Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Psychology Is Science

I remember taking the various statistical classes when working through my psych degree, and one of the few points that was echoed from professor to professor was the need to be almost anally exacting with research, measurements, and data. They all explained that this was because there was something of a negative perspective of psychology as something less than true science.

I assumed that this was something of the paranoid ramblings of professors who cut their teeth in the psych world of the 1970's, back when psychology was finally shaking off the last bits of spiritual, metaphysical junk  left behind by Freud and Jung. It was very much a problem. In my collection, I have some psychology books from the 1920's, and the work of Freud and Jung was taken as true! People actually believed this stuff!

It was comical to me, comical to every single one of my classmates, and comical to my professors. I appreciated that this baggage was once there, but could see plainly that it no longer was. Psychology was a science trying desperate to prove something everyone already believed.

In retrospect, perhaps I was naive. I only ever went to psychological conferences. I only ever worked with other psychologists and psychiatrists. And whenever I was involved with those from other fields, it was neurologists, with whom there was so much cross-pollination with psychology that it almost gelled into a single field.

As I have since learned, there is still a great deal of prejudice against psychology, being as it is a "soft" science. The major point against it is that "soft" sciences do not produce predictions.

I find this criticism absurd. Of course psychology produces predictions. Those predictions may be probabilistic, but they are predictions nonetheless. The limitation that we have is that our ability to measure humans is limited by our interaction with the machine that is a human: behavior. It is an imperfect measurement, but no less imperfect than measurements in the work of very early scientists. And as research continues, our ability to read behavior will get increasingly better — our ability to understand the workings of the machine will advance.

Stop bullying the 'soft' sciences (Via L.A. Times)

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