Concerned by the unreliability of scientific research in the field of psychology, an international group, the Many Labs Replication Project, began fact-checking major research. Of the thirteen studies it reviewed, only two were proven completely unreliable – and both had to do with conservative political behavior.
Both studies concerned “social priming,” a phenomenon by which people are made more likely to endorse a view or act in a particular way by first being exposed to certain stimuli.
The first study, published in May 2013, was thought to show that exposure to money influenced one to become friendlier to free-market capitalism. According to the study’s abstract, this exposure made subjects more likely to endorse the current American social structure and to assert that “victims deserve their fate.”
The second study alleged that exposure to the American flag leads to “a shift toward Republican beliefs, attitudes, and voting behavior” for up to eight months afterward.
Neither study’s results could be replicated.
The Many Labs Project’s work was touted both within and without its academic field. Great care was taken to make the project collaborative, and even the authors of the studies cited above admitted deference to the results of the Project’s review. One scientist commented that similar methodology would be effective to check the replicability of studies in other academic fields from sociology to zoology.
Scientific American, in telling this story, fails to note an irony which is not without its own scientific significance. The Project’s review suggests a much-more-than-random failure of scientific studies that pertain to conservative views and beliefs. Scientists’ inability to form sound theses in this area and to pursue their evidence with good methodology is a morsel that one interested in academic bias should not want to pass up.
Indeed, these studies subtly assert the position that belief in the free market is a conditioned response to the sight of money rather than a reasoned position which can reached by a thinking adult. This is not a position that should stand uncritically.