Power pose: II. Could early career investigators participating in replication initiatives hurt their advancement?

Participation in attempts to replicate seriously flawed studies might be seen as bad judgment, when there many more opportunities to demonstrate independent, critical thinking.

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This is the second  blog post concerning the special issue of Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology  devoted to replicating Amy Cuddy’s original power pose study in Psychological Science.

Some things for early career investigators to think about.

Participating in attempts to replicate seriously flawed studies might be seen as bad judgment, when there many more opportunities to demonstrate independent, critical thinking.

I have long argued that there should be better incentives for early career (as well as more senior) investigators (ECRs) participating in efforts to improve the trustworthiness of science.

ECRs should be encouraged -and expected- to engage in post publication peer review and PubPeer and PubMed Commons in which to develop way in which such activity can be listed on the CV.

The Pottery Barn rule should be extended so that ECRs can publish critical commentaries in the journals that publish the original flawed papers. Retraction notices should indicate whose complaints led to the retraction.

Rather than being pressured to publish more underpowered, under-resourced studies, ECRs should be rewarded for research parasite activity. They should be assisted in obtaining data sets from already published studies. With that data, they should conduct exploratory, secondary analyses aimed at understanding what went wrong in larger-scale studies that left them methodologically compromised and with shortfalls in recruitment.

But I wonder if we should counsel ECRs that participating in a multisite replication initiatives like the one directed at the power pose effect might not contribute to the career advancement and may even hurt it.

MturkI’ve been critical of the value of replication initiatives  as the primary means of addressing the own trustworthiness of psychology, particularly in areas with claims of clinical and public health relevance. To add to the other reservations I have, I can point that the necessary economy and efficiency of reliance on MTurk and other massive administrations of experimental manipulations can force the efforts to improve the trustworthiness of psychology into less socially significant and may be less representative areas.

I certainly wouldn’t penalize an early career investigator for involvement in a multisite replication. I appreciate there is room for disagreement with my skepticism about the value of such initiatives. I would recognize the expression of valuation a better research practices that involvement would represent.

But I think early career investigator’s need to consider that some senior investigators and members of hiring and promotion committees (HPCs) might give a low rating of publications coming from such initiatives in judging the candidates potential for original, creative, risk-taking research. That might be even if these committee members appreciate the need to improve the trustworthiness of psychology.

Here are some conceivable comments that could be made in such a committee’s deliberations.

“Why did this candidate get involved in a modest scale study so focused on two saliva assessments of cortisol? Even if it is not their area of expertise, shouldn’t they have consulted the literature and saw how uninformative a pair of assessments of cortisol are, given the well-known problems with cortisol of intra-individual and inter-individual variation in sensitivity to uncontrolled contextual variables?…They should have powered their study to find cortisol differences amidst all the noise.”

“Were they unaware that testosterone levels differ between men and women by a factor of five or six? How do they expect that discontinuity in distributions to be overcome in any statistical analyses combining men and women? What basis was there in the literature suggests that a brief, seemingly trivial manipulation of posture with have such enduring effects on hormones? Why they specifically anticipate differences would be registered in women? Overall, their involvement in this initiative demonstrates a willingness to commit considerable time and resources to ideas that could have been ruled out by a search of the relevant literature.”


“There seems to be a lemming quality to this large group of researchers pursuing some bad hypotheses with inappropriate methods. Why didn’t this investigator have the independence of mind to object? Can we expect a similar going with the herd after fashionable topics in research over the next few years?”

“While I appreciate the motivation of this investigator, I believe there was a violation of the basic principle of ‘stop and think before you undertake a study’ that does not bode well for how they will spend their time when faced with the demands of teaching and administration as well as doing research.”

Readers may think that these comments represent horrible, cruel sentiments and would be a great injustice if they influence hiring and decisions. But anyone who is ever been on a hiring and promotion committee knows that they are full of such horrible comments and that such processes are not fair or just or even rational.




Power pose: I. Demonstrating that replication initiatives won’t salvage the trustworthiness of psychology

An ambitious multisite initiative showcases how inefficient and ineffective replication is in correcting bad science.


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Bad publication practices keep good scientists unnecessarily busy, as in replicability projects.- Bjoern Brembs

Power-PoseAn ambitious multisite initiative showcases how inefficient and ineffective replication is in correcting bad science. Psychologists need to reconsider pitfalls of an exclusive reliance on this strategy to improve lay persons’ trust in their field.

