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Selected replies to
"Is Psychology a Science?"

Some of the more interesting replies, with names and other identifying information removed.

Portions Copyright © 2008, Paul LutusMessage Page

Hold on! | Science is Evil | It's a science! | Required Reading I | Required Reading II | Is Psychology Entirely Unscientific? | A Student Wants to Know | Eminence versus Evidence I | Eminence versus Evidence II | Cargo Cult Science | Some Reasonable Questions | Help me Magically Squeeze Emotions out of Dreams | It's scientific! It is, it is! | Psychology and Physics | You might be right | What can be done? | I Was Amused | Critical Thinking I | Critical Thinking II | Psychology as a Career | You are Mistaken I | You are Mistaken II | You are Mistaken III | Guilt by Association I | Guilt by Association II

(double-click any word to see its definition)

Note: Because my psychology correspondence has gradually evolved toward offering people advice, I want to say I am not a psychologist and any advice I offer is based only on common sense and life experience. I think most educated readers will accept this.



Hold on!
Thankyou for your web site, I have enjoyed reading your articles, and I absolutely agree with you on the Microsoft issue. Just a point on psychology though, I do agree with your fundamental telling of what science is, and some of your comments about psychology and scientific theory. Firtly, you appear to be only addressing mental heatlh an assuming that it represents all of psychology. No, I don't say or imply that. Through the example of clinical human psychology I show that psychology itself doesn't bear scientific fruit. Each field based in science has to be able to show results, both as public validation of its theories and methods and as a form of internal evidence. In shaping theory, physicists must eventually be able to make a prediction that is followed by an observation. For human psychology, a prediction about the field's chosen topic must eventually be followed by repeatable confirming evidence. That is why I chose this approach — there is no repeatable, reliable, testable content in human clinical psychology. Psychoanalytic theory, for example, isn't even taught on many psych programmes or only as an example of how not to do scientific experiemtation. Yes, which is why I didn't dwell on this aspect of psychology — even psychologists openly acknowledge the barrenness of this area, so there is no point in belaboring it. But as to clinical practice, the practice that ought to be informed by theory, that is a different story. Second, no subject is a science ... Physics is a science. Mathematics is a science. Your argument reduces to saying that unscientific fields are not sciences. I think we can agree that fields that are entirely reliant on scientific methods for their theories and results are ... sciences. ... it is about the degree to which scientific method can be applied to it that matters. So physics comes out tops and english comes out bottom. Psychology, sociology, and astrology come out at the bottom — all repeatedly make claims they cannot prove. English is amenable to lexical analysis, for example in gathering evidence that Shakespeare did or did not write the plays attributed to him. This ranks English above human clinical psychology, because (a) tearing books apart has no ethical dimension, and (b) the nature of the evidence is much better than that available to a practitioner of human clinical psychology. Psychology has a multitude of sub-divisions, ranging from cognitive science/AI or bio-physiology thrugh to some very wooly, existential stuff. Until theory is followed by repeatable evidence, until a psychologist can assert and prove that a specific recovered memory is bogus and some John Doe was jailed for no reason, it is all "very wooly, existential stuff." But this is not the case. Human psychology has the social position and responsibilities of a science but does not have the substance. Scientific method is as applicable to some of these areas as it is in pure physics. Yes. Unfortunately, my topic was human clinical psychology, a field bereft of scientific evidence or methods, for a number of reasons including ethical ones. Third, understanding humans requires the full breadth of all our subjects, scientific or otherwise. My article deals with the fact that psychology tries to present itself as a science, to the degree that courts of law rely on psychological expert testimony to decide peoples' fates. Your riposte in essence says that psychology relies for its meaning on things outside psychological theory. But I think the above resulted from carelessness, not intent, because science doesn't work this way. Psychology is not a discipline that can be dichotomised into either science or not science (art, as some would have it). Hold on. Now you are defending one point of my article, that psychology has no specific theoretical content. Psychology is not a science, it possesses no central body of theory, which is why these other areas creep in unnoticed and uninvited. We appear to be in agreement. Any psychologists real focus is to make meaningful sense out of chaos And they cannot do this, because human psychology has no testable content, either because of the obvious ethical issues, or because the experiments fail to produce anything repeatable. - sometimes it is appropriate to use a scientific approach (e.g. in the lab) and at other times to develop expertise in helping others interpret their values and meaning in life, whether in mental health, work or family. My article is solely meant to show that human psychology is not a science, and is about as effective as astrology in dealing with matters of fact as opposed to opinion. You are now reduced to offering agreements. Fourth and last - just because a drug can treat e.g. depression does not mean cured, or that withholding therapy automatically means eventual self-cure (thats a very bad understanding of limited research). Be that as it may, since I never tried to make these points, you have now left any part of my article, and therefore the conversation. In any case, the argument deserves to be turned on its head: in controlled, repeatable scientific experiments, psychology has not shown that its treatments are better than no treatment. For example, some people with post-traumatic stress disorder do get well without treatment - but many who do not receive appropriate treatment not only live a lifetime with the psychological consequences, they also go on to develop other problems that have a terrible effect on their lives. And the testable correlation with psychological treatment is nonexistent. You posed the above argument as though the connection with psychological treatment was obvious. And despite your comments about the DSM, we know about it's limitations extremely well and know how to work with them. 1. If a scientist said this about a scientific textbook — "We know about its limitations and we know how to work with them" — he would be laughed out of his field. When something like this happens in science, the textbook is discarded along with its defects.

2. What? When did this discussion become a matter of "we"? If you intend to post and pose as a psychologist, you need to introduce yourself as such, not slip in a familial "we" late in the discussion. Surely you realize this.
Please be careful - I promise to be as careful as the psychological expert witnesses who, through lying in court, caused many people to be jailed for nonexistent crimes. The standard of responsibility has been set by psychologists. I am not under a greater burden, but I accept one by pointing out the poor quality of the evidence. This is something psychologists should be doing, were it not for the issue of vested interest. to non-psychologists you paint a convincing picture. To non-psychologists I explain the same facts you appear to be in agreement with. As a psychologist ... This should have been the first line in your post, not nearly the last. I can understand your POV and in some ways agree, however the article is somewhat biased and lacking in depth. I would have written a deep article, but to do so, I would have had to choose a field with some depth. Examples:

A Calculus primer
Why is the sky dark at night?

The originator of the above message, a psychology Ph.D., replied to the above by asking what academic standing I had to criticize psychology. Those schooled in science will recognize this tactic as "argumentum ad verecundiam" or "argument from authority", a logical error that can have no place in a scientific debate. I pointed this out to the correspondent, who then abandoned any pretense of addressing the topic and attempted to defend clinical psychology as a non-science.
Science is Evil
In response to Is Psychology A Science ... Wow! I do not know why you wrote this article but you obviously have it in you to criticise psychology. Translation: I have legitimate grounds for asserting that clinical psychology (1) is not a science but (2) is in a position of authority that must be reserved for disciplines grounded in science. And that I can express those grounds clearly. So far, so good. I had the patience to read your thing fully, I hope you will have the patience to read this fully in return. I have only one ground rule, based in fairness and a desire not to waste my time: I will read what you have to say in reply to my article until you completely abandon the article's topic. Between men of science who share ideas. Yes, I am a psychologist. You cannot be both a scientist and a clinical psychologist, at least not in the way the latter is practiced in the U.S. Well, now I read the story of Jim and his narcissitic mom and I understand better your angle. "My angle?" This treads close to the idea that personal motivations are more important than evidence. My article presents the evidence, and in fairness you should discipline yourself in the same way. Still, I feel you are throwing the baby with the bathwater. How does this address the question of whether psychology is a science? I don't criticize art because it is not a science — it doesn't have to be, and no one expects or requires it. Art functions just fine without a scientific basis. On the other hand, artists don't put people in jail by offering bogus expert testimony, while clinical psychologists do. To bear this burden of social responsibility, psychology would have to be a science, and because it is not, society has misplaced its trust.

I'm not throwing out the baby, I'm throwing out the bathwater.
Einstein was a great scientist but his work did enable atomic war. Please try to think more deeply. The fact that scientists produced atomic weapons only proves that science is more effective than rain dances or talk therapy. Scientists also produced all the vaccines ever invented, as well as the idea for a vaccine. Vaccines have saved far more lives than atomic weapons have taken. It seems you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Any form of science is dangerous. Okay, by turning to a sophomoric criticism of science, you have entirely abandoned the topic "Is Psychology a Science?" and there is little point in seeing where you wander from here. Science is dangerous because it works. Psychology is dangerous because it doesn't. But you cannot produce a vaccine using psychology. There are charlatans in every field and people who will misuse any form of authority. It does not make it any less science. Yes, it does — it means exactly that. Fields where charlatanism prevails over evidence are not scientific, because science relies on evidence, not persuasion. If you see a public discipline that is ruled by charlatanism, by false ideas, it is ipso facto not a science.

At this point it is abundantly clear that you do not understand science.
Any science answers the easy questions first. Psychology maybe psychology does not know what to do with Asperger`s syndrome now. In that case, it is too soon for the practitioners of psychology to be offering bogus diagnoses and treatments for a condition that hasn't been studied well enough to determine what it is, what causes it, and what can be done about it. If psychology were a science, its practitioners would be studying Asperger's in laboratories, rather than telling parents their children have it on slim to nonexistent grounds. Maybe Asperger`s syndrome is just a societal misuse of psychology and is not a diagnosis. Who knows? Honest to God. "Who knows?" is not a scientific question and you are no longer addressing anything resembling the topic. In fact it is clear you don't have a coherent position, and I've let you ramble on too long.

To address scientific questions, you must understand science, and you very clearly do not. As many correspondents have done, you have abandoned any pretense of addressing the original question "Is Psychology a Science?" and proceeded to defend psychology as a non-science.

No one seems to be getting this, so I will say it again. I am not criticizing clinical psychology for what it is, but because of what it falsely pretends to be: a science.

Clinical psychology cannot bear its present burden of responsibility as a science, because it is not a science. Those who think otherwise generally fall into the category of people not qualified to distinguish science from superstition.

This correspondent, a psychology Ph.D., replied to this exchange a total of nine times (without benefit of replies from me), revealing among other things his ignorance of the distinction between correlation and causation (of the "she had therapy, and she got better!" variety). His messages gradually decreased in logical content and increased in hostility, until I finally and reluctantly barred him from this site. In other words, it was an exchange with which I am all too familiar, between someone who thinks a certain way and someone who feels a certain way.

It's a science!

From a practicing psychotherapist:

First, a little introduction. I do not usually belabour my qualifications so, but it seems that although you reject argumentum ad verecundiam, you are inclined to view responses from those with qualifications in psychology as suspect. No, I regard an appeal to authority as suspect, as all scientists do. You have just made your first misstep.
[ List of qualifications deleted ]
Now to the substance of this reply: Your article ends with a condemnation of psychology in general terms and with the more specific statement that "psychology and psychiatry have never been based in science." That claim is demonstrably false. I am perpetually amazed by scientific illiterates who think a phrase like "demonstrably false" might be a suitable way to end a conversation, when in point of fact, among scientists it can only begin one. Here is the evidence that you are wrong:

Clinical psychology is not based in science, for the reason that it does not possess the primary trait that sets scientific theories apart from ordinary activities, that of falsifiability.

