Journals Publish Positive Results So Scientists “File-Drawer” Negative Results

(p. A15) In “The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills,” Jesse Singal, a contributing writer at New York magazine, chronicles several dubious enthusiasms that permeate our culture. Along the way, he tries to show why they are so widespread. His focus is on “the allure of fad psychology,” as he puts it, and on the ways in which “both individuals and institutions can do a better job of resisting it.”

. . .

Academic journals, too, are keen to publish supposedly newsworthy findings. Under such conditions, it’s easy to see why a psychologist would be reluctant to re-examine her too-good-to-be-true results when doubts—her own and those of colleagues—begin to nag.

Each chapter of “The Quick Fix” presents accessible explanations of the research that was eventually shown to be “half-baked,” as Mr. Singal puts it. The problems, he shows, often derive from dodgy statistical analysis or faulty experimental design. Researchers, for instance, might use various statistical tests until one shows a sought-for result, or they might submit only positive results to a journal for publication, holding the negative ones back, a practice known as “file-drawering.” Mr. Singal also traces the social and political currents that helped propel certain trends.

Mr. Singal’s analysis is thus a quick fix for readers who want to be more enlightened and thoughtful consumers of psychological science.

For the full review, see:

Sally Satel. “BOOKSHELF; A Bias Toward Easy Answers.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 12, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 11, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Quick Fix’ Review: A Bias Toward Easy Answers.”)

The book under review is:

Singal, Jesse. The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021.

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