Despite the consistency of null findings across seven attempted replications of the original power pose study, editorial commentaries in Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology left some claims intact and called for further research.

Editorial commentaries on the seven null studies set the stage for continued marketing of self-help products, mainly to women, grounded in junk psychological pseudoscience.

Watch for repackaging and rebranding in next year’s new and improved model. Marketing campaigns will undoubtedly include direct quotes from the commentaries as endorsements.

We need to re-examine basic assumptions behind replication initiatives. Currently, these efforts  suffer from prioritizing of the reputations and egos of those misusing psychological science to market junk and quack claims versus protecting the consumers whom these gurus target.

In the absence of a critical response from within the profession to these persons prominently identifying themselves as psychologists, it is inevitable that the void be filled from those outside the field who have no investment in preserving the image of psychology research.

In the case of power posing, watchdog critics might be recruited from:

Consumer advocates concerned about just another effort to defraud consumers.

Science-based skeptics who see in the marketing of the power posing familiar quackery in the same category as hawkers using pseudoscience to promote homeopathy, acupuncture, and detox supplements.

Feminists who decry the message that women need to get some balls (testosterone) if they want to compete with men and overcome gender disparities in pay. Feminists should be further outraged by the marketing of junk science to vulnerable women with an ugly message of self-blame: It is so easy to meet and overcome social inequalities that they have only themselves to blame if they do not do so by power posing.

As reported in Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology,  a coordinated effort to examine the replicability of results reported in Psychological Science concerning power posing left the phenomenon a candidate for future research.

I will be blogging more about that later, but for now let’s look at a commentary from three of the over 20 authors get reveals an inherent limitation to such ambitious initiatives in tackling the untrustworthiness of psychology.

Cesario J, Jonas KJ, Carney DR. CRSP special issue on power poses: what was the point and what did we learn?.  Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology. 2017


Let’s start with the wrap up:

The very costly expense (in terms of time, money, and effort) required to chip away at published effects, needed to attain a “critical mass” of evidence given current publishing and statistical standards, is a highly inefficient use of resources in psychological science. Of course, science is to advance incrementally, but it should do so efficiently if possible. One cannot help but wonder whether the field would look different today had peer-reviewed preregistration been widely implemented a decade ago.

 We should consider the first sentence with some recognition of just how much untrustworthy psychological science is out there. Must we mobilize similar resources in every instance or can we develop some criteria to decide what is on worthy of replication? As I have argued previously, there are excellent reasons for deciding that the original power pose study could not contribute a credible effect size to the literature. There is no there to replicate.

The authors assume preregistration of the power pose study would have solved problems. In clinical and health psychology, long-standing recommendations to preregister trials are acquiring new urgency. But the record is that motivated researchers routinely ignore requirements to preregister and ignore the primary outcomes and analytic plans to which they have committed themselves. Editors and journals let them get away with it.

What measures do the replicationados have to ensure the same things are not being said about bad psychological science a decade from now? Rather than urging uniform adoption and enforcement of preregistration, replicationados urged the gentle nudge of badges for studies which are preregistered.

Just prior to the last passage:

Moreover, it is obvious that the researchers contributing to this special issue framed their research as a productive and generative enterprise, not one designed to destroy or undermine past research. We are compelled to make this point given the tendency for researchers to react to failed replications by maligning the intentions or integrity of those researchers who fail to support past research, as though the desires of the researchers are fully responsible for the outcome of the research.

There are multiple reasons not to give the authors of the power pose paper such a break. There is abundant evidence of undeclared conflicts of interest in the huge financial rewards for publishing false and outrageous claims. Psychological Science about the abstract of the original paper to leave out any embarrassing details of the study design and results and end with a marketing slogan:

That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.

 Then the Association for Psychological Science gave a boost to the marketing of this junk science with a Rising Star Award to two of the authors of this paper for having “already made great advancements in science.”

As seen in this special issue of Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, the replicationados share responsibility with Psychological Science and APS for keeping keep this system of perverse incentives intact. At least they are guaranteeing plenty of junk science in the pipeline to replicate.

But in the next installment on power posing I will raise the question of whether early career researchers are hurting their prospects for advancement by getting involved in such efforts.

How many replicationados does it take to change a lightbulb? Who knows, but a multisite initiative can be combined with a Bayesian meta-analysis to give a tentative and unsatisfying answer.

Coyne JC. Replication initiatives will not salvage the trustworthiness of psychology. BMC Psychology. 2016 May 31;4(1):28.

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