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delirium happy

Just keep on trying till you run out of cake

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On psychologists without clue
delirium happy
There's a certain level of animosity that tends to be felt by physics students of my acquaintance at my university towards psychologists. This is, I think, not entirety unreasonable given the circumstances.

For instance, there was a time when a room (in the physics building) was seemingly double booked between our class and a psychology class, and their lecturer just looked at us and said "well we've been in here all year", with the obvious implication being "this is clearly your fault for being so stupid and going to the wrong room, and not just due to an administrative cock up that we al have to put up with." Oddy enough, next week, we were in that room and the psychologists were nowhere to be found.

Then there's the fact that a scarily large proportion of psychology students are vapid bints who think that the ony purpose of university is to get drunk for three years, that they're prettier than everyone else because they wear more gaudy make-up, and better students than everyone else because they carry colour-coded organisers.

This sort of reputation that psychologists have is somewhat unfortunate, because beneath all of the fuckwits, and beneath all of the bullshit, there is actually an interesting and useful science struggling to get out. I know that emmavescence at least is a psychology student who would thoroughly agree with me that many psychology students need beating about the head with hefty wooden sticks until they have a bit of sense knocked into them.

Sometimes though these people seem to be trying really, really hard to ensure that the subject retains its bad name.

See, yesterday, I found an email sitting in the inbox of my university mail account. It was a forward, from the physics department teaching secretary, to all physics students. A psychology student had asked her if she could forward a survey to us, that we could fill in and return to her (the psychologist) for a dissertation she's doing.

Now, normally my response would be "if you want me to look at something to do you a favour, send it me in some format other than MS Word". I was in a good mood though, and feeling charitable, so I figured I'd take a look at it. It was about belief in the paranormal, and it was one of the most excruciatingly painful things I have ever seen. So painful, in fact, that I feel the need to share it with you all.

For the morbidly curious, I've put the whole thing up on my webspace, but here are a few highlights:
  • A "please fill in my questionnaire" preamble which contained three smiley faces (actual smiley facegraphics that I can't seem to reliably reproduce here) and ten consecutive exclamation marks.
  • Three spelling mistakes that are picked up by Word's spell checker (two of "im" instead of "I'm" and one of "benovelent" instead of "benevolent".
  • Generally broken formatting.
  • Repeated use of the rather vague term "magical forces" without ever defining what it's been taken to mean.
  • A complete lack of any research by using phrases that would make any pagan or magic user cringe, such as "because someone cursed a malevolent spell on you".
  • Questions formed as "given $premise, $question" where $premise is not self-evidently true.
Oh, it's useless. I can't possibly sum up just how dreadful this thing is. The questions are horrible. The methodology is horrible. The misuse of language is horrible. Just go and read the thing and be utterly agog at how bad it is. And then come back here and try to restore a bit of my faith in humanity.

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"If you get wet and contract a cold, this is because someone cursed a malevolent spell on you."

That's so sloppy it hurts.

I especially liked the 'Please, answer each item true or false' at the end, where all the questions actually had four options, none of which were 'true' or 'false'.

fneh, that referred to the next page, where's my thorough scientific method? Oh wait, I'm a computer scientist, that's OK then!

"Reading the questionnaire rottedmy brain". There isn't a jury in the land that wouldn't accept that as mitigating crcumstances.

EUUUUUUUGH omg that's awful, I can't believe someone who'd already had Research Methods would write something so terrible, and this is for her dissertation?! OMG. What a loser. I hope hers is rejected.

.. that was mean.


.. that was mean.

Indeed. You need to learn to be more benovelent.

your sarcasm is noted, missy.


Oh. My. Lord. *takes the spork to his eyes to prevent further reading of the monstrosity* I'd have been hung, drawn and quartered if I'd turned something like that in for my A Level Psychology, so fuck knows how she's getting away with it for her dissertation.

That's the student in me. We won't even go where the Pagan in me is going, because quite frankly it's enough to tempt me to 'curse a malevolent spell' on her. She probably watched waaaaaaaaay too much Buffy instead of attending lectures.

She probably watched waaaaaaaaay too much Buffy instead of attending lectures.

Actually, I think she'd probably have ended up with somewhat more clue if she'd picked things up from watching Buffy. I'm quite sure I'd have remembered if Buffy had ever used such sloppy and generaly attrocious language as that. Too much Sabrina instead perhaps?

(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
If so, she's of the subcategory that I tend to think of as "pagyns" (by analogy with "womyn"). The utterly clueless fluffy-bunny brigade, characterised by bake-sales, silver jewelery and being extremely unlikely to know what a solstice actually is.

And thank you for restoring a small element of my faith in humanity.

I agree with the spork to the eyes - this is painful! I think she may not realize the definition of malevolent or she just cannot conceive that a benevolent force might stop your car in the middle of the road.

I have a story about the car stopping that happened to my neighbor. Pedal to the metal, and she only got halfway out into an intersection when her car suddnely stopped. It didn't even roll forward (so she claims). Not two seconds after her car jerked to a stop, and idiot ran the red light and would have hit her had her car not stopped. As soon as the moron was through the intersection, her car lurched forward again. She of course attributed it to God keeping her safe, so wouldn't that be benevolent?

Regardless of the truth of my friend's story, there are more than just malevolent forces at work in the world. The benevolent ones may do things that seem bad at the time, but maybe there's a bigger plan behind it all.

That's one of the things that really annoyed me. The questions are so absolute: when this happens, that is the cause. There's no room for any other cause. No room for benevolent forces. No room for coincidence. Even for people who do believe in the paranormal, there's just so many reasons why you might want to answer the questions with other than what she'd expect.

