Alan Sokal is in the news again, this time for helping to demolish the scientistic pretence of some positive psychologists:
The whole analysis in the 2005 paper was based on taking a poorly-described dataset and then making it fit a mathematical model, purely by means of elementary misunderstandings. …
Yet by means of an epic series of assumptions, Losada declared this meaningless quantity to be the Key to Happiness and Success. There’s loads more detail in the Brown et al paper, and it’s surprisingly readable for something so depressingly stupid. …
But why has it taken eight years for someone to point this out, given the size of the claim combined with the paucity of the evidence?
[The 2.9013 critical positivity ratio] would, if veriﬁed, surely require much of contemporary psychology and neuroscience to be rewritten; purely on that basis we are surprised that, apparently, no researchers have critically questioned this claim, or the reasoning on which it was based, until now.
The Emperor’s New Clothes analogy is horribly overused, and but in this case, it seems apt – or at least, I hope so.
The alternative is worse: that no-one spoke out simply because no-one in the field of positive psychology could see anything wrong with it.
On that note, it would obviously be wrong to dismiss all of positive psychology research just because of one bad paper. However, positive psychologists do have a case to answer, for letting this get 964 citations.
There is certainly a need to integrate the best gains of science with the wisdom of the humanities, but reducing the latter to the former is not the way to do it.