The validity of psychology as a discipline is not facing a crisis – the failure to replicate is not alarming because it is a normal part of how science operates. For example, let’s suppose that we have two carefully designed studies that investigate the same circumstance. Both experiments will be similar in the process yet will reach very distinct outcomes. If one study produces the hypothesized circumstance and the other does not – we will reach a failure to replicate. If both studies are well designed and carried through, the results of the experiment that failed the hypothesis will only be true under special conditions. This does not mean that the circumstance studied is misleading or whimsical.
Years ago, researchers regulated an experiment on fruit flies that pinpointed the gene responsible in their species for curly wings. The results in the lab were secure and balanced. However, in nature where the climate changed and was unmanageable, the same gene did not have the same effect. In this case, the study failed to replicate. Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist, claimed that failures like this one allow biologists to conduct new and better hypotheses. A gene produces very different attributes that depend upon its surroundings and context. Another experiment that was very similar to this is when physicists had discovered that subatomic particles did not comply with Newton’s law of motion. Instead of insisting that Newton’s laws failed to replicate, they realized that Newton’s laws were only valid in certain circumstances. From this, they conducted newer experiments and the science of quantum mechanics was born.
In relation to psychology, an experiment was conducted in which a rat was placed inside a box with an electrical grid underneath it. A loud tune was played and after the tune stopped, the rat was given an electrical shock which caused the rat’s blood pressure and heart rate to rise. This process was continually repeated and scientists reached the same result each time. When playing the tune without the shock, the rat still displayed the same response. Another group of scientists changed the contest of the experiment and the rats had stopped freezing up. They restrained the rat during the musical tune and its heart rate had gone down instead of up. Most people continue to assume that everything can be explained using the universal laws and that context should not matter, but this is not the way things work at all. Psychology phenomenon fails to replicate if we change the context of its experiment. This ‘crisis’ is simply a misunderstanding of what science really is or how research and experiments are conducted. The failure to replicate is a feature that allows us to make new scientific discoveries and is an important part of the process and result in psychology and any other science.
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