Beware of (Bad) Science!

Since many decades the empirical social sciences (including sociology, psychology, and educa­tio­nal research) struggle to become recognized as a science and its findings to be applied in practical contexts (politics, education, therapy etc.).

Alas, much social “science” research does not qualify for the scientific standards that we know from the natural sciences. This is not a problem of the different objects of study but a problem of understanding what science means. The empirical social sciences suffer from an enormously exaggerated emphasis in precision, which is justified neither through the needs of practice nor through common sense. Obviously, many empirical researchers believe that science is nothing more that precision. The dominating theories of psychological and educational measurement (Classical Test Theory, Item Response Theory) have been created solely to enhance the precision of measurement, so that some differences can be detected, however tiny and insigni­ficant they might be.

But these theories have no answer for these two much more important questions:

  • The question of validity: Does an instrument actually measure what one wants to measure? The precision means nothing if we measure the wrong things.
  • The question of effect size: Are the differences large enough to consider them as practically significant?

Instead of giving clear answers to these questions, researchers often give us a multitude of helpless speculations and opinions.

In face of this bleak situation it is astonishing that public and private funding agencies give money only if researchers, schools and teachers use practices that fulfil the dubious criteria of current research. These criteria have little to do with good science but much with money. In order to get „significant” results even though there are hardly real differences, the researcher must use huge samples which is expensive. And they request us to use randomized trials, which are mostly not necessary, but cost much money for paying control groups. Not all researchers have access to that money.

Prof. Stanley Pogrow from the San Francisco State University has analyzed the impact of these funding practices of the department of Education and its institutions on educational practice in the United States. His finding is devastating:

“The only thing worse than practitioners ignoring research that has truly demonstrated practices to be effective is for the research community to certify practices as being effective that are not. It is even worse when the research community encourages government to disseminate, or encourage/require practitioners to use, such practices. Alas, the methodology prized by the top research journals and government panels for identifying effective practices makes assumptions and adjustments that introduce artificialities and errors into the analysis.”

The measurement specialist and developer of the so-called meta-analysis, Prof. Gene Glass has explicitly endorsed Pogrow’s analysis.

Anybody who wants to read about these topics in German can do so already for some time:

I wrote this paper for researchers and practitioners. Unfortunately, my paper has not yet resonated in empirical social science research, but only in marketing research. Their customers do not want to get fooled.

Take science seriously, but beware of bad science! If you want to tell good science and bad science apart, you can now inform yourself.

How to Avoid Autocratcs

While we oppose autocrats like Trump we should not forget their supporters:

– What about seeking contacts? From my contacts with Trump supporters I feel that many are deeply concerned about their idol. They accept Trump’s lies only because they need him as a leader.

– What about a more decent leader who would challenge Trump. Most people have the deeply entrenched need for a leader. I am sure, many would switch over.

– What about a thorough reform of the election process so that competent and decent leaders have a chance to run for office, and not only billionaires and their dependents?

– What about replacing people’s need for a leader through their ability to solve problems through thinking and discussion on their own and together with other people? Then people will have less need to follow blindly someone who alleges to solve their problems and conflicts. We know how to foster this ability and we can show the efficacy of such teaching. There are already many places where this is successfully done. Let’s show teachers everywhere how to do this and let them do it.

Progress in Education Can Be Shown: The Case of Moral-Democratic Competence

Some time ago, Diane Ravith wrote in an article “that in the land of American pedagogy, innovation is frequently confused with progress, and whatever is thought to be new is always embraced more readily than what is known to be true. Thus, pedagogues, policymakers, thought leaders, facilitators, and elected of cials are rushing to get aboard the 21st-century-skills express train, lest they appear to be old-fashioned or traditional, these terms being the worst sort of opprobrium that can be hurled at any educator.”

In her update, Diane Ravitch makes an interesting addition: “If I were to revise the article, I would change its tone to acknowledge the value of the ‘maker-movement.’ This is a deservedly popular activity in which children make things with their hands, some involving electronics, some using tools or fabric or paper or wood. Genuine progressive education recognizes the value of loving literature, delving into history in depth, and using your hands and mind to make beautiful things.”

I strongly agree. From a psychological point of view, opportunities for hands-on experience are the most effective and sustainable way of learning, especially if they are supplemented with opportunities for reflection. This means that schools of education must show teachers how to design such opportunities rather than do lecturing. This change will take some effort and time. But it will be worth-while.

