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The Trouble with Psychology : Feedback

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Thanks! | Is it Science? | Apples and Oranges | Your Opinion? | Scientists in psychology I | Scientists in psychology II | False Diagnoses

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... thoroughly enjoying this article, by the way. I especially like the Kansas/Oz diagram. I thought that would ring some bells. :) As someone who was kicked around the medication roller-coaster by various psychiatrists from 3rd grade through my last year of high school, your articles have gone a long, long way towards helping me unravel the mess I became and even to undo some of the damage ...

After turning eighteen and refusing medication for my "ADD," I was terrified of anyone calling themselves a doctor. For years, I avoided them entirely and I allowed my health to decline because I refused to take any kind of medication, even for my allergies. I just thought all doctors were liars who got off on making me feel miserable and useless while making me feel responsible for their mistakes (for example, I was told I must have taken too much Prozac. I didn't; I took it as I was directed to).

It wasn't until a friend linked me to your website that things started to change for me. I read your article about the levels of human experience, and I found it fascinating. I kept reading article after article on your site, and the more I read the more amazing the world became to me, and the events of my school years made more and more sense. You explained to me the difference between medicine and psychology and outlined in perfect clarity the sheer lack of science in psychological fields. You defined science and skepticism for me and I can honestly say I have been a happier, less confused person ever since.
Thanks! I appreciate this feedback. It means a lot to me that my writing is helping people see through the fog created by the psychological "healing arts".

I am glad to have made a difference in your life.
Is it Science?
I am currently an undergraduate student at the University of [deleted to assure privacy]. I enjoyed your article "Is Psychology a Science?". I must say I agree with you and your opinion on the DMS and it's definitions of what is a mental illness. The diagnosis of mental illnesses is inconsistent and the nature of these 'illnesses' is very poorly understood. How can you classify something you don't understand and probably never will? I certainly agree. Consider all those things that aren't science — literature, philosophy, art. All these things have a place, but none of them presume to treat people's ills. Once any consideration is given to treating ailments, then legitimate science must be present and must meet the highest standards. This is why psychology's indifference to science — and resulting episodes like Recovered Memory Therapy — can cause so much harm.

By the way, since publishing the article you read, I've written on this topic more recently — here's a better article that covers more ground.
I am doing an undergraduate double major in psychology and biological sciences. I am deliberating about my position on psychology being, well, honestly, I can't even tell you what I think it even is. I also I need to decide if it's something that is worth pursuing. I was wondering if you could suggest any reading or documentaries. It's important to understand that psychologists are increasingly defensive about their field's questionable scientific standing, and will insist their field is scientific on the shakiest of grounds. But times are changing. Recently Thomas Insel, the sitting director of the U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health, wrote an article for Scientific American in which he essentially took my position — that psychology and psychiatry need to be replaced with something more scientific. Here's a quote:

"In most areas of medicine, doctors have historically tried to glean something about the underlying cause of a patient’s illness before figuring out a treatment that addresses the source of the problem. When it came to mental or behavioral disorders in the past, however, no physical cause was detectable so the problem was long assumed by doctors to be solely 'mental,' and psychological therapies followed suit. Today scientific approaches based on modern biology, neuroscience and genomics are replacing nearly a century of purely psychological theories, yielding new approaches to the treatment of mental illnesses."

There are many similar articles online. The difference between psychology and neuroscience is that psychology studies the mind and neuroscience studies the brain — this gives neuroscience an overwhelming advantage because there really is a brain.

It seems we're witnessing a wholesale reevaluation of psychology's status as a science. Because you clearly want to have a positive effect on the world, my advice is to learn what separates science from non-science, and choose science.

Not to oversimplify a complex topic, but the distinction between science and non-science is fairly easy to describe — science tests its theories against reality. If reality-testing should prove a theory false, a scientist abandons the theory, but a pseudoscientist abandons reality.

