The Influential Forces of Wishful Thinking

A group of scientist develop a new theory in which they claim to have mathematical certainty.  The theory is peer-reviewed and accepted by the wider community.  Books are written, companies and governments use it to drive policy,  millions in grants are given but there is just one problem the mathematical formula on which it is based is flawed.  In fact in this case it was made up and it was plain to see to anyone that knew about the area of expertise but it passed peer-review and became accepted.  No I am not talking about Global Warming, or Climate Change or whatever it is that is being used now, but the science of “Positive Psychology“.

In essence the theory is that there is a constant ratio of  3 to 1 positive to negative emotions that will gain you  psychological bliss and avoid mental illness.  In other words for those that are depressed or having trouble dealing with life if you have a 3-1 ratio of Happy (positive)  thoughts  to negative thoughts your problems would disappear.  There is nothing new in that anyone from my grandmother on up will tell that, but what was new is that they could prove it and even had a mathematical formula to say so.

How was the theory of “Positive Psychology” and its formula taken down, did other psychologists, experts on the field found the glaring error?  Well no, it was HR executive Nick Brown who held a computer science degree from Oxford ;

After nearly twenty years in the position, stretched thin between technical duties and managerial headaches, he was looking for something new. So he jumped at the chance to transfer into human resources when it presented itself. The move didn’t deliver the change he was expecting, however. Still operating in a large bureaucracy—the same organization, in fact—Brown was now tasked with promoting staff welfare. But he had “little leeway to make decisions,” and was constantly signing off on stuff he “thought was just plain wrong.” Adding insult to injury, when charged with renewing his company’s suppliers list for training and coaching materials, he wound up interacting with “nuts” and “charlatans,” people who listed reiki and crystal healing among their interests, or resorted to “hand-waving” when selling their wares.

He was fed up. Coming up on fifty, his mother ailing, “the general BS, the constant, not particularly high, but nonstop level of moderate dishonesty,” was beginning to wear on him.

After attending a conference he ran into a talk by popular British psychologist Richard Wiseman, who had written a book called The Luck Factor.  Wiseman led him to the new emerging called positive psychology.  He enrolled on the program in the University of East London, and began poring over the original papers that developed the 3 to 1 ratio.

He had been poring over the original papers that informed Fredrickson and Losada’s 2005 article—papers written or co-written by Marcial Losada. They seemed “sketchy,” Brown says. In his research on business teams, for instance, “the length of the business meetings weren’t even mentioned.”

“Normally you have a method and the method says we selected these people and we picked these numbers and here’s the tables and here are the means and here’s the standard deviation,” Brown says. “He just goes: ‘Satisfied that the model fit my data, I then ran some simulations.’ The whole process was indistinguishable from him having made the data up.”

Nick found out that formula was actually that of  a 1963 paper by the American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz on nonlinear aspects of fluid mechanics, a subdiscipline of fluid dynamics—or the study of liquids and gases in motion.  What that meant was that researchers were drawing a correlation between the physical flow of liquids and the “flow” of people’s emotions.  All the conclusions and graphs were meaningless.

You can read the rest of the story here: http://narrative.ly/pieces-of-mind/nick-brown-smelled-bull/

How did the 2005 paper considered a breakthrough, get and pass peer-review, get acclaim without anyone but an under-graduate noticing, it didn’t others had pointed out the problems when the paper was published but they were ignored.  The temptation and wishful thinking that their theory could be proven and the path to mental health could be found was too much, even today with the mathematical formula debunked proponents say that their theories are still good, they claim they have lost the math but still have the theory and data, which is good enough.  But as the article points out the only theoretical support she had been the math equations.

The UN’s  IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recent released its new report on Global Warming, Climate Change or anthropogenic global warming  (man-caused) in it while backing down on some the dire projections it had made in the past it doubled down on Humans being the cause.  Addressing the lack of warming in the last 15 to 17 years it has suggested 2 reasons, a statistical blip in the geological time, or the heat is trapped in the deep ocean.   Both have problems of their own, a blip in time forgets that many have suggested that the observed warming in the 20th century is blip of itself on a geological timescale where both CO2 and temperatures have been higher.  The ocean explanation is just as troubling because no rise in surface temperature have been observed since 2003 on surface temperatures, so how did the temperature get absolved by the deep ocean without first affecting the surface ocean.

There is no denying that temperatures have risen in the 20th century but such occurences are not unusual as fluctuations have occurred throughout time when mankind was not in any way  able to affect the it or before he even existed.  To summarize the report and its conclusions,  the Earth has not warmed as we thought it would, the disasters we scared everyone about are overblown, the computer models on which we rely could not predict the 15-17 year period of cooling despite higher CO2 concentrations, the sea has not risen in a markedly different way than in the past, the warming may decrease extreme weather not increased it,  and by the way we are now 95% sure that the warming was man-caused. You can read a scientific critique of the report here;

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/10/19/scientific-critique-of-ipccs-2013-summary-for-policymakers/#more-95880

Wishful thinking is not confined to scientist alone, as we all know the Trayvon Martin case was full of instances where wishful thinking drove the case.  In the beginning, George Zimmerman was considered a white man, as such many commentators wanted to use the case as proof of the latent White racism they all “know” exists.  When the pictures of a young Trayvon Martin surfaced there were those that used it to illustrate why a little boy would be scared and intimidated by Zimmerman and would never instigate a confrontation.  Recent pictures of Mr. Martin were ignored and in some cases called forgeries.

As new information in the case became available and Zimmerman was firmly established as a bi-racial man, the term White-Hispanic was used, thereby keeping the White racism in the confrontation.  The release of the 911 tapes to the public was used first after much trying to prove that Zimmerman used derogatory slurs (coon) and later to say that only a child could or would scream in agony and despair as those on the tapes.

Reporters, commentators and bloggers all came up with what they saw as convincing evidence that Zimmerman was guilty, from bizarre explanations such as humping a cabbage pal doll, to call analysis that overheard anything from conversations with non-existent accomplices, to hearing the cocking of the gun and even hearing a bird.  No matter how ridiculous some of these things were debated, discussed ad nauseam to the point that even the prosecution became party to some.

Perhaps the biggest instances of wishful thinking we those of the prosecution by filing charges against Zimmerman thinking it could win with the evidence it had and that of the defense in thinking that an acquittal would be enough to silence the voices of those calling for his head.

The trial ended with a predictable acquittal as anyone who had looked into the evidence  had determined and Zimmerman is still considered a guilty man who got away because of a technicality, a law that did not play a role in the case.  Trayvon Martin has become a martyr, celebrated around the country, a symbol of how wishful thinking can turn a troubled teen with a dubious past and problems into an angelic innocent worth admiration.  Meanwhile Zimmerman is a pariah hounded by detractors.

The story of the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman was tragic as it was fascinating for many.  The way it was presented by the media and the family, combined with the circumstances did not match the information that was available and then the evidence made it worse.   Not that it stop some from still believing as for me to quote Nick Brown;

“I just got a bee in my bonnet,” Brown says

P.S.

I have been following two other cases that I will do a write-up on soon the Merritt Landry case in Louisiana and the Kendrick Johnson in Georgia, if there are any interesting cases worth following dropped me a suggestion, thanks.

 

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