Without explicit, testable theoretical statements, there can be no tests. Without tests, there can be no possibility of falsification. Without falsification, there can be no basis for rejecting anything anyone cares to say. That is the present status of clinical psychology. That is why psychological theories come and go over time without any of them being explicitly proven false.

To avoid a long and pointless discussion, I ask that you learn what science is before trying to go on.

Freud listened credulously to the reports of his female patients as though they were reports of fact, until one of his friends was accused of improper sexual behavior. Then he invented "female hysteria" as a blanket explanation for all such reports from women. He could do this because what he practiced was not a science. It is still not a science.
To reach this conclusion, you establish a standard that is of questionable value to anyone wishing to assess the intellectual and scientific standing of psychology, or its possible utility to them. Translation: "According to my definition of science, clinical psychology is a science." This is an example of post-modernism, and post-modernism is something you need to guard against, along with all the classical logical errors.

There is a single definition of science, one on which all scientists agree.
You are correct that clinical psychology is not a science in the sense that physics is. As you point out, neither are many medical fields, nor are astronomy and astrophysics, much of earth science, nor any other field that must rely mainly or even partially on observation rather than on controlled experiment. These statements are false, and your attempt to assign them to me shows that you need to read more carefully. I never took the positions you are trying to attribute to me.

Observation can be a valid form of evidence, unless the things being observed are self-reporting human subjects. For example, George Gamow calculated and predicted a small microwave signature in support of the Big Bang theory. The microwave signature was then observed (and Mr. Gamow's views and biases became irrelevant). There is still no better explanation for this signature than the Big Bang, but if an explanation should be offered that explains and predicts more, the Big Bang will be discarded.

When dealing with human subjects, simply observing without any controls in place (and without any basis for shaping scientific theories) leads to the present state of clinical psychology — a logical free-fire zone, one in which anyone can say anything, and one in which people are regularly jailed on the basis of bogus expert testimony.

People are not thrown in jail on the strength of the opinions of astronomers.
These are interesting issues, and worth discussing, but in your argument they are used to foreclose rather than broaden the consideration of the scientific bases of psychology. In my argument, the points you have posted are not present, I never made them, and I do not agree with them. They are false.

You are really off to a good start.
And that last is exactly the subject of your final claim — that not only is psychology not a precise science of controlled experiment like physics (granted), it further has no scientific basis whatever and instead has the status of a faith. The practice of clinical psychology is based on faith, not evidence. Many years ago, homosexuality was added to the DSM [ the "Bible" of clinical psychology ] based on ... evidence? No, based on a popular belief — that's belief — that it is a disease amenable to psychological treatment. There was no evidence whatever to support this belief, but that didn't stop the editors of the DSM.

Later, homosexuality was removed from the DSM, based on ... evidence? No, based on popular sentiment and political pressure that it didn't belong there. There is still no firm scientific evidence one way or the other, but it seems not to be either treatable or a disease — according to popular sentiment, and the failure of treatment methods.

Imagine something like gravity being removed from physics based on political pressure. It could not happen, because physics is a science. It did happen in clinical psychology, because clinical psychology is not a science.

In the meantime, many homosexuals paid the price for the false belief that clinical psychology is a science.
(In passing, I'll observe that mathematics is not a science either, contrary to your claim in one of your replies to replies...) Mathematics is the queen of all sciences. It is the most rigorous of all sciences, and it is governed by evidence and proof to a greater degree than any of the other sciences. Indeed, it is the foundation on which modern physics, which you acknowledge to be a science, is built.

Physics is a science because mathematics is a science. Were the latter not true, the former would not be true either, and you have just shot yourself in the foot.
Mathematics is a formal logic game, resting on untested (and untestable) principles of representation and meaning (e.g., the notion of symbol), logic and deduction (e.g., syllogism), definition (e.g., set). Okay, now I have the picture. You very simply do not have any idea what you are talking about. Current clinical psychology is indeed based in science... As I expected, you are now waving your hands in the air, and you continue to do so. Have a nice day.

This correspondent proceeded to list examples of psychological experiments, hoping through this list to show that there is science taking place. I was reminded of Richard Feynman's famous "Cargo Cult Science" anecdote, in which people who want the status of science expect to be able to imitate scientific procedures while ignoring the essence of science — that of creating a testable theoretical foundation, objectively comparing the theory to reality, and most importantly, accepting that a failure of this reality test requires the abandonment of the theory, a process that virtually never happens in clinical psychology.

In this writer's effort to dismiss mathematics as an onanistic pursuit, he wildly distorts the meaning of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, assuming he knows the name. I have noticed that writers objecting to my article feel it necessary to demonstrate their knowledge of scientific topics, but in doing so, end up demonstrating the opposite.

On reading my reply, this writer abandoned the topic and tried to paint science as a religion. This brought to mind the old saying "to a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
Required Reading I
My name is [ ... ]. I am [ ... ] years of age and finishing my [ ... ] year of the [ ... ] at the University of [ ... ].

I must admit, I am a fan of your "Is Psychology a Science?" article. So much so, that I have relayed it to one of my professors. It will be required reading for this term's Psychology [ ... ] Neuroscience (a senior undergraduate seminar). We will be discussing it in next week's seminar.
I am honored that my article has caught your interest and become part of your curriculum. I hope the exercise and discussion is a productive one, and I am interested to hear any feedback you care to provide.

Although the article is not crystal clear on this point, it examines the relationship between clinical and theoretical psychology, e.g. the fact that the latter seems to have little effect on the former. I say this because, although the topic of the article is apparent to a nonspecialist, it may not seem specific enough to someone in the field.
Required Reading II
Well, my friend, it was quite the experience. Since the course was filled with art students (I put the psychology ones in there as well, though the BSc ones would argue quite to the contrary), I had little time to do any of the usual readings for our seminar, with the exception of yours, since I am in science and had little time throughout the semester. Nevertheless, the professor was so impressed with the debate at the end of the semester with the class, he decided to pass me.

It was academic Thermopylae, only the Greeks actually won this time. The entire class and the professor piled on top of me. Your arguments, combined with my own, were sufficient for the distribution of one plate of ass after the next. Everyone was pleased at the end, so much so, they bought two pitchers. I took it a little further though and argued that the entire field of Psychology was all nonsense. The professor, also a skeptic, was pleased.

This is all very unusual for a place like [ ... ], where the Department of Psychology is a popular destination for youth with no desire whatsoever to attempt any of the actual sciences that require some discipline and real world constraints imposed by the universe. Many of the students were quite angry since they had all spent thousands of dollars in their program thus far and were making final preparations for graduation.
I wish I had been there! I wonder how often such a debate happens in academia, among people freshly trained to think critically, out of sight of those who need psychology to be true.

As a science student you may take this sort of outcome for granted, since the debate necessarily pivoted on evidence rather than passion, but it is only recently that psychology has begun to be examined in this forthright way. Thank you for keeping me in the loop, and for having an open mind.
Is Psychology Entirely Unscientific?
I am a nursing student (also a quasi-science, quite to my dismay), and I wanted to go into clinical psychology. I, being skeptical, googled "psychology & science" and found your wonderful article.

I have two questions. Please understand I am not attempting to challenge you, I am asking questions from a nieve stance, with the expectiation on being enlightened by your responces. Here are my questions:

1) Is "all" of psychology non-scientific? I find this hard to believe, as some branches use controlled experiments in every test, which are "repeatable" ...
First, repeatability is not enough to assure that a field is scientific. Astrologers always get the same result when they cast a chart for a given birthdate, but that doesn't make the chart scientific.

Second, it is important to understand that if an experiment meant to test a scientific theory is conducted and it fails, it must invalidate the theory that led to the test. If this falsifiability criterion is not met, the theory is not scientific.

Sometimes experiments are conducted in psychology, but they generally do not stand as tests of theory, and when they fail, they generally do not invalidate any theory. In a truly scientific field, it is not a matter of sometimes, but always — all theories are testable, and all experimental failures invalidate the theory that led to the test. Scientists don't get to pick and choose which experiments they consider important.

So, even though there are experiments in psychology, they don't have the effect of invalidating some practitioner's pet theory about the human mind in any consistent way. Consequently, psychology's clients are utterly subject to the whim of clinical psychologists, who don't really care whether what they are doing has been tested scientifically.

That is the answer to your question. If psychology ever becomes scientific, there will be a clear connection between theory, feasible experiments that must not fail, and clinical practice. This is simply not how modern psychology works.
which brings me to question 2)

2) If there are studies from psychology which refute the "theories" of psychology, isn't this, then, science?
No, for the simple reason that the refutations don't stop the practice. There are any number of cases where a psychological theory has been refuted, but this has no effect whatsoever on clinical practice, which just goes on as though nothing happened.

Examples. There are clinicians still practicing "recovered memory therapy" and "facilitated communication therapy", after both fields have been thoroughly discredited in what pass for "experiments" in the field of psychology. But because people want to believe in them, they are still practiced, contrary to evidence that has discredited both practices.
Science is about finding out what "reality is not", correct? No, that is not correct. The reason you do not know what distinguishes a scientific theory from an ordinary belief is because you are in a course of training for a field that is not scientific, a field where people feel free to say absolutely anything. I have heard several psychologists talk about studies that shred the credibility (and reliability) of the DSM-4 also ... but this is what makes science, "science", right? No, it is not. In order for the DSM to have scientific standing, it would have to spring from an internally consistent theory that proposes feasible tests, and if the tests failed, the DSM would be thrown out. Having professors tear the DSM apart, with no effect on clinical practice and without reference to a core theory, only shows that psychology is not a scientific undertaking.

In scientific fields, there is a core of theory to which everything else refers. If experiments disprove the theory, the entire field must necessarily fall apart. When experiments disproved the ether theory of the late 19th century, physics was in limbo (without a valid theoretical core) until Einstein produced a new, testable theory that explained the earlier experimental failure and proposed new tests that, if they had failed, would have invalidated his theory as well. No one took Einstein seriously until his proposed experiments (starting in 1919 and extending through the 1960s) confirmed his predictions. Until then, Einstein's "theory" was a mere "hypothesis".

That is how science works. In psychology, by contrast, clinicians start a new fad, and unless and until they are sued, they continue to practice it (as in the fad that killed Candace Newmaker). There is no core theory, and there are no proposed experiments that, if they fail, invalidate the nonexistent theory.

Look at each major change in psychological practice starting with Freud, moving through Bruno Bettelheim falsely blaming mothers for their children's autism, to the present, and you will see a history of whimsy followed by cocktail chatter, instead of theory followed by experiment.
An additional question for you: How else, in your opinion, can we find out about abnormal human conditions and their treatments? There is no ethical way to study human behavior with the kinds of controls that would be required to produce meaningful results. And sweeping that restriction aside would be a necessary but not sufficient precondition for meaningful study. Many more systematic difficulties remain — most are listed in my paper.

The main reasons psychology is not a scientific field are that (1) it is not ethical to carry out the kinds of experiments that would be required to produce decent science, and (2) if this were not true, if somehow this restriction were to be lifted, most of the people presently in the field would turn out to be unqualified to do science.

It is not an accident that a psychology degree is almost entirely worthless in the real world. It is one of the easiest degrees to acquire, but then it is nearly impossible to turn the degree into meaningful employment.