However, she leaves out an important question: How can we be sure that we make real progress in educational theory and practice?  How can we reach agreement beyond our sympathisers? As Alan Schoenfeld said in his presidential address at the AERA meeting in 1998, we need an explict understanding of what we teach and what we measure. We need to define more explicitly the competencies which we want schools to promote, and we need to do more research into the nature of these competencies. Only when we thoroughly understand our educational objectives, we can design effective learning environments. Thorough understanding is also the prerequisite for designing valid measurement methods. We do not need measurement for evaluating people (students, teachers, principles etc.). As has been shown by many comprehensive studies, test-driven education policy-making has completely failed. Rather we need valid measurement for checking the truth of our theories about competence constructs, and for checking the effectiveness of our teaching methods.

Four decades ago, I decided to move beyond smart critique and to follow up my own advice. I singled out one educational objective which seems to be highly needed for living together in a democracy, but is generally neglected in the schools of most countries: moral-democratic competence, that is, the ability to solve problems and conflicts on the basis of moral principles through deliberation and discussion, instead of through violence and deceit. This objective can be found in many general proclaimations, but hardly ever in class-room practice. Progressive  and democratic schools and also some traditional school teachers seek to promote it, but we do not know whether they are effective because there is no evidence besides the testimony of the protagonists.

Therefore, I decided not to think about a new teaching method, but to start with a project to define and to measure moral-democratic competence. This was not easy because at that time I could only chose between two wrong methodologies: on the one hand, the behaviorists’ classical test theory, which is objective, but is unfit to measure internal structural competencies. For test theory, constructs like moral-democratic competence does not exist. Prevailing test theory discards structural properties of human behavior as measurement error! On the other hand, there were qualitative methods like clinical interviews, which claim that they can assess competence and structur, but are susceptible to subjective scoring biases.

I saw no use in mixing these two dubious methods as many have suggested. Rather I turned to Experimental Psychology, which had shown that internal cognitive functioning can be measured objectively. Unfortunately this branch of psychology has been largely ignored by main stream behaviorists as well as by qualitatively oriented educational researchers.

Our endeavors have been successful. We can now measure, and study, moral-democratic competences validly and objectively. We can design an effective learning environment that gives children an opportunity to speak up and listen to others, to solve problems and conflicts peacefully, and, eventually, to build a democratic community. Thanks to the new measurement methodology, we can also show now that such hands-on learning is highly effective and sustainable. Details can be found in my book “How to Teach Morality“.

Science or Not Science – That’s Not the Question!

Review of
Making the Visible Invisible: Willful Ignorance of Poverty and Social Inequalities in the Research-Policy Nexus. Available from: [accessed Jan 19, 2017].
“… The first paradigm shift was the replacement of moral philosophy as the primary discipline on which educational practice was based: The new belief was that education could be studied scientifically. Its chief proponents were psychologists whose views were shaped by positivist aspirations, which in turn shaped the zeitgeist within which educational ideas were debated. In the early decades of the 20th century, the ascendance of behaviorist psychological models, along with the emergence of social science approaches to the study of education, also influenced policymaking. The Protestant republicanism that shaped the expansion of the common school was being transformed by the incorporation of nascent scientific methods for achieving efficient education reform. The new tools of the science of education also shaped practices within schools. …

In our account we highlight positivism and the emphasis on measurement; the use of the White, middle-class male student as the implicit norm against which all other students were assessed and ranked; human capital theory; and culture-of-poverty arguments.”


