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“From that perspective, power pose lies outside science entirely, and to criticize power pose would be a sort of category error, like criticizing The Lord of the Rings on the grounds that there’s no such thing as an invisibility ring, or criticizing The Rotter’s Club on the grounds that Jonathan Coe was just making it all up.”

From last year:

One could make the argument that power pose is innocuous, maybe beneficial in that it is a way of encouraging people to take charge of their lives. And this may be so. Even if power pose itself is meaningless, the larger “power pose” story could be a plus. Of course, if power pose is just an inspirational story to empower people, it doesn’t have to be true, or replicable, or scientifically valid, or whatever. From that perspective, power pose lies outside science entirely, and to criticize power pose would be a sort of category error, like criticizing The Lord of the Rings on the grounds that there’s no such thing as an invisibility ring, or criticizing The Rotter’s Club on the grounds that Jonathan Coe was just making it all up. I guess I’d prefer, if business school professors want to tell inspirational stories without any scientific basis, that they label them more clearly as parables, rather than dragging the scientific field of psychology into it.

Same story with pizzagate and all the rest: Let’s just go straight to the inspirational business book and the TV appearances. Cut out the middleman of the research studies, the experiments on college students or restaurant diners or whoever, the hormone measurements, the counts of partially-eaten carrots, the miscalculated t-scores, the conveniently-rounded p-values, the referee reports, the publication in PPNAS etc., the publicity, the failed replications, the post hoc explanations, the tone police on twitter, etc. Just start with the idea and jump to the book, the NPR interview, and the Ted talk. It’ll save us all a lot of trouble.

Joseph Cesario and David Johnson put it well:

We argue that researchers should stop recommending power poses as an empirically supported strategy for improving one’s life.

The operative words here are “researchers” and “empirically supported.”

P.S. Steven Johnson provided the above picture of a cat in power pose. Or is it embodied cognition?

P.P.S. And, no, it does not help when proponents of seriously flawed work avoid engaging with valid criticism of that work, instead labeling it as “flat-out wrong” and “riddled with mistakes” while providing no evidence of such statements. (Here I’m talking about power-pose researcher Cuddy’s statements regarding the work of Joe Simmons and Uri Simonsohn.) As a scientist, you get to say that sort of thing when you have evidence, not otherwise. As a Ted talker or pundit or NPR interviewee, though, I guess you can say whatever you want at any time.

17 Comments

  1. Clyde Schechter says:

    “As a Ted talker or pundit or NPR interviewee, though, I guess you can say whatever you want at any time.”

    I’m not sure about that. Pundits? OK. I think the people who interpret the message of pundits as having some scientific validity mostly still believe in the tooth fairy. But NPR is a news organization, and I think much of the audience expects that much, if not all, of what they hear there has been properly vetted and has some credibility as fact, or, in certain domains, as real science. Ditto for TED talks. I don’t think you get to “say whatever you want at any time” when your audience has been led to expect science, presented in a simplified way, but science nonetheless. All the more so if the speaker has contributed directly to that expectation. It seems misleading to me, and while it may be within one’s first amendment rights, it’s not the right thing to do.

  2. Martha (Smith) says:

    Of possible related interest: http://www.openculture.com/2014/01/benjamin-bratton-explains-whats-wrong-with-ted-talks.html and the link (at the end, before the comments) to the complete transcript of Bratten’s talk.

    A quote from the transcript (toward the end):

    “Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration”, it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think.”

  3. Ghost of Keynes says:

    Or what about the most recent (or not so recent) controversy in Economics where nepotism and corruption related to multiple papers in the flagship journal of the profession (American Economic Review) was discovered by the anonymous participants on a message board (econjobrumors.com)? The people in the position of power (from higher ranked universities like UC Berkeley, Stanford, and such) viciously attacked and maligned the site and the posters labelling them as misogynists (because some of the criticized papers were authored by women) without any recognition of the problems (one of the criticized papers was completely plagiarized, and after being found out was allowed to still get published in AER with just the addition of a footnote). They were aided by news outlets like NYT and WSJ in this concerted effort to silence any voice of descent, and any attempt to restore the scientific ideals in the field.

    Pseudo-scientific exercises, misrepresentation of facts, and discipline-hijacking is a problem in much of social science, and we are facing the end of days if the problems don’t get corrected soon.

  4. Mark Palko says:

    I would add to the list “the sweeping hypothesis syndrome,” where a small, homogenous group of subjects is exposed to a highly artificial set of conditions then given a questionable proxy measure of some big, important attribute. For example, a self-selected group of undergraduates from one particular college over a period of a day or two might be randomly assigned to two different rooms with two different color schemes then asked if they would give a dollar to a homeless person who appeared hungry. The headline for this one might read: pastel colors make people less selfish.

  5. Dzhaughn says:

    Shall we grant tenure on this basis? (Judging by Cuddy and Wansink, the answer is yes.)

  6. I noticed the other day that the title of Cuddy’s TED talk has been changed. It used to be “Your body language shapes who you are”; now it’s “Your body language may shape who you are.” I don’t know when the change occurred.

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