The Spawn of Sigmund Fraud

A well-known psychologist in the Netherlands whose work has been published widely in professional journals falsified data and made up entire experiments, an investigating committee has found. Experts say the case exposes deep flaws in the way science is done in a field, psychology, that has only recently earned a fragile respectability……The scandal, involving about a decade of work, is the latest in a string of embarrassments in a field that critics and statisticians say badly needs to overhaul how it treats research results

“The big problem is that the culture is such that researchers spin their work in a way that tells a prettier story than what they really found,” said Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s almost like everyone is on steroids, and to compete you have to take steroids as well.”   — NYTimes

I like the line about psychology having “only recently earned a fragile respectability.”  That’s either cautiously diplomatic or hilariously sarcastic.  There sole distinction between psychology and alchemy is that the latter was discredited centuries ago.  But while it’s nice to see we’re making progress with contemporary pseudoscience, it’s exposure as a dangerous intellectual fraud is ‘way overdue.

There are two problems with psychology as a science.  The first is, it attempts to measure something that can’t be calculated the way scientists demand.  You can’t gauge personality, creativity, character development, mental illness, personal relationships, etc., by wrapping a tape measure around it or stuffing a thermometer up its ass.  The data produced by such testing are at best remotely related to the subjects tested, and applying them to real life circumstances is laughably inadequate when not outright tragic in its consequences.

There are sensible ways to discuss and analyze human behavior and characteristics like these, but psychologists don’t do it.  You’re better off listening to a poet, a bartender, a journalist, or a good friend who knows you.

The second problem is its so-called conclusions are largely unverifiable.  “Mapping the mind” or whatever vapid phrase is in style these days amounts to just that: speculative metaphor.   No such things as “ego,” “Type A personality,” or “motherly instincts” actually exist; these are terms that attempt to describe general or specific behavior as observed, interpreted, and applied for discussion and treatment (read: billing) purposes.  Physical proof is absent.

Unfortunately, the scam has been running for a long time now and shows no inclination to either police itself or evolve into something both useful and meaningful.  Its practitioners are a pathetic lot whose intellectual prowess is a source of amusement for genuine scientists, academicians, and common sense adults who routinely deride the methods and materials of the trade.  Whole lives are ruined and fortunes lost by gullible souls who allow themselves to be sucked in by its snake-oil sales techniques.

At least alchemy laid the groundwork for chemistry.  What will psychology lead to — vaudeville?

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5 Responses to The Spawn of Sigmund Fraud

  1. Beardsley says:

    Unfortunately, the genie is out of the bottle: psychology has become an established money-making enterprise and no amount of criticism, fraud, or exposure will close it down. While this clod will be booted off the island, his colleagues will close ranks and declare him an enigma, an isolated case that in no way condemns the good work and great strides of the profession etc. etc.

    Incidentally, you have it my backwards, my friend. Psychology is an outgrowth of vaudeville, and in my humble opinion, the original was superior both intellectually and in entertainment value.

  2. Libby Rae Shone, Ph.D. says:

    Psychology is the study of human behavior, from which conclusions about human thought and personality are drawn. Given the complexity of the subject matter, imprecisions in measurement are inevitable. While this does not in any way excuse fabrication of data, it doesn’t justify cynically condemning the entire enterprise as you do here.

  3. Odtley says:

    you miss the point because as a patient of many many many many psychologists psychiatrists counselors and etc i know there are only 2 reasons these people are worth while the first is they give people plenty of drugs to keep them from making trouble and the second is they make employment for themelves and money for companies that make those drugs maybe thats 3 reasons ask rick perry haha

  4. Oliver Benson says:

    Shone put it more eloquently than I ever could. Just because there are many unknowns in psychology (as if there aren’t many unknowns in any science) doesn’t make the entire thing a farce. Nor does the fact that there have been practitioners of it who have misused.

    • Beardsley says:

      It is interesting to review this 10-month old post in the light of the recently reported passing of Dr. Thomas Szasz, psychiatrist and author if dozens of books debunking the concept and treatment of mental illness. While I think he overstated his case, I agree with his larger point: and disagree with Drs Shone and Benson (whose comments appear here). It isn’t a case of a generally sound science with occasional areas of doubt and confusion; on the contrary, it’s a terribly constructed artifice of wrong premises and faulty reasoning about which its practitioners quibble endlessly and futilely while practicing experimentally on desperately needy patients. Szasz believed this to his dying day, as do many, many practitioners who have revised their thinking and approach because of him.

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