Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Psychology’s brilliant, beautiful, scientific messiness.

Scientific American   Today, sitting down to my Twitter feed, I saw a new link to Dr. Alex Berezow’s old piece on why psychology cannot call itself a science. The piece itself is over a year old, but seeing it linked again today brought up old, angry feelings that I never had the chance to publicly address when the editorial was first published. Others, like Dave Nussbaum, have already done a good job of dismantling the critiques in this article, but the fact that people are still linking to this piece (and that other pieces, even elsewhere on the SciAm Network, are still echoing these same criticisms) means that one thing apparently cannot be said enough:

Psychology is a science.
Shut up about how it’s not, already.
I clearly cannot just say that without explaining why psychology is a science, although sometimes I wish I could just join the biologists, chemists, and physicists who are never faced with having to answer such questions. So I will start by quoting the main thrust of Dr. Berezow’s argument, and then explaining why the 20-year-olds who take my Intro Social Psych class each semester could have told Berezow why he’s wrong by the end of our first week of class.
Psychology isn’t science.
Why can we definitively say that? Because psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, finally, predictability and testability.
[To claim that psychology] is “science” is inaccurate. Actually, it’s worse than that. It’s an attempt to redefine science. Science, redefined, is no longer the empirical analysis of the natural world; instead, it is any topic that sprinkles a few numbers around. [...]

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