Collective Curmudgeon’s Corner: Social Psychological Edition

Various sources Question: What is a curmudgeon?
Answer: \Cur-mudg´-eon\ (ker-muh`-juhn), [origin unknown] 1. An ill-tempered person full of resentment and stubborn notions. 2. Modern: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner. (The collective curmudgeon prefers the latter definition to the former.)
Anonymous Question: I’ve noticed that one always gets salt when one asks for it. Is the movement of salt causally dependent on the utterance of the phrase, “please pass the salt”? (Submitted September 17, 2011)
Answer: As Pencil Murdock (1976, p. 32) noted in his astute and classic 1976 treatise on the subject,

Hovland, Lumsdaine, and Sheffield … were the first to demonstrate empirically that the salt passage phenomenon was mediated by the presence of other people at the table. In a comparison of “others present” “with no others present” conditions, they found that when there were other people present at the table, there was a greater likelihood that the utterance, “Please pass the salt,” would result in salt movement toward the source of the utterance. When there were no other people at the table, the utterance, “Please pass the salt,” had no apparent effect. To test the possibility of a time delay involved in the “no others present” condition, Hovland et al. arranged for 112 Army recruits, each sitting alone at one end of a table with salt at the other end, to repeat the utterance, “Please pass the salt,” every five minutes for 12 hours. The average distance the salt traveled was .5 inch, which the experimenters explained was due to measurement error. The result of these two studies was, therefore, to demonstrate the importance of the presence of other people in the salt passage phenomenon.

The collective curmudgeon suspects that there are other factors also necessary to cause salt to move, and thinks that Murdock’s conclusion still stands all these years later:

we find that at present social science has not found firm vidence to support the validity of the folk belief that the utterance, “Please pass the salt,” is causally linked to the movement of salt from one end of a table to another. Salt passage is a complex phenomenon and systematic research on the impact of personality traits, demographics, and situational variables must be assessed. The question of why the utterance, “Please pass the salt,” should be associated with salt passage continues to be a source of puzzlement and intrigue for social scientists.

Anonymous
Question: I’ve noticed that some people–like Europeans–write dates in the format dd-mon-yyyy (e.g., 01apr2011) and that others–like most Americans–write dates in the format mm-dd-yy (e.g., 4-1-11). I don’t mean to over-compliment Europeans, but isn’t the former format far more likely to avoid confusion and facilitate world peace? (Submitted April 1st, 2011)
Answer: The collective curmudgeon thinks that you have a bright future in our collective.
Anonymous Question: I’m confused, I read an article in which the author acknowledged support from a “RO1” grant from NIH, but when I searched the National Institute of Health’s grants website for the grant number he listed, I couldn’t find it. Is he just lying about getting such an award in order to get a publication? If so, should I report him to the science police? Can you help, please? (Submitted April 1st, 2011)
Answer: The collective curmudgeon constantly notices that human nature is replete with contradictions. In this case, what you have witnessed is not a bald-faced lie but rather the fading vestiges of an ancient social norm. In the pre-computer age, scientists and other creatures who tried to be sage were forced to use quaint mechanical devices like typewriters to create and exchange communications.To be sure, their spellchecking ability was entirely lacking, but they were an improvement on handwriting and many individuals became highly proficient in their use. It turns out that, on these devices, the key for an “O” (i.e., the letter “O”) and the key for the number 0 almost always made the same shape when striking the paper. (Notice that an “O” is rounder than a “0” is.) People who stated they received an “RO1” (i.e., “R-oh-one”) simply didn’t notice that NIH awards not “RO1” grants but rather “R01” grants. Or, they are too lazy to strike the 0 key, which is higher on the keyboard than the O key. Speakers may also have perpetuated the norm because “Oh” has only one syllable as opposed to the two in the word “zero.” The collective curmudgeon has noticed that scholars who were trained in the ancient pre-computer era are more likely to make this mistake and thinks that scholars who still follow the ancient but mistaken norm of citing “RO1” support only reveal what a mistake NIH has made in handing them the award. Such individuals reveal whatslacker zeroes they are. The collective curmudgeon searched the full-text PsycINFO database today and found fully 4,763 instances in which scholars have made this mistake (there were 20,769 instances of correctly listing an “R01”), so ignorance would seem widely visible in psychological journals, if nowhere else. When you are awarded an NIH R01 grant someday, you can avoid this problem by using the amazingly useful tool known as “cut and paste,” which can copy selected text–like a grant agency’s code for a grant–into a target document such as a manuscript to be submitted for publication. The collective curmudgeon wishes that computer software designers could help people avoid the embarrassment of publishing mistakes if they went to the more precise practice of printing zeroes with the slash through them, like this one: zero . Then there is no confusion at all. So, there’s no need to contact the science police in this case. Have a nice day and thanks for your question!
Anonymous
Question: I’m confused, should I say, “The data is” or “The data are”?(Submitted April 1st, 2007)
Answer: Using the word “data” has given people a sense of nerdy panache ever since Forrest Gump quipped, “Momma always said, ‘the data is as the data are.’” Unfortunately, people have been confused ever since then, too, as the data show: Even such venerable sources of normally excellent writing as The New York Times routinely use either form, treating “data” as plural 62% of the time and as singular 38% of the time, as of today. The collective curmudgeon’s data reveal that when people say, write, or think “The data is…” they actually mean “The dataset is…,” where a “dataset” is a collection of information and really is a singular noun. When people say, write, or think “The data are,” they refer to two or more pieces of information. Assuming sophisticated communication is goal, the collective curmudgeon recommends using “data” with all plural verb forms (e.g., “the data reveal… the data suck… the data will remain in the file drawer,” etc.). If you remain confused, the collective curmudgeon recommends replacing “data” with “information” (the Times never gets that one wrong). Thanks for asking; the collective curmudgeon has been annoyed about this matter for a long time. It appears Forest Gump’s mother was really right about at least one thing: “Stupid is as stupid does.” And by the way, if Forrest Gump is not the originator of the “data is” quip, then he should have been.
Donaldson R. Forsyth On IRBism – a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on how Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) are perceived based on his own knowledge of the social psychology of groups. The collective curmudgeon concludes: It would be foolish to expect perfect consistency from an IRB! (Cf. Aldous Huxley, below.)
Anonymous Question: What does “cf.” mean?
Answer: “Cf.” is Latin for “compare.” as in “(cf. Kenny, 1984; Cohen et al., 2003)” meaning compare these two sources. In other instances, it can be used to offer a contrasting or comparable source to that implied by the preceding text (cf. Kenny, 1984). Despite the clear meaning in Latin, popular usage has made it a replacement for the word “see.” To avoid confusion, the collective curmudgeon advises you to use the word “see” instead of “cf.” and to reserve the latter abbreviation for cases where the stronger comparison is implied. By the way, the abbreviation “c.f.” is no replacement for the proper “cf.”, and only makes its author look unsophisticated.
Aldous Huxley “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.”
NB.This page is the Collective Curmudgeon’s Corner (Social Psychological Edition), an often irreverent take on matters social psychological, scientific, and scholarly. Why “collective”? Well, because more than one social psychologist has contributed items to this page. More contributions welcome: Submit them to a webmaster.