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Building Science : Feedback

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Soft Science I | Soft Science II | Soft Science III | Is it Science? | On the Fence I | On the Fence II | On the Fence III | On the Fence IV | If Psychology Vanished ... | Psychological Science | Description versus Explanation | Utterly Wrong | Theory of Mind | Art versus Science | Clinical Neuropsychology

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Soft Science I
I wanted to send you a link from a forum ... that I'm a member of, and where I brought you up and your take on psychology. I think it cleared up my view a little on the issue. However interesting I found your articles on the topic, I have to disagree with a few. It would have been interesting to hear which points you disagreed with. I know that you've stated that neuroscience will basically be able to replace psychology at some point and how dubious a subject-field it is. A couple of posts in the thread take on that point. I also want to bring up a quote related to a one of the comments in the thread: 'Perception contains interior and exterior modalities, or Wilber’s solution to the Mind-Body Problem in philosophy. You can cut open someone’s brain, track the neurons firing when they think about a cat, but which is real, the neurons firing or the thought about the cat? It depends who you ask.' Not really — neuroscience may be unimaginative compared to mind studies, but in exchange it doesn't rely on opinion, it relies on repeatable measurements. We might not be able to reconstruct a person's subjective experience by measuring brainwaves or scanning the brain in 3D, but the advantage of brain science is that it's empirical — every similarly equipped observer measures the same thing. This greatly reduces the level of confusion at the experimental level compared to mind studies.

People can pretend to have PTSD, or pretend not to if they prefer that outcome, because it's about the mind, not the brain. Psychologists can hand out Asperger Syndrome diagnoses or withhold them, depending on unrelated factors like the popularity of the diagnosis, because it's about the mind, not the brain.

People can report that they recently remembered they were brutally raped years ago but suppressed the memory, as in Recovered Memory Therapy, then, after the imaginary criminals are jailed, realize they were talked into their memories by a psychologist, because it's about the mind, not the brain.

By studying the brain, we can craft scientific theories and put neuroscience on a reliable theoretical foundation. We cannot do this by studying the mind, because the mind inconveniences us by not existing.

The drawback to brain studies is that it relies less on vivid imagination and more on comparatively boring, repeatable, direct measurements than mind studies do. That's also its advantage.
Soft Science II

[ This is a forward from a psychology discussion group. ]

I'm going to quote [deleted to assure privacy], since I think he put it better than I could:

"Psychologist have reproduced the same/statistically similar results in studies thousands and thousands of times.
Yes, and every time an astrologer casts a chart for a given birthdate, it comes out the same. This means getting the same result over and over for a given experiment doesn't by itself make the result science.

What psychologists don't do is shape theories about their research — theories that can be tested, theories that would force all psychologists onto the same page, theories that might turn psychology into a science.

There are many, many perfectly scientific psychological studies, conducted efficiently and with discipline. What psychology doesn't have are central, defining theories on which all psychologists agree, that could turn the field into a science — the kinds of theories that define all legitimate sciences: for biology, evolution, natural selection, cell biology, genetics. For physics, the Standard Model, relativity, cosmology, particle physics. For medicine, theories about germs and epidemics — as well as some theories it shares with biology.
It's true that some studies produce contradictory results some of the times, but that's often because the experiments were set up differently, they were carried out poorly, or the hypothesis is unreliable. This is true for biology or physics as well. It's not the failed experiments that make physics and biology sciences — it's the successes, the experiments that becomes theories, the theories that go on to define those fields.

Psychology doesn't have any of those. Psychology is completely Balkanized by an inability to settle on general psychological principles, in the way that relativity unites physics, and evolution unites biology.
They have documented hundreds of times where chemists or physicists unconsciously affect the results of their own experiments and come up with contradictory information. See above. And yes, psychology is considered a "soft" science. Hold on — science isn't an ice cream store with hard ice cream and soft ice cream. In the science store there's just one flavor — its ingredients are evidence, testable theories, and the essential ingredient of falsifiability. For scientific fields (as opposed to scientific studies), the requirements are similar, except that fields are defined by tested, reliable, falsifiable theories — the kind of theories that don't exist in psychology. But I think the criticisms of soft sciences is ridiculous. People think that just because something can't be objectively measured, it must not be true, or it must be useless. That's not the problem. The problem is not that someone can or cannot claim that a practice is useful. The problem is there is no scientific basis for demonstrating that fact. Once someone tries to claim that a given practice is "useful" but without evidence on which different practitioners can agree, it is in that moment that the field leaves the domain of science. In psychology, for lack of science to back up claims of utility, there are as many fiefdoms as there are laboratories, and they often don't even talk to each other.

As a result, there are endless examples in which different groups of psychologists come to completely opposite conclusions about the same behavior, refuse to read their own literature, then start schools of "thought" that flatly contradict each other. Here's an example — one promising new school of thought is called Grit (personality_trait)

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."

So based on that, it seems that a concert violinist is more likely to be successful if he focuses his attention on playing the violin for hours or days, as opposed to taking a walk in the park, to the exclusion of other activities, in furtherance of his personal goal. Someone like Albert Einstein is a classic "Grit" success story — he spent years and nearly ruined his health in devoted focus on one goal — his theory of relativity.

Admirable, yes? Not necessarily. Here's another school of thought — Asperger Syndrome

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."

Wait, what? Did I read that right? The same behavior — devoted focus and absorption in one pursuit, celebrated by the "Grit" contingent, will get you diagnosed with a mental illness by the Asperger's contingent. And guess which historical figure has been branded an AS sufferer? Einstein, of course.

Psychology will not become a science unless and until its practitioners shape, and then test, general principles of human mental functioning, until all its practitioners agree on what the field actually means, until it has testable content that is not a matter of opinion. Until people aren't thrown in jail for imaginary sex crimes (Recovered memory Therapy). And until evidence ranks higher than eminence.
This is ridiculous. Otherwise, you may as well walk around and say, "I didn't like cereal today, but my dopamine recepters signaled satisfaction to me." Or "I didn't have sex, my testosterone spiked and signalled it was time for sexual activity." Measuring people's subjective experiences (and yes, surveys can suck, but no they're not the only way) can be incredibly useful, and I would argue, at times even MORE useful, than finding the neurological reasons something is happening. Oh, do feel free to argue. But as a scientist, I rank evidence above argument. Your claim that a given practice is "useful", however persuasive, means nothing without scientific evidence. And this is more than a philosophical point — medical insurers are eventually going to stop paying for treatments that have no basis in scientific evidence. For instance, clinical psychologists have known for over a century that talking about your problems make the pain or intensity of the emotions less and makes you feel better. Yes, it's something called the Placebo Effect. Prove this wrong using science — prove that the fact that all therapies produce the same result, is not strong evidence for the Placebo Effect, and counterevidence for the often-heard claim that these individual therapies actually mean anything apart from the simple and therapeutic pleasure of conversation. Recently, neurologists discovered ... Do avoid trying to use neuroscience to support psychological ideas. Neuroscience is a science on the ground that it studies the brain, a physical organ. Psychology studies the mind, which inconveniences the field by not existing (in the way the brain exists) and by not being accessible to empirical study. ... that speaking about feelings activates the neo-cortex and overrides the amygdala — where much of the fear and painful emotions are felt. This suggests that *drum roll* talking about your painful emotions will lessen the intensity of which you feel them — ta da! I am perpetually amazed by what psychologists think constitutes science. Do the terms "control group" and "double-blind experiment" sound familiar? Drum roll, ta-da, show me the evidence that arose in a disciplined, replicated study with a control group and double-blind precautions. Show me such a study that both clinical psychologists and psychiatrists accept without reservation, and that survives replication.

One final comment. In 1964, two researchers at Bell Labs tried to rid their microwave dish of an annoying noise. But, even though they chased birds away and painted and scrubbed, they didn't locate the source of the noise. They had a signal without an explanation.

Meanwhile, in a nearby university, a group of cosmologists realized that evidence for the Big Bang theory might be in the form of a microwave signal coming from every direction. They didn't have a microwave dish to test their idea, which meant they had an explanation without a signal.

One day the Bell Labs people called the university people and asked about the annoying noise in their dish.

This is a first-rate scientific story, indeed one of the best. Bell labs had a dish but no theory. The university people had a theory but no dish. The two groups connected, and the reason this connection led to a new, very important discovery (and some Nobel Prizes) was because both the Bell labs people, and the university people, had a common theoretical framework that made meaningful cooperation possible. They were on the same scientific page. They were interested only in resolving a shared theoretical issue — meaning they were scientists.

Psychology doesn't work this way. If it ever does, if different groups of psychologists should actually communicate and cooperate, if (as just one example) the "Grit" and Asperger's contingents should ever be willing to talk to each other, at that point psychology might earn the right to call itself a science, and deserve a public trust that it hasn't yet earned.

Now read some science
Soft Science III
It's where you start saying that we should advance completely without the field because of these faults that I get skeptical - if that is the claim you're making. Wait — I didn't say that. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, said that in his article Faulty Circuits (Scientific American, 2010).

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."

In the above quotation I draw your attention to the phrase "scientific approaches ... are replacing nearly a century of purely psychological theories".

And Ronald F. Levant, the past president of the American Psychological Association, said that, in his position paper Evidence-based practice in psychology (APA, 2005) .

A quote: "Some APA members have asked me why I have chosen to sponsor an APA Presidential Initiative on Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) in Psychology, expressing fears that the results might be used against psychologists by managed-care companies and malpractice lawyers ... psychology needs to define EBP in psychology or it will be defined for us."

In case you didn't follow that 2005 episode, Levant's initiative was shouted down by the APA rank and file, who flatly rejected the suggestion that psychology might adopt evidence-based methods and move a bit toward science.

You're not disputing my position, you're disputing the position of the opinion leaders in the field of psychology.
Again, neuroscience can make very little headway without psychology. Nonsense. Why would neuroscience try to integrate its scientific activities with an unscientific field? But again, this is not my view — here is the degree to which neuroscience depends on psychology: Identification of risk loci with shared effects on five major psychiatric disorders: a genome-wide analysis (Lancet, 2013).

A quote: "These results provide evidence relevant to the goal of moving beyond descriptive syndromes in psychiatry, and towards a nosology informed by disease cause."