A psychology degree ranks slightly higher than a philosophy degree (the latter a certain guarantee of unemployment), but it ranks below nearly any other degree available from an institution of higher learning. And only the most candid of counselors are willing to tell you this.
A Student Wants to Know
I'm a psychology student, very humble and junior in my approach and certainly won't question your views strongly.

I'm due to write a paper on the debate of psychology and science and have got a great deal out of your arguments, which give me the ability to look at psychology from another angle.

Can I ask you however, what your thoughts are on behavioural psychology such as that developed by Watson, Skinner and the likes and the methods of approach used in this case. Due to it being something that can be seen/observed and henced reasonably predictable, would you see this as scientific?
Not remotely. If not, please tell me why. 1. A scientific study that involves human subjects must distinguish between what a person reports and that person's actual subjective state. This is called the "self-reporting" problem.

2. The self-reporting problem might be solved by creating a control group, but this is almost never done for some practical and basic ethical reasons. Without a control group, psychological studies cannot be taken seriously as evidence of anything more than a person applying his opinions to a set of subjects. This, by the way, explains why any number of professional advocates for different outlooks can find "support" for their views independent of each other, and of reality.

Example. Let's say a psychologist wants to prove that his method is efficacious in preventing teenage suicide. In order to rise to the level of science, there would have to be a control group who received a plausible placebo talk therapy, alongside the group receiving the real thing.

Let's say the control group has twice as many teenage suicides as the experimental group. Do you see what this would mean? Apart from the extreme unlikelihood that the experimenter and subjects in the control group would not realize they were the control group (which would ruin the science), there are very serious ethical issues here in withholding treatment from the control group, as well as deceiving the control subjects about what was taking place, e.g. research instead of therapy.

For these and other reasons and to be perfectly blunt, one cannot do science in human clinical psychology. One can do pseudo-science, but one cannot do science. Ethics and problems of meaningful experimental design prevent it.

If you study pigeons or rats, then yes, you can do research and try to extrapolate the result to humans, because pigeons have no rights. But as to direct human study, no, one simply cannot do it. This is why clinical psychology has evolved into a loose collection of fads whose popularity varies with public taste rather than scientific evidence. And these fads are not harmless — patients die. Google for "Candace Newmaker" for an example of a child killed by a fad therapy. There are many similar cases, this one is particularly dramatic.

In a more recent story involving the death of a child, authorities are charging the parents of a young girl with deliberately poisoning her with drugs that were diagnosed by a psychiatrist. More here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/15/us/15bipolar.html

This story shows how aggressive marketing of drugs by big pharmaceutical companies can lead to tragedy, as well as showing the very poor connection between clinical psychology and scientific evidence.

Very frankly, it is nearly impossible to read current literature in clinical psychology and not see it as a system that is completely out of control, unregulated by science or common sense.
Eminence versus Evidence I

This is part of an exchange on a different topic.

A note about the note on credentials: In science anything which is said must have a basis (but as you say, not in the paper credential of the one who says it). If I write a paper on fruitfly sex, I must first establish from prior knowledge/research a basis for writing. No, this is wrong. What you must do is have the evidence. If you have the evidence, and if it is repeatable by others, your credentials don't matter. If you don't have the evidence, your credentials don't matter again. Or, to say it simply, the greatest amount of scientific eminence is trumped by the smallest amount of scientific evidence. I don't argue the "trump" issue at all, but my point here is that you also have to have a basis. No, evidence is all there is. A total greenhorn might hit upon a breakthrough, and that breakthrough must be tested on the evidence, not on the reputation of the originator or a thorough reading of prior work. Example, Einstein and relativity. Who would want to listen to a Swiss patent clerk? Answer: a scientist. However, that basis is prior research/knowledge, not your "credentials" as you're using the term. All such issues turn on the theory and its evidence, not at all in a track record. Example Wegener, a meteorologist, who proposed that the continents were drifting around, several decades before that could be shown by observational evidence. The fact that he was a meteorologist (not a geologist) hurt his acceptance among all but scientists, who waited for evidence (and eventually got it). I don't disagree at all that the trump is still the evidence for your contention, but the background support, the basis, the prior research, is part of that evidence. This is a first-class logical error named "argumentum ad verecundiam" (argument from authority). It is warned against in the first year of a scientist's training. It is always an error to examine anything but the present evidence for a proposition. Your experience in the field, for instance, gives you the knowledge base from which to make the statements you're making. No, it doesn't. I am a seventh-grade dropout. If science were not arranged as it is, I would be totally unqualified to make the statements I am making. In point of fact, when the Oregon Academy of Science named me "Scientist of the Year" in 1986, they did it based solely on my work, not on what credentials I had. That is because the Academy is composed of scientists, people who know which side of the bread the butter is on. I guess the teacher's point (as I read it) and mine is that it's not always easy to judge the content without the background (knowledge of the speaker or of the hearer). Again, this emphasis on background is always an error, a first-class mistake that all scientists are warned against early in their training. Again, in a research paper, one starts with a review of what others have found. This is optional and it doesn't have the meaning you're attaching to it. References to the work of others may or may not be present, but if they are present, they exist solely to add to the corpus of evidence, not to lean on the reputation of the researchers who created it, or on the sheer weight of work supporting a particular viewpoint. And the paper might then go on to completely contradict the prior evidence citations — that is common. This was drilled into me in my research methodology class, where the instructor basically said that a researcher is not allowed to say anything original — My God. The majority of scientific breakthroughs throughout history arose from someone totally "unqualified", speaking out of class, saying something entirely original and with no basis in prior work. Galileo. Newton. Darwin. Einstein. Wegener. Each of these examples is of someone who did not have a conventional basis for speaking up at all, and who contradicted the prevailing wisdom, and who was eventually shown to have a valid basis for speaking. What she actually said is that you can't state a hypothesis (you can't HAVE a hypothesis) without deriving it from prior findings, This is totally, completely, false. You have been misled by a miseducated teacher. I cannot emphasize this too strongly. It is quite false. Einstein's view of the universe utterly contradicted all prior work and common sense, as did the later quantum theory. Both these theories won acceptance on the basis of evidence, not agreement with precedent.

You may be confusing science with law, where precedent is central, as is authority. There is no authority in science, only evidence.
So in other words, one cannot start a research project without a thorough review of prior work. That is a different point. To read prior work is not to require it for your own — you may well intend to contradict it. And that prior work is the support for the hypothesis and part of the support for the new findings/arguments. That is entirely false. Relativity contradicted the prevailing ether theory, which had stood since Newton's time as an explanation for various phenomena, and that lay at the heart of Maxwell's electromagnetic theory. But this didn't stop Einstein, the patent clerk, and in due time (based on observational evidence) his entirely original scientific theory overthrew all of physics. This is just one example among many. So, the teacher asked (I assume), "What is this guy's 'prior knowledge' by which he supports his contentions? And by so doing, the teacher reveals her lack of understanding of how ideas and theories are shaped in the realm of science.

[ in a section about Linus Pauling's contention that Vitamin C could treat the common cold ]

2 problems with Dr. Pauling's Vitamin C arguments: 1. (As you said) evidence isn't there. 2. His expertise was not in that area, On the contrary, he was a world-renowned, Nobel Prizewinning microbiologist. He was in principle in a perfect position to make the claim. He just couldn't come up with any evidence. And your challenge here tends, I think, to support what I've said. Not at all. Scientists reacted to Pauling's theory by asking "Where's the evidence?" There was none, and the idea died. The fact that the idea originated with a world-renowned, Nobel-Prizewinning scientist made no difference at all. I know Pauling was a Nobel winner, but I know nothing about his field. Even so, I concluded it had nothing to do with Vitamin C, and said so; you've called me on my "lack of credentials". No, I used this as an example where the lack of evidence ruled the issue. Credentials mean nothing. I am not a scientist, unless you accept that psychology is a science — which is where I learned scientific methodology; But psychology isn't a science. It pretends to be a science, and I now understand how it was that your "science" instructor was so misguided. I have been having a running debate with psychologists for several years now on this topic (not that this is an open question among scientists, only among psychologists). There are still some psychologists who think psychology is a science, against all evidence to the contrary.

Many skilled, experienced psychologists come to recognize that psychology is not a science, but just as many newly minted graduates, especially from the less disciplined schools, need to learn this the hard way, hopefully without being sued or jailed:

"Psychiatrist Won't Practice Medicine After Girl's Death", an account of the death of 4-year-old Rebecca Riley while under a psychiatrist's care.
"Victim of Attachment Therapy", an account of the death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker while undergoing "rebirthing" therapy.

Many psychologists respond to my paper by asking, "Are you a psychologist? You can't debate the status of psychology unless you are", people who, by falling into this logical error, ironically support the position that psychology is not a science.
I don't know a lot about the "hard sciences", and specifically don't know how microbiology relates to Vitamin C. Easy answer: without evidence, it doesn't.
Eminence versus Evidence II

I am getting a lot of this kind of self-referential inquiry lately — in essence, "What authority do you have to criticize psychology?"

Mr.? Dr.? Lutus, Since you think titles matter, I can anticipate what kind of post this will be. I think it would be helpful if somewhere on your site you included a link to some biographical information about yourself. I'm doing a research paper arguing that psychology is not a science and was looking to find you're occupation and degree to judge reliability. Really? Do you think the reliability of evidence depends on its source? If you are being taught this, you need to change professors or schools, because you are being tricked into a well-established logical error named "argumentum ad verecundiam."

Scientific evidence must stand on its own. It cannot be judged based on its source. If this were not true, Albert Einstein would have died a lowly patent clerk, rather than as someone who overthrew much of what we thought we knew about physics. He did this using evidence, not authority.

And this principle cuts both ways. When Nobel Prizewinner Linus Pauling claimed that vitamin C might cure the common cold, scientists asked to see the evidence. His standing in the world of science mattered not at all. If he had been a graduate student, the evidence would have been the only factor in judging his ideas. And as a Nobel Prizewinner, evidence was still the only factor.

Another example. Late in his life, Nobel Prizewinner William Shockley traveled about lecturing on the supposed intellectual inferiority of African-Americans. If the assumptions behind your inquiry were valid, his status would have lent weight to his racist ideas. But intelligent, educated people judged that issue based on evidence alone. You should do the same. In science, evidence means everything, reputation means nothing. The greatest amount of scientific eminence is trumped by the smallest amount of scientific evidence.
If you've already included that information, please point me in the right direction. I think I have done just that. If you think otherwise, you need to ask yourself whether you are being educated in the principles of science, or being told what to think by people who believe authority trumps evidence.
Cargo Cult Science
As a psychologist (PhD) I have to agree with much of your assessment of the lack of science in the practices and theories of clinical psychologists. But I do take exception with one part...if I have understood it correctly.

You seem to indicate that psychology...because it studies humans...can not be a science because you can not do certain things to humans that you can do to animals (though animal rights people make sure that they are protected).
That's true, and it represents an ethical limitation that cannot be circumvented, no matter the potential reward. A scientific field is one which uses scientific methods. No, that is false. A scientific field must do much more than simply use scientific methods. It must create falsifiable theories, and it must be willing to abandon falsified theories.

Anyone can use scientific methods, but without necessarily taking some additional steps required to create true science. Astrologers use scientific methods, but because some essential pieces are missing, astrology isn't a science.

