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Inappropriate Title
Another psychologist weighs in on science and psychology.

Copyright © 2008, Paul LutusMessage Page

Inappropriate Title I | Inappropriate Title II | Inappropriate Title III | Inappropriate Title IV

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Inappropriate Title I

I think it would be most appropriate for you to change the title of this forum. To ask "Is Psychology a science," is far too vague for any reasonable outcome in your argument. Not at all. Is physics a science? Does the scientific standing of physics depend on how many specialties exist within it? Currently, the APA has 53 divisions of "psychology," each of which has, itself, many subdivions. Sort of like religion. You have made an attempt to specify your field of interest:

"...students of psychology are cautioned that the terms "psychology" and "clinical psychology" are used interchangeably."
Yes, and this is irrelevant to the matter under discussion, since no part of a field can be scientific in isolation. Do you understand why? Let's say I try to make astrology scientific by conducting a study within astrology but one that doesn't address the basic theories of astrology. Does my study make astrology scientific? Of course not. For that to be true, it would have to address the theoretical basis of astrology, and the consequences of an experimental failure would have to be abandonment of one or more astrological theories. But this never, ever happens in astrology.

In the same way, for psychology to be regarded as scientific, research in psychology would have to meaningfully address the core theories of psychology, and the consequences of a failed experiment would have to be abandonment of one or more psychological theories. But this never, ever happens in psychology.

Walter Freeman popularized lobotomy among U.S. psychologists using — research and evidence? No, he did it with persuasion. Freeman performed about 3500 lobotomies over the years, and no one ever asked, "Where's the research to justify this practice?" Lobotomy is now looked on as one of the darker chapters in the history of human psychology, and one of the clearest examples of the absence of scientific standards.
But still, perhaps it would be most beneficial if you wrote, as your title "Is clinical psychology science?" otherwise the title is quite misleading. It is not at all misleading, and here is why. If theoretical psychology were scientific, it would be able to tell clinical psychologists which practices are supported by evidence, and which are not, in the same way that theoretical physics tells mechanical engineers which kinds of bridge designs are safe and which are not.

But, unlike physics, psychology isn't a science, and consequently theoretical psychology can offer no guidance whatsoever to clinical psychology. Therefore it is perfectly appropriate to ask the question in the most general way, just as for physics, biology and mainstream medicine.
It would be like writing, as a title:

"Is Physics a Science?"
That is exactly right, and the question is easy to answer in both cases, for the same reason — a field is either unified by rigorously tested theory and evidence, or it isn't. This unification is present in physics, and it is absent in psychology. In the same way, the title you have chosen is not at all reflective of your argument, nor would this hypothetical title (that I have created) be reflective of arguing whether physics is a science. The title is perfectly appropriate. Because physics is a science, theoretical physics can tell mechanical engineers which techniques are effective. Because psychology is not a science, psychological researchers cannot tell clinical psychologists which techniques are effective.

And to argue that theoretical psychology should be regarded as separate from clinical psychology is to acknowledge that psychology isn't a science — in the same way that an unbridgeable chasm between theoretical and practical physics would indict the entire field.
Moreover, why do you only caution students of psychology? Because practicing psychologists already understand and accept my point. Because professionals like APA president Ronald Levant make the same point I am making. If anything, these would, seemingly, be the people with the best understanding of the differences between "Psychology," as a poorly defined field with few if any links between its many branches. That is true, and it is part of the explanation for the unscientific standing of psychology. Scientific fields are by definition unified by a common body of theory — in physics, it's called the "standard model".

Psychology is divided as it is because it doesn't have a unifying body of theory that can be tested by researchers and then used to govern the behavior of clinicians. Consequently, clinical psychologists are free to do absolutely anything. This isn't true in physics and it isn't true in mainstream medicine. The reason? Physics and mainstream medicine are sciences — guided by theory and evidence.
If anything, I advise that you inform the general public, those without an understanding of the vast differences in the branches of psychology, As long as the differences between fields of psychology remain vast, the distance between all of them and science will remain similarly vast. Therapists legitimize their clients' fantasy recollections as "recovered memories" while researchers in distant parts of psychology cannot find any support for this idea — but it doesn't matter. The researchers don't expect to be able to control the clinicians, and the clinicians don't care that their practice has no basis in reality. about what you specifically mean: You are not asking if "Psychology is a science," for some of its branches clearly are; you are asking if "Clinical psychology is a science." On the contrary, I am asking exactly what the title says. It's a rhetorical question whose answer applies to the entire field.

