Mixed blessings

March 7, 2013

We would like to respond to your recent cover story “Primed, but not suspect” (28 February). Last year we published a critical paper in the journal Review of General Psychology about another popular research question in social psychology, namely whether “stereotype threat” can explain the gender achievement gap in mathematics. This research area is not without flaws, either.

For example, some researchers did not sufficiently report statistics, exaggerated claims, drew the wrong conclusions from other papers or used data selectively to confirm their hypotheses. We were surprised that these problems were apparently not noted by peer reviewers, which matches David Shanks’ observations (“Flawed psychology”, Letters, 14 February).

One reason for this might be that papers are often reviewed by researchers from within the domain who have invested in the theory themselves. And as we argued recently in The Skeptic magazine, another reason might be that socially acceptable theories receive less scrutiny than those that do not match people’s desire for and belief in fairness (as could be argued for some theories in evolutionary psychology).

The solution would be to have mixed panels of reviewers (for example, cognitive psychologists reviewing social psychological papers) and to invest more in the training of postgraduate psychology students, particularly in topics such as understanding the scientific method and statistics: after all, these students are tomorrow’s peer reviewers.

Gijsbert Stoet
Reader in psychology, School of Education
University of Glasgow

David C. Geary
Curators’ professor, department of psychological sciences
University of Missouri

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