The Müller-Lyer illusion: a highly reproducible effect. The central lines are the same length but the presence of the fins induces a perception that the left-hand line is longer.
3. Gilbert et al raise the possibility that the effects that are observed are not just small but also more fragile, in that they can be very dependent on contextual factors. Get these wrong, and you lose the effect. Where this occurs, I think we should regard it as an opportunity, rather than a problem, because manipulating experimental conditions to discover how they influence an effect can be the key to understanding it. It can be difficult to distinguish a fragile effect from a false positive, and it is understandable that this can lead to ill-will between original researchers and those who fail to replicate their finding. But the rational response is not to dismiss the failure to replicate, but to first do adequately powered studies to demonstrate the effect and then conduct further studies to understand the boundary conditions for observing the phenomenon. To take one of the examples I used above, the link between phonological awareness and learning to read is particularly striking in English and less so in some other languages. Comparisons between languages thus provide a rich source of information for understanding how children become literate. Another of the effects, the right ear advantage in dichotic listening holds at the population level, but there are individuals for whom it is absent or reversed. Understanding this variability is part of the research process.