That Dress, and How to Do Science

Slate: Two Years Later, We Finally Know Why People Saw “The Dress” Differently

Two points here. First, the controversy over the color of the dress — blue and black or white and gold — is certainly the most widely-known example in recent years about how the human mind cannot be trusted to perceive ‘objective reality’. There’s only one dress. The answer has to do with how the mind ‘interprets’ color based on assumptions about surrounding lighting — people who experience more daylight saw one color, those who experience more artifical light, another, for the most part.

The article also makes a good point about the need for scientific methodology. It took two years to figure this out, because the author didn’t rush to a conclusion for the sake of a quick publication. Rather, the author did an “internal replication of these findings before seeking publication…”

Good science takes time. I want to be comfortable that my findings are true before publishing them, so that they will stand the test of time. Yet this approach is remarkably uncommon. Given our current science environment, all incentives are aligned to rush to publication and to prioritize quantity over quality of papers. If this is the case, it should not be surprising that scandals—putting entire bodies of work into question and possibly invalidating decades of work—surface with some regularity. Indeed, most of science is currently mired in a “replication crisis,” with only about 1 in 4 reported findings standing the test of time in social psychology. The situation is likely even worse in fields like cancer biology or genomics.

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