Thanks for writing, and thanks for being willing to change course. Let's hope society will have the wisdom to do the same.
Apples and Oranges
Thank-you for this great website ... You're welcome. I am definitely interested in the use and misuse of medicine and love playing armchair psychologist (on myself not others). So long as you aren't comparing psychology and medicine. Psychologists are not doctors, and psychology is not medicine. I have an issue with your comparison of Physics vs. Medicine vs. Clinical Psychology. I do agree with your that physics is the most verifiable and testable, because as you say you are measuring the static, the non human. First, I never said this anywhere. Second, it's a defective comparison — neuroscience studies human beings scientifically. It does this by addressing things that can be studied scientifically — the brain and the nervous system. By contrast, psychology studies the mind. But there is no mind — it's a philosophical abstraction, not an organ. Eventually psychology will wither and die while waiting for a microscopic image of the mind, or any other way to produce objective evidence of its existence.

The reason psychologists cannot agree about anything is because each of them has a different picture of the mind. This is because the mind cannot be objectively quantified and studied, a basic requirement for science. Astrologers have the same problem, for the same reason — no objective basis on which to build a scientific field.
And I definitely agree that humans are harder to test using a scientific model. But to rank them on the same level is to me like saying "bananas are better than guitars because they taste better". Not when comparing sciences. It's difficult to imagine two fields farther apart than cosmology and particle physics, but as sciences they have a great deal in common — so much, in fact, that cosmologists, who study the universe at the largest scales, and particle physicists, who study the universe at the smallest scales, productively attend each others' conferences and learn a great deal from each other.

If psychology were a science, if psychology could offer medical treatments that worked, then psychologists would attend medical conferences and share notes with other successful treaters of human ills. But in point of fact, psychology is neither a science nor an effective method for treating human ills, which is why psychology is neither part of medicine nor of science.

When a medical researcher wants to identify a new human illness, he locates the responsible pathogen using microscopes and high-tech scanners.

When a psychologist wants to identify a new human illness, he gets together in secret with other like-minded psychologists and they cast a vote.

I wish I were making this up, but no — all the recent additions to the new DSM, slated for publication in 2013, resulted from votes held in secret, not research. Some things that were thought to be illnesses, like Asperger's, are being abandoned by — research? — no, by votes, in secret. Some things that were thought to be normal human behavior, like childhood tantrums and grieving after the passing of a loved one, are being turned into illnesses by — research? — no, by votes, in secret.

Science is not a popularity contest, it is not politics, it must be public, and it requires evidence. Psychology is a popularity contest, it is highly political, and it requires secrecy and star chamber proceedings.
Please excuse my lax metaphor ... It's not a lax metaphor, it's not a metaphor at all. Psychology is not a science, and there is no basis for comparison with legitimate science. but I guess the point I am trying to make is that they both have their use when done properly. Oh, but I agree. Psychology does a great deal of good, as does astrology. The reason astrology is allowed to exist is because of all the poorly educated, weak-minded people who would be lost without it. It's the same with psychology. You can tell me at what stress would a supporting beam in a building break, but then an architect incorporates that in a building which hopefully allows flow of people in and out, functions well in its neighbourhood, and is inspiring to people who come in and out of it. Engineering was necessary but not sufficient in creating a great building. So I guess I don't have Physics Envy because I believe it is a necessary part of life but not the only thing required for full living. You have completely abandoned your original topic. Did you notice? And I don't think the abuse of Clinical Psychology by some practitioners or the inherent "messiness" of practicing medicine on humans makes it less valuable. I agree — it's the same with astrology. Astrology is enormously valuable as a spiritual placebo for people with empty lives. So is psychology. But psychology cannot masquerade as a real method for treating actual human illnesses, which is why psychology is not part of medicine and psychologists can't be trusted to practice medicine.

People who are constitutionally unable to distinguish science from superstition swear by astrology, while others swear by psychology. All the arguments you have just put forth in defense of psychology apply equally well to astrology.

