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Pseudoscientific Drivel, 7. Juli 2000
This fatally-flawed book is boundless in it's overgeneralizations and poor research designs. The authors refer constantly to a "growing body of research" on the topic of social interaction with media, when in fact they are only quoting themselves in previous publications.
They have presupposed the "equation" they purport to have discovered, and designed their experiments to try and uncover it. This book chronicles the worst example I have ever seen of what happens when you set up a scientific experiment to try and show what you want to find, rather than to collect unbiased data and then scour the results and draw your conclusions after the fact.
Reeves and Nass expect to find the Media Equation beneath every stone, and consequently they do. The experiments themselves, to anyone with a background in legitimate science, are a casebook of poor design. They ignore intervening variables, intercoder reliability, and representative sampling. They lean heavily on self-selected and forced participants, subjectively worded and loaded questions, and performing statistical tests on non-numerical data (what is the mean of "rarely" and "often"...? Reeves and Nass will base their results on it).
In many cases, they contradict their own results from earlier points in the book, when it suits the experiment at hand. Other times, it seems they will ascribe every reaction to the media equation, regardless of how preposterous it seems. Case in point: People remember a face on a t.v. screen better when it is a close up than when it is a long distance shot. No kidding -- but Reeves and Nass chalk this up to a "social reaction" to the face. I know quite a few information theorists *and regular people on the street* who will tell you they remember a close-up better simply because there is more detail to see. Reeves and Nass don't even recognize the possibility.
But worst of all is the grandstanding, overhyped supergeneralization of the results. None of these so-called experiments has any external validity (many are not even internally consistent), yet the authors' claims extend into every field, in every walk of life. The Media Equation, they believe, is the root cause of just about everything.
This is Bad Science. At It's Worst.