The mic is passed and the psychologists rise, one by one, to explain why they’re here. Some reasons are kind of funny (“I’m here because it was better than sitting in my office and swearing”); others are heartfelt (“I’m here because I want to trust science again”); a few come tinged with regret (“I’m here to atone for the sins earlier in my career”). And some betray frustration, even anger: “I’m here,” one researcher says, “because I want to burn things to the ground.”
The mission statement of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science doesn’t mention anything about arson. Instead it states, in more measured tones, that the organization, known as SIPS, is dedicated to rigor, openness, and the “refinement of knowledge.” The couple hundred attendees at its fourth annual gathering, held recently in Grand Rapids, Mich., were mostly in their 20s and 30s, plenty of postdocs and assistant profs, along with a sprinkling of senior academics. They listened to presentations with nonthreatening subjects like “Using information-theoretic approaches for model selection” and “Assessing the validity of widely used ideological instruments.” There was enthusiastic chatter about a new project, called the Psychological Science Accelerator, that involves multiple laboratories coordinating data collection. All of which sounds serious, scholarly, and completely harmless.
So what’s with the talk of burning things to the ground?