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Welcome to PsyCrit, the journal of commentary on psychology, economics and social issues.


Welfare and the Mises Dilemma

by Jers (2012/05/06)It is usually thought good for someone who has more than enough to help someone who has less. It is not so obvious that it’s good for one person to take from a second to give to a third who may be in need. Yet that is what government welfare entails: forced taking from one group of people to give to another group. Welfare like this may serve a larger social end, but it rests on uncertain moral ground. I believe that it is also likely to fail on practical grounds. Welfare is another example of what I have called elsewhere the malign hand. Welfare has two effects: more...

What we have here is a failure to replicate!

by Jers (2012/03/21)There are thousands of published research studies every year purporting to show a curative effect of some new drug. In a WSJ article (12/02/11) entitled “Scientists’ Elusive Goal: Reproducing Study Results”, Gautam Naik lists a slew of such ‘breakthroughs,’ reported in prestigious peer-reviewed scientific journals like Nature, Science and The Lancet, that cannot be replicated by others, particularly by pharmaceutical companies that would like to profit from them. more...

On B. F. Skinner and a Technology of Behavior

by Jers (2012/01/10)
I have read the first 3 pages of Beyond Freedom and Dignity to my students for 17 years. It is an amazing passage that justifies the need for a technology of behavior. I read this passage 10 days after Sept 11th. It was relevant and moving. Dr. Skinner was then and continues to be right on the money!
(TBA list 12/30/2011) Wendy Williams is right to draw attention to the first few pages of Beyond Freedom and Dignity, but not entirely for the reasons she implies. Skinner’s advocacy of a technology of behavior is a brilliant piece of rhetoric. But it relies on two assumptions, neither entirely correct. First, that we know much more than our predecessors about how to change people’s behavior. And, second, that we are pretty much certain about our ultimate aims. more...

What Fixed the Great Depression – Really?

by Jers (2011/11/27)
Our Greatest Generation president, FDR, drove unemployment down from 25% to 15% [!] during the ‘30s using this recipe [government spending on infrastructure, etc.]. Some make the point that WW2 ended the Great Depression…That’s true, but only because the war required the government to raise money to build the infrastructure for war...
(Frank Hyman, p 1A Raleigh News & Observer, December 2011)

This is a common view of the cause and cure of the Great Depression, but it needs a little unpacking. First, the reduction in unemployment from 25% to 15% during FDR’s tenure still leaves it at ludicrously high levels. If FDR prescribed a cure, it was only slightly better than the disease. WW2 did the job, though. more...

Commentaries, Etc.

J E R Staddon and Y Zhang, 1989 Response selection in operant learning

[[1]Behav.Process.,20:139-197 We show that simple, contiguity-based, nonassociative response-selection process provides a qualitative account for both anomalous and non-anomalous properties of operant conditioning The process can easily be extended to permit associative effects, it may therefore represent the initial processing stage for all conditioning in higher vertebrates. Key Words reinforcement, learning model, stochastic, superstition


2006/07/16 Will you take 'neuro' with that? Neuroeconomics is an interesting idea that has an epistemological worm at its core... but there is no guarantee at all that the optimizing process corresponds to "explicit optimization" in which courses of action are well-defined... Staddon


2009/02/03 Revisiting basic notions of human intelligence Herrnstein & Murray (1994) claim that intelligence is largely inherited and can hardly be altered. They are wrong. Intelligence is substantially determined by the environment, disproportionately constraining the disadvantaged. Schick


2007/01/02 Guess for Success Parapsychology is a term coined by J. B. Rhine that covers phenomena such as telepathy the direct transmission of information from mind to mind. The landmark work is Rhine, J. B. (1964) Extra-sensory perception. (Boston: Bruce Humphries), and a flow of other publications by Rhine’s associates and others. In this extended article, Lockhead shows how very small deviations from randomness in the to-be-guessed sequence can give rise to better- or worse-than-chance guessing performance. Lockhead


