Comment »Posted on Thursday 6 November 2008 at 10:38 pm by Jacob Aron
In Getting It Wrong, Psychology

We’ve got another one. “Experts” warned today that wearing a purple tie to an interview could cost you the job.

In a way, this story is very similar to one I wrote a month or so ago about blondes being more confident. Daily Mail? Check. Dubious science? Check. Funded by someone looking to hawk their wares? Check.

Psychologist Dr Ludwig Lowenstein carried out the study for tie makers Peckham Rye (no vested interest there of course) – but to what extent was it a serious study? The Daily Mail give no indication of where (if?) it was published, and I can’t find anything online, so it’s hard to fact check. I’ve no idea, for example, how many people participated in the study, or what kind of questions they were asked. There’s no indication of methodology used, or how conclusions were drawn.

For all intents and purposes Dr Lowenstein might as well have made these results up. The reason scientists insist on the traditions of publication and citation is so other people can check your results. When “research” is funded by commercial organisations the results are often not made public, or at least not easily accessible, and that’s a Bad Thing™.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust all commercially funded research. For example, Google.org is the internet giant’s charitable wing, and have committed over $100 million dollars to research into fields such renewable energy. Notice the complete lack of “your choice of search engine could give you skin cancer”-type research.

I’m also not saying that the conclusions made by Dr Lowenstein are wrong. How could I? I’ve not been out questioning people about ties, so I’m not in any position to draw conclusions. I could however take a look at his data (if it was available) and then come up with something. It could be a load of rubbish, I’m not a trained psychologist after all, but if I could do it so could other scientists. That’s how science works.

Of course, I’ve got to have my usual poke at the Daily Mail. Yes, I know why they’ve run the story; you get a nice punny headline (I’m guilty of it as well), they get to included a bunch of celebrity pictures, and the results come from a guy with a PhD. That doesn’t mean they have to list it in the science section. It’s not science.


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