Ren has brought a coffee from the cafeteria and is looking for a place to sit when he sees Miles at a table, so he goes over and plonks himself down next to him. Just as his posterior hits the plastic he realises that Lucius Birch, who is a Professor these days, is also sitting at the table. It’s an unpleasant surprise, but perhaps also the opportunity he’s been waiting for.
Lucius, as haughty as ever, doesn’t look too pleased with Ren’s appearance.
‘Well, well, well, it’s Miles’ right-wing philosopher friend,’ says Lucius icily. ‘Eaten any babies today?’
‘Babies plural? I can’t get through more than half a baby a day. Have you ever tried eating one? More meat there than you’d think.’
‘Do you eat their bones too? Or grind them for bread?’
‘Lucius,’ says Miles.
‘Just a joke,’ says Lucius. ‘I am jesting with the young philoquester.’
‘It’s all right, Miles,’ says Ren, ‘Professor Birch sees right through to my black heart, so let us not muzzle the great Leninist truth-teller.’
‘You don’t have a black heart. Just an absence of a heart,’ says Lucius.
‘My, he’s feisty today, Miles. Are you not feeding him?’
‘Feeding? All of us psychologists are living on nothing but coffee at the moment,’ says Miles, trying to change the subject.
‘Then you should come over to my office and try some babies. Had a shipment come in from South America this morning. I can’t stand by and see you starving creative types living in poverty.’
Ren puts a bit of an emphasis on the word ‘creative’, while looking pointedly at Lucius as he says the word. Lucius’s face gets a strange, perhaps slightly disconcerted, look on it in response. Interesting, Ren thinks. Time to probe a little further.
‘So what study can we expect next, Professor Birch, that will put us fascists in our place? Will you be showing that small business owners demonstrate a greater propensity to torture seabirds? That Labour voters’ hearts are two sizes bigger than those of Conservative voters? That even psychopaths are better at distinguishing babies from old sacks of rubbish than Conservative MPs are?’
Lucius doesn’t ride to the bait. Instead he says, meekly, ‘Oh, ah, nothing we want to talk about now.’ Then, in a more friendly tone, he says, ‘So, er, how’s it going over in the Terminal Building? Are those renovation works finished?’
‘Yes, all finished.’
‘They must like you Humanities people, seeing as they’re making a very nice building even nicer.’
‘Either that, or the administration is getting it ready for when they completely take the building over.’
‘You think they’ll do that?’
‘I’m certain they’ll do that within ten years. It’ll be said that we need a dedicated space designed with Humanities’ needs in mind, which means they’ll build us an uncomfortable and cheap modern building with small rooms, while they commandeer more of the Terminal building. But tell me Lucius, what did your last study show again? The one you got in World Science? Didn’t you claim to show that foreigners were rated as having a stronger accent after people had been given Mein Kampf to read?’
‘I don’t really have… well, it was after they’d been reading The Daily Mail.’
‘Lovely bit of research. I’ve actually been having a read through it. It would be interesting to see the raw data. Can I come over sometime and have a look at it?’
‘I, er, well, no, I can’t. I don’t make raw data available. Look, I need to go, got some work to do.’
‘Well, I’m sure Miles is looking forward to helping you out with the organisation of your next study. Getting a cognitive man on board might give you some ideas.’
‘Oh, there’s no need for Miles to get involved. Anyway, nice to see you both. Bye.’
‘Well Miles, what do you make of that?’
‘See, he’s not so bad really, he warmed to you eventually.’
‘Yes, he noticeably warmed to me, didn’t he? Right after I started talking about his research in a less-than-reverential tone. Funny that. Almost like he didn’t want to talk details with me.’
‘He didn’t have time for an argument, I expect.’
‘Tell me, Miles, have you ever seen any of the raw data from any of Lucius’s studies? For example, the sheets filled out by his test subjects?’
‘No. Why should I have seen that?’
‘And who is it exactly who runs his studies?’
‘He does. And sometimes some grad students, I think.’
‘Have you ever seen him or them running these studies?’
‘No, but I wouldn’t normally expect to. Don’t tell me you’re doubting Lucius’s studies just because their results don’t fit in with your politics?’
‘Why don’t you take a close look at some of them? For example, he had one in Scientific Dispatches a couple of years ago where he says that participants in a study who were exposed to pictures of the American flag gave responses to the questions that indicated they were more receptive to violent attitudes than the group who were exposed to the Swedish flag. Do you really trust him to be objective with that? Take a really close look at his results with that one. A lot of it is just too good to be true. The effects are too large to be believable, in my view.’
‘But maybe that’s because you’re expecting there to be no such results. They’re only surprising to you.’
‘Well, the results are also not as messy as you’d expect. All very neat and clean. Not much in the way of outliers. That’s very unusual. Also very typical of faked or doctored results.’
‘Jesus, that’s a strong claim.’
‘I’m not making any claim. I don’t know. It just seems to me that his results are so unusual that they meet the criteria for further investigation. Can you take a look for me and see what you think? You’re the psychologist, and you’re good at stats, you’ll have a better sense of what is too-good-to-be-true than me. And maybe have a sniff around his grad students, see what their involvement has been.’
‘You have to be joking. I’m not going around asking questions like that. That could be the end of my career.’
‘I don’t mean direct questions. Just try to indirectly tease out what they’ve been doing. Does he get them to do any of the studies, or does he run them all? Ask them, for example, what the setup was with that accent study? Were they studying videos? Which videos? Where did he get the test subjects from? You can plausibly ask those questions just out of general curiosity, and because it may help you with your research. The first thing is to find out whether the studies even took place. And if they did take place, who did them, and where’s the raw data?’
‘I’ll have a look at some of his published papers. That’s all I can promise at the moment.’ Miles looks around and lowers his voice. ‘I can’t imagine Lucius is a faker, if only because it would be so reckless and stupid. He’d have to know he’d get caught eventually.’
‘Seems to me there’s not much chance of any faker getting caught if everyone in Psychology has your attitude. Which I expect they do.’ Ren gets up to leave. ‘Read his papers.’