Friday, 20 September 2013

Defending Psychology in the Science Wars: Part 2 - Clone of the Attack

If a science is to have fair play, it is well for it if it does not become popular. […] A popular science, one that is "made easy," is not likely to have much vitality in it. The intension of a science is in the inverse ratio to the extension.
– J.H. Balfour Browne, Esq. (1870)

After my previous post (which immediately became the most "popular" post on my blog), some people noticed this is not a regular science blog and I am not a regular science writer. I had to clarify to some I do not aspire to be one. That is, I have no intention to contribute to popularising science via this blog, because that often means science "made easy" and I like my science vital, with just a little intension to produce maximal extension like Browne (1870).

I said somewhere I should have preregistered my expectations about the responses I would get about my exposé of the Phantom Arguments, this was not really necessary, because it was a Clone of the Attack as I described in the little fictional piece, I'll discuss some of it later on.

(There were also compliments! Thank you, I was hoping you would appreciate at least some of my subtext and meta-sarcasm... or is it irony when sarcasm can be used meta?)

There are other reasons to call this Clone of the Attack, for one I do not want young scientists to become the clones of their supervisors as can be evidenced from their responses to the attacks. I will discuss the roots of the Hard/Soft schism that seems to really get the blood boiling for some. First though, the attack was cloned to another target, the Economists are facing the same allegations... not a science. Their response is not very different from the soft psychologists in terms of phantom arguments.

Clone of the Attack: The Economists

This week's installment of "Academics Saying Dumb Shit in the Times": #andIhateeconomics

The link is to an article about the lack of corroboration by prediction in sciences studying the economy. Ok, I have to mention the tone of tweet is not representative, subsequent responses to a question I asked were more thoughtful and academic :) However, the arguments used in defence of Economy are mostly the same phantom arguments as psychologists use. I received a link to this paper: God Gave Physics the Easy Problems: Adapting Social Science to an Unpredictable World from the Journal of International Relations (more on the possibilities for a "hard" science of international relations and conflict later).
This is just the "physics is easy" argument. The authors say the paper is a plea for humility and they want to overcome physics envy. That's very sensible and all fine with me, but they suggest that the ideas about what makes a field of inquiry a genuine science are based on Newtonian physics and  deductive logic and this is the wrong model to study social phenomena. Yes, but there is no physicist or philosopher of science that forced you to use Newtonian physics as a model. In fact, I believe they would advise against it. The fact that there is a belief in social science that Newtonian causality should be used to understand complex phenomena is "Newton's Curse". The very same I described in my previous post. It apparently also applies to the scientific study of International Relations and Economy.

Moreover, the suggestion that there is a definition, or measure in philosophy of science, or meta-theory (the empirical study of scientific theorising) that is somehow based on a model of Newtonian causality is of course completely false and qualifies as Academics Saying Dumb S.. stuff in scientific journals. The quantum formalism: 1930s, General relativity: 1910s. The great modern philosophers who defined what modern science is, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos based their ideas on modern physics (e.g., Kuhn's interviews with the founding fathers of QM ). Here is Karl Popper reflecting on probability:

"I had always been convinced that the problem of the interpretation of the quantum theory was closely linked with the problem of the interpretation of probability theory in general, and that the Bohr-Heisenberg interpretation was the result of a subjectivist interpretation of probability. My early attempts to base the interpretation of quantum theory upon an objective interpretation of probability (it was the frequency interpretation) had led me to the following results.
(I) The so-called 'problem of the reduction of the wave packet' turns out to be a problem inherent in every probabilistic theory, and creates no special difficulty.
(2) Heisenberg's so-called indeterminacy relations must not be interpreted subjectively, as asserting something about our possible knowledge, or lack of knowledge, but objectively, as scatter-relations. (This removes an asymmetry between p and q which is inherent in Heisenberg's interpretation unless we link it with a phenomenalist or positivist philosophy; see my Logic of Scientific Discovery, p. 451.)
(3) The particles have paths, i.e. momentum and positions, although we cannot predict these, owing to the scatter relations.
(4) This was also the result of the imaginary experiment ('thought- experiment') of Einstein, Podolski, and Rosen.
(5) I also produced an explanation of the interference experiments ('two-slit-experiments'), but I later gave this up as unsatisfactory." Popper (1959, pp. 27-28) 

