But Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego — a long-time critic of social priming — notes that the effects reported in the original papers were huge. “If effects were that strong, it is unlikely they would abruptly disappear with subtle changes in procedure,” he says.
No one is suggesting that there is anything fraudulent about the results, but the charges that some of Dijksterhuis’s key papers may report false positives is a particular embarrassment for the Netherlands. It comes close on the heels of exposures of scientific misconduct by two other Dutch social psychologists: in 2011, Diederik Stapel of Tilburg University admitted to inventing data, and in June 2012, an investigation committee concluded that Dirk Smeesters from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam had cherry-picked data in some papers.
Shanks’s replication failures cannot be dismissed, says Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, a mathematical psychologist at the University of Amsterdam who last year published a series of studies that failed to lend support to unconscious-thought theory. He is disappointed that Dijksterhuis has declined “repeated requests” to help to generate a definitive answer.
Dijksterhuis says that “focusing on a single phenomenon is not that helpful and won’t solve the problem”. He adds that social psychology needs to get more rigorous, but that the rigor should be applied to future, not historical, experiments. The social-priming debate will rumble on, he says, because “there is an ideology out there that doesn’t want to believe that our behavior can be cued by the environment”.
Others remain concerned. Kahneman wrote in the e-mail debate on 4 February that this “refusal to engage in a legitimate scientific conversation … invites the interpretation that the believers are afraid of the outcome”.