Advocates of "Intelligent Design" use scientific methods, but because they begin research with a preconceived idea of what is to be "discovered," and because they won't allow the evidence to lead them to any other conclusion, the process is not a scientific one.
In the middle of the last century...Richard Feynman...the Nobel laureate physicist...spoke of psychology as a science. This is simply untrue. In a now-famous article titled "Cargo Cult Science," Feynman explains that some "sciences" go through the motions without honoring the substance, and he was thinking of psychology among other fields. In fact, his position corresponded to what I have just said about form versus substance.

There are a handful of requirements for true science, and falsifiability tops the list. Unless a field creates falsifiable theories, unless the theories lead to practical experiments, unless the experiments are able to potentially falsify the theory, unless the field's practitioners accept the outcome of experiments, the field is not scientific.
Psychology was founded as a science... Yes, as I point out in my article, but that was a goal, an unrealized intention. ... its first general instrument was the IQ test and even clinical psychology students had to demonstrate a high level capability of scientific experimental ability before they could get a PhD. Those two points are in direct contradiction. I.Q. testing has never been remotely scientific. Psychologist R. M. Yerkes infamously abused I.Q. testing to accomplish personal racist goals, with far-reaching consequences for Jews and other groups. In "The Mismeasure of Man," Steven Jay Gould adroitly exposes the many abuses of I.Q. testing, up to the present day. Did you really mean to join those two points in that way? Not so any more. You can now get a PsyD. if you are science allergic. I seem to hear from a lot of these recent graduates. Many of them think the field is scientific, based on outward appearances. What you describe...fairly accurately...is what clinical psychology has become. That is different than saying it never was...and never could be...scientific in its approach. It never was scientific. An intention is not a reality. The aspirations of its founders collided with the reality that human ethics prevents the sort of clinical evaluations that would be required to produce useful scientific evidence. And I am not complaining, let me make clear. The kinds of studies that would be required are rightly forbidden. The current Code of Ethics for Psychologists says at Standard 2.04; Psychologists work is based upon established scientific knowledge of the discipline. And psychologists don't violate this standard, for the reason that there is no "established scientific knowledge" in the field. If there was, recovered memory therapy would never have gotten off the ground. Freudian analysis would have been stillborn. Facilitated communication would have been recognized for what it was — a sham meant to appeal to unsophisticated, desperate parents.

Each of these practices would have been tested scientifically before getting to the clinical level, and each of them would have been cast out, instead of having to be abandoned only after much legal wrangling.
Plain and simple. (That immediately rules out DSM and all of its progeny). And if psychology were truly scientific, the DSM would be cast out on a number of grounds. But clinical psychology allied itself with the wholly imaginary...unscientific in the extreme...DSM and its various editions. That is...they have abdicated from science. This is not just an academic point. By doing so they have created an ethical issue that the public could use legally. Anyone jailed...or incarcerated...or who could not get a job because of a DSM diagnosis of disorder can cite the text of the Code of Ethics...and the statement by the American Psychiatric Association at www.dsm5.org/planning.cfm that the scientific basis of the disorders may never be uncovered.

(What could the scientific basis of sibling rivalry be anyway?
Actually, I would have wondered what a clinical psychologist would expect to be able to do about it, or whether it presents something abnormal or treatable. The DSM-IV is at times a pretty funny book...except the world takes it as truth). Including a lot of very serious clinicians. Also...in the DSM-III the psychiatrists...who have never claimed to be scientists... Actually, Freud originally intended to build psychiatry as a science of mind. So much for good intentions. ...did an interrater reliability study which showed that there was little agreement between clinicians independently diagnosing from the same set of facts. And the head of research for DSM-IV points out that clinicians tend to create diagnoses for the conditions they want to treat regardless of the facts, which makes the same point (no diagnostic consistency). That is...the disorder categories have neither validity nor reliability...necessary prerequisites for a scientific psychological procedure or test.

So my disagreement with you is that psychology is a scientific endeavor but clinical psychologists...notoriously research aversive...have abdicated to join psychiatry.
You are missing a crucial point. If psychology were scientific, the theoretical side of the field would invalidate the clinical practice, using firm principles. But there are no firm principles, no clear theoretical laws.

If an engineer builds a bridge and the bridge collapses, an investigation will reveal the violation of a well-established law that is part of physics, and the error will not be repeated.

If a clinical psychologist induces a bogus recovered memory of sexual abuse and someone goes to jail, which psychological law exists to correct the injustice and prevent a recurrence?

You need to recognize that psychology is all of a piece, and the theoretical side cannot govern the clinical side for lack of coherent, unifying theoretical principles.
Otherwise...I wish there were more articles like yours...especially from psychologists. If a psychologist had the training required to detect the absence of hard science, he wouldn't enter the field. Psychologists are largely self-selected to ignore the condition of the field. Thanks for writing.
Some Reasonable Questions
Hi, This morning I stumbled on to your website, and read a few of your articles on psychology. I've taken several low level courses in it (and plan to take more), but really, I can't say that I completely disagree with you completely. In fact, it is making me question the future of my education. I think your timing is good, better than most. Many people don't consider the course of their education until the last moment they could change direction has passed. I noticed a few of the problems you have outlined. I've always dismissed them however, as being the result of (to be frank) a lot of incompetents damaging an otherwise promising field. There's some truth in that, but I ask that you think more deeply about this. Why doesn't the presence of incompetents injure physics or mathematics in the same way? The answer is that physics and mathematics are sciences, where claims must be accompanied by evidence.

There are incompetents in every field — in fact, science was invented to weed out incompetents through a strict process for evaluating facts and theories. Remember that science is not facts and theories, it is a way to evaluate facts and theories. In science, evidence is all there is — nothing else matters.
On the other hand you appear to think the entire field is completely beyond redemption, something that needs to just be chucked into the woodpile. I wouldn't say that. In fact, I didn't say that. If I said that about psychology, I would have to say it about astrology, too. But there are a lot of weak-minded people out there who think astrology is real. Do I have the right to deprive people of their sad attachment to astrology, just because it is nonsense? That would be like laughing at a handicapped person in the street — it would be uncivilized and unkind.

Out of pity and compassion, I prefer not to do that to astrology or its followers, in particular because no one with an ounce of sense takes astrology seriously. The same cannot be said about psychology, and that is where the danger lies — psychologists make claims about the scientific standing of psychology that are simply false.

Scientists who read the psychology literature, who notice the weak to nonexistent experimental standards, the indifference to new evidence or a lack of evidence, are prone to dismiss psychology in its present form. But scientists who work in large academic institutions are pressured (and I know about this from firsthand experience) not to criticize psychology too harshly because it is a way for the university to make a huge amount of money from undisciplined students with little future potential, who want to take the easiest possible courses.

There are a few poorly kept secrets in academia. One is that college athletics makes so much money that universities tolerate the presence of "students" who are nothing of the kind. Another is that psychology, sociology and a handful of other disciplines are tolerated because they greatly increase the size of the student body, beyond the core student population who are actually seeking an education and who will become tomorrow's leaders.

In the old days, attending college was a privilege extended only to the most qualified students (and wrongly denied to fully qualified women and people of color). But since then, particularly in Western democracies, we've adopted the twisted idea that everyone can and should go to college. In order to make that happen, colleges have lowered their standards to an absurd degree, such that (oversimplifying a bit here) graduates with advanced degrees still don't know anything and still can't find meaningful employment.
So, my questions are:

a) Do you have any suggestions, any at all, on what should replace it?
Psychology — I mean human psychology here, not rat and pigeon psychology — can't be placed on a firmer evidentiary footing without violating the rights of experimental subjects. This is a fact that cannot be circumvented. And without high-quality evidence, you cannot falsify claims anyone cares to make. Without the possibility of falsification, there is no science. So it's not obvious how to proceed, but asserting that human psychology is a science is not an acceptable substitute. If your reply is "Nothing" then I must ask, what would happen to those so ill they're incapable of taking care of themselves? We're now moving into basic moral and ethical questions. Do we have the right to claim that meaningful treatments exist, when they don't? Do we have the right to identify people as mentally ill who are not (and vice versa)? These common practices distort the entire field, and they rely on the popular view that human psychology is a science.

There are a handful of treatments that actually work, but they are not psychological treatments (as psychology is formally defined). For example, lithium is very effective in treating what is now called "bipolar disorder." But the administration of lithium is not psychology, it is pharmacology.
And what should we(society as a whole) tell people genuinely in need of SOME kind of treatment? The implication of your question is that there must be something we can do, and if there isn't, we should keep that a secret. Well, no, and no. "We don't know how to help you, we've given up trying to figure it out, so just go talk to a bartender" hardly seems like responsible advise. It's responsible advice if the bartender can do a better job than a therapist. I won't make the claim, since I have no evidence, but psychologists regularly make the claim that professional counseling is more effective than talking to a bartender, even though there is no supporting evidence, and some contradicting evidence.

One might argue that the bartender uses a dangerous drug as part of his treatment, but the same can — and has been — said about the modern practice of psychology, in which drugs of questionable effectiveness and unknown side effects are enthusiastically prescribed (and clients sometimes die as a result).
b) It seems that one of your biggest problems with clinical psychology is the tendency of practitioners to ignore experiments, rather than allow theories to become discredited. I take that position primarily because ignoring evidence identifies clinical psychology as unscientific, but also because it leads to unbelievable abuses of unearned authority. Certainly this is a bad thing, but isn't it more a problem with (again) highly respected incompetent people rather than the field as a whole? No, and here is why: if an incompetent can make baseless claims without anyone asking for supporting evidence, then the entire field is built on shifting sand, and the person making the claim is a mere symptom of an underlying malady.

In science, real incompetents appear from time to time, but they are quickly called to account. Last week, Nobel Prizewinner James D. Watson, world-famous co-discoverer of DNA, made some unscientific (and outrageous) claims about the intelligence of black people. As a result, within days he was fired from his prestigious post as Chancellor of the Cold Spring Laboratory. His world fame and eminence as a Nobel Prizewinner made no difference at all — his statements were unscientific and indefensible.

By contrast, when psychologist Bruno Bettelheim made the claim that autism resulted from incompetent mothering by emotionally frigid women, it was accepted without question — after all, Bettelheim was an eminent psychologist. This "refrigerator-mom" idea lasted for decades, based solely on the eminence of the originator, and many innocent, caring mothers were unfairly held responsible for something that was not their fault.

I hope I have made this point: in science, evidence stands above eminence. In human psychology, it's the other way around.
From what I have seen (and I freely admit my knowledge here is quite limited), a lot of fields have similar problems to a much smaller extent. Yes, they do. All of them. The difference lies in how those problems are handled. In scientific fields, people can say anything, but they must eventually back up their claims or abandon them. By contrast, in counseling sessions all over the country, therapists still raptly listen to bogus "recovered memories," even though people outside the field see no evidence for the reality of these memories, and courts of law have decided to no longer hear cases in which "recovered memories" are the primary evidence. What about "physicists" who claim to be close to discovering cold fusion, This example supports the position that science works. When Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann made their original claim, scientists all over the world tried to duplicate their results, but failed. Lots of excitement at first, but no laboratory confirmation. End of story. That's how science deals with nonsense.

