Correlation does not imply causation

Correlation and Causation

Science · · Leave a comment

Oftentimes when scientific research is presented in a non-scientific context, such as in the news, someone will add the disclaimer that “correlation does not equal causation”. It’s a statement which has become more well-recognized in the general public in recent years, which is a great trend. However, I still find it problematic because it is sometimes used to dismiss correlational research as somehow invalid or subpar. The truth is that while the statement is correct, it is simplistic. So I’d like to offer a more nuanced understanding of how to evaluate research, at a level that an educated but non-scientific audience can understand and appreciate.Continue Reading

Is Psychology a Science?

Is Psychology a Science?

Over the past year, psychology as a field, and in particular social psychology, has come under scrutiny after several notable cases of scientific fraud. The most notable was Diederik Stapel, who outright fabricated data for at least 30 publications. A couple other cases of data manipulation and fraud have just surfaced recently, leading to further resignations of researchers in the field. Amidst these news stories, some have asked the question, “Is psychology trustworthy? Is it even a science at all?”

Of course, these are not new questions for psychology to deal with. Making the case for psychology as a science has been a continual process over the years, and psychology to some extent still suffers from the impression that has remained from the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud. The psychoanalysts loved to sit people on couches and talk about dreams and repressed childhood memories and so on. But we’re past Freud. Honest.

However, given the recent scrutiny, I thought it appropriate to take the time to address the question again and argue that yes, psychology is indeed a science. I come from the perspective of a graduate student in social psychology—traditionally the most “suspect” of the areas in psychology—and as such, most of my experience and examples come from that area. I approach this question from the “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” approach (see, I’m using the scientific method already!). I would like to argue that psychology operates very similarly to other fields of science that are not in dispute—the so-called “hard sciences”. So let me outline just a few of the ways in which psychology parallels these fields.Continue Reading

Evolution and Morality

Errors, Evolution, and Ethics

Every week during the school year, I get a newsletter from my former high school. It’s a Christian school, with a conservative Baptist principal, so the content is almost always something with which I now disagree. I generally skim through it to see what diatribe he’s on this week (it’s virtually always about the importance of Christian education…how unexpected!). But the newsletter from a couple weeks ago (Sept. 30) was about bullying in particular. The topic was sparked as a result of the recent tragic news of the suicide of an 11-year-old boy. But instead of pointing the blame at the bullies themselves, possible neglectful attitudes of school teachers and staff, or the social stigma surrounding persons with disabilities (the boy had muscular dystrophy), my former principal decided to pinpoint a different cause. I’ll let him explain:Continue Reading

Demon and goat

Strange Spirits: The Demons All around Us

I was raised in a conservative evangelical household. The denomination in which I grew up, Pentecostalism, takes the Bible to be literal truth. But the Bible was written thousands of years ago, before there was any systematic scientific understanding of the world. Thus, a literalist Christian holds to a belief system based on a book written in the Iron Age. This has led to the perpetuation of beliefs which have no place in the modern world (ones that have absolutely no scientific credibility). One of those beliefs is a literal acceptance of demons and other spirits.Continue Reading

Primordial Soup

The Origins of Life

Science · · 2 comments

When someone states that they do not believe in God, often one of the first questions in response is, “Then how did life get here?” Of course, “God did it” is not a good explanation for, well, much of anything, because it does not actually provide any details about the process it claims to explain. Regardless of this, however, it is still a valid question to ask: Without invoking a God, is there a reasonable explanation for how life arose from non-life? This is where the field of abiogenesis comes in.Continue Reading

The Null Hypothesis

Religion, Science · · 12 comments

One of the most accurate ways to describe my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) is by way of a concept known as the “null hypothesis”. Like most atheists, I do not claim that I know God does not exist. I merely claim that there is not enough evidence to justify belief in God. And the best way to illustrate this claim is through the null hypothesis. This is a statistical concept that is used for hypothesis testing in science. Because statistics is not a strong point for many people, I will try to explain it using a minimum of stats jargon; however, some will be required, and I will try to explain what each term means the best that I can. I really feel that this is an important concept to understand when one is trying to assess evidence claims (which happens to us all the time). So hang on for the ride!Continue Reading

Consciousness

All About the Brain (Part 3)

Psychology, Science · · 2 comments

In Part 1 I discussed the physical structures of the brain, as well as a couple of the functions that it performs. In Part 2, I traced through the evolutionary development of the brain, from simple to complex. Now, in this final article, I’d like to talk about those things that we think of as making us “truly human.”Continue Reading