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Debunking the Lorentz System As a Framework For Human Emotions 124

New submitter Enokcc writes "In a series of research articles it was claimed that a famous system of nonlinear differential equations originally used to model atmospheric convection can also be used to model changes in human emotions over time. It took an amateur in psychology with a computer science background to notice how extraordinary these claims were, and with the help of experts on psychology he has now published a critique. The latest of the questionable research articles (with 360 citations) is now 'partially withdrawn.'" Notably, skeptic Nick Brown's paper is co-authored by Alan Sokal, famous for exposing nonsense by less diplomatic means.
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Debunking the Lorentz System As a Framework For Human Emotions

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  • Modeling (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 20, 2013 @09:26AM (#45180139)

    Considering how poorly atmospheric conditions and climate are modeled, it's no wonder they can't model human emotions.

    Having spent my career working on modeling various physical phenomena, I attest it's easy to fudge the results to produce any outcome you want, if you know how.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's Lorenz

  • Researcher (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 20, 2013 @09:28AM (#45180153)

    A noted psychological researcher (can't remember his) during a TED Talk said (to paraphrase) "ignore all psychological and neurological research in your lifetime because they more than likely got it wrong.'

    For decades, we were taught that the brain doesn't grow new neurons and then neurogenesis was discovered.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We have an uncited researcher giving a speech that discredits his own scientific field with a vague statement on the probability of the validity of research in his field. This is followed by a statement on how "we" were taught something about a field that was on the cutting edge of research (which of course reminds us on how "we" were taught that in the 15th century that everybody thought the Earth was flat), and then using that to draw conclusions on areas of the field that are considered established.


      • by Anonymous Coward

        I saw that TED talk (and searching TED talks suck and can't find it, although found a wonderful talk by Russel Foster about sleep and our misconceptions about that and how researchers got that all wrong for centuries.) and the person was talking about lay people - lay people taking current studies as fact.

        His point was that it takes about a generation for science to really get down to the truth - trying to duplicate results of studies, improved technology in research, more research, etc ...

        How many people

        • Exactly. It constantly bugs me how educational theorists jump on the latest thing from neuroscience and then use it to justify anything and everything when even the neuroscientists haven't nailed down the consequences of the discovery yet.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's because neuroscience and psychology arn't hard sciences. In real science (like computer science and mathematics), you look to generate proofs. In pseudosciences, such as phrenology, psychology and neuroscience, you just kinda bull shit some ideas out and publish. They rely on impossible to reproduce experiments that can change day to day, and use comparatively small sample sizes. Even if you are proven wrong, like Sigmund Freud, you still are touted as a hero.

        See, that's how you troll them.

      • (which of course reminds us on how "we" were taught that in the 15th century that everybody thought the Earth was flat)

        Had you not been so intent on being a sarcastic ass, you might have done a little reading. This is one of those dumbshit factoids that aren't true.

        "The immense sarcasm in this post points to how many people talk about a subject they have no firsthand expertise in"

        Irony, thy name is Anonymous Coward.

      • by Boronx ( 228853 )

        In other words, TED is stupid. This is known.

    • 1) We have a lot of fundamental misunderstandings about shit, but that doesn't invalidate all our research. Bla bla Newton Einstein archetype;

      2) Psychological research has done immense harm, but it's also brought mental healthcare out of the stone age of arbitrary, cruel punishment - since 1 in 4 people will suffer a mental health problem at some time in their life, this is seriously significant shit;

      3) Neurological research has helped to treat my overworked wrists, turning me from someone barely able to wr

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Before The Dude, there was Fritz Perls, you might enjoy his taxonomy of shit --
        "According to Fritz Perls (1893–1970), founder of the Gestalt school of psychology, there are three kinds of shit you are likely to run into while talking with people"

      • 2) Psychological research has done immense harm, but it's also brought mental healthcare out of the stone age of arbitrary, cruel punishment - since 1 in 4 people will suffer a mental health problem at some time in their life, this is seriously significant shit;

        Scatological references aside, it's probably important to note that psychological research, with it's emphasis on "normal" human mental activity, and psyhciatric research, which deals specifically with mental illness, are really not the same thing anymore (if they ever were). While neither field has made much headway in understanding the causes of mental illness, psychiatry has at least managed to evolve some forms of treatment based on purely empirical data.

        Psychology, on the other hand, has probably done

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 20, 2013 @09:30AM (#45180163)

    At least some psychologists are trying to use math beyond statistics. It looks like they screwed up, by I give them credit for trying. Social scientists have historically sucked at using rigorous mathematics to describe the phenomena they observe. I for one, don't want more social scientists scared off by a backlash on this.

