Daily Archives: January 14, 2011

Andres Gelman rebuts Bem’s ESP paper

Thanks to my friend and fellow Ph.D. candidate Lee Becker, I have an update on my earlier post regarding Daryl Bem’s ESP paper.

On his blog, Columbia University statistician Andrew Gelman writes:

All the statistical sophistication in the world won’t help you if you’re studying a null effect. This is not to say that the actual effect is zero–who am I to say?–just that the comments about the high-quality statistics in the article don’t say much to me…

As David Weakiem and I have discussed, classical statistical methods that work reasonably well when studying moderate or large effects (see the work of Fisher, Snedecor, Cochran, etc.) fall apart in the presence of small effects.

I think it’s naive when people implicitly assume that the study’s claims are correct, or the study’s statistical methods are weak. Generally, the smaller the effects you’re studying, the better the statistics you need. ESP is a field of small effects and so ESP researchers use high-quality statistics.

To put it another way: whatever methodological errors happen to be in the paper in question, probably occur in lots of researcher papers in “legitimate” psychology research. The difference is that when you’re studying a large, robust phenomenon, little statistical errors won’t be so damaging as in a study of a fragile, possibly zero effect.


Chinese parenting is superior to Western parenting, author argues

This story, it could be argued, is outside the realm of cognitive science, but given the attention it has received in the media, I’ve chosen to post it anyway. At a minimum, I suspect a number of my readers will consider it through the lens of cognitive science – from a social psychology perspective alone there’s a lot to think about vis-a-vis the meta narrative here…

On January 8, the Wall Street Journal published this article by attorney and law professor Amy Chua, in which Chua wrote:

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting…

To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.

Needless to say, the argument that Chinese approaches to parenting are superior to the stereotypical Western (or American) approach has created a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and on many op-ed pages.  Sociologist Christine Carter, writing in the Huffington Post, offers her rebuttal to Chua:

Though I’m anything but permissive, even by Chua’s standards, I am one of those “Western” parents who absolutely do prioritize children’s long-term happiness over their achievements and performances. Ironically, I adapted these values from a confluence of Eastern philosophy — particularly Lao-tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” and Buddhist teachings — and Western science, which provides ample evidence that success follows happiness and not the other way around.

Chua’s argument goes against years of scientific research into what makes kids truly happy — and successful — in life. Moreover, it rests on a faulty premise: Rather than being overly permissive, many American parents — especially the well-educated, affluent Americans reading excerpts in the WSJ or on Slate.com — are overly focused on achievement already. Chua’s guide to raising ever-more high-achieving children could fuel this fire, and that’s scary.