You clearly haven't considered the implications of your position. If theoretical and clinical psychology were sufficiently independent to justify separate scientific classifications, they would be independent fields. But they are dependent — bound together by a common subject: human psychology. Unfortunately, they are not bound together by a common body of theory that can survive rigorous test and govern the behavior of clinicians. As a result, human psychology isn't scientific, and there is no need to take a roll call.

Inappropriate Title II

You have argued (primarily in responses to respondents) that no areas of psychology are scientific. Indeed I have, for the reason that a field either is or is not scientific as a unit, and cannot be partitioned as you are trying to do. However, you do not provide sufficient data or evidence to fulfill this argument; The burden of evidence isn't mine. I don't have to (and cannot) prove a negative, instead psychology bears the burden to show that it is a science. If you had taken a few science courses during your education, you would already know this.

At the moment, copious evidence stands against psychology as a science.
to claim that 1 of 53 branches of psychology (clinical psychology) is not a science may prove fairly easy compared to claiming that all 53 unique branches are not sciences. You have missed the point that genuinely scientific fields are unified by a common corpus of theory, and this is essential to their scientific standing. There cannot be 53 "unique branches" of a scientific field under a single name. Either they are unified by a common core of theory, or they are independent, separate fields. One or the other.

Do you suppose that a field within biology can claim to be a science while simultaneously denying the core theory behind heredity and DNA? They might want to throw that idea out, but they must first address it, and if they succeed in throwing it out, the result affects all of biology. In this way all biological fields are unified by referencing the same core theories.

Psychology doesn't work this way. The reason it doesn't is because there are no core theories whose falsification would cause the field to be overhauled or abandoned, but this is a requirement for a field to be regarded as a science.
For this, you will need to thoroughly inform yourself on the experiments in all of these fields, no easy chore, not even for someone who studies psychological experiments for a living. If the experiments don't all address some aspect of a central, unifying corpus of theory as is true in physics, chemistry, biology and mainstream medicine, then the field isn't scientific and the details are irrelevant. Moreover, your argument is synecdoche [a blurring of general and specific terms] Not if psychology expects to be looked on as a single scientific discipline. If this is true, if psychology is a single discipline, then there will be a core theory to which all psychological research and practice refers, a condition met by all other scientific fields.

Your "synecdoche" objection essentially says I don't have the right to refer to a part of psychology as though it represents the entire field. Don't you understand that this argument is fatal, that you cannot cut psychology into pieces without also killing it?
and you create a straw man in attempts to demonstrate that no psychology is scientific. The phrase "demonstrate that no psychology is scientific" attempts to pluralize the word "psychology." But psychology, if it is a science, is a single science with a single theoretical core, in the same way that physics is, and biology is, etc. etc.. I think I may vomit if I have to, one more time, read about your view on recovered memories, Why are psychologists so emotional? Is that a job requirement? The scientific standing of psychology must be determined with a complete absence of emotion, for the reason that the presence of emotion destroys the objectivity on which science depends.

Also, while we're on the topic of non-topical matters, why aren't you similarly outraged by Ronald Levant (president of the APA), whose view on this issue is the same as mine?
and the useless way in which you use this one part of a bad branch of psychology for your argument. Scientific fields don't have "bad branches," or if they do, the bad branches threaten the integrity of the whole. It's not possible to argue that psychology is a science while one of its components is broken, any more than one can argue that an aircraft is airworthy while one of its wings is broken. WE GET IT PAUL, RECOVERED MEMORIES ARE NOT SCIENTIFIC - WHAT IN GOD'S NAME DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY? Everything. Tell me the date on which theoretical psychologists forced a stop to any of recovered memory therapy/attachment therapy/facilitated communication on the basis of evidence (or lack thereof). Do you fully appreciate what it means that this did not happen? It means that psychology is not unified by scientific discipline, as physics is, as biology is, as chemistry is, etc etc..

To put this in terms you will understand, the unchallenged presence of recovered memory therapy and other similar practices within psychology means that psychology is not a scientific field. If you want to argue that clinical psychology isn't really psychology, then clinical psychologists (who regularly claim to be scientists) are taking money from people on false pretenses.

