“What’s wrong with psychology?” was both the title of psych professor Jarret Crawford’s presentation, and the big question he asked a room of colleagues from across campus to consider recently.
Crawford’s own answer to the question draws a similarity to his transition from a Catholic to an atheist, and he points to “the replication crisis” as the reason for his loss of faith in his chosen field.
The replication crisis, he says, is the frequent inability of psychologists to replicate their research, as a result of a phenomenon called “p-hacking,” which is the process of manipulating results so they seem statistically significant, when they actually are not.
Crawford cites the pressures on psychologists to get their work published as the culprit. To get and keep a job, he says, psychologists are expected to publish findings. But in order to be published, those findings must be statistically significant. Studies that don’t uncover new patterns or phenomena are devalued, which leads to skewed data. So when other psychologists perform the same study, they get different results.
While the title of the presentation implies a sense of doom and gloom, Crawford keeps it lighthearted and hopeful with fun gifs and images. He also includes resources to combat the replication crisis such as a website created by the Center for Open Science called OSF, a free source where scientists can register their studies, publish their research, and collaborate with other scientists — regardless of results — which helps restore trust in the field.
Now, instead of teaching his students about theories or studies that may be based on p-hacking, Crawford makes them aware of the replication crisis and involves them in replicating studies to test their validity.
“I don’t expect everyone to drop everything and focus solely on it, but I do want to encourage other faculty and students to discuss the warts in the field, and to be more critical of received wisdom,” says Crawford. “For my colleagues outside psychology, my hope is that they might recognize whether there are similar questionable practices going on in their own fields, presuming that for many other fields, these conversations are relevant, but they haven’t had them quite yet.”
— Corinne Coakley ’25