Social psychologist Brian Wasnick has had his work referred to by Nobel economist Richard Thaler as “masterpieces.” However, social psychology has had its reputation tattered a bit. In 2015, the Center for Open Science (COS), located in Charlottesville, Virginia, began its Reproducibility Project, and psychology was its first subject area. COS attempted to replicate 100 past studies. A team of 270 researchers picked a project to replicate. Sadly, the scientists could only replicate the result in 39 of the 100 studies. For the other 69, the scientists found they could not get to statistical significance. Of the 57 social psychology studies, only 25% could be replicated, which was the worst field.
Mr. Wasnick published a study that concluded that if you put an Elmo sticker on an apple that the kids will choose the apple over the cookie. The results were published in Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, but were retracted when JAMA received a letter from a reader, Nick Brown, that pointed out inconsistencies between the methodology and the data. The editor retracted the article. Mr. Wasnick responded that the data were indeed incorrect, but the mistake was inadvertent. Mr. Brown then responded:
Having read the cover letter that accompanies the retraction, my reaction would be to question just how chaotic a lab has to be to “inadvertently” submit an incorrect report of the study design and sample size to a journal with an impact factor of over 10. I also wonder how a misleading figure “inadvertently” came to replace a considerably less misleading one that was apparently in a draft of the article less than three months before it was published, as detailed in my blog post…
Mr. Brown also wondered how chaotic a lab has to be that it sends out the wrong data for publication.
The retraction is the third that Mr. Wasnick had made. There is a great deal of federal funding available for research into making kids eat what’s good for them. Slap a few Elmo stickers on food, claim you have a solution for healthy kid choices, and the funding will keep coming. The integrity of the data is not the only issue here. The integrity of researchers suffers when these highly visible errors appear.
The Barometer wonders how many “Nudges” Richard Thaler got governments to adopt that were based on faulty Wasnick and other social psychology studies. Those who believe the research and rely on it in their actions and policies are like the rubes who purchased miracle cures from the traveling-wagon-salemen. They were making stuff up too. The times changes but the strategies of those who scam never do.