Wednesday, June 20, 2018

You Have All Heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment

Apparently fraud.  6/7/18 Medium:
Whether you learned about Philip Zimbardo’s famous “Stanford Prison Experiment” in an introductory psych class or just absorbed it from the cultural ether, you’ve probably heard the basic story.
Zimbardo, a young Stanford psychology professor, built a mock jail in the basement of Jordan Hall and stocked it with nine “prisoners,” and nine “guards,” all male, college-age respondents to a newspaper ad who were assigned their roles at random and paid a generous daily wage to participate. The senior prison “staff” consisted of Zimbardo himself and a handful of his students....
For Korpi, the most frightening thing about the experiment was being told that, regardless of his desire to quit, he truly did not have the power to leave.
“I was entirely shocked,” he said. “I mean, it was one thing to pick me up in a cop car and put me in a smock. But they’re really escalating the game by saying that I can’t leave. They’re stepping to a new level. I was just like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was my feeling.”
Another prisoner, Richard Yacco, recalled being stunned on the experiment’s second day after asking a staff-member how to quit and learning that he couldn’t. A third prisoner, Clay Ramsay, was so dismayed on discovering that he was trapped that he started a hunger strike. “I regarded it as a real prison because [in order to get out], you had to do something that made them worry about their liability,” Ramsay told me.

The formal name for this is "kidnapping" and yet this, along with Milgram's shock experiments are at the core of progressive thought.


  1. And apparently the thing was coached and faked so I not sure what we can take from it other than people like to lie.

  2. This isn't surprising. Virtually all the "scientific" basis for the sexual revolution of the Sixties was based on the work of Alfred Kinsey, and there is great controversy about every aspect of that "work". In the words of Ward Pomeroy, a later sex researcher, he "inadvertently" oversampled the gay community. He was unable to get married couples to report on their sexual practices, so he deemed people who lived together for one year as married. He relied on what sounds like child molesters for reports on sexual response in children under age 8.
    The Kinsey reports are completely corrupted and unreliable in practically every aspect.

  3. Wikipedia of all sources has a good article on the replication crisis. When it comes to "officially", social psychology experiments/papers, which this probably is, seem to be over 3/4th wrong. For biomedicine, I assume that at least half of everything published is wrong, and the article doesn't cite one of the sources of that (there are a lot, and since the source I'm thinking of is from the awful Lancet, omitting it is fine with me).

  4. Above, hga has put his/her finger on the nub of the problem: the replication crisis.

    This isn't just one psychology experiment that is false, or even a lot of psychology studies; it's across the board. It applies not just to "soft" sciences like psychology and sociology, but STEM sciences too.

    We just don't know what we thought we knew, and we don't know how much of anything is true or just made-up crap which sounded good but is only superficially OK.

    This bombshell has only just gone off; the reverberations will long be echoing down the corridors of time, and the damage is incalculable.

  5. hga, My dad used to say that half of what you see on TV wasn't true, and you couldn't tell from listening what half wasn't true. Dennis Prager says that studies either affirm what common sense tells you or they are wrong. I think in the quest for publishable novelty in order to get tenure the ratio of true to false is like in George Harrison's "Tax Man"; One for you 19 for me.

  6. Eskyman: it isn't quite that bad, because you can divide studies into two categories: those that people are going to build upon, and those that they aren't in a real way. For a very concrete example mentioned in the Wikipedia article, as of late drug companies have great difficultly replicating various reported experiments, although some of that is undoubtedly false negatives because this is so hard, you've got to procure/create/maintain the correct reagents and cultures (else I would be a published author...), skill is required, and these companies are willing to put only so much money into something that doesn't seem to be working.

    But other stuff, where doing X allows someone else to do Y if and only if the report on X is valid, results in the entity trying to do Y inherently replicating X. Problem here for non-specialists is that if they fail, and realize X was a mistake or outright fraud, they keep it quiet and inside the field, and e.g. people learn not to trust the results of certain labs and researchers.

    Blowing the whistle is generally a career ending move, something I noted close up WRT to the Thereza Imanishi-Kari debacle. E.g. the whistle blower had to go to work as a receptionist at her family's moving company, which was my favorite in the area. And a girlfriend as an undergraduate tried to do research in Imanishi-Kari's lab, and had to give up because it was very poorly run, allowing us to deduce that the initial issue came from Imanishi-Kari being terrible at research and running a lab.

    Note also that scientists are one of the very few categories of Americans who can still successfully sue for libel and slander, since their reputations are so important. Which was good when Proxmire was going after them, but I'm sure has a chilling effect, e.g. see Michael Mann and Mark Steyn.

    Fortunately lots of this stuff is now getting reported sub rosa or the like on blogs and such, there's even a site (or was, not sure if it got suppressed in due course) where people could anonymously report things they found suspicious. E.g. for some number of years the delightfully named Chembark covered more than a few scandals, I looked at it a bit upon occasion because that was my major (couldn't finish due to $$$).

    Or getting back to climatology, how lots of people were able to utterly destroy the current field thanks to all the details spilled the Climategate leak, not even counting the admissions of outright fraud, or that poor guy's research notebook. Helps that that field is so bad, getting back to Michael Mann and his group, a couple of his bête noires were able to destroy his hockey stick "research" by simply mathematically demonstrating that his statistical "technique" turned random noise into a hockey stick.... Any anyone can note that that green line suspiciously ends when the others didn't.

    But of course the Official Story/party line is that global cooling -> global warming -(conveniently unfalsifiable)-> climate change is real, it doesn't matter what "science" they do, the results are always "humans are evil and must surrender infinite control and money to their betters". Which for decades has been the same prescription for many claimed emergencies. So this is one type of "science" where no one really uses the results the real world (note how allergic they are to the idea of climate engineering, a lot of which can be easily done, like adding the limiting nutrient iron to the oceans).

    Finally, a lot is stuff that's so obscure or essentially useless except in getting tenure that no one is going to do anything based on it, although of course plenty of comes up in the service of scoring political points.