Disclaimer: I'm one of those "Americans" you hear tell about so often.

I generally associate "dissertation" with doctoral (i.e., Ph.D.) studies. Does it have a different usage in the UK?

Generally, a dissertation of a smaller scale is produced for undergrad degrees, either in the second or third years. It's a significant chunk of the final degree classification, along with the other modules or classes that are taken. There used to be a fun pie chart in the online handbook, but it's been replaced by a boring table. I'm doing the Single Honours Module Route, which places more emphasis on the content modules than the project.

</interesting aside>

You might be interested in an article I wrote on common problems in questionnaire design. (I'm here via senji)

I really hope her hypothesis is about how students majoring in different subject areas will react to a clearly poorly designed survey that has multiple kinds of errors.

My primary degree is my BS in psychology. I went to a school where my fellow students usually did have clue and were good, even though they were psych majors. But I wish people would stop making my field look bad. There's a lot of good science in it, and I'd prefer it stop being covered up by crap. I'm rather fond of some of the studies I ran while in school.

that is a possibility. In linguistics at least, we're supposed to conduct surveys in such a way that the testee doesn't know what they're being tested on because it will influence the results too much.

For example, if you're trying to figure something out about the intonation in yes/no questions in English, you don't ask the person to tell you some yes/no questions and you certainly don't ask them their opinion on the intonation thingy, because then they'll be paying attention to it, which will change their intonation. Our applied linguistics teacher recommended getting the test subjects to play 20 questions with you. they then ask you a bunch of yes/no questions and you pay attention to the intonation. then after it you ask what they think you're testing, just in case. he said most people said something like "my vocabulary" or "how smart i am" or things like this.

Oh deception is used very often in psychology, especially social psychology. In cognitive psych you can often do without it because you're testing things people can't easily influence themselves unless they outright try to mess up (like how long it takes them to read something). My research methods in social psych project (which was my original idea and experimental design) was on the effects of deception in psych studies on the mood of the subject. Since this is undergrad, it's done cheap and cutting corners that you know affect the validity of the study, but my findings were still fascinating. We found that while there was no particular mood change when the subjects found out they were being deceived (which it also turned out was difficult to reveal as most of the subjects hadn't paid attention to what the study was actually about and didn't really notice the deception and a large percentage of the subjects were expecting deception because they're familiar enough with psych studies and me)... however, there was a difference in mood between the two groups going right into the first mood test. We assigned subjects randomly to their groups, so our best explanation is that if the experimenter believes s/he is deceiving the subject, it will negatively affect the subject's mood. And while good research methods would have made it impossible to have that finding (mmm double blinds), it was a nifty finding to find. I wonder whether it'd hold up to more rigorous testing.

I think it's too painful to read the whole thing, so I'm just going to be disgusted at the bits you've highlighted. I can safely say that in the three years I've been studying psychology, not once have we mentioned the paranormal. It really bothers me when people are so stupid and have such little regard for proper methods that they give the whole subject a bad name. We are taught Research Methods very thoroughly, and have to adhere to the strict APA standards if we want any chance of a good grade. I hope she gets the fail on that she deserves.

FYI, the smiley is from MS Word's autocorrect - when it is enabled, you type in an ":)" it will be converted into a graphical smiley. Still, no excuse.

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Re: Unicode geekery follows...

I tried using the unicode white smiling face, but it didn't reproduce properly for me here on the web page. I suspect it may just not be available inthe font I'm using, or something like that.

Re: Unicode geekery follows...

I could see the smiley face in ahruman's comment.

Oh, and there are a bunch of grammatical errors that my copy of Word's grammar check picks up. So it was neither spell-checked nor grammar-checked.

(Though I'm not sure how many people grammar-check their texts, since Word's grammar-checker may not be that great -- grammar is harder than spelling to check automatically. I'm told WordPerfect's grammar checker was [is?] better at that than Word's, though.)

Re: Unicode geekery follows...

There were also a bunch of grammatical errors that my copy of "reading it through and having a rudimentary understanding of English grammar" picked up on. I just decided that the spelling errors were particularly heinous, given how monumentally easy it is to correct them.

oh the fun of this.

"If a person is terminally ill, only magical forces can cure them."

if I say disagree, am I saying that if a person is terminally ill, only non magical forces can cure them?

"If your toothache suddenly stops, this is due to the influence of a helping magical force." no, it means the medicine finally kicked in.

"When you find some money in the street, this is due to the influence of a benevolent magical force." hell no, it means someone else lost money!

"Things sometimes seem to be in different places when I get home, even though no one has been there."

really it should be "even though I thought no one has been there" because how am I supposed to know who's in my house when I'm not there? Kamilla often drops by, etc.

And every now and then I'll find crayons on my bed with a new picture a little someone drew for me. this too has its own logical explanation

" Horoscopes are right too often for it to be a coincidence."

oh, it's no coincidence that they're "right", they're just designed to be true for almost everybody. "You will have to make a decision in your life soon" OMG it came true!!!!eleven

"I have had the momentary feeling that I might not be human." oh, sure. when I was seven Jaci and I were convinced we were from another planet. Her proof was that her teeth were dry.

"If a person is terminally ill, only magical forces can cure them."

if I say disagree, am I saying that if a person is terminally ill, only non magical forces can cure them?

I want to disagree with that one too. If they're terminally ill, then nothing can cure them. That's the definition of terminally ill. Even if they look terminally ill, if they're saved by these ubiquitous magical forces, thenthe illness wasn't terminal.

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