Very modern. If quantum logic can be a part of "hard" science why not the complex, context sensitive, nonlinear, nested and circular causality studied by the social sciences? My response to the Economists and the International relations scientists who want to use the "physics is easy" argument is the same as my response to the Psychologist, realise that you are saying:
"We are using the wrong tools to study the phenomena we are interested in and we are not planning to work very hard to try and fix it any time soon". 
I'll repeat, if these disciplines are serious about being a more difficult endeavour than physics and serious about being a science, then why don't they teach the methods and tools of quantum physics and general relativity to their undergraduates? That is the kind of formal language and abstract reasoning to depart from when they want to study those complex phenomena. It would be a logical, scientific thing to do: Start learning everything about the scientific methods and tools that made that easy science about dead matter so extremely accurate and successful.

Some authors are more equal than others...

Another thing happened that I expected to be cloned from my post. I complained about disciplines of science in which papers can be rejected because the maths and models are too difficult and expected to receive the very same complaint myself about my post. Several people told me this, some hinted at it by sending a link and one of those was a confession about the phenomenon in economy! Here's an excerpt from the link I was sent:
"What every economist, and for that matter every writer on any subject, needs to realize is that unless you are a powerful person and people are looking for clues about what you’ll do next, nobody has to read what you write — and lecturing them about what they’re missing doesn’t help. You have to provide the hook, the pitch, whatever you want to call it, that pulls them in. It’s part of the job." 
Yes the prophets were terrible authors and I haven't found any hooks or pitches in the Bible, but am deeply annoyed to be lectured all the time on what I am missing.

I thought we were talking about science. Scientists have to read what other scientists write. Scientific papers are not novels and junior scientists should not be selected for tenure based on their communicative skills. In high school, most kids-now-scientist, spent their time practicing other abilities than social skills. This kind of reasoning taken seriously would have probably resulted in discarding each and every one of Einsteins 1905 Miracle Year articles because they weren't pitched right. (as groundbreaking Nobel worthy, legendary contributions to science).

If authors are allowed to ignore parts of the scientific record that may be relevant to their claims, it is no longer a discipline of a science that has as a goal to accumulate veridical knowledge about the structure of reality. It can't have that goal if you can dismiss any article by saying you didn't connect with its message after the first paragraph. Apparently Krugman is a powerful enough person to be allowed to hold this belief and I apparently have to resort to Sesame-street language in the future or be ignored forever. What's next? Social scientists confessing they've never read the old man and the sea (because there are no hooks to be found in that book) so they can ignore the Humanities are a science?

Here is a beautiful description of one of the few cases (in mathematics) in which I could understand a commentary such as Krugman's:

The Paradox of the Proof - By Caroline Chen

Then again Shinichi Mochizuki didn't send in the proof for review if I understand correctly, but mathematicians read and check the things their colleagues' post as working or submitted papers.

Clone of the Attack: Finally Some Evidence for Priming?

I'll be (relatively) short about this, the introduction of my previous post including the short story had a different function than the main part containing the critique of the phantom arguments. Some specific terminology had a function (e.g., "average psychologists" in combination with measurement criticism) as well as choice for a specific style.

 I expected that responses ...
  1. ... would not be calm and erudite (occurred), even though I literally mentioned this is what often happens when you criticise soft psychology.
  2. ... would try to depict me as a member of an outgroup (occurred), even though I am a psychologist myself and even though I described that this is what happens to psychologists who express a non-average psychology opinion in the fictional story. I was even using my own name as the future outcast! 
  3. .... would attack the style (e.g., quality / intelligibility of communication) and ignore the content (occurred) even though I mentioned I consider such a thing unscientific. Or in Meehls words, "intellectually dishonest".
  4. ... would reveal some of my arguments are not understood. (I don't know yet, or does that count as: occurred?)
  5. More commentaries would appear based on arguments (see below) I did not discuss yet in my first post (occurred). But his was of course not due to the previous post, It's just that the there were some phantom arguments left to be used.
  6. ... would accuse me of being rude, making ad hominem attacks (occurred). This was expected because English is not my native tongue and I am Dutch, which can be a dangerous mix. Besides, if I have really been rude, I certainly did not intend to be more rude than the rudeness towards the author of the newspaper article (mentioned by name in all commentaries I responded to) who was basically called a dummy who didn't know S... science. I never used authors' names in my post, instead I addressed "Psychology" as the focus of my critique in my commentaries. I do understand that it was unfair to literally quote just one blogpost and leave the others uncommented. To make up I comment on all of them as an appendix to this post, including new excuses that appeared, the deleted scenes of part 1.

