Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science

Book by Stuart Ritchie: “So much relies on science. But what if science itself can’t be relied on?

Medicine, education, psychology, health, parenting – wherever it really matters, we look to science for guidance. Science Fictions reveals the disturbing flaws that undermine our understanding of all of these fields and more.

While the scientific method will always be our best and only way of knowing about the world, in reality the current system of funding and publishing science not only fails to safeguard against scientists’ inescapable biases and foibles, it actively encourages them. Many widely accepted and highly influential theories and claims – about ‘priming’ and ‘growth mindset’, sleep and nutrition, genes and the microbiome, as well as a host of drugs, allergies and therapies – turn out to be based on unreliable, exaggerated and even fraudulent papers. We can trace their influence in everything from austerity economics to the anti-vaccination movement, and occasionally count the cost of them in human lives….(More)”.

Are Food Labels Good?

Paper by Cass Sunstein: “Do people from benefit from food labels? When? By how much? Public officials face persistent challenges in answering these questions. In various nations, they use four different approaches: they refuse to do so on the ground that quantification is not feasible; they engage in breakeven analysis; they project end-states, such as economic savings or health outcomes; and they estimate willingness-to-pay for the relevant information. Each of these approaches runs into strong objections. In principle, the willingness-to-pay question has important advantages. But for those who has that question, there is a serious problem. In practice, people often lack enough information to give a sensible answer to the question how much they would be willing to pay for (more) information. People might also suffer from behavioral biases (including present bias and optimistic bias). And when preferences are labile or endogenous, even an informed and unbiased answer to the willingness to pay question may fail to capture the welfare consequences, because people may develop new tastes and values as a result of information….(More)”.

What’s next for nudging and choice architecture?

Richard Thaler at a Special Edition of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes: “I have long considered all my co-editors of this special issue to be good friends. That is, until they asked me to write an editorial on the topic of “what is next?” When a bunch of experts in judgment and decision-making ask you to do something they know to be impossible, you should be suspicious, right? Do they think I don’t know that predicting the future of science is impossible?

They slyly assigned Katy Milkman the job of luring me into agreeing. The first request came via email with what had to be a deliberately impenetrable subject heading: “Ask for OBHDP Special Issue You’re Co-Editing: 13 Paragraphs on the Future of Nudge.” The other three co-editors were copied, the message was long and complicated, and, to top it off, the first word of the subject was “Ask.” Katy surely knew there was no chance I would read that email, which of course was part of her cunning strategy. She figured that when she sent the inevitable follow-up email I would feel guilty about not responding to the first one. Guilt is a powerful nudge.

The expected second email came three days later, this time with a catchier one-word subject line: “Noodge.” (Have I mentioned that these emails arrived in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown?) This new email began by acknowledging that the first one had been too long and poorly timed, lulling me into a false sense of security that I was being excused and off the hook. But then, Katy launched the heavy artillery. She framed her request in a way that made my acceptance the default option: “Hope you’re up for writing 1–3 paragraphs, but let me know if not and we’ll manage. :)” We all know that defaults are powerful, but did she really think this was going to work on me? Although I was mildly miffed at the brazen noodging, I find it hard to say “no” to Katy, so I stuck to my usual strategy of lying low and ignored this email as well, foolishly hoping she would give up.

That hope was dashed a week later when the third email arrived with the subject line: “pretty please with sugar on top. :)” Plus, she pulled out another trick she had up her sleeve: a deadline! “The introduction is due in just a few days!” She was telling me that this assignment, which I had never agreed to do, was almost overdue. Of course, she also knew I was trapped in my home with very few excuses. Seeing no plausible escape route at this point, I capitulated and agreed to her request.

Conclusion: nudging works! Even on me.

Recall her request was that I write one to three paragraphs. This is already the sixth paragraph so by all rights I should already be done. Certainly, I will not be lured into making any forecasts. Phil Tetlock is her colleague! But since the word processor is already open, I will instead offer a few thoughts about my hopes and dreams for this enterprise.