    • Surely it's better to scare off any social "scientists" that try to use maths in a cargo-cult kind of way? If you're going to use maths, don't just throw in random equations that have no bearing on the actual topic - that's basically just lying.
      • by fatphil ( 181876 )
        Compare Taleb's "We Can Start Exposing Economists" gauntlet-flinging earlier this year. He's highly mathematical, and he abhors the misuse of mathematics. And what I like about him is that he's prepared to take on big targets, compared with the relatively indignificant target attacked by the TFA.
    • Given that even classical medicine has a horrible habit of misapplying hypothesis testing, that quantitative macroeconomics is almost pure voodoo, and that weather prediction leaves a lot to be desired, I'd say the problem is not a lack of mathematics, but that the American model (unlike the European model) is to put numbers before logic.

      • by nomadic ( 141991 )
        Yet the European model has not produced better medical researchers, quantitative macroeconomists, or weather predictors.
        • A bit of a pedantic point here, the European Center for Medium Range Forecasts [] weather prediction models are the most accurate of the current bunch. That said, I am not sure if this represents a sea change in how they ginned up the model or just the fact that they did it somewhat better than others (at present, anyway).

          Further, I'm not sure that there is a substantive difference between European and American scientists in most scientific and engineering fields. There are roughly similar levels of Nobel P

          • by siride ( 974284 )

            The ECMWF model is fairly beefy. It's almost American in how many extra layers and grid details it has (bigger is better!). It runs on good hardware and has good data assimilation. It still screws up with regularity, but it's not as bad as the American models. It's not clear that the methodology is significantly different, though. The model uses the same kind framework as the American and other global models. That is, it's not built spectacularly differently, or in a way that signifies that a different unde

          • by nomadic ( 141991 )
            Right, that was my point. The idea that there is some different, superior philosophy underlying "European" science is silly. It's the same methodology, same philosophy, same people collaborating, etc.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Weather prediction? Are you kidding me? There have been enormous gains in weather prediction. A 300 nmi zone for a hurricane 3 days out 20 years ago is now a 100 km zone. A 5 day forecast today is as accurate as a 2 day forecast 20 years ago. [] []

      • Now, I know what you mean about the American vs the European models, but weather prediction is improving all the time, if slowly (amusingly, the European models _are_ better than the American ones). Also, medicine is not a science. biology is, and its main problems is too many bloody doctors messing things up.

        As for macroeconomics... Well, if your model is not built on political belief (markets are efficient! self-correcting! wages adjust! government investment can only be wasted!) you can actually make pre

    • by Arker ( 91948 )

      I am not so sure this is insightful.

      Much use of Mathematics in human/social science, in my experience, has more to do with Physics-envy than with real science. Another related function is to give a scientistic seal of approval on what amounts to modern witchcraft - this is particularly prevalent in the region of applied psychology I have found. It does not have to make sense, just be slightly denser than your grad students (and patients/clients) can parse, in order to give you the full and wondrous benefits

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @09:47AM (#45180217)

    You can bet that if there had been a strong lobby or interest group invested in the results of this paper, there would be strong counter-claims and attacks on people trying to debunk it. That's the case in many papers in economics, for example: their data is shaky, their models arbitrary, and their conclusions absurd, but one or the other political party uses it to justify its economic policy, it acquires a lobby, and becomes unassailable.

    But even in papers where merely a lot of scientific careers and reputations are at stake, you can't overturn established dogma until the proponents of that dogma have retired or died.

    Debunking pointless papers like this, papers that don't do any harm, actually is itself harmful, because it gives the erroneous impression that "the system works" and errors get corrected. The only errors that get corrected in science are those that don't have a lobby.

  • by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @09:52AM (#45180237)

    So then what was this? A butterfly graph, the calling card of chaos theory mathematics, purporting to show the tipping point upon which individuals and groups âoeflourishâ or âoelanguish.â Not a metaphor, no poetic allusion, but an exact ratio: 2.9013 positive to 1 negative emotions. Cultivate a âoepositivity ratioâ of greater than 2.9-to-1 and sail smoothly through life; fall below it, and sink like a stone.
      [ ... ]
    But Brown smelled bullshit. A universal constant predicting success and fulfillment, failure and discontent? "In what world could this be true?" he wondered.

    One step closer to the tipping point where tipping points will become ... not so tipsy.

  • This wouldn't be the first time that someone who was an amateur made some kind of major progress. It seems that the definition of amateur needs a rewrite. The guy in the article sounds like he's more stating the obvious at this point.
  • not much news (Score:3, Informative)

    by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @10:08AM (#45180301)

    Psychology is not a science. It attempts to use methods and analysis from science but that is as far as it can go. Of course most of it can be debunked.

