When dating sites “sound sciencey,” what does that really mean?

UCLA Professors Say eHarmony Is Unscientific and its Customers Are ‘Duped.’ Here’s Why.

“If you’re gonna make scientific claims, act like a scientist. Or don’t make scientific claims,” UCLA social psychology professor Benjamin Karney says, leaning forward in his chair in his office at UCLA’s Franz Hall, his voice rising an octave. “Don’t pretend!”

Commissioned by the editorial board of Psychological Science in the Public Interest, “Online Dating: A Critical Analysis” boldly asserts the Federal Trade Commission and other “regulatory agencies have … adopted a laissez-faire attitude” and should “subject the claims of online dating sites to the same degree of scrutiny as is applied to other advertised claims that are relevant to public well-being.”

For the most part, the new study determines that online dating is a benefit to society, because the sites allow customers access to more potential matches than they would meet otherwise, and screen out undesirables who have substance-abuse problems, mental illness or serious depression.

However, sites like eHarmony promise more than a better and bigger dating pool.

eHarmony claims its methods are “scientifically proven to predict happier, healthier long-term relationships.” Proven, Karney wonders, by whom?

Tip: @SkeptInquiry on Twitter

This is an interesting example of “sounds sciencey” [shameless plug] of which I am particularly interested.

eHarmony advertises “35 years of clinical experience and rigorous relationship research”. But that apparently is just Warren’s collection of observations of couples already married. The results of these observations have never been published, analyzed or replicated by other scientist. So, that’s not science. To establish knowledge, you have to go through the rigor of making sure it stands up. Otherwise, it is pseudoscience. It’s an opinion of what works.

But, they are claiming scienceyness of the process. That’s a bit disingenuous.

Finally, here is an interesting bit that suggests such services mine the data they collect.

The conclusion section of the new study advocates “closer collaboration between scholars and service providers” and seems to be demanding not increased regulation but a piece of the action. The section lauds cooperation between academics and matchmakers as “an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to test their theories and develop new ones with large samples of participants,” which translates into an offer of help with the heavy science lifting in exchange for access to the 21st century’s most valuable currency: information, specifically the gold mine of user data collected by dating sites.

Doesn’t that turn these dating services into an experiment in themselves? Hmm. Interesting idea.

  6 comments for “When dating sites “sound sciencey,” what does that really mean?

  1. Massachusetts
    April 18, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Is there a difference between “sciencey” and “scientifical”?

  2. Massachusetts
    April 18, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Truthyness in your replies is greatly appreciated. 🙂

  3. April 18, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    I think so. Sciencey means when they trump stuff up with science-like words and imagery for appearances. Scientifical means that a person or group is under the assumption they are DOING science and, thus, making something more legitimate.

  4. Chew
    April 18, 2012 at 8:21 PM

    I don’t know. Let’s ask a scientician!

  5. Massachusetts
    April 19, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Thanks. That’s very interesting, and useful. I run into both a lot, but “sciencey” probably more often than “scientifical” in ordinary life.

  6. Massachusetts
    April 19, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Is there a difference then between “scientifical” and just “bad science”? Perhaps scientifical is a hip way of saying “bad science,” or a sub-set of bad science maybe?

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