Bottom line — if a virgin can use psychology to accuse her father of rape and be taken seriously (Google for "Beth Rutherford" to read the full story), then psychology needs a major overhaul, and people need to learn what makes science work. This includes you.
Your Opinion?
I'm a psychology undergraduate with a passion for the subject, but I am painfully aware of many of the same issues you have with it. However, I notice that your actual opinion of its benefits are less discussed than whether it is a science or not. That's because my opinion doesn't matter, only whether psychology is (a) a science and (b) able to actually help people, more than as a placebo. So I ask: do you think that if the faults you have written about (bar the science debate) What do you mean "bar the science debate"? How can I make any kind of useful statement about psychology unless it's based on science?

Let me give you an example. A shady doctor says, "I've cured the common cold! All I have to do is shake a dried gourd over my cold patient until the cold goes away — it always works!"

A scientist objects and says, "But there are better explanations for what you witnessed, scientific ones. Remember that science requires that all possible explanations be examined."

The doctor replies, "But bar the science debate, the treatment works, and I deserve a Nobel Prize for my discovery."
can be worked around, could it be redeemable? What do you mean "redeemable?" Can astrology be "redeemed?" It doesn't have to be. People like astrology, and that alone makes it useful — bar the science debate. Do you consider it a totally useless subject or are your writings focused on improving it so that it benefits society more? More than what? More than Beth Rutherford using psychology to destroy her family with lies? More than tens of thousands of avaricious parents getting bogus Asperger's diagnoses for their children so they can collect Social Security and special-education payments they don't deserve? These and similar stories make psychology very useful — bar the science debate. Do you see psychology as something started with good intent which has been misguided or would you rather it faded out in favour of totally empirical neuroscience? As I said, my opinion doesn't matter, only the facts. Whatever the outcome, the result must be guided by science, by dispassionate evidence. The distance between the mind and the brain ... But there is no "distance between the mind and the brain" because the mind is not a thing, it's an idea, a philosophical abstraction with no physical existence. It cannot be measured, weighed, scanned, or studied scientifically. The mind is not distant from the brain — it doesn't exist at all. seems, currently, too great to efficiently explain behaviour totally using the brain, You've just suggested that psychology can "explain" behavior, but this is wrong — psychology can only describe behavior, not explain it. A scientific explanation for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would have to include a picture of the pathogen responsible, or the brain area responsible, and the scientific explanation would have to be accompanied by laboratory experiments that caused PTSD to disappear after application of a specific treatment that anyone can repeat in a similarly equipped laboratory. But psychology doesn't work that way — it's all opinion, all description.

Why is it important to distinguish between description and explanation? A description ("there are points of light in the night sky") cannot be falsified — it's simply so. A proposed explanation ("those points of light are distant suns like our own") can be falsified. Because science requires that all ideas be open to falsification by observation and evidence, unfalsifiable statements cannot be scientific.
and relies on some speculation as humans seem to be too complex to analyse using fully scientific methods, though from what I am reading and being told, psychology is now moving towards being a more conitive [sic] therapy based offshoot from neuroscience if you'll excuse the simpicity [sic] of that statement. First, learn to spell "cognitive" or your Web searches are all going to fail. Second, studies show that cognitive-behavioral therapy doesn't work any better or worse than any other tested therapy. That, in turn, means that modern therapeutic responses can be explained as a placebo effect, indeed that's the simplest and therefore the most likely explanation. My interest in the subject comes from my own experience with mental illness but also my identification of and wish to address - and maybe even help solve - these problems as well as my finding the neurology aspect of biological psychology to be a fascinating practice. The what? The "neurology aspect of biological psychology"? There is no such thing. That would be like saying the "astronomical aspect of astrology." But there is no astronomical aspect of astrology, because astronomy is a science and astrology is a superstition.

Neuroscience studies a physical organ called the brain, it's a science, it explains things and backs up its explanations with evidence. Psychology studies a hypothetical entity called the the mind, it's a non-science, it describes things, and it backs up its descriptions with endless anecdotes.

