More Bad New York Times Science Reporting

Here’s one take on the Times article:

John Tierney is a science journalist for the New York Times and he has an issue with psychology. Specifically, he has a problem apparently with cognitive dissonance (a feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in your mind at the same time). And he thinks an economist — who hasn’t actually published any peer-reviewed research on this issue — might have proven decades’ worth of psychological research wrong.

Okay, fine, in the marketplace of ideas even economists (no science there) should have a voice. (Tierney draws part of his premise from an economist. And every theory should be rigorously challenged if it’s supposed to have any credence. Here’s the review’s retort:

Not to say an economist or any scientist couldn’t come to understand the modern methods used for detecting cognitive dissonance in research today. Only to say it’s a bit of a leap to say, “Hey, I think I’ve proved this one study may be incorrect, and by the way, I think this proves the entire area of research incorrect (although I haven’t actually reviewed the hundreds of studies myself).”

And here’s the big problem with this kind of science reporting:

The challenge is that without peer-review, science is just one expert’s opinion against another’s in the court of public opinion. Sway an influential journalist like Tierney into your camp, and suddenly the media spotlight is on you and other media outlets report your findings as fact. When they’re not — they’re just opinion.

So to Tierney and Chen, I say, “Interesting. Now show me the peer-reviewed, published research, and show me how that generalizes to more modern approaches of looking at this concern, and then get back to me.” Because without such actual, well, research, Chen’s opinion is just an interesting footnote in this area of psychological research at this time.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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