Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Reaction time researcher reacts quickly


Showing the quick reactions which one would expect of a reaction time researcher, Scott Parker has jumped to his own defence, casting aside the diffidence of which I had accused him. He writes:

You remark on your blog that,  "What Parker avers is that the snappiest reaction times were probably due to the extremely bright and noisy lamps used by Victorians, as opposed to duller and quieter bulbs in more recent times. "  But I don't aver that. All I wanted to point out is that without lots of info about the stimuli in the various studies that Woodley et al. rely on, it's not reasonable to attribute the long-term changes in reported reaction times to changes in the intelligences of the people who did the reacting. The last sentence of the Abstract in my comment says that the reasons for the changes are "underdetermined". That's the point of the "Maybe, maybe not" subtitle. It's not merely due to my getting poor grades in my assertiveness-training classes in graduate school.

But I can come out clearly against your paragraph that begins, "I have had enough of this."  There is a large literature studying the dependence of reaction time on a considerable variety of features of the visual stimuli; I mentioned a bit of it as did Dodonova & Dodonov. People interested in, say, the dependence of reaction time on IQ scores can study that by testing all their subjects with some fixed set of stimulus parameters and response apparatuses, thereby getting rid of variation that depends on those things (doing numerous such studies with a variety of stimulus parameters and response gizmos can reveal any important interactions). No single study can do an exhaustive inventory of all such possible combinations.  The particular studies that Woodley et al. referenced are not ones that did those sorts of things carefully, but that's not a sign that no such studies exist. People interested in visual reaction time, an interesting phenomenon in its own right (with or without connection to IQ score) have done a lot of very good work. Woodley et al. used none of those, perhaps because the purpose of those studies is to show the dependence of reaction time on experimental features far removed from the subjects' IQs.

In that same paragraph of yours, you wrote, "When I went to psychological conferences I imagined these experimentalists were real scientists who used proper techniques..."  In large measure, I think your imagination was quite right. I'm an experimentalist and I think of myself as one among many real scientists who use proper techniques who even find things out. And more power to us.

All that said, I'm pleased that my little comment gets some notice and delighted to wake up famous. In addition, my Canadian friends will be pleased to learn that I'm becoming more like them and less like the brash American they first met.  But readers with literary sensibility will surely notice that I ain't no Lytton Strachey. 

Thanks for the notice.

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