In the above Lancet article's abstract, I draw your attention to the phrase "moving beyond descriptive syndromes in psychiatry ..." Do you understand what that means? It means neuroscientists intend to abandon psychology's methods and replace them with a more scientific approach, one based on direct physical evidence. And it corresponds with NIMH director Insel's views exactly, except this comes, not from an administrator in a policy paper, but from a team of working neuroscientists in a technical article.

And please — in case it crosses your mind — avoid trying to correct my conflation of psychiatry and psychology, as many others have done. It's disingenuous to say that psychology is a science, united by theory, while also saying that psychiatrists aren't real psychologists or the reverse. If psychology were a science, psychologists and psychiatrists would share the same theoretical core and would express mutual respect, such as exists between cosmologists and particle physicists, whose specialties have much less in common than psychiatry and psychology, but who productively attend each other's conferences and share technical data.
As for encompassing principles on mental functioning, if that truly is a hallmark for science as you say it is (I'll have to give you the benefit of the doubt on that), That is also not my opinion, it's in the nature of science and scientific fields. Each legitimate scientific field is defined by central theories that guide experimental work and unite the field. Try to imagine biology without the theories and principles of evolution, natural selection, cell biology and genetics — you would have something resembling psychology, people wandering in darkness, publishing their opinions and refusing to read the opinions of others.

I find it instructive that you don't even know that this theoretical requirement exists and is an easily established fact about every legitimate scientific field.
then that will probably be a bit of a stumbling block for a while. Regardless of that, progress can be made until that framework is in place - using the scientific method. Use the scientific method to analyze a philosophical abstraction called the mind? Psychology's science issues are deeper than you're willing to acknowledge — the mind is not something open to empirical investigation, and science must be empirical. It's not an accident that psychology doesn't have defining, tested principles to unite the field — to do that, research would have to produce objective results that every psychologist would readily accept. But mind studies don't produce that kind of objective evidence, for the reason that all mind-derived results are open to interpretation and conjecture. People just have to watch their step and avoid the dog shit. Or abandon psychology and transition into neuroscience, which is what the field's opinion leaders, quoted above, are recommending (and doing). Again, I emphasize I'm not the source of this view — it's the view of those who are in a position to express themselves, be heard, and be influential enough to guide the transition.

To suggest, as you have above, that this is merely my idea, one would have to avoid reading his own field's literature over the past five years, which ironically makes the unscientific, unreflective reputation of psychology and psychologists a serious and self-referential obstacle.
Is it Science?
Thanks for the two wonderful articles on mathematics and psychology and whether they are a science or not. As a computer science and psychology student it's always a fun adventure to notice the tension between these two (and related) fields (e.g. mathematics vs psychology). Well, math and psychology aren't very good choices for a science comparison. Mathematics is widely regarded as very important, but not a science on the ground that it's not empirical — one cannot falsify a theorem using new empirical evidence, and both falsifiability and empirical evidence are required for science. Psychology isn't scientific because psychologists don't create and test empirical, falsifiable theories or establish unifying principles. In the simplest terms, psychologists only describe, they don't explain.

So the comparison is flawed — physics and psychology would have been a better comparison.
I have a question about the psychology article, because I feel that you leave a key (sub)field out. It may be because I misunderstand it or because you wrote an essay (and not a book).

I agree that clinical psychology is not a science. But what about cognitive psychology?
Imagine we're discussing physics instead of psychology. Imagine that someone says, "Okay, cosmology is a science, but is particle physics a science?" But in physics this sort of question isn't asked. It isn't asked because physics is a science, and sciences are defined and unified by empirical, testable, falsifiable theories.

The same body of theory that makes cosmology a science, makes particle physics a science — relativity means exactly the same thing to a cosmologist and a particle physicist. The same body of theory that makes biology a science, makes medicine a science — evolution means exactly the same thing to a biologist and a doctor.

By definition, scientific fields require empirical, testable, falsifiable theories, theories that both unite and define the field. Every legitimate science is defined by its theories. No theory, no science.

But let's test this claim with a thought experiment — let's say psychology can be a science even though it has no central, defining theories or principles. Let's say that crafting and testing theories isn't a requirement for science, and see where this takes us.

Let's say I'm a doctor and I've created a revolutionary cure for the common cold. My cure is to shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until he gets better. The cure might take a week, but it always works. My method is repeatable and perfectly reliable, and I've published my cure in a refereed scientific journal (there are now any number of phony refereed scientific journals). And, because (in this thought experiment) science can get along without defining theories, I'm under no obligation to try to explain my cure, or consider alternative explanations for my breakthrough — I only have to describe it, just like a psychologist.

Because I've cured the common cold, and because I've met all the requirements that psychology recognizes for science, I deserve a Nobel Prize. Yes or no?

Ask yourself what's wrong with this picture, and notice that the same thing is wrong with psychology — all description, no explanation, no established principles on which different psychologists agree, no effort to build consensus, and no unifying theories.
I see no mention about cognitive psychology. Could you elaborate on if you believe that cognitive psychology is a science (or not) and why you did not write about it. The same question could be asked about any of the 54 subfields currently recognized by the American Psychological Association. But because the subfields aren't united by rigorous, empirical, falsifiable scientific theory, they're independent fiefdoms, and they often flatly disagree with each other. This is not science. Your question reveals modern psychology's dirty secret — how can psychiatrists and clinical psychologists ignore the science in theoretical psychology and do whatever they please? The answer is that there's no science to ignore — no reliable results to guide clinical practice or unify the field. For instance, for a class, I did a literature review of cognitive studies done on intuition (mostly on chess players attaining expertise, since chess is a nice closed system). According to the studies I found, chess experts always had changes in a brain part called the caudate nucleus. Wait, hold on. Psychology is defined as the study of the mind. The caudate nucleus is part of the brain, not the mind. That's the domain of neuroscience, defined as the study of the brain and nervous system. Neuroscientific results cannot be used to elevate psychology above opinion and conjecture, and when psychologists quote neuroscientific results, they're implicitly acknowledging psychology's inability to create a science of the mind. In this case you could hypothesize that people who practice in chess will have changes in the caudate nucleus. To me that sounds like science (provided that the methodology is good enough). It may be science, but it's not psychology. And even as a neuroscience result, it still needs to be explained — science requires explanations, not just descriptions.

There are any number of psychologists jumping ship right now, either pretending to be neuroscientists, or retraining themselves in science, as society abandons psychology for the best of reasons (no reliable results and no science).

Is society really abandoning psychology? Let's look at the evidence. In a controversial decision, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health has recently decided to phase out, and eventually abandon, the DSM as a focus for scientific research (it will remain as a diagnostic guide). Because the DSM is psychiatry and psychology's central authority, this decision is no less than the first step in the demotion of psychiatry and psychology to the status of astrology. Thirty years from now, because of advances in neuroscience, psychiatrists, psychologists and astrologers, all of whom say and do whatever they please and who hold science in contempt, will be seen as equivalently pseudoscientific — and in my opinion, not a moment too soon.
On the Fence I
I'm having furious debates with a lot of psychology students at the moment. Currently my position is that I'm letting your opinion sink in and slowly try to make my mind upon it. But there are a lot of gaps actually which I'm trying to address (both sides of the story have gaps, with that I mean psychology as a science or not as a science). Some of the students agree and others disagree. I feel like I'm the only one in the middle currently. It's interesting hosting this discussion though

So here is my question (note: I'm not quite proficient in physics). You said: "What do I mean by "defined"? Physics is defined by what it calls the Standard Model. If an experimental result should come along that falsifies the Standard Model, that would not just be the end of the Standard Model, it would be the end of physics as a science. That's the rule that governs all sciences."
I should have explained in more depth. If the experimental result leads to a rewriting of the Standard Model, then it doesn't end physics. And yes, such things have happened — read the history of the luminiferous ether as one example.

But at its most basic, sciences are defined by theories, and if the theories are falsified without the possibility of replacement, then yes, that's the end of the field. Phlogiston. Alchemy. Astrology. Ptolemaic cosmology. Phrenology. All based on theories, all falsified, and in most cases abandoned (with the exception of Astrology).

But psychology cannot be falsified for a straightforward reason — no theory to falsify.
So what I'm asking myself is: quantum mechanics cannot be explained by the standard model. No, that's wrong. The Standard Model certainly explains quantum theory, it just doesn't say why it's that way. Quantum is our most successful scientific theory with oodles of practical consequences, like the computer I'm sitting at. But quantum theory is not philosophy, therefore it doesn't try to say why nature is that way. Yet, quantum mechanics is still a part of physics. This means that there are 2 different groups 'battling each other'. Are you referring to the incompatibility between quantum and relativity theories? Both theories are very well-tested and scientific, falsifiable, with much experimental support. They have large areas of validity in non-overlapping domains — general relativity efficiently describes the macroscopic world, and quantum efficiently describes the microscopic world. These theories fail only when one tries to apply relativity in quantum's domain or vice versa. There is no comparison with psychology, where there are no scientific theories at all, and no efforts to craft any. So physics has battling groups and no overarching theory as does psychology. So why is physics still a science then? First, there certainly are overarching theories in physics, and they're validated in experiment. To say that they have a regime of conflict is not at all the same as saying they have no validity — that would be like claiming that Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems invalidate mathematics.

Second, with respect to your saying "... as does psychology", implying that psychology has an overarching theory, that's false — psychology has no defining scientific theories. Were this not the case, clinincal psychologists and psychiatrists would have to limit their practice to the evidence-based defining scientific theories of psychology, as is true in medicine, where evidence-based practice is mandatory. But evidence-based practice has yet to even receive a fair hearing among psychologists, as the president of the American Psychological Association discovered in 2005.

Let me emphasize this — all properly educated physicists accept both quantum and relativity theories, and they recognize the need to unite them in a single future theory. By contrast, psychologists have yet to even outline a testable, empirical, falsifiable theory of the mind.
I'm probably going wrong somewhere according to you and I'd like to know where, because it doesn't seem to be apparent to me. It's simple. Psychologists long ago gave up the project of explaining and seem satisfied to describe. This is why the NIMH is now phasing out the DSM — it's just not scientific enough, and neuroscience has begun to look promising as a replacement.

