The best pseudoscience debunkery you'll read this week comes from a group of angry physicists. Their target is a much-cited paper on the nature of optimism, which has been accepted wholeheartedly by the positive psychology community. And it's wrong, wrong, wrong.

At issue is a paper, "Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing," that has been cited uncritically "close to a thousand times." In it, psychologists Barbara L. Fredrickson and Marcial F. Losada use a mathematical argument to claim that there's an emotional "tipping point" where your positive emotions become negative. Sounds delightfully buzzwordy — and, say Alan Sokal and his colleagues, it's completely silly science. (Yes, it's that Alan Sokal.)


Over at BigThink, Neurobonkers explains:

[Alan] Sokal along with Nicholas Brown and Harris Friedman has published a paper that mercilessly destroys a paper on positive psychology that has been cited close to a thousand times on Google Scholar and in countless self help books, somehow with no one in the field realizing the paper was not worth the paper it was written on.

The original paper by Fredrickson & Losada makes the case that the “positivity ratio” - the relationship between an individual's positive and negative emotions reaches a critical tipping point when it reaches the number 2.9013.

But as Sokal et al make painfully clear, the paper is utterly brimming with “fundamental conceptual and mathematical errors" and "the total absence of any justiïŹcation for the applicability of the Lorenz equations to modeling the time evolution of human emotions”.


Read more at Big Think.