Don’t get me wrong there is some terrible educational research as well. Often using meta analysis and “effect size”. I am not talking about psychologists per se rather I am talking about psychologists who develop models for educational use or explanations of social cognition that find their way into self help theories or into populist educational books.
The problem is that although the underpinning issue is often biological, in this case cognition, the aspect of psychology that is being studied is social; learning, the mind or the self. Psychology straddles the biological fields and the social world. It finds itself caught in between the two; benefiting from being seen as more scientific than social fields but suffering from trying to apply scientific concepts to the social world..
The mind as a social construction
The mind is a social construction. You cannot reduce it to cognition nor can you escape the constraints of biology. Studying the mind requires a theory. Developing theory means having to engage with metaphsyics. Positivists generally eschew metaphysics believing that epistemology is sufficient. In other words an interpretation of empirical research by the individual researcher is sufficient to justify a hypothesis.
Of course, if you are in the natural sciences; physics or chemistry studying replicable causal relations in the natural world you can indeed eschew ontology on the basis that there is such a thing as an objective view of something that is replicable. Gravity is most certainly in some kind of replicable causal relationship with a physical object. I can say with some certainly that if I drop a ball it will fall to the floor. I hardly need a social theory or an ontological explanation for it. The mind or the self is another matter.
On the issue of confirmation bias
Sometime in the 1960’s empirical social science discovered confirmation bias. Who knew that we engage subjectively with the social world?? Apart from Socrates, that is, and Plato and well just about anyone who ever thought about anything for the last several thousand years. We can only think with what we know; that’s the nature of cognition. Bias is something else entirely. Of course, it’s also possible that some researchers, many researchers, simply make the decision not to look too hard at exceptions because they value their status in the research world. Bias generally means an inclination to hold a view simultaneously refusing to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. In a professional context that is not bias, it is professional dishonesty.
Confirmation bias, on the other hand, is the tendency to interpret data in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.It is a type of error of inductive reasoning. The problem is that accusations of confirmation bias could itself be a form of confirmation bias; it is a value judgement on something or other. You can for the purpose of amusement, tie yourself up in knots, discussing the issue with accusation, and counter accusation, of confirmation bias.
The problem with the concept is not what it is; but what it’s not. If you can suffer confirmation bias does that mean that there is a state of objectivity? The question being; as opposed to what; are you suffering confirmation bias? You can imagine the conversation between two empiricists after discovering the shock of bias; “I have objectively proven my bias and am therefore no longer biased”. Indeed but what are you now?
Is there such a thing as a state of objectivity in the social world. You can, in certain fields, make claims to objectivity, as I describe above, but certainly not if you are studying social concepts such as the mind or the self. I’ve written about the epistemic fallacy before. In the social sciences you have to state a metaphysical position. You wonder if cognitive bias is a vehicle used to introduce metaphysics into the positivist arena by the back door. A classic empirical “sleight of hand”. Proving bias is also a claim to objectivity.
You cannot avoid the philosophy of science when engaging with social science. Developing conceptual “sleights of hand” doesn’t wash. The question therefore; is whether there is such a thing as confirmation bias or is it just an empirical “sleight of hand” claim to objectivity?