Generally speaking I wanted the younger scientists at the softer end of the spectrum to respond and maybe even to be pissed off. Why? Because we need them, psychological science needs them. However, we don't need them to be clones of their predecessors. They're bright and smart and they can communicate (jay!) and they have to be so much better than their advisors and current superiors ever had to be. We need them to become harder scientists, but in order to do so they really, really have to accept the fact that psychology is as soft as it gets when empirical science is concerned. You do not turn into a "hard" science when you use an MRI scanner or a gene-sequencing technique.

A New Hope... (oh... wait a minute, yep It's in fact an old hope) 
"Selectively using these qualifications as an excuse to exclude psychology and other “soft sciences” (excuse me while I roll my eyes so hard that I risk sending them permanently into the back of my head) from the scientific discipline without questioning the fact that “hard sciences” routinely address topics that are both “unnatural” and “unobservable” is simply lazy." 
"Psychologists like to weigh in on the psychology is a science perspective because we are engaging in upward social comparison--We want a seat at the table with the hard sciences, we want to be published in the most prestigious science journals, and we want a larger share of the grant funding from our government. In contrast, the harder sciences engage in downward social comparison with psychology--Hard sciences seek to maintain their elevated position in the science hierarchy, and sometimes they accomplish this by disparaging the softer sciences."

Unnatural and unobservable (or laziness) have nothing to do with the Hard/Soft divide, nor the "desire" of the hard sciences to maintain an elevated position (that's an odd accusation by the way). When scientists are asked to differentiate between different kinds of science, a consistent classification of disciplines is found along three dimensions: Hard/Soft, Pure/Applied and Life/Non-Life. The Hard/Soft dimension is often used to draw some line between the natural sciences and the rest of science. A consensus description of the divide is provided by Fanelli (2010) who showed 91.5% of psychology / psychiatry papers  report positive findings.

“ […] in some fields of research (which we will henceforth indicate as ‘‘harder’’) data and theories speak more for themselves, whereas in other fields (the ‘‘softer’’) sociological and psychological factors –for example, scientists’ prestige within the community, their political beliefs, their aesthetic preferences, and all other non-cognitive factors– play a greater role in all decisions made in research, from which hypothesis should be tested to how data should be collected, analyzed, interpreted and compared to previous studies.” (Fanelli, 2010, p. e1068)

This does not imply anything about the veracity of scientific claims made in any of those fields. It does imply that for some reason the evaluations of the veracity of scientific claims in the soft sciences are influenced by other factors than just the theory and the data. (e.g., being a famous economist you can disregard literature you believe is badly written). The deceivingly simple and elegant statement “data and theories speak more for themselves”, has been expressed in less elegant varieties in order to classify the social sciences as belonging to the softer fields of scientific research (I finally found the source again, so here is the literal version):

“After reading Meehl [1967] and Lykken [1968] one wonders whether the function of statistical techniques in the social sciences is not primarily to provide a machinery for producing phoney corroborations and thereby a semblance of ‘scientific progress' where in fact, there is nothing but an increase in pseudo-intellectual garbage. [...] Or, as Lykken put it: 'Statistical significance [in psychology] is perhaps the least important attribute of a good experiment; it is never a sufficient condition for claiming that a theory has been usefully corroborated, that a meaningful empirical fact has been established, or that an experimental report ought to be published.' [...] Thus the methodology of research programmes might help us in devising laws for stemming this intellectual pollution which may destroy our cultural environment even earlier than industrial and traffic pollution destroys our physical environment.” (Lakatos, 1975, p. 176, footnote 1, emphasis added)