If a neuroscientist wants to declare something a disease, she locates the responsible pathogen or organ, takes pictures, and accompanies her explanation with scientific laboratory evidence that she can cause the disease to disappear by application of a specific treatment, a treatment anyone can administer.

If a psychologist wants to declare something a disease, he gets together with other psychologists and they cast a vote in secret (as is now being done in the creation of DSM-V). Asperger's was included in the earlier DSM-IV based on — evidence? — no, on votes. Asperger's is being removed from the new DSM-V based on — evidence? — no, on (now-secret) votes.

Science is not politics, it cannot be based on opinions or votes, it must be based on evidence. And because science is the single successful model for all modern medicine and technology, anything that expects to be taken seriously must have a scientific foundation.

Imagine real scientists doing what psychologists do every day. Imagine this scene at the Large Hadron Collider: "So, does the Higgs Boson exist? Let's vote!"
So, do you think (or wish) the current overhaul/furor in the subjects' system is to be a move towards improvement or a collapse of the study? I can't tell whether you are totally condemning the subject or have some enthusiasm for the application it has had in helping people in more recent years and the eventual improvement of it, as I feel your writings could imply either of these beliefs. Let me explain. First, psychology is a non-science, one presently being eclipsed by neuroscience. In the long term, psychology will be reduced to the status of astrology, on the ground that it cannot produce any science to back up its claims.

Second, psychology will never go away. There will always be poorly educated, weak-minded people that will find it useful as a spiritual placebo in their empty lives — just as with astrology. Astrology was eclipsed by astronomy many centuries ago, but it's now more popular than it's ever been. It's popular because of widespread public ignorance of science and a fondness for fairy tales.
Potentially of value and benefit, or of little? I hope the above explains that it's not so simple — many things are utterly unscientific, even objectively pointless, but still useful. For example, the placebo effect — the administration of meaningless "treatments" that, because of the human capacity for self-delusion, produce real results.

On that basis, it would be cruel and counterproductive to prevent people from believing in psychology, even though those beliefs do great harm (as just one example, the Recovered Memory Therapy debacle), in the same way that it would be cruel and counterproductive to prevent people from holding religious beliefs, even though those beliefs do great harm (the 9/11 attacks, directly caused by religious belief).

A religious leader can say absolutely anything (the earth is only 6,000 years old), and there will be fools willing to believe him. In the same way, a psychologist can say absolutely anything (a virgin was actually raped and impregnated by her father) and there will be fools willing to believe him.

To put this in the simplest terms, because psychology is the study of the mind, and because the mind doesn't exist, psychology cannot ever be scientific.

Science can't do everything, but by demanding evidence, it's a great counterpoint to stupidity, and psychology is a fantastic breeding ground for stupidity.

Bottom line: to avoid throwing your life away, learn the difference between science and pseudoscience. Then choose science.
Scientists in psychology I
I was surprised to find that your blanket condemnation of the whole of Psychology does not include any comment on areas that have been properly studied (i.e. double-blind, randomized, controlled and with well-designed experiments). Okay. Let's say that someone creates an astrology study, to see what the distribution of astrological signs is in the population. The study depends on a very large database of people and birthdates, and creates a statistical breakdown of the population by astrological sign.

The study is perfectly scientific, and those who conduct the study are qualified, scientifically trained, and completely indifferent to the outcome of their work — properties known to create good science.

The study is published in a reputable, refereed scientific journal and is replicated over and over again in other laboratories with the same result, therefore it meets every requirement for a solid scientific finding.

To summarize, a scientific result is produced by qualified scientists and published in a scientific journal, then replicated by other scientists in other scientific laboratories, none of the participants has an axe to grind or a reason to bias the result — the result is a textbook example of scientific research.

