Posergate: How Andrew Gelman betrayed science in his war on power posing

April Fool’s Post 2017

“The pursuit of knowledge is, I think, mainly actuated by love of power. And so are all advances in scientific technique.”
― Bertrand Russell

Today on the 100% CI we have to stop the jokes for a moment. Today, we will talk about being disappointed by your idols, about science criticism being taken too far. Here, we reveal how Dr. Andrew Gelman, the prominent statistician and statistics blogger, abused his power.

We do not make this accusation lightly, but our discoveries leave no other conclusion: In his skepticism of psychological science, Dr. Gelman lost sight of right and wrong. What follows is a summary of the evidence we obtained.

This March the four of us visited the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University for a brief workshop on Stan, the probabilistic programming language. We were excited about this opportunity to learn from one of our personal heroes.

The course, however, did not live up to our expectations. Frequently, Dr. Gelman would interrupt the course with diatribes against psychological science. On the second-to-last afternoon, we were supposed to write our first Stan code in a silent study session. We were left alone in the Gelman lab and our minds wandered. Our attention was drawn to a particularly large file drawer that turned out to be unlocked. What we discovered can only be described as profoundly shocking:

Inside were literally dozens of study reports on Power Posing. At first glance, this did not seem particularly strange as Dr. Gelman is known to write frequently about this phenomenon on his blog.

But this particular file drawer problem was different: The lab log revealed that Dr Gelman was desperate to obtain evidence against the phenomenon – and failed repeatedly. Initially, he invested enormous resources to run experiments with extraordinary four digit sample sizes to “nail the coffin shut on Power Pose”, as a hand-written note on an early report reads. The data painted a very clear picture, and it was not to his liking. As it dawned on him that, contrary to his personal convictions, Power Posing might be a real phenomenon, he began to stack the deck.

Instead of simple self-reports, he tried manifest behavioral observations and even field studies where the effect was expected to vanish. Power Pose prevailed. He deliberately reduced study samples to the absurdly low numbers often criticized on his very own blog. But even in his last attempts with 1-β almost equal to ɑ: Power Pose prevailed. As more and more evidence in favor of Power Posing was gathered, the research became… sloppy. Conditions were dropped, outliers removed, moderators randomly added, and, yes, even p-values were rounded up. Much to Dr. Gelman’s frustration, Power Pose prevailed. He was *unable* to collect data in favor of the null hypothesis.

He thought he had one final Bayesian trick up his sleeve: By hiring a skilled hypnotist he manipulated his priors, his own beliefs (!) in Power Posing. But even with these inhumane levels of disbelief, the posterior always indicated beyond a doubt: Power Pose prevailed. It was almost like the data were trying to tell him something – but Dr. Gelman had forgotten how to listen to evidence a long time ago.

In a recent publication, Simmons and Simonsohn analyzed the evidential value of the published literature on Power Posing. The centerpiece of their research is a p-curve (figure below, left graph) on the basis of which they “conclusively reject the null hypothesis that the sample of existing studies examines a detectable effect.” Had Dr. Gelman not hidden his findings in a file drawer, Simmons and Simonsohn’s conclusions would have been dramatically different (right graph).

Initially, we couldn’t believe that he would go this far just to win an argument. We were sure there must have been some innocuous explanation – yet we also did not want to confront him with our suspicions right away. We wanted to catch him red-handed.

Thus, we decided to infiltrate one of his studies, which he was covertly advertising under the obvious pseudonym Mr. Dean Wangle. He administered the study wearing a fake moustache and a ridiculous French beret, but his voice is unmistakeable. Below is a video of an experimental session that we were able to record with a hidden camera. The footage is very tough to watch.

Combined, the evidence leaves only one conclusion: Andrew Gelman betrayed science in his war on power posing.

5 thoughts on “Posergate: How Andrew Gelman betrayed science in his war on power posing”

  1. Despite your serious and utterly compelling post above, earlier today, 1 April 2017, Amy Cuddy — the brilliant popularizer and promoter of Power Posing — has returned the entire earnings from her book sales, promotional speeches, and TED talks to their original sources. In addition, her graduate doctoral advisor, Prof. Susan Fiske, has resigned her membership in the US National Academy of Sciences. No Foolin’ !

  2. Nicely done. I didn’t remember it was April Fools’ Day until I got about halfway through!

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