A couple weeks ago I blogged on John Gottman, a psychologist whose headline-grabbing research on marriages (he got himself featured in Blink with a claim that he could predict with 83 percent accuracy whether a couple would be divorced–after meeting with them for 15 minutes!) was recently debunked in a book by Laurie Abraham. Discussion on the blog revealed that Laurie Abraham had tried to contact Gottman but he had not replied to the request for an interview.
After this, Seth wrote to me:
A few months ago one of my Tsinghua students asked me to recommend a psychology book about marriage. And I recommended Gottman’s book. Now I feel bad. It’s awful that Gottman didn’t take the time to defend his work. For all I know he has something to say in answer to Abraham’s criticisms but I guess I’ll never know what it is.
Yeah, who knows? My guess is that Gottman believes he is fundamentally correct (based on the same sort of “clinicial intuition” that many experienced practitioners have), that he doesn’t understand the principles of modern psychological research methods, and that he enjoys the publicity he’s gotten. Were he put face to face with some criticism, my guess is that he’d just say that, sure, he’s no expert on statistics but he really understands marriages very well. Which may be true!
Gottman is very good at math for a psych prof — that’s his background (math major). Not a clinician at all. This is one reason that his failure to defend his methodology shocks me.
Being a math major perhaps gave him a sense of overconfidence–thinking he was sooo much smarter than those doofuses who taught research methods, he decided he never needed to learn trivial things such as ROC.
The underlying question is: how could such a big-shot make such a basic statistical mistake? I don’t know, but once you have some success, I guess there’s not much of a motivation to change your ways.
Also, I could well believe that, for all its flaws, Gottman’s work is better than much of the other research out there on marriages.
I also wonder how Gladwell could’ve gotten fooled so easily. When someone claims a 94% predictive accuracy rate, wouldn’t you want to check his numbers?
And, of course, it’s possible that Laurie Abraham (and I) are completely wrong and actually Gottman has really done what he claims. As I put it earlier:
I eagerly await the Abraham vs. Gladwell showdown on Colbert. Could someone please tape that for me when it happens? You can record this on the same tape that already has the Bartels/Frank WWF bout, and the one where they challenge my namesake to see if he can read two full pages from his oh-so-well-reviewed opus of some years ago without the entire studio audience falling asleep. Oh, and if there’s room, you could throw in that clip of Johnny Carson and Zsa Zsa Gabor’s cat. . . .