Friday, August 23, 2013

When Scientists are Skeptics, We All Win (Yes, this is Related to MLM, sort of)

Alan Sokal is a physicist that read the journals where his papers (and tons of other papers) are published, and wondered... Does someone actually read all that stuff? So he proceed to write the WORST paper he could possibly write. It's complete bull****, filled with buzzwords ("quantum gravity..." Ooooohhhhh! Aaaaahhhhhh!" )  but completely bull****. The paper was called "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", and it was submitted to a journal called "Social Text", an academic journal of postmoderncultural studies.

It got published in 1996. When Sokal revealed the whole paper is pure bull****, and he basically "trolled" that journal, the feedback was definitely mixed. Some are horrified at the "lack" of vigor the editors of the journal demonstrated. Others are angry at Sokal for ridiculing other "scientists". There's also question on what exactly is "postmodernacultural studies", and why would a physicist try to troll them, and so on. The whole thing was dubbed "Sokal Affair" and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

The point is a scientists was skeptical of something, and he built a test to test that something.

How many of you would be willing to do that, or have done that, and I mean really test it, not merely "I tried it, it works, I got paid"?

Alan Sokal just struck again, when he and some friends took apart two psychologists, Fredrickson and Losada, who attempted to apply Lorenz Equation (huh) to "positivity ratio", and how feeling too happy will lead to a happiness inversion (what?) when the positive emotion to negative emotion ratio reached the tipping point of 2.9013 (huh?)  Sokal, along with Nicholas Brown, and Harris Friedman basically destroyed that other paper for all of the various reasons, including bogus math, bad logic, and much more.

Now you say, what does *that* have to do with MLM? Ah, but you see, this "positivity ratio" was a popular topic among the various "motivational speakers" who often show up at MLM events to "inspire" the crowd, and it was simply never challenged (cited over 1000 times, according to Google Scholar).

So what exactly is this "Positivity Ratio", how motivational speakers are citing it, and why is it bull****?

The original paper on "positivity ratio", which is, of course, followed by a book, claims that you need to "balance" your positive thoughts with negative thoughts, and keep it at 3 to 1 ratio. If you let it go out of balance, your thoughts will "flip" and you'll start thinking all negative thoughts. (Well, roughly speaking). But if you keep the thoughts in check in that 3:1 ratio, then you can do amazing things.

Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life

2.9016 to be exact.

Wait, so this ratio is applicable to you and me?

Yep. To any individual, regardless of age, gender, race, income strata, and even to groups of arbitrary size. To five decimal places.

*cough* bullshit *cough*

And what proof is there of this ratio?

You heard me. Fluid flow equation called Lorenz equations. The co-author, Losada, claimed to have found the equations to be actually applicable to human emotional ups and downs over time.


I'm not going to go into the details on how the 3 professors went through bit by bit the equations, which are themselves massive simplifications of fluid dynamics, is not applicable to human emotion, and any relations would be contrived and conicidental. You can read the paper yourself, but it's a long and boring PDF.

Instead, I'll just quote from the official response paper from Fredrickson herself, as Losada chose not to make a reply.
I’ve come to see suf´Čücient reason to question the particular mathematical framework Losada and I adopted... My aim in this response article is not to defend Losada’s mathematical and conceptual work. Indeed, I have neither the expertise nor the insight to do so on my own. My aim, rather, is to update the empirical evidence for the value and nonlinearity of positivity ratios. 
Need a translator? What she said was "My partner's math is completely bogus. Just ignore him. I still think my ratio is real, and I have some sample cases to show you."

That folks, is the sound of "furious backpedaling".

Yet you can see plenty of happiness coaches touting the positivity ratio if you search for it online:

And here's another

There are many more, usually the positivity coaches who have absolutely no idea what's real and what's not who just retweet / repost anything that they think justifies "positivity".

There is no science behind positivity, folks.

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  1. I would point out that just because the original formulae was based on fluid mechanics does not mean that it might not apply to human emotions. Ratios and formulae can apply in completely different fields. The best example being the Fibonacci sequence.
    However I would agree the fact that it seems in this case that it is not relevant.

    1. I think my point is that the ratio may or may not exist, but it is NOT based on fluid dynamics equation. Yet you see all the positivity coaches cite it as if it somehow proves their psychobabble is real science.