the background

In the whole Open Science (hate that term)/ Reproducibility (good, but narrow) / Evidentiary Value (meh) / Methodological Reform (my fave) movement (or is it not a movement?), there has been considerable discussion of “tone.” Some see it as an important consideration; some see it as a distraction at best. A prominent social psychologist who edits a quite major journal has written op-eds accusing Reformers of bullying and terrorism…in the name of tone. We've got two facebook groups that agree on most things (I'd guess) but schism on tone. Blogs about tone, regular twittering about tone. It's great. Everyone loves discussions of tone. That's why we have them. Riiiiight?

Fun fact: I grew up about 20 minutes from South Park County

Fun fact: I grew up about 20 minutes from South Park County

"We get it Will, this stuff has been beaten to death…so why do we need another fucking contribution to the tone discussion?"

Basically, I find framing this as solely or mostly about “tone” problematic.

I don’t really give a shit about tone. I care deeply about tactics. And that framing has shaped how I approach discussions of our science.


a purely hypothetical scenario. never happens [weekly++]

  • Tweeter 1: Look I found a paper. Small Ns, unlikely hypothesis, p = .04
  • Tweeter 2: Lol, how dumb is this. Pun [funny gif]
  • Tweeter 3: Did anyone even teach these people stats? [another funny gif about silly paper]
  • Tweeter 4: Stuck in 2010 [facepalm gif]
  • Tweeter 5: Joke about entire subfield being a failure
  • Sockpuppet: Here’s my patented tinfoil hat! Guaranteed to work.

…[time elapses as time inevitably does]...

all day pile-on of mockery

….[time elapses as we all march slowly to our eventual deaths]....

derails into separate twitter threads about why tone really matters/is really stupid

See y’all same time next week!


what does this accomplish?

I care deeply about improving our science. I also love me some good jokes[i]. When these occasional (jk, frequent) pile-ons happen, I’ll usually think two things:

  1. Many of the jokes/gifs/satire blogs/etc. are legitimately funny.
  2. What did any of this accomplish??

keeping the eye on the prize

I can see two potential goals of the methodological reform movement. First, we want a bigger tent with more people in it. SIPS grew from nothing to an amazing conference and professional society in two years. It’ll be even bigger next year. A great event[ii]. This is good. Attendance at methods panels at major conferences is off the charts. More and more people identify as reformers (or whatever we decide we are called), and contribute their time and effort to Making Psychology Great Now (let's hashtag that shit #MPGN).

A second goal is to shift broader norms and practices field-wide. If research practices are a distribution, this is about moving the fat part a bit, rather than stuffing one tail. Get that lab running 20 per cell to bump to 50 per. Get more labs to dip their toes into the preregistration pool. Maybe someone posts their data. Someone bites the bullet and learns R. Maybe journals require 21-word statements. Lots of little changes that really add up.

In either case, being inclusive and inviting and diverse is of paramount importance (h/t @NeilLewisJr for initiating the diversity/inclusion thing at SIPS. I still owe you lunch).

When I see the ridicule and mockery, I have a difficult-if-not-impossible time seeing it as useful for accomplishing either of these goals. The jesters[iii]. may be speaking to each other, but others are listening. Somewhere out there is a grad student just learning about reform, or maybe peeking into one of the facebook groups, or lurking in the groups but reluctant to speak, or realizing that the paper they published is problematic. Will all the online ribaldry from researchers or japes from prominent sock puppet[iv] twitter accounts increase the N in that student’s next study? Will she quickly download JASP or R? Will he want to attend a conference populated by the jesters?


I doubt it.


That’s not my opinion about tone. That’s my opinion about tactics.


Natural disclaimer:

Of course criticism is of paramount importance. It’s science. But it can also occur without mockery. There are a great many people in our world who absolutely excel at leveling criticism—even withering criticism—at problematic papers and practices. Many of the most-listened-to voices in the reform movement have crushed poor papers and practices while rarely if ever getting into the mockery business. As the Black Goats would say, they haven’t been dicks. Kudos.

(Also...was my hypothetical example of online pile-ons perhaps over-the-top, a turnoff for some readers involved and/or passionate about this stuff? Oh. That's weird and unfortunate. I was just trying to be funny.)



[i] I’d estimate that 90% of my social media posts are jokes of one sort or another. Just yesterday I fired off a fart joke and a Stephen Martin/Kahneman/Tversky trifecta joke and an @minzlicht joke…IN AN HOUR. I ain’t anti-joke.

[ii] Trust me, I was there this year, even though there are basically no eyewitnesses. My presence can be attested to by @SchiavoneSays, @maxinenajle, @sarahbeth_bell, @jivory, @ShuhBillSkee, and indirectly inferred from @hardsci ‘s new bourbon.

[iii] I do not mean "jester" pejoratively, but rather to describe a group of people jesting. If anyone can suggest a better alternative, I'm all ears.

[iv] I'm not good with internet lingo, but someone creating a fictional account is sock puppeting, right? Is that called something else? Again, if there's a proper name for someone creating a fake online persona, I'll correct.

And did we figure out Primestein's identity yet[v]? I'll preregister the prediction that it's someone high status and influential in the field having some yuks in their spare time. Which is fine. But I have a hard time seeing someone taking the time and effort to create a fake online persona (with posts and books, etc) simply to mock struggling subflields not coming from a position of substantial security and privilege. Could be wrong though. Shrugs. Wouldn't be the first time.

[v] I also don't much care who it is.

AuthorWill Gervais