John Bargh’s “Transient and Ephemeral” Blogs

By Neuroskeptic | November 2, 2012 11:54 am

Leading social psychologist and Yale Professor John Bargh has been at the center of a number of controversies lately.

Most recently, researcher Brent Donnellan covered a case in which he was unable to replicate one of Bargh’s experiments, which prompted Bargh to share his original raw data with him, but on the condition that he never discussed it publicly: What’s the First Rule about John Bargh’s Data? You do not talk about John Bargh’s data

But a couple of months back, even more sparks flew over an unrelated non-replication. Some other people didn’t reproduce a different Bargh study.

In response to that non-replication, Bargh published two blog posts called “Nothing In Their Heads” and “Angry Birds”, criticizing both the study itself and the journal it appeared in, PLoS ONE. It was a combative defence of his work.

However, Bargh seems to have since decided it was a bit too defensive, because the posts have been deleted. They just vanished: to my knowledge Bargh hasn’t announced this, nor explained why.

Now interestingly enough, Bargh has just published a short paper in which he offers he thoughts on blogging – it’s rather topical…

Debate among psychologists takes place formally in the published record of journal articles and books… this is the permanent record, as opposed to the relatively transient and ephemeral world of blogs.

As I understand (and use) them, blogs are like newspaper columns or spontaneous radio interviews, and meant to be a forum wherein one can provide the interested public with opinions, feelings, and conjectures; blogs are thus a potentially valuable outlet for ideas when used and evaluated appropriately…

[but they are] personal property whereas journal articles are public property
– as illustrated by one’s ability to edit, change, or delete one’s personal blog entries and one’s concomitant inability to do the same with published works (except to make necessary corrections with the consent of the journal editor).

Fair enough. However, the fact is, a public statement is a public statement. You can change your mind, but you can’t change the past. In my book, to try to erase your past statements from the record is both deceptive – and counterproductive.

The internet never forgets… well, actually, I can’t find copies of the deleted posts (Edit: See the comments, someone has saved them), so maybe it does, however there are dozens of references to them online, many highly critical. At best, what Bargh has achieved is that his critics are now the only sources for information about his work.

Bargh’s new paper, by the way, is a response to this piece I blogged about about the question of free will.

ResearchBlogging.orgBargh, J. (2012). Social psychology cares about causal conscious thought, not free will per se British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12011

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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