    • by fa2k ( 881632 )

      Psychology can be a science. What the paper in this story is discussing is a form of phenomenology (a term which unfortunately has many meanings): determining an empirical relationship between two observables. The best would be to predict a relationship from a set of axioms or more fundamental hypotheses, but it's hard to come by such things in psychology, so doing phenomenology is the only way forward so far. This is not worthless. It is equivalent (for example) to determining how the magnetic field arou

      • by fa2k ( 881632 )

        Actually, I may have misunderstood the objection. One could say that approaching psychology with scientific methods is the same as applying those methods to astrology or homeopathy. I.e. one could reject the possibility of causal relationships between the observables used in psych. I think this is wrong, and there exists well tested theories which prove that it's not all BS.

  • Rosenham Experiment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gallondr00nk ( 868673 ) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @10:14AM (#45180329)

    Whenever there's an enormous new "objective" trend in psychology or social science, I always think of the Rosenhan experiment.

    In a nutshell, volunteers went to different psychiatric hospitals in the US, complaining that they all suffered from (made up) voices in their heads. They were all admitted under different psychological disorders. At this point, they all acted completely normally and told staff they no longer heard voices. In all cases, they were only released once they'd submitted to treatment, and "made better".

    In a follow up after the original paper, psychiatric hospitals challenged Rosenhan to send more volunteers, and the hospitals asserted they would spot them easily. He agreed, and after three months the participating hospitals said that they had weeded out 42 imposters.

    Rosenhan hadn't sent a single person to the hospitals.

    It's a perfect example of how inaccurate psychology is once it relies on distinct catagories like "insane" and "sane". A "positivity ratio" as created by Fredrickson is absolutely no different.

    Like in any field the "experts" are often anything but.

    Insights are one thing, but constantly trying to hammer objectivity into something so complex as human behaviour is always going to be flawed.

    • it's be more clear right now
    • Insights are one thing, but constantly trying to hammer objectivity into something so complex as human behaviour is always going to be flawed.

      Granted, and Sokal and others do very well here debunking the spurious claims of Fredrickson and Losada. However, let's not be carried over in the same generalities about human sciences that surrounded his original hoax, and let us by reminded of the Bogdanov affair, where two clowns managed to get PhDs in physics and in mathematics, and published articles in peer-reviewed journals IN THOSE FIELDS on topics such as what happened just after the Big Bang (see Wikipedia article: Bogdanov Affair). Neither you o

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Me too. Whenever there are discussions about computer science and engineering I'm reminded of Space Shuttles and rockets exploding, bridges collapsing, buildings toppling or crumbling when they shouldn't, satellites taken off course, cars catching fires, brakes failing, and so on. Then I start thinking about cold fusion all the illicit drugs destroying society, the legal medications, thalidomide. Then I retreat to my cave and paint.

    • The conclusion you have drawn from this study is an extreme overreaction. It does not follow from this single study of how psychiatric staff in the 1970s responded to malingering patients that any attempt at quantifying human behavior objectively is flawed.

      The main issue with this study is that psychiatric diagnosis relies heavily on self report, and the actors in this study created the illusion of a psychiatric disorder by lying about their hallucinations. How the staff responds once the patient no lo
    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Ah, so every time you hear about something in psychology or sociology it makes you think of psychiatry which is part of medical science?

      Perhaps you need to learn the difference between the two fields before you open your pie hole?

    • Since the notorious Rosenhan experiment experiment, the diagnosis of mental illness and neurological conditions has vastly improved, your complaint pertains to the 1973 not today. That experiment was one of the reasons why the DSM was developed, that aims to rigorously categorises the symptoms of psychological and neurological conditions.

      Admittedly, the DSM still relies on a symptom check list not objective tests but there are exciting recent developments where fMRI, EEG and genetics are beginning to aid di

    • The best criticism of Rosenhanäs experiment that I've heared so far:

      If I were to drink a quart of blood and, concealing what I had done, come to the emergency room of any hospital vomiting blood, the behaviour of the staff would be quite predictable. If they labelled and treated me as having a peptic ulcer, I doubt I could argue convincingly that medical science does not know how to diagnose that condition.

      You can't fake symptoms and then complain that diagnostics sucks.
      Experiment would be legit if they'd faked improvements in a way matching symptoms.

  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld@gmai l . c om> on Sunday October 20, 2013 @10:20AM (#45180369) Homepage
    The author is a graduate student in psychology, not an amateur. Graduate students are expected to write academic journal articles as part of their studies.
    • I'm puzzled by Sokal's claim that the Brown "has no particular training in mathematics", when the article says that Brown has "a degree in computer science". I wonder what kind of degree in CS does not require training in mathematics. Perhaps not specifically with regards to non-linear system models, but that's not how it sounded to me.
      • by nomadic ( 141991 )
        Sokal's a physicist, maybe his view of the math CS majors have to learn is basic enough that it doesn't rise to the level of "particular training."
      • Hi, I am the subject of the article in question. (I don't know how to prove that. You can look at the Twitter account with the same name as this Slashdot account, but of course I could be spoofing that too.)

