Excellent Behavioural Science

What makes some behavioural science good? What makes some of it utter rubbish? Well, after a replication crisis and some interesting marketing mumbo-jumbo, that answer isn’t as clear cut as it used to be. Or should be.

It’s not very surprising that a few behavioural scientists have gotten together and came up with the idea of an initiative. A sort of gatekeeper for behavioural science. Good behavioural science that is. Keeping the good in, and the bad out.

Now if you’re wondering what I’m going on about: GAABS has just been set up. GAABS standing for The Global Association of Applied Behavioural Scientists. GAABS aims to set a standard for bona fide behavioural science practice. By providing a seal of approval for eligible members, GAABS will help to safeguard ethical applications in the currently unregulated field of applied behavioural science. By doing so, it provides a signal of quality and reliability for organizations commissioning these services.

Now you’re probably wondering: who determines whether applied behavioural science is good behavioural science? And that is a very fair question. When I saw the list of names I was quite impressed: GAABS’ Advisory Board comprises several of the discipline’s leading thinkers such as Daniel Kahneman, Robert Cialdini, Jennifer Lerner and Dilip Soman. And yes, you ought to know who all of those people are if you claim to be a good behavioural scientist.

I understand very much the desire to have a regulated field. Within academia, there’s a lot of peer-reviewing, often weeding out the worst (I said often, not always). This helps get the best work to the top, and kick it down to the bottom if it turns out to be p-hacked, faked or worse. Well, it eventually gets kicked down to the bottom. There might be a slight lag there. But there, so far, hadn’t been an industry equivalent. Now we see GAABS stepping up to the plate, with the help of academics, to raise some serious questions about quality, and endorsing those that make the cut. I hope that soon GAABS will release its criteria, or at least be more transparent about it’s endorsement process. Moreover, I want to know if academics also need to get endorsed, or whether there is a very clear focus on just the practitioner side of the coin. In their mission statement, they do seem to have a clear focus: “GAABS has just been set up as the world’s first independent organisation representing the interests of applied behavioural scientists, primarily working in the private sector. This professional body is a member-based organisation with an ethical, scientific and non-profit purpose, established by a small group of behavioural science academics and practitioners.”

As supportive as I am of this development, somehow I was quite surprised, maybe even miffed, when I realised the advisory board was all academic. I don’t support the academic vs. practitioner divide, I believe more in hybridity, the “having a foot in both worlds” approach. But why all academics? Aren’t there plenty of solid practitioners out there who would have easily made the cut. Were they too busy? Do you need academics to generate believability? I hope not. Or were academics chosen to bridge the divide between the academic-practitioner gap? To make sure behavioural scientists as a whole are on the same page with regards to what’s good, and what’s not?

So far, I have questions, and very few answers. Like I said before, I support this development, but I’d like some more transparency. And I’d like to see where GAABS is going after its launch. I genuinely hope to see some excellent behavioural science being promoted. Which also leads me to my next article, in which I’ll be outlining some bad behavioural science. See you then!

If you want to check GAABS out, you can find them at www.gaabs.org!

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©2018 by Merle van den Akker