Psychology must either:
  1. Eject present clinical psychology and forbid its practice.
  2. Reform clinical psychology to adopt scientific methods.
Either of these choices will completely destroy present clinical practice. And the delaying of any decision means all of psychology continues to live in a pseudo-scientific limbo.
For fun, shall we discuss dark matter, black holes, quantum superposition, "free" energy, or other bogus areas of physics and them claim: "Ah ha! you see? Physics is not a science because a part of it is not scientific." You clearly do not understand the distinction between hypothesis and theory, and you are the second psychologist this week I've had this exact discussion with. Unlike in psychology, physical hypotheses are not turned into therapies. Shall I tell you how many clients have died because someone took a physics hypothesis as fact and applied it in a clinical setting? For contrast, shall I tell you how many of psychology's clients have died because of the application of untested, unscientific ideas? If you attempt to refute this latter claim (that none of these phenomena/experiments are scientific according to the criteria you've laid out), Couldn't you have the courtesy to read where I have already answered this exact inquiry? The answer is that much of physics is hypothesis, not theory. A hypothesis is an idea for which there is no evidence. A theory is an idea for which there is some evidence. Not everything in science is formal theory, but this doesn't diminish its usefulness [click here for a more complete explanation]. This is science 101, a course you somehow managed to skip. please demonstrate to me how we can explain dark matter, how we can falsify our assumptions regarding the characteristics of black holes, how we can explain particles changing their nature based on whether they are observed. Science clearly distinguishes between hypothesis and theory, and never applies hypotheses in a way that might hurt someone. Psychology doesn't understand this distinction and regularly applies ideas that have no basis in reality.

I am sure the fact that you don't understand the difference between hypothesis and theory is entirely coincidental to your standing in the world of psychology.
Shall we touch on cosmology? We can, apparently, describe how the universe formed in the first 0.000000000000000000000000000000001 of a second. I have yet to see the evidence for this one; And there isn't any, and no one claims this idea represents a scientific theory, and no one is subjected to it in a clinical setting. Perhaps you could provide some. However, be sure that it's falsifiable, that there is a control group, random assignment, predictive power etc. Why aren't the rudiments of science taught in psychology? I cannot tell you how many psychologists I've had this exact conversation with over the years, with this approximate summary: "Okay, people sometimes die at the hands of clinical psychologists — but Dark Energy isn't scientific! So there!"

Dark Energy isn't a therapy. People don't have to choose between Dark Energy and penicillin.

Inappropriate Title III

In one conversation you had with a poster, you claimed a study to be useless because it was retrospective in nature; the irony in this, given cosmological theories, is overwhelming. This is astonishing. Physicists don't have clients. If a physicist claims the universe began in a cataclysmic explosion, no one dies because the idea is unsupported or wrong. By contrast, if a therapist thinks "rebirthing therapy" has merit, someone might have to die to prove him wrong (and someone has died).

Because of a series of defects in your education, you are blissfully unaware of the distinction between hypothesis and theory. Hypotheses are very useful and no educated person confuses them with theories. Einstein's relativity theories were just hypotheses from 1905 until the 1960s, at which time they were adequately supported by evidence to become theories. Other scientific hypotheses end up proven wrong, but none of them become therapeutic practice while in limbo.

In psychology, by contrast, Walter Freeman was able to travel around the country in his "lobotomobile," performing 3500 lobotomies with the coöperation and active participation of countless psychologists, without any realistic effort of assess the practice on its merits, and with tragic consequences.
If you would like, I could easily make an argument just as shabby as yours Try putting forth an argument that springs from something other than your personal feelings. Try using evidence rather than empty rhetoric. Try finding a case where theoretical psychology forced a halt to a brainless or dangerous clinical practice (this has never happened). (I could give your straw man a physics-friend), and perhaps this will reveal to you the problems that you have made in your argument. I'm still waiting for an argument that springs from something other than your ignorance and personal feelings. You have yet to quote a single item of evidence for your position. In the meantime, you've told me how angry you are, you've said you want to vomit if you hear about "recovered memory therapy" one more time. But years after the last judge cast out the last bogus recovered memory therapy case, freed its victims and ruled that the U.S. court system will no longer hear any more such cases, recovered memory therapy is still practiced. The reason? Psychology isn't a science — there's no meaningful correlation between theory and practice.

