Zvan on psychology as a science

Last week I posted an email from a grad student in psychology detailing their efforts to document which schools are teaching bullshit under the guise of science in that field.

It’s a noble and necessary endeavor.

Psych grad and fellow FtBer Stephanie Zvan wrote up her own experience and posted it.  It’s a tremendous read that really gives you a feel for what psychology could be (entirely evidence-based) rather than what it is (not entirely evidence-based).

The requirements for an honors degree had almost no overlap with the requirements for a “normal” psychology major.

That should have told me something important right there, but I didn’t have the education to appreciate it just yet. That took another year and a half of coursework alongside graduate students, learning much more about statistics, studying research design, acting as a research assistant, doing my own independent experiment with the relevant lit search, and learning how to read a scientific paper instead of just knowing what parts go into one. Reading Martin Gardner and James Randi didn’t hurt either. Nor did a run in with psych prof who indulged in highly subjective grading.

All that was what it took to make me really understand how useless almost all of my psychology classes had been up to that point. The lab classes were still solid. The…no, mostly it was just the lab classes.

That isn’t to say I didn’t learn anything else worthwhile. I did. The problem is that there was so much junk mixed in with what I was learning that it took me years to sort out what was contemporary knowledge versus what was outdated nonsense versus what was unsubstantiated theorizing.

Parapsychology was mostly confined to my high school psychology classes, but not entirely. One of my favorite teachers was a great lecturer, whose imagination had been captured by the facile just-so stories of evolutionary psychology. Personality inventories were always good for getting the class engaged, even if they hadn’t been shown to be good for anything else.

Fifty years after Freud’s death, I was still learning about psychoanalysis, anal expulsive personalities, and penis envy, despite the lack of support in the scientific literature. Thirty years after Jung’s death, I was learning about archetypes and the “collective unconscious”. Ten years after Piaget died, I was learning that human development in children happened in distinct stages. Of course, I was also learning that it happened differently. In the same class. In the same textbook.

Head over and read the whole thing.

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