Dear authors,
I acclaim your concern about one-sided research which closes its eyes before poverty and social discrimination. I beg you to rethink your attack on the scientific approach to education: moral philosophy is not, never has been, and cannot be a replacement for scientific research into education. A rejection of science would impede the cause for which you and I are fighting. Your thesis, I am afraid, diverts the public’s attention away from the real cause for the neglect of poverty and class in many educational research projects and in educational policy-making. The neglect of poverty and other social factors is not caused by science and measurement. The real cause is the money-sickness of people, which has corrupted many politicians and scientists.
Yes, the “positivist” and “behaviorist” movement in psychological and social science research went wrong and this is linked to the problems which you describe. Behaviorists preach a false dogma: They are right in demanding that, to be recognized as serious science, we must demonstrate the truth of any psychological theory through visible, objective data. But they are  wrong by postulating that human dispositions do not exist and that they cannot be studied scientifically. Because of their ignorance, they rule that human competencies must be measured by using external, social standards but not by using people’s own standards. Thus they measure only how well people are molded into the expectations of the ruling class. But they do not measure how well people cope with tasks that they themselves are confronted with or want to cope with. This externalist dogma has precluded the development of real measures of competence. Studies show that achievement tests mainly tap social anxiety, not competence. These tests are actually mostly easy. They are made difficult through an overload of confusing text, and through extremely short timing. It has been shown that achievement tests favor self-confident middle and upper class students who dare to do guesswork, but scare lower class and immigrant students who take these tests serious. But this development is not the fault of science. Classical Test psychology (and modern, too) is no science. It lacks one of the core features of a real science: It cannot be falsified.
I have worked more than 40 years to resolve the unfortunate dilemma between objective, quantitative, behaviorist (but invalid) research on one side and valid (but subjective, ideologically biased) research on the other side. In order to make progress I had to move from pre-scietific, inductive (“dust bowl”) empiricism to real, hypothesis-testing experimental science. In the field of moral education, I have shown that some relevant propositions found in the literature can be shown to be clearly wrong, and some to be clearly right. (See my book “How To Teach Morality“, Logos, Berlin). On the base of this knowledge, I have developed a new tests which actually measures objectively moral competence using the participants’ own standards for morality. I also created an effective method of moral education — after two and half thousand years of failed attempts in moral philosophy and behaviorist psychology. We can prove that only a few hours of intervention are needed to considerably foster participants’ ability to solve problems and conflicts by deliberation and discussion instead of using violence and deceit. We found that such interventions also have a strong positive side-effect on academic learning. Our findings have been successfully replicated in many studies. My method of moral education is being applied successfully in many countries, even in China.
It is very sad that our findings and methods of moral education are ignored by both sides, by behaviorists and anti-behaviorists. Both deny, for different reasons, the fact that internal dispositions can be objectively and validly measured. This is very sad because through insisting on out-dated dogmas we miss a chance to strengthen the people’s’ moral-democratic competence and their ability to fight for their own cause. We “liberal” intellectuals tend to overestimate our ability to do this in behalf of them. We can pile up reason over reason, publication over publication. But people will only understand us and listen to us when we do a better job understanding their condition and improving their education.
Science cannot prescribe the aims of education, neither can moral philosophy. Only the people can do this as a whole. But education can be studied scientifically and this is needed to optimize the conditions and methods of education.
Best regards
(Please excuse my bad English. It’s not my first language.)

The Meaning of Accountability

In a democracy, all citizens are held accountable by their moral conscience, and all government are held accountable by their citizens.

Period. Nobody must be hold accountable by third party profiteers. These are, to use a computer analogy, like Trojan horses which serve only one goal: to maximize their profits.

Their Trojan business plan is obvious by now:

Start with shouting things like “A Nation at Risk”” (if you have overspent the money of the taxpayers), or “No Child Left Behind!” (if your mother and y0ur brother invested money in the school and testing business), or “Race To The Top” (if you are so exhausted from the health insurance reform that you let your basketball pal do whatever he wants to do).

Then impede the learning at public schools by stepping up bogus testing in the name of “accountability,” forgetting to clarify who should be accountable to whom. Let this  “clarify” your private accountant rather than the constitution.

Then let “liberal” educators beat the drums for replacing worn out public schools by “alternative charter schools” which are free from this testing menace, until they find out that they have been your useful fools. They may have learned that there is no real alternative to a good, comprehensive public education.

Finally, buy up all schools and the whole education to suck money out of them — without being held accountable by anyone but maybe by your bragging community.

You think you are smart. No, you are sick. You suffer from money addiction and excessive self-love. You should turn yourself in into a special hospital for curing your illness.

As a first step toward health I recommend that you follow  Jesus (I heard that you pray a lot to him in public) and give your money to a foundation called public budget and let the people and its elected representatives use it to strengthen democracy, to build and renovate schools, to pay well-trained teachers, to supply free access to vocational and college education, to repair bridges and highways, to build railways and streetcars, to create jobs for jobless steel-workers and miners, to provide health care for everyone — and to fund education in all countries which cannot afford it. Eventually they will find out how to run a democracy.

This is what accountability really means. Lets work for it. This new business plan will help to create a better world for all people, also for you and your followers.

Flamonaires and Pooronaires

If you have made real great achievements in your life, like become billionaire and at the same time king of all flamers, you have rightly earned the infamous title of a Flamionaire.

The greatest of all is Donald II.

When we baby-boomers went to school, Donald Duck was a powerful teacher of us: For me he taught us to dislike people who sit on their gold.

This generation of school-children will be taugt by Donald II: Don’t care about math which tries to tell you that only a very few can make it. Don’t care about the suffering of the Pooronaires, the billions of poor people who live the life of slaves in order to make Billionaires possible. Rather lie and get rich! No, lie like hell and get rich like hell! And sit on your gold!

Both seem to depend on each other. In order to earn money with lies and get elected, the Flamonaires need poor people who have not been taught how to tell the difference between truth and lie. Therefore, to broaden their power basis, the Flamonairs will replace schools where you learn how to tell lies from truth, with schools where you can buy your grades and where you do not need to bother with learning and moral integrity.

In order to compensate their miserable life, Pooronaires need illusions provided by the rich. In the past such illusions were nourished by phantasy shows and phantasy billboards. Since the poor hand over their fate to flamionairs, the shows and billboards have become authentic. What a balm for the loss of democracy!

(For all of you who trust my words: This is satire.)