Now let me ask you a question — does this scientific astrology result make astrology scientific? After all, it is a very good scientific result about astrology. How can this high-quality, replicated scientific finding not make astrology a scientific field?

The answer is that a field doesn't become scientific because of scientific studies, of descriptions, or scientific researchers wearing white lab coats, it becomes scientific by offering testable explanations that are related to the field's topic of study, then testing those explanations against nature. The above "astrology study" cannot make astrology scientific because it doesn't address or test the ideas that define astrology.

Newton didn't explain gravity by saying that an apple fell from a tree in a particular way (that's a description, not an explanation). He explained gravity by applying the same principles to all objects influenced by gravity, and then he tested his explanation by observing more apples, and planets, and other objects influenced by gravity. He produced a single explanation that applied to all objects affected by gravity — he created a "theory". His theory didn't describe, it explained, and it could be tested against nature.

Louis Pasteur didn't simply claim that a specific disease was caused by a specific microorganism, he proposed that all infectious diseases arise from microorganisms. He moved from a description of one case to a testable explanation — a theory — about all cases. Pasteur's theory was a general statement about all similar cases, and it was testable against nature.

All genuinely scientific fields are defined by testable explanations — theories — like the examples above. Each of these theories is based on empirical, repeatable observations of nature, and any of them can be falsified by new persuasive evidence. None of the theories that define legitimate scientific fields is a simple description, all of them are explanations — testable, potentially falsifiable explanations.

In any of these scientific fields, if someone uncovers an observation that contradicts the field's defining theory or theories, it turns out that either the observation is wrong, or the field's theory is wrong. In any number of cases in the history of science, an entire field has been discarded because its theories were shown not to agree with observations of nature.

But pseudosciences operate on a different basis. In pseudoscience, its practitioners (who may well be qualified scientists) offer only descriptions, not explanations, and no one tries to make the leap from descriptions of specific cases to testable explanations of all cases — to "theories".

For example, in psychology right now, there are groups of fully qualified scientists describing the same behaviors in diametrically opposite ways. One example is the tendency of certain individuals to focus their attention on only a few, or one, activity, rather than engaging in many different activities.

About the above behavior, among psychologists there are two (or more) schools of thought. The "grit" contingent believes this ability and predisposition to focus one's attention is a very good thing — it's how a concert pianist becomes a concert pianist. It's how Einstein was able to create the General Theory of Relativity — by focusing all his time and energy for years on a single goal, to the exclusion of all others. It's how Newton was able to shape a theory of gravity and explain the motion of the planets — by focusing all his time and energy on thought and calculation.

Here is a "grit" link: Grit (personality trait) (Wikipedia)

Here is a quote: "Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective."

But there is another attitude toward this kind of focus — it's a symptom of Asperger Syndrome, a mental illness.

Here is an Asperger Syndrome link: Asperger syndrome

Here is a quote: "Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger's syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests."

I emphasize the phrase "restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests" as being a very reliable way to acquire this diagnosis, as well as being a perfect description of "grit".

So, based on the above, being able to focus on a few, or only one, activity, might make you a famous scientist, but it might also get you diagnosed with a mental illness. Need I add that both Einstein and Newton are believed to have "suffered" from Asperger Syndrome?:

Link: Einstein, Newton, and Asperger Syndrome

Quote: "Researchers believe both Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton may have had Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder in the autism spectrum. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, and Ioan James, of Oxford University, studied the behavior of both famous scientists. The researchers felt Einstein and Newton displayed personality traits characteristic of Asperger syndrome."

Next question — how can different psychologists — "scientists" — arrive at completely opposite conclusions about the same behavior? The answer is that no one in psychology tries to move from description to explanation, to shape testable "theories" of human behavior.

There are many fully qualified scientists working in psychology, and they regularly publish scientific papers in scientific journals. But is this enough to turn psychology into a science? Not unless those psychologists try to shape explanations, theories, about human behavior, then test their theories against nature.