Lakatos’ strong rejection of the kind of theorizing in social science, which he classifies as one of the worst kinds of ad hockery leading to degenerative research programmes, (however: “we make no mockery of honest ad hockery” Good, 1965) is not new and can be appended to a long list of critiques tracing back to the earliest conceptions of some fields of scientific inquiry. Often some discontent is expressed about the way the softer disciplines pretend to act like a genuine science (e.g., “semblance of scientific progress”). Some authors go further and claim no real efforts are undertaken to become a natural science; as if the soft fields are just dressing up to play “scientist”, putting on thick glasses, smoking pipes and learning Klingon just to give their claims that extra hint of profound intellectual scientific insight (“Cargo Cult Science” criticises the same kind of conduct, Feynman, 1974)

Statistical techniques are indeed often abused to cover up logical weaknesses in theories or to feign exactitude. Moreover, the directional hypothesis test is the weakest prediction on can test. The true nature of this critique is not statistical, but much more profound as it predates the invention of most inferential statistics. For example, Ladd (1892), also quoted in the previous post, reviewing William James’ “The Principles of Psychology” (1890, spanning two volumes) concludes:

“Of the conception of psychology, its nature, problems, and method, which is proposed in these volumes, and of the defence in detail of this conception, the following statements seem to me true: The conception is such, and so narrow, that a consistent adherence to it compels us to admit the utter impossibility of establishing psychology as a natural science. It excludes almost all the really scientific data and conclusions; it includes only those data and conjectures which are most remote from genuine science.” (Ladd, 1892, p. 28, emphasis added)

The “utter impossibility” is explicated when Ladd comments on James’ suggestion that psychology is using the methods of the natural sciences to test deep hypotheses about its object of study when in fact:

“[…] psychology as a science, devoid of all postulating of "deeper-lying entities," does nothing of the kind. It assumes only the phenomena - the thoughts and feelings as actually known, and the possibility of ascertaining uniform relations among them.” (Ladd, 1892, pp. 29–30, emphasis added)

The emphasized passages are relevant and appear in Figure 1. They express key characteristics of scientific theorising still practiced in the soft sciences today that, in my opinion, can no longer be ignored as a major cause of the contemporary problems, soft science produces theories of construction, hard science produces theories of principles. In fact, to explain the previously mentioned high number of positive results reported in the soft sciences, Fanelli offered an explanation:
"1B-Deepness of hypotheses tested
This has been suggested to reflect the level of “maturation” of a science [56]. Younger, less developed fields of research should tend to produce and test hypotheses about observable relationships between variables (“phenomenological” theories) [Ladd 1892: “assumes the phenomena [...] ascertaining uniform relations among them”]. The more a field develops and “matures”, the more it tends to develop and test hypotheses about non-observable phenomena underlying the observed relationships (“mechanistic” theories) . These latter kinds of hypotheses reach deeper levels of reality, are logically stronger, less likely to be true, and are more conclusively testable [56]. [Ladd 1892: postulating of "deeper-lying entities,"]" (Fanelli, 2010, p. e10068, emphasis and quotes added)


I already claimed that Psychology is in fact not so very young and immature, at least, it should not be. It is at least 160 years old as an empirical science and so are many, many modern fields of science, including some of the harder ones. Here's Titchener who in 1893 calls the modern psychologist, the experimental psychologist:

“Modern Psychology surely began, not "three or four years ago," with the publication of the Willenshandlung, –but some forty years ago, with Fechner's notion of the definite functional correlation of psychical with physical processes. The modern psychologist is the experimental psychologist.(Titchener, 1893, p. 456, emphasis added)
Don't think that social psychology wasn't around at the time, listen to what Elwood (1899), has to say:

"Some sort of social psychology, it is true, has usually been assumed by social science; but the plea of this article is for a systematically worked out and carefully verified social psychology as a condition of complete social knowledge. For, if it be assumed that the phenomena of society are chiefly psychical, a knowledge of the psychical processes which characterize group-life as such is manifestly a most important condition of complete social knowledge. A few preliminary statements of position may, however, be helpful in rendering our plea more intelligible. Kulpe  [See Kulpe's Outlines of Psychology, translated by Titchener [1895], p. 7; cf. also the original. 656] speaks of social psychology as the science which "treats of the mental phenomena dependent upon a community of individuals." This we may accept as a rough, working definition of the science. 

