Monday, July 22, 2013

Alan Sokal Attacks Psychology Theory

I mentioned Alan Sokal and his infamous hoax before (in case you haven't heard of it). Sokal is back in the news, but not due to any hoax that he has created. This time, he's attacking a psychology theory that made use of something out of physics.

In the paper, the trio critique an application of what psychologists call the "positivity ratio" -- the ratio of a person's positive feelings to his/her negative feelings. In 2005, two psychologists wrote that people "flourish" if the ratio meets or exceeds 2.9 -- that is, if positive emotions occur at least three times as often as negative ones. A pretty intuitive concept in the abstract sense, but one Sokal and his co-authors say cannot be described by the equations the psychologists borrowed from physics.

"We find no theoretical or empirical justification for the use of differential equations drawn from fluid dynamics, a subfield of physics, to describe changes in human emotions over time," the trio wrote in their article. "Furthermore, we demonstrate that the purported application of these equations contains numerous fundamental conceptual and mathematical errors."

The trio's article, "The Complex Dynamics of Wishful Thinking: The Critical Positivity Ratio," was published online July 15, 2013 in American Psychologist.

Somehow, this fits in perfectly with an earlier comment on psychophysics babble.


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