And it wouldn't hurt if psychologists talked to each other, like scientists intent on arriving at a single theory of human behavior. As it happens, the "Asperger's" contingent and the "Grit" contingent offer diametrically opposite descriptions of the same behavior, and seem unaware that the other group even exists. And worse, both groups are more than willing to offer "therapies" to the public for what they think ails them, as though psychologists are competent to offer medical treatments.

Bottom line: psychology can only become a science by crafting, then testing, theories about human behavior — theories on which all psychologists agree, and that define the field. There are no such theories at the moment, theories on which different psychologists agree.

Are there scientists working in psychology? Yes, absolutely. Does this make psychology itself a science? No, absolutely not — no more than counting astrological signs can make astrology a science.
My main example is in the Psychology of Memory and Learning where good experiments have been replicated for decades, in all sorts of conditions, establishing results like the testing effect, spacing effect and the interleaving effect (all of which produce more learning and stronger memories than their contraries, restudying, massing and blocking). Yes, and I can describe things as well — I can tell you how many Geminis and Tauruses there are among the population, with perfect accuracy. But what I cannot do is turn my description into an explanation about how the stars guide our lives, or make astrology a science. This has led to interesting theories and frameworks about how human memory works (like Robert Bjork's desirable difficulties framework, suggesting that in some cases, the harder it is to learn something, the easier it will be to remember it in the future). And this was all done from a purely computational perspective. Yes, and that description cannot be turned into an explanation, meaningfully replicated or potentially falsified — it is not science, it is philosophy. I presume your silence can be interpreted as ... What silence is that? The burden of evidence is not mine. The burden of evidence is on psychology to show that it can produce testable scientific theories. And the first evidence for this outcome will be clear restrictions on the activities of clinical psychologists, who correctly point out that theoretical psychology has no guidance to offer them.

Imagine if the field of medicine were run like psychology — doctors would be free to offer any treatments that came into their heads, on the ground that medical research is unable to craft reliable, testable theories about human health, theories sufficiently well-tested to guide medical practice. But this could only happen if medical research wasn't a science.
Scientists in psychology II
I'd like to first state that I did read some your writings from your website before writing to you. I had followed some of these same arguments you now represent and I still think they don't adress the points I particularly singled out. My main argument was not that Psychology is a science - I don't care all what gets classified as a science. But that issue is critical. Do you think people have the right to open clinics and offer treatments that aren't based on reliable scientific evidence and clinical trials? Medicine doesn't allow this, why should psychology? My point was quite simple that Psychology, unlike Astrology, is useful. Both claims are unsupportable. It's obviously false that astrology isn't useful. If it were not useful, people wouldn't support it so enthusiastically. It's estimated that there are ten astrologers for every astronomer, and astronomy is generally regarded as useful.

As to psychology, to measure its usefulness, we need science, not opinion. Was Recovered Memory Therapy useful? Was it socially useful to charge any number of innocent people with imaginary sex crimes?

Was Prefrontal Lobotomy useful? Was it socially useful to destroy the lives of thousands of people who couldn't be meaningfully treated?

I am simply pointing out the flaws in your reasoning, not arguing that psychology isn't useful. But, just as with medicine, no meaningful measure of of psychology's usefulness can be gotten without the methods of science.

Psychology is just as useful as astrology is, and just as scientific.
It has doulble-checked, treble-checked, nth-time-checked results in the filed of Learning and Memory. Do you have any idea how your arguments sound? My hypothetical astrology result has also been double- and triple-checked, but it is not science, it is a mere description with no depth, and it cannot turn astrology into a science. These time-tried results allow us to understand something about the real world - namely what conditions favor the production of stronger memories and learning. This is false. The results you list are mere descriptions. They're descriptions because no one knows why they are true (when they are). To become science, a testable explanation of the description would be required.

I see you're not getting this, so here's an example. Doctor Dubious invents a new treatment for the common cold. His treatment is to shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until the patient gets better. Sometimes the treatment takes a week, but it always works — the cold sufferer always recovers. So, why doesn't Doctor Dubious get a Nobel Prize for his breakthrough?