On the one hand, in the interest of open dialogue we want people to feel free to make any claim they care to. On the other hand, all scientific claims must eventually be supported by evidence. Until they are, the claims are hypotheses, not theories. If the claims are eventually supported by evidence, they achieve the status of scientific theories — but they never become facts. Fact is not science's domain.
or "biologists" supporting ID over evolution? That's not science. Your example is of someone relying on his status as a "biologist" to make a claim, as though a title can stand in for evidence. Science doesn't work that way. When Einstein the patent clerk published what came to be known as Special Relativity, he hadn't gotten his degree yet, but that didn't matter — only his ideas mattered. But until evidence began to support his ideas, they didn't matter very much. Later on, when Einstein the world-famous scientist disputed quantum theory, other scientists waited for evidence supporting his position, which never arrived. It's all about evidence — not standing, not shouting. It's not a perfect comparison by any means as most real physicists laugh at cold fusion Not at all! Physicists aren't laughing, they're either doing the necessary laboratory work or waiting to see how the work comes out. Science is more about patient work than slapping one's knee. And in science the door is not closed on cold fusion, because in science, doors are rarely closed, and no one is laughing. and most biologists laugh at ID, That's a little different. ID isn't even remotely plausible as it has been presented, and the arguments in favor of it tend to exhibit an embarrassing level of ignorance. One can always argue that God is pulling invisible puppet strings in a way that cannot be detected. That's an interesting philosophical position, but it cannot be tested or falsified, and therefore, true or false, it is not scientific.

But religious believers are not satisfied with the idea that God exists in the abstract. They want Him to take a break from making stars and galaxies, and smite their neighbor with the barking dog. Nothing else will do but that the ruler of the universe should come down and smite the owner of a barking dog.
but isn't it the same fundamental problem of a (badly) educated person making outrageous claims before the public? If these people were to gain popular(lay) public acceptance and funding, would it somehow invalidate real physics and biology? No, because shouting cannot stand in for evidence, and all scientific positions must eventually be supported by evidence. What if this popular acceptance lead to universities churning out huge numbers of cold fusion&ID "specialists," and pushed real scientists back into a minority? That's possible, for example the Bush administration is doing all it can to thwart any scientific statements and publications that contradict Administration positions — but this again touches on the reason science exists. Science exists because of a natural human tendency to replace reason with emotion, and if humans were really rational, there would be no science — it would have no purpose. Remember, again, science is not the results, science is the practice, the discipline. Would that make all their work worthless? To answer, I must say that science is not the applications of science. Science isn't refuted or validated by application, except insofar as applications produce more evidence for or against a proposition. For example, the GPS (Global Positioning System) satellites are producing some interesting confirmations of both Special and General Relativity. That isn't the purpose of the GPS system, it's an interesting side effect.

But science is not a corporation with a quarterly earnings report, and science doesn't have to sell itself. To those who want results, science (and scientists) can be incredibly frustrating. To those who understand science, it is immensely valuable, nothing else can produce its results, and a price tag cannot be hung on it.
I suspect that this is a different situation somehow, but I honestly don't see how.

What I wrote sounds vaguely to me like a fallacy of some sort, so please understand I'm not trying to attack you, just asking for clarification. There probably is a difference, I just do not see it.
I think at this point you will see that, all outward appearances to the contrary, the difference between scientific and unscientific endeavors lies in the managing of evidence, the weight given to evidence, and the ascendancy of evidence over eminence. Finally, something bothered me while reading your articles. In my psychology classes we were told, over and over, that abnormal behavior is simply normal behavior "carried to an unhealthy extent" with unhealthy being defined as something like "meaningfully damaging to someone or those around them." Yes, and that is an important point about human psychology. In order to offer treatments, psychologists have to identify particular behaviors as "abnormal," e.g. unacceptable, and this is where psychology leaves the realm of science and enters the realm of religion.

Science observes reality with perfect dispassion, observing everything, judging nothing. Religion proactively divides behaviors into those deemed acceptable and unacceptable. Psychology can't offer treatments without first judging what is good and bad, a practice formerly reserved to religion. If all human behavior is organisms creatively dealing with ever-changing nature in a morally neutral universe, where is the role for corrective mental surgery?

To put this in its simplest form, when a psychologist utters the word "abnormal" about a mental state whose normalcy is proven by its existence, he has severed any connection with science and entered the domain of religion.

Is a platypus normal?
I haven't read the DSM, but I assume it follows this. It does, but with many qualifying phrases and caveats that are largely ignored by psychologists. So perhaps that is why the number of disorders balloons up so much; bad spelling isn't a disorder, but being completely unable to learn how to write does at least require some kind of special attention. Yes — but is that a mental illness, and can the practice of clinical psychology do anything about it? Or would a normal, non-judgmental teacher be a better, and less expensive, choice?

The truth behind spelling as a mental illness (and many similar examples) is that psychologists have discovered they can't treat real mental illnesses (most of which are turning out to be organic in nature, treatable by chemicals, or untreatable) so they are trying to branch out into domains formerly held by bartenders, astrologers, teachers and aging aunts on porches.
Then again, maybe the authors of the DSM just need to read more introductory textbooks... This may surprise you, but some of the creators of the DSM have ended up its harshest critics.
Help me Magically Squeeze Emotions out of Dreams

An inquiry from a psychology postgraduate at an institution of higher learning, starting an ambitious, albeit pseudoscientific, research project. And no, I didn't make this up — who could make up such a thing?

I'm doing a project to extract emotions from dreams. There is no chance for this fantasy to bear useful scientific data, so no matter which mathematical method you choose, the result will be the same: faux science, which happens to be psychology's strong suit. We need to fit the emotion points (data sets) into a function. No, what you need to do is craft a scientific, testable theory in which emotions can be extracted from the brainwaves that accompany dreams. In science, skipping over essential preliminary steps is not permitted.

If you forge ahead without bothering to create a testable theory, your work will be (1) a waste of time and grant money, and (2) another example of psychological "science."
Can we use your program, please? Certainly, although this will not magically turn your work into science. Would you please provide c code or java code? Why not open a standard textbook on the subject of mathematical data reduction methods — you know, those parts of science you skipped in school while pursuing your psychology degree? Or would you prefer to use a perfect stranger's computer program without understanding how it works?

What I am saying is, this is a typical example of psychological "science" — all psychology, no science.

One more thing. You haven't bothered to say which of my hundreds of programs you are inquiring about, but as it turns out, the most useful method for reducing brainwave data would be the Fourier Transform method, for which I already provide source code here:

http://www.arachnoid.com/FFTExplorer/index.html
It's scientific! It is, it is!
I read your essay with interest, as it is the same title that I am tackling for my Philosophy module of the final year of my Psychology degree. I must say that I disagree with you (!) Of course you do. You have just spent your entire educational career moving toward an advanced psychology degree. How could you possibly agree that psychology is not based in science? but your points did make me think, and I may cite you in my essay. I hope you do. Having read your feedback page I cannot resist contributing some of my own opinions. Your views are welcome. Firstly, you seem to lump together therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists, when, certainly in the UK, they are all distinct professions, with different training and have different levels of trust and respect from the public. They are distinct professions, but all of them depend on the scientific standing of human psychology. And, for the reasons set out in my article, psychology has a very poor scientific standing.

As to public trust, this has no bearing on the scientific standing of the field. Astrologers have a lot of public trust, but they don't have any science.
The example of the girl who was killed by her therapists has nothing to do with Psychology. False. The fully qualified, professional psychologists who carried out the procedure were licensed to practice clinical psychology, and the procedure was widely practiced by clinical psychologists at the time of the procedure.

The responsible therapists were stripped of their licenses and jailed, not because they were discovered to be unqualified to practice clinical psychology, but because their client died. It's very convenient to say "they weren't the real thing" after the fact, but as a matter of public record, they were the real thing.
These therapists were practising rebirthing, which to my knowledge is not endorsed by psychologists You need to learn how to do research. The practice was widespread and completely accepted at the time of the death. So was "recovered memory therapy", which is still practiced, even though courts of law have decided to reject any further cases in which recovered memories are the primary evidence. There have been too many cases in which the "memories" were proven to be nonsense — too many for the law, but not too many for the therapists. and, to me, sounds ridiculous and completely non-scientific. So does talk therapy, but it is also widely practiced as though it has a scientific foundation (it does not). Present clinical psychology is based on popularly held beliefs and very poor research. In contrast, in modern psychology, counselling tends to include well researched ... Stop! Did you actually read my article? Consider these points:

  1. Psychologists counsel teenagers to prevent them from committing suicide.
  2. Psychologists believe this counseling to be effective.
  3. But ... in order for that to be anything but a belief, there would have to be a scientific study — a scientific study — to validate the belief.
  4. Such a scientific study would require a valid experimental protocol, which means a double-blind design consisting of experimental and control groups.
  5. At the end of the study, we could compare the number of suicides among the experimental group, who received the test therapy, and the control group, who received a sham therapy.
  6. As described, the study would violate the rights of the subjects in the control group, which is why such a study has never been performed and will never be performed.
Therefore, no matter how strongly you feel about this, the present practice of human clinical psychology is not scientific. Rat psychology, pigeon psychology, yes, scientific to a fare-thee-well, but not human psychology. Did I mention that pigeons don't commit suicide?
and successful methods such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy. These practices are believed to be "successful" by people who haven't the slightest idea how success is measured in science. If 1,000 people take the therapy, and if all of them declare that they feel better, this can only represent an example of conjecture and a deplorable confusion of correlation and causation — until and unless there is a plausible control group: a control group who sincerely believes they are receiving treatment, administered by therapists who sincerely believe they are delivering effective treatment. I have experienced this myself and found that it was extremely helpful. Yes, "extremely helpful." Prefrontal lobotomies were also regarded as "extremely helpful," and keeping Eastern European Jewish immigrants out of the U.S. was regarded as "extremely helpful" during Hitler's reign, based on a deliberately rigged series of I.Q. tests (the psychologist responsible later confessed as much), and any number of other examples, all based on the spectacularly sloppy science that is common in human psychology. Yes, talking to anyone can relieve distress (I am a suicide helpline volunteer, so I know this), but CBT goes a lot further and encourages a positive way of thinking. Prove it. You are stating a belief, not a scientific finding. If a legitimate scientific study were to be designed, the researchers would be arrested and jailed before they could publish their results. I definitely felt a great benefit. My God. If only you could have learned even a small bit of science during your professional training, you would be profoundly embarrassed to speak this way. Another thing which annoyed me about your essay (!) was that you seem to think that Psychology is all about therapies that I have never been taught about in my degree, and mental illness. There are many other areas of Psychology that are rigorously scientific ... Utter nonsense. In any case, according to your remarks above, you felt better after experiencing therapy, and on that basis you conclude it must have been a scientific practice. This proves you are unqualified to evaluate what is and is not scientific. and well respected: Respect has no bearing on the issue under discussion. Authorities are respected, but science rejects all authority. Cognitive Psychology, Neuropsychology, Biological Psychology, Developmental Psychology...the list goes on and on. Indeed it does, and all of them are based on belief, not science. Prove me wrong — point out the studies that demonstrate the efficacy of any of these fields, studies with control groups composed of therapists and clients, both of whom sincerely believe they are engaged in real therapy.