The phasing out of the DSM is the biggest change in the field of psychology in many decades — it clearly identifies psychology and psychiatry's results as unscientific descriptions of mental conditions, of some utility for diagnosis but unsuitable as a basis for research.

By contrast, physicists can explain as well as describe much of everyday reality, and there is a huge amount of consistency in the explanations. In biology, researchers can describe and explain evolution, cellular biology, genetics and related topics. These are examples of sciences — they're defined by formal, empirical, falsifiable, well-tested theories.

There's no meaningful basis for comparison with psychology and psychiatry.
On the Fence II
... in your article you really do only talk about clinical psychology and psychiatry (I checked the outgoing links). Yes, but think about that a bit more deeply. In a scientific field, all the field's divisions are sciences, because they're united by theory. For example, if a medical researcher produces a theory that leads to a legitimate treatment (think polio, smallpox, malaria), it's adopted by all medical practitioners without exception, on the ground that it has been validated by research and clinical trials. In this way, scientific theories and evidence produce consensus and unify the field — a bridge is built between theory and practice.

By that reasoning and that model, to argue that clinical psychology isn't scientific is to argue that psychology isn't scientific. The only way psychiatrists and clinical psychologists can ignore theoretical psychology's scientific results is if there aren't any results to ignore — and there aren't.
So some psychologists will never get to know the full depth and breadth of this discussion, because we get taught in the classroom that clinical psychology is not science. That instruction can only indict the way science is taught in psychology. Imagine that cosmologists are taught that particle physicists aren't really scientists, or the reverse. If that were true, it would indict physics itself as an unscientific endeavor.

The reason this issue doesn't come up in physics, biology or medicine, is because those fields are united by their scientific theories. Relativity theory means exactly the same thing to a cosmologist and to a particle physicist. Evolution means exactly the same thing to a biologist and a medical researcher.
So they're thinkng "wait this guy says psychology is not a science and then only gives examples about clinical psychology, that is not fair." Yes, and I can't tell you how often I have heard that argument, and each time I hear it, I realize that science isn't being taught correctly in psychology. One of the essential properties of science is that evidence is objective — it means exactly the same thing to all similarly equipped observers. If psychology were scientific, an experimental finding would mean exactly the same thing to a theorist and a practitioner, and treatments not vetted by research would be forbidden in clinics. Clearly not so.

Expressed another way, and to be perfectly blunt, when a student asks, "Which part of psychology is this person taking about?", he is acknowledging that psychology isn't a science.
And like me they will assume they then know your full standpoint and start attacking you about it or asking questions. The attacking or asking questions part is in my opinion a matter of how much they identify themselves with the field and how passionate they feel about it ... But science isn't driven by passion, it's driven by objective examination of evidence and the impartial crafting of theories. When I hear a psychologist express himself passionately about how scientific he thinks his field is, I realize how deep psychology's problems are.

What's typically lacking in a psychologist's passionate advocacy of his field is the healthy skepticism on which science depends, the bedrock assumption that an idea without supporting evidence is assumed to be false (the null hypothesis). By contrast, psychologists regularly assume unsupported ideas are true (Recovered Memory Therapy, Asperger Syndrome, etc.).
For me, I'm going to think about this more deeply still and come with a response later on. I'm mainly thinking about if there is a "standard model" like theory (I haven't found one yet) That's because there isn't anything remotely like a scientific theory to define psychology. This is a much-lamented fact about the field, and it results from the field's subject, the human mind, which doesn't exist in an empirical sense (science must be empirical). Because basically you're claiming those fields are not a science (and clinical psychology). Wait, what? That's not my claim. That's the claim of Thomas Insel, sitting director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who is pulling the plug on psychiatry and psychology as we speak, saying, "Patients with mental disorders deserve better".

That's the claim of past APA president Ronald Levant, who in 2005 advocated a move toward evidence-based practice, but who was shouted down by the APA rank and file.

That's the claim of Nobel Prizewinner Richard P. Feynman, who in a now-famous article named "Cargo Cult Science", said:
"I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas — he's the controller — and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land."
The above was written in 1974, but psychology's science planes still aren't landing, and it seems society is finally fed up.

I emphasize that NIMH director Insel's recent decision to pull the plug on psychiatry and psychology doesn't mean he thinks psychiatry and clinical psychology have nothing scientific to offer, it means he thinks psychology has nothing scientific to offer. (The DSM remains as a diagnostic guide, but is no longer accepted as a source for science.)
What's interesting about all these subjects is that all psychology students would call them a "soft science" (without reading article) and neuroscience a "hard science". Hold on — science isn't an ice cream store with hard and soft flavors. Science has only one flavor — its ingredients are empirical evidence, objectivity and perpetual falsifiability. Everything else is a cheap substitute.

If psychologists didn't operate clinics and regularly tell the public how mentally sick they are, I wouldn't bother with this, because there are plenty of equally pseudoscientific fields that don't pretend to be a branch of medicine. But a field that presumes to treat the public's real and imagined ills, that regularly announces how many people are sick and need treatment, and that the public believes is grounded in science, must be driven by scientific evidence. Psychology cannot meet this requirement.
On the Fence III
Ah! I think I finally get your reasoning how talking only about clinical psychology invalidates the whole field. Metaphorically speaking you're saying: psychology has no ground to build on, it only has isles, but having only isles is not science. There needs to be a ground connecting them, not water. The ground in this case are the theories (e.g. evolution or the standard model). Therefore, if clinical psychology is shown to be an island then it demonstrates there is no unifying ground in psychology (otherwise it wouldn't have said this). Therefore, there is no psychology. If by "no psychology" you mean "no scientific psychology" then that's accurate. If psychology expelled clinical psychology and psychiatry, prevented them from describing themselves as part of the field, that would be different — it would be like medicine expelling chiropractors on the ground that the latter disregard the legitimate scientific evidence that defines medicine. But there's no chance for that outcome — psychology has no tested theoretical core that could be used to invalidate existing clinical practices, including those that are obviously fantasy.

Indeed, not only is there no effort to use theory to unify psychology, if anything the opposite is true. The American Psychological Association recognizes 54 subdivisions, each of which claims to be studying something different. This by itself calls into question the presumed scientific standing of the field — how could there be 54 scientific subdivisions, all united by theory and all intent on producing the kind of classic science that explains more and more phenomena with fewer and fewer hypotheses?

If psychology were included among sciences, it would have ten times more recognized subdivisions than any other science.
So this means that theoretical computer science is a science, because in essence it's math (and math is a science which you explained in an article). No, that's not accurate (I don't hold that view any longer). Math is highly disciplined and very important to all sciences, but because science must be empirical (i.e. based on observations of nature and perpetually falsifiable), math isn't actually a science as that term is defined. However, computer science itself isn't a science, because theoretical computer science is united by the idea of defining computability (the ideas of automata, decidability and Turing come to mind) and computer science has things like Human Computer Interaction. Sorry, that argument doesn't make sense. If physics were to study astrology, would that (a) validate astrology as a science, or (b) invalidate physics as a science? The answer is neither (a) nor (b) — at the end of the study, physics would remain a science and astrology a pseudoscience. The reason? Physics would remain defined by its theories, and astrology by its (falsified) theories.

Computer science is certainly a science for all the usual reasons — it has central, defining theories, those theories can be falsified by evidence, they unify the field, and all computer scientists are on the same page. As an example, all of them recognize Claude Shannon's information theories and Alan Turing's analysis of a universal computing machine.
You said that some clinical psychologists are retraining or profiling themselves as neuroscientists. This means that clinical neuroscience is a science (i.e. studying brain damage or brain abnormalities, the latter of the two could still be unscientific actually). Neuroscience is a science for reasons you haven't addressed. It's a science because its subject is empirical (the brain and nervous system), because evidence rules, and because neuroscience crafts testable theories about its topic — theories that all neuroscientists either accept or replace with better theories.

If a psychologist retrains in neuroscience and no longer tries to address the "mind", then the result might be science. The problem is that many psychologists simply relabel themselves "clinical neuroscientists", then continue to publish articles on happiness, marital relations and other unscientific topics, and continue to ignore scientific standards.
I bet that there are some clinical psychologists with a tendency to biology who already did a lot of research on biological causes of disorders, while they'd still call it clinical psychology. But that's not possible — the brain is not the mind. All philosophical issues aside, only one of them can produce empirical evidence. I read a study that productivity improves when you allow an employee to decorate his own office instead of management doing this. This is classic pseudoscience — no experimental controls, no control group, no basis for falsification, and a claim that is too nebulous to take seriously. Had this claim been made within a legitimate science, it would still not be science. Also, even among pseudosciences, social psychology has a terrible reputation. Some practitioners are complete frauds but escape detection for decades because of the silly nature of the field (example Diederik Stapel).

When you read a study like this, you need to ask yourself what is being claimed, what theory is being tested, and what contrary evidence could possibly falsify it in a scientific sense.
With that said, according to my current logic and understanding, even though I/O psychology and social psychology still have some scientific value, they do not validate psychology as a science. They also have zero scientific value by themselves, on the ground that they neither address a theoretical framework nor adhere to disciplined scientific methods. They validate opinion studies (is there a real name for it?) and (organisational) behaviour as a science. In the sense that the object of study is behaviour and opinions. Please, how does the object of study grant scientific standing to a given subfield of psychology? That standing can only result from (a) disciplined adherence to scientific methods and (b) acceptance of the theories that define the parent field (or an intent to replace them). I include (b) because to disregard it means there could be any number of studies in different subfields that study the same things but come to different conclusions — something that is notoriously true in psychological work. I do make the assumption that organisational behaviour is a science or could become a science. There's no reason to make assumptions. Science is easy to identify, and no assumptions are required. I didn't think that one through yet. I do have a gut feeling that they don't have an overarching theory as well but probably they do stand more of a chance of getting one. If "organizational behavior" could craft a legitimate overarching theory, it would replace psychology, on the ground that psychology has no overarching theory that might conflict with it.

But because "organizational behavior" studies the mind, and because the mind is not accessible to empirical investigation, it cannot be science. This is really very simple, much simpler than you're making it.

