Is Psychology a science?

  • #26
marcus
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Just a reminder of what DaleSpam said. It isn't totally clear what the scientific method is or what science is, but there are some approximate notions to keep in mind.
IMO, science is the scientific method. Any time you are using the scientific method you are doing science. As such there is certainly some psychology that is science, and some that is not.

In answer to the question "Is Psychology a science?", Symbolipoint replied as follows:
YES! Distinguish between physical sciences and behavioral sciences.

I don't think drawing that distinction actually resolves the question. It's not clear to me that there is a fundamental distinction between physical and behavioral, or that the criteria for deciding what is science should be any different in one area or another. Maybe someone will explain a fundamental difference.
 
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  • #27
loseyourname
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Psychology is still a young science. As Moonbear said earlier, it's been less than a century that it even became its own discipline distinct from a subspecialty of philosophy. Human cognition and behavior is very difficult to study scientifically in terms of theory development, so what you get is "associative science" or statistical modeling. Don't forget that biology was derided as little more than stamp collecting before Darwin and Mendel came along and provided a solid theoretical grounding for the study of life.

There is still no general theory of cognition, but frankly, it's kind of odd that we're seeing scientific demarcation thought of here as being the line between studying statistical regularities in the world and testing observations against theory (or deriving predictions from theory). Give psychology its time to grow. The human mind is one of the most intricate things the universe has given us to study.
 
  • #28
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Sociobiology, and its offspring of evolutionary psychology would seem to classify as science, unless you are part of the Marxist establishment of radical scientists.
 
  • #29
sketchtrack
Surely it is more of a science than scientology is.
 
  • #30
Thanks for responding, scientiavore. Isn't evolutionary sociobiology great?! I'm delighted by their using mathematical models to discover how social behavior in various species could have evolved. And also, along with that, uncovering the partly genetic basis of social behavior in various species.

I see Math Is Hard reported that at her university the undergrad psych majors are classified as in Life Science which basically means biology. This agrees with what you said, at least partly.

The boundaries in Academia are always shifting. There is no perfectly natural way to divide knowledge up, at least on a permanent basis. And academic groups have turf wars, too. and there are always funding issues.

the sciences of trying to understand how the brain works, and also human behavior, might be going to explode because the field is so big. to understand the brain is probably as big a job as understanding the universe or anything else that is really complicated.

we probably can't foresee what shape the science is going to take, or what the different fields and subfields and methodologies are going to be.

basically it seems like a bummer to represent the whole field by a sector of psychology professionals that are applied (non research) people trained to diagnose, counsel, and control behavior. society evidently needs them, so it trains them and hires them. But that group is not the whole scene, scientifically speaking, and moreover probably a lot of them are really nice people when they are off work.

IMO we shouldn't even WANT such people to be scientists. What is so good about being a scientist?
We should want those practical psych people to be effective, and kind, and moral, and perceptive, and skillful, and good team players.

So I guess my answer to your question "Is Psychology a science?" would be that the applied psychology people are not scientists, and we shouldn't expect them to be. We need them to have other qualifications.

And on the other hand a research scientist is a different kind of critter that you expect different things of, and just because he or she is a good research scientist you wouldn't necessarily want them counseling your daughter. Some excellent research scientists can be total jerks or have weird political beliefs. This is a very personal view I'm stating and not to be taken too seriously :smile:

So some kinds of Psychology are not science but we shouldn't necessarily disrespect them on that account.

It was nice of you to reply, scientiavore. The fact is is looks to me as if most of the other people on this thread actually KNOW more about this than I do, because they have direct experience with life sciences and psychology. Some are studying psychology.
It might be interesting to ask and find out what stuff the psychology students are actually studying and learning. I don't mean statistics. Everybody has to take required stat courses. I mean the really exciting squishy stuff. What is the most fascinating thing you learned this past semester. Did you take part in any experiments with human or animal subjects. etc etc.
I liked your responses, I am going to use them the next time I've an argue about psychology not being a science, I hope you don't mind. :)
 
  • #31
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Is Epistemology a science?

Seems kinda similar... took an Intro Philosophy course before and a lot of it is about AIs, Turing Test, etc. and whether they can think or not. Lots of mentions of Computer Scientists, Cognitive Scientists, Neurologists, Behaviourists/Psychologists.
 
  • #32
Dale
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Is Epistemology a science?

Seems kinda similar... took an Intro Philosophy course before and a lot of it is about AIs, Turing Test, etc. and whether they can think or not. Lots of mentions of Computer Scientists, Cognitive Scientists, Neurologists, Behaviourists/Psychologists.
Epistemology is not a science, it is a philosophy. The tenents of epistemology are not derived tested or validated empirically using the scientific method. However, epistemology can give you great insight into the value and limitations of the scientific method as a method of obtaining knowledge.
 
  • #33
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Sociobiology, and its offspring of evolutionary psychology would seem to classify as science, unless you are part of the Marxist establishment of radical scientists.

I don't think Gould/Lewontin etc argue that evolutionary psychology is not science in the sense of attempting to make use of the scientific method, produce falsifiable hypotheses etc.

Rather, they argue that it isn't good science. Perhaps, "rigorous" is a better word. I don't know of any work in evolutionary psychology that doesn't amount to a priori reasoning about a few post hoc selected empirical facts. Of the sort: "Men sometimes rape women", --> "they must have a powerful reason for doing so or they would not so often risk their livelihoods to do so" --> "this must be an inborn urge toward rape" --> "rape must have been somehow adaptive in human history" --> etc. cf. Thornhill and Palmer's Natural History of Rape.

Actually Gould's point involves more than just skepticism of particular evolutionary psychology theses. He generally distrusted the use of adaptationist reasoning in reconstructing the evolutionary timeline. The thought is that since we cannot tell by looking at any particular trait whether it is a spandrel or not, then we should never make the assumption that any particular trait was adaptive as evolutionary psychologists do.

Actually, Moridin and I discussed this issue in another thread a while ago. Since then I've done some more reading about the topic. I think that the fundamental difference between the adaptationist position and Gould's position is a question of what they think the theory of evolution is supposed to explain.

For a proponent of evolutionary psychology, the theory of evolution explains the fact that the organisms we see alive in the world today are extraordinarily well adapted to their environments. So it makes sense to look at a trait today and explain how it is or was adaptive and thereby reconstruct the evolutionary timeline.

Whereas for someone of Gould's school of thought, the theory of evolution primarily explains the extraordinary diversity of life. Gould accepts that a large part of evolution happens for reasons other than natural selection of the most adapted organism. The best example being the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs certainly didn't die because they were unadapted to their environment, they died because they happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong moment in history. When emphasizing selection events that do not follow "survival of the fittest" like the meteor, it makes little sense to look at an adaptation present today and reason backwards to it's origin as evolutionary psychologists do.
 

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