Hint: there have never been such studies, anywhere, ever, because they would violate basic ethical standards as well as common sense.
I certainly feel I have been given a scientific education ... And yet, as you have just proven, you are scientifically illiterate. You do not have the foggiest idea what constitutes a scientific finding. and intend to go on to a career as a Counselling Psychologist...which will not result in me administering pseudoscientific fringe therapies to my clients! No, certainly not, at least according to what you believe constitutes science. And that is by design, not by accident — your training doesn't include the fundamentals of science because it would cause all students above a certain minimal I.Q. to abandon the field.

Don't misunderstand the above remark. You are obviously thoughtful and intelligent, and it is equally obvious that you have been conned.
One final point: I think a lot of people believe Psychology is all about Freud and psychoanalysis, which is taught to [ ... ] University students, at the very least, as an example of how Psychology should NOT be: unfalsifiable, imaginary tosh. It is all unfalsifiable. To falsify anything, real science would have to take place. Real science means real research, and real research requires rigorous and strict experimental designs. Such research is not carried out in human psychology. I hope you can understand that Psychology is a varied and fascinating discipline, and most definitely scientific. I hope you will eventually understand that waving your hands in the air cannot stand in for actual scientific research.

There is something you need to recognize about a debate like this — it doesn't matter how often you (or the many others who have tried this tactic) say "scientific" or "I felt better" — without repeatable scientific evidence, it's all cocktail chatter.

Here is a young woman, a newly minted psychologist with all the coursework fresh in her mind, willing to say such things as "I definitely felt a great benefit." and "I certainly feel I have been given a scientific education" without a hint of irony or self-consciousness. It is the business of science not to care how we feel about it — indeed, science's primary role is to separate evidence from how we feel about evidence. In that light, this young woman's remarks contradict themselves, but she can't see this. The reason? She doesn't know anything about science.

But she's certainly in touch with her feelings — among psychologists, that's a "good thing." I have no doubt she'll make a terrific psychologist. Science will just have to get along without her.

Psychology and Physics
I would like to ask how you can state that physics is a science and that psychology is not, when there is much evidence from physics which is used and applied within psychology. You do realize, don't you, that in science we rely entirely on evidence? Where's the evidence for your statement? Which part of the scientific theory of physics is applied to psychology?

And do you think the application of a scientific principle from one field to a second automatically confers a scientific standing to the second? If this were true, astrology would become a science on the ground that astrologers look at stars just as astronomers do.

The similarity between astrology and astronomy lies in the attention given to stars and planets. The difference between astrology and astronomy lies in what the observers do with their results.

In other words, the distinction between astrology and astronomy lies, not in superficial outward appearance, but in substance.

Another example. If we conduct a careful scientific study of UFO sightings, does this confer a scientific standing to UFOs themselves, or only to the study?
You might be right
I want to thank you for an insightful argument against psychology being a science. I wasn't going to leave a comment at first, but I assume that you get more negative replies than positive, so perhaps this will even the score. I admit that, as a Ph.D. student being trained in an organizational psychology, there was a strong emotionally reaction against some of your claims. But logic is well, logical, so there is not really anything to disagree with.

The same problems associated with clinical psychology are readily apparent in organizational studies, with organizational consultants selling a lot of snake oil...much to the detriment of the organization and those who are employed there. Of course, this exploitation works both ways; some managers essentially hire scapegoats to mirror their own belief systems and decisions. Being focused on an academic/research career, I was under the impression that I would be better than that. Actually, most organizational researchers have this opinion; I find it refreshing that it is not true. Evidence-based management is being preached as the savior to these consulting sinners(I chose this metaphor intentionally) by the self-righteous researchers who aren't doing much better.

It is increasingly difficult to understand just how to do better (I know you'll have a witty reply to this such as "become a scientist!). I teach research methods to undergrads pointing to all the potential pitfalls of psychological research and always have fantastic examples...never any good ones. There is always plenty of unethical examples, but even those don't get it right (if you are going to overlook ethics, go all the way..right?)

I now know why we never seem to get anywhere. A lot of teaching parsimony, falsifiability, null hypotheses, and elimination of plausible alternatives...but the actual studies always have something missing (leave that to the discussion section for future researchers to figure out).

Anyhow, just a few thoughts...and thanks for the article to incorporate into my classes (I teach General Psychology, Research Methods, Tests and Measurements, and Statistics). Warm regards.
And thank you for posting your thoughts and experiences.

I suspect that many people in the field go through a gradual reasoning erosion process, more or less like:
  1. Psychology is a science.
  2. Okay, it seems psychology isn't rigorous or falsifiable enough to be called a science.
  3. We're doing the best we can given the practical and ethical constraints.
  4. Important work awaits the creation of rigorous psychological science.
  5. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
  6. Psychology is a science.
Something along those lines. :)

Thanks again for posting.

What can be done?
So in the absence of psychology, what can one do to deal with mental problems. How did we get here, across millions of years of evolution? How did people manage before the so-far-unfulfilled promise of psychology made its appearance? We coped. In fact, all appearances to the contrary, we're still coping. Is there anything that is scientific in this area. If by "scientific" you mean therapeutic methods backed up by falsifiable scientific research, then no, there isn't. What can be done. In essence, you are asking what is available to replace something that didn't exist in the first place. That's pretty close to meaningless.

In my opinion, eventually something meaningful will replace clinical psychology, in the same way that oncology replaced the village witch doctor. Future students will read that people once sat down and tried to talk their way out of serious mental disturbances — and they will laugh, just as we now laugh at the witch doctor approach to treating cancer.

The president of the American Psychological Association has recently taken the first step by calling for the adoption of evidence-based treatment methods, unfortunately to loud protests from the members of his own organization.
I Was Amused
I was amused by you discussion, "Psychology 101" I believe it was called. If you were amused, you cannot have been reading very carefully or deeply. I think much of your position is correct if you are denoting speculative psychology. Until psychology is reformed and adopts scientific standards, it is all "speculative psychology". There just isn't a tradition of throwing out unscientific beliefs, practices and treatments, and this is essential for psychology to be looked on as a science.

There is also no unifying theoretical framework to connect psychological theory and practice, a requirement for a scientific field as explained in this article:

What Is Science?
What is more, I agree that much of how psychology has been applied is not well founded. However I wonder if you have considered the development of experimental psychology and its impact on recent thought. Until the experiments lead to the potential falsification and abandonment of core psychological theories, experimental psychology won't confer the status of a science onto traditional psychology. There is no evidence for this yet. Take for example the study of quantitative psychology. At the University of Washington students enrolled in this program concentrate on mathematical, statistical, and computational studies that relate to psychological research. This is an example where scientific methods exist at the periphery of psychology, but it is vital to understand that, unless and until psychology itself is reformed to adopt scientific methods and test its own theories, this peripheral effect has no meaning. It would be like conducting a serious, well-designed study in astrology. Such a study cannot change the scientific status of astrology unless and until it tests and potentially falsifies the beliefs that lie at the heart of astrology. This is exactly the problem facing psychology — lots of science taking place, but with no effect on the scientific status of psychology itself. Another example is the Neuroscience field where neuroanatomy, chemistry, and neurophysiology and advanced mathematics are used to study brain functions and how they relate to behavioral processes. This is completely removed from the subject matter of psychology. Psychology cannot borrow a scientific status from mainstream medical fields like this. These are only a couple of many examples of how psychology has advanced to take (I think) its rightful place among other fields of science. You haven't provided any examples yet. If a scientist conducts research but without testing the core theories of psychology, this cannot change the status of psychology as a field. If a neuranatomist studies the physical structure of the brain, this cannot change the status of psychology because it doesn't address the basic theories of psychology, which are not remotely connected to theories about neuroanatomy. While classical physics and chemistry were once considered "hard" sciences, we now know that what is really "hard" to understand is human behavior and the workings of the brain. You have just used the word "hard" in two differently and mutually incompatible ways. In the first use of the word, you mean "rigorous and disciplined." In the second, you mean "difficult and confusing." In reality, "rigorous" may be "difficult" but it is certainly not "confusing." By studying quantitative psychology, neuroscience, genetics, evolutionary science and a host of other highly technical fields in a logical way and with scientific discipline the literature in the field of psychology advances and understanding grows. You have just tried to ally psychology, a non-science, with some fields that are sciences. Science is not a pheromone that can rub off one field onto another by chance contact. I believe that there are many, yet perhaps not enough, psychologists that ARE very concerned with not only using scientific methods and principles of reasoning and sound argument. Those who are concerned with science, and who understand science, tend to leave the field of psychology. Those who were always attuned to the requirements of science from the time they were students, would never have entered the field in the first place.

It is one thing to say "there are psychologists who are concerned about the status of their field." It is quite another to say "Recovered Memory Therapy cannot be practiced because its claims have not been verified in a rigorous double-blind study." Until the second happens, I'm really not impressed with the first. Did I mention that Recovered Memory Therapy is still widely practiced, years after the last court of law threw out its claims and freed its victims?
Critical Thinking I
I stumbled across your page while doing research for a critical thinking class. Your arguments against psychology and religion are of the best that I can find. I continually check your website for new debates and articles. I find it disturbing how many people refuse to criticize their views and consider the bigger picture. Anyway, I appreciate your valiant attempt to open closed minds. Thank you! What I've noticed about those psychologists who have chosen to argue here about the scientific status of psychology is that their positions are indistinguishable from those of the religious True Believer — they rely on emotion rather than evidence.

Of course, the psychologists who've written me aren't representative of the profession as a whole. I think the majority wouldn't bother to dispute the present status of psychology, preferring instead to work in large and small ways to change the situation. An example is American Psychological Association President Ronald Levant, who against substantial internal resistance is advocating an evidence-based model instead of the present unscientific system for choosing and evaluating treatments.

Thanks again for writing.
Critical Thinking II
It's astonishing how people will believe in something regardless of the evidence against it. It's so common that I think it must have survival value as an adaptation trait. It's sort of like believing in the benevolence of government against all contrary evidence. This is not to say governments aren't sometimes benevolent, but to accept such a thing without evidence can be dangerous.

One might ask, if blind faith has survival value, how can it ever be dangerous? The answer is that a modern government (or a modern religion) has a size and power that couldn't have existed when our instincts were being formed through natural selection. It's one thing to blindly follow a leader who has a bigger stick. It's quite another if he has a cave full of nuclear weapons.
The overly diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder is my biggest problem with psychology. Children who do not want to do their homework have a disorder and need medication. This common practice supports the central myths of modern child psychology:
  1. Children should turn out like their parents.
  2. Clinical psychology can make this happen.
Neither of these claims is true. If children were supposed to turn out like their parents, this would contradict evolution and childbearing wouldn't exist (because nature doesn't waste anything). And if clinical psychology could make it happen, there would be some evidence (there isn't any).
I was diagnosed with ADD at an early age and seemed to be cured in 9th or 10th grade, with no medication or therapy. My ADD turned out to be boredom and lack of motivation. Boredom and lack of motivation are rational responses to a common, stultifying childhood experience that doesn't reinforce the outlook or goals of parents, consequently it doesn't appear in the DSM. By the way, have you come across post-traumatic slavery syndrome? I just read up on it. It's very likely a craven exploitation of racism (the latter is real enough) and supports the practice of turning everything into a psychological diagnosis. Its a new disorder that is making its was into the DSM. Of course! Apparently, slave anxiety is something that can be passed from generation to generation. It's a perfect malady for modern clinical psychology — it panders to white guilt over past and present mistreatment of black people, it's a condition without an objective diagnosis, it requires perpetual treatments, and there are no criteria to identify a cure. And it sells lots of books. I can't wait to see the symptoms that describe this one. A pronounced tendency to wander into a bookstore, browse, and come out a believer? An unwillingness to ridicule the idea for fear of being branded a racist? In case you think the latter fear isn't realistic, once I gave a talk about overpopulation and a member of the audience tried to dismiss me as "anti-child." You may have already answered this in "On Believing", but how does one argue against the mover unmoved theory? This is the only point I have trouble with when arguing with religious people. I was initially going to say I'm not interested in the speculations of someone who believed women to be inferior because they have fewer teeth (e.g. Aristotle, false, and false). But that would be arguing against the source rather than the evidence, a common logical error.

