Wandering Thoughts

December 2, 2008

Design Flaws

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 4:40 pm
Tags: ,

If they cast their minds back, readers of this blog will recall that I’ve had my issues with memory and memories.

So you won’t be surprised to learn I devoured Michael Greenberg’s review of Sue Halpern’s book Can’t Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research.

One bit, though, seemed terribly wrong.

Halpern reports an experiment in which members of the Cambridge Psychological Society were asked to reconstruct a meeting of the society that had taken place two weeks before. The average person was barely able to recall 8 percent of what had happened, and almost half of this was incorrect, peppered with the recollection of events that had never occurred or that had occurred elsewhere.

Call me a stuffy guy who spends to much time worrying about experiment design if you will; but isn’t this flawed? Surely psychologists ought to know that meetings are a non-generalisable special case.

Testing someone’s memory of a meeting is like testing their lung capacity on Mars.  It’s one of those extreme environments – monotones, oxygen deprivation, agendas – which you can hardly blame the human body for malfunctioning in.

Me, I read meeting minutes with the anticipation of a novel. Each page I hurriedly turn, wanting to know what happens next…


1 Comment »

  1. Experimental design is extremely important! I was with a friend yesterday friend discussing just such matters, such as sample sizes and and sampling methods. It’s scary how many people in the ‘social sciences’ and humanities have no idea about how to do these things properly (which isn’t to say that other parts of their work isn’t necessarily rigorous)

    Comment by George Darroch — December 7, 2008 @ 10:48 pm

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