Now, the assumption that there are "mental phenomena dependent upon a community of individuals" presupposes psychical processes which are more than merely individual, which are inter-individual; in last analysis it implies that through the action and reaction of individuals in a group upon one another there arise psychical processes which cannot be explained by reference to any or all of the individuals as such, but only by reference to the group-life considered itself as a unity. Social psychology, then, if somewhat more strictly defined, has as its task to examine and explain the form or mechanism of these group psychical processes. It is an interpretation of the psychical processes manifested in the growth and functioning of a group as a unity. " (Elwood, 1899, p. 656, emphasis added)
Elwood describes here, based on earlier work by Kulpe, that social psychology should dispel Newton's curse: Individuals interacting together in a group, act as a whole, a unity whose emergent properties and behaviour cannot be attributed to the behaviour of its individual components. Wholes are not just "causally impotent epiphenomena, i.e. merely aggregates of microphysical constituents.” (van Leeuwen, 2009,  p. 38).

Elwood continues to say that the definition of a whole can be anything from a society to a family and I would say anything more than 1 individual. I believe that what is seeping through here, is one of the  realisations that led to the great advances in physics: It's all about the relations between things (interactions) and not the things themselves:
“The aim of science is not things themselves, as the dogmatists in their simplicity imagine, but the relation between things” (Poincaré, 1905, p. xxiv). 
Psychological science keeps forgetting this fact, and those who point out its importance face banishment to a sub-discipline or -ism of psychology , J.J. Gibson's affordances (inspired by Kurt Lewin's valence), Hebb's reverberation (connectionism), etc. here's Ashby who argued as early as the 1940s to adopt the concept of self-organizing systems in psychology :
“It follows that a substantial part of the theory of organization will be concerned with properties that are not intrinsic to the thing but are relational between observer and thing.” (Ashby 1962, emphasis in original) 
It seems that time in the late 1800s, the true schism into softer and harder fields of science had not not occurred yet and a young modern psychologist could truly claim he was contributing to an immature, but advancing science that studied phenomena of the mind. The schism happened in the first half of the 20th century with the success of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Around the time of the publication of James’ Principles and the defining of the field of Social Psychology there were actually discussions (e.g., Mach, 1891, 1892) on how physics and psychology could mutually inform each other:
“[…] the time has now come when each science should profit from the progress of the other. Physical science can better eliminate errors of observation by learning what is known of their cause and nature. Psychology will gain greatly in clearness and accuracy by using the methods of physics and mathematics.” (Cattell, 1893, p. 285).
I am quite certain contemporary psychological science doesn’t have a lot of scientific knowledge to provide on the cause and nature of anything that would be remotely relevant to the daily scientific work of a modern physicist (save the handful of social scientists who occasionally publish in physics journals, see below, I make a deep bow). About a century ago, people actually thought psychology and physics would go hand in hand... up up the ladder to the top of the hierarchy of sciences. Of course psychology did just that and used the methods of physics and mathematics and as it slowly matured, it gained greatly in clearness and accuracy just like Cattell predicted in 1893.

(damn, wrong timeline again)

Figure 1. Einstein's distinction between theories of construction and theories of principles (see van Dongen 2010, pp. 52-53). Quoted text is from Ladd's 1892 characterisation of William James' proposal for Psychology as an empirical science

How "hard science" do you want your social psychology?

There's a lot more to say about this, and I will at some point, just finished a 50+ page chapter on the subject... :). In short relativity happened and modern cosmology, quantum mechanics happened producing the most accurate predictions about phenomena in the universe ever measured and physics and the harder sciences moved towards consensus formalism science: The theory and the data speak for themselves. No disputes about what priming is, how it should be measured and if you have to take into account whether people ate carrots the night before: Formal language, formal predictions, formal evaluation of precision and accuracy in a joint effort to understand the unobservable structure of the universe.

Funny, isn't it? Despite all the fundamental knowledge about social processes, individual drives and group dynamics the social sciences cannot get their act together and finally start testing some theories based on precision and accuracy instead of cultural conventions, "prestige within the community, their political beliefs, their aesthetic preferences, and all other non-cognitive factors" (Fanelli, 2010). And the nerds can achieve consensus and they get to build spaceships and atom smashers by working together with 10.000 individuals towards the same common goal: A deeper understanding of reality.