Aristotle's "mover unmoved" idea argues that all motion must have an origin, something later called the "primum mobile" (prime mover). Later writers took this unresolvable question as proof of God.

There are three problems with this class of question. The first is there are innate limitations to every logical system, questions that can't be meaningfully answered within that system (this follows from Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems).

Second, arguing this way about a "primum mobile" is like arguing that stationary objects are stationary because they were brought to rest by a "primum stationarius," perhaps a slothful deity (the false hidden assumption is that motion is unnatural and requires a source, but being stationary is natural and requires no source). But all such questions fail by self-reference, and because they cannot be meaningfully answered, they become a playground for philosophers, people who prefer speaking and writing to thinking.

The third problem is that it poses an unanswerable question, discovers there is no easy answer, then leaps to the conclusion that it represents proof of God. But anything can be used to "prove" God, in part because disproof is impossible.

The "primum mobile" question is like the most commonly heard of Zeno's Paradoxes, the idea that you can never get from A to B, because first you must cover half the distance, then you must cover half the remaining distance, ad infinitum. But Zeno's Paradox doesn't prevent one from traveling from A to B, it only comes up in thinking about traveling from A to B, and if the ancients understood the mathematical concept of a limit, the problem would have been seen as trivial:
While actually traveling along Zeno's path from A to B, each new step requires half the time of the prior step, so the paradox changes nothing. But while thinking about the trip, each new step requires the same amount of time, consequently the mental trip never ends. This means Zeno's Paradox isn't a paradox of travel, it's only a paradox of thought, and a similar analysis applies to "primum mobile".
 
Psychology as a Career
I enjoyed reading your articles about psychology, even though they may have turned my world upside down. (In fact, perhaps that's why I enjoyed them!) In that case, I'm glad you happened upon my site. I'm currently a computer programmer who has decided to change careers and become a clinical psychologist (and in fact just starting to go back to undergraduate school for it). Wow — computer science must be in worse shape than I thought for this career change to seem attractive. Computer science has been rather nice to me, but I guess I should be aware of changing times. Now, after reading some of the things you've written I have some pretty strong doubts about doing this. I'm not sure I'd like to be involved in years of study with something that isn't a science. Clinical psychology isn't just unscientific, it is infested with a number of outright frauds and cheats, people who prey on the naïve and weak-minded. This shouldn't be taken as a blanket condemnation of all clinical psychologists — to paraphrase a Henry Kissinger remark about politicians, 90% of clinical psychologists give the other 10% a bad name.

To make a realistic assessment of clinical psychology, it may help to read the ridiculous defenses of the field posted to my message boards by practicing psychologists [including some on this page].
My question to you is: What would you offer as general advice to psychology students who have realized this? For example, do you think they should enter the field anyway but try to improve it from within? There is a lot of inertia within clinical psychology, forces that will try to keep it going in the same direction with the same momentum. American Psychological Association President Ronald Levant has recently begun advocating a change to evidence-based practice, but it must be emphasized that this is a proposal, not a reality, and Levant is encountering much resistance from within his own ranks.

Basically, if psychology were scientific, theoretical psychologists could tell clinical psychologists which practices aren't effective, and they could stop any practices not supported by scientific research — this is how mainstream medicine works to assure public safety. But this simply isn't true about psychology, and it won't become true any time soon. Clinical psychologists can do virtually anything to their clients without a realistic expectation of censure.

As to leadership within the field, consider the example of Harvard psychology professor John Mack's decision to accept the accounts of "alien abductees" at face value. The hidden message of this example is that, when scientific standards are abandoned, anything goes.
It seems a bit hopeless when I think about it: the ethical problems we encounter with testing along with the difficulties in falsifiability make psychology's steps toward becoming a science very difficult. Mainstream medicine did it, after throwing out the trash and starting over between about 1890 and 1935. This process hasn't even begun in psychology, but there is increasing pressure from many quarters that recognize current psychological practice for what it is. Thanks very much for your great articles! You are welcome. With all its defects, at least computer science deals with reality.
You are Mistaken I
The author writes from the psychology department of a prestigious Ivy League university.
You clearly have a correct understanding of what science is and what a field of inquiry must do in order to legitimately call itself a science. Your emphasis on falsification is absolutely spot on. So on these points, we agree. However, modern day psychology is a legitimate science by your own definitions, and it is for this reason that I think you should remove the article "Is Psychology a Science" from your website on the grounds that your central argument that psychology is not a science is clearly wrong.

Here are your diagnostic questions for whether or not a field of inquiry should be considered scientific:
  1. Does research address and potentially falsify one or more core theories that define the field?
  2. Does research honor the null hypothesis?
  3. Does research have the potential to change how the field is practiced?
Your implication is that if a field of inquiry can respond positively to these three questions, then that field of inquiry is in fact a science. The answer to each of these questions is "yes" for modern day psychology.
This is false. You have asserted something without any effort to provide evidence for your assertions, which makes your argument self-referential.

In the 1960s the American Psychological Association (APA) reluctantly published a study they had funded entitled "Psychology: A Study Of a Science" (Koch, S. (Ed.). (1959-1963). New York: McGraw-Hill). In spite of the source of the study and the great care taken in its preparation, the authors were forced to the conclusion that psychology is not a science. They authors summarized their findings this way:
"The hope of a psychological science became indistinguishable from the fact of psychological science. The entire subsequent history of psychology can be seen as a ritualistic endeavor to emulate the forms of science in order to sustain the delusion that it already is a science."

"The truth is that psychological statements which describe human behavior or which report results from tested research can be scientific. However, when there is a move from describing human behavior to explaining it there is also a move from science to opinion."
Since that study was published the APA has wisely avoided taking any official position on the topic of psychology's scientific standing. But some courageous psychologists have tried to move psychology toward an evidence-based approach, like former APA president Ronald Levant, who advocated such a change until he was voted out of office.

A quote from Dr. Levant's defense:
"Some APA members have asked me why I have chosen to sponsor an APA Presidential Initiative on Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) in Psychology, expressing fears that the results might be used against psychologists by managed-care companies and malpractice lawyers."
In his article Dr. Levant aptly summarizes the problem — tradition colliding with science. Clinical psychologists had the options of cleaning their own house or voting Dr. Levant out of office — they chose the latter.

In a recent tragic case of belief overruling science, a man was charged with sexual abuse, arrested and jailed after an egregiously unscientific psychological practice known as "Facilitated Communication" (FC) went terribly wrong.

The error in this case was that legal authorities made the mistake of thinking psychology is a science, and treated the "results" of FC as though they constituted legal evidence. Within days, however, the unscientific nature of FC became apparent, the accusation was exposed as a fantasy, and an innocent man was released from prison — but not before permanent and incalculable harm was done to a family.

The point of the above example is that some rudimentary experiments were performed only after a man was falsely arrested and imprisoned. The tests showed that the "facilitator" was the source of the false abuse claims, not the supposed victim. And this and prior results that show FC to be a fraud have had no effect on its practice — its advocates are not swayed by the contradicting evidence, nor are they willing to subject their favorite "facilitators" to the simple test that freed an innocent man.
Research in all of its major branches regularly meets these three standards. This is false. As just one example, assumptions are regularly presumed true until proven false, and very few are ever proven false — current examples include Recovered Memory Therapy and FC, practices that regularly destroy lives and families. And psychological research has no measurable effect on psychological practice. The third is the easiest one to meet because even research in a non-scientific field like literary criticism has the potential to change how the field is practiced. Psychology is no different. Literary criticism is not remotely a science, and your describing psychology as "no different" speaks for itself. In any case, you misread the article — the clear meaning of point (3) is that scientific research must be able to force changes in how a field is practiced (e.g. clinical psychology). This virtually never happens in psychology. Psychology is composed of 6 major fields: behavioral neuroscience, clinical, cognitive, developmental, evolutionary and social. Clinical psychology is perhaps the worst of the bunch in that large swaths of research fail to be falsifiable. How have you missed the point that scientific fields must be unified by tested, falsifiable theories, a point clearly made in my article? Clinical psychology cannot exist in a world separate from psychological research, any more than electrical and mechanical engineering can exist apart from theoretical physics, the source of their legitimacy.

If medical clinical practice existed in a world apart from medical research, this would define medicine as unscientific, since no benefit from medical research could have any effect on clinical practice, and (very important) medicine is a single discipline, not an extended family. But psychology is exactly as described above — it is an "extended family" with many separate disciplines and no unifying threads between theory and practice, and it is therefore not scientific on the ground that scientific fields must be unified by scientific theories and research.
About 50% of research in social psychology meets this standard. But I would estimate that about 99% of research in behavioral neuroscience, cognitive, developmental, and evolutionary psychology is clearly falsifiable. If your assertion were true, psychological research would prevent unscientific treatments in clinical psychology, just as medical research prevents unscientific treatments in medical clinics. But your claim is very clearly false — no amount of psychological research seems able to prevent dangerous and utterly unscientific clinical practices from taking hold.

Because your assertion is false, FC has not been systematically studied or falsified. Recovered Memory Therapy, whose falsely imprisoned victims have now been released from prison by the legal system, is still practiced and has yet to be falsified or even systematically studied.

At the end of the tragic and embarrassing Recovered Memory Therapy fiasco during the 1990s, courts reluctantly ruled that no further cases would be heard in which recovered memories were the primary evidence. This ruling meant that even lawyers, people who can be persuaded to believe anything, were no longer willing to suffer the burden of psychology's scientific conceits.

In a scientific exchange, critics answer evidence with evidence. In your message you present no evidence to contradict the copious evidence that psychology is not a science, you misstate the content of my article, then you say, "I think you should remove the article 'Is Psychology a Science' from your website on the grounds that your central argument that psychology is not a science is clearly wrong" (emphasis supplied). Under the same circumstances a scientist would say, "Thank you for publishing your article. Here is the evidence that refutes your evidence ...". But this is not how psychology answers its critics.

If my position is clearly wrong, you should be able to present evidence to that effect, but you don't seem able to do that, for the reason that psychology is not a science, as freely acknowledged by psychologists themselves in comprehensive studies. If my position is clearly wrong, you should be happy to see the publication of such an article, which would represent an opportunity for you to show your understanding of the rules of scientific evidence and of scientific debate.

