Readers may recall our blog post from last year -
That blog post led to a formal paper that just came out in PNAS -
Fredrickson et al. [Fredrickson BL, et al. (2013) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110(33):1368413689] claimed to have observed significant differences in gene expression related to hedonic and eudaimonic dimensions of well-being. Having closely examined both their claims and their data, we draw substantially different conclusions. After identifying some important conceptual and methodological flaws in their argument, we report the results of a series of reanalyses of their dataset. We first applied a variety of exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis techniques to their self-reported well-being data. A number of plausible factor solutions emerged, but none of these corresponded to Fredrickson et al.s claimed hedonic and eudaimonic dimensions. We next examined the regression analyses that purportedly yielded distinct differential profiles of gene expression associated with the two well-being dimensions. Using the best-fitting two-factor solution that we identified, we obtained effects almost twice as large as those found by Fredrickson et al. using their questionable hedonic and eudaimonic factors. Next, we conducted regression analyses for all possible two-factor solutions of the psychometric data; we found that 69.2% of these gave statistically significant results for both factors, whereas only 0.25% would be expected to do so if the regression process was really able to identify independent differential gene expression effects. Finally, we replaced Fredrickson et al.s psychometric data with random numbers and continued to find very large numbers of apparently statistically significant effects. We conclude that Fredrickson et al.s widely publicized claims about the effects of different dimensions of well-being on health-related gene expression are merely artifacts of dubious analyses and erroneous methodology.
For a simple explanation of what it is all about, please check the well- written blog post of our co-author James Coyne -
Was the original article a matter of science made for press release? Our article poses issues concerning the gullibility of the scientific community and journalists regarding claims of breakthrough discoveries from small studies with provocative, but fuzzy theorizing and complicated methodologies and statistical analyses that apparently even the authors themselves do not understand.
1. Multiple analyses of original data do not find separate factors indicating striving for pleasure versus purpose
2. Random number generators yield best predictors of gene expression from the original data
If you need an even simpler summery, reporter Sharon Begley from Reuters interviewed our co-author and wrote an article as well.
More crucially, Brown said, the happiness questionnaire was flawed. People who scored high on three items meant to identify hedonists scored equally highly on 11 items meant to identify people who seek eudaimonic well-being.
“The two constructs are essentially measuring the same thing,” Brown said, so putting people in one category rather than another was “meaningless.”
Most devastating was what happened when Brown grouped the items randomly, calling those who scored high on questions 1, 7 and 8 (or any of 8,191 other combinations) one kind of person and those who scored high on others a second type.
Even with such meaningless groupings, there were patterns of gene activity seemingly characteristic of each group.
Statistics professor Andrew Gelman of Columbia University, who was not involved in either study, called Brown’s critique “reasonable.”
Flawed statistics have become such a serious problem for journals that many of the world’s top titles are adding extra levels of statistical checks in the peer-review process. Deputy executive editor Daniel Salsbury said PNAS was not changing its longstanding practice, which is “to work within our review process to ensure the work is sound in all aspects.”
In a reply to Brown, Frederickson and coauthor Steven Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles, reject the criticism and say they have replicated their 2013 findings in a new sample of 122 people.
NEW YORK (Reuters) A high-profile 2013 study at concludet at differnt kinds o’happiness air associatid wit dramaticallee differnt patterns o’gene activitee is fatallee flawet, accerdyun’ ta un analeesis publishet un Mundie which tore into its target wit langwage rarelee see n’ science journals.
T’ new pap’r, publishet like t’furst n’ Proceedings o’t’ Nashshunal Academy o’Sciences, slams t’reseerch fer dubiyus analeeses an’ erroneyus methodology an’ sez it conjuret nonaxistent effecks out o’thin air.
N’ t’2013 study, reseerchers had adults anser a 14-item questyunnaire meent ta sort ‘um into acoupla groups: innerested n’ hedonic well-bein (fun an’ selfish pleshur) er eudaimonic well-bein (leedyun’ a meeningfil life).
We will add all other relevant links as they come along.