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Social Media, Psychology and Science
I just wanted to thank you for your post about the convergence of Psychology and Neuroscience. I have a BS in Neuroscience and have always found it curious how often Psychologists hijack Neuroscience to explain behavioral observations and theories. Yes. They do this because psychology is being eclipsed by neuroscience in a number of dramatic ways. And the unemployment rate among psychologists and other social scientists is now the highest of any profession for which college training is required. This makes psychologists defensive and sometimes irrational. Even more curiously, I had for so long been wondering how Neuroscience was being invaded by Psychologists claiming to be experts on the "brain" and yet could find zero discourse of this problematic conflation. That conflation is popular with psychologists, who would prefer it if the mind and brain were presumed to be the same thing. If that were true, and because the brain is a source of empirical evidence, that would make psychology a science. In case this sounds too fantastic to believe, I've had this exact debate with psychologists more times than I care to remember. Then I found your post and it articulated everything I'd been thinking. I also was downvoted to oblivion on a Neuroscience sub Reddit for explaining my observations. Yes — I've had the same experience, often by people who have no idea what constitutes science, including some Reddit moderators who did what they could to silence any debate about the scientific standing of psychology, motivated by the fact that there's no debate. Unsurprisingly, all the criticisms were from offended Psychologists who derided me for being arrogant and devaluing Psychology. Again, the same. To say psychology isn't a science is not at all to say it has no value. If that were true, astrology would have no value, and that's clearly false (astrology has millions of devoted followers including one First Lady). Interestingly enough though, I actually do value Psychology and made that point very clear; I had no intentions of exposing or proving that Psychology was a pseudoscience but was still attacked for even mentioning that Psychology only studies behavior and Neuroscience studies the Nervous System. But that's exactly right, such that current encyclopedias distinguish psychology and neuroscience in those exact terms.

I have to say that, because of the sheer number of people with useless psych degrees, many of whom occupy social media forums, Reddit has become an ideological echo chamber, one in which psychology is portrayed as a science, and if you dare to say otherwise, you will be banned. In case you think that's an exaggeration, that's an almost word-for-word quote from a Reddit moderator who read me saying that psychology isn't a science and promptly threatened me with banning if I ever said that again. Not because what I said was wrong or in violation of Reddit's rules, but because he and his psychologist associates found my remark annoying.
These are objective facts, yet I feel like I'm going insane that no one is willing to acknowledge the fight that Psychologists have forged to obtain unnecessary legitimacy and expertise on hot topics (like the "brain"). I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that psychologists have no idea how their public remarks and behavior makes them look — ironically, given their claimed expertise in human behavior. Or perhaps less controversial, that Psychology is simply not the same as Neuroscience and I don't know how else to explain it anymore other than redirecting folks to a dictionary. Hold on — the purpose of a dictionary isn't to provide correct word definitions, its purpose is to tell us what people think words mean. To demonstrate this, look up the word "literally" — most current dictionaries make "literally" synonymous with "figuratively", just because that's how people use the word (this is just one of many examples). Dictionaries deal with language and language is an art, not a science. Encyclopedias deal with meaning.

I mention this because any number of debates about what psychology means — or what science means — have disintegrated once my opponents realized their argument relied on dictionary definitions rather than encyclopedia entries.

Allowing a debate about psychology or science to rely on a dictionary undermines the discussion as well as introducing an element of self-reference. Science relies on objective evidence gathered from nature, but (not unlike psychology) a dictionary suffers from all the subjective elements that make human affairs so unpredictable. Dictionaries generally and incorrectly define science as knowledge, but science isn't knowledge, it's a disciplined way to acquire knowledge, something we can learn by consulting an encyclopedia. Calling science knowledge, as dictionaries do, is like calling agriculture potatoes — it leaves out the part where someone gets his hands dirty.

Thanks for writing.
Psychology as Science
Esteemed Mr. Lutus,

this is an old correspondent, who found your website circa 2009 and still hold it as a symbolic reference in my mind for "all things scientific". I find it cool that aside from still sharing content about science, you update slightly your articles on Psychology. When I wrote to you before, agreeing with your opinions and coming to terms as well as easing my mind on the intellectual and social torture and bad investment as well that was my psychology study, I remember there was one thing for me left unanswered, which was what to make of your descriptions of narcissism, given that they are quite similar to the way a clinical psychologist would talk about them, such as Sam Vaknin which you look to, or another one called Todd Grande, who also is on youtube, using a quite dry, thoughtful and as an "objetive" an approach to these issues as I have been able to find, being in this sense in the same camp as the many professors I had that defended themselves and Psychology as scientific. And also dealing with topics you talk about, I think with a similar viewpoint.

Since you still devote at least a little time to this, I wanted to share the email I sent to Dr. Grande, where I develop my a bit more mature take on why this question of the nature of psychology or the nature of mental life is annoying but unavoidable at least for me. It is precisely because sometimes the fact that you yourself speak about people in this way seems at odds with your denial of psychology as science, since you are so "matter of fact" about both things. This makes patent to me that not all has been said about this issue, and also will not be said by neuroscience, because we are dealing with something else as an issue, which hasn't been well explained. Anyway, in my e-mail I try to say what I think could be expected from psychology, in a sense I reject what you, Vaknin and Grande do, while trying to "save" some explanation of what makes psychology relevant.

I wonder if this makes sense to you, or maybe you can see clearly that i'm running in circles and this is actually a "non issue". In this case, it would be useful to know why you see no contradiction between your denial of Psychology as science (which to me means a denial of it as something one can Know something about and therefore it's a waste of time to talk about it), and your, I suppose, need to make sense somehow of your experiences with other people's behavior or your relationships with in a kind of objective way. Can't this be the same thing that makes these people say that psychology is a science?