But you haven't done that. Instead, you have advocated scientific censorship, which, if you were scientifically trained, you would recognize as a contradiction in terms.
You are Mistaken II
There was a length limit on your message board. The second part of my message addressed most of your concerns. No, actually, it didn't. Had you read my article more carefully, you would have noticed that the presence of research within a discipline cannot by itself confer a scientific status to the field, a point I make with an example from Astrology. For research to confer scientific status, it must address and potentially falsify core theories that define the field. The research you cite doesn't do that. In particular, I give a detailed example of truly scientific work in psychology which I think is representative of the field as a whole. Your claim about the research you quote doesn't survive close inspection. To see the point, you would need to compare psychology to genuinely scientific fields.

Does the research you quote relate, directly or indirectly, to Recovered Memory Therapy? Answer: no. Is clinical psychology regarded as a branch of human psychology? Answer: yes. What does this mean? It means the term "psychology" has no agreed definition within the field. Theoretical psychologists disparage clinical psychologists, while clinical psychologists ignore theoretical psychologists. Both theoretical and clinical psychologists would like to claim that psychology is scientific, but as a minimum that status would require that the field be unified by theory and practice (more is needed, but this is a basic requirement).

Contrast the above with physics. If while repairing an airplane I purchase a bolt that holds a wing onto an airframe, I need to be sure that the bolt can meet the specified loads. That specification depends on aeronautics, which depends on basic physical laws having to do with gravitation and the properties of materials. If I choose the wrong bolt and it fails, I cannot say "caveat emptor", instead I will be held to account for ignoring the theoretical content of the field of aircraft maintenance, which is a proper branch of physics.

Contrast the above with medicine. If I administer a treatment that is inappropriate to a patient's condition, I might be sued for malpractice or have my medical license revoked for failing to pay attention to the connection between medical practice and medical theory. In point of fact, the present advanced state of medicine results from the fact that doctors have nearly no behavioral latitude in clinical practice — all their treatments must be validated in advance by research. That research, in turn, is informed by a small core set of theoretical principles that governs all of biology and medicine.

If someone wants to begin a novel treatment in a medical clinic, he must prove in advance that it is both safe and efficacious. The scientific proof must precede the first application of the treatment, and there must be a clear distinction between research and therapy. In psychology by contrast, any treatment may be applied, with no preconditions, and there is no meaningful distinction between research and therapy. If the treatment proves ineffective or dangerous, individual psychologists my be sued, but this will have little effect on the treatment's presence in (and advocacy by) psychological clinics. The proof that this is the case is shown by both Recovered Memory Therapy and Facilitated Communication, both of which have been demonstrated to be either ineffective, fantasies or outright fraud, and both of which are still offered by clinical psychologists.

The theories behind these bogus practices do not refer to a central core of psychological theory, and the research you quote does not refer to a central core of psychological theory, for the reason that there is no central core of psychological theory that unifies all psychological disciplines.

There is no clinical medicine that treats people while ignoring the content of theoretical medicine. There is no clinical biology that treats living organisms while ignoring the content of theoretical biology. There is no clinical physics (engineering) that builds bridges and airplanes while ignoring the content of theoretical physics. But there is a clinical psychology that treats clients while ignoring the content of theoretical psychology. On that basis and many others, psychology is not scientific.

Physics is defined by a surprisingly small set of theories, each of which has been exhaustively tested and found to be valid, and all of which are open to falsification in perpetuity. Biology is defined by a similarly small set of theories, and anyone able to show an exception to those theories is very likely to win fame and a Nobel.

In psychology, by contrast, research regularly contradicts other research in the same or another subfield without anyone noticing or caring. Evidentiary standards are embarrassingly loose, many studies are performed without even the appearance of experimental discipline, and none of it has any effect on clinical practice.

If scientific discipline were to be suddenly enforced in human psychology, so that every study had to be prospective, double-blind and without the use of surrogate species, and if every study proposal had to say in advance what it expected to discover, the entire field would collapse overnight.

Here is the bottom line — if I say, "psychology is not scientific" and if a psychologist replies, "which psychology are you referring to?", he has only proven my point.
You are Mistaken III
The "field" you are referring to is probably clinical psychology, which is a group of social engineers. Translation: "Clinical psychologists? They're not the real thing!" This is how Southern Baptists sort themselves out, not scientists. When psychology becomes a science, there will be just one "psychology", and law enforcement won't be so confused that they can ruin lives through the illusion of psychological science.

There is something you need to understand. It is by reading messages like yours, from within the field, that I discover how unscientific the field is. If you actually understood science, you would recognize how persuasive your messages are in advocating a viewpoint that is the precise opposite of your own.
In your first email, you cite a study entitled "Psyhology: A Study of Science" by S. Koch which was reluctantly published by the APA in the early 1960's. This article comes to the conclusion that psychology is not a science. At the time of publication, I would probably have agreed with them. And nothing has changed — the field of psychology has not changed in any substantial way. Beliefs still stand in for scientific evidence, to the degree that innocent people are arrested, charged, and jailed based on psychological fantasies. Others are killed through the application of dangerous procedures that have never been evaluated scientifically. But some 50 years later, I still believe that the field as a whole has made great strides and should now be considered a true science on par with physics, biology or chemistry. "I still believe"? At some point you will understand that science relies on evidence, not belief.

Read this article: Dark shadows loom over 'facilitated' talk (MSNBC). This is only one of hundreds of similar incidents in which lives and families have been destroyed by the imagined scientific status of psychology.

When people's lives can no longer be ruined by outright lies that gain temporary credibility through psychology's scientific pretensions, then one small step will have been taken. This won't by itself make psychology a scientific enterprise, but it will represent a significant step forward.

When you have an argument that relies on something more substantial than "I still believe", we can talk again.
Guilt by Association I
Thanks for your wonderful articles. You're welcome. We've corresponded before over your "Is Psychology a Science" and I've revisited some of your articles and have come up with a few questions? I am happy to have a chance to reply to your inquiry. What is the scientific standing of psychopharmacology? It's a branch of medicine and therefore is scientific by extension, right? No. Fields cannot become scientific by extension unless they share theoretical and evidentiary links with a scientific field. Mechanical engineering is an extension of physics because it depends on physical theories and evidence to guide its activities.

By contrast, neurophysiology and psychopharmacology, branches of medicine, are not branches of psychology because they do not share a theoretical foundation with psychology.
You mention on your feedback page to "On Being Perfect" under the heading "You're the real narcissist!" that psychiatry isn`t a science, but if psychopharmacology is a science and is used in the practice of psychology, doesn`t that make psychiatry part scientific? No, for this reason — if I perform a study of Astrology and all my methods are scientific, it still cannot confer a scientific status to Astrology unless it tests Astrology's theories. For example, within my article "Is Psychology a Science?" I created an example Astrology study. In the study I produce a scientifically valid result about Astrology, but even though the study tells us something about Astrology, it doesn't address Astrology's theories, therefore it cannot confer a scientific status to Astrology itself.

In the same way, psychopharmacology may be used to treat psychology's clients, but unless and until those treatments are understood, explained and the explanation is based on psychological theories, it cannot confer a scientific status to psychology.

We know that some psychoactive drugs have certain effects, but we don't clearly understand why they work. And if we did clearly understand why (for example) lithium can alleviate certain psychological conditions, those ideas wouldn't address falsifiable psychological theories in any rigorous way. The reason? Psychopharmacology properly belongs to neurophysiology, not psychology. Neurophysiology is a study of the biological entity called the brain, but psychology's subject area is the "mind" — there is little common ground, and as to theory, none at all.
Also, you've mentioned that a surefire way to rule out the scientific standing of a field is to recognize that there doesn't exist a theoritical core from which all other theories in the field are derivatives. What is this theortical core in medicine? That is, what make medicine a science as opposed to a collection of facts? Medicine depends on biology for its validation. If a treatment is to be applied in a clinical setting, it must first be shown to be effective, and we also must know why it is effective. This validation process relies on well-established biological theories. Finally, you assert that psychology is on the same footing as religion and astrology, but doesn't psychology at least offer accurate descriptions of human behaviour? But describing is not explaining. In a classic, comprehensive study from the 1960s, the American Psychological Association (APA) reluctantly came to the conclusion that psychology is not scientific on the ground that it can only describe, it cannot explain. The study came to this conclusion:
"The truth is that psychological statements which describe human behavior or which report results from tested research can be scientific. However, when there is a move from describing human behavior to explaining it there is also a move from science to opinion."

"The hope of a psychological science became indistinguishable from the fact of psychological science. The entire subsequent history of psychology can be seen as a ritualistic endeavor to emulate the forms of science in order to sustain the delusion that it already is a science."
Since then the APA has wisely not revisited this study or its conclusions, for the reason that nothing has changed. And believe me when I tell you, because of what is at stake, the APA certainly would revisit this topic if there was any chance to come to a different conclusion.
Religion and astrology offer nothing but bizarre explanations for our foibles. Psychology doesn't seem to do that. Say what? Have you studied "Recovered Memory Therapy" and "Facilitated Communication"? These are two examples of truly bizarre explanations, they are utterly unscientific, both practices have many victims, and their continued practice proves that psychology is not scientific (for lack of evidence, both would be illegal in medicine). So while on scientific grounds it may be said that psychology is as equally ludicrous as religion and astrology, on common sense grounds, doesn't it make to say that it isn't? I would have replied to this sentence, but I cannot decode it. Sorry.
Guilt by Association II
By contrast, neurophysiology and psychopharmacology are not branches of psychology because they do not share a theoretical foundation.


But psychopharmacology shares a theoretical foundation with medicine, making it a science, right? (as per the original question; not sure why you invoked psychology here)
Because the question is whether psychology is a science. Also, you brought this connection up immediately afterward in your prior post:
if psychopharmacology is a science and is used in the practice of psychology, doesn't that make psychiatry part scientific?
No, any more than a scientific study of Astrology makes Astrology scientific by osmosis. What about the administration of lithium to treat bipolar disorder then? We don't know why it's effective but a certified clinician has the ability to prescribe it. That was my point — we don't have any idea why it works. That's not science. The fact that a clinician prescribes it makes no difference — it's not based in science. And what about other psychoactive drugs? Take antidepressants, for instance... Is there a clear understanding for why antidepressants work? (or would you dispute the claim that they in fact work at all?) Same answer — these treatments cannot make psychology scientific, because we have no idea why they work. And if we did know why they worked, in order for that to make psychology scientific, the explanation would have to relate to a central, falsifiable psychological theory. But there is no central, falsifiable psychological theory.

As Nobel Prizewinner Richard Feynman explained in his article "Cargo Cult Science," there is more to science than going through the motions, wearing white lab coats, carrying clipboards around. Scientists must shape theories based on experiments, then test the theories and be willing to abandon them if further experiments do not support them.

Scientific fields are defined and circumscribed by their theories and the evidence for those theories. If the theories cannot be tested, or if the tests fail, the field has no scientific standing. So it has been with Astrology, Alchemy and any number of other bogus fields, all abandoned for cause.

But as to psychology, even though there are no rigorous scientific standards present, and no solid, repeatable evidence to justify clinical treatments, we continue to pretend it is a science, even in the face of people being falsely charged with terrible crimes and thrown in jail, lives ruined, or simply killed outright by stupid, unscientific practices.
 

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