The problem with your analysis is that you're assuming what you should be proving. Instead of analyzing "organizational behavior" with an open mind, you're assuming it's a science and then looking for evidence to support what you already believe. That is a classic example of self-reference — using flawed reasoning to defend the standing of a psychological field that itself suffers from flawed reasoning.

Faced with this same issue, a scientist would be guided by the null hypothesis — the precept that what is being investigated is false until evidence forces one to a different conclusion.
On the Fence IV
... I still stand behind the first part of my email (the explanation why theoretical CS is a science and psychology isn't). Yes, but read my comments on that section — both theoretical and applied computer science are sciences, for some rather simple, easily expressed reasons. In my psychology lecture slides I saw no note on unifying research efforts and how that relates to defining something as science. Of course not — that's not something that a psychologist would either know or volunteer in a lecture. But to see the role of theoretical unification, all one need do is read the history of fields that actually are sciences and see the role played by theory and consensus. But more important, if you think about science deeply enough, you will no longer feel the need to locate an expert you agree with, because you will personally understand the topic based on fundamentals of science and logic. Actually, I couldn't find much information on this topic at all. It's part of science philosophy, not typical science instruction, for the reason that teachers don't want to overload their students with philosophy while they're learning the basics. Also, psychologists would certainly not reveal this, because their version of science doesn't honor these principles.

It's instructive to compare the role of theory and consensus across a spectrum of scientific and pseudoscientific fields. Starting with physics, where theory is a central issue that defines both the field and its content, moving through biology, psychology, sociology, and astrology, one sees a clear decline in the role of theory formation and testing, and the degree to which the field is guided by theoretical principles.

This is not meant to suggest that scientists simply go along with established principles. Nobel prizes are equally likely to be awarded for work that overthrows existing theories as confirms them. Scientists have every incentive to find shortcomings in established theories. But unless someone is willing to craft a testable theory, science can't begin.
What is interesting is that Kuhn is something that's being taught in class, but its criticism about psychology is not. To see if I agree with you means that I should see if I agree with Kuhn his philosphy, because you're essentially saying the same thing. I have to tell you something. The point of this exercise is not for you to decide which expert you agree with, the point is for you to educate yourself to the point where you will understand why science must be the way it is, arising from first principles, not because of some expert or authority.

This is a classic example of self-reference, because psychology is overreliant on authority and reputation, and nearly indifferent to the need for shared principles and evidence. So your effort to scope out the science landscape is being hindered by the context of psychology and social "sciences", which don't turn on scientific principles and don't properly teach critical thinking.

But, rather than accept my claim that science must have theories and explanations, let's pretend this isn't necessary, that descriptions are enough, and see where this leads (this is a logic exercise called reductio ad absurdum).

Here goes. Let's say I'm a doctor and I've invented a cure for the common cold. In my cure, I shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until he is all better. Sometimes my cure takes a week, but it always works. My result has been replicated in many other laboratories, it's been published in refereed journals, therefore it's science — at least, as psychology understands the word "science".

According to the psychological science model, I don't have to try to explain my result or consider alternative explanations for the outcome — I only have to describe it. I don't have to compare my result to the established theories of my field, the product of all the efforts of scientists before me, and I don't have to craft a new theory that would allow others to test my result in different contexts, in order to confirm or falsify my result as a general principle. I don't have to build and support a testable theory in order to produce an evidence-based consensus among members of my own field and move everyone onto the same page. Psychologists don't have to do that, so I don't either.

The above absurd outcome, the above silly excuse for science, is how psychologists do research, but they don't understand what's wrong with it, and they certainly didn't foresee that society would eventually abandon psychological science altogether.

Again, don't take anyone's word for this — not mine, not Kuhn's, not Wikipedia's, no one's. Figure it out for yourself — learn the topic well enough that you will understand why science must have theories, falsifiability and consensus. Apropos, the motto of the British Royal Academy, the oldest science academy, is "Nullius in Verba" — take no one's word for it.
If Psychology Vanished ...
"Suppose tomorrow that all scholarly efforts of the psychologists should disappear from the collective knowledge of mankind ...

Would it really make a difference?"

I know that you are probably really busy and do not have time for these questions. But I would really like to know your opinion on this subject, because I'm writing and essay and it would help me see it from a different point of view (I'm a Psychology student.)
You're using a number of poorly defined, vague terms (like "scholarly" and "collective knowledge") in your question, terms that cannot be resolved using scientific evidence, terms more appropriate to a philosophical than a scientific discussion.

Nevertheless, if the content of psychology were to disappear from society, it would represent a great loss. The loss would be the availability of the field as an example of how completely people can be lured into believing that a field has scientific substance even though it never poses or tests theories about its topic.

What is a scientific theory? A scientific theory is a testable, falsifiable attempt to explain something that has only been described. And make no mistake — theories are required for science, and psychiatry/psychology doesn't have any theories, only descriptions.

Do you doubt the need for theories? Consider this hypothetical example — let's say I'm an ambitious doctor who believes he has cured the common cold. My treatment is to shake dried gourds over my patients until they get better. The treatment always works, it is perfectly reliable and repeatable, it has been successfully replicated in independent laboratories, and the correlation between treatment and cure is 100%.

I believe I have cured the common cold because I have not tried to explain my treatment, I believe I only need to describe it — just like a psychiatrist describing the effect of an antidepression medication, or a psychologist describing the effect of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Psychiatrists and psychologists don't try to shape theories — potentially falsifiable explanations — but they consider themselves scientists, and they think their treatments are something other than the Placebo Effect. The pseudoscience precedent established by psychiatry and psychology means my imaginary doctor can claim to be a scientist, armed with his witch-doctor dried gourds, and it means his common-cold treatment is just as effective as talk therapy or antidepression drugs (which, ironically, it is).

However, if he attempted to explain his result, to propose a theory, he would have to design a test of its validity, one that would falsify his theory if it failed. And if he did this, he would discover that no treatment is just as effective as the dried-gourd treatment. By the same token, if psychiatrists and psychologists attempted to explain their results, they would have to design tests of their validity, and (as some have already discovered) they would find that in many cases, any treatment, or no treatment, worked as well as the accepted treatments.

But they won't do this — instead, as the years go by, psychiatrists and psychologists add new imaginary illnesses to the roster of officially recognized mental illnesses, add new drugs meant to treat these imaginary illnesses, and never try to explain what they've described.

Things have gotten so bad that the director of the NIMH (the highest-ranking U.S. psychiatrist) has reluctantly decided to abandon the DSM as a guide to future scientific research, saying:
"The goal of this new manual, as with all previous editions, is to provide a common language for describing psychopathology. While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. 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."

"Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment."
If you read the above carefully, you will see that the director is saying exactly what I'm saying, using different words.

I hope this answers your inquiry.
Psychological Science
I just read your article called Building Science, which I found very interesting. As a psychologist, I do disagree strongly with a fair bit of it (as you would imagine), but I have a couple of questions for you.

Firstly, do you think it is possible to have a science of human nature/behaviour at all?
That depends. It depends on whether practitioners are willing and able to create falsifiable theories, then test them, then discard those that fail the reality test. The preceding is an absolute requirement for science, not some kind of option or luxury. Say, if you were to start from the beginning, would there be a central theory to unify the subject and its work? That's the issue. A scientific theory must address empirical reality, it must be testable against reality, and in principle it must be possible to prove the theory false. This doesn't mean all scientific theories are false, it means each of them must be susceptible to an empirical test that might prove them false. Without falsifiability, there can be no science.

Put simply, because psychology's subject is the mind, and because the mind cannot produce empirical evidence, psychology cannot be scientific as that term is defined.
Secondly, even though you do not believe Psychology is a science (and I have to say, I do - in part - agree with you, it lacks some of the important features of a science) do you think that (at least) some valuable work has come from Psychology? Without a scientific foundation, terms like "valuable" have no meaning. If a psychological therapy seems effective and makes people happy, but is actually all Placebo Effect, then it's a mistake to give psychology credit for an effect that a bartender or astrologer can produce just as well.

In short, without reliable science, assigning labels to the outcome like "valuable" is somewhere between meaningless and counterproductive. Here's an example — let's say I'm a doctor who believes he has cured the common cold. My cure is to shake a dried gourd over the patient until he gets better. My cure always works, it's perfectly repeatable, and it's replicable in other laboratories that use the same methods and experimental design. To use your term, my cure is "valuable".

But is the above result science? Psychologists regularly trumpet new therapies without asking themselves whether there is a simpler explanation for the outcome, or whether doing nothing would work just as well, so my imaginary doctor has the same right — except that unlike psychology, modern medicine honors scientific standards, therefore my imaginary doctor and his "cure" would be cast out of the profession.
I believe that Psychology is a science in a sense.. Whether something is science cannot be a matter of belief, it must be a matter of fact, and those facts are clearly set out in science's technical definition. There is no latitude in that definition. The definition is sufficiently clear and unambiguous that it is written into laws, laws that are used to prevent religious fundamentalists from trying to offer religion as though it were science, in public school classrooms. Here is an excerpt from one such science-defining law:

  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.
Because science requires tests against the empirical world, and because (unlike the brain) the mind is not accessible to empirical measurement, this categorically eliminates anything resembling psychological science — ironic, given how often one hears the phrase "psychological science".
but because of its subject matter (people) I don't believe it can ever be objective. But science must be objective. How can you call something science that might cause two or more similarly equipped observers to disagree about the meaning of the evidence? Science is objective in two senses — in the sense that observers must be dispassionate about their observations, and in the sense that multiple similarly equipped observers must draw the same conclusion from the evidence. No two people are ever the same, and similarly will never act the same. First, it's not true. Second, it's not science. Do you have any idea what constitutes a scientific observation? If I poll 1000 people and ask them whether they prefer coffee over tea, I have an observation (a description) that more than one person "act[s] the same" with respect to this everyday preference. But until I try to explain the result, offer a testable, falsifiable theory about it, it's not science. Even the same person may act differently in the same situation (much like the same person taking an IQ test may get a different score). You also seem to very strongly disagree with Psychology being used to help people (i.e. clinical psychology), Where did I ever say that? Act like a scientist and locate an example where I claimed that psychology can't help people. My claim is not that psychology can't help people, but that it's not science, therefore until real science is done, the default scientific assumption is that psychologists have the same effectiveness as astrologers, bartenders, fortunetellers and nothing at all. but do you not agree that it DOES actually help people? Studies show that people who visit psychologists report that they feel better later on. The same studies show that people who are sent home without treatment, or who are given a placebo, or who take up new hobbies, or who talk to their aunt Tilly, or who go jogging, ad infinitum, also report that they feel better later on. So, based on that, yes, psychology does help people, but not in a way that can lead to a theory, an explanation that distinguishes psychology from knitting.

It ... is ... not ... science. And modern society requires claims to be backed up by science.
One cannot ignore the facts! If you were a scientist, if you had any idea what constitutes science, you would know that assuming a claim to be true until it is proven false (your present outlook) is the exact opposite of the mental state of a trained scientist, who assumes that a claim is false until it is supported by unimpeachable evidence. The latter position (false until supported by evidence) is called the "null hypothesis", and it is the default position of every true scientist, every scientific research project, and every scientific publication. The basic scientific assumption is that (to paraphrase Gertrude Stein) there is no there there, unless and until persuasive evidence exists that cannot be explained any other way.

Because of these issues, and because of some recent, serious missteps by psychiatrists and psychologists, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has recently ruled that the DSM [psychiatry and psychology's "bible"] will no longer be accepted as the basis for scientific research proposals, for the simple reason that it has no scientific content. This is an important and historic change in the government's posture toward psychiatry and psychology. I should add that the individual who made this decision is a psychiatrist.

Based on the content of your post, it's essential for you to understand that your training in psychology included nothing remotely resembling science or an understanding of scientific discipline. I should add that I have talked to hundreds of psychologists and psychology students over the past ten years, and none of them had any idea what constitutes science. This is not an accident — in modern psychology, science is an obstacle to be evaded or overcome.

Is science important for psychology? Well, in a word, yes — if a psychologist can listen to a young woman's claim to have been brutally raped and impregnated by her father, then raise a public alarm without first checking to see if the woman is a virgin, then a little bit of science might be a good idea.
Description versus Explanation
I read your essay on psychology not being a science. I think you levy some strong and valid criticism against the field; however, there is some stuff that is not correct. For instance, your description of facilitated communication makes it sound as if the entire field thought facilitated communication was a well-supported idea. I never said that. I did say that it is still practiced by psychiatrists and psychologists, easily verified online. I aver that the majority of the field did NOT view facilitated communication well, with most rejecting it as the pseudoscience that it is. The only relevant point is whether psychiatrists and psychologists can practice Facilitated Communication without interference, and whether psychology's clients see it as a practice that's accepted by psychology. The answer to these questions is clearly yes, and psychiatrists and psychologists are free to practice Facilitated Communication if they choose.

Compare this to Chiropractic, which is not accepted as medicine, and which cannot be practiced in a medical hospital. The difference? Medicine honors science and evidence.
Do you criticize the field of medicine because some doctors accept homeopathic treatments (which is equally as ridiculous as facilitated communication)? Why should I? If homeopathic treatments are presented as clinically accepted in a hospital setting absent evidence of their safety and efficacy, the doctors would be arrested and subsequently barred from practicing medicine. Which means your example has no basis in reality. It would be disingenuous to criticize a field as broad as medicine or psychology based on a ridiculous therapy practiced by a small minority of the field. You just justified murder, which is a ridiculous therapy to settle personal differences practiced by only a small minority of people. One difference between science and pseudoscience in the clinic is that a scientific clinical practice absolutely prevents therapies that are not backed up by scientific evidence. Not a "small minority", but not at all. I do agree with your criticisms of recovered memories and the harm some mental health practitioners caused, and I believe that any treatment or sub-area of psychology, medicine, or psychiatry needs to be validated and well-replicated to be taken seriously and if it can't do that, it needs to be dismissed as pseudoscience. Then based on the fact that Recovered Memory Therapy is still practiced by psychiatrists and psychologists, psychology is pseudoscience — it doesn't wait for evidence to justify therapeutic procedures as is required in medicine.

Which brings us to an important difference between science and pseudoscience. In pseudoscience, ideas are assumed to be true until proven false. In science, ideas are assumed to be false until proven true (the "null hypothesis") — exactly the opposite.

Why is it a mistake to assume claims are true unless proven false? Easily explained — let's say I'm a pseudoscientist who believes in Bigfoot. According to the pseudoscientific thesis, Bigfoot exists unless someone can prove he doesn't exist. But think about this — Bigfoot cannot possibly be proven not to exist somewhere in the universe, hiding under some rock. In formal logic, a disproof would require "proof of a negative", an impossible evidentiary burden. Therefore a skeptical, scientific outlook is essential to avoid wasting time on childish fantasies.
However, let's take closer look at recovered memories. Since the 1990s, many cognitive psychologists--granted not clinical psychologists--have showed that using the techniques used to recover memories can reliably (both in statistical sense within an experiments as well as across experiments done by many different investigators) create false memories. I disagree that these many studies in the 90s had no impact on clinical psychology and the reduction of these unethical recovered-memory treatments. Feel free to disagree all you want, but the fact is that psychiatrists and psychologists are presently free to practice Recovered Memory Therapy if they choose. The reason? Psychology has no scientific standards to prevent any therapy whatever from being put into practice in clinics. In this case, the essential scientific standard is the assumption that a claim is false until unimpeachable evidence supports it. The history of psychiatry and psychology clearly shows that ideas are assumed to be valid until they're proven false and/or harmful — the definition of pseudoscience.

Recovered Memory Therapy wasn't falsified in scientific experiments, it was discouraged (but not eliminated) by courtroom proceedings including many multimillion dollar judgments against its practitioners. U.S. courts have ruled that they will no longer hear Recovered Memory Therapy cases. But none of this can stop psychologists from offering the therapy if they choose. The reason? It hasn't been proven false, therefore it must be true — the logic of the pseudoscientist.
To be clear, I am not defending clinical psychology. In fact, I agree that a lot of clinical psychology is still mired in pseudoscience. However, I know there are many well-replicated phenomenon [sic] in regards to human memory. Well-replicated descriptions, not explanations. Science requires empirically testable, falsifiable explanations. More on this topic below. In fact, in my research methods class the students complete both basic (demonstrating things like the testing effect, the spacing effect, hypermnesia, etc) and applied (using empirically supported "good" and "bad" memory principles) experiments on themselves to show research design, to show that these findings replicate, and learn how to study in a more effective fashion. You've just offered a description. You're missing the very important difference between description and explanation — in science, observations are explained, and the explanations must be open to empirical test and potential falsification.

Mere descriptions are not science. For science, we must have testable, falsifiable explanations. Do you doubt this? Okay, how about a thought experiment? Let's say I'm a doctor who believes he has cured the common cold. My cure is to shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until he gets better. My cure always works, it is replicable in other laboratories, and it's perfectly reliable. But it is not science until I try to explain my result — at which point the errors in my thinking will be exposed.
These memory principles and demonstrations are based on theories that make falsifiable predictions. You're misusing the word "theory", applying it to a description with no theoretical dimension. My cure for the common cold has the same standing. I predict that anyone who gets my dried-gourd treatment will recover within a few days. My prediction is falsifiable and replicable. But it is not a theory, defined as an attempt to explain and generalize a mere description. If the findings were not well-replicated, I would change the practice of telling students to do these things. So is my cold cure — very well-replicated. But it's not science, it's nonsense masquerading as science. In sum, while I think you rightly point out a lot of problems with clinical psychology, I think some of your essay is a bit disingenuous in presenting some pseudoscientific ideas as being more accepted by the entire field (I don't even think psychology can be summed up as one field). Yes, and that demonstrates how far psychology is removed from the world of science. If psychology were a science, it would have a single, central, corpus of theory that would define the entire field, as is true for every single true science without exception.

Physics has the Standard Model, which defines the entire field and all subfields. Every new physical finding has the potential to reinforce or falsify all of physics. Each subfield of physics must compare its findings with the Standard Model, and either support or falsify some part of it. Particle physicists, who study nature at the smallest scale, attend conferences alongside cosmologists, who study nature at the largest scale. They productively share findings and conclusions, for the simple reason that their apparently different pursuits are defined and unified by a common corpus of scientific theory.

Particle physicists don't say about cosmologists that they're not the "real thing", as psychiatrists regularly say about clinical psychologists (and vice versa). The difference? Physics is a science. All physicists are on the same page.

Biology is defined by theories of evolution, natural selection, cell biology and a handful of other theories, all empirical, all falsifiable. All biologists are on the same page.

Each scientific field is similarly defined — by testable, empirical, unifying, general statements about reality. And if reality disagrees, the theory must be discarded — even an entire field on occasion.
Finally, each claim must be falsifiable and be well-replicated before it can be taken seriously. By the same faulty reasoning, my cold cure is falsifiable — if it ever didn't work, that might be taken as a falsification. It has to be well-replicated as well, and it is. So, given this spectacular breakthrough, why don't I get a Nobel Prize for curing the common cold? The answer is that my cold cure isn't a scientific theory, it's a brainless observation lacking the most trivial degree of insight, like 99% of psychology.

The problem you and psychology face is that you have no idea what constitutes science. You think a falsifiable, replicable description is equivalent to a falsifiable, replicable explanation — a theory that generalizes descriptions, unifies disparate observations and is open to empirical falsification.

Another example. If I say the night sky is filled with little points of light, I have put forth a description — it's falsifiable and replicable (everyone will report the same thing unless it's cloudy), but it's not science. If instead I say those points of light are actually thermonuclear furnaces like our sun, but at great distances, that is a theory that can be empirically tested and potentially falsified. I've just crossed the threshold of science.