The answer is that the procedure is only a description — shake the gourd, patient recovers — without an explanation, without a basis for actually learning anything or being truthful about the connection between cause and effect. It's the same with psychology.

Nobel Prizewinner Richard Feynman described this kind of pseudoscience in his now-famous article "Cargo Cult Science". In the article, Feynman describes the pseudosciences (he mentions psychology specifically) that go through the motions of science but without the substance, just like the South Sea Islanders who build pretend runways and pretend airplanes, hoping to get real results.

Here is a quote from the article: "So we really ought to look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science. I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science."

Feynman goes on to describe in detail how entire "scientific" fields go through the motions of science, but without ever crossing the threshold of real science, science that could demonstrate usefulness instead of simply claiming it without evidence.
This knowledge in itself can be applied by any student that wants to insure he/she will remember their lectures and textbooks. That's not a verifiable finding until and unless someone tries to explain the result, and then tests the explanation. Are you aware how many psychological results and practices turn out to be examples of the Placebo effect? So Psychology has produced at least a few hundred papers that are not only insightful, backed by strong empirical evidence and capable of bearing conterfactual predictions - they're also being applied to help humans beings. Prove it. Prove it using science, not rhetoric. Until those papers become more than descriptions, until they're backed up by tested scientific theory, they're indistinguishable from shaking a dried gourd over psychology's clients. Astrology can't do any of that. On the contrary, astrology uses the same methods to achieve the same results. If people doubted the value of astrology, they would refuse to pay for it, just as with psychology. But neither astrology nor psychology has moved beyond description — beyond shaking a dried gourd over a patient — into the realm where we try to explain our results. The realm where we actually discover something about nature and ourselves. The realm where psychologists agree on reliable, tested theoretical principles, as doctors do.
False Diagnoses
Hey thank you for a well researched, well articulated article on this very topic, which is very important to me. I had a question, I don't know if you can answer this, but you mention possible drawbacks to having a psychological diagnosis in one's medical records. I was wondering what those drawbacks are? I've been through their game and have had numerous false diagnosis's — Wait ... if psychology isn't a science, how can there ever be a "false diagnosis"? Until psychology is a science they're all false diagnoses, or (depending on your outlook) all true diagnoses. If a vestal virgin can claim to have been raped and forced to abort with a coathanger, and be believed, then there are no false diagnoses — everything is true. — and while this certainly bothers me on a personal level I don't know how it would adversely effect me if I don't tell anyone. That's easy to answer. If, while applying for a job, you conceal the fact that you've had a mental illness diagnosis, and if your employer later wants to get rid of you, all he needs to do is uncover the diagnosis and you're out. Lying about a mental illness diagnosis is sometimes a very serious offense, as the recent Germanwings airline disaster shows. My point about Germanwings is that, if the airline had discovered the mental illness diagnosis plus the fact that the pilot had concealed it, that would have resulted in his immediate dismissal for reasons of public safety. In fact, because of the Germanwings disaster, this policy is to be put in place right away. It's been so long I don't know if those records are even in tact. Of course they are. For someone sufficiently motivated, such records are easily acquired. This is something about psychology that many young people don't understand — a mental illness diagnosis follows one through life, even if (as with Asperger's) the mental illness is later abandoned. And if you ever need a security clearance to work on a sensitive project, there's no chance for this information not to play a part in the decision-making process. Under those circumstances, the worst thing you can do is try to conceal the fact of the diagnosis. In that specific case, intentional concealment is a crime.

None of this may apply to you, and your instincts may serve you well. But don't dismiss the long-term effect of having a mental illness diagnosis, and don't try to claim that a diagnosis is false. For a pseudoscientific field like psychology, describing a diagnosis as false, as you do above, has no meaning. Without science, claims are neither true nor false.

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