My first hope is that the range of “nudges” expands. We know a lot about the effect of the kinds of strategies Katy used in her emails to me such as defaults, reminders, deadlines, guilt, salience, and norms. Come to think of it, I am surprised Katy didn’t try “90 percent of all recipients of my emails agree to do what I ask.” While I concede that these ploys often (though not always) work, it can’t be that they span the entire behavioral science repertoire. So I am hoping to see studies using a different set of behavioral insights. I am sure there are good ones out there….(More)”.

The Behavioral Economics Guide 2020

Book edited by Alain Samson. Introduction by Colin Camerer: “The goal of science is to accumulate knowledge, full stop. In my opinion, there is a lot of leakage in how we currently do this. The reproducibility “upgrade” (a term I prefer to “crisis”) going on in many areas of science is an example of trying to minimize leakage. Solid accumulation depends on not getting led too far or frequently astray by false positives which do not reproduce. A good infrastructure for rapidly evaluating and cumulating results is of special use for “hurry-up” social science. For example, as I write this there are probably hundreds of social science studies being done about COVID-19. It is essentially impossible for all those scientists to know what the other scientists are doing. There will be duplication and poorly designed
studies. (It is often said in design that everyone wants cheap, fast, and good. But you can only have two.)

When studies are written and circulated in preprints, a lot of null effects won’t be written up. Which studies will get the most attention? It will be a scrum of social media, presenting at seminars, slow and fast reviewing paces. The one thing that would undoubtedly be most useful—a giant dashboard summarizing weekly progress on each of those hundreds of studies—does not exist. This is a failure of good informatics.

Behavioral economics is accumulating knowledge about how different kinds of nudges influence behavior at a rapid pace. The challenge is that carefully assessing what an entire body of knowledge is telling us is actually quite difficult and is under-rewarded (by academic incentives). A lot of academic publishing, and similar career concerns within government or NGOs, depend on creativity and doing something new. This creates an incentive to exaggerate the novelty of one’s contribution compared to what is known from past studies….(More)”.

Changing Citizen Behaviour: An Investigation on Nudge Approach in Developing Society

Paper by Dimas Budi Prasetyo: “It is widely explored that problems in developing society related to think and act logically and reflectively in a social context positively correlates with the cognition skill. In most developing societies, people are busy with problems that they face daily (i.e. working overtime), limits their cognitive capacity to properly process a social stimulus, which mostly asked their thoughtful response. Thus, a better design in social stimulus to tackle problematic behaviour, such as littering, to name a few, becomes more prominent. During the last decade, nudge has been famous for its subtle approach for behaviour change – however, there is relatively little known of the method applied in the developing society. The current article reviews the nudge approach to change human behaviour from two perspectives: cognitive science and consumer psychology. The article concludes that intervention using the nudge approach could be beneficial for current problematic behaviour…(More)”.

Secondhand Smoke, Moral Sanctions, and How We Should Respond to COVID-19

Article by Barry Schwartz: “How did we get from that day to this one, with widespread smoking bans in public places? The answer, I believe, was the discovery of the effects of secondhand smoke. When I smoked, it harmed innocent bystanders. It harmed children, including my own. The research on secondhand smoke began in the 1960s, showing negative effects on lab animals. As the work continued, it left no doubt that secondhand smoke contributes to asthma, cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer, stroke, cognitive impairment, and countless other maladies. These sorts of findings empowered people to demand, not request, that others put out their cigarettes. The secondhand smoke research led eventually to all the regulation that we now take for granted.

Why did this research change public attitudes and change them so fast—in a single generation? The answer, I think, is that research on secondhand smoke took an individual (perhaps foolish) choice and moralized it, by emphasizing its effects on others. It was no longer simply dumb to smoke; it was immoral. And that changed everything.

Psychologist Paul Rozin has studied the process of moralization. When activities get moralized, they move from being matters of individual discretion to being matters of obligation. Smoking went from being an individual consumer decision to being a transgression. And the process of moralization can go in the other direction, as we have seen, for most people, in the case of sexuality. In recent years, homosexuality has been “demoralized,” and moral sanctions against it have slowly been melting away….(More)”.

