Skip to main content
  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2015

29 - Desperate Data Analysis by a Desperate Job Candidate


I study the ways that emotions and other motivations bias moral reasoning, and I inadvertently demonstrated the thesis while trying to prove it. I had just finished my first postdoc and had failed to get an academic job. I found another postdoc and was desperate to get more manuscripts under review at top journals before sending in the next year’s applications. I had begun a line of experiments in which I exposed people to disgusting (or non-disgusting) images and stories and then measured their moral condemnation on subsequent stories. I was looking for carryover effects of disgust.

I recruited participants in a public park in Philadelphia. The means were different across the two conditions, but the t-test was not significant because the variance was high – there were several outliers. I scrutinized those outliers carefully and realized that one of them was a guy who was smoking marijuana when I recruited him. Doesn’t that justify excluding him? Maybe, but then what about the outlier on the other side, who was drinking beer while filling out the survey?

I wrestled with this problem for a while, searching for principles that would allow me to exclude the outliers that I wanted to exclude. I found a small set of principles that – with some stretching – allowed me to exclude three outliers that hurt my case while only losing one that helped me. I knew I was doing this post hoc, and that it was wrong to do so. But I was so coni dent that the effect was real, and I had defensible justii cations! I made a deal with myself: I would go ahead and write up the manuscript now, without the outliers, and while it was under review I would collect more data, which would allow me to get the result cleanly, including all outliers.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

Ethical Challenges in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • Online ISBN: 9781139626491
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *