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Your thoughts on this article about psychology.

  1. Jul 6, 2012 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2012 #2
    Right off the bat, I found the author to be a sketchy thinker:

    Defining science as 'what separates humans from animals' is a very odd, and unrigorous way to define it. Even if it's true, it is at best an observation about humans vs animals, not a definition of science.

    The whole that follows suffers from being an editorial rather than an essay.
  4. Jul 6, 2012 #3
    The author doesn't seem to have anything more than a vague familiarity with the kind of research psychologists actually do; if anything, I'd say that the full extent of his familiarity amounts to pop-psychology. The author, along with several of the links at the end of the article, seem to treat "psychology" as being synonymous with "psychiatry" and "psychoanalysis", which is bizarre. He seems to have penned an entire series of articles in which he dismisses all of psychology and psychiatry as pseudoscience, and denies the existence of mental illness altogether (he actually goes on to dismiss all of psychology, sociology, economics, and anthropology).

    This is strange to me. I'm a part of a lab that is conducting research on reinforcement learning, and the direction of all of our work is guided by the mechanism by which said learning is implemented by the brain, which is extremely well understood. In what way does generating extremely precise predictions based on models describing the underlying physical phenomenon not qualify as "coherent and falsifiable"?

    The author here devotes an entire paragraph to elevating an extremely controversial statistical practice to philosophical significance. Even if null-hypothesis testing were some sort of benchmark for scientific practice (I'm a fan of model comparison myself; to hell with the null hypothesis), the overwhelming majority of psychological research takes a null-hypothesis approach anyway, so...

    Another few paragraphs in which the author treats "psychology" as synonymous with "clinical psychology" and "psychoanalysis". I would offer as a counter-example to the author's thesis the discovery that dopaminergic neurons in the midbrain behave like the error term in the temporal difference learning algorithm, which completely revolutionized the study of reinforcement learning in psychology, and led to the falsification of a number of extremely (at the time) popular theories of said learning.

    Good for physics. I can build you a mathematical model of decision making and reinforcement learning in the basal ganglia and frontal cortex that will accurately predict the deficits resulting from orbito-frontal injury. Is psychology a science yet?
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2012
  5. Jul 6, 2012 #4


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    Staff Emeritus
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    This link is not to a credible peer-reviewed source. This site doesn't exist as a platform to respond to anyone's personal musings, it is for the teaching of peer-reviewed science.
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