How to Sustain Your Activism Against Police Brutality Beyond this Moment

Article by Bethany Gordon: “…Despite the haunting nature of these details and the different features of this moment, I am worried that empathetic voices lifting up this cause will quiet too soon for lasting change to occur. But it doesn’t have to happen this way. Gaining a better understanding of the empathy we feel in these moments of awareness and advocacy can help us take a more behaviorally sustainable approach.

Empathy is a complex psychological phenomenon, describing eight distinct ways that we respond to one another’s experiences and emotions, but most commonly defined in the dictionary as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Using this broader definition, scholars and activists have debated how effective empathy is as a tool for behavior change—particularly when it comes to fighting racism. Paul Bloom argues that empathy allows our bias to drive our decision-making, bell hooks states that empathy is not a promising avenue to systemic racial change, and Alisha Gaines analyzes how an overemphasis on racial empathy in a 1944 landmark study, “An American Dilemma,” led to a blindness about the impact of systemic and institutional racial barriers. This more general understanding and application of empathy has not been an effective aid to fighting systemic oppression and has led to a lot of (well-meaning?) blackface.

A more nuanced understanding of empathy—and its related concepts—may help us use it more effectively in the fight against racism. There are two strains of empathy that are relevant to the George Floyd protests and can help us better understand (and possibly change) our response: empathic distress and empathic concern, also known as compassion.

Empathic distress is a type of empathy we feel when we are disturbed by witnessing another’s suffering. Empathic distress is an egocentric response—a reaction that places our own well-being at its center. When we’re motivated to act through empathic distress, our ultimate goal is to alleviate our own suffering. This may mean we take action to help another person, but it could also mean we distract ourselves from their suffering.

Compassion is a type of empathy that is other-oriented. Compassion operates when you feel for another person rather than being distressed by their suffering, thereby making your ultimate goal about fixing the actual problem….(More)’

Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

Article by

Beyond Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance

Article by Michael Muthukrishna et al: “In this article, we present a tool and a method for measuring the psychological and cultural distance between societies and creating a distance scale with any population as the point of comparison. Because psychological data are dominated by samples drawn from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (WEIRD) nations, and overwhelmingly, the United States, we focused on distance from the United States. We also present distance from China, the country with the largest population and second largest economy, which is a common cultural comparison. We applied the fixation index (FST), a meaningful statistic in evolutionary theory, to the World Values Survey of cultural beliefs and behaviors.

As the extreme WEIRDness of the literature begins to dissolve, our tool will become more useful for designing, planning, and justifying a wide range of comparative psychological projects. Our code and accompanying online application allow for comparisons between any two countries. Analyses of regional diversity reveal the relative homogeneity of the United States. Cultural distance predicts various psychological outcomes….(More)”.

Behavioural Insights Teams (BITs) and Policy Change: An Exploration of Impact, Location, and Temporality of Policy Advice

Paper by Ishani Mukherjee and Sarah Giest: “Behavioural Insights Teams (BITs) have gained prominence in government as policy advisors and are increasingly linked to the way policy instruments are designed. Despite the rise of BITs as unique knowledge brokers mediating the use of behavioral insights for policymaking, they remain underexplored in the growing literature on policy advice and advisory systems. The article emphasizes that the visible impact that BITs have on the content of policy instruments, the level of political support they garner and their structural diversity in different political departments, all set them apart from typical policy brokers in policy advisory systems connecting the science-policy divide…(More)”.

The Rise and Spread of Behavioral Public Policy: An Opportunity for Critical Research and Self-Reflection

Paper by Holger Straßheim: “Some argue that the global rise of behavioral approaches challenges the rationalist tradition in public policy. Others fear that it could undermine deliberation and public reasoning. This paper focuses on the worldwide rise and spread of behavioral expertise and behavioral public policy. It provides a general insight in terms of the role of expertise, the science-policy nexus and the distribution of epistemic competences in public policy. Based on an extensive literature review, the emergence and consequences of behavioral-expert networks are assessed. It will be suggested that it is necessary to break free from the microfocus proposed by behavioral public policy and to pay more attention to the institutional and cultural constellations of knowledge- and decision-making in democracies….(More)”.