        @K. S. Kyosuke: I skipped most of the math classes on my CS degree as they were too hard for me (seriously). I'd been pretty good at math in high school, but then I blinked and apparently I was meant to have mastered all this more advanced stuff. The article is basically correct: I ca
  • Why not actually make a big difference if we're going to have a team of "expert" psychologists debunk something? You know, like get the bogus Duluth Model [] thrown out since it's used as the framework for almost all domestic abuse therapy / explanation. Since it presents abuse as gendered, but men and women are equally aggressive. [] Hell, there's plenty of evidence... So, Shouldn't be hard, eh?

    Oh, that's right. It's fucking Psychiatry / Psychology -- Damn non-sciences. Whoopdee fucking do, let's debunk some shit everyone knows is bunk to begin with and doesn't fucking matter. I got a better idea: Let's throw out any and all existing shit about predicting why folks act certain ways and let the Neroscientists and Cyberneticians handle it -- You know, the actual sciences based on real evidence and repeatable observable physical phenomena linked to reality by more than uninformed guesses.

    I guess everyone's scratching their own itches, but I mean, if we're not going to do the right thing and declassify psychology as science, then if I were looking at making a positive impact I'd start at the Duluth Model since abuse is largely cyclic: Most rapists and abusers were themselves abused. So, the current most wide spread approach to domestic violence counseling creates more female victims in the next cycle. I mean, if we're going to debunk shit, why not take your pick of other crap that's sticking out like a sore thumb, is obviously blatantly wrong, and just plain ol' sexist? Oh, I think you know why... Because you're not fucking scientists.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      So you used science to determine it's not a science? No, so you're just accusing them of doing what you're doing except that of course they have to actually use science. Always nice when reality revolves around you right?
  • This was August.
  • Lorentz Pffft! I use fast Fourier transform to calculate my emotions, and right now my results show nothing but scorn for anyone who uses Lorentz.

  • So this amateur managed to "debunk" a paper based on his "intuitions". Quite frankly, I'm not impressed.

    First of all, the field of psychology is vast and some parts of it shouldn't be called scientific. Given that, the approach criticized seems refreshingly precise.

    Secondly, the amateur does not seem to be aware very much of mathematical psychology, because otherwise he wouldn't have had such clearcut "intuition" why in this particular case the model was wrong. As it has turned out often in the past, and mu

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Perhaps you should try and read the paper so you can realize just how wrong everything you wrote is?

      As well, nothing wrong with Jung and Freud when you actually understand what they're saying. If you don't understand archetypes then you clearly haven't socialized a lot.

    • Care to elaborate what is wrong with Jung's archetypes? From what I have read it seems like a model that successfully maps to patterns in human behavior. For example the strong access to the "magician" archetype energy combined with a weak access to the "warrior" archetype energy (these are just labels) will cause the person to think too much and act too little in various areas in their lives, so by taking say martial arts they gain more access to the "warrior" archetype energy and develop propensity for ac

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Sunday October 20, 2013 @12:18PM (#45181077)

    What's so sad for me about this whole story is that took an amateur and an outsider to debunk this research, and only after an ivy league school set up an entire institute for this snake oil. Now they're saying "oops, sorry, our bad for trusting the bunk we read in the peer-reviewed journals" but why weren't experts in psychology doing this debunking themselves? And why didn't it happen immediately upon the publication of this bunk? Why didn't UPenn take a second look at this crap before they devoted an institute to it? And why is the US government putting serious money into programs based on it?

    All of this stuff will eventually get walked back in the coming backlash (one hopes), but the fact that psychologists themselves were not able to recognize the crap in their own journals should be a serious wake up call for that whole discipline. If a psychology department wants to have an elite faculty, I say that at least two should be highly skilled in data-analytic methods and devote most of their research activity to undercutting the work of others. Also, a lot more research money should go into replicating experiments that the field takes as significant. Unlike other people who post here, I do think that psychology is a real science, and one of the most valuable sciences we have. The fact that it's being done badly does not make it a pseudo-science. But it does highlight the urgency of drastic reform in the field. Like I said, this should be a wake-up call. Psychology departments of the world should all be resolved to never let this kind of disaster happen again.

  • Your lies will always be brought before reasonable people and you will be in the long run doomed. Thanks web.
  • "the interactions of a team of researchers whose journal articles are characterized by 'smoke and mirrors' could be modeled using the physics of airborne particulate combustion residues, combined in some way with classical optics."

    This is what in scientific terms is referred to as a "sick burn".

  • Dr. Fredrick retracted the 2.9 claim, but defended the concept of positivity ratios:

    positivity ratios were significantly higher for individuals identified as flourishing relative to those identified as nonflourishing

    In other words, people who are happy tend to think more happy thoughts than people who are unhappy.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus