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Science Defined | I Agree | Theory Vacuum | Bailing out of psychology | Complicated, therefore scientific | Questions about Psychology

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Science Defined
This exchange continues an earlier one.

... the article is published in a scientific journal. So what? Science is not about authority — the authority of a printed journal or any other kind. In science, the greatest amount of eminence is trumped by the smallest amount of evidence. The fact that an idea is published in a printed journal means exactly nothing: Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. It is impossible to experimentally test the law of inertia because it describes a nonexistent situation (a body that is not subject to any external action). This is embarrassingly, ignorantly false. Inertia is regularly and precisely measured and has been found to be exactly proportional to the gravitational force. In physics, a science, this theoretical principle, and this experimental finding, is known as the Equivalence Principle.

Inertia is a scientific theory that, like all legitimate science, is tested by scientists who apply forces to masses, in empirical, falsifiable experiments.

Also, please strain your overworked brain and think. When you press your car's accelerator pedal, you're pushed into your seat by ... wait for it ... a force arising from inertia, proportional to the applied motive force, and an everyday disproof of your beliefs about science.
Newton himself did not bother to try to present any experimental or observational grounds of the law of inertia, he described his three laws of motion as "axioms". This means that he considered that these laws should not be proved but used as unproven assumptions to prove other propositions. Yes, and since then, Newton's laws have been replaced by theories supported by empirical experimental results — they have been turned into science. The situations in which it attempts today show examples of the law of inertia are cases where *the resultant of the forces acting on the body is zero*. Absolutely false and embarrassingly ignorant. In modern experimental physics, inertia is measured by applying forces to masses:

"Inertial mass is found by applying a known net force to an unknown mass, measuring the resulting acceleration, and applying Newton's Second Law, m = F/a."

Along with the remainder of your message, the above quotation proves that you are utterly, completely, totally wrong — wrong specifically, wrong generally. You are wrong about science in a philosophical sense, and you also don't know anything about physics.
Popper gave us a kind of method that is almost perfectly valid in the natural sciences. He wanted the other sciences, such as social, they use. [sic] "Social science" isn't science. It's an empty label, like "Christian Science". Obviously, if this were so, we would have great freedom of manipulation of the variables in our research. But Popper forget:

1) We can not hold millions of people in a controlled environment and wait centuries to analyze the changes. (Sociology) 2) We can not manipulate the masses. 3) We can not manipulate social facts to analyze the changes.
Popper didn't forget these things, he relegated them to the domain of the unscientific, as do all educated people. This is why modern society has classed the social "sciences" among the pseudosciences. There are criteria in the societies of ethics, morals and customs. Popper's method is still valid, but subordinate objects of study in order to forget our culture, is insanity. You can't manipulate individuals to experiment: there is ethics, laws that prevent it. Yes, and that is why sociology and psychology aren't sciences — they're pseudosciences. We should seek scientific knowledge with appropriate methods for each science with their objects of study. Yes, but without abandoning scientific principles. This means some things cannot be studied scientifically. Because the human mind is not susceptible to empirical study, sociology and psychology are not sciences.

But don't take my word for it — look into the law. You aren't the only person who wants anything at all to be defined as science — many people would like to redefine science any way they please. For example, Creationists (religious believers in a supernatural force in nature) want to be able to present religious ideas as though they are science, in science classrooms. But a society of educated people have prevented this. They prevent it by passing laws that say what science is, and is not. But to do this, courts of law must define science, and they have. Here is how one of those courts has defined science:
  1. It is guided by natural law;
  2. It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;
  3. It is testable against the empirical world;
  4. Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
  5. It is falsifiable.
If we are dealing with empirical sciences, we must use the methods that are tailored to the empirical experience. You speak as though empirical science is a variety of science, sort of like a flavor of ice cream. But in the science store, there's just one flavor. All science is empirical science — to argue otherwise is to grant validity to superstition, to frauds posing as scientists, and to religious terrorists. And science's empirical nature isn't an opinion — as the above section shows, it's the law of the land. To limit science (the knowledge of all sciences) in one type method is a NONSENSE, irrationality. We have many conflicts with Sociology because of this kind of "popperian" thinking. Okay, let's say your ideas were allowed to define science. Let's see where this logically takes us. Here we go — I have invented a cure for the common cold. I shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until he gets better. My cure always works — it might take several days, but it always works. So where's my Nobel Prize? According to you, I don't have to obey the rules of science, perform empirical experiments, consider alternative theories that might explain my result, or accept the idea of falsifiability through empirical test. I don't have to craft and test a theory about my result, and I certainly don't need to follow the null hypothesis, a cornerstone of modern science that says a claim is assumed to be false until proven true. My conclusion after all these years is: the methods are subordinated to the study of objects that will be studied, analyzed, systematized. If these unscientific ideas were to prevail, your children would be taught — in science class — that the world is six thousand years old, that evolution is bunk, that women and people of color are inferior creatures, that vaccines are dangerous, that an imaginary superbeing will burn them if they misbehave, and all the other false claims made by the modern enemies of science and reason. I sincerely hope your children don't become victims of your faulty reasoning. Popper wanted to do the opposite: Popper wanted to subordinate the objects to his methods, which led to absurdities of which he regretted, for example he said that the theory of evolution is not science. Karl Popper never said this, and you are now reduced to lying instead of doing the trivial research you would perform if you had any scientific training or an intact conscience. Here is what Popper actually said about evolution: "I see in modern Darwinism the most successful explanation of the relevant facts." [Popper, 1957, p. 106]

Locating the above quote of Popper's actual words required ten seconds. I found it because I am a scientist. You didn't find it because you are an ideologue.
Popper's error, besides to subordinate ALL science to a SINGLE method, was not realize that the criterion (even a method) of falsifiability applies only to the natural sciences (and even in it we have exceptions). This is why natural sciences are the only sciences. The remainder are pseudosciences — philosophy posing as science. And this isn't just my idea — it's the judgment of educated people everywhere, people who want to realize the benefits of science unfettered by superstition, people who resolve to bar the frauds at the door. Try to use the Popperian method often in Sociology. You shall have no success. Try using the Popperian method in various branches of psychology, etc. Yes, true, and that explains why these fields have been classed among the pseudosciences. As just one item of evidence, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has abandoned the DSM, psychiatry's "bible", on the ground that it has no scientific content or value: "The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” — each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity."

Another article: "The Rats of N.I.M.H." Quote: "America’s psychiatrist-in-chief seemed to be reiterating what many had been saying all along: that psychiatry was a pseudoscience, unworthy of inclusion in the medical kingdom."

Notice that this recent high-level policy change — which defines psychology and psychiatry as pseudosciences — was made by a psychiatrist, the director of the NIMH. Who would be in a better position to know?

I added the above so you won't think my remarks are just a personal viewpoint. Using science's definition (given above) and by discovering how science achieves what it does, modern society has determined that the so-called "social sciences" aren't sciences at all.

Science cannot simultaneously produce its spectacular results and serve as a haven for morons and religious fanatics. One or the other. Not both.
I Agree
Believe it or not but I, as a trained psychologist, read your essay "Scientific Paradigm" with great delight. I should add that I am no longer a true believer in psychology which explains that I have absolutely no problems with your criticism of this field. Because of the reasonable ineffectiveness of psychology, its scientific fuzziness (to put it mildly), I drifted away from this field and are actually more interested in methodological issues and trying to delineate sense from nonsense. Thanks for your support! In my correspondence with psychiatrists, psychologists and psychology's clients, I've noticed a pattern. As society has turned away from psychology and toward neuroscience as the preferred approach to brain dysfunctions, I've received more supportive correspondence from psychology's practitioners than from its followers. It seems psychology's followers are less well-educated about the nature of science, more emotionally invested and less intellectually flexible than its practitioners. The conversation you had on your essay reminded me on many discussions I had with colleagues about the scientific status of psychology. As for me, there are certain scientific principles which are non-negotiable and falsification is one of them. Psychologists always try to water down valid criticism in order to end up in flimsy concordance among the discussants. Yes, that explains the gradual dissolution of the DSM as a serious work — over time it's become more an effort to follow the crowd than follow the evidence. You might be interested in the work of Peter Schonemann, a friend of mine, who was an outstanding renegade. His website and publications can be found online. Thanks for this reference. Dr. Schonemann's campaign against unscientific IQ testing, and consequent racism within psychology, deserves more recognition that it's gotten to date. Finally, thank you so much for discussing these issues in such a detail. I will give a class on questionable research practices in psychology and will use your website and your recent essay on the structure of science and pseudoscience as a reading assignment. I am honored that my work is included in your curriculum, thanks for writing, and above all, congratulations on your intellectual courage.
Theory Vacuum
I have been a psychologist (academic) for 30 years. Conducted many studies (100 or so pubs). Became increasingly concerned that my observations referred to magical entities that lacked reference to anything other than stipulated entities. As an academic psychologist you can say it that way, but I doubt I would get away with doing so. Psychology's critics try to stay away from words like "magical", regardless of their accuracy. But your use of "stipulated" is perfect. In general it refers to assertions on which there is agreement or consensus, but without a requirement for reality-testing. Psychology is awash in data, but theoretically rigorous explanations are scarce — often post hoc assertion (perhaps giving reason to take behaviorism's concerns more seriously). I see this in a lot of published papers — a statistically rigorous observation is followed by a conjecture about its meaning, with the tacit implication that the latter is supported by the former. I recently published a paper you might find interesting in the journal Theory and Psychology — arguing that much of the replication wars haunting social psychology result from the failure to formulate and test conceptually well-specified theory (type vs token issue). Hmm ... yes, that sounds familiar to me. :) If you want, email and I can send a pdf. Thank you! I would appreciate a copy, since the published version is behind a paywall and I try to avoid paying this kind of access fee on principle. It dovetails with much of your expressed concerns. According to the paper's abstract, clearly so. I appreciate your taking the time to write, and I look forward to reading your paper.
Bailing out of psychology
I'm a ex-psychology major, even started my masters, before leaving to focus on my startup. Your post on clinical psychology is dead on, and one of the main reasons why I left. As one of my better professors said, "There is no reason why psychology cannot be a science, but we have to make sure it is the good kind of science". Thanks for writing. That's a pretty funny anecdote. By definition, science is what it is — we don't get to tell nature what we prefer to be real. Science, like the universe, is morally neutral and indifferent to our passions. Nothing else too intellectually interesting to say, just imagined that it's nice to have people agreeing with you once in a while. Yes, it is nice. I appreciate your taking the time to write. Good luck with your startup!
Complicated, therefore scientific
I read your article on the scientific paradigm and I found it very interesting. I'm an undergraduate Psychology student [...]. I was just wondering what are your thoughts on the view that Psychology should be given the extra liberty, or discretion if you will, of allowing non-scientific features like subjectivity because ultimately it is the most complex science of all. By speaking this way you've skipped over the question of whether psychology is a science as science is defined. As my article shows, it is not. Complexity by itself doesn't make something scientific — if this were not the case, any incomprehensible process would automatically be granted the status of science.

Topics don't become scientific by being incomprehensible, they become scientific by having reliable, tested, falsifiable theories that are validated by observations of nature.
I say this because Psychology's subject matter are human beings with a consciousness, unlike other sciences ... "Unlike other sciences"? Throughout your writing, your hidden assumption is that psychology is a science. Freud disagrees. Every responsible observer has disagreed through the entire history of psychology. The current director of the National Institute of Mental Health disagrees. ... that can predict the motion of celestial bodies millions of miles away, Psychologists deal with human beings whom, arguably are the most unpredictable of all. Yes. Therefore psychology is not a science. Science's message is not "It's all too complicated", it is "Here's what we are certain of, and what we have yet to learn." All backed up by reliable theories and by reliable empirical evidence, acquired through observations of nature that could falsify our theories but instead support them.

Have a nice day.

