The 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse left Chris Chartier feeling, well, a little jealous.

Chartier, like so many Americans, was awed by the whole country coming together to celebrate a force of nature. Chartier is a psychologist, and he also started to think of how precise the eclipse forecast was. Astronomers knew, down to the second, when the moon would cross the path of the sun; where, precisely, its shadow would land; and for how many seconds the sun would appear to be blocked out for those on the ground.

Chartier’s field — social psychology — just doesn’t have that type of accuracy. “Things are really messy,” says Chartier, who’s an associate professor at Ashland University in Ohio. Psychology “is nowhere near being at the level of precision of astronomers or physicists.”

Things in psychology are more than messy — the field has been going through a very public, and painful, crisis of confidence in many of its findings. So he began to wonder: How could psychology one day wow the world with precise science of its own?

His idea was audacious: psychologists all around the world, working together to rigorously push the science forward. But it quickly became real: The Psychological Science Accelerator was born in 2017.

This year, the group published its first major paper on the snap judgments people make of others’ faces, and it has several other exciting large-scale projects in the works. Its early success suggests the accelerator could be a model for the future of psychology — if the scientists involved can sustain it.

The Psychological Science Accelerator, explained

For the past 10 years, psychology has been struggling through what’s called the “replication crisis.”

In summary: About a decade ago, many scientists realized that their standard research methods were delivering them false, unreliable results.

When many famous and textbook psychological studies were retested with more rigorous methods, many failed. Other results simply looked less impressive upon reinspection. It’s possible around 50 percent of the published psychological literature fails upon retesting, but no one knows precisely the extent of the instability in the foundations of psychological science. The realization provoked a painful period of introspection …….


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