I leave you with some references of work by social psychologists who are very much working in the tradition Elwood lined out, but they resort to publishing in Physics and Technology journals, about intractable conflict, individual decisions in Economy, close relationships in social networks and what not. 

(Social) psychology  + hard science = not possible?
International conflict + hard science = not possible?
Economy                  + hard science = not possible?

  (Not what I am saying, this is what people keep telling me)

Ok, read a selection of some recent work by social psychologists NowakVallacher and colleagues and then we'll discuss whether it is possible –in principle– for Social Psychology to be a hard science or not:

Liebovitch, L., Naudot, V., Vallacher, R., Nowak, A, Buiwrzosinska, L., & Coleman, P. (2008). Dynamics of two-actor cooperation–competition conflict models. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications387(25), 6360–6378. doi:10.1016/j.physa.2008.07.020

Nowak, A., Kuś, M., Urbaniak, J., & Zarycki, T. (2000). Simulating the coordination of individual economic decisions. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications287(3-4), 613–630. doi:10.1016/S0378-4371(00)00397-6

Nowak, A., & Vallacher, R. R. (2003). Synchronization Dynamics in Close Relationships: Coupled Logistic Maps as a Model of Interpersonal Phenomena. In W. Klonowski (Ed.), Frontiers on nonlinear dynamics: Vol. 2. From quanta to societies (pp. 165–180). Berlin: Pabst Science Publishers.

Staab, S., Domingos, P., Mike, P., Golbeck, J., Ding, L., Finin, T., Anupam, J., Nowak, A., Vallacher, R. R. (2005). Social networks applied. Intelligent Systems, IEEE, 20(1), 80–93.

Vallacher, R. R., Coleman, P. T., Nowak, A., & Bui-Wrzosinska, L. (2010). Rethinking intractable conflict: the perspective of dynamical systems. The American Psychologist65(4), 262–78. doi:10.1037/a0019290

(Yes, thats two papers in a physics journal and one IEEE, why not in JPSP I wonder?)

Next part in the saga, I will provide more examples to the attacking physicist to show the study of psychological phenomena is "hard" science scientific. A consequence may be that such studies will not be conducted by psychologists in the future, but at places such as the Google Campus or Boston Dynamics.


"There has long been snobbery in the sciences, with the "hard" ones (physics, chemistry, biology) considering themselves to be more legitimate than the "soft" ones ( psychology, sociology)." (No, they can prove that the theories their community produces about the structure of reality are more precise and more accurate than the theories the soft sciences produce. This is not about "them" being more legitimate, their theories about reality are)
"Many people benefit from the results, including those who, in their ignorance, believe that science is limited to the study of molecules."[proceeds to list examples of "successes of psychology] (None of the critiques are saying science is limited to the study of molecules (a lot happened after Perrin, 1913), they are saying psychological phenomena are not studied in a scientifically rigorous manner. Moreover, the examples proving psychology is a science are proofs of application, the technology based on knowledge provided by the science: Therapy and intervention. That's comparing the effectiveness of cognitive behavioural therapy to treat clinical depression, to the very existence of smartphones, airplanes and the internet. Moreover, the most severe cases of depression still benefit from electroshock therapy and we don't know why. Did psychology help to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies? The average birth rate for every 1000 adolescents aged 15-19 since 1996 is 7.7 in the Netherlands. In the US the number is 55.5, the highest in the developed world. Does the Netherlands have better psychologists who are not sharing their findings with the US? Ah yes, the achievement gap. Why are there no interventions to close the caucasian-asian gap?) 
"I hope that most people who read Alex Berezow’s editorial in the Los Angeles Times denying that psychology is a science found it misinformed and bordering on absurd." (We are informed this conclusion be drawn based on the article I commented on above. That is odd, because Berezow's editorial was a critique on the article I commented on above, he didn't agree with it and neither do I)
"Unfortunately, there are still people out there who have a distorted and caricatured idea of what psychology is, a problem that Wilson was trying to combat. Sadly, the LA Times found one of these people and gave them editorial space to perpetuate their ignorance." (This is an elaborative way to say Berezow is an uneducated fool and the LA times should have known better to provide such people a stage for the nonsense that comes out of their keyboards. Still no real arguments to back these strong claims. If anyone made caricature of psychology is, it's Wilson's "combat" article)
"Berezow himself does a perfectly good job refuting his own claims when he tells us that his own example is a terrible one: "To be fair, not all psychology research is equally wishy-washy. Some research is far more scientifically rigorous. And the field often yields interesting and important insights." Well said. But let’s put Berezow’s abject ignorance of the empirical methods of psychological research aside for a moment" (Pssst... When he made the exception for some research, he wasn't talking about social psychological research and he did not refute his own claims and he most certainly did not tell any of us that his example was terrible... that's just what this blog author claims)  