In case you think this is just my idea, I should tell you that Thomas Insel, director of the NIMH, has recently used similar reasoning to rule that the DSM can no longer be used as the basis for scientific research proposals, for the simple reason that it has no scientific content. In explanation, Insel said about the DSM that "... each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity". Many see this historic ruling as the first step in the demotion of psychology to the status of astrology.
I know the such phenomenon [sic] exist and to suggest the entire big bloated (artificially conjoined) field of psychology has none of this is empirically not the case. What psychology has none of, as you have just proved, is the slightest idea what constitutes science. Again, science is not descriptions of phenomena, it requires testable, falsifiable explanations — theories. Again, science assumes a theory to be false until it's supported by evidence, the opposite of the default posture of psychiatrists and psychologists as clearly demonstrated in modern clinical practice.
Apparently this psychologist's teachers, apart from skipping the meaning of science, never got around to explaining the difference between phenomenon and phenomena.
Utterly Wrong
(From a clinical psychologist.)
I think that you are wrong in a number of ways, which I hardly can cover exhaustively. Exhaustively? In point of fact, these are topics you do not cover at all. In science, opinion counts for nothing, and evidence stands alone. You present no evidence. Nevertheless, I would like to mention several drawbacks of your analysis:

Point 1: Terminological Confusion

You are confusing psychiatry with psychology
For at least the 100th time, I am not confusing psychiatry and psychology, which are branches of the field of human psychology.

Let me explain. In physics, a science, there are two fields I would like to bring to your attention — cosmology and particle physics. Cosmology and particle physics have much less in common than psychiatry and clinical psychology do, but, because physics is a science, cosmologists and particle physicists speak to each other, share data, and productively attend each other's conferences.

Cosmologists study nature at the largest scales, including the scale of the entire universe. Particle physicists study nature at the smallest scales, including a scale much smaller than an atom. But these apparently unrelated disciplines show mutual respect, attend each other's conferences, and they see themselves as engaged in the same pursuit — the understanding of nature. The reason? Physics is a science.

Psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and experimental psychologists do not have mutual respect, they won't attend each other's conferences, and they have separate publications. Indeed, they regularly describe each other as frauds. The reason? Even though they represent branches of human psychology, they can and do disagree about everything and pretend to be in separate fields, for the reason that there is no central, defining scientific theory that unites human psychology. The absence of a central, defining theory means that human psychology is not a science.

Can I show that the absence of defining theories prevents human psychology from becoming a science? Yes, I can, easily. Because the topic is science, let's perform a thought experiment — let's say I'm a doctor who thinks he has cured the common cold. My "cure" is to shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until he gets better. My cure might require several days, but it always works. My cure is repeatable, it works no matter who performs it, and it is falsifiable — if it ever failed, that might count as a falsification.

My cold cure meets all the requirements that psychiatry and psychology recognize as constituting science — everything except a defining theory, meaning an effort to try to explain my result. Like a psychiatrist or a psychologist, I'm satisfied to describe my result without trying to explain it.

So, where's my Nobel prize?

If human psychology were a science, psychiatry and psychology would be recognized as two cooperating branches of a field defined by central, unifying theories, theories that define every legitimate science — physics (the standard model), biology (evolution, natural selection, genetics, cell biology), geology (earth physics, plate tectonics) and so forth.

In fact, by speaking of psychiatry and psychology in the same breath I'm granting them the unearned status of sciences, because if they were in fact sciences, they would be recognized as interdependent branches of human psychology with much common ground.

Do you know what this means? It means when you complain that I am "confusing" psychiatry and psychology, you're acknowledging that human psychology is not a science. Which means, once again, a psychologist is making my arguments for me.
- in fact there are lots of psychology that are competitive to psychiatry Yes, but if psychology were a science, instead of competing these specialties would work together toward common goals, goals defined by a nonexistent central, unifying corpus of psychological theory. We now move into your first block of contentless psychobabbe: - not to mention the antipsychiatry movement itself. A psychologist's formation renders researchers cautious on such topics as measurement reliability, construct validity and experimental design, in such fields as problem solving, speech perception, visual perception, group behavior, leadership, stereotyping, discrimination and other issues. The basic formation of a psychologist involves critical thinking on given theoretical constructs, and students are directly advised to remember that the entities and mechanisms are not real, but only tentative approaches to complex phenomena. That was perfect — "not real, but only tentative approaches to complex phenomena." I couldn't have described psychology's pseudoscientific basis better myself, so thank you for providing the requisite psychobabble. Point 2: Experimental Observation

Psychophysical and cognitivistic
Wait — "cognitivistic?" Having done this for ten years now, I'm accustomed to hearing ridiculous psychobabble and a marked tendency to invent new words to try to conceal an absence of substance in psychologists' writings, but this is a new low. experimental research paradigms both manipulate and take account of self reporting bias. Before I list the remainder of your logorrhea for the entertainment of my readers, let me remind you that science requires empirically testable, falsifiable experiments, each of which must possess the property of falsifiability — each such experiment must contain within it an explanation clear enough that a practical, empirical experiment might prove it false. Because psychology's topic is the mind, and because the mind does not exist, psychological "research" cannot meet this essential scientific requirement.

The next section tries to make up in length what it sadly lacks in depth (psychobabble block 2):
Experimental design in psychology is sophisticated in that account, and its original disciplinary contribution lies in this very sophistication. For example, psychology textbooks on the experimental method cover in length not only the participants bias, but also the researchers bias, report experiments that reveal the experimenters bias, and contain detailed accounts of the structure of control groups and factorial designs. State of the art studies in psychophysics and psychoacoustics make use of psychological experimental design, which takes all these under account, and contributes to fields such speech perception and hearing loss rehabilitation as much as physics does. This is not a new trend but covers most of psychology's history. For example, Stevens, a major figure in psychophysics, was one of the first engineering psychologists employed for air-force applications. Social psychology is applied in order to understand comunicational interactions between pilots and lower status crew members, a factor that has led to sad outcomes. People could not have been sent to 30000 feet or into space, if their perception, memory and cognition, not to mention their group and intergroup behavior had not been inquired via psychological experimentation. First, that's false — astronauts don't function in space because of psychology, they function in spite of psychology. Anyone who reads the history of astronautics sees this right away.

Second, on the basis of the above, I can only conclude that you have no idea what constitutes science — not a clue. The above example of contentless psychobabble contains nothing that a scientist would recognize — no use of the word "evidence," "falsifiability," the central role of empirical experiment, or the presumption that an idea is assumed to be false until evidence supports it. These are all non-negotiable requirements for science.

The above psychobabble block shows you have in common with most psychologists the notion that ideas are assumed to be true until someone proves them false, the opposite of a scientific outlook, and the key identifier of a pseudoscientist.
Point 3: Statistics and Null Hypothesis Testing

Psychology does use control groups in most studies.
This claim is simultaneously meaningless and irrelevant. I can't count the number of psychological studies I've read over the years that included the phrase "no-treatment controls". A "no-treatment control" is a group of people who, instead of receiving treatment, are told to go home. This use of the term "control group" is a polite fiction meant to imitate the outward forms of real science, to create a patina of respectability for an unscientific enterprise.

Real psychological science would not simply perform experiments, it would test an empirical, falsifiable theory. To test a theory, psychologists would first have to try to explain what they are satisfied to describe. Beyond this, real science would consist of prospective studies, not the retrospective studies that constitute 99% of psychological research.

In a prospective study, subjects aren't asked whether they already have a condition of interest to psychologists, they are told that they will be taking part in an experiment about which they must know nothing. This is unheard of in psychology, for obvious practical and ethical reasons.
Psychological statistical tests are usually aimed to falsify theoretical predictions that stem from broader theoretical paradigms. Absolutely false. The history of psychology clearly demonstrates that there are no "broader theoretical paradigms". There are no overarching, defining theories that can be empirically tested and potentially falsified, about the ethereal human mind. Statistical testing in psychology is based on the probability of null hypotheses The null hypothesis is nearly unknown among psychologists, who neither assume new ideas to be false nor wait for empirical validation of new ideas before publishing them to a wide audience of credulous spectators. Want examples? Recovered Memory Therapy, put into practice before anyone bothered to see if there was any scientific basis for the activity. Another example: Asperger Syndrome is a make-believe condition that was invented, put into practice, and then abandoned, all without anyone bothering to see if there was a there there. I won't list the hundreds of other examples that punctuate the history of human psychology.

Before you complain that I'm describing the practice of psychiatry and clinical psychology and "everyone knows" these aren't remotely scientific, let me say that, if human psychology were a science, psychiatry and clinical psychology would be either:

  • Forced to prove the validity of their claims before putting them into practice in clinics, something that has never been true, or
  • Be expelled from the field of human psychology and forced to stop calling themselves psychologists.
Neither of the above has happened, for the simple reason that human psychology doesn't honor the basics of science and scientific integrity. More psychobabble:
on randomized factorial designs, which involve theoretically driven manipulations and predictions for the main and interactional effects of those manipulations. In fact, the statistical testing paradigm in psychology is inherited from biology and medicine, which are usually undoubtedly categorized as hard sciences. Yes — with one important difference: medicine and biology are sciences. Medicine and biology conduct experiments that have a clear basis for falsification, and they shape and then test theories that ultimately define the parent field. Human psychology doesn't have any such theories, and cannot shape such theories for the reason that the mind is not a source of falsifiable, empirical evidence. Point 4: Philosophical grounds for legitimate science

Your epistemological basis of logical positivism needs a lot of refinement, since it has not stood up to philosophical criticism throughout the century.
Here we go — now you will claim that psychology is a science through the simple device of redefining science to suit yourself. Natural science did not historically develop in the way you describe, which is a heavily idealized account. I have never made any claim about the historical development of science anywhere, ever, and if you were at all serious, you would present evidence for your false claim. What I have said repeatedly is that science is very clearly defined in the present, as it must be. Because of its importance in modern times and the sheer number of science poseurs and wannabes, science is now defined clearly enough to be written into law, for example laws meant to keep superstition out of science classrooms. Here is an excerpt from one such legal ruling — science must have these properties:

  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.
Because psychology's topic is the mind, and because the mind is not a physical organ, it cannot produce empirical evidence. Consequently there are no empirical validations and no theories that can be falsified. Therefore human psychology is not a science as science is defined in the law.
Natural science, which we all take as an exemplar of legitimate knowing, uses a lot of unobserved entities and mechanisms that are inferred by structured observation (force, acceleration, mass, particles etc). This is absolutely false, it betrays your ignorance of physics, and it fatally undermines your argument. Scientific observations are not "inferred" based on "unobserved entities" as in your fantasy, instead legitimate scientific observations must be — and are — sufficiently unambiguous to force independent, similarly equipped observers to the same conclusion. And observation is only the first step in physical science — observations must be followed by an attempt to explain what has been described, then experiments are crafted to expand the domain of the explanation, including the ever-present possibility of falsification and abandonment of failed theories.

When Newton observed an apple fall from a tree, that was only the first step in the shaping of a testable, falsifiable theory about gravity — and, unlike psychology, the physical explanation of gravity led to a general theory can can be and has been quantitatively tested in hundreds of different contexts, all with an extraordinary level of precision.

You have in common with most psychologists in my vast correspondence, a perfect ignorance of what constitutes science in modern times.
By the same coin, psychology has corpora of structured laboratorial observations, Wait ... "laboratorial"? Do you really think chronic, uncontrolled neologism adds weight to your argument? based on theoretically laden experimental manipulations. These observations conform or do not conform to theoretical accounts, There are no "theoretical accounts" in human psychology. Psychology describes, but it cannot explain what it has described (explanation = theory). Scientific theories join apparently unrelated observations into a testable whole, such a theory is itself testable in further experiments, and it makes predictions about phenomena yet unobserved. Human psychology doesn't have any of these.

Here's an example of science. In 1964, two scientists working at Bell Labs in New Jersey noticed a noise in their microwave antenna that they couldn't explain. They tried all sorts of things to get rid of the noise, to no avail. The noise appeared to be coming from everywhere at once. The problem was that the scientists had only the signal, no theory.

Meanwhile, at a nearby university, cosmologists realized that the new Big Bang theory might have a present-day confirmation, in the form of a microwave signal coming from every direction. The problem was that the cosmologists only had a theory, no microwave antenna to acquire the hypothesized signal.

Now think about this. One group of scientists has a signal but no theory. Another group has a theory but no signal. If they were psychiatrists and psychologists, because of mutual contempt and a lack of respect for science, they would never have talked to each other and the mystery would never have been solved. But these people weren't psychiatrists and psychologists, groups you insist have little in common and that you accuse me of "confusing", instead they were scientists. Scientists talk to each other, because (unlike psychiatrists and psychologists) they possess a common desire to understand nature using the discipline of science.

The Bell Labs people called the university people, they had a very productive scientific conversation, and the Big Bang theory now has a very important confirmation in observational astronomy called the "Cosmic Microwave Background."

The story I've just told could never happen in the field of human psychology, because of a contempt for science, and because of an ideological Balkanization, the kind of Balkanization that leads people like you to tell me I am "confusing" psychiatry and psychology without ever thinking how this makes your field look to someone trained in science.
involving said entities and mechanisms. Observations may be unpredictable by a dominant theory, and researchers test theories again and again with minor or major modifications. Psychology is thus as legitimate as physics is [emphasis added]. That is astonishingly, breathtakingly ignorant. It's plausible only if you're completely ignorant of science's non-negotiable requirements, as you most certainly are. It's plausible only if you can define science to suit yourself, as religious fundamentalists perpetually try to do in their effort to get superstitious beliefs into public school classrooms disguised as science.

In science, practical, empirical experiments (experiments of nature, of reality) lead to theories, the theories are tested in further experiments, and the theories are either confirmed or falsified, in empirical, practical, unambiguous experiments. For example, the Higgs boson was predicted on theoretical grounds several decades ago, but no one accepted the idea for lack of evidence until recently, when practical, empirical experiments that could have falsified this idea instead confirmed it.

In psychology by contrast, anything anyone says, however brainless, is instantly accepted as gospel and put into practice in clinics, unless and until lawsuits cost more than the profits realized in catering to the quasi-religious beliefs of psychology's intellectually handicapped followers. Want an example? In a therapy session a young woman "remembered" that her father raped and impregnated her, then forced her to abort using a coat-hanger. This fantasy was accepted by one of psychology's disciplined scientists, as a result of which a public furore erupted and a family was destroyed, before someone slightly more scientific discovered that the young woman was a vestal virgin.

Recovered memory Therapy isn't practiced much any more, after a costly and tragic debacle in the 1990s that included the above story. But the practice isn't illegal and psychologists who care to practice it are free to do so. The only thing preventing the widespread practice of Recovered Memory Therapy is that the cost of lawsuits exceed the profits to be gained by misleading credulous clients. That's the only obstacle — not science, but economics.

In my conversations with psychiatrists and psychologists, I often hear something along the lines of, "That's unfair! Everyone knows clinical psychologists aren't real psychologists!" In answer, I have to say that, if human psychology were a science, clinical psychologists would be expelled from the field and prevented from either describing themselves as psychologists or offering clinical services. But this will not happen, because no part of human psychology is scientific enough to make that possible. The reason? Psychologists are not scientists and psychology is not a science.

But you know what? You don't have to accept my word for this — instead, read what Thomas Insel, director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, recently had to say on this topic:

"While DSM [psychiatry and psychology's guiding text] has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. 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."

"Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment. Patients with mental disorders deserve better." [emphasis added]
Based on the above, Insel has ruled that the DSM may no longer be used as the basis for scientific research proposals, for the simple reason that it has no scientific content. Many see this as the first step in the demotion of psychiatry and psychology to the status of astrology where they belong, and a gradual move toward neuroscience as a replacement.
Shockingly, this correspondent lacks any deep understanding of his own position. Above he tries to simultaneously argue that:
  • Psychiatry and psychology aren't related fields, indeed are "competitive to" each other and I'm wrong to describe them as related, but
  • Human psychology is a scientific enterprise.

The two points above cannot both be true at once. Either psychiatry and psychology are branches of the scientific field of human psychology and therefore cooperate on mutual research and theoretical questions, or they're "competitive to" each other as this correspondent tries to claim. There is no third choice.

The resolution is obvious — human psychology is junk science, and its practitioners don't have to either think deeply or make sense, even to themselves.

Theory of Mind
I have read your posts on science (especially on the question of whether psychology is a science or not) and I have a few questions about it. I would greatly appreciate your answer.

1) You initially defended the idea that mathematics was a science because it allows acquisition of evidence like other sciences. However, in one reply in the comments you mention that you have since changed your mind on this topic because science needs to be empirical. Could you clarify this aspect.
Science must be based on empirical observations, not metaphysics or philosophy. This is part of the way science is defined. But let me explain a bit further — ask yourself why Creationism cannot be presented as science in a public school science classroom. The reason is that:

  • Science has been defined in courts of law to prevent pseudoscience from masquerading as science. Here is one such legal definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McLean_v._Arkansas.
  • Among the requirements in this definition is that science must be empirical, i.e. based on observations of nature. Another requirement is that a field's theories be falsifiable.
  • Creationism doesn't meet this legal definition of science.
  • Therefore, Creationism is not science as defined.
This is not a simple matter of taste — many people and organizations would like to have the imprimatur of science to support their activities, but science has properties that cannot be negotiated away.

By the way, psychiatry and psychology are also not science, as defined. For this to be true, psychological research and practice would have to refer to a body of evidence and theory based on empirical observation — on something other than the opinions of psychologists.

The NIMH has recently come to the same conclusion, ruling that the DSM may no longer be used as the basis for scientific research proposals, for the simple reason that it has no scientific content.
2) From what I understood you make a very clear distinction about the brain and the mind and dismiss that theories about the mind can have scientific character because the mind is not empirically accessible. Yes, as does the NIMH. You also use this as one(by far not only) argument of why psychology is not a science. I am not fully convinced about this and I would like your opinion on the research on decision-making by Daniel Kahneman. Why doesn't this have scientific character? There is a falsifiable theory which proposes explanations (not descriptions) of how human decision-making works, i.e. the system 1 system 2 interaction. It attempts to generalize various experimental evidence. It's not falsifiable by reference to nature, because it is not based on observations of nature. Remember that science must be falsifiable AND be based on empirical observations. Not OR, but AND. I can easily come up with a theory of mind that's falsifiable, OR one that is based on observations of nature, but I cannot come up with one that is both. Neither can Kahneman. It also works with control groups and adheres to the null-hypothesis framework. But it is at the moment a theory (for a part) of the mind and not a theory of the brain as an organ. Mathematics has many theories that are falsifiable, but not empirical. Astrology has many theories that are empirical, but not falsifiable. If I grafted an astrologer onto a mathematician, would I get a scientist? No, I wouldn't. It would therefore be considered a part of psychology. Now as far as I understood your answers to some of the feedback you grant the character of science to neuroscience because it deals with the brain as an organ. However, it is not understood at the moment how something like the mind can be reduced to functions of the brain. It's worse than that. It's not a matter of locating evidence for the presumption that the mind arises in the brain, the problem is with the presumption — it contradicts the null hypothesis, which, if followed, would argue that there is no connection between the mind and brain until there's empirical, falsifiable evidence to that effect. As far as I understood Karl Popper's points on this subject he even argues that that there is not much sense in believing in a total parallelism between brain and mind. On the other hand it is quite clear that there is something like decision-making. Doesn't this mean that at the moment there is no other choice but to rely on a construct called mind to explain decision-making. But above you brought up the null hypothesis as an indicator of scientific reasoning. Why are you now so eager to abandon it? How does the null hypothesis lead to a presumption that "there is no other choice but to rely on a construct called mind to explain decision-making"? And isn't this situation similar to early physics where the existence of atoms was assumed to explain macroscopic thermodynamics. Yes, such an assumption may exist, as long as we abandon scientific reasoning. But in science, we assume nothing.

I ask that you stop assuming what you should be proving (the real meaning of the expression "beg the question").
At the time this was done it wasn't clear at all if something like the atom could ever be measured directly much like we don't know at present whether what we might call the mind is measurable. What you seem not to be getting is that scientists would never proclaim the existence of the atom until there was empirical evidence. Until then the atom had the status of Bigfoot — an interesting topic of conversation but no substance. We can only measure effects of what we define it's working is, like it is done in the research on decision making. The present "research" on decision-making only describes, it doesn't try to explain. Science requires explanations — theories. Falsifiable, empirical theories.

