxonomy).

Many, if not most, social psychologists have embraced open science reforms in some capacity, and this is very promising and inspiring. That said, many elite social psychologists4 continue to make proto- or pseudo-scientific arguments against the fundamental scientific principles of transparency, replicability, and falsifiability. This is embarrassing to the majority of social psychologists who do understand the gravity of the situation. Such proto- and pseudo-scientific sophism must stop immediately. It’s our job to engage in dialogue with such elite social psychologists, who continue to hold powerful editorial positions and exert influence on graduate students. Our collective reputation is at stake. The longer this goes on for, the sooner (government) funders will consider pulling the plug on our funding, and more importantly, the sooner the public’s trust in social psychology will be further eroded.




1. For other crises, see Elms, 1975; Greenwald, 1975; Lykken, 1968.
2. All of these details will eventually be revealed in an upcoming project about the personal deception within the broken academic system.
3. Based on replicability rates of social psych effects from ML1, ML3, SP:Special Issue, RRRs, RP:P, and non-large-scale replication efforts (see here for the working meta-meta).
4. (Who will remain nameless here, but will be named in my upcoming project.)