New York Times Exposes Psychology Study Errors: How Does This Affect the Criminal Defendant?

Filed under: News by Contributor @ September 19, 2015

A few weeks back, the New York Times reported that more than 60% of studies in a survey of leading social science papers could not hold up under scrutiny.

Although the study, nicknamed the “Reproducibility Project,” did not uncover any evidence of intentional deception or complete falsity, it does call into question many studies that attempt “to understand the dynamics of personality, relationships, learning, and memory.”  These studies are the underpinning of decisions made on a daily basis by government officials, social workers, educators, and similar other professionals whose actions or omissions can seriously affect the lives of those around them.

According to the article, the number of official retractions by journals is steadily rising.  However, replication of a study’s data may not be the end all, be all that this particular study would have one think.  Still, the news that the psychology literature has significant flaws damages the credibility of all studies.

The list of studies implicated in the Reproducibility Project is available here.  Whether or not this study can have ramifications for the criminal defense bar remains to be seen.  Whatever the circumstances, in any case where a prosecutor attempts to use social science research for purposes of sentencing, or at trial (a more and more common occurrence), defense lawyers should be quick to point out this new trend discrediting the “science” of social science.  Let us know how this development affects your practice.

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