[ Some of my younger correspondents seem not to have learned critical thinking skills. If the above argument had merit, then astrology would become science based solely on its many enthusiastic followers. Religion would become science due to pressure from the religious, who are offended that their beliefs don't have scientific standing, and isn't that a shame? ]
Questions about Psychology
I really enjoyed reading your paper and found it very useful in answering my questions about Psychology. I agree with your stance that Psychology is a pseudoscience, but I have more questions about it (if that's okay). I saw that you mentioned certain "made-up therapy methods" such as RMT, Recovery Method Theory. I believe you mean "Recovered Memory Therapy", a fad from the 1990s in which people were encouraged to believe fantasies and report them as though they were real events, including terrible but imaginary sex crimes. What is your position on CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Or even Classical Conditioning? These seem to be more "structured" theories, and some even have experiments that back them up, e.g Pavlov's dogs. It's important to understand that, without a testable theory framework (an explanation, not just a description), a field can conduct experiments to test its practices, then publish only the results that agree with the experimenters' expectations. This is a common problem in psychology and other social "sciences" — it's called the "file-drawer" problem. In the file-drawer outcome, studies that don't meet a researcher's expectations are put out of the way in a file drawer, or they're submitted to a journal that declines to publish them because they're not exciting enough — they don't have the words "breakthrough" or "revolutionary" in their titles. This selective bias has the effect of making a field seem more substantial than it really is.

Another problem is the nearly complete absence of replication in psychology. As you ought to be aware, replication of results is an essential part of the scientific process. This lack of scientific discipline in psychology can hide any number of serious problems. In a recent major project, a group of real scientists tried to address the lack of psychology replication by setting out to re-perform a large selection of published studies, and discovered that only 39% of them could be replicated. Further, the successful replications had smaller effect sizes than the original studies, which in some cases would have prevented their publication in the first place.

The meaning of this study is that, in the formal published psychology literature, most of the results don't actually mean what they claim.
Also, in regards to "psychological ailments", would you classify some disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia or ADHD as "made up"? Not if people think they have an ailment. How can one's subjective mental state be thought of as "made up"? The individual's subjective experience is real enough, but the problems begin when we try to associate the condition with an objective diagnosis, identification of a cause, and meaningful treatment — in other words, with science.

Were psychology a scientific discipline, a diagnosis would be the same for any client, any practitioner, and any health center, as is true in medicine. It's the same for identifying a causative biological agent and crafting a treatment — in science, these things are uniform regardless of the client, the practitioner, and the institution. But in psychology, none of these things is true.

In medicine, you either have cancer or you don't, and full-body scans establish the diagnosis in an unambiguous way, regardless of the beliefs and background of the practitioner. In psychology by contrast, everyone gets a diagnosis, either a serious one that may be grounded in an objectively real biological condition that psychology cannot treat, or some made-up condition like Asperger's, and as a last resort, the practitioner can assign the catch-all diagnosis of "not otherwise specified," a recognized DSM category.

Imagine a doctor telling you that you're suffering from "not otherwise specified".
Or would you classify them as a Neurological ailments? Many conditions presently being treated as mental illnesses are actually biological ailments, most of which aren't understood, and that eventually will be moved from psychology to neuroscience (i.e. moved from the mind to the brain). Many other conditions are simply made-up ways to stigmatize people who are different than their average peers. Asperger's was one of those — it diagnosed as mentally ill people showing signs of intelligence and creativity. Then someone discovered that a large number of famous people, living and dead, showed the same symptoms. This made the diagnosis popular among young people who clamored to be given the same diagnosis as Albert Einstein and Bill Gates. This forced psychology's hand and Asperger's was abandoned.

Opportunistic-diagnosis examples like Asperger's have repeated over the decades, as long as psychology has been in existence. In the mid-20th century, homosexuality was classed among mental illnesses and phony cures were offered. Then, when public attitudes changed and that particular discrimination ended, homosexuality suddenly wasn't a mental illness any more. My point is that inventing mental illnesses is a dangerous practice that can give a phony pseudoscientific authority to public prejudices.

The remedy to these problems is science, but because psychology studies the mind, and because the mind is not an empirically accessible organ like the brain, mind science isn't possible. I can't express it more clearly than that.
Thank you for your time and I'm looking forward to your reply. You are most welcome. I hope this exchange inspires the kind of disciplined and creative thinking on which all human progress depends.

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