It has become increasingly difficult to find well-informed critical comment on so many topics, including book reviews. I added this book to a pile purchased recently because it seemed to be well thought of by the New York Times and Scientific American. However, the moment I read the first sentence of the prologue my bull-shit warning light was set flashing.
The flashing was set off because Alter’s very first sentence introduces a third-rate paper that he glorifies as a ‘classic paper’, and which impressed him sufficiently to spawn his book’s (somewhat inane) title.
This ‘classic paper’ that he lauds (Schauss: 1979, see link below) is, quite simply, rubbish: it is nonsense and non-science. It comes from an obscure journal, then (in 1979) called ‘Orthomolecular Psychiatry’ (now re-named ‘Orthomolecular Medicine’). This journal ranks so low in the hierarchy of prestige in academia that it is off the bottom of the scale: it is not even indexed in ‘Medline’ because it is of such low status. Reputable academics regard it as rubbish, that is if they have even heard of it, which I am sure most have not. [see entry in Wikipedia for more background: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journal_of_Orthomolecular_Medicine ]
A quick inspection of the citation history of what Alter calls this ‘classic paper’ (something anyone can do in 10 seconds) indicates that far from being a classic paper it has not been favourably referred to in any reputable scientific journal since it was published, almost 40 years ago. Therefore the fact that Alter refers to it as a classic paper is an indicator of his academic perspicacity and judgment; and his probity. His appointment is in ‘Marketing’ in the Business school, so how much of a scientist is he?
The Schauss text is available in full from the link below so it is easy to look for yourself. To describe this woeful bit of writing as a scientific paper is, at a glance, ridiculous and the author is almost certainly not a bona fide professor either (I note that because Alter refers to Schauss as a ‘professor’ thereby giving the work a false imprimatur of verisimilitude). Anyone familiar with science will recognise it as being of no value and anyone who describes it as a ‘scientific paper’ is either being disingenuous or is a inexperienced and naive scientist themselves.
Introducing this young author Alter as a ‘professor’ creates an expectation of expertise and experience which he clearly does not possess. He is a junior academic with only a small number of inconsequential publications. Allowing himself to be introduced as ‘professor’ makes him complicit in a misleading form of self aggrandizement. He is an associate professor (they are ‘two-a-penny’ in America) which is by no means the same. His appointment is in the business school, not the psychology department. This creates the impression of elements of both solipsism and ultracrepidarianism.
Life is short, too short to expend further time with Mr. Alter, there is quality material to read. What I can say from my experience of reviewing scientific manuscripts is that those who treat sources and references with such careless disregard, as I have demonstrated Alter has done, is not practicing science and is most unlikely to be worth reading. So, if you value your time and do not wish to have your intellect insulted, pass on by and do not further enrich this young man. However, if you wish for entertainment rather than science and if you do not care whether what you read is true or accurate and if you find this sort of thing entertaining, then by all means buy it. But do not delude yourself that you are reading much to do with genuine science.
What, you might reasonably ask, is a neuro-pharmacologist doing writing a review of this book?
Much of what I have written, especially since my retirement, relates to my increasing astonishment and dejection at the extent to which deceit and incompetence in scientific publishing is distorting scientific knowledge across all science disciplines. The commercialization and profit generating imperative of publishing, combined with puppet-editors and poor refereeing, has rendered an enormous proportion of scientific publications of such low value that it would be better had they never been published. Most of what is published in scientific journals is erroneous (1-8). It is my continually increasing awareness of alarming extent of this problem which triggered my brief and relatively superficial investigation of this pop psychology publication. It behooves everyone continually to remind themselves of the adage caveat lector/emptor and to develop simple skills of a critical nature which will enable them to better detect this kind of nonsensical popular science. An introduction to assessing science literature is in the commentary ‘understanding science’
1. Ioannidis, J, Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science. Atlantic, 2010. November 17th.
2. Ioannidis, JP, An epidemic of false claims. Competition and conflicts of interest distort too many medical findings. Sci. Am., 2011. 304(6): p. 16.
3. Siontis, KC, Evangelou, E, and Ioannidis, JP, Magnitude of effects in clinical trials published in high-impact general medical journals. Int. J. Epidemiol., 2011. 40(5): p. 1280-91.
4. Earp, BD and Trafimow, D, Replication, falsification, and the crisis of confidence in social psychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 2015. 6: p. 621.
5. Begley, CG and Ioannidis, JP, Reproducibility in science improving the standard for basic and preclinical research. Circ. Res., 2015. 116(1): p. 116-126.
6. Klein, RA, Ratliff, KA, Vianello, M, Adams Jr, RB, et al., Investigating variation in replicability. Soc. Psychol., 2015.
7. Finkel, EJ, Eastwick, PW, and Reis, HT, Best research practices in psychology: Illustrating epistemological and pragmatic considerations with the case of relationship science. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., 2015. 108(2): p. 275.
8. Collaboration, OS, Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science, 2015. 349(6251): p. aac4716.