2008/09/01 Attention to Intention: Fact or artifact? Lau et al. (2004) aimed to identify through fMRI the brain region that codes for the intention to perform a motor act, and concluded that the pre-Supplementary Motor Area is where this happens. Machado and Silva’s account (2007) for these results is similar to previous attempts (Bridgeman, 1985; Gomes, 2002) to interpret Libet’s original data (Libet et al., 1983). To the extent of our knowledge, however, such accounts have never been subjected to empirical test. Our objective with this paper was to provide such a test. Marques-Smith


2006/09/20 Emotion is Natural but Categories are Not Barrett argues against the construct of emotion by conflating the basic-emotions perspective in neural physiology with a type of category discussed in reference philosophy... Alvarado


2007/03/15 Minority Report It is perhaps unfair to critique in a scientific journal an interview in a popular magazine... The idea is this: perhaps we should forcibly treat and restrain "abnormal" individuals before they can do harm if the propensity can be detected in some way... Staddon


2006/10/27 Ill-defined What is happening to political science when leading thinkers can pretend to advance knowledge by little more than re-defining words? In their article "Anti-Americanisms", an abstract of a forthcoming book, Katzenstein and Keohane begin thus... Bertrand


2006/07/16 Behavior-centric versus reinforcer-centric descriptions of behavior The paper is a brilliant tour-de-force, but a subtext to the paper is what I will call the behavior-centric view. In this view, stimuli are remembered until a response is emitted, and reinforcers reach back in time to effect this response in the presence of the remembered stimulus... Davison


2007/05/25 Rationality and Process There is a philosophical (or perhaps definitional) problem with the analysis so engagingly presented by Basu. Definition: The rational choice is the one that (for defensible reasons) gains the most payoff. Thus, buying a lottery ticket on a hunch is not rational even if you win... Staddon


2007/12/28 Paley Redivivus Fodor once more presents us with a persuasive, entertaining – and profoundly wrong – view of a great man. Not B. F. Skinner this time, but a much grander figure, none other than Charles Darwin. Fodor's often misdirected attacks on an extinct behaviorism. Staddon

2008/02/12 Response: A dialogue between Fodor and Staddon Jerry Fodor responded to John Staddon’s comment, and a dialogue ensued. The focal point seems to be whether natural selection should (Fodor), or potentially does (Staddon) provide a causal account of evolutionary adaptation. Fodor


2007/03/15 Metacognition: A problem not a process "Metacognition" in animals can be explained by familiar learning principles... Staddon


2008/07/26 Emerging Discourse about Emerging Adulthood This review presents impressions of Konstam's (2007) book entitled “Emerging and Young Adulthood: Multiple Perspectives and Diverse Narratives”. The review critiques the limited focus of current research, and highlights Konstam's contribution: expanding our understanding by extending the depth and range of existing scholarship on emerging adulthood. Blustein


2007/10/11 Is it human? Judgments of choice responding Neuringer et al. believe their experiments can tell us something about what 'voluntary behavior' is. Davison disagrees... Davison


2009/02/23 Physiology may not be (political) destiny Oxley et al. (2008) translate an eyeblink and a slight sweat, provoked by different kinds of pictures, into a political position. Science magazine apparently raised no objections. Charney points out that both eye blinks and GSR changes can be interpreted in very many ways. Oxley et al.’s grand conclusions leave their modest data well behind. Charney


2007/12/08 Functional Variability, Matching, and Volition: A Reply to Davison Jensen and Neuringer respond to Davison Jensen_2007


2006/09/20 Visual Language Processing and Additive Effects of Multiple Factors on Timed Performance: A Challenge for the Interactive Activation Framework? Two factors often have additive effects on timed performance in language tasks. Despite 25 years of work, fans of the dominant theoretical framework for language processing have yet to publicly address even a single instance of such additivity... Besner

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