The headline blared “Enjoy coffee or a gin and tonic? You could be a psychopath: People with dark personalities prefer bitter foods and drinks“. And then the bullet points:
* Researchers studied the preferred food and drink choices of 1,000 people
* Participants then completed a series of personality questionnaires
* Study found a preference for bitter foods was linked to dark personalities
* People who liked coffee, radishes and tonic water were more likely to exhibit signs of Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism
The peer-reviewed paper is “Individual differences in bitter taste preferences are associated with antisocial personality traits” in the journal Appetites (yes) by Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer. You might recall Sagioglou as authoress of “Bitter taste causes hostility” in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and of “Activating Christian religious concepts increases intolerance of ambiguity and judgment certainty” in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Or you might not.
In her new work, Sagioglou and pal “investigated how bitter taste preferences might be associated with antisocial personality traits” in which a group of people “self-reported their taste preferences using two complementary preference measures and answered a number of personality questionnaires assessing Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, everyday sadism, trait aggression, and the Big Five factors of personality.”
Did she say everyday sadism? Yes, sir, she did.
Anyway, you know what followed. Pseudo-quantification of emotional states, emotional states said to be perfectly captured and understood by questionnaires, and wee p-values confirming this-causes-that. And so next time you grab a cup of joe you run the risk of snatching up the cleaver, too, and hacking the barrista to pieces.
Enough already. Stop!
I hereby call for a two-year moratorium on all “research” and “science” which in any way uses questionnaires. This is on top of my forbidding all uses of hypothesis testing—to something like worldwide acclaim, at least on the Upper East Side. It’s far past the time to clean out the garbage accumulated by all these “studies.”
It’s so easy to make Science&tm;! All you have to do is pay for some “instrument”, such as the one that assesses “Machiavellianism”, and then invent some new question, such as “How much do you like black coffee?”, on a scale of -17.2 to , and then write a paper which shows how preference for espresso-ground beans causes Machiavellianism.
You can do this endlessly. And after you have done it, you’re not finished! You may well have “proved”, with hypothesis testing, that espresso-ground beans causes Machiavellianism, but then you realize you have said nothing about coarse-ground beans! And even if you have said something about coarse-ground beans, you have been silent on how coffee preference in general effects Machiavellianism in women and minorities.
And so on, as I say, endlessly.
It’s all crap, to coin a word. It’s stinkier than stinky tofu, rottener than Unitarian theology, flimsier than Bill Clinton’s excuses. And it’s pervasive. Question-based science is the very foundation of entire fields, like education, sociology, psychology. Disallow questionnaires and hundreds of journals would dry up.
On a continuous scale of -3.2 to 113-1/3, how would rate the idea of quantifying the unquantifiable? Or how about something more scientific: on a scale of 1 to 8.3, in units of 1/r where r is a prime number, how flummoxed does the previous question make you? Do you think that a “flummoxedness” of 8 is twice as flummoxed as an “flummoxedness” of 4? And is a “flummoxedness” of 4 twice as flummoxed as a “flummoxedness” of 2? Have we captured all there is to know about “flummoxedness” in this “scientifically validated instrument”? It’s validated, incidentally, because I am a scientist and say it is.
Add to this the silliness of hypothesis testing and its pretended identification of cause, and you have what we have now. Newspapers and researchers telling us that liking gin and tonics is “linked” or “tied” to psychopathy. How depressing! (Measured on the patented Briggs Depression scale—only $495.12 per use—I scored a whopping -4, which was statistically significant, which is the way I knew I was depressed.)
The damage done to clear thinking by pretending batteries of questions adequately quantify emotional states cannot scarcely be underestimated. It’s far past the time to take these things seriously.