Don't you realize what recovered memory therapy tells us about psychology? Consider these points:
  1. Theoretical psychologists don't have any influence over clinical psychologists.
  2. This is true because evidence (or a lack of evidence) is not compelling on the behavior of clinical psychologists.
  3. This is true because psychology is not a single field with a single system of theories to which all professional work refers.
  4. Instead, as you freely acknowledge, psychology is a fragmented collection of independent pursuits whose only connection is the name "psychology," with few conceptual or theoretical connections.
Contrast this situation with the structure of a science, and any science will do. For example, a biologist may want to challenge and replace a biological theory. To do this, he first needs to learn existing theory. If he then creates a new biological theory or disproves an old one, his result affects the thinking of every practicing biologist, regardless of their specialties, and anyone who ignores new theories and evidence does so at his professional peril.

It is this theoretical unification, this focus on theory and evidence, that unifies biology and makes it a science. It is the absence of this property that identifies psychology as a loose collection of unrelated disciplines. Any of the independent entities might practice some form of science, but in the absence of a common, testable theoretical core, they cannot pretend to be unified by the name "psychology" and nothing else.

Psychologists who don't understand this structural requirement often post here, in essence saying, "psychological research is conducted and published, therefore psychology is a science!" But astrological results are created and published, the individual results are scientific, but this doesn't make astrology a science. The reason? Fields become scientific by agreeing on testable, falsifiable theories, and all work in the field must refer to that theoretical core.

This requirement doesn't demand reverence toward a field's theoretical core — research findings might thoroughly disprove a field's theories, but in doing so they still address the theory.

Psychology doesn't have this property — it is not united by theory. This is why clinical psychologists can do or say absolutely anything. This is why psychology is not a science.

The first step toward a scientific status for psychology would be to control the behavior of clinical psychologists — require them to halt any clinical practice not supported by rigorous research findings. This requirement is already honored in mainstream medicine, because it's the only way to assure public safety.
Otherwise, I highly suggest that, when attempting to claim that not psychology is science, you should use relevant arguments and experiments I have already done that, as have many psychologists over the years. In just one example, the American Psychological Association commissioned a massive six-volume study that was published in 1963, and whose editor (Sigmund Koch) came to these conclusions:
"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."
In case the irony is lost on you, Koch restates my argument, almost word for word.

Things have gradually gotten worse recently and many unscientific practices have taken hold in psychology, to the degree that Ronald Levant, president of the APA, has recently been moved to say:
"The EBP [evidence-based practice] movement in U.S. society is truly a juggernaut, racing to achieve accountability in medicine, psychology, education, public policy and even architecture. The zeitgeist is to require professionals to base their practice to whatever extent possible on evidence. Thus, psychology needs to define EBP in psychology or it will be defined for us. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines."
Levant's point is that responsible agencies are on the verge of denying funding for present therapeutic practices on the ground that they are not based on anything remotely resembling science. His argument is that clinical psychology is losing the public's trust and may soon lose its primary source of income (HMOs and granting agencies).
Make sure, though, not to go on continuing to make logical errors as you have ... Post your evidence, not your opinions. I have quoted the evidence, while you have responded by telling me how you feel about the evidence. I have quoted psychologists who criticize their own field, while you have replied by saying you want to vomit. You'll want to view evidence that contradicts your perspective, I would rely on you to do that, except you can't seem to find any support for your position, consequently you're reduced to telling me how you want to vomit if you hear any more evidence for my position. and you'll want to share it with any people who choose to read this dicussion. I've produced my evidence, while you can't seem to post anything other than a protracted exhibition of scientific ignorance. Oh, that's right, one last thing. The following was copied from your website:

(Paul Lutus):"[At this point my correspondent has acquired a dictionary definition of science. For reasons explained here, this is a mistake.]"

The explanation you've provided states:

"Some words have proper definitions that are not known to the general public, but it is the general public's understanding of words that fills dictionaries. To say this another way, dictionaries don't prescribe, they describe. Dictionaries tell us what people think words mean, even if those notions sometimes make no sense."