Also I wonder if you are aware, that there's been recently major disputes within people of high status in this field, because of now acknowledged problems of scientific integrity, part of it now called "replication crisis", some internal critics being treated as "statistical nazis" (look for Neurochambers, why i hate the tone debate). Also, I have read numerous more current "papers" dealing with the philosophical problems around Psychology, which is what interests me still, not being able to deny the relevance of the discipline and reduce the problems that matter to me to Neuroscience. Also, the most entertaining for me is the dismantling of IQ by Nicholas Nassim Taleb, calling many of its defenders out on their eugenic agenda (something which also has recently happened in relation to Asperger as a syndrome and which I have always thought about psychiatry in general)
Well, as to "... your denial of Psychology as science (which to me means a denial of it as something one can Know something about and therefore it's a waste of time to talk about it) ...", it's not my denial, it is that of Sigmund Freud, who in 1895 reluctantly came to the conclusion that his field wasn't scientific, Sigmund Koch, author of a 1963 six-volume tome that concluded that psychology wasn't a science, Karl Popper, noted philosopher of science and a psychology Ph.D., same conclusion, Nobel Prizewinner Richard Feynman, outspoken psychology critic, and more recently Thomas Insel, former director of the N.I.M.H., who testified before congress that psychology isn't science.

As to "therefore it's a waste of time to talk about it", not at all, any more than discussions of literature have no point on the ground that literature isn't science. The fact that something isn't science doesn't mean it has no value, only that is has no scientific value.

The issue isn't the value of psychology to people who don't understand science, the problem is a perpetual effort to try to claim that it is science, which inevitably leads to one embarrassing catastrophe after another. Asperger Syndrome didn't do enormous harm because of a devastating ailment with no treatment, it happened because Asperger's is an invention, like the Loch Ness monster or pet rocks: things that are useful to someone for some reason. The Loch Ness Monster can be analyzed for its benefits to tourism in Scotland, with columns of numbers and statistical certainties, by scientists with white lab coats and clipboards, but this science (and it is science) cannot turn the Loch Ness Monster into science by association, any more than a careful scientific study of Astrology can turn Astrology into science.

The problem with psychology is not that it's unscientific, the problem is with the people who desperately want it to be science, people who think wishing hard enough will turn narrative into science, with no awareness or acceptance of the fact that the mind is not a physical organ open to scientific study.

> Also I wonder if you are aware, that there's been recently major disputes within people of high status in this field, because of now acknowledged problems of scientific integrity, part of it now called "replication crisis", ...

This misses the point that perfect replication cannot turn narrative into science. If all those who question whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays were to somehow come to perfect agreement (any agreement!), that wouldn't make literature a science. Literature isn't science, and a scientific study of literature cannot make its topic into science.

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough — if every Astrology study fell into line and came to the same conclusions with the same data, this fact would not be sufficient to turn Astrology into a science by association. This means the "replication crisis" is a sideshow with little real significance, except to show that psychology is like a drifting boat that desperately needs to be anchored in reality.

> ... and your, I suppose, need to make sense somehow of your experiences with other people's behavior or your relationships with in a kind of objective way. Can't this be the same thing that makes these people say that psychology is a science?

Without real science people shouldn't expect to make sense of human behavior. Because there are no objective empirical criteria, human behavior cannot be put on a rational basis, therefore psychology cannot be a science. People try to say psychology is a science, not because of agreement with the clear definition of science (objective, dispassionate study of nature that leads to falsifiable theories), but because people desperately want psychology to be a science. So ironically, the unscientific, emotional, irrational human behavior that psychology pretends to study, is also the source of the conceit that psychology is a science.

Is psychology useful? Well yes, no question — as with Astrology, why would people pay for something they didn't think was useful? The only problem with psychology, and the source of all its problems over the decades, is its scientific conceits, its tendency to leap to conclusions not backed by scientific theories and reliable observations of nature (again, the mind is not part of nature).

> ... what to make of your descriptions of narcissism, given that they are quite similar to the way a clinical psychologist would talk about them ...

Wait — narcissism was describe and characterized by the ancient Greeks, it's not something that psychology owns or has meaningfully contributed to. Psychology's appropriation of narcissism as a category could only be validated by science, and there isn't any. As with everything, psychology describes narcissism, it doesn't explain it. A quote by one of psychology's critics seems apt here:

"The truth is that psychological statements which describe human behavior or which report results from tested research can be scientific. However, when there is a move from describing human behavior to explaining it there is also a move from science to opinion."

Sigmund Koch's famous quotation means any disciplined study can be described as scientific on the ground that what was observed was summarized in a disciplined, possibly repeatable way, but that this scientific observation cannot be used to turn the thing being observed into science by association.

Related topic — if you find yourself spending too much time online, for example in social media forums, and if you want to impose some self-discipline, simply post something that claims psychology isn't scientific — see what happens. I've been banned from every forum where I raised this topic, regardless of the forum's free-speech pretensions. My profile appears in the foreign-language Wikipedia editions but not the U.S.-based one — my English-language Wikipedia profile was removed because of my views on psychology.

Sigmund Freud had the same experience over 100 years ago. In 1895 Freud wrote a book in which he concluded that psychology is not a science. The book wasn't printed until after Freud's death.

The few public, outspoken psychology critics either are immune from consequences (Nobel Prizewinner Richard Feynman) or are leaving the field (former N.I.M.H. director Insel) or both.

Further reading: Psychology and Neuroscience

Thanks for writing.

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