What you describe is business as usual in the field of psychology — no connection with empirical evidence, no basis for falsification using empirical evidence. It's a collection of opinions with no tangible basis.
Maybe one day we will be able to fully reduce this idea on concepts in biology but this is completely unforeseeable at the moment. I would like to quote again Karl Popper on this subject since he argues that there has been no fully successful reduction of one part of a field on the another at the moment. Even the reduction of chemistry onto physics is incomplete according to him. As long as chemistry has its own corpus of falsifiable, empirical evidence, that doesn't matter. A perfect correspondence with physics is desirable, but not a requirement for science. An example from physics itself are the subfields of General Relativity and quantum theory — they have separate empirical confirmations, but they're not unified (and they come into conflict in some domains). This doesn't mean they aren't science — both rely on empirical observation and falsifiable theories that explain what has been observed.
I replied too quickly to the above correspondent and missed an obvious counterargument to the idea that decision-making proves the existence of a mind: computers spend much of their time making decisions, but few think this constitutes persuasive evidence that computers have minds.
Art versus Science
I have read many of your articles including the ones where you discuss psychology and its lack of a scientific basis. After reading them and thinking about the ideas you expressed, I would have to agree with you that if science is kept to its strictest and most specific definition, then psychology cannot be considered a science. As I'm sure you're aware, people in everyday life casually use the word "science" to refer to any field that has certain elements in common with scientific fields and in which the goal is to pursue knowledge of a particular kind. Yes, and people also use "literally" to mean "figuratively". But science is not defined by what people think it means, its definition is much more strict than that, to the degree that science is (and must be) defined in the law

The reason science must be strictly defined is because too many people want to call what they do "science" but without actually meeting science's requirements.
In the argument about whether or not psychology is a science, you agree that society's conclusion will affect the kind of legal and social decisions that are made. But not only do you that assert that psychology is not a science, you also claim that it is a pseudoscience. Hold on — that's not my opinion, that's a fact. The National Institute of Mental Health has recently ruled that the DSM, psychiatry and psychology's "bible", may no longer be used as the basis for scientific research proposals, for the simple reason that it has no scientific content.

In my article, I simply report what society has decided about the field of psychology, and things are becoming much worse for the field, very fast. This is not a matter of opinion — not mine, and not anyone else's. It is based on evidence and events.
Now, I don't think that human intellectual endeavors can be simply divided into science and pseudoscience. Well, sorry, but you are wrong — they can and they are. Astrology is a pseudoscience, physics is a science. History, art, and English, for example, are subjects which are not scientific but nonetheless do not receive the pseudoscience accusation. That's because they don't posture as sciences, as psychology does — only fields that posture as sciences without the substance get the pseudoscience label. Why can't psychology be like these subjects, maybe considered as an art form, but not be condemned for being valueless simply because it's not scientific? Simple: because psychologists want the status of science without the discipline that science requires. Psychiatrists and psychologists insist that what they do is science, therefore society has decided they've earned the label "pseudoscience". Also, calling something pseudoscience doesn't condemn it as valueless, it only posts a warning that its practitioners don't meet the discipline that science requires. In your view, what is the difference between a pseudoscience and an art? The same difference that exists between a fish and a bicycle — in other words, the question has no meaning. Related to this issue is whether or not there is any good to be gained from psychology. Your articles are helpful in determining whether or not psychology has scientific standing, but I think that if you really wanted to communicate to people effectively you could address the concerns many people have about finding value in this field in spite of its lack of scientific rigor. So do you think Beth Rutherford was really raped by her father, then forced to abort with a coat-hanger, even though, after this story destroyed her family, someone discovered she was a virgin? The Rutherford story, and hundreds more like it, show the problem with psychiatry/psychology in a nutshell — they have to either accept scientific discipline, or stop posturing as science at the public's expense.
Clinical Neuropsychology
I've been forced to consider that psychology may be pseudoscience. I must tell you that train has left the station. The U.S. NIMH has recently ruled that the DSM, psychology and psychiatry's "bible", may no longer be used as the basis for scientific research proposals, on the ground that it has no scientific content. Because of the interconnected nature of science, other countries are following suit.

This decision follows on the heels of several public relations disasters in psychiatry and psychology, which included recovered memory therapy, in which thousands of naive clients were talked into "memories" of terrible but imaginary crimes, leading to misguided legal actions that relied on psychology's imagined scientific standing.

Then Asperger Syndrome (AS) was introduced, which resulted in an epidemic of phony diagnoses of otherwise mentally healthy people, after which AS was unceremoniously dropped from the new edition of the DSM, but with little effect on the diagnosis rate (psychiatrists and psychologists are free to ignore both their diagnostic manual, the guidance of professional societies, and science).
I suspect your time isn't usually occupied by dispensing information to teenagers, but I'm considering clinical neuropsychology as a career. I want to do something useful, and the near-complete lack of regard for EBP [Evidence-Based Practice] in clinical psychology has disillusioned me somewhat. Behavioural neurology rests at the heart of clinical neuropsychology, and ostensibly obviates many concerns about clinical psychology. Is this an illusion, in your opinion? Yes. Unfortunately, because of the worldwide abandonment of psychology and "mind studies" presently underway, a number of desperate professionals have been trying to repackage psychology in a more acceptable form, but without changing anything essential. The simplest way to accomplish this is to give new names to old courses of study, and change nothing else. It requires a doctorate in clinical psychology followed by a postdoc specialisation in behavioural neuroscience and concerns the assessment of functioning via tests of cognitive function etc. This follows the old, time-tested method used by psychiatrists, who study psychology and acquire an M.D. degree, the idea being that the latter will provide an authority that the former cannot. But clients are misled by the title "doctor", because there's no true scientific "mind doctor" specialty, which means the psychiatrist title is a chimera that joins the unscientific with the respectable, in a way meant to pander to ignorant clients. Is this too pseudo-scientific? Are the constructs within neuropsychology similarly invalid as they are in DSM or ICD conceptions of disorders? Would such a career be a waste of time and effort to no constructive end? Yes, in my opinion, that is exactly right. But you need to decide this on your own, using your own research skills — otherwise you're reduced to reliance on yet another expert.

To begin, ask yourself whether the field you're contemplating has created empirical, falsifiable theories, then tested them, then abandoned those theories that failed the empirical tests. The answer at present is "no, not once". Empirically testable, falsifiable theories are a requirement for science, and for usefulness to society.

It's really as simple as that. Scientists operate on the assumption that an idea is false until there's supporting evidence. Psychiatrists and psychologists operate on the opposite assumption — ideas are assumed to be true until proven false. And because the mind cannot produce empirical evidence, no mind theories are ever proven false, even when they're abandoned for some other reason. When a psychological theory or practice is abandoned, this normally results from public ridicule and embarrassment, not scientific research, and the abandonment is usually carried out with votes, not evidence.

Asperger Syndrome was introduced years ago in just this way (using votes, not evidence), then after an epidemic of phony diagnoses it was dropped using secret votes during the editorial process that led to the current DSM. Now the DSM has itself been dropped, for excellent reasons including an overreliance on secret votes and a complete lack of science.

Consistent with the precept of science given above (false until supported with empirical evidence), mainstream medicine won't allow a clinical therapy until it has proven itself effective. By contrast, psychiatry and psychology allow any therapy until it proves itself ineffective or harmful — and even then, the professional societies can't stop psychiatrists and psychologists from practicing abandoned therapies, due to a lack of science and respect for science.

I recently received a message from a distraught parent whose son has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a year after this bogus diagnosis was abandoned by the professional societies and removed from the DSM in a futile effort to stem the tide of phony diagnoses.
I am not so much attempting to argue with you in a combative manner but rather to establish the worth, if any, of clinical neuropsychology. "Clinical neuropsychology" is a simple repackaging of clinical psychology, cynically intended to disguise old wine in new bottles. How do I know this? To date, there's no part of neuroscience that's ready for the clinic, and until much more science is performed, there won't be.

But in universities, psychology is a big money-maker, almost as lucrative as football, and universities aren't going to allow all that income to just disappear. So, aware that society is turning its back on psychology, universities are desperately redefining psychology by repackaging it with scientific terms and window dressing, but without changing the thing itself.
I think I am grasping your point that an abstract concept is not a suitable matter around which to base a science. I also understand that the field of psychology has reified a concept as though minds were strictly real. The issue is not whether minds are real, that's an open question. The issue is solely whether minds can be studied scientifically. For lack of empirical evidence, evidence on which similarly equipped observers can agree, and that might lead to empirical, falsifiable theories, minds aren't a suitable object for scientific study. But I must confess confusion. Is my analogy to computers wrongheaded in some strong sense that I'm not aware of? If computer science is indeed a science, then wouldn't the study of high-level programming languages constitute science also? Yes, but there's a very important difference between computer science and psychology — we understand computers perfectly well, because we built them. We don't understand the human brain very well at all, and we cannot build a computer that imitates the human brain.

Add to that the fact that psychology's topic is not the brain, but the mind, a philosophical abstraction that requires us to accept the reports of clinical subjects instead of objective evidence derived from scientific instrumentation.
If so, why? Perhaps it is because computers and computation are understood at every level of abstraction between hardware and software and understanding of software is firmly tethered to understanding of hardware, where the same is markedly untrue of the relationship between neuroscience and psychology. Is this the relevant distinction? I should have read ahead, since you just made the same point I did above. I have solicited your opinion because you have provided the clearest criticism of psychology and clinical psychology that I could find. Please could you advise as to the scientific legitimacy (or otherwise) of clinical neuropsych? Would a parallel education in neuroscience allow me to be a useful and effective clinician? A self-respecting neuroscience department, once they discovered you were also studying psychology, would reject you as a student. This doesn't mean there are many neuroscience departments that have the required level of self-respect in a university system whose primary purpose is to make money. I am aware that I am likely defensive of the value of psychology in part due to some investment in its (possibly/probably faux) legitimacy. However, I'd really like a critical examination of neuropsychology because I'd rather not throw my life away pursuing egregious nonsense. In "neuropsychology", we see juxtaposed neuroscience (scientific study of the brain) and psychology (study of the mind) in a single term, one that only tells us how desperate universities are to regain lost credibility and income, as society abandons mind studies in favor of neuroscience.

You need to remember that a university's purpose is to make money, and only secondarily to educate young people and support research activities. When you see a university's income fall, watch for an immediate and consequent decline in academic standards.

I wish you the best in making this important decision.

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