However, you then go on to, on many occassions, use wikipedia as a reference for your argument.
And? Wikipedia isn't a dictionary, and you've managed to completely miss the sense of the above quotation. Wikipedia's stated purpose is to describe things as they are, with various degrees of success and some errors (true for all encyclopedias). But a dictionary is designed to reveal what people think words mean, rather than defining the words. There is no basis for comparison.

In any case, when I quote psychologists directly, you don't seem to notice. When I quote a psychologist whose words happen to be located in Wikipedia, you object on specious grounds to the source. Your argument isn't about evidence, it's about the source of the evidence, a common logical error.
If you cannot see the irony in this, than I suppose there is not point in attempting to explain it to you. During this exchange you haven't quoted anything but your own emotionally derived opinions. I have quoted any number of sources that would be described as "authoritative" if only psychology were a self-respecting science.

One of the bogus rhetorical devices used by psychologists is to demand that evidence come from within psychology. This is like demanding that all evidence against astrology come directly from the mouths of astrologers. But when the evidence does come from within psychology, the objection shifts to the immediate source of the quotation, e.g. Wikipedia. But what psychologists never do is evaluate the evidence itself.

The reason I post these lengthy, brainless exchanges with psychologists is because I couldn't possibly craft a more eloquent argument against present psychological training and practice than to simply reveal how psychologists try to defend their own field, word for word:

"I think I may vomit if I have to, one more time, read about your view on recovered memories ..."

Perfect. I couldn't invent someone like you.

Inappropriate Title IV

You: "Couldn't you have the courtesy to read where I have already answered this exact inquiry? The answer is that much of physics is hypothesis, not theory. A hypothesis is an idea for which there is no evidence. A theory is an idea for which there is some evidence. This is science 101, a course you somehow managed to skip."

Me: Since I know you're such a fan of textbook definitions, read the following, which has been derived from a physics textbook
Post your source, something I have done for each and every case where I quote evidence. Hypothesis: a proposition that follows logically from a theory; also, a prediction regadarding [sic] the outcome of a study.
  1. Since you misspelled one of the words, it seems you carelessly transcribed this from a book. Please (a) quote your source, and (b) consider updating your research skills and finding an online reference to the same quotation so its context can be evaluated.
  2. I invite you to tell me which part of this textbook definition you didn't understand. A hypothesis isn't a theory because it has no supporting evidence, but it may follow logically from a theory that is supported by evidence. Couldn't you have tried to read and understand the quote before posting it?
Here is what I said:

"A hypothesis is an idea for which there is no evidence. A theory is an idea for which there is some evidence."

Locate the contradiction.
Theory: a set of propositions that attempt to specify the interrelationships among a set of concepts. The definition you have chosen defines "theory," but it doesn't define "scientific theory" and it doesn't address the role of evidence. Do you seriously think that a partial definition contradictions a complete one? And once again you failed to identify your source. More on this topic here:

Criterion for Scientific Status (Wikipedia)
Now, Mr Lutus, you must do one of three things in response to this ... In response to what? Do you actually think a definition of "theory" can meaningfully stand in for a definition of "scientific theory"? 1) open a textbook for definitions, don't just make your own up (have some courtesy, won't you?) Done, see the above link. 2) Accept that you were wrong (that'll be the day). In fact, this happens all the time, just not in debates with psychologists. 3) Claim that these definitions are invalid, and that your definitions are much more valid; we should go by what you say, not what's written in a physics text. I wouldn't dream of doing that. I only need to point out that you didn't understand the definition you chose. Your choice of definition supports my view, not yours. One last thing, moron. This is a form of argument I've come to expect from psychologists. "This is science 101, a course you somehow managed to skip."

You didn't pass grade 7.
That is true and misleading, because I subsequently acquired an education. It also has no bearing on the evidence I've presented, whose merit is independent of its source. Finally, how does this meaningfully address the point that you don't know much about science? Don't attempt to degrade people in claiming they must've missed a course. It is a simple statement of fact — you don't know much about science. It is only degrading if you think ignorance of science is a defect, and you very clearly don't hold this view or you would do something about it.

What I've noticed in my debates with psychologists is that they will do anything to avoid examining the evidence for or against a proposition, and will instead tell me at great length how they feel about the evidence: "I think I may vomit ...". It happens that clinical psychology runs on the same principles. It also happens that most of my correspondents are clinical psychologists. I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

 

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