"Some people (usually who know little about psychology) argue that psychologists don't define their terms clearly enough to be considered a science. In one example of this, a physicist named Alex Berezow (using a bunch of sciency terms that my poor psychologist brain struggled to understand) argued that happiness research is a perfect example of a failure to define terms. He states that "the meaning of the word differs from person to person and especially between cultures."(I have the least problems with this blog, wasn't necessary to chip in on physicist bashing though. Now, usually, the people who know little about psychology and argue this, are scientists who are used to define terms using formal language like mathematics. Or who postulate statements that are logically coherent, you must have heard of Hull's principles of behaviour? There have been and are enough psychologists who do so (e.g., mathematical psychology, ecological psychology). Simple example. Happiness could be something you want to describe as "takes on different meanings in different contexts (i.e., it can look differently in a different culture) but has some core universal content that is retained and we call this happiness". You could use a mathematical object that is transformation invariant, or symmetric with respect to the property or dimension of happiness. A position on the dimension itself would be someone's personal experience of happiness. Go from there to define operators and what not with which you can understand statistical regularities in happiness data. Don't say "can't" without trying first!)

I should have continued with two arguments I wanted to address, because two posts appeared that more or less used them:

5. "But science cannot be defined anyway, so what are you talking about?

I really like almost everything the author of this post writes, but on this argument I disagree completely. Judging from the commentaries, I am not the only one. Here's one that sums it up for me:
"Psychology continues to discredit itself. Perhaps better than even "is it true," would be to ask "can it manage to sustain a continued session of tests of its theories" or does it just continue to discredit itself."
(By the way, very glad to see many comments reflect some of the same problems I have with the defence strategy. Someone nicknamed Seriously? on that page is not me, but it could very well have been. Excellent comments!) 

6. "But we need funding, so look at all the stuff we are about to do correctly in the future")

This is an honest post about the difference between quantitative and qualitative science and I link to it because it mentions the motivation some people may have to use the phantom arguments I dismissed as nonsense. It also explains why people are viciously trying to draw away attention from the actual content of the criticism of the hard sciences (e.g., discrediting the messenger, playing the role of victim of a bully): Money, Funding of research. The author is correct to identify this motivation, I have seen the argument pop up in tweets posts, commentaries and what not. In fact I closed my previous post with Meehl's (1990) suggestion to save some taxpayer money:
"I am prepared to argue that a tremendous amount of taxpayer money goes down the drain in research that pseudotests theories in soft psychology and that it would be a material social advance as well as a reduction in what Lakatos has called “intellectual pollution” (Lakatos, 1970, fn. 1 on p. 176) if we would quit engaging in this feckless enterprise. "






(Sorry, it just came out like this, capitalised and all. 
You = Soft Psychology, I suppose)

So there you have it, instead of agreeing and publishing the criticism like Meehl did and devoting energy and resources to turn Psychology into a into a natural science, one that studies human nature it is suggested we play a game of politics and power. At this point I think it would be a blessing if Psychology was forced to prove to society it is worth funding by producing knowledge that results in reliable technology (accurate diagnosis of mental illness, efficient psychotherapy, resolution of international conflicts by diplomacy, eradicate bullying, fundamental knowledge about perception and action so we can finally have robots to take carte of us, etc.).

(And no, none of those examples in parentheses have already been achieved.
Don't tempt me.)


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van Dongen, J. (2010). Einstein’s unification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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